Tag Archives: Internet

The Potato Salad Society

Some dude posted a Kickstarter asking for $10 to make a potato salad. “It might not be that good. It’s my first potato salad,” he wrote. Thousands of backers gave him tens of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, worthier Kickstarter projects -€” and charities -€” go unfunded. Most of the potato salad supporters wouldn’t give anything to help refugees in South Sudan.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: EXCLUSIVE! Why Are 6000+ Reporters Keeping the Government’s Non-Secret?

I know a secret.

I know the identity of the man who was CIA Chief of Station in Kabul until one month ago.

The name of the top spook in Afghanistan was disseminated via email to 6,000+ reporters as part of an attendance list of senior U.S. officials participating in a meeting with President Obama during his surprise visit with U.S. troops. The government spotted the error and asked journalists not to post it.

They agreed. Still, it’s all over the Internet.

What I found via Google during a few hours of searching made me 98% sure it was him; sources in Kabul covered the two percent of doubt.

Until last week I was working this story for Pando Daily, where I was a staff writer and cartoonist. We intended to publish the name — not to endanger him (which in any case would not have been possible since Langley had yanked him off his post), but to take a stand for adversarial media.

Journalists ought to publish news wherever they find it, whatever it is, damn the consequences. Credible media organizations don’t protect government secrets. They don’t obey spy agencies. Real journalists don’t cooperate with government — any government, any time, for any reason. My editor and I believed that, by demonstrating a little fearlessness, we might inspire other media outfits to grow a pair and stop sucking up to the government.

There is no longer a “we.” Pando fired me over the weekend, along with the investigative journalist David Sirota.

Stripped of the institutional protection of a media organization willing to supply legal representation and advice, I cannot move forward with our/my original plan to reveal the name.

Nevertheless, I think it valuable to draw attention to an absurdity: thousands of journalists representing hundreds of press and broadcast media outlets, all of whom agreed to keep a secret that wasn’t much of a secret in the first place, which ceased being secret the second they received it, which remains easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection — in order to curry favor with a government that routinely lies to reporters like them.

On May 25th President Obama paid a visit to the U.S. airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul, which includes an expanded torture facility for Muslim detainees. Sixteen “senior” U.S. officials were invited to Bagram to give Obama a briefing on the military situation. Among them was the Kabul Chief of Station (COS) — the CIA’s top man in occupied Afghanistan.

An Obama Administration PR flack mistakenly included the COS’ name on a list of meeting attendees that was emailed to more than 6,000 journalists around the globe.

From The Washington Post:

The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.

In this case, the pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.

What happened next is notable both for farcicality worthy of the movie “Brazil,” and what it reveals about the slavishly submissive posture of reporters and their editors and producers to the U.S. government in general and the CIA in particular.

Though CIA Chiefs of Station are secret agents, in practice they often maintain such a high profile — working out of the local U.S. embassy, being seen at ex-pat hangouts and coming and going from major events (c.f., meeting with the president) that their identities are widely known in their host countries. They may be “secret” — but their names aren’t. The predecessor of the Kabul COS outted in May, for example, had previously been identified on Facebook.

The Taliban and other adversaries have superb access to intelligence throughout Afghanistan, including widespread infiltration among the police and Afghan military. They are sophisticated Internet users. They can target a COS any time they feel like it. But they probably won’t. Like other guerilla armies, tracking such figures reveals years of useful information that is far more valuable than the one-off propaganda value of assassinating him.

The CIA recognized that its Station Chief’s cover had been blown and pulled him out of Kabul. According to Senator Rob Portman, he is safe.

Now things get ridiculous: the White House asked 6,000+ reporters — reporters! — to forget what they’d learned. And all 6,000+ did.

“The name and title of the station chief were removed in a later pool report that urged reporters to ‘please use this list’ of attendees at the president’s briefing instead of the previous one,” reports The New York Times.

Such is the state of America’s fierce free press: All 6,000+ reporters and their media employers adhered to the White House request to redact the outted COS’ name from their reporting.

All.

It’s not that the former Kabul Station Chief’s name isn’t out there. It’s on a bunch of websites, particularly blogs that specialize in coverage of spy agencies.

Meanwhile, corporate media has spent the last month playing online Whack-a-Mole, censoring the outted COS’ name whenever it pops up. Whenever his name appears in an aggregated piece copied from an original version of the White House email by a bot, or in a comment thread, it stays up a few days before vanishing down the memory hole.

Why do they do it? Because the Obama Administration asked nicely. And in order to avoid offending the CIA.

Even though the name is not secret. In this case, kowtowing to the government has no practical effect. The guy is no longer in Kabul. Anyway, America’s enemies knew/know all about him.

They know, as I do, about the ex-COS’ previous postings. They know, as I do, about the cars he drives, the sports he enjoys, his address history in the States and overseas, the names of his family.

Everyone leaves a digital trail — even spies. No one has privacy — not even spies.

Anyone can find this stuff.

We should be holding the Fourth Estate accountable for their failure to hold government accountable. The Kabul Chief of Station fiasco exposes the subservience that shows why corporate media can’t be trusted to challenge the powers that be.

Why isn’t one journalist out of 6,000 — unlike me, protected by lawyered-up media organizations — willing to publish a government secret that the government gave away?

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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You Shouldn’t Have

Amazon has acquired a patent for “anticipatory shipping,” a system that predicts your future purchases based on previous buys, site searches, and how long you linger on a particular item. Then they ship the item to a warehouse nearest you before/in case you order it. In the future, they may even load it on a truck before you click “buy.”

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: How to Deal with a Media Pile-On

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v60/lindstroms/1984-2-min-hate.gif

Tips for Targets of Online Hatefests

Over the holiday weekend I found myself in a uncomfortable yet not entirely unfamiliar place. I was the target of the online equivalent of the Two Minute Hate in Orwell’s “1984.”

The subject: the way I draw President Obama. Which I’ve been doing since 2009. But this column is not about that. It’s about a few things I’ve learned about how online witch hunts and mob mentality have evolved in recent years.

Like other cartoonists I’ve taken heat before, notably over my “terror widows” and Pat Tillman cartoons from 2002 and 2004, respectively. During the grim years following 9/11, bloggers on the far right of America’s political fringe repeatedly issued furious rants calling for me to censored, imprisoned, tortured, raped and/or assassinated. Well, hey, it’s nice to be noticed.

Ten years later, the anatomy of the Internet pile-on has changed, and it reveals some interesting changes in American political culture. The knee-jerk nationalism of the Bush years has given way to a form of political correctness on steroids under Obama, with identity politics running amok. Influenced by social networks, the comments sections of political discussion websites have adopted like/dislike ratings systems that amplify groupthink. In contrast to the 2000s, when right-wing haters threatened lefties’ lives more than their livelihoods, conservative Obama Democrats are more likely to censor you than to threaten to kill your family.

To be sure, the basic characteristics of TwoMinuteHate.com remain the same. Internet mob rule still relies on the power of suggestion; when people follow a link that urges Click Here to See a Terrible Horrible Witch, they’re more likely than not to see, well, a horrible witch.

I call this the Comedy Club Effect. 99.99% of stand-up comics aren’t funny. Yet most people laugh at most of their (bad) jokes. People who spend $30 plus a two-drink minimum are preconditioned to have a good time. Having a good time at a comedy club requires laughing. So the audience laughs.

The mandatory drinks help.

After I was introduced as “America’s funniest cartoonist” at a talk in Chicago I apologized — in a straight-ahead, not even trying to joke way, for being late, explaining that I’d gotten stuck in traffic from O’Hare. Everyone laughed.

The corollary of the Comedy Club Effect is that when people are preconditioned to hate, they tend to hate well and often. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen experienced this when his “what if I were a bigot” musings (“people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex“) about New York Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s biracial family drew calls for his firing and unsubstantiated assertions that these were really Cohen’s thoughts. It was the exact 180-degree opposite of fair: If anything, white conservatives “with conventional views,” rather than progressives, should have been angry at Cohen for attributing bigotry that the conventional types hadn’t expressed.

Like other targets of media pile-ons, I find it hard to accept that angry people who are yelling at you are open to nothing you have to say. Explanations don’t help. Apologies don’t stop them. They just want to yell at you. Anything you say can and will be used, distorted and twisted against you in the court of Twitter.

If you’re smart, you’ll duck and cover, leaving your allies and fellow travelers to run interference for you and defend your cyberhonor. But your defenders won’t get far. Dissenting voices get shouted down too. Anything they say will be similarly twisted and they’ll be accused of being your toadies and shills. In the end, they’ll get ground down by endless demands to repeat themselves until they finally fade away, leaving the field to your attackers’ hundreds of comments, all of which will remain forever Google-able to your future might-have-been employers.

There’s no way you can win. All you can do is conserve your energy until the mob moves on to burn down someone else’s house.

As always, commenters have strong opinions about, for example, cartoons they haven’t actually seen.

My latest imbroglio brought me into contact with such relatively recent additions to the PC canon as “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining.” According to the Urban Dictionary, whitespaining is “the paternalistic lecture given by whites toward a person of color defining what should and shouldn’t be considered racist, while obliviously exhibiting their own racism” and mansplaining is “the tendency of some men to mistakenly believe that they automatically know more about any given topic than does a woman and who, consequently, proceed to explain to her — correctly or not — things that she already knows.”

A more lucid definition is for the suffix “‘splaining,” which Geek Feminism calls “a form of condescension in which a member of a privileged group explains something to a member of a marginalized group — most particularly, explains about their marginalization — as if the privileged person knows more about it.”

As a white male, in other words, I can imagine how irritating it would be to hear a white guy like me tell someone who isn’t white or male about their experience as a disadvantaged minority. But I can’t know how they feel.

Obviously, this is true. The trouble is that, on sites like Daily Kos, where the majority views are pro-Obama and pro-Democratic Party no matter what they do, the cries of “whitesplaining” and “mansplaining” are used to stifle not condescension, but disagreement.

Speaking about the controversy over the way I draw Obama, the founder of Daily Kos refused to weigh in with his opinion over whether or not I am racist. “Don’t be that white guy telling African-Americans what is and isn’t racist,” sayeth Markos Moulitsas. 1300 comments or so later, someone finally asked: “If white guys have no right to voice an opinion about racism, I’m curious if minorities expect white guys to say anything at all about racism (except for racist statement, of course)? After all, if your opinions simply aren’t welcome, can you really expect people to engage in a debate?”

Daily Kos is one of many sites that have adopted Facebook-style like/dislike rating systems. Viewers may click “recommend (+)” or “hide (-)” on blog entries as well as individual comments. Items with more thumbs up add to a poster’s digital “mojo” on the site. Items with more thumbs down get hidden from view and subtract from mojo. Run out of mojo and you can’t post anymore. You are unpersoned, like in “1984.”

The link aggregator Reddit demonstrates the problem with this system. Post cute kittens and your ratings soar. Post anything controversial — say, something about Edward Snowden — and the hates will more than cancel out the likes. Reddit is a place where anything less than totally insipid goes to die. I assume they like it that way.

At Kos they call this “community moderation.” It sounds democratic. In practice, the Rec/Hide system is toxic, stifling and distracting, prompting long threads of comments by people complaining about one another’s hides and recs, and threatening to get even for them. (What were we talking about again?) There are secret Facebook pages for various gangs of Kossacks, who swoop into certain posts to rec or hide them into glory or oblivion, as the case may be.

It sounds silly. It’s what happens when people have too much time on their hands.

But this manipulation of online political discussion has a real-world effect: it crushes anything that disagrees with the hive mind — a collective mentality that becomes more lockstep because of it — and it kills anything new or interesting. Worst of all, casual browsers could be forgiven that nothing new or interesting or taking issue with this mainstream/generic view (in the case of Kos, unquestioning support for Obama and the DNC) exists.

I posted a blog defending myself and explaining why I draw Obama the way I do to Kos. It received many recommendations and attracted hundreds of comments. Unfortunately, you can’t find it anymore. It was “hide rated” by pro-Obama Kossacks.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Internet was supposed to turn out like this.

(Ted Rall’s website is rall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ted Rall Registers for Obamacare, Part II

Crashes, More Crashes and Sticker Shock

This week: I shop for Obamacare so you don’t have to!

Last week I spent six hours shopping for Obamacare on New York State’s healthcare marketplace website. Officials had estimated that it would take the average person seven minutes.

Either because I am not an average person or because the Obamacare people are idiots, I spent six hours setting up an account. You can’t log in without an account.

There were many questions. The site ran painfully slowly. But I slogged through.

Continue reading

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ted Rall Signs Up For Obamacare, Part I

Here’s How It Went

My pre-October 1st cartoon about the then-impending launch of the Affordable Care Act (henceforth to be referred by the initially insulting, then appropriated, now drolly cute Obamacare) anticipated that the websites for the 50 states’ “healthcare marketplaces” would immediately crash.

Even after all these years and all this crap, there are still Obama defenders and they jumped down my virtual throat. Faithless! They cried. They were right. I am faithless. And I was right about the crashes. Though the pro-Obama media made excuses for the Administration’s lack of preparedness: “But it remained unclear whether the array of problems — many people received messages saying the system was down, and others were unable to create accounts to buy insurance — stemmed more from heavy traffic or from flaws in design,” reported The New York Times. I’ll pick “(b) flaws in design.” Cuz, like, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that millions of people would check out those sites yesterday.

Which is why I waited until today.

Here’s how it went.

Step one: Find the site. Not a problem for an English-speaking, web-savvy, former computer programmer who went to an Ivy League engineering school (though they did kick me out). To the Google! Honestly, though, I shouldn’t have had to do this. Everyone should have received a mailing containing the basics, including the URL. I get a postcard every year telling me where to vote. Why didn’t the government do the same thing for Obamacare?

Here’s what came up:

The website came right up. So far, so good. Yes we can! O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma! But then…an Error Message. Actually more of a You Might Get an Error Error Message. Which is even more confusing than an Error Message. It’s a like a store that puts a sign on its window reading “Maybe Closed, Maybe Open.”

Come back later? That’s not the American way! Did Chris Columbus come back later? (Basically, yes, but shut up. Telling people who know facts to shut up is the American way!) Did the Conquistadors come back later? (They were Spanish. SHUT UP!)

I need healthcare today, not tomorrow. Well, I do need it tomorrow, but you know what I mean. I hope, because clearly I don’t.

Anyway: onward!

What is an “insurance assistor”? Does it involve anal probes? I’m not asking and I’m not telling. “Get started” — that’s me!

Now I am not so happy. Registering for anything online sucks. Can’t I just log in with Facebook or Twitter or Klout like I do for everything else? Apparently not.

Let’s create an account:

Good news! The User ID I wanted is available. I’m ready to go on a mad shopping spree for some awesome Obamacare!

Or not so much.

I have to wait for the confirmation email to arrive.

Waiting…waiting…waiting…there it is.

I can click. I will click. There — I clicked.

A new browser window opens.

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OK, President Obama, you’ve got me back. Drones forgotten! Bankster bailouts a thing of the past. Who could resist the charm of a government program whose Secret Question Options include “first concert ever attended” (Sid Vicious solo) and “favorite comic book / cartoon character as a child” (Peanuts / Popeye)?  The “band poster” (Blondie, or was it The Clash) question is — dare we say it? — hip!

Let’s not dwell on the “last 5 digits of your favorite rewards card.”

 

I picked a password.

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There’s a lot of clicking “continue” to do. But I’m American. Like Coronado!

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Back to the first screen:

 

 

Obamacare is a metaphor for the Sisyphean metaphor for life: back to the beginning, under the virtual rock of the Sort of Error Message.

“Click Here to Login”? Sure. But then:

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Ooo, minimalism. I’ll reload.

Did you know, an artist once defined minimalism as an empty room containing one cat. I think he did. Or she.

Reload.

I tried to factcheck the cat line online, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe I dreamed it up. I slept a lot during art class. Reload. 9 am class with the lights off to show boring slides, what did they expect? Reload.

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Whoa, there it is!

I don’t need no stinkin’ “invitation code.” I’m me. I invite myself in, yo!

Hm. Rules of Behavior.

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Whatever. Not reading them any more than I’m reading the 57-page Terms and Conditions for updating to crappy new iOS7 on my phone.

Next up: a form where I’m asked to enter my full legal name (if you have a suffix bigger than “V” you’re out of luck), Social Security Number, gender, date of birth, address, phone number, email address, language preferences — can’t they get this stuff from the NSA? — and my consent to a General Privacy Attestation (the DMV? really?).

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But if I were blind, I couldn’t read the notice…

Next: some freaky Facebook-style (after you get locked out) identity verification questions that prove they already know all about you.