Month: June 2014

Right-wing Christian group tried to convert this city’s kids — but they’re fighting back @ AlterNet

Right-wing Christian group tried to convert this city’s kids — but they’re fighting back

“The Good News Club curriculum is filled with over 5,000 references to sin and thousands more to obedience, punishment, and hell. It stresses Old Testament narratives of a retributive God who must punish sin, warns children that they will suffer an eternity in hell if they refuse to believe, and stresses complete obedience as the supreme value. Good News Club tells children as young as preschoolers that they have “dark” and “sinful” hearts, were born that way, and “deserve to die” and “go to hell.””

I realize I’m trolling on the religion front here, and that’s deeply sensitive territory for some, but this goes right back to what I’ve brought up before about Christians vs. Christians. Were I to live in a different culture, I’m sure I’d have the same attitude about Muslims vs. Muslims or Buddhists vs. Buddhists. Thing is, there are widely different beliefs from one denomination, even one congregation, to another. This is, for many, their “valid” (note: subjective) set of beliefs. For a great many other believers, and especially for a great many who have either left “the church,” non-believers, and other believers, the kind of theology taught in these groups (brace for being offended if this describes your faith, my bad) is utterly reprehensible. Foisting it on impressionable forming child minds (as young as pre-school) would be, in my opinion, as bad as showing kids that age rated R horror movies. (more…)

Open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: you owe us one hell of an explanation

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

As the title of this post indicates, you owe us one hell of an explanation. Indulge me, if you will.

As you are undoubtedly aware, your company, Facebook, recently had a scientific study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). I would naturally assume, social media being your element, that you are aware of a degree of outcry about the ethical lapses that appear evident in your study’s methodology. I doubt you registered my own outrage, so ICYMI, here it is.

A key element of my expressed outrage is this:

Did you know that you were consenting to have your emotional state manipulated?

693,003 people in particular probably did not.

How many wives got black eyes after this experiment?

How many road rage episodes were triggered?

How many razor blades went from bad idea to suicide attempt?

(more…)

Worthwhile reads: Americans’ confidence in news media remains low @ Gallup

Americans’ confidence in news media remains low 

Gone to the dogs? Survey says, “yes.”

What happens when ad space and cost cutting become the stock in trade instead of rigorous journalism? This. For once, left and right mostly agree. Something in the room smells like a turd, and we’re pointing in the same general direction.

If you’ve got a moment, why not drop a line to your local newspaper expressing how you feel about these results and what you think of the media in your area. If you actually get one in print, by all means let me know! I’d love to say I’m optimistic about the results, but honestly, I won’t be holding my breath. (more…)

Facebook tramples human research ethics and gets published by PNAS for the effort

Facebook may have experimented with controlling your emotions without telling you

I start out an angry bastard on most days, but that’s just before coffee. After that, I actually lighten up and quite enjoy life and laughter. I’m really not the bitter old curmudgeon I tend to unleash when I write. Even much of my political ranting is spent more tongue-in-cheek and facepalming than actually risking a real aneurysm.

But this pisses me right the fuck off.

If you’re not familiar with human research, I urge you to brush up on something called an Internal Review Board. Sure, it’s Wikipedia, but for our purposes it’s sufficient to get you up speed here. At hospitals that engage in animal testing, tons of paperwork outlining methods, protocols, etc. need to be filed with their IRB before a mouse so much as gets injected with saline as a control. In academic settings, psychologists must do much the same when testing various of their theories before they can proceed. Hell, I know a grad student in philosophy who had to jump through hoops before she could even pose thought experiments to human subjects.

To many, this might seem a bit absurd. How could asking someone questions hurt them? Or expose the institution to risk and/or litigation? It’s plausible that a question could pull the rug out from under someone, leading to what, an existential crisis? A crisis of faith? These might change the subject’s behaviors going forward, which behaviors, in retrospect, might appear in a poor light and be construed as damage. Hell, in this day and age, there’s plenty of litigious souls who would consider having a sad “damage.”

From an institutional point of view, IRBs have many functions, but at the end of the day it’s largely about mitigation of risk and liability.

More importantly, these boards are about ethics. There is a right way and a wrong way to conduct research, especially when it involves humans. What those right and wrong ways are form the body of a great deal of research and debate, but that is exactly because it is so very important. Ethicists and the professionals that rely on them have a vested interest in doing what’s right. Sometimes this is simply because doing the right thing is simply the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s risk management. Sometimes it’s about building and protecting a brand. What company today really wants to have their brand associated with unethical human studies?

We have an answer to that question now. Facebook.

Here’s the kicker, as I see it:

None of the users who were part of the experiment have been notified. Anyone who uses the platform consents to be part of these types of studies when they check “yes” on the Data Use Policy that is necessary to use the service.

Facebook users consent to have their private information used “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” The company said no one’s privacy has been violated because researchers were never exposed to the content of the messages, which were rated in terms of positivity and negativity by a software algorithm programmed to read word choices and tone.

Seriously? This might pass muster for some legal beagle whose answer to the question, “what does this law mean?” is “it depends on who is paying me.” This does not pass my sniff test even remotely. Truly, when you signed up for Facebook, did you even bother to read this policy before you consented? For most of you, the answer is, “of course not. Who the hell reads these things? I just want to see pictures of kittehs.” For the rest of you, in your wildest dreams did you imagine that “research” as mentioned in the agreement meant you’d conceivably be used in…not just marketing research or computer systems testing of some kind, but actual psychological or sociological research?

Did you know that you were consenting to have your emotional state manipulated?

693,003 people in particular probably did not.

How many wives got black eyes after this experiment?

How many road rage episodes were triggered?

How many razor blades went from bad idea to suicide attempt?

We’ll never know. The risk of even one, especially in the garish context of corporate research for profit, is too great a risk. Whether or not you think I’m being silly is of no importance. The importance is that Facebook made that decision for you, back when you probably didn’t bother reading the terms, or, like me, naively thought those terms meant things other than this.

Worse, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science legitimized this travesty of human research ethics by publishing this paper. Granted, Facebook is no Mengele. Hell, like it or not, Mengele’s unethical, nay, barbaric methods, have provided valuable medical data that we benefit from to this day, data that could never have been gained in any other manner. As a global society of civilized humans, we were supposed to have learned something from that and applied it.

Apparently we didn’t. I can only hope there is sufficient and legitimate outcry from tried and true ethicists that will keep, if not the likes of Facebook from doing this again, august journals like PNAS from aiding and abetting this kind of abrogation of such basic ethics that even first year sociology students learn a thing or two about them by way of Tea Room Trade.

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Vice Chairman of MS Tea Party suicided?

The first I heard of any of this was via Raw Story just “now” (Fri 6/27 PM), but f*!#$ them and their ideological hackery. No linky for you, RS. I went to their source, the Clarion-Ledger, which I’ve never heard of, and got um, wut? Well, there’s the link. The story is so damned differently-focused that I owe RS a link after all. Dammit. In their version, however, we don’t actually learn what the four alleged  miscreants were charged with. Suspicion of conspiracy to break and enter a nursing home to photograph an old woman for a smear campaign against the eminently smearable Thad Cochran is about as good as RS gets, I guess. After a bit of clicking, the best description I get is from USA Today:

Mayfield was one of three men charged with conspiring to photograph U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran’s bedridden wife in her nursing home and create a political video against Cochran.

Now, I’ve tried very hard of late to refrain from leveling unseemly descriptions at folks many, if not most, on the left consider, well, less enlightened. Admittedly, some of the poster boys & girls make that a challenge, but I’ll do my level best to not speak ill of the dead here and prognosticate about the living instead.

What I can gather from these three peculiar reads is that there had been some degree of unity in the Mississippi Tea Party, spanning several smaller organizations under one ideological umbrella. To hear dear Ms. Bruce’s shockhorror version, those bad Tea Partiers were so organized around playing politics that her little branch of the Tea Tree just had to split and change their name because their much loftier ambitions were about policy and legislation, you see.

This may be. This may be. Honestly, I’m not keen enough on batting at the low hanging fruit to find out.

The Clarion-Ledger article (dare I say puff piece canoodling with overt bias so hard the virtual pages stick together now?) plays up the elements of hysteria and conspiracy-seeking beautifully with dear old Ms. Bruce, president of the MS faction’s faction (splintered splinter?) front and center, who oscillates wildly from grief-driven fits of gobbledygook to moments of what the author calls “lucidity.”

This must not have been one of those moments:

“They killed him,” she said in a raised voice full of pain. “They sent a SWAT team to his office, six officers, just to arrest him.

I surmise the lack of lucidity from the author’s clarification in the next graf:

Bruce knows Mayfield committed suicide this morning, but she shares a broadly held rage at the way the Madison Police Department brought Mayfield into custody. After all, none of the other suspects was treated in the same manner. While a SWAT team didn’t actually go to Mayfield’s office, several officers in multiple cars with lights on did.

Oh, so no SWAT team. Gotcha.

Maybe this was one of those lucid moments:

“I would send out an email with the latest news on something, and Mark would sometimes call and tell me, ‘I don’t think that’s right. Let me check on it for you,'” Bruce said. “He was always concerned that the truth was getting out there. He wanted facts.”

Did the head of the Mississippi Faction’s Faction just basically say what I think she said? What I hear in my head when I read that:

“I’m one of those people who sees something online and doesn’t grasp the importance of fact-checking even a little, so I just forward every damned thing that seems right to me. This is an important part of being policy and legislation oriented, unlike those bastards in the state’s actual Tea Party. Now, Mark was one of the good ones. He stayed with the bad guys, but helped me not make an ass of myself. He was concerned with truth and facts. Good thing, too, because I wasn’t.”

Maybe you’re not as shocked as I am by this, but for the sake of all that is pure and wholesome, and giggleworthy, I think you should be. Credulous person forwards BS to other credulous people and doesn’t grok the irony of being so unraveled at the end of the fringe that a good guy from the fringe says, “doll, honeycakes, buttercup, that just won’t do.”

If only the story stopped being that weird right there. This is where I segue to a new segment I’m going to call

The Rank Speculation Game.

It’s fun. It’s cynical. It’s filled with assumptions, and it’s gruesome enough for the whole family.

Since Mayfield was the Tea Party vice chairman in Mississippi, I’ll assume he was:

  • Wealthy
  • Well-connected

He was due to face a grand jury for what, exactly? Conspiracy to, well, anything would be criminal, sure, but conspiracy to break into a nursing home and photograph a sick old woman. It doesn’t even seem he was the one who committed the B&E or the photography. That’s the kind of high crime that would see a wealthy, white, old, well-connected, conservative male lawyer in Mississippi behind bars until…lol, who am I kidding?  Surely his attorneys would have gotten him off with a slap on the wrist, no matter how “heinous” the conspiracy.

Granted, his business might have been ruined. Maybe he was ashamed. Maybe he really, truly just couldn’t face the music. In any event, his end is tragic.

Hrmmmm. Why does that smell like a week old open can of kippers on a hot Danish day?

Could it be that someone was really afraid of what he might say? Hollywood tells me that a gunshot to the head is one of the easiest staged “suicides,” after all. As well, it seems a great many notable news outlets refer to “apparent suicide.” CNN reports:

“Because all of the indications, it appears to be suicide, but we still got some things to look into,” Ridgeland police Chief Jimmy Houston told CNN. “He left a suicide note, and we are verifying its validity.”

Then again, even the Old Gray Mare, erm, New York Times, states matter-of-factly:

A somber note was introduced into the intraparty fight on Friday when a Tea Party leader committed suicide.

I think I’ll go with the, I can’t believe I’m saying this, superior coverage provided by CNN and the Ridgeland PD here. Until an investigation is complete and the facts as we’re told them are in, it just looks like suicide for now.

I’m not suggesting McDaniels had anything to do with it. Heaven forbid. He might be willing to tear his own state party politics into so many pieces of cat-shredded toilet tissue so the Dem can win, but trigger man? I doubt it. And the eminently reasonable McDaniels strategist, Keith Plunkett, surely would have gone into hiding rather than publicly lose his shit and subject himself to ridicule thusly with a Tweet:

A good man is gone today bc of a campaign to destroy lives. To all “so called” Republican leaders who joined lockstep: I WILL NOT REST!

I’ll just assume that nobody who actually mattered was given a very discrete suggestion by someone else who doesn’t actually matter so that people who do matter might never get their hands dirty with all that grey matter. After all, it was an apparently very good man and three nitwits who somehow got themselves involved in a nursing home invasion and aggravated photography with intent to gawk. When the smoke clears, nobody will know nuthin’ ’bout nothin.’

Game over, man? Not with an investigation in progress and a grand jury still awaiting the three nitwits. This might well dry up. For now, I’m just going to assume this tragic tale of rampant idjit clusterfuckery is a gift that will just keep on giving.

On a far more serious note, rest in peace, Mr. Mayfield. I never knew you, but you are clearly thought very well of by your peers. More importantly, to me at least, you tried to keep one of your, um, less veracity-driven admirers from spreading pure, rank, steaming BS. At least I assume that’s what she would have shared. I doubt it would have been viable liberal talking points, after all. Thank you. May that be your real legacy to the teeming mass of sharks, piranhas, barnacles, flotsam, and jetsam you swam with.

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Presbyterians approve same-sex church weddings. Will other denominations follow? @ Queerty

Presbyterians approve same-sex church weddings. Will other denominations follow?

Here’s some good news on the religion and marriage equality front. I can only hope that eventually the more regressive Christian factions will finally get the message, not about marriage equality necessarily, but about separation of church and state.  You want a “Christian” nation? Well, which Christian? Do you really want Uncle Sam deciding who the right and real True Christians are? Is that the appropriate role for small government? Besides, if government does things so poorly you oppose it as a knee-jerk reaction, why would you trust that decision to it?

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Bill Maher blasts Obama: forget Iraq, don’t drag us into their civil war @ Mediaite

Bill Maher blasts Obama: forget Iraq, don’t drag us into their civil war

Bill Maher and Glenn Greenwald make a fine case. Is Maher occasionally over the top without ample clarification? Sure. That’s his stock in trade. He’s a dick. The points he and Greenwald raise remain valid. The other two? Moments of worthwhile insight, but largely just doing their bit to blur the lines.  Even so, mad props to the vet, Paul Rieckhoff and gratitude for his service are in order.  Whether or not I agree with everything he says, I at least have to respect that he came by his opinions the hard way.

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