Google+: Coda

Skud wrote a marvelous “alternate universe” version of Google’s announcement of the end to their odious “real names” policy. It’s hard to find an ideal quote to pull from it because it’s all good, but let’s go with this one:

We apologise unreservedly to those people, who through our actions were marginalised, denied access to services, and whose identities we treated as lesser. We especially apologise to those who were already marginalised, discriminated against, or unsafe, such as queer youth or victims of domestic violence, whose already difficult situations were worsened through our actions. We also apologise specifically to those whose accounts were banned, not only for refusing them access to our services, but for the poor treatment they received from our staff when they sought support.

Really, they’re all good and I urge you to read the whole thing. I do feel, however, that Skud missed a couple of points. I’d add something along the lines of:

“We also wish to apologise for the misleading, confusing, and frequently self-contradictory rationales we published to justify our real-names policy. There is no evidence that requiring real names encourages the kind of community we wish to foster, and our encouragement to use pseudonyms that “looked real” was misguided and, frankly, irresponsible. Those excuses were insulting to our users and fostered justifiable distrust towards Google and Google products. Going forward, we will deal honestly with our community, even if the truth is awkward or unpleasant.”

I think that about covers it. Maybe, maybe if Google were to publish something along those lines, I might reconsider having an outpost on G+. I am not holding my breath.

(for a little bit on my experience with Google+, start here)

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If you lessen the value of life…

Just a quick one today. A couple of universities have produced studies on the impact of the “Stand Your Ground” laws. The results were, at least to me, wholly unsurprising. The TL/DR: A lot more deaths and no less crime.

In this case, “a lot more deaths” means 600 additional homicides per year per state. The studies didn’t determine whether or not the additional homicides were “justified” under the SYG laws or not; they restricted the studies to people killing other people.

Another finding that might surprise some folks is that SYG laws did not lead to an increase in gun ownership. I’m not sure if that means anything significant, but I thought it was interesting.

The takeaway is that, if you lower the bar for legally killing other people, then more people are going to be killed. Interestingly, in the increase in homicides seems to be restricted entirely to white males (the killers, not the kill-ees). Again, I’m not terribly surprised.

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Know Your Rights (workplace disucssions edition)

Last week, The Atlantic published an article I believe should be posted in workplaces all over the U.S.: It’s illegal fire or punish people for talking to other workers about how much they make. In fact, it’s illegal to even threaten to do so or discourage workers from talking about their salaries.

This may seem like a big ol’ “duh” but you’d be amazed by how many people don’t this and how many companies routinely make illegal threats to prevent workers from discussing their salaries. My takeaway from The Atlantic article is that the one of the side effects of a pathetically weak labor organizations, or the complete lack of them outside of a few industries, is that workers tend to be in the dark about their basic legal rights as employees.

Why the U.S. is so culturally opposed to strong labor organizations is a subject for a much longer post, but I do encourage any and all of you to share this with as many people as possible. You have a right to talk about how much you make with anyone you please, no matter what your employer tells you.


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Filed under Business, Economics, Work

Since I Don’t Have Much To Say Today

Here’s a song that brightened up my day:

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Too little, too late: Google+ ends its “real names” policy

Google+ finally saw that light and disposed of their policy requiring users to use their real names on their social network. I’ve written about my experience with G+ and their names policy ad nauseum, but I’ll recap briefly for new readers:

I joined Google+ while it was still an invite-only product. There was a strict real-names policy in place, but it was loosely enforced. Google’s CEO insisted that Google+ was never meant to be a social network even though it looked just like one. I found that the community there was interesting and politically engaged, not to mention G+ has the single most important feature imaginable, so I spent a lot of time there.

The early days of G+ were mostly notable for the nymwars. To say that there were “disagreements” about the real names policy would be an understatement. Google insisted that using real names created more civil communities. Many of us argued back that this view wasn’t backed up by any actual data and that there were a myriad of reasons why pseudonyms were preferable to real names in many cases.

After a couple of years (January, 2012), Google informally loosened up the names policy. They decided that, so long as the name you used looked real, it didn’t matter if it was your real name or not. This was a…curious…change. It flew directly in the face of the stated purpose of the real names policy. However, given that this change occurred concurrently with Google’s more aggressive use of user posts for marketing purposes, it made sense. You could use any name that Google could sell to someone as “real.”

It was around this time that I was banned for violating the names policy. I’d been posting for years and had friended “encircled” and been encircled by hundreds of people. I was, by all accounts, a good citizen there. I petitioned for reinstatement and discovered how Orwellian that process is at Google. If your petition is denied, you’ll receive a form letter. It will only tell you that your petition is denied; it will not give you any hint as to why it was denied or what you can do to correct it.

I faxed every Google office in the U.S. and some in Europe. I engaged friends who work at Google. I got a retweet from Neil Gaiman of all people (thank you sir-you’re very kind to respond to me). One criteria for a successful petition is proving that your pseudonym is your most-common online identity. Ironically, any presence I had on Google+ did not count in my favor. The hundreds of people who knew me by this name apparently didn’t matter.

It was around this team the community started to turn ugly as well. The people who posted on the support forums were, with a few exceptions, nasty and unhelpful. They pointed out that “WTF Pancakes” wasn’t my real name (as if I didn’t know this). They told me that, never in a million years would Google allow me to use that name even if it were my primary online name because they (the poster) didn’t like it, and I was an idiot and an obvious troll for even trying. It wasn’t a great experience.

So, at long last, I deleted my Google+ account. Frankly, the more research I did into Google’s behavior, the less I wanted to be associated with them. They’d made it clear that Google+ wasn’t a social network so much as a honeypot to get people to contribute free information and content for their marketing team to repurpose. I’ve no interest in participating in that.

So, I guess I applaud them for changing their names policy, but I won’t be going back. There’s that whole “trust” thing. My dealings with Google have left me feeling like their services aren’t worth the cost even if they are now, apparently, welcoming me back into the fold. I appreciate the effort and I hope other people benefit from it, but I’m done.


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Filed under Blogging, Google, Personal, Technology

After yesterday’s trainwreck of a post…

You ever write something, post it, and then go back and think “Geez, that’s a really crummy post?” Today, let’s follow it up with something even more unthinkable:

What I Admire About The Tea Party – by WTF Pancakes

The Tea Party are all about responsive politics. If Republican candidates don’t act on Tea Party priorities, the Tea Party will do everything within their power to oust that candidate.

Look, I find the Tea Party’s positions odious. I disagree with them in almost every possible way. However, in this age of the United States finally waking up to the fact that their government does the bidding of the wealthy regardless of which party is in power and what the voters though they were voting for, it’s admirable to see a political movement that doesn’t settle for the “Well, he’s better than the other guy” calculation.

I recognize that my admiration is tainted a little bit by the fact that the Tea Party is an astroturf operation owned by precisely those oligarchs the government already serves and that their radicalism seeks is radically in favor of the status quo wherein a small group of white males call the shots while women and minorities have to “know their place.” Like I said: The Tea Party’s beliefs are odious. I just admire the fact that they hold politicians feet to the fire.


Filed under Blogging, Philosophy, Politics

The Horror of Morning Awareness

I have a stack of notes on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, but I’m not in the right headspace to dig in to that subject right now. Instead, I’d like to share some thoughts from my morning commute today:

First and foremost, I’m a roll-out-of-bed-and-get-on-the-train kind of guy. I altered my routine a little today, having a cup of coffee and a small breakfast before leaving the house. As a result, I arrived at work this morning relatively awake and alert.

I’ll try not to make that mistake ever again.

One of the things that makes it possible for me to continue to go to work as early as I do is that I’m not properly awake when I depart. The fog doesn’t lift until I’ve medicated myself with the “coffee” downstairs so, by the time I properly wake up, I’m already here and might as well stick around. Today, however, I was intensely aware of the fact that I was pushing myself out of my nifty little domicile featuring a still-sleeping beautiful girlfriend to go to an office that seemed about as inviting as .

Clearly, I am not what you would call a “morning person.”

However, this strange, unwanted lucidity did come in sort-of handy while I was on the train. I was thinking of Devo. You know, the band, “Whip It”, the silly hats? I recently saw them perform some of their older material and it was a delight. They can still do “raw” decades after they originally recorded this music.

Then I got to thinking about how weirdly parallel their career was to that of R.E.M., up to a point. Their debut albums were considered revelatory, pushing music in a new direction. The follow up records, “Duty Now For the Future” and “Reckoning”, were in a similar style to the debuts but, in my opinion, they were both improvements. “Duty…” was so much colder and harsher than “Q: Are We Not Men?”, and the songs were stranger and more memorable. Meanwhile, the first side* of “Reckoning” was the strongest that R.E.M. would produce until side two of “Out of Time”.**

For both bands, album three (“Freedom of Choice” and “Fables of the Reconstruction”) were stylistic departures that tightened up the original sound and produced commercial breakthroughs. The next records, “New Traditionalists” and “Lifes Rich Pageant”, softened and refined the previous record’s formula and sold by the boatload (curiously, both had melancholy hits, “Beautiful World” and “Fall On Me”).

The parallels after the first four records aren’t nearly as strong, but both bands meandered a bit and their releases became less consistently strong and/or commercials. R.E.M. would still sell well, particularly on “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People”, but Devo’s commercial viability was essentially at an end.

I’m not sure if there’s any meaning to the connections, or if there really is any similarity or of I’m just loopy, but it struck me as interesting if not important. I’ll get back to the snark soon enough, but I just wanted to get this down on virtual paper before I forgot it.

* Yes, I know that by talking about album sides, I’m dating myself. It’s not as if anyone else would.

** Ok, sure, side two had “Shiny Happy People,” which isn’t exactly the apex of their career, but it gets really, really dark after that. “Half a World Away,” “Me in Honey,” and, especially “Country Feedback” cross the line of melancholia into pitch-black depression. It’s a really great record.

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Just tell them “Drinking drain cleaner is bad for you!” and wait for nature to take its course

Apparently, “rollin’ coal” is a thing.

And what, you ask, is “rollin’ coal?” That’s a great question! It’s, well, I’ll let the article describe it:

In small towns across America, manly men are customizing their jacked-up diesel trucks to intentionally emit giant plumes of toxic smoke every time they rev their engines. They call it “rollin’ coal,” and it’s something they do for fun.

There are a lot of dumb things people (and I fall into that category) do to their vehicles to make them cost more and worth less. It’s practically an American tradition. Where these folks really take the cake is that they’re modifying their trucks just to make them pollute more so they can blow smoke in other people’s faces. I was going to call them the “juggalos of the road” but that’s grossly unfair to juggalos, who mostly just want to be left alone and don’t spend assloads of money to annoy people.

There’s something intensely juvenile about rollin’ coal. The primary targets seem to be “people who think polluting is a not-so-great thing:”

The ultimate highway enemy, however, are “nature nuffies,” or people who drive hybrid cars, because apparently, pro-earth sentiment is an offense to the diesel-trucking lifestyle. “The feeling around here is that everyone who drives a small car is a liberal,” says Ryan. “I rolled coal on a Prius once just because they were tailing me.”

Yeah, liberals think polluting is bad, so we’re going to spend all our money making our trucks pollute more! You’d think that mindless, knee-jerk tendency could be put to good use, eh?

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The stingray story gets weirder still

Yeah, so I know I said I’d keep it positive, but I’ve been feeling very unwell indeed and when I’m unwell and I read stuff like this, it’s tough to let it pass without comment. The U.S. Marshals actively encouraged the police to alter a probable cause affidavit (PCA) in cases where stingrays had been used:

If this is in fact one of your cases [wherein a stingray was identified in the PCA], could you please entertain either having the Detective submit a new PCA and seal the old one, or at minimum instruct the detectives for future cases, regarding the fact that it is unnecessary to provide investigative means to anyone outside of law enforcement, especially in a public document.

Ain’t that a doozy? Please keep in mind that we’re talking about cases that have nothing to do with the feds. The U.S. Marshals are interfering with local law enforcement here, asking them to keep the source of their probable cause confidential. Seems to me, if you need to keep your surveillance tools a secret, they can’t be used in cases where stuff like “due process” applies. In theory, that should exclude the Marshals from keeping their tools a secret, shouldn’t it…?

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I guess this makes Luis Suarez a tsunami?

This guy’s a lot nicer than I am.

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Filed under Other Stuff