Tag Archives: internet

What I’m Reading Now

29 Jul

Hey, it’s summertime in Buffalo, where both irony and cynicism are dead. So, I have nothing to tell you except to point you in the direction of things I’ve been reading lately: 

1. Kyiv Post: Pro-Ukraine English-language compendium of news & views about the Ukraine – Russia war.

2. Skift.com: AOL shut Gadling down, and Skift acquired it. While Gadling.com is still more or less silent, Skift has some good travel articles, despite it’s hilariously annoying pop-ups. Clicking on messages like “No I don’t want to hear about great deals” is the way you shut them down. 

3. 20 Committee: Military & foreign affairs blog written by John Schindler. Great insight into espionage, military and diplomatic tactics and strategy, and especially on-point with respect to Kremlinology. 

4. The War Room: in particular, this article about the Kremlin’s unusual panic. 

5. Reddit’s Front Page: see everything that will be in your Facebook feed two days in advance. See Buzzfeed listicles a week in advance. (Also the Buffalo Subreddit). 

6. Daily Banter: Lefty news blog that’s unusually sharp and often funny. 

7. Salon: It busts through the BS. Example. Example 2

I recently finished Robyn Doolittle’s excellent book about Rob Ford, “Crazy Town” – I’d recommend picking up the paperback, which has updated information. I have Ian Kershaw’s “The End”, which outlines the final days of Hitler’s Germany to read on vacation, and will likely grab something else. 

And Monday, I recorded this podcast with Chris Smith and Brad Riter, where we discuss society’s penchant for demanding insincere apologies and ending of careers over insults and outrages. 

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer break. 

Kathy Weppner’s Clownshoes : Now With Guns and Corn!

30 May

As we learned yesterday, Kathy Weppner’s online campaigning is as haphazard as it is opaque. Not content with scrubbing all evidence of her radio show and pre-2014 online existence from the internet, Weppner posted – and removed – her rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ 2nd Amendment video from her husband’s YouTube account – all within the span of about 16 hours. (Her YouTube accounts are here, here, and here.) 

She also now boasts two separate Twitter accounts – @kweppner and @weppner4ny26. She recently added the latter, in a likely move to try to counteract the blistering parody account of @kathyweppnerny26. Both of Weppner’s Twitter accounts have blocked me because “Str8 Talk”. 

It’s just getting to that tipping point where funny turns into crazy. This campaign is unlike any other I’ve seen since moving to western New York 13 years ago, and that includes Paul Fallon announcing his congressional run in the nude.

Weppner isn’t joking. She’s serious, and that’s what makes it so bizarre. 

To underscore the completely unprofessional embarrassment that the Weppner campaign has become, consider that the Tweets reproduced below remained online at least 6 hours after she scrubbed the video itself, and as of Friday morning, the @weppner4ny26 Tweets were still touting a non-existent YouTube link. 

This is “Common Core Kathy“, so concerned about how the evil gubmint and how the N0bummer goons are ruining not only America, but childhood itself. “Amendmet“. 

 

I don’t think the 2nd Amendment covers the country’s right to bear arms, but the people’s” right to bear arms – and that’s precisely the sort of distinction people like Kathy would make if a dirty librul made that same error. People like Kathy also now conveniently pretend that the “well-regulated militia” piece is just a throwaway, and make-believe that the 2nd Amendment was set up to let people overthrow the duly constituted representative democratic republic, rather than to protect it. 

She Tweets it again: 

Wait for it…

The video itself, posted to YouTube within hours of a madman taking his guns out for a spree, was absolute artistry. As with all of Weppner’s YouTube offerings, the lighting was horrible, the sound echoed, and the read was wooden – as if someone had told her to take it slowly because she usually comes across as unhinged. The emotionless stuffing of the pistol in her pants then led to painfully awkward camera angle changes. Many of you likened it to an SNL skit. 

Weppner only appears in front of friendly audiences. She can’t take the heat on Twitter, she can’t take the heat on Facebook, and so far she hasn’t been seen anywhere except on YouTube (when not immediately scrubbed), and in front of Republican audiences – Republican audiences that, if serious, should be completely embarrassed by her. 

They tolerate it, though, because she is the right’s unfiltered id. The Republicans know they have no shot against Higgins whatsoever, so they let Weppner run a self-funded hobby campaign on her own. What she does is placate the Palinist tea party wing of the party and gives them something to do this summer. 

At least they’re taking an interest in the environment, since Kathy has made the Lake Erie algae blooms a campaign issue. Never mind that the blooms are due to phosphorous fertilizer runoff, septic tank leaks, dog feces, and storm drains. The phosphorus comes into Lake Erie almost exclusively from Ohio’s Maumee River. The solution is for Ohio to urge its farmers to switch to a different fertilizer, or to more carefully apply existing ones. But somehow, Weppner blames Brian Higgins because corn is used to make ethanol, which is added to most gasoline blends. What Weppner ignores is the fact that just about every report also blames weather patterns and overall climate change for the algal blooms

Researchers are now closing in on what caused the spike in dissolved phosphorous. “What we found is that it is a combination of agricultural practices that have been put in place since the late 1980s and into the 2000s, combined with increased storms, particularly higher intensity spring rain events,” Don Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan, told Circle of Blue. Scavia is the principal investigator of the EcoFore Lake Erie project.

According to models used in the EcoFore project, climate changes alone would not be enough to create the observed rise in dissolved reactive phosphorous. Instead, the models showed that current weather patterns, when coupled with agricultural conditions in the 1970s, did not create a problem.

“We reversed the order of the years in the model and we did not get a big influx of DRP,” Scavia said. “So it’s not the storms alone, but rather a combination of storms and new agricultural practices. At least, that’s what the model shows.”

Changes in agricultural practices include:
• A shift toward more fall fertilizer applications instead of spring applications.
• The use of broadcast fertilizer applications that do not incorporate fertilizer into the soil.
• An increase in no-till field management that leads to a build-up of phosphorus in the top layers of soil.

I think someone told Weppner that the waterfront is Higgins’ strongest issue, and that she should try to attack that first. But the “report” she posts can only be described as an unreadable piece of nonsense that seems more at home in an online bulletin board than a campaign website. For his part, Congressman Higgins has been working to protect Lake Erie as far back as the time when Weppner’s radio show archive was still online. More here and here and here and here

I’m somewhat at a loss to explain how a Congressman from New York is responsible for corn growing in Ohio for ethanol, but I’m sure Kathy will post a video about it and then promptly scrub it!

Banality of Small-Town Evil

11 Apr

After a four month absence, the Buffalo News Comments Tumblr is back online, cataloguing the stupid and the overtly racist comments to which regular people have no problem affixing their real names. 

Caine’s Arcade

11 Apr

Sometimes, a boy’s inventive nature and good heart is met with a lot more good hearts.  Meet Caine and his cardboard arcade.  If you visit the site, there’s a way to donate towards Caine’s college education. As the pitch says, imagine what this kid could do with an Engineering degree. 

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

The Filter Bubble

10 Jun

Once upon a time, there was a group of media outlets that made decisions about the types of information you, the consumer, would be able to hear, view or read.  They were gatekeepers and they decided what would be news and what would forever descend down the memory hole.

The internet changed all of that.  We, formerly known as the audience, suddenly became producers, curators and distributors of news and information using the semantic web and social networking. We could even influence the production of traditional media using the web; changing the face of the news to look a little something like this.

Using this technology, we would set information free and open new channels of communication independent of gatekeepers. Right?

Eli Pariser is the author of a new book called “The Filter Bubble” which challenges that basic assumption.  I’ll let him explain the basics.

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Pariser asserts that the tools we use to produce, aggregate, curate, and disseminate news have become the new gatekeepers. The complicated algorithms which make the web possible are actively working to create a personal internet, attuned to our biases and perspective. So much so that we’re beginning to lose touch with other points of view and information needed to make informed decisions as media consumers.

Essentially, Facebook, Google and others are turning into automated confirmation bias machines. Facebook, specifically, is trying to optimize your news feed to make it pleasurable for you to come back frequently, generate page views and increase ad clicks. As Facebook becomes the personal internet for people around the globe, is the company optimizing for social value by actively working to challenge your personal assumptions and connect you with people who might disagree with you? Not really.

Our readers here at WNYMedia tend to be a bit more savvy and likely search out contradictory points of view. However, most people don’t. They prefer to have information provided to them and the gatekeepers of yesterday which prepared and presented a balanced mix of news and information have been replaced by an automated filter bubble. This growing bubble is partly responsible for our national ideological xenophobia and hyper-partisan approach to information. It seems that 20-25 years ago, there was objective truth and opinions about that truth, now, it’s just shades of bias.  Algorithms are nothing more than a collection of personal opinion compiled into a mathematical equation. They are not apolitical, the politics is just hidden in complex math that you don’t understand. And the output is meant to be relevant to you and your experience.

For instance, Google says they use 57 “signals” to determine what your search results will look like, i.e. your search results for the term “Paladino Horse Porn” might be totally different from mine. Google admits they use your location, browser type, and computer type and they have protected the other 54 signals as proprietary information.  However, that hasn’t stopped computer scientists from all over the world from trying to reverse engineer the massive Google engine, here is one of the best lists generated so far.

So, what can you do? First, actively search out various points of view. It’ll influence the algorithms to provide you with a healthy mix of persepctive. Second, follow these 10 steps that Pariser lays out in his book.

Don’t let the web kill serendipity, seek out new information from asymmetrical channels and be smart with what you share online.

Bad Pundit, Discussing Things!

3 Mar

Questioning and examining societal memes makes people angry!

In this thread, we discuss “Fuck the Troops” by Buffalo Beast prankster Ian Murphy – conservatives throughout western New York are attempting to use a semi-satirical piece in an irreverent satirical newspaper as the basis for his illegitimacy for public office. Few of Murphy’s critics ever repeat a single word of the essay past the first, provocative paragraph.  I’m shocked they didn’t point out the time Murphy pretended to be a mentally and physically disabled kid visiting the Museum of Creation in “Let there be Retards”.

But what about Murphy’s opinion piece?

During the Vietnam war, returning servicemen were treated horribly – by society, by the government.  The popularity of that war split America viciously for almost a decade, and for decades thereafter it affected how we treated our military, how we treated military engagement, how we wanted to avoid quagmires or Asian land wars.

Not only were those servicemen mistreated and subject to poor aftercare, but they were drafted; for the most part, they had no choice whether or not to go to Vietnam.

In the wake of Vietnam, we have all-volunteer, professional armed forces.  It is a choice for people to go into the service; no one is forced, and there is no draft.  None of the authors on these pages has denigrated their service, their bravery, or them.  It only took us about 30 years to forget completely the lessons of Vietnam, and we are, or recently have been, engaged in two Asian land wars that have turned into quagmires with no end, and unclear objectives.  We defeated the bad guys to enable other bad guys to fill the power vacuum.

The Iraq war was a war of choice – it was unprovoked. The Afghan war was a war of necessity, but we’re still there 10 years later. That is wholly unacceptable.

Chris and I, in comments, made the point that, once you get past the inflammatory language in the title and first paragraph of Murphy’s article, the guy makes a point.  I didn’t say he made a “good” point, or a point with which I necessarily agree – but he makes a point.  Just because that point offends you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed.

In those comments, one commenter brought up the image of a local Iraq war amputee and told me to stop “digging the hole” deeper.  My response:

Ward, the only holes you should be concerned with are the ones 6 feet deep that contain the remains of young men and women who didn’t have to die for a fool’s errand in a tribal Arabic hellhole that wasn’t bothering the US. Please don’t moralize to me about this.

And because I know how the internet works, let me clarify that the “fool” in “fool’s errand” is the United States Government that decided that an unprovoked war of aggression on a sovereign Asian nation was a phenomenal idea.

I won’t speak for Chris, but there’s a distinction between writing that gosh, I agree with him versus writing that he makes a point.  People are conveniently ignoring that I offered $100 to an Iraqi War Veteran’s organization if someone could point out where I expressed support or otherwise backed a not-yet-in-existence Ian Murphy run for Congress. No one has come forward to claim that prize.

You know, the point here is that I wish there weren’t 4,700+ servicemen and women who were killed during the Iraq war. I wish there weren’t thousands more injured. I wish there weren’t hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians displaced, hurt, or killed in this needless war of choice that was based on lies. If you really cared about the troops, you’d have those same thoughts.  So many lives – so many families – needlessly ruined.

This blog is about discussing things in comments – I admit that this doesn’t happen as often as it should, but I am unapologetic about intelligent people discussing a topic in an intelligent way. One doesn’t have to agree with, or like Murphy’s article or the language that he uses, but sometimes it’s valuable to read and consider different points of view, whether you agree with them or not.  And sometimes it’s valuable to take those points of view and use it to play devil’s advocate in a Socratic way. Some people I respect (and some I don’t, and some I’ve never heard of) have expressed outrageous outrage that we would ever discuss something that they don’t agree with and that insults their sensibilities.

That’s fine. They’re welcome to their opinion and they can hate us or be as disappointed and finger-pointy as they want. (I can tell you that my inbox hasn’t been inundated with complaints). They can repeat that I’m a lawyer or a former political candidate all they want, as if that matters. (Seriously, how does that matter? Yay for Google!)

The outrageous outrage thing is fun because believe me, it’s easy to write about.  It’s easy as hell to take finger to keyboard and express anger or to pick a fight. I do it all the time. So I get what’s going on.

But don’t twist my words and pretend like I’ve taken a position that I haven’t, or that I’ve deliberately denigrated an entire class of people. Quite frankly, in this country it’s bullshit to take Murphy’s article and simply dismiss it as invalid because it uses profane language and advocates for an unpopular and not widely held opinion. I think it raises a point that people should talk about, and that’s what we were doing.

Let’s turn to facts, though, for a second. I didn’t use the word “compelling”.  I used the word “salient”.

sa·li·ent [sey-lee-uhnt, seyl-yuhnt]

1. prominent or conspicuous: salient traits.

Again – I never said I agreed with Murphy’s “Fuck the Troops”. I described a point it makes as “salient” and then questioned people to explain precisely what they disagree with in the article’s text. How many of them read past the first paragraph, which contains a lot of dismissive, profane language towards the troops? Because the next paragraph explains,

Likely, just reading the above paragraph made you uncomfortable. But why?

The benevolence of America’s “troops” is sacrosanct. Questioning their rectitude simply isn’t done. It’s the forbidden zone. We may rail against this tragic war, but our soldiers are lauded by all as saints. Why? They volunteered to partake in this savage idiocy, and for this they deserve our utmost respect? I think not.

Murphy’s taking a pacifist position, albeit in a provocative way. If you don’t think that controversial opinions are worth discussing, then what the hell rights are they fighting for in the military, anyway?

WNYVotes 2010: on WECK 1230-AM

1 Nov

Join WNYMedia.net’s Chris Smith, Brian Castner, WECK 1230-AM’s Brad Riter, and me on Tuesday night at 9pm as we watch and discuss the results of the 2010 election.  This isn’t online streaming – this is actual, bonafide radio.  Although we will be offering the show via streaming audio here at WNYMedia.net.

We’ve got a great slate of guests lined up (Higgins, Gillibrand, Slaughter, Kennedy, and more) to call in to discuss and spin what’s happening, and our coverage will guarantee 100% less Giambra, will be 99% Crangle-free, and packed with dismissive snark.  You can also follow the #WNYVotes hashtag on Twitter.

The fun starts around 9pm on Tuesday November 2nd.

Buffalo News Re-Design

22 Jul

Everyone was talking about the Buffalo News’ new website yesterday. It’s moved away from trying to have the site resemble an online version of the paper with blogs, and now resembles the online presence of most papers around the country. There’s nothing revolutionary or epic about it. It’s just keeping up with the times, with an edgier condensed-font logo and trying to look more live than just a site providing static news.

The product remains the same, despite the new packaging.

I’ll note, however, that the blogs have been relegated to also-ran status – they couldn’t be more of a pain to find. As we know from the Jim Heaney saga, Editor-in-Chief Margaret Sullivan doesn’t want reporters wasting time blogging when there’s writing to be done for the paper.

As if the two were mutually exclusive somehow.

In fact, with the new redesign, Heaney’s blog’s very existence has been obliterated. It’s not gone, however. The archives are available if you know the URL, but it is no longer among the listed Buffalo News blogs, and Heaney is banned from blogging in any way for any outlet. Not only can he not update or write it, but the News did not give him the courtesy of informing his readers about its involuntary demise.

Perhaps that explains why people have suddenly resumed writing for the Politics Now blog, which is little more than an opinion-free repository of press releases.

Outrages and Myopia

15 Jul

The job of a newspaper reporter is to ethically inform the public. The rise of the internet and social media has forever changed how news gets reported and consumed. Some have called the decline of the newspaper business as a shocking death of journalism. But it isn’t.

One could apply the questions of McLuhan’s Tetrad to the internet, recognizing that the world is playing by new and different rules. With the advent of radio and television, newspapers didn’t have to change much at all – but the same is not true of the internet, which offers immediacy, interactivity, and is a medium that grew and thrives on opinion.

To say that the Buffalo News’ tentative experiments with the internet have been clumsy would be a gentle understatement. I am not a consumer of sports news or opinion, but I am told that the Buffalo News’ sports blogs are widely read and well-respected. Opinion – the fact that local reporters report on and are fans of local teams – is implied in sports reporting.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone that an investigative reporter is on the side of the truth. Perhaps on the side of good government. In any event, on the side of the city and her people – of the region and its people. When an investigative reporter morphs into a blogger, offering opinion, it should therefore not come as a surprise to anyone that he may highlight incidents of bad government, obstructionism, lack of transparency, bad politics, and acts or omissions that do harm to the city or region.

So it was that the Buffalo News’ investigative reporter Jim Heaney’s outstanding blog “Outrages and Insights” was shut down by editor-in-chief Margaret Sullivan. Artvoice reported:

Heaney was the only news reporter at the paper who blogged regularly and his blog was surely, along with the sports blogs, one of the online product’s prime draws. Some are saying that the reason for the popularity of “Outrages & Insights” is most likely the reason it was spiked, too: Heaney used the blog to deliver scathing opinion and analysis, often regarding the subjects of his objective reporting for the print product, and to lampoon bureaucrats and politicians. Margaret Sullivan, executive editor of the News, explains it differently: She says that the paper has recently lost a number of reporters to contract buyouts, and so she wants Heaney to focus on reporting instead of blogging in order to fill the gap left by their departure.

Margaret Sullivan doesn’t get – and doesn’t want to get – new media. This is disappointing, because it’s new media that has left her newspaper a mere shell of its former self, and is further doing damage to her business. Long ago the Buffalo News should have embraced the new media, but hasn’t.

Reporting and blogging are not mutually exclusive, especially in Heaney’s case. I’m not aware of Heaney neglecting his reporting or investigative duties in order to write his one-post-per-day on his blog. The popularity and insight his blog provided made him a bigger name in the world of local news. His opinions were scathing because he was biased – biased in favor of the people, of the truth, of the city.

That must be why Heaney’s “Outrages and Insights was named “Distinguished Online Blog” for 2009 by the New York News Publishers Association. The New York State AP named Heaney’s blog one of the best of 2009, and he also received an award for his straight business investigative reporting in the paper. Clearly, the blogging wasn’t harming the reporting, and vice-versa.

Now, I’m not a reporter, nor do I hold myself as one. I didn’t contact Heaney or Sullivan to get a self-serving quote. Maybe the News enjoys salving its sources’ egos with he-said/she-said journalism, but I don’t have the time or patience for spin. The notion that reporters should just transcribe two sides’ positions and then let the reader decide is nonsense, after all. Reporters have a duty to cut through the BS and report the truth. What’s clear here is that the best-informed political blog in town has been unceremoniously shut down due only to perceived conflict. Heaney’s blog was a must-read for local politics, just like Elizabeth Benjamin is a must-read for state politics.

The news blogs offered up by the Buffalo News have therefore been officially castrated, further barriers to new media relevancy having been erected.

I wish the Buffalo News would get it and embrace new media, because being stubborn about it isn’t going to change anything. It’s weird to see the Buffalo News, which carries an opinion/editorial page every day, prohibit its investigative reporter from doing the same on a widely-read blog – a blog that enhanced the paper’s visibility. Heaney suffered a horrible family event a few months ago that left his blog “on hiatus”. His bosses added insult to injury and made it permanent.

But it’s not just Heaney who loses his outlet, or the News which loses eyeballs on the net.

Ultimately it is we, the readers, who lose.

Buffalo News Pwn3d by Commenters

29 Jun

The Mayor of the City of Buffalo appointed interim Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda to the post permanently. The Buffalo News’ article reporting that fact is quite odd, to put it mildly.

On a whim, I checked out the comments to the article. What I found there, posted by anonyms who were free to write without fear of retaliation by City Hall or Police HQ, was information that directly contradicted the news transcribed in the Buffalo News from city press releases and provided by the Mayor’s office.

Derenda, 50, an East Side resident and 24-year veteran of the force, declined to comment, though he was seen headed into meetings with Mayor Byron W. Brown at City Hall this morning. The position of top cop pays $116,989 a year.

More specifically,

Derenda and his wife and their two young children reside in Buffalo’s Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, where he grew up. In past interviews, Derenda said it was always his goal to join the police department.

But anonymous commenter “ProperEnglish” posted this:

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

Seeing as though you and your minions at the Snooze refuse to do any investigative reporting and continue to print blatant propaganda from Brown, Casey, Cutler and the likes, I took it upon myself to do a simple search of public records.

Dan Derenda and his wife currently reside in Clarence, and have for several years. Correct me if I’m wrong but, when he was Deputy Police Commissioner he was supposed to be under the rule that states he was SUPPOSED to live in the City, right?

He claims an address on Pierce street in Buffalo. However, if you or your fine reporters had done ANY sort of homework, you would have realized that this is a fraud! The particular piece of property that he and his wife own on Pierce street is legally deemed a paper street. I don’t know of anyone who resides on a “paper street”.

My next post will have my references, so don’t delete this post as uninformed hearsay!

Sure enough, ProperEnglish in the very next comment reveals that Derenda has resided in Clarence Center since about 2006, according to the County Clerk’s records, and his phone number is listed there.

Another anonymous commenter, who might not want his or her real identity known says:

lou michel and brian meyer have absolutley lost all credibility, printing this propaganda should be criminal: failure to recognize his lack of rank, failure to explore his business ties with the brown bandwagon, a failure to investigate his real residence and a failure to explore his real “work ethic” by running his company on city time, makes this article a total fluff piece, as if we will fall for it. figures the only cop to talk about derenda on the record is diina, those two and the word dedication in the same sentence is actually funny. diina will have to give up his trophy for the most hated commissioner, now that his buddy derenda is working his 3 hrs a day, 7 day a week work schedule…

Maybe it’s not just the racist BS that prompted the News to get rid of anonymous commenting in the coming weeks. Maybe it’s also the fact that it can be pretty brutally pwn3d by its readers within a few hours of the article’s appearance.

And here’s what Artvoice wrote about Derenda’s chances of becoming Commissioner a full month and a half ago:

Derenda a “Shoe-In”

That’s how a policeman friend of ours described Daniel Derenda’s prospects for being named Buffalo’s next police commissioner. Derenda has been interim commissioners since Mayor Byron Brown unceremoniously fired H. McCarthy Gipson at the end of last year. The mayor promised that there would be a national search for Gipson’s replacement, but lately some members of the Common Council have complained that there’s been no earnest effort to find any other candidate than Derenda.

You may recall reading something about the matter in this column in the first issue of 2010: “The number one candidate is Deputy Commissioner Dan Derenda, who reportedly has the support of Deputy Mayor Steve Casey,” we reported. We suggested then that the Brown administration worried that the Common Council majority might hesitate to confirm the selection. In addition to kneejerk reaction to Casey’s support, the Council might balk because Derenda’s primary residence is apparently in Clarence and he lacks. A delay in appointing him would give him time to sort that out.

Derenda has donated $2,200 to Brown’s campaign coffers since 2006, and his apparel company, First Impressions, donated $696 in goods to the mayor’s re-election campaign. First Impressions has provided campaign support to numerous candidates Brown has sponsored in recent years, including Barbra Kavanaugh, Antoine Thompson, Jessica Maglietto, and Craig Hannah.

I’m sure Derenda’s tenure as Commissioner will be neither more nor less distinguished than that of his predecessors. But at the very least, one would hope that the local paper would do more than simply offer Peter Cutler transcription services.