Hate-based politics

I’ve had lots of opportunity lately to wonder about the Republican party and their hate-based politics.
 
As far as I can tell from what I understand about American politics, the Democrat party tries to constantly improve things – considering new ideas, new processes, and new programs. The Republicans, on the other hand, want everything to be the same as it was in the long-ago “good old days” (which, it turns out, weren’t so good for everyone) and so feel that anyone with new ideas is radical and should be opposed.
This is not to say, of course, that all of the Democrats’ ideas are good ones. Of course they’re not. A lot of them are stupid. But rather than engaging in actual conversation to figure out solutions, the Republicans simply choose to block everything and vilify the thinkers as [insert insults of the day] because it’s easier than actually thinking. Thinking is too much like actual work.
 
When you don’t have ideas, I guess it is natural to focus only on one’s enemies. Opposing ideas is hard, because you have to 1) understand the idea and 2) have a good alternative. It’s so much easier to just vilify and hate people.
 
Don’t like the proposal to save the planet? Of course not. It will be expensive, and take a lot of work. But it’s hard to argue logically against it – or even to debate the ideas and arrive at compromises – so let’s focus on hating AOC, on hating Greta Thunberg, (Bonus – they’re both women! That makes them easier to hate!) and anyone else that has ideas.
 
And who better to hate than brown people? You can tell who they are just by looking at them. No thought necessary. And, since they’re in a minority, it’s pretty safe to blame them for stuff, since they lack the political clout to do anything about it.
 
Trump is the logical conclusion of this trend. He has no ideas. He has no solutions to anything. All he has is hate. He built his entire campaign on hate, so it should be no surprise that he built his entire presidency on hate.
Immigration is an *ideal* place to focus this hate. Many immigrants are brown. Actual *solutions* to illegal immigration are complicated, expensive, and involve actually engaging with foreign governments to try to get to the reasons these people are coming to the USA. Better just to hate immigrants – much easier to sell.
Addressing a pandemic, too, is difficult, expensive, and involves working with a lot of people you don’t like. Better to focus on the “fact” that it came from China, and so is a problem caused by people that we hate. See? Problem solved!
Hate is cheap, easy, and spreads like wildfire without a lot of work.
Meanwhile, Republicans have boasted for generations that they are the party of family values, of kindness, of big hearts and small government. And, if they say it, it must be so, despite the complete lack of supporting evidence. Right?

What is a “social media web site”?

The Kentucky legislature is considering a bill to require “social media web sites” to not “censor” content which is political or religious.

It is immediately evident, from the text included in these screenshots, that the legislators in question have not the vaguest idea of how the web works, and what “social media” means.

This website, for example, is a social media website, in the original definition of the term. The concept was, when the term was coined, of social/public/citizen journalism. I am a “citizen journalist”, and this is a social media website, because I publish my content here, and allow for social/public commentary.

You can bet that I delete/hide/shadowban people who post comments that are not appropriate, and I plan to continue to do so.

I suspect that, to these legislators, “social media” means Facebook, Twitter, and some vague notion that there are other things, like Parler, which they might include. ie, massive scale sites, run by huge organizations with staff of hundreds of thousands. They seem unaware that there are hundreds of large social media sites. Here’s a list of some of the larger ones. Here’s a slightly more comprehensive one. Neither one of those even scrapes the surface of the thousands of blogs, newspaper comment sections, mailing lists, message boards, and so on, that comprise most of the Internet.

You do not have a constitutional right to have your content hosted on any of those sites.

They also have this bizarre notion that you, as a member of the public, have some kind of a right to make whatever comments you want on my website. This notion is not supported by the constitution of the US, or the constitution of Kentucky. Compelling a corporation to host the comments of random strangers on the Internet is contrary to any notion of free speech, and is equivalent to claiming that I have an obligation to leave graffiti on the walls of my house because it represents the protected speech of the random tagger.

Please know that if you comment on this post, and I find the comment doesn’t spark joy, I will delete that comment in a heartbeat, and I don’t have to give you any justification for doing so. The very notion that the Kentucky government will fine me $75,000 for doing that is absurd and unconstitutional.

Then there’s the even more complicated question of what constitutes a political or religious comment. I would say that practically any comment is political speech, in the right context.

Now, obviously, they don’t intend to apply this law to me, in the unlikely event that it would pass. Presumably they want to apply it to Twitter – a company that has no staff or offices in Kentucky. So there’s also the question of how they would have any power to enforce this.

I wonder how many other industries state and federal legislatures attempt to regulate without the barest attempt to understand. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess “all of them.”

Edit: I just found the original document – https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/21RS/sb111/orig_bill.pdf – and it defines a social media site (among other things) as a site with more than 75 million subscribers. While this changes the details, it doesn’t change the principles behind my remarks here.

I have placed an archived copy of the bill here.

Hate mail

A few weeks ago my work project made an unpopular announcement.

If you are not already familiar with the Linux landscape, and CentOS in particular, you will find that I am unable to explain the announcement to you without a 20 minute history lesson. Even with colleagues who are in the software industry, but are unfamiliar with the Linux distro landscape, it has been challenging to explain 1) what changed and 2) why people are angry.

The details of how operating systems are made are mostly boring, and you *want* them to be boring. If your operating system is getting your attention, it’s almost never for a good reason.

But they are angry, and their reasons are (mostly) good ones. That said, this announcement was an announcement, not a discussion. Which is to say, it’s the new reality, and people need to adjust to this change. Which is fine to say, but rather harder in practice.

This morning I sent out the monthly newsletter for the project, as I do every month. Except, this month, I’m getting a stream of hate mail, vitriol, snarky comments, and so on, from people who have evidently not read what I wrote, or who still feel that, somehow, their anger justifies them being terrible humans.

Look, I get that folks are angry. And I even agree with their reasons. But lashing out at *me* because you’re angry about a decision for which I’m the spokesperson doesn’t make any sense. Not only will it not change the decision, but it makes me less sympathetic to your complaints.

mod_pony is now on github

I got email this weekend from a computer science student in Italy, asking about mod_pony. He told me that they use mod_pony in their class as an example Apache httpd module, but that the original article pointing to the mod_pony sources was 404’ing, because my svn server has been retired.

So … I am pleased to announce that mod_pony is now on Github.

This is all a demonstration of the Internet reality that no matter how silly you are, someone, somewhere, is going to take it seriously.

(See also: Acme::Time::Asparagus for another illustration of this.)

Content moderation and community curation

When Parler started up their website with (supposedly) no content moderation terms of service, I was skeptical. I wrote about it at the time, but unfortunately did so on Facebook, making it more work than it’s worth to track down.

I ran a community website for 25 years (roughly) and content moderation was the most difficult part of it. Nobody wants content moderation, except when they do. If you take down my comment, that’s censorship. If you take down someone else’s, that’s setting the right community tone.

Every site has content moderation – it’s just a question of how it is done. It’s a question of deciding what is appropriate (or on topic) and removing things that are not.

On Parler, for example, if you make pro-Democrat comments, they get shouted down and are moderated by virtue of being drowned out. On Twitter, on the other hand, if you make pro-Nazi comments, they get actually removed. These are just two versions of the same thing.

But with a site like Parler, which was created, presumably, specifically to get past the unfair moderation rules of Facebook and Twitter, you have another problem. The site is specifically intended to allow the most egregious breaches of common etiquette and good manners. And, of course, to be friendly to the kind of thugs and fact-averse people who were responsible for storming the Capitol last week. This means that they’re continually going to be pushing the envelope, and then you run into a kind of content moderation that we all eventually are subject to – when your content actually breaks the law.

Calling for the execution of elected officials (or, indeed, of anyone) is a violation of federal law.

I ran into this with my Kenya website, when people were calling for lynchings and genocide. So, y’know, I had to do something about that. And after 25 years of that, I called it quits.

Parler has now encountered this same reality, albeit at a much larger scale, and for a much heftier bill. Anybody with any community website experience saw this coming, and I’m frankly astonished it took so long.

AWS has very very permissive content policies – basically “don’t break the law”. But when they warned Parler again and again, and Parler did not do anything about it, they had to take action.

If you refuse to moderate the comments of your community, eventually someone else will step in and do it for you.

And if you do it in a way that makes news in this way, finding another provider to host your content is going to be very tricky.

(Cory has an excellent discussion of this over on Twitter.)

Protected by my whiteness

One of the images that really struck me on Wednesday evening was after the thugs had been removed from the Capitol and a there was a line of cops in riot gear keeping them out – standing shield to shield with the hooligans on the outside.
 
Several of them were walking the line, getting up in the cops’ faces. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, of course, but it was clear that they felt safe. They knew that they were protected by their whiteness. They knew, with complete confidence, that they would not have any immediate repercussions for their insolence and rudeness, and that these armed officers would not do anything to them.
 
Many Americans, looking at that moment, thought about how if they, with their dark skin, were to dare such insolence, they would be immediately beaten or killed for it. They would never, ever dare to do that, because it would be so foolish.
 
But what I remembered was an incident that, I am sure, I never told my Mom about. I doubt I ever told anyone other than the friends who were there with me at the time.
 
I was downtown Nairobi and someone said something rude to a policeman. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he laughed at a joke with a friend. Who knows. But within seconds the cop was beating him with his baton, and a crowd was gathering.
 
Being a stupid kid, I stayed and watched while the cop beat the man half to death, and then walked away.
 
It was absolutely terrifying. And, EVEN THEN, I knew that it could never happen to me, but that it could happen to ANY of the Kenyans around me.
 
This is why I am so deferential to cops. This is why it terrifies me when my son talks back and argues with cops.
 
EVERY black kid in America understands this from the time they can understand anything, and my kids will never truly understand it. And of course, as a parent, I am so so so glad that they will never understand it. But at the same time, it is profoundly unjust and disgusting and indecent that every black and brown kid knows this to be reality.
 
That’s the image that will stick with me from Wednesday night – that insolent spoiled privileged child, sneering in the face of authority, knowing that he was safe from consequences.

Biking in 2020

After three months of great progress (139 miles in September, 260 in October, and 251 in November) December was a bust, with only 32 miles.

I hate biking indoors. Hate it hate it hate it. And the cold and wet killed my progress.

Goals for 2021:

January, get back up over 200 miles (yeah, even if I have to do it indoors. Ick.)

And then keep it above 200 all year, hopefully 350-400 during the summer months. If I can get back to 15 per day, that’s 360 (with one day off per week), so this should be doable.

If I can get through the winter months. Did I mention I hate biking indoors?

Write more

For the last 15 years, at least, my New Year’s resolution Has been to write more. Some years I do better than others. This year was pretty wretched.

Of course, I do write, all day long. I write to do lists. I write reports. I write hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of email messages.

But it’s hard to find time for the simple act of just writing for the joy of writing.

This year, one again, my new year’s resolution is to write more. Daily if possible. A sentence or a paragraph or a poem.

reMarkable2: RemaPy

In my last post, O my Best Beloved, I mentioned that I got a reMarkable2.

Ok, to the geekier stuff. If you’re using reMarkable2 with Linux, you’ll immediately discover that the official desktop tool is for Windows only. This is a little surprising given that the reMarkable2 itself runs Linux:

But, the consumer market is what it is. So, what are we to do?

The first solution that I have tried is RemaPy, which is a Python-based desktop client that provides basic functionality.

The app interacts with the reMarkable Cloud, *not* directly with your tablet, so you don’t even need to connect the tablet to your computer. (If you don’t trust The Cloud, there’s other solutions to that, but, for the moment, we’ll assume that you’re using a standard setup.)

What it does:

You can browse the files that your tablet has sync’ed to the cloud. You can download/view any of them. You can delete any of the files. And you can take a full local snapshot (ie, backup) of what’s on your tablet.

What it does not do:

It appears that the app does *not* give you a way to put files onto your tablet. For that you’ll need repush.sh from the reHackable scripts, or perhaps one of the other tools I haven’t tried yet.

So, it’s not everything I want, but it’s definitely the place to get started.

Tune in later as I discover more tools for making this device an integral part of my daily workflow.

 

The Margin Is Too Narrow