Potentially the Largest Threat to the Advertisement Business Model

I dislike the advertisement business model that currently dominates the Internet. My biggest gripe with it is that it encourages website operators to spy on their users. While nothing so far as been able to supplant advertising as a revenue source, we may see website operators looking more thoroughly for an alternative. Why? Because advertisers are starting to realize the impossibility of perfectly enforcing rules on globally accessible services that allow users to upload content:

YouTube is still grappling with predatory comments on child videos, and it’s once again facing the consequences. Bloomberg has learned that Disney, Fortnite creator Epic Games, Nestle and Oetker have “paused” spending on YouTube ads after video blogger Mark Watson shared a video showing how comments on videos with children were being used to enable an ad hoc softcore child porn ring. Commenters would flag videos where underage girls were performing supposedly suggestive actions, such as gymnastics, while YouTube’s own algorithms would inadvertently suggest similar videos.

The YouTube comments section: where naivety and predatory behavior collide.

Children are able to upload videos to YouTube. Pedophiles are able to mark timestamps and post comments on videos. Needless to say, when a young girl uploads a video of herself modeling swimwear, matters play out exactly as you would expect. Moreover, when another person uploads a video showing this expected outcome, advertisers with reputations to maintain expectedly become skittish and pull their ads.

I’m sure Google, YouTube’s parent company, will remove the offending videos, ban the users who made sexual remarks on said videos, and claim that they’re working behind the scenes to ensure this never happens again… just like it did every other time something like this has happened. It’ll likely appease advertisers enough that they’ll return. But eventually YouTube’s brand could become blackened enough that advertisers refuse to return after yet another one of these controversies.

YouTube, like most websites, is globally accessible. While only a fraction of the seven billion people who inhabit this planet will ever access YouTube, even a tiny fraction of seven billion people is too large of a number of people for a single company to effectively watch over. What makes this problem even worse is the fact that these users are somewhat anonymous (especially if they’re outside of the jurisdictions YouTube exists) and thus permanently banning them is difficult because they can simply create new accounts.

Do I see a hand in the audience going up? I do! It’s a hypothetical Google employee! What’s that hypothetical Google employee? You’ll just “create an algorithm to fix this?” Good luck. Humans have so far proven less clever at creating content filtering algorithms than they have at bypassing content filtering algorithms. Maybe you’ll finally create the perfect algorithm (my money is against you by the way) but, at best, that will just cause the timestamps and comments to move to another site and then it will only be a matter of time until some YouTuber posts a video showing that site and you’re looking at the same controversy all over again (this time without the benefit of control over the offending site).

Sex Trafficking Increases in Wake of Anti-Sex Trafficking Legislation

A piece of legislation will generally do the opposite of what its title claims, which is why it should come as no surprise that the passage of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) preceded a significant in crease in sex trafficking:

When the SESTA-FOSTA bills were being hashed out in Congress, sex workers loudly advocated against them, saying that rather than decrease sex trafficking, these laws would make it more likely. According to new police statistics, they were right.

[…]

New statistics shared by the San Francisco police show that sex workers, unsurprisingly, were right about the effect this law would have on their profession and on sex trafficking. According to KPIX 5, while most violent crime is down in San Francisco, sex trafficking shot up 170 percent in 2018.

I’m fairly certain that the politicians who pushed for SESTA see this as a feature, not a bug. After all, consensual sex work is a mutual exchange of money for sex. It harms nobody. But most people don’t base their morality on harm alone and the puritanical history of the United States has etched certain oddities in the societal psyche such as the idea that sex itself is dirty. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t matter because politicians would legislate based on their personal morality, they would legislate based entirely on whether a certain act causes real harm. But this isn’t an ideal world and these moralists we call lawmakers legislate their morality all the time and, I’m fairly certain, feel a rush or joy whenever they see somebody who they consider immoral harmed by legislation.

The best argument that can be made for the abolition of government is the fact that people with power cannot be trusted to not use that power to target and hurt anybody they personally dislike.

Denial of Service Attack

An Oklahoma lawyer performed a successful denial of service attack against a courthouse:

The Rogers County Courthouse in Oklahoma closed early Monday due to bed bugs.

Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton said a lawyer came up to a third-floor courtroom with bugs falling out of his clothing.

Courthouse officials had a meeting and decided to close the courthouse until the bed bugs were gone.

This might be a good card to keep in your back pocket in case you’re ever in court and want an extra day or two to get your defense in order.

How to Shutdown the Post Office

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

But cold weather? Yeah, they’re going to bitch out:

USPS announced Tuesday afternoon they are suspending mail deliveries Wednesday in Minnesota, western Wisconsin, Iowa and western Illinois. Pickups from businesses, residences and collection boxes are also suspended.

Peak Bureaucracy

Never underestimate a bureaucracies absolutism when it comes to following its own rules:

As the plane was preparing to take off for a second time and depart from the Great White North, the aircraft ran into a mechanical issue. Natalie Noonan, a United Airlines spokeswoman, told Global News that the door of the aircraft wouldn’t shut because it had likely frozen in the frigid temperatures.

However, because the airport had no customs officers on duty overnight, passengers were unable to leave the plane.

[…]

As the hours ticked away, temperatures continued to drop, sinking to as cold as -26 degrees Fahrenheit around 8 a.m. AST in Goose Bay, according to Weather Underground data.

I’m sure United Airlines is relieved to not be the source of the problem. However, I’m doubting the passengers sitting on a plane with a door that wouldn’t close in subzero weather were seeing the wisdom of barring them from deplaning because a bureaucrat wasn’t present to process their papers.

The Hypocrisy That Wasn’t

Longtime readers know that my opinion of Rand Paul isn’t high but my opinion of intellectually dishonest people is even lower. The story that Rand Paul has decided to go to Canada to receive medical treatment has been spreading like wildfire in socialist circles. A proponent of capitalism is going to a country with socialized medicine in order to receive treatment seems like a great demonstration of hypocrisy after all. However, the socialists sharing this story have forgotten one major fact: although Canada is a land of socialized medicine, a handful of private facilities still exist. This minor detail is important because it turns out that Rand Paul is going to one of those private facilities:

Those who chuckled at this supposed irony missed a major detail, even though it was noted in the press coverage: Paul’s surgery will take place at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario. The clinic is private, and run for profit; The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale, who is from Thornhill, notes that it was “grandfathered in to Ontario’s socialized health system.”

Instead of demonstrating Rand Paul’s hypocrisy, this story demonstrates one of my pet peeves: biased nuance. When you criticize the actions of an individual those who consider themselves on the same side as that individual will analyze your criticism with a fine-tooth comb in the hopes of finding a detail that calls your criticism into doubt. That same level of concern isn’t take for criticisms made against perceived opponents.

If you see a criticism of somebody you perceive to be an opponent, do a little digging before you share that story with your ideological circlejerk. It’ll save you from looking like a fool when somebody on that individual’s “side” analyzes the criticism and finds details putting it into doubt.

Binary Thinking Is, on the Whole, Harmful

A recent report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) has been making the rounds and stirring up outrage. Why? Because it more or less argues that traits commonly associated with the Western concept of masculinity are bad:

The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.

My gripe with this claim is the same gripe I have with most claims made in controversial debates: everything is placed on a binary scale of good and evil.

It’s true that any one of these traits can be unproductive. For example, getting aggressive because you perceive that some guy across the bar is looking at your funny isn’t productive. However, us humans have these traits so they must serve some kind of purpose, right?

If you subscribe to the idea that humanity was created by a higher power, then you likely accept that we were given these traits for a reason. Likewise, if you subscribe to the idea that humanity is the product of millions of years of natural selection, then you’re probably open to the idea that these traits serve some evolutionary purpose. Either way you look at it, these traits obviously have some benefits.

I find that most of the people who criticize stoicism don’t actually understand stoicism (this can really be said about most critics of most things). Stoicism doesn’t teach that humans should be emotionless automatons. It teaches that humans shouldn’t be slaves to their emotions. Not making rash decisions based on the whims of your feelings is actually a pretty solid foundation upon which to build a personal philosophy in my opinion (another aspect of stoicism is to treat others fairly and that all individuals are equal, which are other points that I think make a good foundation for a personal philosophy).

Without competitiveness humans likely wouldn’t strive to achieve great things. Look at the Space Race. The United States put a man on the moon to show up the Soviets, who put the first artificial satellite and man into orbit to show up the United States. All of those satellites currently orbiting the Earth that enable satellite television, the Global Positioning System, and global communications are the byproduct of competitiveness.

You might not expect a self-proclaimed anarchist to say anything positive about dominance but even it can serve a valuable purpose. Consider the scenario where somebody gets shot. All too often this scenario can result it onlookers doing nothing other than recording the aftermath and uploading it to YouTube. When this happens, the person who was shot often dies. However, if a single person decides to dominate the situation, the outcome often changes. All it takes in those situations if for a single individual to point to a specific person and say in a commanding voice, “You, call 911,” to get medical personnel on site. Dominance is an important trait in crisis situations because if nobody takes charge, more often than not, no coordinated effort is made to deal with the aftermath in a productive way.

Aggression is also a valuable trait unless you enjoy being steamrolled constantly. If somebody tries to coerce you into doing something you’d rather not do, getting aggressive is often the best way to convince that person to strong arm somebody else. For example, if an individual is attempting to kidnap you, fighting back fiercely might convince them that you’re more trouble than you’re worth.

So all of these traits, on a whole, are not harmful. They can be harmful in excess but that is true of all human traits. But recognizing that requires breaking away from the binary thinking that dominates thinking here in the United States (and, really, most of the world).

One Weird Trick to Avoid Not Receiving a Refund

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in its quest to make the federal government “shutdown” as painful as possible, has announced that while it will continue to take your money, it won’t return your refund:

During a shutdown, the IRS typically doesn’t perform audits, pay refunds or offer assistance to taxpayers if they have questions, especially outside of the filing season. And while some of the lights may still be on in the building, the agency is currently operating with only 12.5 percent of its workforce, or fewer than 10,000 federal employees.

A lot of people are upset about this but I’ve got one weird trick to avoid not receiving your refund: don’t overpay. If you receive a refund on your taxes, it means you gave the government an interest free loan that it is returning to you. If you adjust your withholdings properly, you won’t overpay and therefore won’t need to worry about a refund.

Grammar Matters

People are often surprised by what constituted a “classical” education. Education in ancient Rome was heavily focused on grammar. Why? Because the highest aspiration of an educated Roman was to make convincing arguments to get his (sorry ladies, the ancient Romans weren’t into gender equality) clients off the hook for whatever crimes they were accused of perpetrating (much like the decisions of the legal system here in the modern United States, the decisions of Rome’s legal system were more dependent on the ability of lawyers to spin a good yarn than what the evidence indicated).

A brief conversation with the average person will quickly prove that modern education isn’t terribly concerned with grammar. But I urge people to study grammar. While the highest aspiration of an educated person today may not be to impress a judge or jury with impeccable storytelling, the proper use of grammar can still pay dividends:

A pair of student drug dealers have been spared jail after a judge was impressed by the ‘spelling and grammar’ of the texts they sent advertising their product.

[…]

A court heard police examined their mobile phones to find text messages relating to their drug deals composed using perfect spelling and punctuation.

Judge David Hale said the ‘grammar and punctuation’ in the messages was of a much higher standard than normally seen from dealers and indicated a higher level of education.

The bar is set sufficiently low that the appropriate use of a single comma or period qualifies as a “much higher standard than normally seen.” But that’s good news for anybody who “don’t write so good.” They don’t have to study for long to become better than average.

The Shutdown That Isn’t

Did you know that the federal government is shutdown? If you didn’t, look at these eight situations created by the shutdown that will impact your life in terrible ways!

The first takeaway from that article is that those eight things are the scariest things the writer could find. Of those eight things only one, Native American not receiving payment for lands “purchased” by the federal government decades ago, stands to impact anybody in any meaningful way. But Native Americans being screwed over by the federal government has been the status quo since its founding so the shutdown really isn’t changing anything in that regard.

The second takeaway is the answer to the question, how can that list of terrible shutdown consequences fail to provide anything truly frightening:

The partial shutdown means about 25% of the US federal government has no funding.

It turns out that this “shutdown” is leaving 75% of the federal government with funding. While you might not be able to watch a live stream of the pandas at the National Zoo (which, ironically, is just a camera running a feed and therefore doesn’t need any funding to continue operating), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives can still afford to kick down your door and shoot your dog because the 16 inch barrel on your AR-15 looks suspiciously like 15.9 inches.