Sunday, March 25, 2018

John Bolton to replace General H.R. McMaster as President Trump's national security advisor

Great!  I was wondering what had happened to Bolton.  Bolton is as uncompromising as Trump, whereas McMaster was too conventional. It was McMaster who got Trump back into Afghanistan

President Donald Trump is replacing national security adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump tweets that McMaster has done "an outstanding job & will always remain my friend." He says Bolton will take over April 9.

Trump has repeatedly clashed with McMaster, a respected three-star general, and talk that McMaster would soon leave the administration had picked up in recent weeks.

His departure follows Trump's dramatic ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week.

It also comes after someone at the White House leaked that Trump was urged in briefing documents not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin about his recent re-election win. Trump did it anyway.

McMaster was brought in after Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was dismissed.



The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica 'Scandal' Is a Nothingburger

What the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal lacks in relevance it sure makes up for in melodramatic rhetoric. Take Bloomberg, for instance, which reported, “The revelations of the apparent skulduggery that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election keep sending shock waves across the political landscape.” Well, it’s partially true. Everyone is talking about it. The story has consumed most of the mainstream media.

The theory goes something like this: Facebook obtained information on users who took a personality quiz with their online friends. Another outlet, the advertising firm Cambridge Analytica, harvested that information, brainwashed a bunch of rubes and then yada, yada, yada … Russia! Former Cambridge Analytica contractor Christopher Wylie told CNN that while at the company, he helped build a “psychological warfare weapon” to “exploit mental vulnerabilities that our algorithms showed that (Facebook users) had.” So, in other words, he worked in the advertising business.

Those who have covered politics for more than a single Trump cycle should know better than to use this kind of unnerving rhetoric for what amounts to nothing more than average microtargeting, which has been used by hundreds, if not thousands, of firms. Yet now, when it serves to bolster convoluted theories about an election having been overthrown, terms like “psychographics” and “breach” are being thrown around to make it sound like someone hacked into voter rolls after boring into the deepest recesses of our collective soul.

Here’s a thought: If you’re uncomfortable with data mining and your information being shared, don’t take surveys. Because, guess what, you don’t have to be on Facebook. You don’t have to use Twitter. You don’t have a constitutional right to play FarmVille without answering a survey. You don’t get free stuff. The very existence of social media and tech companies is predicated on mining data so that they, or third parties, can sell you things. That has always been the deal.

Cambridge Analytica is a shady company owned by the British firm SCL Group — and, reportedly, in part by the right-wing-funding Mercer family — which claimed it could build models that identify persuadable voters by using six key personality types. Now it looks like Cambridge Analytica kept data it shouldn’t have. Yet the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica’s targeting was as questionable as its business practices. As others have pointed out, most Republicans used the firm to open to door to the Mercers’ checkbook.

By constantly using the word “breach,” reporters are trying to insinuate that someone stole voter data that typically was off-limits. Cambridge Analytica was allowed to pull that profile data. Facebook only changed its policy in early 2015. But before the general election, the Trump campaign dropped Cambridge Analytica for the Republican National Committee data, reportedly never using any of the “psychographic” information. According to CBS News, in September 2016, it had “tested the RNC data, and it proved to be vastly more accurate.”

Even if the campaign hadn’t, however, its efforts would have been akin to those being heralded as revolutionary when serving the interests of Democrats. In fact, Facebook allowed the Obama campaign to harvest data in the same way that is now generating headlines and handwringing. Do you remember any outrage and trepidation over the privacy and manipulation of your thoughts in 2012? The only consistent position the Left seems to take these days is that the mechanisms it uses to keep power automatically transform into something nefarious and undemocratic when the opposition uses them. If anything, there should be concerned about the ideological double standards of yet another tech giant.

Most of all, so what if voters were being “targeted”? Part of living in a free society means being bombarded by messages we don’t like. The entire Facebook-Russiabots scare is predicated on the notion that people don’t have free will. It’s only once we start micromanaging the information Americans consume that we begin undermining choices. Of course, people shouldn’t get their news from Facebook. And a reliable Fourth Estate that reports without bias to help Americans navigate through this messy contemporary digital life would be helpful. But the Cambridge Analytica story is just another example of how it fails.



The Cambridge Analytica scandal: an elitist delusion

Comment from Britain

There are two remarkable things about the fallout from the Observer exposé of the Cambridge Analytica Files. First, $37 billion was wiped from the value of Facebook in one day and its share price is continuing to fall – not because it did anything wrong, but because its lax data-protection policies allowed a third party apparently to misuse its users’ data without consent. Secondly, and more importantly, is how the story is strengthening the misconception that a dark dystopian data company has been the manipulating force behind election results around the world, particularly the greatest political disruptions for years: the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump.

What are the media and political elite smoking these days? They actually appear to believe that Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s Eton-educated chief executive, who has been suspended, is a Bond-type villain behind the scenes, whose data company has the power to change the world. They also appear to believe the self-serving claims made by the pink-haired data science geek and whistleblower at the heart of the exposé, Christopher Wylie, that he became ‘Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool’, which brought Trump to power. This is deeply delusional.

The only real truth behind this exposé is the fact that Cambridge Analytica used 50million profiles that had been harvested from Facebook, without its users’ consent, to target US voters with political advertisements. This certainly does have important privacy concerns which a lot of policymakers are getting very exercised about. We know how this is going to end, however: with increased calls for regulation and clampdowns which will threaten free speech and the further evolution of the internet.

But, it is not how the data was acquired which is leading the calls to regulate social media. The real reason the liberal media and politicians have gone into meltdown over this case is because of their prejudiced and misguided belief that Cambridge Analytica successfully used this data to bring about political outcomes which disgust them.

The data used by Cambridge Analytica was collected by Aleksander Kogan, an academic at Cambridge University. Yes, the fact that he passed this data to Cambridge Analytica without obtaining the consent of millions of Facebook users is an issue – the issue over which Facebook is now facing a growing barrage of criticism and a share-price slump. But Kogan’s entire research objective is itself problematic. His data-mining research programme aims to determine personality traits, political partisanship, sexuality and much more from people’s Facebook ‘likes’. His data are used to prepare ‘psychographic profiling’ after correlating them with more traditional data sets like magazine subscriptions or airline travel, shopping histories, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and so on. The purported outcome is the capture of every single aspect of voters’ information environments. This is what Cambridge Analytica is alleged to have done, enabling it to craft individual messages to targeted voters, either to persuade them to vote Trump or plant misinformation about opposition candidates.

The problem is that there is no evidence that any of this actually works. It is highly unlikely that an algorithm that examines a few dozen ‘likes’ can glean anything other than a very superficial indication of a user’s preferences, politically or otherwise. According to one report, for example, when users liked ‘curly fries’ and Sephora cosmetics, this was said to give clues to intelligence. Liking Hello Kitty is supposed to indicate one’s political views, while ‘being confused after waking up from naps’ was linked to sexuality. In short, garbage. These are correlations, not cause-and-effect relationships, and thus they are highly dubious ‘insights’. Spending large amounts of money on this kind of research can only be a stupid rich man’s game. The only ‘evidence’ we have that this works are the self-serving claims made by the snake oil salesmen of the data world and the liberal elite’s fantastical belief that this was the reason they lost the Brexit referendum and Hillary Clinton lost the White House.

There is an enormous degree of hypocrisy in this discussion, too. In a piece for the Spectator, Freddy Gray correctly points out that Barack Obama’s 2012 election campaign pioneered the use of Facebook’s APIs (application programming interfaces) and data to target voters to the same end. This was legitimate, apparently. Obama was heralded as being hip and in the vanguard of electioneering in the digital age. Apply the same to Donald Trump and we get conspiracy theories and hysteria.

But Gray makes another point which is salient. Namely, that the shutting down of these APIs by Facebook in 2014 had little to do with Facebook addressing legitimate privacy concerns. Facebook acted because it realised that any outside company could use these APIs to replicate the ‘social graph’ that Facebook sells to advertisers. In other words, Facebook and companies like Cambridge Analytica have built businesses around an apparent increased data capability to provide ‘psychographic profiling’ and the contemptible fantasy that ordinary people can be psychologically manipulated to buy, act and vote in a certain way.

We are not talking about a conspiracy to run the world. Rather what we are witnessing is the emergence of an ecosystem of con artists of the 21st-century dataverse. Despite their political differences, everyone who is peddling this garbage is united around the odious assumption that ordinary people, either as consumers or an electorate, are stupid, irrational and incapable of independent thought. That they are children who can be swayed, cajoled or seduced by honed messages or advertising. The fact that Trump’s election team employed Cambridge Analytica shows that they, too, share this view of the very people they were hoping to win to their cause. They treated electoral participation as a behavioural experiment, a stimulus-response model that could deliver Trump to power. Both sides are in denial about the realities of 21st-century politics – as if the American electorate needed Cambridge Analytica to manipulate them into rejecting the political elite in Washington, who regard them as deplorable.

The worst thing about this sorry story is that the more the media and liberal elite get their knickers in a twist over data manipulation, conspiracies and fake news, the more they reinforce the notion that this approach to politics is legitimate and actually works. The sordid irony is that the political elite and liberal intelligentsia have been hoisted with their own petard, so to speak. For years the absence of any real political vision about the purpose of government has forced the elite into technocratic managerialism based upon policies designed to nudge and manipulate the public for its own good. Elite politics can be summed up as an attempt to ‘save’ citizens from the negative consequences of their own behaviour. The liberal elite has been at the forefront of transforming the sphere of public agency, moral judgment and autonomy into a laboratory for manipulation through various forms of ‘nudge’ projects.

What the Cambridge Analytica Files exposé has revealed more than anything else is how all sides of the debate are more united than they would like to let on. Like squabbling children, one side is throwing their toys out of the pram because the other side won. ‘It’s not fair’, cries the Observer as it refuses to face the reality that it was not data manipulation that won Brexit or elected Trump, but the very contempt that they and their ilk hold for ordinary people. It’s time to grow up and start addressing the real concerns and problems we the people face. It’s time to put these childish pranksters on the naughty step.



Expert Canadian finds the ‘smoking gun’ in Florida bridge collapse

A mysterious Canadian engineering YouTuber appears to have found the “smoking gun” of the Florida International University bridge collapse, which killed six people last week.

According to the YouTuber, identified only as AvE, a single snapped tension cable spotted at the site paints a picture of crews negligently trying to jury-rig an unstable bridge while still allowing midday traffic to pass underneath.

“They knew there was a problem and they were trying to remediate it while the fucking traffic is still going … incredible, just an incredible … I can’t even,” said AvE in the 16-minute video.

By analyzing building plans and construction photos from the site, AvE concluded that the bridge would have been fine as initially designed, but that it was brought down by shortcuts taken on the construction site.

The main span of the bridge was prefabricated and then swung into position in a single day. This unique design was intended to reduce traffic delays on the six-lane road it would be spanning.

Once in place, the plan was to install the bridge’s final supports while traffic was once again allowed to flow underneath the still-unfinished span.

But photos and video from the swing-out reveals that the heavy-lift vehicles used to move the span were positioned differently than indicated in the bridge’s original plans, which would have placed stress on weaker areas of the bridge. This, in turn, could have upset the latticework of cables holding the bridge together.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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