Comment of the Week: November 24

So this week is a bit of a cheat.

It’s a tweet, not a comment. But what is Twitter if not a living, breathing (except for the bots) comment section?

Human trash receptacles, Tomi Lahren, took to Twitter to share an image on Thanksgiving. The image (as seen below) contrasts WWII soldiers and a kneeling Colin Kaepernick. The intended effect was as obvious as it was obtuse and not standing in fact.

Tony Posnanski, among others, was having none of it.

 

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Now Tomi, THAT is food for thought. Well said, and to think it was well under 180 characters too. Double win.

Podcast You Should Hear: The Dan Le Batard Show

Podcast: The Dan LeBatard Show
Genre: Sports, comedy
How can I listen?: Apple Podcast, Stitcher, ESPN Podcenter, Tune In

What’s it about?: The LeBatard Show is a daily sports radio show that refuses to be a sports radio show. They refuse to take sports too seriously and instead, they opt for finding the humor or interesting things in sport that no one else is talking about. They also have no fear of abandoning sports altogether and going off into who the hell knows what topic.

The more time you spend with the show the more rewarding it is. To get there you have to realize what it is not. It is not a show that talks in-depth about games before they happen, it is not a show that makes predictions or peddles in sports cliches. Instead, it is a show that makes fun of sports and everything around it for being so serious. In return, the crew refuses to take themselves too seriously and they have fun in the process.

Sometimes, I wonder what the show sounds like to the uninitiated. What do you think when you hear them talk to Tim Legler about his Halloween decorations instead of the upcoming NBA games? Or when they bring Ron Magill on to answer animal questions? Or why so many callers refer to Tim Kurkjan as Tom and no one bats an eye? If you have any of those questions it probably means that “You don’t get the show!” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t.

The show is centered around its namesake, Dan LeBatard, an award-winning journalist formerly of the Miami Herald. LeBatard is joined by co-host Jon “StuGotz” Weiner, producers Mike Ryan, Billy “Guillermo” Gill, Roy Bellamy, Chris Cote, and Allyson Turner. It is the best-produced show you’ll hear, but what makes it even better is each person has their own character and get their moments to shine (really waiting on a new Roy Top 10).

The LeBatard Show airs five days a week on ESPN radio with a local hour airing before on 790 the Ticket in Miami. All four hours are available (sans commercials, and bits with music) each afternoon for listening in podcast form. There is also a daily best-of version that I refuse to listen to because the reward of the show is hearing everything and not feeling left out when the polls come around.

If Seinfeld was the show about nothing (it wasn’t, the show on the show was but I digress), the LeBatard Show is the radio show about nothing and it’s why I love it.

Length: 4 daily podcasts ranging around 30 minutes a piece, best of podcast is about 60 minutes
Similar Podcasts: Fiyastarter Podcast, The Right Time with Bomani Jones

Song for a Moment: Blossom Dearie – “Try Your Wings”

It’s raining.

I sit in a laundromat of a new locale. This large space shared only by three other people. The natural soundtrack is the vibration of washers and dryers, the droning of ABC news, and the cascading of raindrops against the window.

Like always I opt for my own soundtrack instead of settling for what is given to me. When it rains, I love to listen to Blossom Dearie. It’s not that her music is depressing, or sad, but between her words and just above the music, it’s almost as if you can hear the gentle tapping of rain.

It’s not a rain of sadness, but it’s not a rain of new beginnings. It’s the rain that creates puddles children splash in. The rain that rinses a few days of dirt off of your car. It’s the rain that we need for growth. It’s safe, but enough of a bother that it’s not comfortable.

When I listen to Blossom Dearie I can hear her baby doll voice juggle these feelings, these emotions, in ways that a more powerful voice might not manage. There is a deftness, a gentleness that holds onto you and walks you to the other side of the road letting you know that it’s okay.

You aren’t alone and the marathon you’ve run in your head your entire life can end. It’s not an assurance that tomorrow will be better, but that it can’t be if you continue down the same path.

When she sings she plays the strings to my insides. One word could tip off a smile, a longing, a love, or a sadness but it always comes back to balance. Never going too far but never denying it all.

So I watch the rain and smile. I still live and still have time to be who I have always wanted to be.

 

Get Out My Pocket: Facebook’s War on Free Will

Over the past five years, I have saved hundreds of long-form articles using Pocket.

My intent was to save articles I didn’t have time to read in the moment. As time passed my eyes were bigger than my attention span. The problem with that is there is SO MUCH GREAT LONG-FORM WRITING out there.

Seriously. If you are on any social media platform you will be exposed to at least 10 truly great articles. These are just the articles that people in your network shared. Believe it or not, there is a wide world outside of that. So over these five years, I have found myself saving everything. As a result, I have hundreds of articles saved that are begging to be read. So I’m going to read them in random order.

The first article is Franklin Foer’s Guardian piece from September 19, 2017, called “Facebook’s war on free will.” To sum up the article I’ll paraphrase Kanye West “No one (corporation) should have all that power.”

So what power does Facebook have? Well, it all lies in the algorithm. We’ve all heard the word before but Foer explains it’s utilization:

The essence of the algorithm is entirely uncomplicated. The textbooks compare them to recipes – a series of precise steps that can be followed mindlessly. This is different from equations, which have one correct result. Algorithms merely capture the process for solving a problem and say nothing about where those steps ultimately lead.

These recipes are the crucial building blocks of software. Programmers can’t simply order a computer to, say, search the internet. They must give the computer a set of specific instructions for accomplishing that task. These instructions must take the messy human activity of looking for information and transpose that into an orderly process that can be expressed in code. First do this … then do that. The process of translation, from concept to procedure to code, is inherently reductive. Complex processes must be subdivided into a series of binary choices. There’s no equation to suggest a dress to wear, but an algorithm could easily be written for that – it will work its way through a series of either/or questions (morning or night, winter or summer, sun or rain), with each choice pushing to the next.

In short, algorithms are one of many steps that will lead us to the singularity. When you log-on you are surrounded by them. They recommend you a TV show on Netflix, a song or album you might like on Spotify, an item you might be interested in buying on Amazon, and that isn’t scratching the surface. Algorithms are capable of doing things that a room full of the brightest minds on Earth can’t even comprehend. Foer continues:

Algorithms can translate languages without understanding words, simply by uncovering the patterns that undergird the construction of sentences. They can find coincidences that humans might never even think to seek. Walmart’s algorithms found that people desperately buy strawberry Pop-Tarts as they prepare for massive storms.

So what does this have to do with Facebook? Everything.

Over a billion people have Facebook accounts. More people than you would like to admit use Facebook as a one-stop shop for socializing, news, entertainment, and memes. While you get all of this information on your timeline it isn’t by chance that they end up there. It is, you guessed it, algorithms that suggest posts and point you in the direction of news that reflects your mindstate. It was this very situation that allowed Facebook to be exploited during the last Presidential election.

If it were only the news that you received, videos you played, or memes you saw that would be bad enough. Instead, Facebook’s power is exposed by them using their super large user base which allows them to run experiments.

Facebook sought to discover whether emotions are contagious. To conduct this trial, Facebook attempted to manipulate the mental state of its users. For one group, Facebook excised the positive words from the posts in the news feed; for another group, it removed the negative words. Each group, it concluded, wrote posts that echoed the mood of the posts it had reworded. This study was roundly condemned as invasive, but it is not so unusual. As one member of Facebook’s data science team confessed: “Anyone on that team could run a test. They’re always trying to alter people’s behaviour.”

If this was a thought experiment that would be one thing. The fact this was an actual experiment that they tested on people is scary. What’s even scarier is no oneknew, besides the people running the experiment, it was taking place. If someone suggested this type of abuse of power was possible a few years ago they would have been accused of being a conspiracy theorist.

The ability to control that many people through a suggestion is dangerous. One could argue the positives in nudging people away from negative behaviors subconsciously. I would say that it involves impeding on someone’s free will, and it is a slippery slope that is destined to lead to abuses.

The many Facebook experiments add up. The company believes that it has unlocked social psychology and acquired a deeper understanding of its users than they possess of themselves. Facebook can predict users’ race, sexual orientation, relationship status and drug use on the basis of their “likes” alone. It’s Zuckerberg’s fantasy that this data might be analysed to uncover the mother of all revelations, “a fundamental mathematical law underlying human social relationships that governs the balance of who and what we all care about”.

When you consider all the information we willingly give Facebook. Through each status, each image, each comment we give a little bit more of ourselves. That is not enough for Facebook. It is not for any altruistic goal, but to control us to point us in a direction that benefits them the most. They strive to know us better than we know ourselves by keeping track of our likes, what we view, and more. It’s all enough to make me wish I could give it all away, but it might be too late for all of us.