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Machine Learning that's Killer

Finding terrorists who haven’t yet struck is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In fact, it may be looking for needles where there aren’t any. Ars Technica put up an interesting but deeply concerning piece yesterday regarding the use of the NSA’s SKYNET program to automatically identify terrorists based on metadata. Patrick Ball—a data scientist and the executive director at the [Human Rights Data Analysis Group](—who has previously given expert testimony before war crimes tribunals, described the NSA's methods as "

Donald Trump was Right

No, it’s not a joke title! He actually was right about something. If you watched this past Saturday’s Republican primary debate, you saw Donald Trump go on the offensive against Bush–George W Bush, that is, as a line of attack against his brother, Jeb (who polls in the single digits, despite once being the establishment favorite). Trump let loose a number of claims: * George W Bush did not keep us safe; 9/11 happened on his watch.

Reverence for the Recently Departed

Antonin Scalia, one of the judges sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States, died Saturday. To say that his death has provoked many controversial opinions would be an understatement. What concerns me, in particular, is the demand for propriety–respect and reverence–upon the death of a public figure. It is a peculiar expectation, though perhaps driven by an impulse to remind ourselves and each other that the same fate awaits us all.


It’s rambling time. At this point it’s become clear that I’ve put a demanding workload on myself. I believe I have mentioned that I have a full-time job. Obviously, that sucks up a lot of time and energy. This past week was particularly difficult. Without being too specific, an issue arose where I was called on to completely reimplement a process that already existed, and which would have worked fine if those using it had been using it correctly.

Link Roundup: February 13, 2016

But no Valentine’s Day theme here. Sorry. Politics * [Ted Cruz campaign pulls ad after learning actress was a porn star]( -- Because what's an election without some sex worker shaming, right? * [The weird campaign of John Kasich]( -- Kasich is kind of bonkers, really. He hides it well on stage, but he's a very strange guy. He's also wrecked Ohio's education system and is very execution-happy. He comes off like a grandfather figure, but he is not a merciful man.

Dataclysm: Our Data, Ourselves

I just finished reading Dataclysm: Who We Are When We Think No One’s Looking. It was written by Christian Rudder, one of the founders of the dating site OkCupid, so you figure he knows a thing or two about the subject. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, Rudder draws on data pulled from OkCupid,, Twitter, Facebook, and other sources to explore various aspects of ourselves. This involves examinations of how perceived attractiveness affects one’s dating prospects, racial biases when seeking romantic partners, the mechanics of online outrages, and the various ways people describe themselves, held up against what their actions betray as their true selves.

Thoughts on GamerGate and Reactionaries

I’ve not written much about GamerGate on this blog. If you don’t know what that is, you’ll get a brief explanation here (and then some). Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll point toward RationalWiki’s mercifully brief synopsis: * Video game designer breaks up with her boyfriend. * Boyfriend posts bitter screed about her, hoping to use the Internet as his personal army. * Internet Hate Machine™ obliges. * Peoples' privacy destroyed, lives ruined, careers in gaming industry ended.

Emotion and Action

In a lot of ways, American culture is driven by emotion. The roots of American political thought in the philosophy of the Enlightenment are taught to all American students, but so is Patrick Henry’s famous decree, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Henry’s challenge is much better at stirring emotions–it engages the attention of the listener far more readily than a discussion of natural law and natural rights. Humans are emotional creatures, obviously, and it takes more of an effort to approach a situation intellectually than to read it at the more basic, emotional level.

Political Journalism Sucks

Ever wonder why political journalism in the US is, by and large, so terrible? Maybe you’ve already answered this question for yourself. In that case, this post will be redundant! But if not, read on. A piece was published on Gawker today that offers a timely highlight of a central problem.  While it may be true that the political press doesn’t always write exactly what Clinton would like, emails recently obtained by Gawker offer a case study in how her prodigious and sophisticated press operation manipulates reporters into amplifying her desired message—in this case, down to the very word that _The Atlantic_’s Marc Ambinder used to describe an important policy speech.

Navigating Between Clinton and Sanders

2016 is getting ugly. Before I dig directly into the topic, I want to do a bit of stage-setting. I wrote about some issues with Bernie Sanders’ supporters before. I don’t believe I have written at much length about Hillary Clinton, in large part because I have been reluctant to do so. But, after some recent events, I’ve decided it’s time to organize my thoughts and talk about the issue that looks to define the animosity between their respective camps of supporters.