Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Few Words on the Grand Jury for the Shooting of Michael Brown

I have seen folks saying that because there was contradictory testimony in the Grand Jury hearings in the case of Officer Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown that it should have went to trial. That is not how Grand Juries work. A Grand Jury has to establish probable cause. When there is a lot of contradictory testimony this cannot be done. The whole purpose of a Grand Jury is to establish if a case were to go to trial the chances of a conviction. In the case of Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown there simply was not enough witnesses making statements showing Darren Wilson did not act within his rights as a police officer and what was presented was contradicted by other witness statements as well as some of the physical evidence. Had Wilson been put on trial the verdict probably would have been innocent. A criminal trial has much stricter criteria than a Grand Jury. It has to show wrong was done beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It is sad a young black man had to die. However, everyday there are no doubt examples of police using excessive force against young black men as well as those of other ethnic groups. If you want to protest the treatment of young black men pick one of these cases where it is clear the police officer or officers were in the wrong. Do not take a case where it is uncertain what happened and try to make it fit your narrative. This goes both for those that think Wilson was in the right in shooting Brown as well as those that think it was wrong of Wilson to shoot him. Look at what was presented the Grand Jury with an open mind and decide for yourself. Do not just go along with what you hear on the news, see in social media, or act on emotions. Enlighten yourself and then decide. I looked at what was presented the Grand Jury, and frankly I do not know what happened. I do know there are cases where police wrong doing are much more clear cut than this case.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Evidence the Grand Jury in the Michael Brown Case Read

One thing lost in the story about young black man Michael Brown being shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson is facts. First we are told one thing by news outlets, then another. We are shown a photo that must have been taken when Brown was 12 years old (upon first seeing the photo I thought he must have been built like late actor Gary Coleman). Competing narratives are created. Was Michael Brown the promising young man about to go to college, or was he a small time thug that roughed up a small Korean shopkeeper? Was he the cute kid we are shown in the photo, or was he a big bruiser who was a bit of a bully? And in all this there is much speculation and the facts get lost in the mix. I have been saying I would reserve judgement until I saw what the Grand Jury to determine whether to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson had seen. Now, I took into account that this evidence had passed through the hands of those perhaps biased towards Wilson. I also considered that any attempt at filtering evidence so that Wilson was not indicted would have been foolish given there is a Federal investigation going on. Regardless, the information the Grand Jury saw is probably closer to the truth than what the media has been reporting in all its speculation and unconfirmed accounts. NPR is the only news outlet I have found that has published the documents the Grand Jury saw. Read the documents (and there are a lot of them), and decide for yourself. You can read them at:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Generation Y and Millennials

There is a tendency to lump Generation Y and Millennials into the same generation. The reason for this tendency to assume that Generation Y was the first to have constant access to technology such as home computers and cell phones in their youth. There is a problem with this. First, home computers and cell phones were not common place until the 90s, and not really common until almost the naughts. In previous years the majority of households did not own a home computer, and access to personal computers outside of the home was limited. Therefore the oldest members of Generation Y would have been in their late teens or perhaps even early twenties when such access came about. Many if not most would have spent their childhoods without constant access to computers and cell phones and therefore not been much different than the previous generation of Generation X. One cannot even use the argument they embraced such technology more so than other generations when it came about as many of the architects of things such as the World Wide Web, home computers, and cell phones were indeed members of Generation X. Therefore access to technology while a good method of defining a generation is not being seen in the right light. The truth is those born anywhere from 1981 to 1984 the various years set as when the first members of Generation Y were being born lived much of their young lives without access to home computers, DVDs, or cell phones making them little different from their older siblings or even their parents in that respect. We therefore must consider the births of members of Generation Y to have ended sometime in the 1990s, a time when such technology as cell phones, home computers, and other things became commonplace. The problem then is figuring out when Generation Y ended and the Millennial Generation began.

The most logical defining moment for marking when Generation Y ended and the Millennial Generation began is the birth of the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web was born in April, 1993 when CERN announced the technology would be freely available to everyone. Until then the World Wide Web was largely a community of limited scope. After that there was the potential for it to truly become world wide. Generation Y would therefore be those born after 1981 (or 1984 or any of the intervening years depending on when one feels the generation began) but before April, 1993. Generation Y is the last generation whose members can remember a time before the World Wide Web. Those born afterwards would know a world available at their fingertips, and access to information once available only by thumbing through books, newspapers, or magazine. They would grow up with Gameboys, home computers, DVDs, and cell phones.... things other generations had not known as children. Many of the things once well known to those born before them such as vinyl records, rotary dial phones, cassette tapes would become rare as new technologies developed. Many Millennials may not have even seen a rotary phone other than in photos or a museum.

Now, this is not to say one can use only technology to define a generation. However, it is to say in this day and age technology shapes culture. Generation X was the first generation to have TV freely available to it as children. It was during their youth that the majority of homes had a TV set. I think television shaped their views ranging on everything from parenting to politics. It made how that generation interacted with the world different from preceding generations. Similarly, those born after 1993 had their views, ideas, perhaps even the way they process their views and ideas shaped by the World Wide Web. I therefore cannot think one can lump those born after 1993 in with those born prior. They were born into a different world. One I think cannot deny that those born after the advent of the World Wide Web grew up in a different culture than those born before. This would make them fundamentally different people from previous generations, different even from those often also classed as Millennials. They are much less likely to turn to a book for information and much more likely to turn to the internet. They have entertained themselves by using game systems, streaming video, and social networks. Many may have never heard a vinyl record or watched a video cassette. It would be foolish I think therefore to lump such individuals in the same generation as those that grew up not knowing such things.

Therefore I propose that Generation Y is comprised of folks born from 1981 to 1993, and those born from 1994 until now are the Millennial Generation. The defining moment being the birth of the World Wide Web, a time when the world was forever changed, and access to information was made much easier. The term Millennial has been widely used of Generation Y, so it may be difficult to separate the term from that generation. If so then another term would have to be found like the Web Generation. Regardless, I feel Millennials are those who have never known a time when such information was not freely available with only an internet connection being needed. I think it has shaped their worldviews, and how they conduct themselves in the world. I think it can be argued that they are fundamentally different from those born from 1981 to 1993. I am not alone in defining the generation born from 1981 to 1993 as different from that following. The Pew Research Center classifies "Adult Millennials" as having been born from 1981 to 1996 ( retrieved Nov. 24, 2014).  On another chart used by the Pew Research Center they define Generation Y as having been born from 1981 to 1996 ( retrieved Nov. 24, 2014). Of course, as those first born after the World Wide Web have just recently started entering adulthood it remains to be seen if they are fundamentally different from those born before it existed. I do think it will be found they are. One cannot assume the advent of such a technology as the World Wide Web and it being available to children will not have have an impact on the generation that has never known the world without it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Facebook, Trolls Reporting Pseudonyms, and What Can be Done About It

Folks have been harassing various communities and people on Facebook by reporting them for using "fake names." According to Facebook one individual reported several hundred of one community in one setting. In the past couple of months drag queens, pagans, and even Native Americans have been harassed by having "fake name" reports being made against them. When such a report is made, the account using the supposed "fake name" is suspended until the person can prove they are using his or her "real name." Many people use pseudonyms to hide from abusive spouses, hide their religious views from employers that will not understand, avoid bullies or cyber bullying, or otherwise avoid harm in the real world were their true identities known. Still others like to use the name they are best known by, say a pen name or stage name or nickname. It could be argued that a name one goes by is just as "real" as the one they use for "legal" purposes. For example someone nicknamed "Red" might only be known to even close friends by that name and not his legal first name of say, "George." Therefore, one in such a situation could just as easily hide behind his or her "legal" name since no one would know him or her by it.

Here is what Chris Cox of Facebook had to say on his Facebook page about the issue and drag queens' profiles being reported:

I want to apologize to the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we've put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.

In the two weeks since the real-name policy issues surfaced, we've had the chance to hear from many of you in these communities and understand the policy more clearly as you experience it. We've also come to understand how painful this has been. We owe you a better service and a better experience using Facebook, and we're going to fix the way this policy gets handled so everyone affected here can go back to using Facebook as you were.

The way this happened took us off guard. An individual on Facebook decided to report several hundred of these accounts as fake. These reports were among the several hundred thousand fake name reports we process every single week, 99 percent of which are bad actors doing bad things: impersonation, bullying, trolling, domestic violence, scams, hate speech, and more — so we didn't notice the pattern. The process we follow has been to ask the flagged accounts to verify they are using real names by submitting some form of ID — gym membership, library card, or piece of mail. We've had this policy for over 10 years, and until recently it's done a good job of creating a safe community without inadvertently harming groups like what happened here.

Our policy has never been to require everyone on Facebook to use their legal name. The spirit of our policy is that everyone on Facebook uses the authentic name they use in real life. For Sister Roma, that's Sister Roma. For Lil Miss Hot Mess, that's Lil Miss Hot Mess. Part of what's been so difficult about this conversation is that we support both of these individuals, and so many others affected by this, completely and utterly in how they use Facebook.

We believe this is the right policy for Facebook for two reasons. First, it's part of what made Facebook special in the first place, by differentiating the service from the rest of the internet where pseudonymity, anonymity, or often random names were the social norm. Second, it's the primary mechanism we have to protect millions of people every day, all around the world, from real harm. The stories of mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance are oftentimes the result of people hiding behind fake names, and it's both terrifying and sad. Our ability to successfully protect against them with this policy has borne out the reality that this policy, on balance, and when applied carefully, is a very powerful force for good.

All that said, we see through this event that there's lots of room for improvement in the reporting and enforcement mechanisms, tools for understanding who's real and who's not, and the customer service for anyone who's affected. These have not worked flawlessly and we need to fix that. With this input, we're already underway building better tools for authenticating the Sister Romas of the world while not opening up Facebook to bad actors. And we're taking measures to provide much more deliberate customer service to those accounts that get flagged so that we can manage these in a less abrupt and more thoughtful way. To everyone affected by this, thank you for working through this with us and helping us to improve the safety and authenticity of the Facebook experience for everyone.

It would seem that Facebook's intent of preventing "mass impersonation, trolling, domestic abuse, and higher rates of bullying and intolerance" backfired, and instead names being used to prevent such harassment were reported. This revealed how flawed the way of reporting fake accounts by using names is. One need only look at the Timelines of the profiles reported to see that they were real profiles sharing things about the users' day to day lives. Were they fake profiles intent on some form of abuse or harassment there would be little personal information, no posts of a personal nature, no photos of the Facebook user. That was not the case.The only thing "fake" about most of the reported profiles was the use of a name other than the user's legal name. Instead these folks were using names they were known by in their respective communities whether those communities be LGBT, pagan, cosplay, or Native American.

There are ways of preventing such abuse of the "fake name reporting system." For example, one could be allowed to only report so many names as being fake a day. If one exceeded that number his or her account could be suspended. It should be apparent that if someone reports ten names as fake in say half an hour that they are not reporting trolls, but instead could be attempting to harass a group of people by reporting real accounts as fake. If a pattern of abuse by a user then their account could then be permanently deleted.

I sent feedback to Facebook about this, and I said:

"I have been reading up on the case with the drag queens not using their real names on Facebook. According to Chris Cox of Facebook it was one individual that reported several hundred drag queens for not using their real i.e. legal names. If that is the case, why doesn't Facebook issue a warning after someone has reported so many people for not using their real names, and if they persist, after a certain number suspend their account? It should be obvious I think that after someone had reported say ten accounts within an hour that they are just harassing people, and after say one hundred in a day, that that is a certainty."

If you send such feedback to Facebook you will want to use your own words, and not mine. But I do think Facebook needs to do something to stop this kind of trolling, and maybe if we suggest they put things in place to prevent it, they will. The system these past few months has been abused in a way by bigots and racists to harass anyone and everyone these trolls do not like. It is time Facebook puts a stop to it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Double Standard in Advertising

People have began criticizing television commercials and print advertising for electronic cigarettes that appear to try to glamorize vaping. The use of celebrities like Jenny McCarthy by Blu, an electronic cigarette manufacturer as well as advertisements and commercials by Blu and Fin showing people using electronic cigarettes in glamours settings are the grounds for this accusation. An example of such an ad, this one from e-cig manufacturer Fin is below:

There is a further accusation that there is a push to market electronic cigarettes to children. The claims that e-cig manufacturers are marketing to children stems from only two things. A recent study by Research Triangle Institute International   found that e-cig commercials are shown at times children and young adiuts are watching TV. The second claim that e-cig manufacturers are marketing to children comes from some of the nicotine juice flavors. That claim is that flavors like bubble gum, cherry, and root beer are being made to get children to try vaping since these flavors appeal to children's tastes.

While there is little denying that e-cig manufacturers are trying to glamorize vaping they are not the only industry to try to glamorize their products. Alcohol manufacturers have long marketed their products by showing attractive people drinking their products. For beer manufacturers this has largely been showing average looking men in bars attracting beautiful women as they swill down a Busch or Milwaukee's Best. For Scotch and Bourbon manufacturers this goes further to show folks in expensive suits and evening gowns in such glamorous settings as a mansion. Below is an example of a commercial featuring the "most interesting man in the world" for Dos Equis, a brand of beer:

As for the accusation e-cig manufacturers market to children, what the study by Research Triangle Institute International does not address is whether the commercials targeted children or young adults. Viagra and beer commercials are shown at times children and young adults can see them too. Yet no one has accused or Pfizer or  Anheuser-Busch of marketing to children. And I have yet to see a e-cig commercial showing teenagers vaping. As for the flavors nicotine manufacturers use, nicotine juice manufacturers have pointed out adults like these flavors too. And if there is such a concern over nicotine juice having flavors like apple, why is it no one has complained about Nicorette Gum having flavors like White Ice Mint or Fruit Chill? Nicorette gum can get a teenager addicted to nicotine just as easily as an e-cig can. In fact the use of nicotine gum by teenagers might go unnoticed while it would be more difficult to hide the fact one is using an e-cig.

The fact of the matter is there is a double standard going on when it comes to the advertising of electronic cigarettes and other dangerous products. The effects of vaping are largely unknown with some studies showing little danger while others show there may be some risks. What all studies agree on is that vaping is healthier than smoking. And if one is talking health risks, drinking alcohol is one of the leading preventable causes of death in the country, not just for the one drinking it, but those around them. In 2012 according to MADD there were 10,322 deaths due to accidents caused by drunk drivers (by comparison the CDC estimates about 7,333 people die of lung cancer from second-hand smoke and all agree vaping is safer than smoking). As far as I know no one has taken many drags on an e-cig jumped in a car and killed a family of four due to impairment caused by the use of the e-cig. One in ten people die from alcohol use according to the CDC. If an e-cig user is responsible and uses his or her device away from others, the only person's death they may be bringing on faster is his or her own. So why then are alcohol manufacturers not criticized for glamorizing their products, but e-cig manufacturers are?

And while no alcohol manufacturer shows ten year olds swilling down their products they do use very young actors and actresses in their commercials. How many times have you looked at an attractive young lady in a beer commercial and wondered if she was even old enough to get in a bar? And taverns and bars in college towns encourage young adults to drink by having game nights, having live bands, and having various contests. Some even serve alcohol to underage drinkers not caring whether they are old enough to drink or not.

It is therefore somewhat perplexing as to why there is this double standard. You have this product many are using to quit smoking which while its effects are not totally understood it is agreed it is healthier than the alternative. And then you have this industry that produces a product known to kill people, that glamorizes the use of its products, and actively markets to young adults that goes on uncriticized  except by groups such as MADD and law enforcement. MADD's aims are mainly to stop drunk driving and prevent underage drinking, not to stop the alcohol industry from glamorizing drinking. Law enforcement does not address the health risks of drinking. Law enforcement only addresses the violation of the drinking laws such as those concerning drinking and driving and underage drinking.

There is no reason there should be this double standard. Either folks should criticize both the electronic cigarette and alcohol industries for glamorizing their products, or criticize neither. There is no reason for one dangerous past time to be the subject of being stigmatized while the other goes unchecked. Don't get me wrong, I drink on occasion, but this double standard really makes no sense to me. And the fact one nicotine product (e-cigs) is criticized for its flavors while another (nicotine gum) is not makes even less sense.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ferguson and Racism as Large Scale Abuse

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by white police officer David Wilson has brought the issue of race back to the forefront in America. Many Anglo-Americans perhaps have been in denial about these issues. Living in a small town in Missouri with several black friends, and seeing how they are treated by my family has left me woefully ignorant of the realities of being an African American. The sad truth is there is still much social injustice. I became very aware of this after reading the article "Mike Brown’s shooting and Jim Crow lynchings have too much in common. It’s time for America to own up"  by Isabel Wilkerson. Even if Wilson was justified in shooting Brown that still does not explain the countless other shootings of African Americans by police officers in a number much higher than that of Caucasions shot by police officers. I fear the only answer is that African-American lives are seen as having less value than that of other races.

This brought an interesting question though, interesting at least to me. Perhaps it is not only whites that devalue African-Americans, but fellow blacks as well? Despite the statistics of white police officers killing unarmed blacks, a black male is more likely to be killed by one of their own race. Between 1976 and 2011 94% of African-Americans were killed by other African-Americans (Black On Black Crime: A Critique ). Now there are probably many factors that feed into this. There is of course poverty and due to poverty lower chances of getting a high school education much less beyond that. Unemployment is perhaps another factor as is living in inter-cities. It could well be that poor whites have a similar percentage of each other killing each other. I somehow doubt that is the case. Which brought me to the question, do blacks devalue blacks? I can think of no other reason. If was simply a case of being poor, poorly educated, and out of work I think the statistics would reflect more the racial makeup of the country. That is I think were it a case of being poor, unemployed, uneducated, and living in a city you would see the number of whites being killed by blacks being reflective of the population as a whole. Whites make up 77.7% of the nation's population while blacks make up 13.2% according to the 2010 Census. I would therefore expect that close to 77% of those killed by blacks to be white with only close to 13% being black. That is not the case however. I therefore have to wonder whether it is a case of some African-Americans devaluing their own race?

I have no answer to this. Being a white male I have no idea of what goes on in a young black man's mind. However, consider this. For over 200 years African-Americans have been told they are inferior and that the white race is superior. Until 1865 in the South at least blacks had that idea beat into them. They were taught to be obident, to do their work, and remain silent about it. If they deviated from that, they could be whipped. After 1865 African-Americans gained some freedom. Yet, were an African-American to look at a white woman the wrong way, speak to a white man the wrong way, or commit a minor criminal offense like shop lifting an African-American could be beaten, worse hung, or worse yet burned alive. African-Americans were told they could not use the same facilities as whites, and while those facilities a black could use were supposed to be equal they rarely were. In other words, African-Americans were being taught they were inferior.

A phenomena amongst those that have been abused is to begin to believe what they are told while being beaten. That is some victims of domestic violence will start to believe they deserve to be beaten, that they are worthless, and not deserving of respect. Now imagine this on a large scale where an entire group of people are told they are worthless. I am beginning to realize that perhaps many young African-Americans suffer low self esteem due to years of being told they are not equal to men of other races. Perhaps they do not even believe they are the equal of their white counterparts. As a result not only do they see themselves as not being worthy, but see their peers of their race as unworthy as well. It therefore is easier for them to shoot and kill a fellow young black man than it is a white man of the same age. After all, they have been told members of their race do not have the same value as others. Simply put they may not see their black peers as being worthy enough to live.

If that is the case, it is time for our society to change. If young blacks suffer low self esttem due to years of racism, and thus kill others of their race as a result it is nothing but society's fault. You cannot blame it on drugs, on running with the wrong crowd, poverty, or a poor education. You can only blame it on racism. Now, perhaps I do not know what I am talking about. I am a white, middle aged man. I have benefitted from white privilege. Perhaps, there are reasons I do not see that blacks kill blacks in large numbers. But studies show that people that have been abused devalue themselves, and what is racism if it is not simply a form of abuse on a large scale?

Small Town Newspapers: A Thing of the Past?

On July 30, 2014 the Macon Chronicle-Herald of Macon, Missouri printed its last issue. It had been in print since at least 1926 as the Chronicle-Herald. Its owner GateHouse Media decided there was no longer a need for the paper. This ended a long history of newspapers in Macon, and the small town is now without a newspaper, although it will still be served by the The Home Press which is headquartered in nearby La Plata, Missouri. Once upon a time many small towns had more than one newspaper. It was not unusual in the Victorian Era for a town of 12,000 or even as small as 5,000 to have two or three daily or weekly newspapers. Even small hamlets of only a few hundred people had weekly newspapers. As time passed these papers would either go out of business or merge until a small town had only one newspaper. Many of these small dailies are still in business.

A local newspaper was the lifeline of a small town. They could report local news in more depth than radio, and reported on a wide variety of things. In the pages of a local newspaper one could find in addition to major news stories, news on the local government, businesses, birth announcements, announcements of engagements, wedding announcements, death notices, society news, local entertainment, local sports, and more. Local persons were often interviewed about such topics as local history, or the opening of a new business. A wide variety of information was available daily. During much of the 20th century small town newspapers served much the same purpose as the internet does today. One needs only browse such sites as or newspaperarchive,com to see the amount of local news a small town newspaper covered. Beginning in the 1960s and earlier major corporations began buying local papers. Unable to keep up with the cost of printing and distribution many small presses found the need to sell, and were quickly snatched up by large news syndicates. This spelled the beginning of the end for local newspapers.

Many small town weeklies ceased publication after being purchased by news syndicates as they were merged with local daily papers. An example of this was the Randolph County Times-Herald which was purchased by the news syndicate owning the Moberly Monitor-Index. The two papers were merged with the Times-Herald becoming a page in the Monitor-Index. After several years of being published this way, the Times-Herald simply disappeared. Many small town newspapers disappeared this way having been purchased by a large company and then merged with a larger paper in a nearby town. This was actually an extension of a process that had been going on for many years. The newspapers of many small hamlets had already been swallowed up by the newspapers of nearby towns. For example, the Times-Herald had been created by the merger of several Huntsville, Missouri papers over the years.  The Times-Herald in turn purchased the village newspaper of Clifton Hill, the Clifton Hill Rustler. The Times-Herald then was bought up and merged with the Monitor-Index, and so the process continued.

Ownership of small town newspapers by news syndicates has had disastrous side effects. As the news syndicates cut the staff of local papers, less local news could be covered. The local papers therefore had to run more news from the national and international news wires. This arrangement worked fine until the late 1990s when the world wide web came about. Suddenly, folks were no longer reliant on the local small town newspaper to get national and international news in depth. Instead they could simply go to sites like Yahoo News, or one of the major city newspapers' websites. Since much of the news printed by many small town papers was no longer local news people no longer felt a need to subscribe to local papers and circulations dropped. As circulation  of a paper dropped, advertisers sought out other outlets for their ads such as radio and television, not to mention the internet. As ad revenue dropped, the large news syndicates no longer saw the local papers profitable. And this brings us to the Macon Chronicle-Herald. It has met the fate of many small town newspapers across the nation. When a small town newspaper ceases to be profitable in the eyes of a news syndicate it risks being closed. One has to wonder if there will be a time when there is no longer such a thing as the small town newspaper.

There is perhaps a way to reverse this trend. First, in order to increase circulation and thus remain profitable small town newspapers need to go back to running local news no one else will run. They need to print news one will not find on the internet, and that may only get a passing mention on radio or television. Small town newspapers need to take advantage of the fact they can still cover news in depth. They are not hindered by time as are radio and television. Unlike radio or television they are not limited by the amount of time a news show can run a news segment. If a small town newspaper so desired they can dedicate an entire page to a local news story mentioning things that would have been edited out by the local radio or television stations due to time.In addition small town news papers can run news stories that no one else will run such as local society and business news. There is perhaps a way small town papers may be able to survive.

It may be too late for small town newspapers. It certainly was for the Chronicle-Herald. Many may have already reached the point they can never rebuild their circulations so that a news syndicate would not think of closing them. This is truly sad as newspapers have played such a big part in American history. Alas, new technology may have already spelled their doom. One can only hope local news outlets on the internet will rise to take their place. Otherwise, residents may wind up without a way to learn about what is going on in their towns. Television and radio simply do not have the means to cover local news in depth, and thus far for most small towns there has not arisen a substitute for the local small town paper. Only time will tell.