Facebook Deliberately Cripples Groups

Playing around with a recently created Facebook group, I discovered a travesty I hadn’t been aware of. At one point, Facebook allowed groups to send messages to their members, and invite their members to events. That is mostly what these groups are for after all, to keep up with the goings on of whatever organization.

More recently, those features have been removed. Group admins cannot mass-message their members, nor can they invite anyone who is not already their friend to group events. This is a huge hit to the core purpose of the groups feature, making it far less effective and useful. The only way to reach out to group members is now to post your message to the group page, and hope members happen to check the page or check their newsfeed if they happen to be one of the small minority of group members on whose newsfeed Facebook will post the message.

So why would Facebook make this change? The obvious reason emerges the moment you look at a group page from the Admin side. The page is covered in advertisements to “Promote Page” or “Boost Post”. Basically you pay Facebook to put put your posts on the newsfeeds of a larger number of your members. A service that was once offered for free, getting group posts onto member newsfeeds, now costs money, and competing ways to accomplish the same goal, mass-messages and group invites, are eliminated altogether.

Not only is this annoying on an individual level, it has consequences for what kind of posts you’ll see in your newsfeed. Instead of being based on what you’re interested in hearing about, it’s based on which of the groups you follow are willing to shell out more money to Facebook. This helps make social media, which is supposed to be a way for people to communicate freely, into one more medium dominated by whoever has the deepest pockets.

There is simply no justification for preventing groups from effectively contacting their members except for Facebook allowing it’s greed to get in the way of a good user experience. This may pay dividends in the short term, but I can only hope that this kind of disrespect will hurt their business model in the long term. Why keep coming back to a supposedly social network that is bad at social networking and tries to bilk money out of you at every opportunity? It is certainly encouraging me to find alternative ways of reaching people.

http://pikstudio.deviantart.com/art/fuck-facebook-194886105

Safe Sex

I stumbled across this blog post via a facebook friend:

http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/08/05/i-will-not-teach-my-kids-about-safe-sex/

It’s basically a rant in favor of abstinence only sex-education. Here are some choice passages and my responses:

“In this nation, we are concerned about the integrity of our produce and our peanut butter, so we only buy them if they have words like ‘organic’ and ‘raw’ on the packaging. But, when it comes to human sexuality, we’ll sip whatever chemicals we need in order to stave off the natural emotional and physical consequences of our behavior. Imagine the college students who have to chug 6 rum cocktails and 8 Natty Lights between them before they can anonymously copulate in someone’s dorm room. But they require more than booze; they also need pills and condoms and explanations the morning after about how this was all just for fun and it didn’t mean anything.”

What does this mean? So regular, non-drugged sex is like organic peanut butter I guess, and so sex with birth control is like processed peanut butter? In that…. it involves adding things?

“Why do we say that these people enjoy sex? The man who makes love to his wife of 20 years enjoys sex; these people only enjoy certain physical sensations. They enjoy masturbating with assistance — but sex is precisely what they’re trying desperately to avoid.”

So ‘these people’ are enjoying something, but it’s not sex, that’s only between married couples. Instead sex outside of marriage is ‘masturbating with assistance.’ I would be interested in hearing what the actual cutoff is between these two categories, but I can’t imagine someone dumb enough to think them up would have also thought them through.

“Nameless, random, uncommitted sex is never safe. Not emotionally, not spiritually, not physically. In fact, no sex is safe. Sex is not supposed to be safe. Sex isn’t supposed to be physically perilous like it often is these days — thanks, mostly, to years of ‘safe sex’ education — but it is supposed to be an act of great depth and consequence. Sex is meant to be open and exposed. It’s meant to bring out scary and mysterious feelings of desire and devotion.”

Well first let me just say thank god that I’ve just been masturbating with assistance this whole time, because that sure does sound scary. Also, how exactly is safe sex education making sex more dangerous? My only thought is this: divide sex into within-wedlock and out-of-wedlock. The out-of-wedlock category riskier than within-wedlock, but is made safer by sex-ed classes. However, if these classes convince enough people that out-of-wedlock sex is safe, we might see an increase in it compared to within-wedlock sex, thus making the average sex-act more dangerous, even as unmarried sex havers see nothing but safety improvements. Sort of like how car accident fatalities are surprisingly unchanged by safety improvements, because people just feel safer and drive more recklessly. Of course in that scenario having a giant spike coming out of the steering wheel is the reducto ad absurdum of the trend, while getting rid of the available protections is actually what this post recommends.

“This is like planting a seed in the ground and calling it a mistake when a tree begins to sprout because you thought the soil was infertile. You may have believed this, but still the seed is doing exactly what seeds are supposed to do, and you did exactly what a person is supposed to do if they want to make a tree grow. You may be a fool, but this was no accident.”

Wouldn’t just planting the seed and walking off be equivalent to unprotected sex? Let’s say planting seeds was really fun, but for some reason we didn’t want more trees to go. How about planting the seed inside a little plastic case, so it wouldn’t grow? Or just removing it right after? And plus, then if you take these precautions, you’re more justified describing any tree that grows as an accident, since you were obviously trying to avoid that eventuality. Of course some environmental groups might get mad at how you’re killing the seeds, but really even tree-huggers know the difference between a seed and tree.

“sex is an expression of love. This is the primary thing that separates human sex from sex between beasts. It is a profound good, but, like any good, it can be perverted and turned into a very dark evil.”

Animals feel love don’t they? Their minds are simpler of course, but I’d say what a mother bear feels towards its cubs or what two mated-for-life swans feel for each other is pretty analogous to love. Or maybe not! Either way, it’s an interesting question that shouldn’t have on answer glibly passed on as supposed wisdom.

“The abstinence-before-marriage plan paints an affirmative and uplifting picture. It says, “this is something so good and so important and so joyful that you should leave it be until you grow up and find one special person to share it with.””

Of course it’s been proven over and over again that abstinence only sex education does not lead to a decrease in sexual activity, but does manage to stop people from using as much protection, leading to increases in the teen pregnancy rate, leading to increases in both the teen birth rate and the abortion rate. It’s so uplifting!

“By the way, though it is just a recreational activity, like Parcheesi or air hockey, it can also lead to broken hearts, chlamydia, pregnancy, and AIDS. So, in that sense, it’s a little different from a board game. Hey, let’s look at some super-magnified images of genital warts!””

Confession – an experience much like this is why I no longer play Parcheesi. Though I still break out the genital warts slides now and then! Well, at least we learned that if something people want to do is dangerous, the worst thing we can do is try to make that thing safer.

“You don’t want your kid to drink and drive, but if he did, you’d prefer he wear a seatbelt, right? Well, would you ever say to him: “junior, I know you’re going to drink and drive. You shouldn’t, but everyone does. So just wear your seatbelt”?

Why not?

Because that statement seriously dilutes your anti-drunk driving message, lends a tacit endorsement to the behavior, and assumes the worst in your son before he even has a chance to make his own choices?”

This is why anti-drunk driving organizations advocate banning seatbelts. The only way to stop drunk driving is to make it as dangerous as possible! That’s the only way they’ll learn!

“Also, for how long have the majority of parents been using the “well, my kids are going to have sex anyway” logic? Decades, maybe? And has sex among unmarried people become generally more or less prevalent during that time? More, right? So do we, perhaps, have here a case of a self-fulfilling prophesy?”

Because it sure would be ridiculous if the causality worked the other way, from teenagers having sex to parents… noticing their teenagers are having sex.

“Also, do you, in any other situation, elect to forgo teaching your kid to do what is right and instead prepare him to do the next best thing? Do you ever tell your child to shoot for a ‘C’ in math class? Do you ever tell her to make sure she only engages in reasonable levels of bullying and gossip? Do you ever tell your son to only vandalize abandoned properties? Do you ever tell your daughter to only lie to you once a week? Do you ever tell your son to only forge your signature on his report card if he’s really sure it looks super accurate?”

Good thing the author emphasized how sex-positive he was earlier, or this comparison of sex to a list of crimes, sins, and failures might seem a little suspicious. Really that’s what this ultimately comes down to. Is sex a reasonable thing for people to want to do, just for the joy of it? Or is it morally equivalent to petty crime? And what that comes down to is whether you think sex outside of marriage is sinful. If you do, you can write whole blog posts trying to come up with reasons to support your position, but all it comes down to is that we should be avoiding extra-marital sex as much as possible, because it’s BAD. On the other hand if you don’t believe sex is sinful, you can just look at it as a public health problem like any other, and do what the data says will save the most lives and give people the most control over their own bodies: real sex education that doesn’t judge people regardless of what level of sex they’re interested in having, but just gives them the tools they need to be healthy no matter what choices they make.

Law School: Three Scenarios

I’m vaguely considering applying for law school, and had an idea for a personal statement. The gist / basic outline is below.

I can see our society going in three basic directions:

1) Reform: This is probably the best case scenario. We gradually fix our problems, capitalism survives but in a tamer form, we beat climate change, etc.

As a lawyer I’d be in a decent position as such things go to push for this scenario and help the various reforms along.

2) Reaction: This on the other hand is probably the worst case scenario. Things just go to shit, the divide between the rich and poor widens, growth slows, automation makes mass unemployment the order of the day.

In this scenario it’s good to be a lawyer because if I’m successful it can at least buy me a spot on the lifeboat.

3) Revolution: Starts out looking like scenario #2, but the forces of law and order don’t manage to keep things together, so rather than a slow descent into dystopia, we get some kind of sudden, radical change.

Robespierre was a lawyer.

Jaden Smith Drinking Game

Get ready, I am about to improve your life:

First, let me present the twitter account of Jaden Smith. You may know him as the untalented son of Will Smith who Will is trying to turn into a movie star. However, if that’s all you know about him, you are missing out. He is also one of the greatest tweeters alive, producing such gems as

“You Can Discover Everything You Need To Know About Everything By Looking At Your Hands”

and

“Either I Lie To You Or We Cry Together”

But that’s just the beginning. In response to the glory that is @officialJaden some noble genius has created this account: @TweetLikeJaden

Take a moment to read a few – but don’t read too many yet, because the funnest step is yet to come.

Invite some friends over, open a few beers, and get ready to play the Jaden Smith drinking game. It’s a simple game: the game master opens both twitter accounts, and starts reading tweets. After each tweet, the players have to guess whether it’s an @officialJaden tweet, or an @tweetlikeJaden tweet. If you guess wrong you drink. If no one guesses wrong, the game master drinks. Continue until you’re smashed or you run out of @tweetlikejaden tweets (there are only 53 at the time of this posting).

I only encountered either of these yesterday, and have not played the game yet. Once I do I will update with how it went. If anybody beats me to the punch, please share.

Geoengineering

It’s funny how there’s no constituency for geoengineering (aka climate engineering) as a way to fight climate change. I first heard the term reading the Stephen Baxter novel Transcendent, which featured near-future political conflict over the issue. At the time, my naive 15 year old self didn’t see how anybody could be against it. Now that geoengineering has gone a bit more mainstream it turns out Baxter was absolutely right about the opposition, though I still agree with my past self that it’s something we should look into.

In particular, iron fertilization seems incredibly promising. Like, really spectacularly promising, almost to the same extent that solar power promises to solve our energy woes. The idea is that phytoplankton populations in many parts of the ocean are limited by a lack of iron, so by dumping iron sulfate into these areas there are huge booms in plankton populations. These plankton absorb huge amounts of carbon, just as land plants do. These booms also echo up the food chain, as creatures that eat the plankton multiply, followed by creatures that eat them, and so on.  This happens naturally all the time, mostly via nutrients being delivered to the oceans by rivers, and fuels many of the world’s great fisheries.

Perhaps the coolest group involved with this is the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation. Founded by the Haida Tribal Nation in British Columbia, they recently dumped 120 tons of iron into the northeast Pacific. The project has succeeded beyond all expectations, and preliminary estimates show salmon catches in the area more than quadrupling, from roughly 50 million to 226 million, within a year of beginning the experiment.

So here we have something that’s very cheap, fights global warming, and revitalizes ocean ecosystems. Why would anybody be against such a thing? Both the left and the right have their reasons, and both of them are bad.

First, on the right: it’s not essentially the official position of the Republican Party that climate change is a hoax, and thus that anything done to fight it must be a sinister liberal plot. What’s worse, because of how they’ve come to identify with this opposition, there is a constituency that’s actually anti-environment, not just indifferent to it, as a way to stick it to the dirty liberals. See the bizarre “Rolling Coal” phenomenon.

On the other hand, more intense environmentalists on the left are also strangely anti-geoengineering. Their reasoning is a bit more complex than the conservatives, but equally specious. The first argument is that any discussion or experimentation with geoengineering will reduce the urgency of taking action to reduce emissions. If people think we can dump a bunch of iron in the ocean and solve our CO2 problem, who is going to care about rising emissions? Of course if it works, that wouldn’t be an issue, but if it doesn’t, we would have delayed vital action and be left worse off than before. This isn’t a totally crazy argument, but it does seem far fetched to me. We already have gigantic societal forces pushing towards not taking action on climate change, letting some geoengineering experiments go forward isn’t going to change that much, but it could provide incredibly valuable information.

The second environmentalist argument against geoengineering is one I have less sympathy for, but which I also think is a bigger contributor to anti-geoengineering sentiment: elements of the environmental movement are motivated primarily by wanting to protect the ‘purity’ of the natural world, over and above promoting thriving ecosystems and human welfare. Take this Naomi Klein article on the subject. She describes how the Haida ocean fertilization project has created an ecological boom, but then puts this boom in a negative light, saying

“once we start deliberately interfering with the earth’s climate systems — whether by dimming the sun or fertilizing the seas — all natural events can begin to take on an unnatural tinge. An absence that might have seemed a cyclical change in migration patterns or a presence that felt like a miraculous gift suddenly feels sinister, as if all of nature were being manipulated behind the scenes.”

Now I don’t really accept this argument on general principles – there’s nothing necessarily superior about the natural order of the world over and changes we make to it (though of course we should be cautious about unintended consequences of our actions). Even for those who are worried about things being ‘unnatural’ the problem is that we left the era of ‘natural events’ a long time ago. Even if we accepted in principle that the ideal would be for the environment to return to a pristine, pre-human state, that is simply not a possibility. Human action has huge impacts on every ecosystem on Earth, and unless we go extinct this is never, ever going to change. The only difference with geoengineering is we’re doing it on purpose, rather than just spewing chemicals into land and sea with no regard for the consequences. The only long term solution to our environmental problems is not a return to nature, but a beginning to planetary stewardship, shaping the Earth into a garden where we and our fellow species can thrive side by side. 

So what’s the future for geoengineering? My secret wish is that if the Republicans ever stop being so batshit, they adopt geoengineering as their environmental platform. So long as they’re backed by the fossil fuels industry they’re never going to make it to actually condoning emissions limits, and promoting geoengineering would be a great way for them to keep opposing those limits while acknowledging that climate change is real and needs to be dealt with. Of course this is just the situation many environmentalists fear – using geoengineering to distract from emissions reductions, but it’s still a major step up from complete climate denialism.

Crowdfunding and Elon Musk

The Oatmeal, the hilarious webcomic you’d know from all over the damn place, recently did something pretty cool, which I also thought was pretty depressing.

You can read the whole story here, but the gist is that Matthew Inman wrote a long, incredibly glowing comic about Elon Musk and the Tesla Model S, which ended with a personal plea for Musk to fund construction of a Nikola Tesla Museum that Inman is heavily involved with. A few days later, Musk agreed to fork over a million dollars.

First let me say I have nothing against this particular case. I like the Oatmeal, I like Nikola Tesla, and both Musk and the Model S seem pretty cool.

What makes me a little sad is that this is the follow up to an earlier Oatmeal crowdfunding pitch that raised $1.6 million to buy the site of the museum,  an old Tesla lab. So Inman was able to raise comparable amounts of money in two ways: first a huge crowdfunding effort that brought in tons of small donations, and then second a very specific plea to one billionaire.

This time the billionaire in question turns out to largely deserve the praise heaped on him in the comic, but that’s not really a necessary part of the process. Most billionaires are not like Musk, investing their money in electric cars and spaceships and whatnot, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look kindly towards artists who glorify them in hopes of getting some patronage.

What’s worse is that this accompanies a trend towards regular people being able to get their entertainment for free or near free online. I’m mostly all for this trend, but on the other hand I don’t want to end up in a world where entertainment is really just marketed to potential billionaire patrons, with everyone else getting it for free, but just being along for the ride so far as content goes.

Homelessness and Crappy Benches

image

As an extraordinarily privileged non- homeless person, the way I am most directly harmed by our nation’s embarrassingly awful policies on the issue is as collateral damage in my city’s attempt to make life as miserable as possible for the homeless.

This might seem like hyperbole, but really it’s literally true. Local governments don’t like having homeless people in their district. And can you blame them? I don’t want there to be homeless people anywhere! The problem is that there are two ways to get rid of a homeless person. The first and best is of course to give that person a home. The second and far cheaper is to get that person to leave town and go be homeless somewhere else. Even with the cost difference, this doesn’t seem insurmountable. What really pushes cities towards option two is that being nice to the homeless draws in more homeless people. Who wouldn’t want to move to the city giving away free houses? They’re still doing good in aggregate, but from a single city perspective doing the right thing can seem like it’s making the problem even worse.

So we’re in the world of option two: cities are competing to see who can make things worse for the homeless,  with the prize being that the homeless people in your city might go be someone else’s problem.

And finally we get back to me, typing this post on the bus bench pictured above,  which is literally a pain in my ass. It’s just generally a poorly made bench, except for the one design metric where it passes with flying colors: it would be really hard to sleep on.

In conclusion,  if you want nicer benches in your city (or more water fountains, or public electric outlets, and so on) the solution is to demand action to end homelessness on a national level.

Funny how all our problems are connected.