Law and Legal
The Constitution of Knowledge,” by Jonathan Rauch in National Affairs: “America has faced many challenges to its political culture, but this is the first time we have seen a national-level epistemic attack: a systematic attack, emanating from the very highest reaches of power, on our collective ability to distinguish truth from falsehood. “These are truly uncharted waters for the country,” wrote Michael Hayden, former CIA director, in the Washington Post in April. “We have in the past argued over the values to be applied to objective reality, or occasionally over what constituted objective reality, but never the existence or relevance of objective reality itself.” To make the point another way: Trump and his troll armies seek to undermine the constitution of knowledge…”
Signs of digital distress – Mapping broadband availability and subscription in American neighborhoods – “The internet is now a fundamental component of the American economy, creating new ways to educate, employ, bring services to, and entertain every person. Broadband, especially wireline broadband in American homes, is the essential infrastructure for unlocking the internet’s economic benefits. However, broadband infrastructure is far from ubiquitous, both in terms of where it operates and who subscribes to it, and those deficits are not shared evenly across the country. As such, policymakers must understand how the national digital divide varies depending on the place…By far, the largest broadband deployment gap exists in rural communities, where more than one in four residents (12.7 million people) lacked 25 Mbps broadband service in 2015. While rural communities are home to just 15 percent of the nation’s total population, they accounted for 57 percent of the nation’s residents in neighborhoods where broadband has yet to be deployed—a ratio that remains roughly the same at lower speed thresholds…”
BBC News – Meet one of the world’s most prolific writers of disinformation – “Christopher Blair takes a sip of his coffee. Then he carefully focuses on one of the three screens in front of him. He’s in his home office, 45 minutes outside Portland, Maine, on the US East Coast. Stroking his thick beard, he looks at his bookmarks bar. He takes another sip before his coffee goes cold, inhales long and hard, then logs into the back end of one of his many websites. He begins by choosing a subject. Which “lucky” politician will be on the receiving end of his attention today? Bill Clinton? Hillary Clinton? One of the Obamas? Or maybe the subject of his story won’t be a person, but a policy. Gun control? Police brutality? Feminism? Anything that will push buttons. The words flow from the thoughts in his head. Unconnected to reality, he needs no research, and no notes. His fingers rhythmically tap the keys. Letters form into words, words into sentences and sentences into a blog of about 200 words. It doesn’t take long to write. Publish. Blair sits back in his chair and watches the likes and shares roll in…
…More than 3,000 miles (5,000km) away in a small town an hour east of the Belgian capital, Brussels, there’s another office in another family home. Outside, children play in the garden on a warm summer’s afternoon. Maarten Schenk navigates the steep set of stairs to his basement office. There’s an L-shaped desk in one corner – in another, a cooler is filled with bottles of peach-flavoured iced tea. His desk resembles Blair’s. On it, sit three computer monitors, with the machine hard drives tucked away neatly underneath. On one of the screens, he suddenly notices a lot of activity. The US is waking up, and spiking numbers on one page catch Schenk’s attention. He watches as one particular story is gathering momentum and is quickly being shared on Facebook and other social networks. Schenk logs into his own website and starts to type. His job is to tell the world that what he’s seeing online – the story that’s currently going viral about a Clinton Foundation ship, allegedly carrying drugs, guns and sex slaves – is a complete fabrication. It’s fake news…”
Quartz: “Culture matters deeply to employees. In a recent survey of more than 3,000 Americans, 70% of respondents said they would turn down a job offer at a leading company if they knew the culture was lousy, and 65% said the promise of better pay at such a firm would not even be tempting.
- This is the story of how one company, C Space, attempted to solve the riddle of a strong culture in a more methodological way than most, first running an “audit” on its existing culture, then boiling down the fixes it needed to memorable mantras, and finally setting these new values loose in a successful course-correcting effort. And how, even though it followed the textbook-recommended formula, all of this work still backfired. And how, eventually, the company found a more sustainable way to create the culture it wanted…”
“This site’s information helps people understand global warming’s scientific mechanism. The 5 videos below explain how global warming (related to climate change) works in as few as 52 seconds. Even our most chemistry-rich video is less than 5 minutes long. Please click on the version you want to watch.”
You may have heard of global climate change, which is often called “global warming.” Whether or not people accept that humans are causing global warming, most folks have an opinion about it. But how much do regular people understand the science of climate change? If you were asked to explain how global warming works, could you? Take a moment to try to explain to yourself how virtually all climate scientists think the Earth is warming. What is the physical or chemical mechanism?
Don’t feel bad; if you’re anything like the people we’ve surveyed in our studies, you probably struggled to come up with an explanation. In fact, in one study, we asked almost 300 adults in the US––and not a single person could accurately explain the mechanism of global warming at a pretty basic level. This is consistent with larger surveys that have shown that people often lack knowledge about climate change. But how can we make informed decisions without understanding the issues we’re debating?
Allow us to give you a short explanation of how global warming works…”
- A temblor is an earthquake or earth tremor. The word temblor first appears in 1876 and is an American word inspired by the Spanish word temblor, which means shake or tremble. The plural form may be either temblors or temblores.
- A tremblor is also an earthquake or earth tremor. The word tremblor first appears in America in 1913, and seems to be a mashup of the words temblor and trembler. Many English-speakers do not consider tremblor a legitimate English word, but it is found in the Oxford English Dictionary.
- A trembler is something or someone that trembles. In British English, a trembler is a fuse in an explosive device. Trembler may also be a slang term for an earthquake or earth tremor. [h/t Pete Weiss]
The Cut: “The study, published this month by researchers at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, surveyed 962 women living in the U.S. It found 55 percent slept with a dog, 31 percent slept with a cat, and 57 percent slept with a human. The women with dogs, according to the study, were more likely to have a restful night. Incredible.
“Compared with human bed partners, dogs who slept in the owner’s bed were perceived to disturb sleep less and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security,” the study says. It is true that whenever my dog hears a noise he looks toward its origin, which makes me feel very secure and protected from the radiator. The study continues, “Conversely, cats who slept in their owner’s bed were reported to be equally as disruptive as human partners, and were associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog bed partners.” Ha-ha to cats.
On top of that, the study found women who slept alongside their dogs typically went to bed earlier and woke up earlier. I can attest to this, as my dog does not yet know how to use the toilet, so waking up to take him outside is necessary, and, like I mentioned, he has a fairly strict, self-enforced bedtime of 11 p.m…”
“The U.S. Government Publishing Office will officially retire its Federal Digital System (FDsys) website on December 14. The retirement will complete the transition to govinfo (www.govinfo.gov), the user-friendly, modernized site that offers a dynamic way for the public to discover and access information on the three branches of the Federal Government. “With the official transition of FDsys to govinfo, GPO demonstrates its continued ability to meet the ever-changing technological needs of the public,” said GPO Acting Deputy Director Herbert H. Jackson, Jr. “GPO has now made it easier than ever for members of the American public to access Government information anytime, anywhere.” With the signing of the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993, GPO set out “to establish a means for providing the public with online access to electronic public information of the Federal Government.” It was one of the earliest federal laws to require the Government to provide information online. The first version of the site, called GPOAccess, launched in 1994. In 2009, GPO unveiled the Federal Digital System (FDsys), a digital information platform for the 21st century. govinfo represents the third generation of electronic access to Federal Government information. The one-stop site to authentic, published Government information offers a user-friendly navigation system accessible on smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers.
govinfo, launched in beta in February 2016, offers many enhancements to the way the public accesses more than one million documents from all three branches of the United States Federal Government. Highlights include a modern, mobile-friendly design; links to related documents of interest; curated feature articles with links to famous documents such as the 9/11 Commission Report, the Warren Commission Report, and the Starr Report; quick and easy social sharing; the ability to browse collections A–Z and by category; sortable search filters; RSS notifications feeds; a search engine that makes search results more relevant than ever; shorter URLs; and more. When the FDsys website is retired, existing links will redirect to govinfo. govinfo had more than 424 million retrievals in fiscal year 2018.”
WSJ [paywall] – “The Atlanta-based North Highland consultancy’s Sparks Grove unit has created an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven voice-scanning tool that can identify dubious statements seconds after their utterance, in an effort to more accurately fact-check news. Sparks Grove’s prototype “Voyc” software transcribes live audio and runs each statement against a database of facts compiled from verified government sources and accredited fact-checking organizations. Voyc rapidly notes whether a statement conflicts with verified information and sends a pop-up text alert to someone positioned to make further inquiries, highlighting both the sentence at issue and the relevant facts on an Instant Messenger-like interface. Sparks Grove’s Jack Stenson envisions news producers employing Voyc to encourage TV presenters to probe subjects with follow-up questions in interviews, panel discussions, and debates. The software’s developers are refining Voyc’s accuracy when transcribing quirky speech patterns like dialects, pauses, “ums,” and “ahs.”
Consider the ramifications of this article, via The Atlantic – The idea that the putative transparency group served as a connection between Moscow and the president’s associates is starting to become clearer – if it proves to be an accurate appraisal of an increasingly expanding potential exposure of corruption and malfeasance perpetrated by public and private citizens and groups around the world.
“Barely two years later, the idea of WikiLeaks serving as a medium for Russia to boost the Trump campaign seems more and more plausible—even likely. For some time, there has been substantial evidence of Russia’s involvement in attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election and to hurt the Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, from an elaborate trolling and Astroturfing operation to simple theft of emails and hacking. Until recently, the connection between those Russian efforts and Trump allies has remained somewhat obscure and speculative. But recent developments have started to flesh out the picture. Russia used WikiLeaks as a conduit—witting or unwitting—and WikiLeaks, in turn, appears to have been in touch with Trump allies. The key remaining questions are what WikiLeaks knew and what Trump himself knew.
According to a draft document from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is investigating Russian interference in the election, the conservative author Jerome Corsi tipped off Roger Stone, a Trump friend and former political adviser, that WikiLeaks would release a tranche of emails hacked from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The tip came in August, weeks before the October release. Corsi provided the document to NBC News and then several other news organizations. As per his practice, Mueller has not commented…”
Principles and Boundaries of Fact-checking: Journalists’ Perceptions by Paul Mena. Published online: 16 Nov 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/17512786.2018.1547655 [paywall]
“This study examines journalists’ perceptions of fact-checking, a growing journalistic activity focused on assessing the veracity of public claims. Professional journalists working on fact-checking or interested in doing fact-checking and based in the United States were surveyed regarding the purpose of this activity; principles of fact-checking, including boundaries with activism or partisanship; and statements concerning which political party politicians are more likely to produce false claims. This study shows a high level of agreement between respondents on normative aspects of fact-checking. Journalists stated that there should be clear boundaries between fact-checking and activism and that fact-checking should be non-partisan. At the same time, participants showed discrepancies on topics like the use of the word “lie” when finding that a claim is false. In addition, among respondents, the perception that Republicans are more likely to make false claims was significantly higher than the perception that Democrats are more prone to produce false claims, although the difference was moderate, with considerable percentages of respondents answering that they neither agree nor disagree with the statements that Republicans, or Democrats, are more prone to make false claims.”
FCW.com: “The Secret Service started testing a facial recognition system in and around the White House last week, according to a privacy assessment released by the Department of Homeland Security on Nov. 28. The pilot uses a facial recognition system, unnamed in the privacy document, to pore over faces collected by the Crown closed circuit TV system that is used inside and outside the White House complex in Washington, D.C. The goal of the project is to determine whether a facial recognition capability can be used by the Secret Service to identify “known subjects of interest prior to initial contact with law enforcement” around the White House. These subjects of interest pose potential threats to individuals under Secret Service protection. They come to the attention of the Secret Service through their own direct communications with the White House as well as social media posts, reports from the public and the news media as well as information from other law enforcement agencies…”
EFF: “The New York Times published a blockbuster story about Facebook that exposed how the company used so-called “smear merchants” to attack organizations critical of the platform. The story was shocking on a number of levels, revealing that Facebook’s hired guns stooped to dog-whistling, anti-Semitic attacks aimed at George Soros 1 and writing stories blasting Facebook’s competitors on a news site they managed. As Techdirt points out, however, while the particulars are different, the basic slimy tactics are familiar. Any organization that runs public campaigns in opposition to large, moneyed corporate interests has seen some version of this “slime your enemies” playbook. What is different here is that Facebook, the company seeking to undermine its critics, has a powerful role in shaping whether and how news and information is presented to billions of people around the world. Facebook controls the hidden algorithms and other systems that decide what comes up in Instagram and Facebook experiences. And it does so in a way that is almost completely beyond our view, much less our control. This fact—that Facebook can secretly influence what we see (like, perhaps, criticism against it), both through what it promotes and what it allows to be posted by others—is deeply disturbing. Users deserve some answers from Facebook to these basic questions:
- We know that Facebook had staffers embedded in the Donald Trump presidential campaign to help the organization best craft and target its messages. What did Facebook do regarding attacks on its critics detailed in the Times story? Did it use its power to ensure a wide or specifically-targeted distribution of this smear campaign? Did Facebook use its control over how Facebook works to help aim the smears at people who would be most receptive to them? To key policymakers or their staff? If so, how?
- Did Facebook help develop different versions of the smear campaign to appeal to different audiences, as the Russians have done? If so, we should see all of them.
- What is the boundary between what Facebook’s policy teams wish to tell the public and how users experience Facebook and Instagram? Is there a firewall and how is it policed?..”
The Guardian: “Online resource picked the word over ‘disinformation’ where other dictionaries had opted for ‘toxic’ and ‘single-use.’ “Misinformation”, as opposed to disinformation, is Dictionary.com’s word of the year. It followed “toxic”, picked for the same honor by Oxford Dictionaries, and “single-use”, picked by Collins. Jane Solomon, a linguist-in-residence at Dictionary.com, said the choice of “mis” over “dis” was deliberate, intended to serve as a “call to action” to be vigilant in the battle against fake news, flat earthers and anti-vaxxers, among other conduits. The Oakland-based company wanted to highlight the idea of intent to mislead, and that misinformation can be spread unwittingly.
“The rampant spread of misinformation is really providing new challenges for navigating life in 2018,” Solomon said. “Misinformation has been around for a long time, but over the last decade or so the rise of social media has really, really changed how information is shared. We believe that understanding the concept of misinformation is vital to identifying misinformation as we encounter it in the wild, and that could ultimately help curb its impact.” In studying lookups on the site, Dictionary noticed “our relationship with truth is something that came up again and again”, Solomon said. For example, the word “mainstream” spiked in January as the term “mainstream media”, or MSM, grew to gargantuan proportions, wielded as an insult on the political right. There was a surge in February for “white lie”, after Hope Hicks, then White House communications director, admitted to telling a few for Donald Trump…”
Make Use Of: “Google Maps is rapidly evolving into a bigger and (potentially) better platform than it has been previously. And the latest feature Google is adding to the Maps mix is hashtags. Yes, Google Maps will soon be awash with hashtags, for better or worse. You can now add hashtags to your reviews of businesses. So, for example, if you’re reviewing a restaurant you can add #datenight or #familyfriendly. You could also add #wheelchairaccessible to help make Google Maps more wheelchair friendly. Google Maps’ Local Guides are already actively using hashtags in their reviews. Google suggests people use up to five hashtags per review, and place them at the end of the review rather than make a review harder to read by placing them throughout. Google rolled out hashtags to Maps quietly. According to TechCrunch, the ability to add or view hashtags is only currently available on Android devices. There’s no word yet when it will be added to the iOS version of Google Maps…”
Make Use Of: “Google Sheets is a popular Microsoft Excel alternative. As with other Google tools, the Sheets is a core part of Google Drive. In this article, we have taken the liberty to dive deep and unearth a handful of super useful Google Sheets tricks that you may have never heard before. These Google Spreadsheet tricks are simple enough to learn and remember…”
“Fiscal year 2018 broke records for the number of decisions by immigration judges granting or denying asylum. Denials grew faster than grants, pushing denial rates up as well. In 65 percent of these decisions asylum was denied. This is the sixth year in a row that denial rates have risen. Six years ago the denial rate was just 42 percent. Asylum denial rates rose during the initial months of the Trump Administration and then leveled off. Denial rates rose again in June after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions restricted grounds on which immigration judges could grant asylum. Most of these asylum applicants had arrived well before President Trump assumed office. Given the backlog in the Immigration Court, about nine in ten decisions in represented cases had begun over 12 months before. However, over half the cases for unrepresented applicants had taken 12 months or less to decide. The outcome for asylum seekers continued to depend on the identity of the immigration judge assigned to hear the case. The San Francisco Immigration Court led the country in having the widest disparity among judges serving on the same court. Depending upon the judge, denial rates ranged from 97 percent down to 10 percent. Rising denial rates were not the result of asylum seekers failing to show up for their hearing, or increased difficulty in finding representation. During FY 2018, in 98.6 percent of all grant or deny asylum decisions the immigrants were present in court. Last year also saw a significant increase in the proportion of decided cases with representation. During FY 2018 representation rates increased to 84.4 percent.”
- To read the full report covering both asylum decisions and final case outcomes, go to: http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/539/
CRS report via FAS – Electing the Speaker of the House of Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions, updated November 26, 2018.
“This report briefly poses and answers several “frequently asked questions” in relation to the floor proceedings used to elect a Speaker of the House. Current practice for electing a Speaker, either at the start of a Congress or in the event of a vacancy (e.g., death or resignation), is by roll-call vote, during which Members state aloud the name of their preferred candidate. Members may vote for any individual. If no candidate receives a majority of votes cast, balloting continues; in subsequent ballots, Members may still vote for any individual”.