Equal opportunity offense: Washington Redskins, a humor parody that wasn’t, and #hashtagactivism

updated 5/28 re: Native Americans: As I said earlier….

Slate’s Dave Weigel wrote today that If you managed to avoid the Internet last night, you missed a crash course in hashtag activism.” Yes, I did. I had better things to do, like declaring a news-free night and nostalgically leafing through some of my food porn cookbook collection. (We’ll talk about that another time.)

But today I’ve got nothing better to do than to vent my spleen on trivia. (Well, actually, that’s not true. I have a stack of things-to-do that are carefully leaned up against each other in dynamic isometric nonmovement. If I moved one, another would demand attention…then another…and another…and eventually the whole stack would vanish – poof! – and then I would have to wander aimlessly, searching for purpose  and meaning, or finally start binge-watching The Newsroom. –Wait! I can put that on the to-do stack. The pressure’s back on; I feel better already.)

So, what’d I miss? Something something Washington Redskins name offensive; something something foundation Native Americans; something Colbert parody; Suzy somebody-or-other gets offended, gets her #HASHTAG up, gets either interviewed or ignored (start at 32:00) then gets really offended; something something #MOREHASHTAG #takingittothetwitterstreets; people getting all #tweetdefensive with their mile-wide and inch-deep #USELESSHASHTAGOUTRAGE and racist/sexist hate, rapeand death threats; and…um…what were we tweeting about again? Continue reading

There are 634 runways where Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could have landed; 4 airports deserve careful scrutiny

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has now been missing for 10 days. Ten days without a physical trace. The last evidence of the flight was a “data ping” – an electronic connection or “handshake” made by a satellite more than 7 hours after takeoff. A summary of events to date is here.

Malaysian officials no longer consider the disappearance of the flight to be an accident, but a deliberate diversion. In addition to the needle-in-a-football-field ocean search, the possibility of a ground landing somewhere is now being considered. Within the arc of the area where it is believed the plane could have flown, it has been estimated that there are 634 airports that met the length requirements for a Boeing 777 to land. Three of those airports may warrant some closer examination, along with a 4th that is outside the area currently being searched.

There are 4 airports outside of Malaysia that have close connections to Malaysia Airlines. Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) is a Malaysian airport company that manages most of the airports in Malaysia, and recently began to manage airports in international destinations. They have partnered in varying ways on the development and management of these airports with GMR Group , an infrastructural company based in India that has interests in the areas of Airports, Energy, Highways and Urban Infrastructure.

MAHB currently manages 3 international airports outside Malaysia. They are: Continue reading

Security, spycraft, beating the system: what fascinates us about the Malaysia Airlines disappearance

In a world where the doors to schools and government buildings and even baseball parks are guarded with metal detectors, where security cameras are recording in routine places, where massive government agencies are storing call metadata and tapping the backbone of the internet, where wireless carriers can pinpoint a cellphone location to within a few feet, and where the CIA can read a license plate from outer space, how in the hell can you lose a 300,000 lb plane with a 200-foot wingspan?

The world is riveted by the unfolding story of the Malaysia Airlines disappearance. Over a week ago, on March 8th, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 – a large Boeing 777-200ER – disappeared from radar and air traffic control screens just as it was about to pass from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It sounded no distress call; it left no physical evidence. It seemed to have literally vanished into thin air.

The flight’s disappearance flies in the face of our post-9/11 experiences with TSA x-rays, 3-1-1 liquids bags, and remove-your-shoes rules that slow down the process of flying in the name of security. How, with all of that terror prevention policy and procedure, could something like this have happened? Clearly it must be a tragic accident. But an accident should have left evidence, Continue reading

Going out on a limb: theorizing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 did not crash & is currently hidden somewhere in western China

I am going to go out on what I think is a safe limb and theorize that the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 did not crash and is currently hidden somewhere in western China.
Today Reuters published the article “From his Pakistan hideout, Uighur leader vows revenge on China”:

Entrenched in secret mountain bases on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, Uighur fighters are gearing up for retribution against China to avenge the deaths of comrades in Beijing’s crackdown on a separatist movement, their leader told Reuters.

China, Pakistan’s only major ally in the region, has long urged Islamabad to weed out what it says are militants from its western region of Xinjiang, who are holed up in a lawless tribal belt, home to a lethal mix of militant groups, including the Taliban and al Qaeda. …

There has been almost constant tension between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs since the 1750s. This NPR interview provides a very brief summary of the region’s geopolitical and economic importance and its cultural/religious differences. A chronology of key events related to the region covering from the 2009 riots to the March 2014 terrorist knife attack in Kunming shows a sharp increase in serious incidents since the beginning of 2013.

Could Uighur rebels be behind this? But why hijack a Malaysian plane? Were the large number of Chinese citizens on the plane a terrorist target? And just how did the hijackers – whoever they are – do it and get away with it?

AP reported that a Malaysian official, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to brief the media, said only a skilled aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea. Reuters reported that whoever was piloting the plane seemed to be familiar with navigational routes. A map showing points where the plane was detected is here.

The now-high likelihood that the plane was being piloted by someone with enough skill to both avoid radar detection and maneuver through steep rises, dives, and turns, taken together with what appears to have been a sophisticated, systematic dismantling of transponders and tracking systems, and the new knowledge that the plane was flown for at least several hours after its radar disappearance, is strong evidence that the plane was under control and did not crash, and that points to a deliberate action Continue reading

The Malaysia Airlines story, and the need for skepticism and critical thinking skills while following it

Last night I was going to put up a post regarding the whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. But after watching the latest news, I decided I needed to hold back. Once again, some items that have been reported as fact have turned out not to be true, and that has happened enough over the past six days that I want to carefully retread the ground already covered.

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That is an axiom very familiar to journalists, but it is important for we the people to also check it out: to examine what the media publishes with a gimlet eye. The reporting on this story provides a valuable object lesson in the need to be skeptical and apply logic and critical thinking skills to media reports. We tend to believe the “facts” based on the reputation of the media source publishing them, but in the fog of ratings wars and a fast-moving story, often reporters will just get the facts “roughly right” in order to quickly shoot out the report.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the reporters were wrong, though; it is also not beyond the realm of possibility that authorities are either not releasing information or deliberately releasing not-quite-accurate information in order to see what effect it has on any communications “chatter” that they may be monitoring.

Erroneous inferences drawn from the facts are also problematic, because they’re often Continue reading

Do the presence of oil slicks mean the Malaysia Airlines flight crashed in the South China Sea?? Not necessarily….

updated 3/9 re: pilot experience and water landings

updated 3/10 re: cellphone calls connecting but not answered

clarifications 3/10: changed first paragraph from ‘”consistent”‘ to ‘reportedly “consistent”‘; clarified description of fuel dump: added “although jet fuel is highly volatile and dissipates fairly rapidly in open water.”

Two oil slicks that are reportedly “consistent” with the kind of slicks that would be left by a crashed jetliner have been sighted off the coast of southern Vietnam. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8th. The last contact the flight had with air traffic controllers was reported to be around 2:40 a.m. local time, two hours after takeoff, but there is some discrepancy between flight tracking systems. The New York Times reported:

[T]he timeline seemed to suggest that the plane stayed in the air for two hours — long enough to fly not only across the Gulf of Thailand but also far north across Vietnam. But Mr. Lindahl of Flightradar 24, a flight tracking service, said that the last radar contact had been at 1:19 a.m., less than 40 minutes after the flight began. A Malaysia Airlines spokesman said on Saturday evening that the last conversation between the flight crew and air traffic control in Malaysia had been around 1:30 a.m., but he reiterated that the plane had not disappeared from air traffic control systems in Subang until 2:40 a.m.

There are two unusual aspects to the flight’s disappearance:

  • Two of the 227 passengers listed on the flight manifest were in fact not on the plane. An Italian and and Austrian each reported that their passports had been stolen while they were traveling in Thailand.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported that the airline’s CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that there was no distress call or bad weather report from the pilots before the plane lost contact with air control 120 nautical miles (140 miles) off the east coast of Kota Bharu, Malaysia.

Several analysts and experts have said that it was highly unusual that all communication would have been cut off without any indication from the crew that there was a problem, although an Air France flight that crashed in 2009 had also never issued a distress call. Mary Schiavo, the former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told CNN, “That plane has many different ways to locate it: Automatic beacons that tell you where it is; there are several ways to contact it both with radios and GPS, as well as computer communications within the cockpit.” A senior administration officer from the industry, speaking to Chinese media on condition of anonymity, explained that a plane is equipped with several sets of communication devices, which function simultaneously. Even if all of them fail to work, the plane can be located through radar code.

What could explain the sudden and complete communication silence? The obvious explanation is that Continue reading

NJ teen sues parents for support. Call me cynical, but I sense this is really a battle of the dads….

An 18 year old NJ teenager is suing her parents for kicking her out and not paying her tuition.

The issues apparently revolve around Rachel Canning’s choice of friends and boyfriend, and her adherence to the rules at home. Smells like typical teen spirit to me. What makes this story titillating, though, is that she’s suing her parents for child support. Using the long arm of the law against your parents – the dream of rebellious teenagers everywhere. But is she right in doing so? Is Rachel Canning an unemancipated minor who should still be supported by her parents, or a selfish, entitled child?

For the moment, a judge has ruled against her petition for support. but has scheduled a hearing in April to decide whether she was “constructively abandoned“ or emancipated herself.

You know what? That’s all beside the point. My spidey sense tells me this just might be a battle of the dads.

Meet Sean Canning, father of Rachel. He has been Continue reading

“Yahoo webcam images from millions of users intercepted by GCHQ” gasped the Guardian. But that’s not really the problem.

“Yahoo webcam images from millions of users intercepted by GCHQ” gasped the Guardian headline.

The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.

This is not reporting, it is manipulative commentary. “[E]erily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984” is a prairie dog-whistle phrase designed to make you pop up out of your hole in fear. Which in and of itself is kind of Orwellian manipulation, if you think about it.

The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: “One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies.”

That’s a pretty neat trick: what they say they’re saying is that the videos have no intelligence value, but what the article is really trying to communicate is: they can see your naughty bits. Although only between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains “undesirable nudity”, most of the rest of the article is devoted to discussion of the policies and restrictions around viewing it. The article is preying on people’s fears of having their homemade porn discovered in order to gin up protest that this kind of surveillance is utterly intolerable and must be stopped.

Don’t take this personally, people, but your webchat porn – no matter how talented you think you are – Continue reading

ICYMI: Baby, you’ll be sorry someday – Bill Maher and his “break-up” with MSNBC

In case you missed it (I sure did), Bill Maher tried to let MSNBC down easily…by breaking up on Valentine’s Day:

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I cannot go on any longer living a lie. MSNBC…we need to talk.
Whatever we had is not working any more. You’re obviously interested in another man: Chris Christie. You’re obsessed with him. So I wanted you to hear it from me first. I’m going to start seeing other news organizations.

He’s tired of hearing about this guy Christie all the time. “But now we never talk about any of the things we used to talk about: global warming, gun control, poverty… “, he pouts. I think he’s just missing the good old days when they both joyfully obsessed over Obamacare and Sarah Palin. He minimizes and is dismissive of this new interest: “Look, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little lanes of traffic don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

Yes, yes, he did it for dramatic effect. Valentine’s Day, Casablanca reference. Cute. (Side note: breaking up on Valentine’s Day is really not a good idea, Bill. If the two of you had truly been an item, it would have invited some kind of scorned-lover vengeance.)

One could imagine MSNBC’s response: “Go ahead, Bill. Go have your flings, go see other news organizations, see if you can find one that fits your interests. You’ll be sorry someday. You’ll see. Someday, you’ll lean forward again.”

But Bill has had post-breakup remorse. We can’t call it a change of heart, but Continue reading

The Miracle O’ Nice: Seattle Seahawks win Super Bowl XLVIII 43-8

In an earlier post on the importance of organizational fit to being successful, I wrote about Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll:

Pete Carroll, the head coach and executive vice-president of the Seattle Seahawks, has for the past several years been implementing his dream of fundamentally changing the team environment by changing the way players are coached. He’s adopting a people-positive approach: “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?” His strategy includes an interesting mix of sports psychology, brain performance testing, meditation and visualization, yoga, and an overall focus on the mental as well as physical well-being of the players. It’s an unorthodox, Moneyball-style fresh-thinking approach that I’m betting will have a big payoff.

Many had doubted that Carroll’s approach would pay off. Some thought it was coddling the players – that successful teams were fueled by fear, anger, and aggression.

But here we are, at the end of Super Bowl XLVIII, and it’s pretty damn near a blowout: the Seahawks beat the famed Denver Broncos, 43-8.

During the Winter Olympics in 1980, coach Herb Brooks led a team of amateur and collegiate hockey players to an upset victory over the Soviet team that came to be known as the Miracle On Ice. Brooks did rely heavily on aggressive challenges and confrontation to toughen the team, but also worked to unite them into a cohesive yet flexible team “that could grab whatever opportunities came its way”. Carroll’s positive approach to getting the best out of people and uniting them under his vision has achieved a similar miracle.

Let’s call it the Miracle O’ Nice.