Friday, August 26, 2016

Nyet, My Column Was Not Hacked by Russian Spies

Hello, my fellow Americans! It is I, Erik Deckers, your favorite humorous columnist from the Middle West.

I have been reading in your — I mean, our — liberal American media about how Russian hackers have tried to hack into the New York Times and other media newspapers. This chases on the heels of the news that same Russians may have hacked the Democrats Nationalist Committee email server.

This is typical American media lie!

Also, in case you worry, my own comedy column has not been hacked by Russian spies working for a secret government agency seeking to undermine you Americans' — I mean, our — democracy.

To accuse us — I mean, them — of hacking into newspapers is serious insult to Russians everywhere, and especially to their eminent leader, President Vladimir Putin, who is in no way trying to recreate the USSR through military force.

(And who also looks very manly without a shirt.)

While we are on subject, President Putin is not invading Ukraine. He is only trying to keep Ukraine safe, and teach it how to be strong. It is like tough love, like Russian mama bear shows to her children, to help them grow up to be strong Russian bears who fight rebels and dissidents.

Wait, I mean like American bears. Yes, that's it. American mama bears who love their bear children.

To change the subject, many congratulations to American Olympic team and their many gold medals. Of course, these were not real victories, since nearly all athletes from Russia were banned from competing because they were heavily doping.

Accused of doping, I mean. Wrongly accused of doping. Da, that's it.

Widespread, government-funded doping, my Aunt Olga's fanny! Russian athletes train harder and better than American athletes, and for this, IOC seeks to punish Russian athletes and para-athletes. It's not our — I mean, their — fault they have cutting-edge nutritional supplements. And nutritional creams and gels. And nutritional injections.

I remember back in 1984, when Olympics were held in Los Angeles Hollywood, and the Russians stood on their principles and chose to boycott Olympics. This happened after we, and 64 other countries, mistakenly boycotted 1980 Olympics after Soviet army paid a friendly visit to — I mean, invaded — Afghanistan.

(Between you and me, my fellow Americans, the Soviets did not invade. They were helping Chairman Andropov find his dog. He lost it while he was there on a fact finding mission. I heard it from my cousin, Alexei — I mean, Kevin — who worked for the Kremlin — I mean, American government.)

Speaking of politics, I am surprised that more of my fellow Americans do not support Donald Trump in his campaign to become Supreme President. Many, many Americans seem to like Hillary Clinton and the Democrats Nationalist Committee, who has done many terrible things to her opponent, Bernie Sanders. I remember being surprised when I read all those emails.

In the newspapers! I read all the emails in the newspapers. So many newspapers I have read.

And then I forwarded all the emails to Wikileaks — I mean, my mother! I forwarded them to my mother. Ha ha, not an international repository of stolen government secrets.

"Look, Mama," I said. "Look at what Hillary Clinton and her comrades have done to poor Bernie Sanders. They have organized a coup against Bernie Sanders." And Mama said she wished Mr. Sanders would have seized power back from the usurpers, like the time Boris Yeltsin rode into the Kremlin on a tank and smashed a coup attempt.

But I have read many great things about Donald Trump. He is a good friend to President Putin. He is a fan of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea. And I know Kim Jong Un is a very big fan of his. I have seen some of their back-and-forth emails.

Uh, also in newspapers! Yes, they were in newspapers, and not at all from hacking.

But Mr. Trump would make an excellent friend to Russia. He already has strong relationships with President Putin. And his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is well known to many Russians, having received many millions of rubles — I mean, dollars — from Ukrainian politicians.

I have heard Mr. Trump has also had many financial dealings with Russia, and is said to be millions of dollars in debt to Russian oligarchs and friends of President Putin. This makes Mr. Trump ideal president to help Russia and America work together to make the world great again.

So, my fellow Americans, spasibo — I mean, thank you! — for your time. Dasvidaniya.



Photo credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office (No, I'm not kidding!) (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Karl the Curmudgeon Is Tired of Facebook Politics

"I don't know if I can take it anymore, Kid," said Karl, staring at his reflection in the bar mirror. He rubbed his face hard with his hands. "I mean, this constant bickering and nattering and droning on and on and on about how neither person can do anything right."

Your daughter and son-in-law fighting again? I asked.

"I wish. At least I can tell them to shut up." He drained the last of his beer and signaled Kurt the bartender for two more. "No, I'm talking about the presidential campaign."

I thought you didn't pay attention to campaign.

"I don't. I've purposely avoided all the commercials and media stories about who said what or who committed yet another grievous sin against the American people. I already know who I'm voting for, so there's no reason to pay attention to that cluster truck."

Karl plonked his empty mug on the bar just as Kurt set down a couple fresh ones. We were at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar for open mic night. Some slam poet from Florida was riffing on Benny Goodman, and the crowd was snapping its fingers in appreciation. Karl and I rolled our eyes.

I said, so you missed the story this week where Dr. Drew Pinsky diagnosed Hillary Clinton's health care by looking at some of her medical records?

Karl snorted into his beer. "I wouldn't trust that guy to diagnose the color of orange juice." I laughed so hard, a couple people nearby shushed me.

Then what's the problem? I said, ignoring them.

"Facebook."

But you don't like Facebook. You hate all forms of social media.

"I do. Well, I did. I started using Facebook to keep up with my nieces and nephews, and now I get sucked into all these political discussions with people I went to school with."

What? When did this start?

Karl counted on his fingers. "Three months ago, I guess."

I've bugged you for years to get on Facebook, and when you finally do, you still don't friend me? What a jerk!

"Don't you think our little get-togethers are enough? I don't think we could stand that much of each other."

I thought about that. Yeah, you're right, I said. I don't want that much of a look into your private life. I already know too much. I took a drink of my own beer. So what's happening on Facebook that has your panties in a twist?

Karl shot me the side eye and took another drink. "It's just the general nastiness of the campaign," he said. "People are getting angrier and nastier with each other. Even friends are forgetting they're friends and are starting flame wars to roast each other into silence."

How is this different from the early days of the Internet? I asked. We've had flame wars and arguments online since the mid-90s. I mean, epic, scorched-earth flame wars.

"Yeah, but those idiots had the good sense to hide behind an an anonymous screen name, like a proper coward. They made sure no one knew who they were before they insulted other people or accused each other of being worse than Hitler. But the problem really started when they started getting on news media websites and leaving horrible comments to news stories."

I remember all that. Then the media got smart and started tying comments to a person's Facebook account. That way, their friends and family could see what they were spewing. That helped put a stop to it, didn't it?

"No, that's when the real problem started. Now, the a-holes have found they can survive a little public exposure. They're posting anti-religious statements on their Facebook page. Or homophobic slurs. Or racist jokes. Now, I see people openly embracing their racism and sexism. They're not hiding it, they're flaunting it."

I've seen that. There are usually plenty of people calling them out on it, though, so they're starting to slink back under their rocks.

"True. But this year's campaign has made them think they can come out from there in the first place. It's making people to behave badly toward each other more than ever. I'm just tired of it."

The Florida poet finished his Benny Goodman poem, and the audience clapped like normal people. We joined in.

True, I said. But you could just block anyone who disagrees with you. Then your Facebook feed will be peaceful and friendly.

"Yeah, but Thomas Jefferson said, 'I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend,'" said Karl.

So why haven't you friended me yet, you jerk?




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 12, 2016

That's Not a Bat, This is a Bat

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2004. Since the Olympics are going on, it's a sports-related column. Sort of.

Teaching is a noble profession, one that should attract the best and brightest to a rewarding career of shaping young minds and encouraging lifelong learning.

Unfortunately, some of these teachers become administrators, which grinds out any lofty ideals they had when they first entered the profession (that, and the fact that after 32 weeks of school, most of them can't stand the little monsters anymore).

But occasionally we find news stories about these same administrators, and the phrase "couldn't find it with both hands and a flashlight" springs to mind.

In 2004 in Fort Worth, TX, administrators at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School were peering into students' cars in the school parking lot, when one of them spotted an eight inch wooden bat inside a car. They tracked down the driver, sophomore Cory Henson, and pulled him out of class, disrupting his educational process. They ordered him to unlock the car and searched it thoroughly, as more students disrupted their educational processes and watched from the windows.

When they discovered the bat had fallen off a baseball trophy — Cory is a junior varsity baseball player — they dropped their flashlights, declared the mini-bat to be a weapon, and immediately suspended him. He was suspended for four days, under Texas' Zero Tolerance scheme, which was hatched in 1995.

Zero Tolerance is the mantra of school administrators who ensure their schools are safe from plastic butter knives, anti-PMS medicine, and students who say "hell" or "gay," as I have mentioned in previous columns.

And the administrators had focused on this mini-bat so intently that they completely ignored the regulation-sized aluminum bat Cory carried in his trunk.

That's why Ignacio Torres, the school's assistant principal, said the mini-bat, and NOT the full-sized bat, was considered a weapon.

I can only imagine the scene, as young Cory Henson was yanked out of class, and told to unlock his car — a machine that generally weighs over a ton and kills thousands of people each year. They then confiscated the little wooden bat, and ignored the big aluminum bat, forgetting that bats are a favorite weapon of seedy bar owners and guys who "wanna know what you said about my sister."

The administrators then escorted Cory into school, which is filled with pens and pencils, which are great for stabbing. Cory may have heard the band practice as he walked, listening to the drummers beat their drums with sticks the same size as the one clutched in an administrator's sweaty hand.

Cory's head may have hung as he walked past the cafeteria, filled with metal forks and knives, and into the assistant principal's office, which contained more pens, pencils, and several pairs of scissors. I imagine he then had to call his mother, who drove her own one-ton vehicle to the school.

But apparently none of this concerned LoEster Posey, the director of student affairs for Fort Worth schools. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that if an item is only "prohibited," such as a pocketknife, pepper spray, or firecrackers, the student will be given a warning. But if the item is "illegal," like an eight-inch mini-bat, then the student is suspended.

In other words, if you can stab them, blind them, or blow their fingers off, you're just given a slap on the wrist. If you can whack someone with it, you'll be suspended. But if you can actually kill someone with an item like, say, a full-size aluminum baseball bat, you're allowed to keep it.

I realize that a small wooden bat can be used as a club, but so can nearly ever other item in a school. A large reference book, a cafeteria tray, and even a well-thrown baseball can all become weapons in the right hands.

Suspending a student for having a small bat while ignoring a full-size bat borders on gross ineptitude. But labeling knives, pepper spray, and fire crackers as only prohibited, while a small stick is illegal only reinforces my thoughts about school administrators.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but when you combine it with a little power and very little common sense, you've got something deadlier than any miniature baseball bat.

Maybe we should ban administrators instead.




Photo credit: Peter Miller (Flickr, Creative Commons)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Big Brother Isn't the Government, It's Corporate America

The Internet is spying on me.

Not the Edward Snowden kind of spying, where the NSA hides a listening device in my toaster. (Which my daughter accidentally ate in her cinnamon raisin bagel.)

I mean, the Internet keeps close track of the things I do. For one thing, if I go shoe shopping online, all my friends will make fun of me.

Also, an ad for the shoes will follow me to every other website I visit. If there's a space for an ad, those stupid shoes will be in it.

That's because the original shoe website puts a small piece of code called a "beacon" onto my browser. This beacon follows me (and everyone else) around and shows the same shoes over and over until you punch your laptop and wear old Kleenex boxes on your feet in protest.

But this is not a major problem. It's been going on for years, so don't hurt yourself jamming on your tinfoil hat.

It's just the software algorithms that make the Internet work.

For example, Google uses algorithms so its search engine can better predict what we might be searching for. The more you search for things, the better they get at finding what you want.

If you Google Nazareth, the 1970s band that sang "Love Hurts," you'll get a mixed bag of results about the band, the city in Pennsylvania, and Jesus' hometown. But if you only click on the band's search results, play their videos on YouTube, participate in Nazareth fan forum discussions, and visit as many websites as possible about the band, your family will think you've lost your mind.

Also, Google will figure out that you're not interested in the cities, so future results will be more band-specific.


You can even affect what Google fills in the search box as you start typing. Let's say you start typing the phrase "How do I." Right now, Google will show you several frequently-typed phrases like, "how do I get a home," "how do I get a passport," and "how do I love thee."

But if you and several of your friends frequently search for, "how do I hide a dead body" over a long period of time, that phrase will eventually begin to show up more and more, displacing one of the other phrases.

So, if a few hundred people were to repeatedly ask Google whether a certain presidential candidate is a Cheeto-faced bankruptcy factory, the search engine would auto-fill that phrase anytime someone typed in his name.

Who benefits by knowing all this stuff about us? Who's keeping track of all this?

It's not the government. I'm not that worried about what the government will do with my search interests.

No, I'm worried about marketers. And I say that as a professional marketer. If you want to be afraid of Big Brother and a dystopian Orwellian future, be afraid of the people who sell you stuff. Disney's Wall-E should give you a pretty good idea of where we're headed.

Google's search algorithms are written so we'll have a positive experience, and come back to them over and over. And they'll encourage us to use their other products, like YouTube and Google Drive. The more we use them, the more they learn about us. And they'll begin to show ads geared specifically toward the things we want, like, and need.

Imagine if your TV only showed commercials of the things you need right now, as if they peeked inside your refrigerator and cupboards. You would see ads for your favorite mayonnaise, your favorite beer, and those little cheese balls you swore you would stretch over a week, but finished in one sitting.

That's who's driving the Internet. It's not the government. According to most of the people I went to high school with, the government can't even secure a single private email server, so what makes you think they can successfully monitor all of us?

That's because marketers can't touch anything without ruining it. We're the black mold of the Internet. Once someone creates something new and clean and pure, marketers are your perpetually dirty cousin who's always working on cars or massaging pigs.

"Hey, let me see that," they say, grabbing it out of your hands. "That looks pretty cool." They pass it back and forth between their grimy hands, hold it up to their ear and shake it. They even bite down on it to see how solid it is. When you get it back, you don't even want it anymore.

But don't think quitting Facebook or never using Google again will stop them, you're too late. They already know a lot about you, so you might as well face it, embrace it, and benefit from it.

Besides, Amazon is offering free shipping if you spend over $25 and buy my books.




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.