Category Archives: Uncategorized

Abolish the NCAA (graduation edition)

By Christopher B. Daly

For a couple of years now, I have been urging the abolition of the NCAA. Not reform, but the outright dismantling of an organization that is deeply corrupt and brings no good to America’s college campuses.

In addition to the facts and arguments in previous posts, here is more evidence. Boston Globe Derrick Z. Jackson has been keeping track of how many big-time NCAA players actually get the one thing that going to college might do that would benefit them for the rest of their adult lives — getting a bachelor’s degree.

The sad fact is, most NCAA basketball players do not graduate with a diploma. Big-time college basketball operates pretty much as a minor league for the NBA with teams that just happen to be located on college campuses.

Here is Jackson’s latest report card on college graduation rates for the NCAA’s elite basketball players. Some lowlights:

–UCLA: 20% (for black players)

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–Carolina: 40%

–Kentucky 60% (for black players)

In the classroom, those are failing grades.

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Filed under college basketball, NCAA, Sports, Uncategorized

Congress is questioning the wrong guy

By Christopher B. Daly 

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appears today before a congressional committee, the social media magnate is bound to attract pervasive media coverage. But the spotlight is on the wrong party.

The real culprit in the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal is Robert Mercer, the major backer of Cambridge Analytica, who has frankly acknowledged his willingness to use his hedge-fund fortune to manipulate American politics. Facebook certainly had a role in the scandal, but the driving force was Mercer, not Zuckerberg.

Republicans are eager to question Zuckerberg in part because of a long-running campaign by Fox News to discredit not just Facebook but all of Silicon Valley. The Fox script is a familiar one: the “cool kids” in California look down on us, and they support all those liberals in the Democratic Party. Therefore, they are fair game — they do not enjoy the default support that Americans who run businesses otherwise enjoy from Fox and the Republican Party.

By the same logic, there is one key player in the Facebook data scandal who will almost certainly NOT be summoned before Congress: Mercer. That’s because congressional Republicans are terrified of Mercer. He is a billionaire who spends tens of millions of dollars a year supporting conservative candidates for office. He is a principal backer of Cambridge Analytica, the shadowy political consultants who helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.

If you want to hear Mercer testifying in Congress, you’ll have to wait for a Democratic majority to get back in power and resume governing.

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source: Campaign Legal Center.

 

 

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Filed under computers, Donald Trump, Facebook, media, Politics, Uncategorized, Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg is not the real culprit. (It’s Mercer.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is on the hot seat. He is taking a lot of heat this week for Facebook’s role in the assault on American democracy that took place during the 2016 presidential election.

He deserves a lot of the criticism — for not protecting his users’ privacy, for putting jv14ju53t6xpmm9ojuzhprofits above all, for lacking candor at every step of the way.

But he is not the real villain in this piece. The fact is, he was played. Facebook (meaning not just the company but also the vast “community” of users) was used by the real villain.

The moving party in all this was Robert Mercer. Facebook was just sitting there — ripe and perhaps willing to be exploited. But to his credit, Zuckerberg did not embark on a

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US billionaire Robert Mercer in Washington DC in March this year. Photograph: Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post via Getty Images

stealth campaign to change the outcome of our presidential election in ways that damaged the electoral process and stuck us with a president who is — shall we say — not making America great in any way, shape, or form.

That role was played by Robert Mercer. He is the billionaire who decided to take the fortune he made as a hedge fund manager and deploy it in politics.

Here’s a quick bio:

Born in 1946 at the very leading edge of the Baby Boom. Raised in New Mexico.

Got his bachelor’s degree in physics and math at the publicly funded state-run University of New Mexico.

He got experience in writing computer programs at the taxpayers’ expense while working in a weapons lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

Then, he topped off his education at the public’s expense by getting a PhD from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

Later, he joined the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, where he made a fortune in the stock market (which functions only because it is regulated, at taxpayer expense, so it does not operate as a den of thieves).

And what was his take-away from all the benefits he derived from all those publicly funded or regulated operations? Apparently, his reaction was a strong hatred of government, regulation, and taxes.

Thanks a lot. After all we did for you, this is the gratitude we get?

It gets worse. Because he is a billionaire (in a society where the rule of law protects him and allows him to keep his money safe), he is able to act on his views in ways that are not available to ordinary citizens. Empowered specifically by the Citizens United ruling, which equated spending money with speaking and therefore allows essentially unlimited spending on politics, Mercer has taken a comprehensive approach:

–donating to conservative “think tanks” that produce the rationales for raging social inequality

–donating directly to Republican campaigns for office (Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and many others)

–secretly manipulating the outcome of the Brexit campaign

–providing financial backing for Breitbart News and supporting its chief Steve Bannon

–backing Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining and analysis firm, for the specific purpose of influencing American politics. It was Cambridge Analytica that picked Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets and used all that Facebook data to promote Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton.

Compared to Mercer, Zuckerberg seems like a kinda sweet, perhaps naive, young guy. With any luck, Zuckerberg is wising up fast. He will need to if he wants to keep swimming in the same ocean as sharks like Mercer.

 

 

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Filed under Facebook, media, Politics, regulation, social media, Uncategorized

Data viz: News media struggle to convey gun story

By Christopher B. Daly 

The recurring American nightmare of mass shootings presents many challenges to the news media who must cover them. This New York Times story gives a glimpse into one of the challenges, as the paper deployed about 40 journalists to cover the shootings in Parkland, Fla.

Another challenge falls to the talented people who work in the newsroom specialty known as data visualization. They struggle to make isolated facts tell stories. Here are two recent efforts that make essentially the same point in slightly different ways:

The first is from NPR, a bar chart:

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This one is from the Times, a scatter plot:

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I lean toward the scatter plot myself in this case. Oddly, here is a version of the scatter plot, minus all the words and legends. In an way, it’s even more eloquent than the version the Times posted online.

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Filed under data journalism, Journalism, New York Times, Uncategorized

Happy birthday, Frederick Douglass

By Christopher B. Daly 

BY TRADITION, today is the day that marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass, a towering figure in American history known for his journalism, his public speaking, his opposition to slavery, his support of women’s rights, and much more. But in fact, no one can be sure of the date of Douglass’s actual birthday, for a simple reason: He was born into slavery, and most slaves were never told the exact date of their birth.

As Douglass wrote in the powerful opening to his Narrative:

        I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time. A want of information concerning my own was a source of unhappiness to me even during childhood. The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege. . .

I have always found that line comparing the status of a slave to that of a horse to be stunning. It epitomizes the evil of chattel slavery.

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Filed under Black history, Frederick Douglass, history, Uncategorized

The thriving NYTimes passes another milestone

By Christopher B. Daly 

In the end, as the most recent financial results posted by the New York Times make clear, the only real future for news is the audience. Journalists cannot count on advertising, and we should not count on patrons like billionaires or governments. Those sources are too fickle and too compromising. The only true basis for independent journalism is an audience willing to pay for it.

That’s why there is so much to celebrate in the latest performance figures posted by the failing thriving New York Times. Here is the company’s statement.

imagesYes, profits were off a bit. Yes, revenues from print advertising continued to slide. But the real headline is impressive growth in new digital subscribers. These are the folks who supply the company with its most stable source of funds and who do not want anything from the paper but great journalism. They are the foundation of the digital future.

In a story about the company’s earnings, Mark Thompson, the paper’s top business manager, appeared to agree:

“We still regard advertising as an important revenue stream,” Mr. Thompson said, “but believe that our focus on establishing close and enduring relationships with paying, deeply engaged users, and the long-range revenues which flow from those relationships, is the best way of building a successful and sustainable news business.”

Highlights:

–99,000 new digital-only news subscriptions in the last quarter of 2017. (plus about 60,000 more subscribers to the Cooking and Crossword pages) Digital-only subscribers now number over 2.6 million. (If you are one, good for you! Give a gift subscription to someone else.)

Total revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017 was up 10% (over the 4th quarter of 2016), approaching half a billion dollars for just three months. That’s because subscription revenues rose almost 20%, while ad revenues continued their downward slide, dropping by more than 1%.

Revenue from digital-only subscribers (the people who are going to carry this operation into the future) was up more than 50% (!), reaching almost $100 million. What that means, in crude terms, is that if the Times stopped printing (which it must do one day) and laid off everyone who is not associated with news-gathering, there would be about $400 million coming in every year to pay for the newsroom.

Advertising now contributes just 1/3 of company revenues. In other words, subscribers (plus a little money from merch) are already paying 2/3 of the cost. This has not been the case since the Civil War era. Revenue from digital ads was up 8.5%; money from print ads dropped another 8.4%.

–The company’s stock price is also rising.

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Source: NYT business page

Yes, the Times is continuing to shrink its workforce and the space those folks occupy in the company’s signature skyscraper in midtown. During a recent visit, I witnessed the belt-tightening.

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Moving boxes, covered portraits. Photo by Chris Daly

There are movers’ boxes in a lot of corridors, and oil portraits of various Sulzbergers are covered in plastic, awaiting removal to new, smaller quarters. So what? I don’t see this as cause for alarm, or even sadness. It struck me as a healthy sign of a company trying to get its size right. The key issue is finding a sustainable business model that will support quality journalism indefinitely into the future. The Times seems to be the best positioned of all the big, serious, fact-based news media in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

Down in the lobby, Adolph Ochs, the patriarch of the family that owns and runs the Times looks rather confident, no?

 

 

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Photo by Anne Fishel

 

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Filed under Journalism, media, New York Times, news, press, publishing, Uncategorized

Why didn’t the CIA stop the Russians from hacking Facebook in the 2016 election?

By Christopher B. Daly 

American taxpayers pay a lot of money to fund the CIA, the NSA, and a host of other intelligence agencies. They are supposed to spy on our enemies and prevent them from spying on us.

What are we getting for our money? To judge by the latest revelations about Russian exploitation of Facebook ads to undermine our 2016 presidential election, the answer would have to be: not much.

I’ve got questions:

What did CIA agents know, and when did they know it? (The Russian campaign appears to date back at least as far as June 2016)

Why didn’t they combat it? Don’t we have counter-measures to this kind of cyber-mischief? If not, why not?

Why didn’t they notify Facebook?

Why didn’t they hold a news conference last year at Langley and raise holy hell — to alert voters in time for them to know that the election was under attack?

Why don’t the congressional intelligence committees demand answers to these questions (instead of leaving it to a blogger like me)?

Is there enough evidence of election tampering to start thinking about demanding a do-over of the 2016 election?

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Filed under media, Politics, Uncategorized