Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Rob Fucking Ford

It's always great to see a conservative asshole politician consistently shoot himself in the foot, and then put it in his mouth.  That is exactly what Toronto Mayor Rob "Fucking" Ford has been doing for the last six months of his first year in the driver's seat of the Toronto City Council.

Ford was elected on a familiar campaign of stopping the "gravy train" of municipal government.  We've all heard it before: government is rife with inefficiencies, redundancies, mismanagement, unnecessary bureaucracy, and it's costing the poor tax payers countless millions.  Who can clean up this expensive mess?  Businessmen of course!  Businessmen know how to "trim the fat" and get the government enterprise running smoothly and effectively...right?  It's disappointing to see a naive public continually buy into the myth that significant costs can be cut without a reduction in services, but people keep falling for it.  Here's a rule of politics that won't steer you wrong: when a candidate tells you that he will cut your taxes without affecting the quality of, or access to, public services, nine times out of ten he's lying to you.

And, as a small aside about hating on taxes in general, every time you're standing in the very slow line at the DMV, clenching your fists, gritting your teeth, and screaming in your mind "WHY THE FUCK ARE THERE SIX EMPTY KIOSKS AND ONLY ONE EMPLOYEE DEALING WITH THIS?!??"  That's a result of reducing big bad bureaucracy in order to cut your taxes.    

1999 mug shot
It's truly amazing that Rob "Fucking" Ford was elected mayor, and it just goes to show how far the gravy train rhetoric can take you.  With his track record he could never be elected Prime Minister or even provincial Premier.  He's had a long reputation for being a belligerent, bullying, arrogant drunk.  He has a DUI under his belt.  During his tenure on City Council he was ejected from a hockey game by security for being drunk and getting into a shouting match with other spectators, and in 2008 he was arrested for assault and uttering a death threat towards his wife.  The charges were later dropped.  He's put his foot in his mouth numerous times on subjects ranging from HIV/AIDS ("How are women getting it?  Maybe they are sleeping with bi-sexual men") to the work ethic of Asian people ("Those Oriental people work like dogs").  After elected mayor he allegedly flipped the bird at a woman for motioning for him to get off of his cell phone while driving.  Driving while using a hand-held device is illegal in Ontario.  Driving while using a hand-held device and flipping the bird is just plain reckless.
Here's a fun clip of Ford as councillor, acting very mature and statesmanlike:

To Ford's credit, he's shown consistency in his disdain for government perks.  As a councillor he refused to use government money to pay for office supplies and the like.  Although, the guy's rich, so buying his own pencils and Post-it Notes isn't exactly the most gruelling display of integrity.  More importantly, his campaign promises to slash the budget and cut taxes and fees without cutting any services or public sector jobs have proven to be bogus (big surprise).  Cutting no jobs soon turned into probably cutting some jobs.  Municipal departments, including emergency services, have been ordered to cut 10% of their budgets - though, after some objections from the Chief, the police department was instead granted a budget increase.  They have the guns, after all.  Talk of closing libraries (their hours of operation have already been cut) and selling off or shutting down other city-funded amenities, like the Toronto Zoo, has people realizing that perhaps the definition of "gravy" isn't the same for everyone.  His popularity has plummeted, with a poll taken in September 2011 showing that only 27% of Toronto residents would re-elect him.  Yes, cutting taxes means cutting services that you enjoy (of course, if you live in an affluent neighbourhood chances are your libraries and community centres are perfectly safe).

Rob Ford made international news last week, and was named Keith Olbermann's "worst person in the world" after calling the cops on the CBC.  The incident not only illustrated the ugliness of his character, but his willingness to be completely dishonest at the most inopportune time.  On the morning of Monday, October 24, Ford was approached in his driveway by Mary Walsh, in character as Marg Delahunty, for CBC's satirical comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes.  The "ambush" resulted in Ford retreating to his home and calling the police.

Ford's initial portrayal:  It was early morning, and it was dark outside.  He was with his daughter in his driveway, preparing to take her off to school, when all of a sudden unknown individuals were running towards him, yelling "we've got you Rob Ford.  We got you!"  As this came after he had received recent threats, he was naturally frightened, didn't wait to see who was coming after him, and ran into his house to call 911.

This, of course, is not at all how it went down.  How do we know this?  Because there was a god damned camera there!

The first thing one should notice is that it was not dark outside.  Second, far from fleeing from unknown ambushers, he stood around for a bit and was even smiling.  He knew exactly who was there.  There was also no child in sight.  He simply got pissed off about being delayed and decided to make that Toronto Police Department budget increase work for him.  According to Mary Walsh, Ford first appeared to be "jovial," and her account is backed up by the footage.  Why the hell do people think they can get away with lying about something that was filmed?

The story doesn't end there.  Ford allegedly called 911 three times, annoyed that police hadn't shown up promptly.  Perhaps the cops had something better to do than chase the media off of his lawn.  On one of those 911 calls he reportedly yelled at the dispatcher: "You...bitches!  Don't you fucking know? I'm Rob fucking Ford, the mayor of this city!"  He admits uttering the "eff word" out of frustration, but denies calling the dispatcher names and pronouncing his title.  His permission is required to release the recording; don't hold your breath.  

This is the kind of leader you get when people vote with their wallets and not their brains: a self-righteous, self-important, dishonest greed head with no poise and no respect for common interests.              

Friday, 9 September 2011

How Flagging Works

Everyone knows that the flagging system on YouTube is broken.  This is in no way news, and I'm fairly certain that no one who has used the site for any significant amount of time believes YouTube when they say "when a video gets flagged as inappropriate, we review the video to determine whether it violates our Terms of Use—flagged videos are not automatically taken down by the system."  I'm sure it's true sometimes, but it's clearly not the standard.  In fact, despite their claim (true or not) that they review flagged videos 24/7, I don't think it's possible to have a real, live person review every flagged video and make a thoughtful decision as to whether a Community Guideline has been violated.  Just the task of consciously reviewing and removing videos with explicit sexual content and nudity would keep a sizeable staff busy 24/7.  How long do you suppose it would take for a staff member to intelligently determine if a video's content constitutes "bullying?"  I'm sure it rarely happens, if ever.

This reality is frustrating enough on its own, but what's worse is YouTube's refusal to let you know why exactly a video was supposedly determined to be "inappropriate."  Not only does this enable the site to remove videos completely arbitrarily, but, assuming some person in some office had a real reason for removing a video, it denies a user information that would help her predict what might lead to an issue in the future.  It's an absurd policy and only in place, I assume, in order to prevent people from pestering them with informed and reasonable appeals to their unfair actions.  

But at least when videos are removed you know what was in them.  Unfortunately, your account can obtain strikes from having text comments flagged and removed without ever being told what you wrote (or when, or where) that was so "inappropriate."  A user can't reasonably be expected to adjust his behaviour based on a punishment for an undefined offence.  The process is stupid and not logically connected to a goal of promoting understanding and compliance of the site's standards - probably because the goal is simply to cover their own asses.

Of course, a toxic cocktail is made when underhanded and vindictive users choose to take advantage of the broken system.  It has been demonstrated time and again that if someone wants to take the time to pepper a particular person's content with multiple flags, eventually some of them will stick (as long as the target is not a partner with hundreds of thousands of subscribers).  A feature that should only function to keep users safe and alert administrators to porn, gore, violence or its incitement, has become a tool of censorship and malice in the hands of many assholes.  

I recently had seven videos and an unknown number of text comments removed all at once due to flagging; undoubtedly by the user Brett Keane.  He all but admitted it in a subsequent video.  But this isn't meant to be a woe-is-me piece.  Innumerable YouTubers have had to deal with this.  However, the way this occurred helps to illustrate how fucked up the flagging system really is.  Videos are often removed in clusters, which, as I tried to convey to the YouTube support team, should be a red flag indicating that they probably don't contain Community Guidelines violations, but rather a particular user or group of users wants to screw someone over.  This should be especially apparent when some of the videos in question are years old.  If YouTube had any interest in having a fair process they'd take a close look at these instances.  I e-mailed YouTube support to request that they re-evaluate their "decision" to remove all of these videos.  In reply I received a cardboard message that stated that they "reviewed the videos in question and have decided to uphold their removal decision," whatever that means.  Did they take a second look as per my request, or did they review the videos initially and, by the way, are upholding their decision?  I seriously doubt either would be the whole truth.

In the pink slip I received telling me my text comments had been flagged and removed, the reason I was given was that they were "identified as harassment."  
Harassment is one of those unfortunate concepts that people think can be infinitely moulded and adapted to fit their own definitions.  The term is often applied to communication that people feel is distasteful or not nice.  Harassment is a behaviour.  To harass someone on YouTube you have to follow him to every page he posts on after being told to leave him alone, or create multiple accounts to post on his content/page after being blocked.  Nothing I've done could be considered harassment by anyone who understands what harassment is.  What does the YouTube machine consider harassment?  I don't know, because I don't know which of my comments were slapped with that label and removed.

I sent YouTube a second e-mail asking to see what these comments said and why the videos were removed, but I don't expect a reply.  Trying to communicate with them is usually like talking to a brick wall.  The other action I took was to remove my remaining videos regarding Keane.  I don't plan on making any more.  I've contributed my share, and I'm no longer willing to tussle with someone who has no principles, no ethics, and will do whatever it takes to shut me up or shut me down.  The fact is, as long as the system remains broken, flagging works.