Politics

Chomsky on the media and “objectivity”

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Chomsky — the same one behind “Manufacturing Consent”, an excellent analysis of newspaper and TV journalism in the pre-Internet era — walks us through a structural analysis of modern media here:

There is a concept of “objectivity” to which journalists are supposed to adhere: report honestly what is “within the Beltway” — that is, what is considered acceptable by major power centers, state and private. Departing from that framework is “biased.” There are to be sure exceptions, but there extensive documentation showing that this framework is upheld with quite impressive consistency. It can be changed in so many ways.

He suggests one way to get out of this structural “objectivity bias” — something that Jay Rosen refers to as “the view from nowhere” — is to change its underlying incentive scheme.

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The New Republic as a product

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

From a poster at Hacker News commenting on The New Yorker article, Inside the Collapse of The New Republic:

I think I’m exactly the audience that TNR wants. I’m well-educated, make a good living, largely agree with them politically, enjoy long-form journalism, and am familiar with the brand and its history.

Yet I don’t think I would ever subscribe to TNR. I just see a magazine as something that’s going to pile up in my house. I can read more than enough great content online for free. If I was going to subscribe to a magazine, I think that The New Yorker is a lot more interesting than The New Republic.

Take note, journalistas. This is how your readers view your stuff — not as a “public trust”, “a voice”, or “a cause”, as TNR was described by the exiting editors in their resignation letter.

For better or worse, readers view your stuff as a product. And a product, to be bought, let alone used, needs to be useful.

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Everybody Worships

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

From David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement speech, “This is Water”.

Everybody worships.

The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough.

It’s the truth.

Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.

On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

Listen to the full audio, it’s only ~20mins. Worth it.

Improving a surface interpretation of “big data”

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

A silly little piece appeared in The New York Times discussing a hypothesis of a Harvard economics professor that Apple might slow down its operating system ahead of major product releases in an attempt to encourage consumers to upgrade.

One of his students used Google Trends data to investigate this hypothesis. In the article, two graphs are compared — one that shows Google Trends search volume for “iPhone Slow” and the other for “Samsung Galaxy slow”.

iphone_slow

It is shown that the spikes in searches for slow operation of Apple’s products seem to correlate with new iPhone release dates, whereas there are no search spikes in the data for the Samsung Galaxy.

samsung_galaxy_slow

These graphs are horribly misleading on their own. Both products have grown in popularity over the years, so the increase in search volume over time reflects nothing more than their widespread mainstream popularity. This could have easily been removed from the graphs by adjusting these trendlines relative to the “base” searches, e.g. “iPhone” and “Samsung Galaxy”. In the graphs as shown, it’s hard to tell whether little spikes are actually hidden within the compressed and precise trendline for the Samsung Galaxy.

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Delta customer service: exclusions may apply

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Some friends of ours invited us to spend 4 days with them in Paris in late August. They had some rooms free in an apartment they had rented and so all we needed to do was figure out how to fly there.

I don’t normally travel to Europe in the summer and know it can be a busy time of year, so figured I’d have to do a bunch of research before booking these tickets. What I never expected how this would send me into a rabbit hole where the major airline, Delta, would prove to me how poorly it can treat customers and prospective customers who are about to spend thousands of dollars with them.

Doing research

My research started, as many a traveler’s does, on the web. I used hipmunk and expedia and seatguru and all the usual tools to shop around. Because this was a short trip (only 4 days total), we were hoping to perhaps use some of those thousands of American Express membership rewards points we had built up over the years to at least get a Business Class upgrade for the overnight (red eye) flight from Washington, DC to Paris.

We figured this was an appropriate splurge. It’s one of the rare times my girlfriend gets vacation time away from grueling medical school hours, and for me, this trip is days before my 30th birthday. Given that we’d need some comfy sleep after an 8-hour flight and 2-hour drive to the airport before that, we were hoping we’d be able to recline a little on our flight over to Europe.

Digging around, I find rates for tickets are all over the map. But eventually, I get a couple of promising leads. First, Delta has a SkyMiles frequent flyer program, and they have a relationship with American Express, especially if you have an American Express + SkyMiles credit card. I don’t have one of those, but I realize that I’ve had the same American Express “Blue for Students” credit card for like 12 years, and that this card is now discontinued, so I should probably upgrade to something that actually earns me some travel points.

I sign up for SkyMiles and get instantly approved for this credit card. So far so good.

But little did I know I was about to enter the tangled web of fine print that dominates so much of corporate America and consumer interaction today.

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Truth on tap

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Some people have put together an alternative to Wikipedia called Conservapedia. But, I won’t grace it with a link. I’d rather not let the Internet become more dangerous as a form of mind control.

The site is meant to provide explanations of world-wide phenomena in conservative terms. This brings full circle the blurring notion of truth in the Internet Era, as was described quite well by Clay Shirky in his essay, “Truth without scarcity, ethics without force.”

For example, the many-thousand word article on “Public Schools” includes a section entitled “Gender Disparity”. It explains that “Public schools as of late have seen girls’ scores soar above boys’ because schools have been geared toward the needs of girls”. It goes on:

Schools seek to emasculate boys by preventing healthy roughhousing and having psychologists put boys on drugs such as Ritalin. Then boys often come to hate school because radical feminists seek to prevent men from being men and forcing males to go through counseling to “discuss their feelings” and other liberal hogwash treating all students as if they were female. Colleges, because of this trend, see a trend of 60/40 female to male ratio because of feminist drivel such as romance novels in literature and ineffective therapy and attempts to push feminine traits on boys and young men making them frustrated and fed up with the system unless they agree to the school’s desire to become effeminate.

Now, certainly, there are valid conservative arguments against public schools. You don’t have to look far to find them. You might feel that a public school is a poor use of taxpayer dollars, is a violation of parental child-rearing rights, or is a form of mass indoctrination.

But, a feminist conspiracy?

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David Foster Wallace on advertorials

Monday, May 13th, 2013

In “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (which also appeared in Harper’s Magazine as the essay, “Shipping Out”), David Foster Wallace discusses an “essay” he came across discussing a cruise, but which was really an advertisement.

In other words, Celebrity Cruises is presenting Conroy’s review of his 7NC Cruise as an essay and not a commercial. This is extremely bad. Here is the argument for why it is bad. Whether it honors them well or not, an essay’s fundamental obligations are supposed to be to the reader. The reader, on however unconscious a level, understands this, and thus tends to approach an essay with a relatively high level of openness and credulity. But a commercial is a very different animal. Advertisements have certain formal, legal obligations to truthfulness, but these are broad enough to allow for a great deal of rhetorical maneuvering in the fulfillment of an advertisements primary obligation, which is to serve the financial interests of its sponsor. Whatever attempts an advertisement makes to interest and appeal to its readers are not, finally, for the reader’s benefit. And the reader of an ad knows all this, too – that an ad’s appeal is by its very nature calculated – and this is part of why our state of receptivity is different, more guarded, when we get ready to read an ad.

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Uruguayan President: a radical farmer as president?

Monday, February 11th, 2013

He was a former guerrilla militant who violently rebelled against the government. He lived in solitary confinement in prison for a decade. He was elected as president of Uruguay, one of South America’s most liberal nations. He has pushed for abortion rights, marijuana legalization, and sustainable energy.

His net worth on taking office was $1,800 — the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. He donates 90% of his presidential salary to the poor. He lives in a small house on $800/month with his wife, even as president. He has sold off presidential vacation homes and believes public officials should be “taken down a notch”. He believes serving consecutive terms is “monarchic.” He hopes to return to farming after serving his presidential term.

Read more on the NYTimes.com.

Obama: a man, or an idea?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

I would never have thought, graduating college in 2006 with the Bush years in full swing, that we would be only two years away from Democrat control of the presidency for two full terms.

The election yesterday was important because it was a rejection of the repugnant brand of conservatism that argues government should have no ambition beyond self-immolation and individuals should have no ambition beyond themselves.

Obama is a flawed leader, but he is a deft politician. He has managed to win a national debate about a moral truth in society. One newspaper declared, “A Liberal America”, but it’s more like “A Mixed Economy America”.

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Dark Money Rises

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

This is the most important post to read this election cycle. Thanks to ProPublica’s liberal terms, I can re-publish it in its entirety here. I’ve also included links to the excellent interactive features at the end of the story.

Orignal authorship:

Michael Scherer, TIME Nov. 1, 2012, 7 a.m.

Justin Elliott, ProPublica, Nov. 1

Kim Barker, ProPublica, Nov. 1

This post was co-published with TIME. It originally appeared on ProPublica.

About a week before election day, a young girl, maybe 10 years old, confronted Colorado House candidate Sal Pace in a pew at his Pueblo church. “She said, ‘Is it true that you want to cut my grandmother’s Medicare?’” Pace remembers.

Like many other Democrats around the country, Pace has spent months trying to rebut the charge that President Obama’s health care reforms hurt Grandma by cutting Medicare by $716 billion. In fact, the same cuts in payments to medical providers found in Obamacare can also be found in the House Republican budget, and they do not directly limit patient care. “I told the little girl that the ads are full of lies and that it’s not right for people to lie,” he said.

What Pace couldn’t tell the girl was who exactly is to blame. That’s because the moneymen behind the outfit spending the most on the Medicare attack ads in Pace’s district will not show their faces. The money is being spent through a Washington-based group, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), that calls itself a “social welfare” nonprofit, so it does not need to reveal its donors to the public. In mid-October, the group popped up in Pace’s district, which is about the size of New York state, and promised to spend $1.3 million there in the campaign’s final three weeks. In one day, Pace spokesman James Dakin Owens said, “They basically matched us dollar for dollar for everything we had raised in the campaign. It was an 800-pound gorilla that just jumped in.”

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