Quotulatiousness

March 3, 2017

The key difference between written and oral communication

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle, discussing the uproar over the Attorney General Jeff Sessions “did he or didn’t he lie to congress” debate, took time to clarify why we don’t (and can’t) parse spoken communications in the same way we do with written work:

If you read the latter part of this exchange extremely strictly, chopping off the preamble, then you can argue that Sessions was technically untruthful. The problem is that this is not how verbal communication works. The left is attempting to hold the attorney general to a standard of precision that is appropriate for written communication, where we can reflect on preceding context and choose exactly the right word.

Oral language is much looser, because it’s real time. Real time means that we don’t have 20 minutes to puzzle over the exact phrasing that will best communicate our meaning. (For example: Reading this column aloud will take you perhaps five minutes. It took me nearly that many hours to write.) On the other hand, our audience is right there, and can ask for clarification if they are confused.1

Demanding extreme clarity from an oral exchange is unreasonable. Moreover, everyone understands that this is unreasonable — except, possibly, for the chattering classes, who spend their lives so thoroughly marinated in the written word that they come to think that the two spheres are supposed to be identical. Most ordinary people understand very well that there’s a big difference between talking and writing (which is why most people, even those who are dazzling in conversation, have a hard time producing fluid and lively prose).

That’s not to say that it’s wrong to investigate the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Investigate away! If the Trump campaign knew about, or colluded with, the hack on the DNC, then Trump should be impeached. But at the moment, we have no evidence that Sessions committed a crime, much less attempted to cover it up. The court of public opinion is probably going to require somewhat better facts to convict.

    1. One reason that we writers spend so much time thinking about precise wording, and larding our prose with extra paragraphs meant to clarify exactly what we’re talking about, is that language is rife with ambiguity. This is why, at one time, Annapolis cadets were required to take a class in which they would write orders, and their fellow cadets would tear them apart looking for ways that a simple order could be misunderstood. It’s also one reason so many people get into so much trouble on Twitter: they write like they talk, but stripped of cues like context and facial expression, what they say is very easily taken the wrong way.

QotD: Is the Internet itself making us less tolerant and more prone to confirmation bias?

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I think it’s time to declare the internet a failure. At least with respect to its early promises of increased knowledge sharing and positive impact on collaboration.

Decentralization of media, Social media, has increased the rate in which misinformation is being transmitted. Once learned invalid information has to be unlearned and that is a much harder task than educating people with accurate information in the first place.

Social media also appears to have increased the rate that people cluster around misinformation and create specialized groups of individuals that aggressively seek to disseminate their ideas.

The asocial aspect of social media encourages individuals to behave in ways that they normally wouldn’t when face-to-face with people that don’t share their views. It has made intolerant people more belligerent and it has forced tolerant people to adopt less tolerant stances.

The trend seems to be to continue to partition people into increasingly specialized and narrowly focused groups. At the extreme we see individuals with highly individualized views agitating groups with more generally accepted views.

People have become more militant, intolerant, and unaccepting of society. The impact on society is a weakening of collaborative spirit, increased cynicism, and further increases to militancy.

In the mid-90s I was very excited at the opportunities collective information sharing could produce. We’ve realized some of those but I simply didn’t foresee the degradation of democratic values that reveal the best in the humanity.

Social media has increased the ability to create social anxiety by pouring misinformation into peoples’ lives with ideas that they are directly threatened or that there are limits to resources, ideas that are often mere fabrication.

Today we are bombarded daily with absurdity, aggression, fear mongering, and intolerance. It’s as if we unwound the clock a hundred years and abandoned the great freedom experiment. Only now the weapons to resolve differences of opinion are much more destructive.

Hard to be bullish on the consequences of increased nationalism around the globe.

The world does face some difficult issues we need to address but things are not nearly as bad as what has become status quo thinking.

Douglas Gunn, posting to Facebook, 2017-02-20.

March 2, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Problem with Alternative Facts

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 1 Mar 2017

I this week’s episode, Antony & James talk about alternative facts and how false, partisan data skews important discussions about public policy.

Update: For some reason the original post link was taken private, so I’m reposting to the current version.

QotD: Presidential derangement syndromes

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the 1990s, a serious malady appeared on the American public square in which citizens were driven over the edge by their antipathy for incumbent presidents. It came to be known as the “presidential-derangement syndrome” and over the course of the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama administrations its victims grew in number. But while it was a given that whoever won last November’s election would have one named after them, we really had no idea what we were in for once Donald Trump moved into the White House. As we’ve seen this past week, presidential paranoia has not only gone mainstream in terms of the public, it’s now found a home in the mainstream media.

Though it was limited at first to the fever swamps of American politics where some on the right first imagined that black helicopters were about to swoop in and steal their freedom or that the Clintons were operating a drug cartel, the derangement virus adapted to the changing political environment in the years that followed. Those deranged by Bush were less marginal than the Clinton victims but shared the belief that the 43rd president was somehow a front for a vast conspiracy and not only blamed him for “lying” the country into war but viewed the entire national-security response to 9/11 as a put-up job intended to mask the theft of liberty.

As awful as the Bush version was, the Obama-derangement syndrome was in many ways even worse as the 44th president’s citizenship was questioned along with his religious faith and anything else about him that anyone could think of. Though Obama’s liberal policies and power grabs were bad enough from a conservative point of view, some on the right preferred to instead spend their energy pondering the authenticity of his birth certificate (see Trump, Donald) or whether or not he was an Islamist mole. We can blame the Internet and the rise of social media for the more pervasive nature of Obama conspiracy theories but even that dispiriting spectacle may turn out to be insignificant when compared to the psychological torment Trump has inspired among not merely the far Left but also mainstream liberals.

Jonathan S. Tobin, “The Paranoid Style of Anti-Trump Politics”, National Review, 2017-02-12.

March 1, 2017

The different “flavours” of propaganda

Filed under: China, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on the various types of propaganda in use around the world:

Jonathan Stray summarizes three different strains of propaganda, analyzing why they work, and suggesting counter-tactics: in Russia, it’s about flooding the channel with a mix of lies and truth, crowding out other stories; in China, it’s about suffocating arguments with happy-talk distractions, and for trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, it’s weaponizing hate, outraging people so they spread your message to the small, diffused minority of broken people who welcome your message and would otherwise be uneconomical to reach.

Stray cites some of the same sources I’ve written about here: Tucker Max’s analysis of Yiannopoulos’s weaponized hate and The Harvard Institute for Quantitative Science team’s first-of-its kind analysis of leaked messages directing the activities of the “50-cent army, which overwhelms online Chinese conversation with upbeat cheerleading (think of Animal Farm‘s sheep-bleating, or Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s quackspeak).

But I’d never encountered the work he references on Russian propaganda, by RAND scholar Christopher Paul, who calls Russian disinformation a “firehose of falsehood.” This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere (“quantity does indeed have a quality all its own”).

Mixing outright lies with a large dollop of truth is key to this tactic, as it surrounds the lies with a penumbra of truthfulness. This is a time-honored tactic, of course: think of the Christian Science Monitor‘s history of outstanding international coverage, accompanied by editorials about God’s ability to heal through prayer; or Voice of America‘s mixture of excellent reporting on (again) international politics and glaring silence on US crises (see also: Al Jazeera as a reliable source on everything except corruption in the UAE; the BBC World Service‘s top-notch journalism on everything except UK complicity in disasters like the Gulf War, etc).

In addition to this excellent taxonomy of propaganda, Stray proposes countermeasures for each strain: for Russia-style “firehoses of falsehood,” you have to reach the audience first with an alternative narrative; once the firehose is on, it’s too late. For Chinese quackspeak floods, you need “organized, visible resistance” in the streets. For pathetic attention-whores like Yiannopoulos, Stray says Tucker Max is right: you have to ignore him.

February 25, 2017

“Sophisticated and affluent Americans, as a group, are pretty gullible”

Filed under: Media, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Andrew Ferguson on the gullibility of SAPs (sophisticated and affluent people) in social science fields:

Every few weeks, it seems, a new crack appears in the seemingly impenetrable wall of social-science dogma. The latest appeared last month with the publication of a paper by the well-known research psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, a professor at Emory University and coauthor of the indispensable primer 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Among other things, he is a great debunker, and he has trained his skeptical eye on “microaggressions.”

Sophisticated, affluent people in the United States (SAPs) have been trained through years of education to respect whatever is presented to them as “science,” even if it’s not very good science, even if it’s not science at all. Their years of education have not trained them how to tell the difference. Sophisticated and affluent Americans, as a group, are pretty gullible.

So when their leaders in journalism, academia, and business announce a new truth of human nature, SAPs around the country are likely to embrace it. The idea of microaggressions is one of these. It was first popularized a decade ago, and now the pervasiveness of microaggressions in American life is taken as settled fact.

We could have seen it coming. Already, by the time microaggressions became widely known, social scientists had invented the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test, administered online and to college students throughout the country, pretended to establish that anti-black and anti-Latino prejudice among white Americans was ever-present yet, paradoxically, nearly invisible, often unrecognized by perpetrator and victim alike. Even people who had never uttered a disparaging remark about someone of another color were shown by the IAT to be roiling cauldrons of racial animus. You know who you are.

The IAT thus laid the predicate for microaggressions. They were the outward, unwitting expressions of implicit racism; not only were they evidence of it, they were offered as proof of it. (Circularity is a common tool in cutting-edge social science.) Microaggressions are usually verbal but they don’t have to be. In their pathbreaking paper “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life” (2007), the psychologist Derald Wing Sue and his team of researchers from Columbia University helpfully listed many common microaggressions. Saying “America is a melting pot” is really a demand that someone “assimilate to the dominant culture.” Having an office that “has pictures of American presidents” on the wall announces that “only white people can succeed.” Also, an “overabundance of liquor stores in communities of color” carries the microaggressive message that “people of color are deviant.”

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

February 24, 2017

Weird Al Yankovic Explains Autotune

Filed under: Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Uploaded on 12 Nov 2009

QotD: Western culture is in decline

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Paglia: At first, I was very excited about the ethnic identity movement, because I feel very Italian-American and have always been in revolt against the WASP style that dominated academe — Leslie Fiedler himself was a victim of this, Harold Bloom was — there weren’t any Jews hired in the Yale English department in the mid-1950s, there were quotas on Jewish students admitted to Harvard, all things like that. But over time, what’s happened, I think, is that gender identity has become really almost fascist. It’s to me a very shrunk and miniaturized way of perceiving your position in the world and in the universe.

There [comes] a time when these fine gradations of gender identity — I’m a male trans doing this, etc. — this is a symbol of decadence, I’m sorry. Sexual Personae talks about this: That was in fact the inspiration for it, was that my overview of history and my noticing that in late phases, you all of a sudden get a proliferation of homosexuality, of sadomasochism, or gendered games, impersonations and masks, and so on. I think we’re in a really kind of late phase of culture.

reason: So that the proliferation of cultural identities, the proliferation of all sorts of possibilities is actually a sign that we’re…

Paglia: On the verge of collapse? Yes! Western culture is in decline. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, in my view, looking at the history of Egypt, of Babylon, of Byzantium, and so on. And so what’s happening is everyone’s so busy-busy-busy with themselves, with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…

reason: Is that also racial or ethnic consciousness as well?

Paglia: Right now, to me, the real obsessions have to do with gender orientation. Although I think there’s been this flare-up [regarding race]. I voted for Obama, but I’ve been disappointed. I think we had hoped that he would inaugurate a period of racial harmony, and I think the situation has actually become even worse over recent years. It seems to be overt inflammatory actions by the administration to pit the races against each other, so I think there’s a lot of damage that needs to be healed.

But I think most of the problems as I perceive them in my students and so on, is that there’s this new obsession with where you are on this wide gender spectrum. That view of gender seems to me to be unrealistic because it’s so divorced from any biological referent. I do believe in biology, and I say in the first paragraph of Sexual Personae that sexuality is an intricate intersection of nature and culture. But what’s happened now is that the way the universities are teaching, it’s nothing but culture, and nothing’s from biology. It’s madness! It’s a form of madness, because women who want to marry and have children are going to have to encounter their own hormonal realities at a certain point.

Camille Paglia, “Everything’s Awesome and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”, Reason, 2015-05-30.

February 19, 2017

Media mis-characterizations of FIRE

Filed under: Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has been getting a lot of media attention for their efforts to ensure due process rights are observed for students at US universities. In the process, some distortions have been included in that media coverage:

In recent weeks, news outlets across the country have written about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family foundation’s donations to FIRE. In doing so, many outlets have mischaracterized FIRE’s work defending students’ due process rights — particularly in the realm of campus sexual assault, where the federal government has taken several significant steps to impede the ability of institutions to provide fair hearings and freedom of expression.

We have written on this topic before, but it is worth reiterating a few points.

Perhaps most importantly, our defense of accused students’ rights is not an attack on complainants’ rights, as some writers have suggested. To the contrary, we aim to ensure all students’ rights are protected. The procedural safeguards for which FIRE advocates — such as the right to cross-examine witnesses, active assistance of an attorney, and impartial fact-finders — help ensure that campus adjudicators reach accurate and reliable findings of fact. This goal serves the entire campus community and is appropriate in all cases, but it is especially paramount where the ramifications of either an erroneous guilty finding or an erroneous not guilty finding are particularly significant, such as with accusations of sexual assault or other violent offenses.

Accordingly, FIRE has opposed legislation that attempts to address the issue of campus sexual assault simply by making it easier to find accused students guilty, rather than by helping fact-finders reach accurate results. We have not opposed provisions that could “prevent campus sexual assault,” as some writers have claimed. FIRE’s concern is focused on how the parties are treated and campus justice is served after an assault is alleged to have occurred.

Because only the criminal justice system can remove perpetrators from the streets and not just from campuses, and because the court system has procedural safeguards in place to help fact-finders reach reliable findings, FIRE supports legislation that would strengthen law enforcement’s role in addressing campus sexual assault. Campus criminals are not immune from the criminal law. Even in advocating for greater involvement by law enforcement, however, we have emphasized that colleges and universities have an important role to play in responding to alleged sexual misconduct.

February 18, 2017

Twitter turns on the free speech filters

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Forbes, Kalev Leetaru reports on Friday’s introduction of “hate speech” filtering on Twitter:

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

It was just a year ago that I wrote on these very pages about Twitter’s evolution from bastion of free speech to global censor as it stepped back from its utopian dreams as they collided with the realities of running a commercial company. Yet, even after changing its official written policy on acceptable speech and touting that it would do more to fight abuse, little has changed over the past year. Indeed, from its inception a decade ago, Twitter has done little to address the problem of hateful and abusive speech on its platform.

[…] the concern here is that Twitter has thus far refused to provide further detail into at least the broad contours of the indicators it is using, especially when it comes to the particular linguistic cues it is concerned with. While offering too much detail might give the upper hand to those who would try to work around the new system, it is important for the broader community to have at least some understanding of the kinds of language flagged by Twitter’s new tool so that they can offer more informed feedback to help it shape that tool given that both algorithms and people are far from infallible. Simply rolling out a new tool that begins suspending users without warning or recourse and without any visibility into how those decisions are being made is a textbook example of how not to roll such a feature out to a user community in that the tool instantly becomes confrontational rather than educational.

Moreover, it is unclear why Twitter chose not to permit users to contest what they believe to be a wrongful suspension. The company did not respond to a request for comment on why suspended users are not provided a button to appeal a suspension they believe is due to algorithmic or human error or lack of contextual understanding. Given that the feature is brand new and bound to encounter plenty of unforeseen contexts where it could yield a wrong result, it is surprising that Twitter chose not to provide a recovery mechanism where it could catch these before they become news.

H/T to Peter Grant for the link.

February 17, 2017

QotD: The rise of the geekgirls

Filed under: Media, Randomness, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, there was not yet anything you could call “geek culture”. Sure, there were bright kids fascinated by computers or math or science, kids who were often “poorly socialized” in the jargon of the day and hung together as a defensive measure; I was one of them. But we didn’t see ourselves as having a social identity or affiliation the way the jocks or surfers or hippies did. We weren’t a subculture, nor even a community; we didn’t even have a label for ourselves.

Slowly, slowly that began to change. One key event was the eruption of science fiction into pop culture that began with the first Star Wars movie in 1977. This was our stuff and we knew it, even though most of us never joined the subculture of SF fandom proper. Personal computers made another big difference after 1980; suddenly, technology was cool and sexy in a way it hadn’t been for decades, and people who were into it started to get respect rather than (or in addition to) faint or not-so-faint scorn.

You could see the trend in movies. War Games in 1983; Revenge of the Nerds in 1984; Real Genius in 1985. To kids today Revenge of the Nerds doesn’t seem remarkable, because geek culture is more secure and confident today than a lot of older tribes like bikers or hippies. But at the time, the idea that you could have an entire fraternity of geeks — an autonomous social group with reason to be proud of itself and a recognized place in the social ecology — was funny; all by itself it was a comedy premise.

The heroes of Revenge of the Nerds were people who created a fraternity of their own, who bootstrapped a niche for themselves in Grant McCracken’s culture of plenitude. The movie was an extended joke, but it described and perhaps helped create a real phenomenon.

The term ‘geek’ didn’t emerge as a common label, displacing the older and much more sporadically-used ‘nerd’, until around the time of the Internet explosion of 1993-1994. I noticed this development because I didn’t like it; I still prefer to tell people I hang out with hackers (all hackers are geeks, but not all geeks are hackers). Another index of the success of the emerging geek culture is that around that time it stopped being an almost exclusively male phenomenon.

Yes, you catch my implication. When I was growing up we didn’t have geekgirls. Even if the label ‘geek’ had been in use at the time, the idea that women could be so into computers or games or math that they would identify with and hang out with geek guys would have struck us as sheerest fantasy. Even the small minority of geek guys who were good with women (and thus had much less reason to consider them an alien species) would have found the implications of the term ‘geekgirl’ unbelievable before 1995 or so.

(There are people who cannot read an account like the above without assuming that the author is simply projecting his own social and sexual isolation onto others. For the benefit of those people, I will report here that I had good relations with women long before this was anything but rare in my peer group. This only made the isolation of my peers easier to notice.)

What changed? Several things. One is that geek guys are, on the whole, better adjusted and healthier and more presentable today than they were when I was a teenager. Kids today have trouble believing the amount of negative social pressure on intelligent people to pass as normal and boring that was typical before 1980, the situation Revenge of the Nerds satirized and inverted. It meant that the nascent geek culture of the time attracted only the most extreme geniuses and misfits — freaks, borderline autists, obsessives, and other people in reaction against the mainstream. Women generally looked at this and went “ugh!”

But over time, geeky interests became more respectable, even high-status (thanks at least in part to the public spectacle of übergeeks making millions). The whole notion of opposition to the mainstream started to seem dated as ‘mainstream’ culture gradually effloresced into dozens of tribes freakier than geeks (two words: “body piercings”). Thus we started to attract people who were more normal, in psychology if not in talent. Women noticed this. I believe it was in 1992, at a transhumanist party in California, that I first heard a woman matter-of-factly describe the Internet hacker culture as “a source of good boyfriends”. A few years after that we started to get a noticeable intake of women who wanted to become geeks themselves, as opposed to just sleeping with or living with geeks.

The loner/obsessive/perfectionist tendencies of your archetypal geek are rare in women, who are culturally encouraged (and perhaps instinct-wired) to value social support and conformity more. Thus, women entering the geek subculture was a strong sign that it had joined the set of social identities that people think of as ‘normal’. This is still a very recent development; I can’t recall the term ‘geekgirl’ being used at all before about 1998, and I don’t think it became commonly self-applied until 2000 or so.

Eric S. Raymond, “The Revenge of the Nerds is Living Well”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-12-20.

February 14, 2017

Fanfic – from grubby, subversive literary backwater to big bucks and recognition

Filed under: Books, Business, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Forbes, Hayley C. Cuccinello traces the early beginnings of the fan fiction community from Kirk-slash-Spock to Fifty Shades and beyond:

For the uninitiated, fanfiction is fiction written by a fan that features characters from a particular mythical universe such as a TV show or book. Its cousin, real person fiction (RPF), portrays actual individuals — typically celebrities — such as Harry Styles from One Direction.

Though the Fifty Shades itself has been dismissed by many as “mommy porn” and “the Great Idiot American Novel,” James is the most commercially successful fanfiction author of all time. After removing references to Twilight from Master of the Universe, a practice known as “filing off the serial numbers,” E.L. James published the renamed Fifty Shades of Grey with Writer’s Coffee Shop, an independent Australian publisher that was created by fans to commercially publish their work.

The results were astonishing. To date, James has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, including print, e-books and audiobooks. In 2013, Forbes named E.L. James the highest-paid author in the world, with $95 million in earnings, thanks to her massive book sales and a seven-figure paycheck for the first movie adaptation. In 2016, E.L. James was the eighth highest-paid author in the world, earning $14 million in 12 months, which brings her four-year total earnings to a whopping $131 million. With Fifty Shades Darker now showing in U.S. theaters – and hitting the international box office on Valentine’s Day – James’ fortunes will only continue to grow.

[…]

“Kirk and Spock are the granddaddies of slash fanfic, which goes all the way back to when fans were writing it out and handing it to each other at conventions,” says Andi VanderKolk, co-host of the Women At Warp podcast. Some authors collected their works into fanzines that were typically sold at cost.

Many fanzine authors would later find professional careers. Lois McMaster Bujold, writer of sci-fi series the Vorkosian Saga, contributed to numerous Star Trek fanzines in the late 1960s. Sci-fi and fantasy author Diane Duane, who has authored over 10 Star Trek novels, previously wrote fanfiction.

There are many other examples outside the Star Trek universe. Darkover author Marion Zimmer Bradley not only allowed fanworks but published a few of them in official Darkover anthologies. Television writer and producer Stephen Moffat, a former Doctor Who showrunner and current showrunner for Sherlock, previously wrote fanfiction. “I refuse to mock [fanfiction], because I’m a man who writes Sherlock Holmes fanfiction for a living,” Moffat told Entertainment Weekly last year.

February 13, 2017

Whatever it might be, it’s clearly not a “Tea Party of the Left”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Jazz Shaw on the nascent anti-Trump groups that some in the media are hopefully describing as a progressive version of the Tea Party movement:

What we’re seeing today is almost entirely different [from the Tea Party]. I do not doubt the sincerity of many of the liberal activists expressing their outrage, but the mechanisms being used to engage and coordinate their efforts are both obvious and very different from the early days of the Tea Party. Social media chains erupt on a moments notice directing protesters to show up at town halls, airports, municipal centers or wherever else they may be needed. These “grassroots activists” seem to arrive in large groups, frequently with buses provided, carrying pre-printed professional signage and well orchestrated chants which they read off of their mobile devices like an army of Stepford wives whose programming has run into a critical error loop.

Another key difference is the fact that the Tea Party groups generally had a specific agenda of items in matters of governance which they wish to see changed. They were seeking to throw out the old guard regardless of party affiliation before even beginning a discussion of what the new agenda might be. Conversely, today’s liberal activists seem to have only one thought in mind: finding a way to end the Trump presidency before it even begins. Rather than fighting for change, they are heeding a call from someone – we don’t know who yet – to forcibly roll back the clock and replay the last eight years of the Obama administration.

These activities are certainly newsworthy and I don’t begrudge the media for covering them. But let’s not make a mistake here… this is not the Tea Party. It’s not even remotely similar. This is a finely tuned protest machine, bitter about the recent defeat and seeking to harness friendly forces in the mainstream media to reinforce a daily narrative that the winner of the election as failed before he’s even begun. If there’s any good news on the horizon, it’s the fact that much of the public doesn’t seem to be paying attention, or at least not blindly accepting everything they see on cable news.

“[M]ost of what journalists know about radioactivity came from watching Godzilla

Filed under: Japan, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin explains why the “news” out of Fukushima lately has been mostly unscientific hyperventilation and bloviation:

On February 8, Adam Housley of Fox News reported a story with a terrifying headline: “Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels.” Let’s just pick up the most exciting paragraphs:

    The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels.

    [Housley] said the radiation levels — as high as 530 sieverts per hour — are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor.

    “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

The degree to which this story is misleading is amazing, but to explain it, we need a little bit of a tutorial.

The Touhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with all the other damage they caused, knocked out the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi (“plant #1”) and Daini (“plant #2”) reactors. Basically, the two reactors were hit with a 1000-year earthquake and a 1000-year tsunami, and the plants as built weren’t able to handle it.

Both reactors failed, and after a sequence of unfortunate events, melted down. I wrote quite a lot about it at the time; bearing in mind this was early in the story, my article from then has a lot of useful information.

[…]

So what have we learned today?

We learned that inside the reactor containment at Fukushima Daini, site of the post-tsunami reactor accident, it’s very very radioactive. How radioactive? We don’t know, because the dose rate has been reported in inappropriate units — Sieverts are only meaningful if someone is inside the reactor to get dosed.

Then we learned that the Fukushima accident is leaking 300 tons of radioactive water — but until we dig into primary sources, we didn’t learn the radioactive water is very nearly clean enough to be drinking water. So what effect does this have on the ocean, as Housley asks? None.

The third thing we learned — and I think probably the most important thing — is to never trust a journalist writing about anything involving radiation, the metric system, or any arithmetic more challenging than long division.

February 12, 2017

“Never Go Full Ninth Circuit”

Filed under: Humour, Law, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In this week’s “G-File” “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg harks back to a scene from one of his favourite movies:

One of my favorite scenes of any comedy — and it’s very un-PC — is in Tropic Thunder when Robert Downey Jr. (in blackface!) explains to Ben Stiller that you “never go full retard.” The conversation is about film roles. Well, if you haven’t seen it, watch:

Now, I don’t like the term “retard” — and I really don’t like it in political debates. We aim for something loftier here.

Still, the scene came to mind because there should be a similar rule in legal circles: “Never Go Full Ninth Circuit.” Personally, I think it sounds better in Latin: Nolite umquam ire plenus nona circuit (and if any of you Latin pedants send me an e-mail correcting my translation, I will come to your house and scatter your Dungeons and Dragons figurines off the kitchen table).

The other day I noted on Special Report that Antonin Scalia had a rubber stamp on his desk with one of his favorite phrases: “Stupid but Constitutional.” I hope that one day, a Supreme Court justice will have a stamp on his desk that says, Numquam Plenus Nona Circuit.

Anyway, I understand that the case against the Ninth Circuit can be exaggerated. Yes, the West Coast’s federal appellate court has the highest rate of cases that have been overturned by the Supreme Court, but the vast majority of its cases don’t get appealed to the Supreme Court. Hence the qualifier “Full Ninth Circuit.” Going Full Ninth Circuit is when you claim that that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. That’s a Simple Jack move, not a Rain Man or even a Forrest Gump move.

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