Quotulatiousness

October 22, 2017

IKEA’s strengths and weaknesses, from a consumer point of view

Filed under: Business, Europe, Woodworking — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Sellers posted an article on his woodworking blog, reacting to some British journalists praising IKEA’s “democratisation of design”:

Visually neat and relatively cheap at first glance, but they are basic and they resolve the need in a new and young family for storage. The pinnacle of three-dimensional cubism!
(photo from PaulSellers.com)

Yup! a couple of newspaper writers (maybe more, knowing British journalism) reported the same thing in a short space of time, both hailing IKEA as a ‘democratising’ force revolutionising people’s perspectives on furniture design. Both articles were interesting in the way some articles can be, you know, not contributing much to society really, but time filling on a lazy Sunday. What actually struck me most between their somewhat opposing points of views was the unifying thread in their use of the terms “democratisation of design” and “democratising design and the theme of creating affordable, non-fusty furniture for the masses.” As far as I have seen through the years it is not so much IKEA’s ability to design but more their ability to produce zero- or minimalist-design products that seem less to be concepts of style, shape or form but mostly the selling of square-edged, styleless, plank-type items in the form of very, very plain boxes. Yes, I do understand the needs of young families for low cost storage and first year students to furnish their rooms, but democratisers of design!

Unpretentious though their lines are, you can hardly say they are designs so much as meagre assemblies and of course assemblies you generally have to take care in the way they are used because the selling points are their lightweight cheapness, transportability, dismantle-ability and simple (or complex) self-assembly products. You might be better to strike out into similar fashion statements rejecting the classics of old and adopt an equally classless line of unimagination by using old scaffold planks for dining tables and benches or, say, a shipping pallet coffee table on commercial galvanised swivel casters.

Elizabeth and I used to enjoy visiting a furniture store up in Peterborough, but about a year or so back, they stopped carrying the kind of furniture we liked and started stocking exactly the sort of stuff Paul is talking about. Industrial chic is all very well, but these pieces looked like they’d been thrown together at the last possible second as a student project for a college design course: the industrial fittings were cobbled together as crudely and as shoddily as possible, with no eye to either aesthetics or sturdiness. They were literally props that might appear in the background of a Victorian or Edwardian shop floor scene in an off-, off-, off-Broadway kind of production.

I’m far from a curmudgeon on the topic of home decor and furniture, but the pieces in that store were expensive crap. You can do the industrial chic look, or more modern variations using cast-offs from all sorts of places. My friend Brendan, in his first couple of apartments, had no spare cash at all so he scrounged up pretty much all of his furniture from around town. He had the weirdest collection of decades-old store signs, former display cabinets from different eras, and I don’t know what else, but he has a great eye for design, so no matter how eclectic it all was, he managed to make it look appealing and (somehow) integrated. That was clearly the ideal for the owners of the Peterborough furniture store, but they missed the mark by a very large amount.

I never liked lazy, press-release type journalism (as we are used to in British woodworking magazines) because it can be the same as lazy design work; both lacking any true imagination. But the two authors, each celebrating IKEA’s birth for opposite and then too the same reasons, seemed more focussed on this issue of IKEA somehow ‘democratising’ something rather than considering what could be in essence more a diktat. I question whether IKEA makes products that people actually want or makes people want what they make by virtue of cheapness and driving out competition, but then what do I know? I know this though, IKEA only sells what it wants you to buy, sells stuff so cheap that no one else can compete, and devalues the market by forcing down prices to a level that promotes mainly quite dumbed down designs. I don’t ever recall much in IKEA’s selling centres that I would describe as at all imaginative. People buy there because it’s cheap. To zone in on the reporting world, on Beeb 4 a day later a reporter interviewed some head of IKEA UK and allowed way too much waffling claptrap boasting IKEA’s products were now no longer going into the landfill after a short lifespan as the reporter suggested, which is of course absolutely true, but onto the secondhand market, which IKEA wants to include in its ‘widening circle of circulation’.

[…]

On the one hand Rhiannon Cosslett article in the Guardian describes IKEA accurately as the “symbol of impermanence”, but she also follows the same track as India Knight in stating that this IKEA is enabling people to shed their ties with “snobbery regarding middle-class home decoration”. The woman reporting in the Times, India Knight, describes the pretension of owning a semi (duplex, USA) and adding furniture that emulates the chintz (a word used in the two articles) of the rich and famed owners living in UK mansions past as a kind of mindless hypocrisy. I agree to some degree, but then there are those millions of others who follow the IKEA trending in equally mindless ways buying into its philosophies purely on the basis that it’s IKEA, as though IKEA holds the keys to concepts of good design. This, in my mind at least, shows how lacking we can become in discerning just what a good design is. I might liken IKEA designs to all the nations County Councils use of standardised street and buildings signage. Yes, they work effectively, but only because they have a created dull and unimaginative examples that stand out because of dullness. The main difference here of course is that for safety reasons the County Councils have a get out clause. I have yet to walk through an IKEA store without thinking (smelling too) MDF, pressed fibreboard, resins and plastic but how is it even possible that any company could put so much effort into creating so much artificiality.

Nope, not plywood, faux ply ‘engineered hollow core particle board.’
(Photo from PaulSellers.com)

October 6, 2017

New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh even gets the thumbs up from crusty old conservative fogey

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

That is, Singh is seen as a much bigger threat to Justin Trudeau than to “stodgy” Andrew Scheer … which, in electoral terms, might leave the Liberals and NDP fighting it out for second place in the polls and the Conservatives up near majority territory. He’s certainly teh new hotness as far as the newspapers are concerned:

The media is buzzing about Jagmeet Singh being a game changer. Campbell Clark, writing in the Globe and Mail, says that “The NDP once picked stalwarts to fight the good fight as leader. Now, they have chosen someone who might disrupt Canadian politics. Don’t underestimate the potential for Jagmeet Singh to shake things up.” Chantal Hébert, writing in the Toronto Star, says “[Andrew] Scheer has to be hoping that Singh will give Trudeau more of a run for his money, for it usually takes a divided progressive vote for the Conservatives to win power.” And Lorne Gunter, writing in the Edmonton Sun, says that “Trudeau is a paper “progressive” – a poser – compared to Singh … [and] … unlike Thomas Mulcair, Singh’s predecessor as NDP leader, Singh won’t lose core social democrat voters by running to the right of the Liberals in the next federal election the way Mulcair did in 2015 … [thus, and] … In short, Singh is a headache the Liberals never imagined having. Compared to Trudeau, he is younger (38 rather than 45), smarter, at least as well-dressed and even more of a trendy, politically correct symbol.“

“But,” Mr Gunter says, while Jagmeet’s Singh’s selection is bad news for the Liberals, it “should be good for the Tories … [because] … It should revive vote-splitting on the left. And it should allow Tory Leader Andrew Scheer, while dull, to appear as the only clear alternative to the two Big Government leaders.”

Singh isn’t likely to draw a lot of votes from the Tories, but he’s a major threat to Trudeau in exactly those mediagenic qualities that Trudeau used to such great effect in the last federal election. Justin is in danger of being out-cooled by the new guy. A lot will depend on how long the media allows Singh’s political honeymoon to last, as they will be the primary channel for the “cool duel” to play out.

September 15, 2017

“Assemble the squad”

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

Severe weather is coming, and the media know their role. Joe Bob Briggs has been there, and speaks from his own experience:

News executives love disasters. They get to act like Chuck Norris and Assemble the Squad.

“Maginnis, you cover first responders.”

“Wilson, get over to NOAA and stay on those maps.”

“Kelly, official press briefings. Work with Yurozawski to keep tabs on every emergency room within a 300-mile radius.”

“Bergram, you’re Cop Shop, but we’ll keep the aperiodic radio tracking the locals.”

“Ramstein, find that German guy who gets a hard-on for global warming.”

By the time a managing editor or a news director gets finished “covering this mother like blubber on a seal,” you’ve got thirty people who feel like they’re crammed into a D-day troop carrier, waiting for somebody to throw open the landing door and engage the Nazis. They have lust in their eyes. They’re hopped up like nekkid trance drummers at Burning Man.

You know those reporters clinging to lampposts in 120-mile-per-hour winds on the pier at Sanibel Island?

Same thing. They’re pumped. They’re wild. They’re getting all orgasmic from the needle burns on their cheeks as the gooey red juice of the hurricane danger zones envelop them in delirious wet convulsions.

I know. I was one of those guys.

August 14, 2017

When did you first suspect that the world was being run by incompetent idiots?

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

Ace discusses the moment he realized there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible way our government and mainstream media operate:

Here’s a question I’d like to ask. I’ll try to figure out my own answer in the comments. But this is what I’m interested in:

When did you begin to suspect that the people in charge of the government and the media were dumb, ignorant, and sometimes actually deranged, and what confirmed it for you? What were your feelings about this? That is, was it like taking the Red Pill? Was it scary?

I’m trying to remember when this happened to me. Oh, the media I knew was biased; but I didn’t realize until the last decade that it was pig-ignorant and incompetent and filled with people who are mentally unwell.

The government — well, I blithely assumed that people who ran the government (or other major institutions) were generally at least low-level qualified.

At some point I realized we are being led — or rather controlled, as we do not follow willingly, but through coercion — by misfits, morons, and maniacs.

It was both scarifying and liberating, in a dark way.

But I think these realizations came kind of slowly and I’m trying to think of major things that crystallized them.

It also changed my opinion of many of my fellow citizens and onetime allies: I now view them as fools and maniacs (or worse) themselves for apparently seeming to continue to believe that Everything’s Okay and we’re still being led (controlled) by, if not the best and brightest, certainly the somewhat good and reasonably intelligent.

July 13, 2017

“Stop lamenting the days of ‘objective’ news reporting. There was never any such thing”

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

Sarah Hoyt on the ridiculous nostalgia for the “objectivity” of the three networks era (or earlier):

It never fails. Someone gets in a discussion (yes, on Facebook. Where else? It’s where the fossilized stupidity of ages past has come to die and decay, forming a substratum not unlike oil, but far less useful. Well, unless you’re a blogger in need of post ideas.) about some of the latest misdeeds of the press, like say CNN’s bizarre pivot from all Russia all the Time to threatening posters for funny memes (Yes, of course I can barely resist the GIF posts when I see that. Unfortunately they take more time than writing.) and someone comes on and laments the days when the media was “objective.”

This is when I’d dent my desk with my head, except I have one of those standing desks that’s made of plastic which pops right back up. Good thing too.

I too would love the mythical times when kings were just, ordained by G-d and pulled the sword from the stone. They are as real as the days of “honest” media.

Look, take it from someone who went through journalistic training. EVERY good journalist (a minority as in all other professions) TRIES to be unbiased. This is relatively (but only relatively) easy when writing about the incident on first and main where a dog bit a man. It is far less convenient/easy when writing about a politician who embezzled something. And since politics touches everything these days, the result of the media’s obsession with making the personal political, it’s becoming impossible to report ANYTHING objectively, including the dog/man incident. I mean, do you want to get mobbed by PETA? What about people who love leash laws? What about the lobby to eliminate pit bulls?

Having training in journalism, and friends in the profession, I can tell you those “great” long ago times when all newspapers spoke with a unified voice, the narrative made sense and “everyone agreed” on what was sane and sensible, were anything but bipartisan, or impartial.

What they were was UNIFIED and totalitarian, in the sense that your entire media experience came from a very small number of people, who mutually vetted each other, and who had all been educated in the same colleges and believed the same things.

The era of newspaper “objectivity” also happened to be the era of newspaper monopolies, as Tim Worstall pointed out the other day. The supposed objectivity was a function of their need not to create opinion space for competitors to arise that would threaten their monopoly position for commercial advertising and classified ads (especially the classified ads). True objectivity is a difficult problem anyway:

I’m simply going to say, like Heinlein did, at about my age, that I’ve never seen any event I was witness to reported with ANY degree of accuracy. In fact, often they are completely and insanely wrong. But the report fits the left wing “narrative” in which they are good and moral so there’s that.

Prior to the industrial era, and the unification of newspapers and the distribution of some of those throughout the nation, shaping the opinion of all the smaller wanna bes, media was gloriously, loudly, obviously biased.

Stands to reason. Being humans we can’t hope for “no bias.” No, listen to me, it’s impossible. My husband and I are as close as two human beings can be, and have been married for over 30 years. Yet if we both witness something and describe it, our different backgrounds and natures come to the fore.

July 12, 2017

The real newspaper problem is not Facebook and Google … it’s their monopolistic heritage

Filed under: Business, History, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Worstall argues against allowing US newspapers to have an anti-trust exemption to fight Facebook and Google:

The first thing to note is the influence of geography and transport. By definition a newspaper needs to arrive daily — in physical format least — meaning that there’s a useful radius around a printing plant which can be served. What then happened is exactly what is happening with Google and Facebook, network effects come into play. Each urban area effectively became the monopoly of just the one newspaper. Sure, there were more than that in New York City for example, SF supported two majors later than many other places. But even in such large and rich places we did really only ever end up with one “serious” newspaper.

The network effects stem from the revenue sources. Roughly speaking, you understand, one third came from subscription revenues, one third from display advertising and one third from classifieds. Classifieds are a classic case of said network effects. Everyone advertises where they know everyone reads. Everyone reads the ads where they know everyone advertises those used baby bassinets. Whoever can get ahead in the collection of either then almost always wins the race. Classifieds are also hugely, vastly, profitable.

The way that American newspapers are sold, on subscriptions with a local paper boy, also contains elements of such network effects.

The effect of this economic structure was that each major urban area really had the one monopolist newspaper. This is where that famed “objectivity” comes from too. If there’s going to be the one newspaper then it’s going to try to make sure there’s no room for another by steadily occupying the middle ground on anything and everything. This is just the Hotelling problem all over again. Swing too viciously left or right (on any issue, political, social, whatever) and there might be room for someone to sneak in from the borderlands. Thus the very milquetoast indeed political views at most of these newspapers.

[…]

And that, I insist, is what is really happening to US newspapers. Most certainly, their problems stem from the internet. for the internet broke that monopoly imposed by economic geography and all else stems from that. They got fat and happy within those monopolistic areas and their pain is coming from the adjustments necessary to deal with that. The likely outcome I would expect to be many fewer first line newspapers staffed by many fewer people in much the way that the UK market has worked for near a century now. I would also expect to see them using political stance as a differentiator just as in Britain.

July 7, 2017

“Donald Trump views the mainstream press with contempt, and the mainstream press returns the favor”

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

Jacob Sullum on the tendentious relationship between President Trump and the mainstream media:

Donald Trump views the mainstream press with contempt, and the mainstream press returns the favor. Or is it the other way around?

Just as the president has trouble distinguishing between negative press coverage and “fake news,” the journalists who cover him tend to treat every inaccurate, unfounded, or even debatable statement he makes as a lie. That mistake, to which I myself am sometimes prone, clouds the judgment and damages the credibility of reporters and commentators who aspire to skepticism but too often settle for reflexive disbelief.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt recently catalogued “nearly every outright lie [Trump] has told publicly since taking the oath of office.” There are a lot of verifiably false assertions on Leonhardt’s list, but it’s an exaggeration to say every one of them is an “outright lie,” which implies that Trump knew the statement was wrong when he made it and said it with the intent of misleading people.

Take Trump’s preposterous puffery about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. “It looked like a million, million and a half people,” he said the next day in a speech at CIA headquarters.

Four days later, Trump was still marveling at the size of the crowd. “The audience was the biggest ever,” he told ABC News anchor David Muir on January 25, standing in front of a photo on the wall in the White House. “This crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes.”

Maybe Trump was trying to trick people into ignoring plain photographic evidence that his inaugural audience paled beside Barack Obama’s in 2009. But it seems much more likely that he was offering an emotionally tinged, self-flattering impression of his experience as he took the oath of office.

June 22, 2017

The Netflix tax is dead (again) – “This thing was a turkey, and Trudeau was right to wring its neck.”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Chris Selley rejoices in the demise of the so-called “Netflix tax” proposal, but also pours scorn on yet another proposal to prop up Canadian print media organizations:

Justin Trudeau wasted little time last week rubbishing the Heritage Committee’s so-called “Netflix tax,” and no wonder. If you’re determined to raid people’s wallets to fund journalism they’d rather not pay for and Can-con programming they’d rather not watch, you’re far better off doing it shadily than with a shiny new tax on something people love. The sound bytes winging around in the idea’s favour were, in a word, pathetic: “it’s not a new tax, but an expanded levy!”; “we already tax cable, why not Internet?”; “we already subsidize magazines, why not newspapers?”

Good God, why any of it? This thing was a turkey, and Trudeau was right to wring its neck.

Newspaper publishers and union bosses remain undaunted in pursuit of unearned public funds, however. “Canada’s newspaper industry unites to advocate for Canadian Journalism Fund,” proclaimed a headline at News Media Canada, the publishers’ lobby group. They’re savvy enough to propose tying subsidies to employed journalists’ salaries — 35 per cent to a maximum of $30,000 per head — rather than just cutting cheques. That might fend off Executive Bonus Rage, but it won’t fend off sticker shock: the suggested eventual cost is a whopping $350 million a year.

As a taxpayer I would much rather subsidize Canada’s journalists than Canada’s legacy media companies — but I would sure as hell rather subsidize neither. The more beholden to government a country’s journalists, the less free its press. Magazine writers in this country know their publications get a top-up from Ottawa in the form of the Canadian Periodical Fund. That’s not ideal. But under News Media Canada’s proposal, we would know our jobs literally depended on government largesse. I’ll take a hard pass on that.

Publishers’ and union bosses’ claims of unanimous support notwithstanding, many unionized journalists, and many of your non-unionized friends here at the National Post, hate the idea. It risks narrowing Canada’s already remarkably narrow spectrum of acceptable ideas and arguments. It risks — no, guarantees — alienating the very consumers we need to attract. In the case of some legacy media outlets it would simply extend the runway for business models that everyone knows will never fly again. In any event, the sums being bandied about wouldn’t solve the crisis as a whole unless the solution was permanent and ever-greater government dependency. I’m amazed to see how many journalists, including some very nearly pensionable ones, support the idea.

June 13, 2017

QotD: Conservative love of the police

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

There is absolutely nothing that conservatives love more than cops. To the average right-winger, cops are everything good and wonderful about the world — a thin blue line of barrel-chested, chivalrous, honorable men who are standing, at great personal risk to themselves, against an onrushing hoard of savages who will murder our children, rape our wives, and sweep away all the gains of Civilization over the last 200 years. As a result, anyone who dares to criticize police officer is on the side of anarchy and violence; anyone who mindlessly adores the cops and will kneel down when asked to lick their boots is a defender of justice and of order.

What this means is that conservatives are constantly misinterpreting any legitimate criticism of American police officers as being some kind of an affront to civilized society, a sop on behalf of violent criminals, rapists, and murderers. Recently, a cop got pistol whipped after, according to him, decided not to use force because he was worried about how it would look on the evening news. […]

Basically, they take this officer’s word as law — the reason he didn’t react forcefully (even when his safety was threatened) is because, in the back of his mind, he was considering how this might potentially run on the front page of the New York Times. Maybe that’s true, but it seems equally likely that this officer made a bad call and then, when called upon to justify his poor decision making, invented an excuse that not only alleviated him of any wrongdoing, but also allowed him to proclaim that any critics of the police are putting lives in danger. Now maybe a beat cop is willing to risk a beating to stay out of the news, but I myself have my doubts.

Regardless, this story has traction because conservatives steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that any criticism of the American police could possibly have merit. All critiques of the cops is illegitimate, merely another example, as if any further examples were needed, of a) the fact that black activists are anti-white racists, b) that libertarians are anti-American anarchists, and c) that progressives wish for the policy to lie prone in the streets, drowning on their own blood. No one seriously criticizes the police due to actual and legitimate concerns — it is all as a result of anti-cop bigotry and demagoguery and it is putting lives at risk.

J.R. Ireland, “Cops Deserve Rightful Criticism No Matter What Whiny, Boot Licking Conservatives Might Like to Pretend”, Locust Kings, 2015-08-20.

Note: when I originally read the linked blog post, it was available to all. At some point in the last year or so, the original author or the owner of the blog changed to a members-only model, so you are now required to log in to read it (I don’t have a Blogger account). My apologies for any inconvenience.

May 19, 2017

“Everything is a potentially impeachable offence or an indication that Trump is mentally unbalanced or both”

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

Jay Currie says that the ongoing epidemic of Trump Derangement Syndrome is worse than the 2001-2009 Bush Derangement Syndrome outbreak or even the 1969-1974 media demonization of Richard Nixon:

There was a fair bit of anti-Bush sentiment, and Reagan was often attacked, and, of course, Nixon was vilified long before Watergate; but for sheer, sustained, noise, anti-Trump campaigning by the Democrats and the mainstream media is an order of magnitude or two greater. Everything is a potentially impeachable offence or an indication that Trump is mentally unbalanced or both. The never-Trumpers in the RINO section of the Republican party are having a great time suggesting that Trump is a threat and a menace and needs a good impeaching.

In the hysteria virtually any bit of information, regardless of source, so long as it is anti-Trump, is a page one story. Anonymous sources say Trump revealed super secret stuff to the Russians? Perfect, Wapo is on the job and he’s a traitor or an incompetent or both. Doesn’t matter that the people in the room heard nothing of the sort. Impeach him! Guy phones the NYT with a pull quote from a memo that former FBI Director Comey wrote to file on a meeting with Trump? Quote says Trump said, ““I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump allegedly told Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”” which is clearly the biggest obstruction of justice since Nixon wanted Archibald Cox fired.

At this point, Trump supporters usually say, “but the White House could have handled this better.” I don’t. I don’t say that because there is no “handling” the mainstream media, rabid Democrats and charging RINOs.

Trump and his people have to make a choice between conforming to the norms of a Washington Presidency or simply saying that was what Trump was elected to fix.

[…]

I don’t have any sense that Trump or the White House staff know much about “damage control”; however, they have a good deal of capacity to, in the words of a former President, punch back twice as hard. To do that they need to ignore the storm and fury of the Washington establishment and the legacy media and go for kill shots with live ammunition. The Comey memo archive is a great place to start.

Earlier, Nick Gillespie had pointed out that the people who are screaming for an impeachment bill now are the same people who wanted Il Donalduce impeached even before he was elected:

But let’s get real: At this point in the game, all the explainers about how impeachment works (the 1990s called, they want their sex scandals back!) and adapting the 25th Amendment’s ability to remove the president from decision-making during colonoscopies to the current crisis are evidence-free exercises in ideological masturbation. If we are going to survive not just the Trump years but eventually get around to kick-starting the 21st century, we’re going to have become smarter media consumers and demand more from both our politicians and the press. “The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo,” explains the Paper of Record, “but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.” As Reason‘s Scott Shackford has noted, that’s what Joe Biden would call a “big fucking deal” if it turns out to exist and to be accurate. It’s also a pretty big if at this point.

But even before Comey’s possible “paper trail” documenting President Trump’s demands (which may or may not actually rise to the level of impeachable offense) came to light, his enemies were out in force. For god’s sake, they wanted him impeached even before he was the Republican nominee.

[…]

Needless to say, none of this absolves Donald Trump of any wrongdoing. But impeachment talk this soon and this thick is coming not from a place of seriousness but pure partisanship and ideology masquerading as disinterested belief in the public good. When the Republicans moved to impeach Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, it was the same thing and it didn’t exactly work out that well for many of the main conspirators, or for the country at large. Among other things, the impeachment push indirectly led to the ouster of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, which eventuated in an actual child molester being way high up in the presidential line of succession.

The impeachment of Bill Clinton was one of the major mileposts in the long, ongoing shift of America from a high-trust to a low-trust country, one in which faith, trust, and confidence in most of our major public, private, and civic institutions have taken a massive beating for decades now. Maybe it was the Warren Commission Report that got the ball rolling, or Lyndon Johnson’s infamous “credibility gap.” All the secret wars in Cambodia and Watergate sure didn’t help and the mind-boggling revelations of the Church Commission might have the final nail in the coffin of trust. The Pinto disaster sure didn’t help, nor did other revelations of private-sector fakery. You throw in freakazoid oddness such as the People’s Temple, United Way scandals, and rampant Catholic Church buggery, and, well, what do you expect? Across the board, fewer and fewer of us trust the government, the media, labor, corporations, etc. to do the right thing given the option of doing the wrong thing.

But if you’re still in the “impeach now, impeach often” camp, here’s your game plan:

Published on 18 May 2017

Want to get rid of the president?

There are two ways, basically.

First, find an impeachable offense. According to the Constitution an impeachable offense: treason, bribery, or “Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” What counts for that last part? Nobody knows. Some people say it means bad things only people in high office can do—like misusing public assets, dereliction of duty, or having sex and then lying about it. Others say it’s any crime or misdemeanor at all, even if it has nothing to do with a president’s position or power. Did you steal a pen from work? Petty theft is a misdemeanor. You should no longer be president.

Once you get an impeachable offense, get a majority of House members to vote in favor of the motion and then go to trial in the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding. After the highest-rated programming in C-SPAN history, the senators vote. If 67 senators find the president guilty, he’s gone.

There is another way, however, without all that messy legal stuff. But it involves the 25th Amendment, which is used to transfer power to the vice president whenever the president is getting a colonscopy. Seriously. It’s not pretty.

About 2 minutes. Produced by Austin Bragg.

Common Sense Soapbox #1: Fake News is Old News

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

Published on 18 May 2017

The term “Fake News” gets thrown around all the time, but what is it?

Sometimes it’s just a phrase people use to to discredit information or sources they don’t like. But there are also people who spread misinformation to further their own agenda. So how do you avoid getting stuck in a bubble without being a victim of misinformation?

We give you 5 helpful tips on how to spot Fake News, and use a skeptical eye to assess information.

Written by Seamus Coughlin & Sean W. Malone
Animated by Seamus Coughlin

Check out FEE.org: https://fee.org/articles/fake-news-is-old-news/

May 17, 2017

The amazing luck of Il Donalduce

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

For all the things that Donald Trump does wrong (and you can just reference the headlines of any newspaper or mainstream web site for a long list), he had one thing going for him: the fact that his opponents can be depended upon to over-react to every policy twitch or Twitter update. The cumulative effect of all this outrage is exactly the opposite of what Trump’s opponents actually want:

It wasn’t a good week for President Donald Trump, but it could have been a lot worse. For all his faults – and there are many – the president is blessed with one important thing: opponents so unhinged, so irrational, that even when compared to him, he comes off better.

The ham-handed and, frankly, classless way in which the president fired FBI Director James Comey could have and should have been handled better. The White House can find out where the head of the FBI is at any given moment, so wait until he’s in the office to fire him or pick up the phone and do it right. Instead, Comey saw it on TV.

That said, he had to go. But media reports suggest the White House was shocked at the reaction. If true, that itself is shocking. If Donald Trump saved a puppy, the media and Democrats would complain about it, so firing the head of a department currently investigating the Trump campaign and being shocked about blowback is amateurish.

Luckily for the president, “worse than amateurish” is the perfect way to describe his opponents.

Democrats who days or even hours earlier had been hyper-critical of Comey spun on a dime to proclaim his firing an affront to justice. They declared he had no credibility, then expressed outrage at his no longer “leading the investigation into President Trump.”

Of course the head of the FBI was not “leading the investigation” any more than the CEO of a car company leads the investigation into a faulty brake pad. But why let the facts stand in the way of a good freak-out?

Nearly every Democrat, journalist, and cable news personality clutching their pearls over Comey’s firing has a trail of pronouncements expressing disgust at one or more of his actions in the recent past.

Which leaves these leftists having to argue that a man they repeatedly declared unsuited for the job should not have been removed from it.

But that’s not all. Not even close.

March 11, 2017

“Writing a good populism story in Canada is thus all about reaching the Canada Is Just Better conclusion”

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

J.J. McCullough provides a valuable public service by compiling a checklist for Canadian media types when writing about populism:

Greetings Canadian journalists!

As you know, there’s currently a thing called “populism” happening all around the world. This is a fad in which poor people elect little Hitlers to power. I mean, it’s so far only actually happened in the context of Donald Trump (boo!) getting elected in the U.S., but there’s also that Brexit vote thing in the U.K., and that counts too for some reason. I know the iron rule of journalism is that you need three examples before you can claim a trend, so in a pinch just refer vaguely to “recent events in Europe” and that should cover it.

So anyway, having established that the world is in the midst of a populist tidal wave, the important question to ask is why it hasn’t hit Canada. The obvious answer, of course, is that Canada is just better than everywhere else, but you’re not allowed to say that openly if you’re a serious journalist. That’s for columnists like Doug Saunders or John Ibbitson or John Ivision (those are two different guys, right?).

Writing a good populism story in Canada is thus all about reaching the Canada Is Just Better conclusion without making it overtly obvious that’s where you’re heading. Or at least not obvious in the first paragraph. The way you do this is by noting that while Canada has some populist-like things happening, they are all really stupid and dumb and unpopular and meaningless and should be ignored. Because Canada Is Just Better.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

March 1, 2017

The different “flavours” of propaganda

Filed under: China, Media, Politics, Russia, 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 13, 2017

“[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.

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