Dear friends in the media.
I mean, come on.
You and I know what’s going with the Benghazi thing. Let me share something that I first put into play during the “was Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account hacked” debate, but that comes from watching the Lewinsky scandal, the where-did–Mark-Sanford-go scandal, the why-is-David-Wu-dressed-in-a-tiger-suit scandal, and a wide variety of wrongdoing committed by politicians:
When there is evidence of scandalous or bizarre behavior on the part of a political figure, and no reasonable explanation is revealed within 24 to 48 hours, then the truth is probably as bad as everyone suspects.
Nobody withholds exculpatory information. Nobody who’s been accused of something wrong waits for “just the right moment” to unveil information that proves the charge baseless. Political figures never choose to deliberately let themselves twist in the wind. It’s not the instinctive psychological reaction to being falsely accused, it’s not what any public communications professional would recommend, and to use one of our president’s favorite justifications, it’s just common sense.
Jim Geraghty, “The Mask Is Ripped Off of ‘Hope and Change’”, National Review, 2013-05-14
May 14, 2013
April 18, 2013
You’ve got to admire their willingness to continue their fight against reality:
The Phony Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation’s leading military fakers’ organization — representing fake members from all service branches — has gone on the offensive in the fight against military bloggers.
PVFW fired back with a public relations offensive, speaking with reporters and establishing a password-protected blog on their website devoted to peer-reviewed development of members’ stories of their superhuman valor and heroism.
“Because of these milbloggers’ relentless assault on our First Amendment-protected right to lie about brief, unglamorous or nonexistent military service,” PVFW chairman Michael Spurwick told reporters, “several of our members have suffered irreparable damage to their reputations, and a few have even had their businesses and careers ruined, after being exposed as frauds. Something had to be done.”
Spurwick, a former Army sergeant, who was promoted to General before retiring as a Captain, has a long and impressive career of made-up military service.
“We lost a lot of good men out there,” Spurwick said. “I don’t really like to talk about it.”
Born in 1965, he’s a veteran of every U.S. military action since his birth, from the Vietnam War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Boasting unearned Special Forces and Ranger tabs, Spurwick served with both Delta Force and the Rangers during Operation Gothic Serpent in Mogadishu, Somalia. He’s participated in every combat parachute jump since 1967, when, at just fifteen months of age, he parachuted into North Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne during Operation Junction City — as well as a top-secret high altitude, high opening jump from the International Space Station during OEF VI and a LANO (low-altitude, no-opening) jump from a B-1 bomber during OIF V.
[Editor's note: According to Spurwick's DD214, obtained by The Duffel Blog through a FOIA request, he was discharged from the Army in 1986 during basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., as an E-2.]
I’m sure there is — or soon will be — an anti-bullying law of some stripe that will allow these brave imaginary heroes to launch legal counter-attacks against those who would deny them the ability to wear uniforms, medals, badges, and awards to which they have no actual right.
March 11, 2013
In addition to his “day job” as the punter for the Minnesota Vikings, and his public advocacy role in pushing for same-sex marriage, Chris Kluwe is also a gamer. In this latter persona, he was invited to review the new SimCity 5 release from EA games on behalf of PC Gamer. Business Insider had to bleep out a fair bit of raw Kluwe-ism in the aftermath:
Hi. I’m Chris. I’ve been playing SimCity ever since the Super Nintendo version, and I’ve always been a huge fan of the franchise (SimCity 3000 is my favorite). Thus, when PC Gamer came to me and said “Hey Chris! We want you to play the new SimCity 5 with us in our Celebrity SimCity region,” I wasted no time in responding with a resounding “Hell yeah!”
I mean, what could go wrong?
(Other than the inevitable giant lizards, meteor showers, and poor sewage planning that happen in every SimCity game)
[. . .]
At the time of writing this piece, SimCity 5 has been active for almost 62 hours. Of those 62 hours, I’ve been able to log in for around ten. Of those ten, four consisted of massive latency issues and corrupted games, so (quick calculation here), I’ve had access to the actual game for maybe 10 percent of the time I’ve had it. EA’s servers are, to put it bluntly, utterly bug[redacted], and there’s no option to play the game offline.
Therein lies the heart of my problem. SimCity is, at its heart, a single player game. Having access to other players’ cities is cool, but I want to build MY city, and I don’t want some [redacted], totally unnecessary “always on” DRM to keep me from playing the game (full disclosure: PC Gamer was kind enough to provide me with a download code for the game, so you can only imagine my rage levels if I had actually put money into EA’s pockets for this “experience”).
And now the math:
Sadly, EA seems to have failed to do some very simple math. Let’s look at an example. We’ll assume that for an amazingly successful game like SimCity, about 20,000 people will end up pirating it (those who have the technical knowhow and Internet savvy to find a working crack). I have 160,000 Twitter followers, of whom around 50,000 follow me for gaming. I just told those 50,000 people NOT to buy SimCity because EA cannot handle its s***, and the game is unplayable. We’ll say half those people listen to me and haven’t bought the game already. Soooo, carrying the pi, we see that EA is already out 5,000 more sales than if they had just created a normal, single player offline capable game with multiplayer components.
(Don’t forget, “always on” DRM also screws over people who don’t have access to Internet for large periods of time, like rural areas and travelers. More lost sales!)
In addition to the bad PR of a terrible launch experience, EA is also reportedly refusing to process refunds to purchasers despite having made this an explicit promise in their pre-release information package.
British Columbia’s next provincial election is still a couple of months away, but the pundits are already making plans for what happens after the BC Liberal party is taken out to the knacker’s yard and the NDP takes power (based on recent polls and the amazing ability of the Liberals to generate bad press):
Assuming everyone and their brother hasn’t been lying to pollsters, the election is pretty much in the bag for the BC NDP. Not only is there strong “time for a change” momentum aiding the party, after three terms of the BC Liberals, but recent occasions where the Premier, Christy Clark, and her entourage only opened their mouths to change feet (e.g. “Ethnicgate”) have brought the prospects of a competitive election down sharply.
Clark’s road map for the election has never been good. As reported on Feb. 15 in your Beacon News, before the budget and Ethnicgate erupted, the absolute best case for the BC Liberals was 34 seats — a respectable loss. A roadmap today would see 25 or fewer seats if everything breaks their way.
There are 85 ridings in the province, so 43 seats held by a single party is a majority. In addition to the Liberals and the NDP, there’s also a Conservative party in BC, but it apparently acts as a role model for dysfunctional organizations:
Meanwhile, John Cummins’ BC Conservatives seem equally determined to destroy their party. The party, at the moment, is going into an election without any of its key officers: between purges run by the leader’s coterie and resignations in disgust, the party’s officers are missing in action. Riding associations are walking, as leader Cummins overrides their nominating selections to impose his own choice of candidates.
So, in the best traditions of sauve qui peut, there’s a fair bit of talk about a new party to replace the discredited Liberals and the self-destructing Conservatives:
That’s why individuals affiliated with both the BC Conservatives and the BC Liberals are starting to organize for a new party. The project is nicknamed “Free Enterprise Party 3.0″.
[. . .]
Growing a new party, goes the thinking, puts everyone on an even footing. Those key Liberals who retired rather than run again under Christy Clark’s banner might be enticed to shift over and play a role in building a new party. Riding associations would be built, with no one grandfathered in. The new party, in turn, would dump all the baggage of the past years in one fell swoop.
There’s evidently some interest from the moneyed who normally support the “anything-but-the-NDP” option in the province. They’ll top up the Liberal coffers for the election — but are looking to shift their focus after it if the BC Liberals are crushed.
Of course, while the PR fiascos are real, the polls are only a way marker. Everyone who confidently predicted the outcome of the last Alberta election is now a lot more wary of the opinion polls. Nobody wants to provide the 2013 equivalent of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.
February 25, 2013
Ken at Popehat explains “the game”:
Here we have the heart of the matter. “Professional” journalists may, indeed, be brilliant, talented, well-trained, professional, with an abiding appetite for hard-hitting but neutral reporting. Yet professional journalists also depend on relationships. Ms. Caldwell calls that fact out, sending law enforcement’s core message to the press: if you want access, play the game.
The game colors mainstream media coverage of criminal justice. Here’s my overt bias: I’m a criminal defense attorney, a former prosecutor, and a critic of the criminal justice system. In my view, the press is too often deferential to police and prosecutors. They report the state’s claims as fact and the defense’s as nitpicking or flimflam. They accept the state’s spin on police conduct uncritically. They present criminal justice issues from their favored “if it bleeds it leads” perspective rather than from a critical and questioning perspective, happily covering deliberate spectacle rather than calling it out as spectacle. They accept leaks and tips and favors from law enforcement, even when those tips and leaks and favors violate defendants’ rights, and even when the act of giving the tip or leak or favor is itself a story that somebody ought to be investigating. In fact, they cheerfully facilitate obstruction of justice through leaks. They dumb down criminal justice issues to serve their narrative, or because they don’t understand them.
This “professional” press approach to the criminal justice system serves police and prosecutors very well. They favor reporters who hew to it. Of course they don’t want to answer questions from the 800-pound bedridden guy in fuzzy slippers in his mother’s basement. But it’s not because an 800-pound bedridden guy can’t ask pertinent questions. It’s because he’s frankly more likely to ask tough questions, more likely to depart from the mutually accepted narrative about the system, less likely to be “respectful” in order to protect his access. (Of course, he might also be completely nuts, in a way that “mainstream” journalism screens out to some extent.)
February 19, 2013
Ed Smith shows how Orwell’s warning about politicians lying is now out of date because they’ve mastered the art of using “plain language” in aid of untruth:
Orwell season has led me back to his famous essay “Politics and the English Language”, first published in 1946. It is written with enviable clarity. But is it true? Orwell argues that “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words.”
I suspect the opposite is now true. When politicians or corporate front men have to bridge a gap between what they are saying and what they know to be true, their preferred technique is to convey authenticity by speaking with misleading simplicity. The ubiquitous injunction “Let’s be clear”, followed by a list of five bogus bullet-points, is a much more common refuge than the Latinate diction and Byzantine sentence structure that Orwell deplored.
We live in a self-consciously plain-spoken political era. But Orwell’s advice, ironically, has not elevated the substance of debate; it has merely helped the political class to avoid the subject more skilfully. The art of spin is not (quite) supplanting truth with lies. It aspires to replace awkward complexities with catchy simplicity. Successful spin does not leave the effect of skilful persuasiveness; it creates the impression of unavoidable common sense. Hence the artifice becomes invisible — just as a truly charming person is considered nice rather than “charming”.
February 17, 2013
The British army’s officer training college at Sandhurst (think “West Point” in the American context) has invited a lot of criticism for this decision:
Britain’s top military academy, Sandhurst, has come under fire for renaming a sports hall commemorating a First World War battle after the King of Bahrain.
The Mons Hall — named after the 1914 battle where thousands died — will have its name changed to honour the Bahraini monarch who has given millions in funding to the Army’s officer training college.
The building will now be called King Hamad Hall and will reopen next month after being refurbished thanks to a £3 million donation from the king, who is the patron of the Sandhurst Foundation but is known for brutally repressing demonstrators at home.
Sandhurst has also accepted a £15 million donation from the United Arab Emirates to build a new accommodation block, raising questions about the college’s links with authoritarian Gulf states accused of human rights abuses.
Critics say the Army is betraying the soldiers who gave their lives and that Bahrain and the UAE are trying to avert criticism of their regimes by buying silence with donations.
The 1914 Battle of Mons was the first major battle of the war. Against overwhelming odds, the British Army inflicted 5,000 casualties on the Germans. At least 1,600 British troops were killed.
February 4, 2013
In the New York Daily News, Bob Raissman asks why CBS didn’t bother to do any actual “journalism” about the blackout:
The fans inside the Superdome were not the only ones left in the dark when half the building’s power went out in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII Sunday night. Viewers were left with unanswered questions as CBS Sports’ sideline reporters, and the rest of the cast, failed to go into a reporting mode.
There was no outrage, no questioning how a thing like this could happen on the NFL’s biggest night of the year.
At a time when they should have been aggressively gathering news, CBS’ crew was satisfied with the crumbs the NFL dropped on them. And they swallowed the scraps gladly. Not once during the 34-minute delay did a representative of the National Football League appear on camera to attempt to explain what caused half the Superdome to lose power. Why should they? No one from CBS put any pressure on them.
[. . .]
Think about it. CBS pays billions for the right to air NFL games. Much of that dough is shelled out to secure rights to the Super Bowl. So, on the big night, there is a major screwup and the NFL won’t put someone on the air — and CBS won’t push the league — to try to explain what’s going on? That’s mind-boggling.
But not quite as wacked as CBS’ laid-back approach to reporting this story, which will go down as one of the more unusual moments in Super Bowl history. All the players were on the field, waiting, stretching. Why not take a camera and microphone on the sidelines for an interview? If they blow you off, fine — at least viewers would have something worth watching.
January 20, 2013
Oxfam is publicly blaming and shaming the top 1% of income-earners for their evil money-grubbing ways that deprive the worst-off and make poverty worse in developing countries. Simon Cooke explains why they’re wonderfully, gloriously wrong:
“Concentration of resources in the hands of the top 1% depresses economic activity and makes life harder for everyone else — particularly those at the bottom of the economic ladder.”
And that top 1% isn’t you and me we’re led to believe — it’s those evil billionaire capitalists who are stealing the very bread from the mouths of the starving children. Let’s leave aside the fact that poverty is largely unrelated to inequality — people do not become rich by making others poor, however often Oxfam want to pretend that this is so. Instead let’s remind ourselves who the 1% are in terms of world development and poverty:
The truth is that the entry level income for the world’s top 1% of earners is:
That’s it, in real money not a great deal more than £20,000 a year gets you into the 1% club — sits you among the world’s filthy rich, among those to blame for all the sins and evil of the world. Capitalist scum.
Most of you reading this blog are in the top 1% sucking up all those resources — depriving the poor in Africa and elsewhere of the chance to grow, to get out of poverty.
Except you’re not. Sit back, put a smile on you face — punch the air with joy. You and me — capitalists both — have sat getting a little richer for thirteen years while a billion folk have escaped absolute poverty. All the international trade, all those businesses and those business folk filling the posh seats in aeroplanes flitting across the world — they’ve done that, they’ve lifted those people out of poverty.
Oxfam are wrong. Neoliberalism is making all the world richer. Even the UN celebrates that neoliberal success:
“For the first time since records on poverty began, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen in every developing region, including sub-Saharan Africa. Preliminary estimates indicate that the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate…”
This is what capitalism does. Isn’t it wonderful.
September 26, 2012
If you’ve read the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m far from anti-military. I was in the Canadian militia (the army reserve) during my teenage years, and still have friends who are serving in the armed forces of Canada, Britain, and the US. Since 2001, Canadians in particular have re-evaluated their views of the military and are now much more likely to demonstrate their support for the army, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Even so, Canadians are much more low-key in their demonstrations of respect and approval than Americans are.
Some of the more outspoken supporters actually give me the creeps … rather than showing their support for the soldiers, sailors, and airmen, they seem to be showing their support for militarism. That sort of thing enables and encourages military adventurism, armed intervention in other countries, and the militarization of civilian life (look at the military-style gear many police departments now operate, including drones for border surveillance and drug war operations). That’s a line I never want to see Canada cross.
At the Future of Freedom Foundation blog, Jacob Hornberger expresses some of the same concern:
One of the most fascinating phenomena of our time is the extreme reverence that the American people have been taught to have for the military. Wherever you go — airports, sports events, church — there is a god-like worship of the military.
“Let us all stand and express our sincerest thanks to our troops for the wonderful service they perform for our country,” declare the sports broadcasters.
“Let us pray for the troops, especially those in harm’s way,” church ministers exhort their parishioners.
“Let us give a big hand to our troops who are traveling with us today,” exclaim airline officials.
Every time I see this reverence for the military being expressed, I wonder if people ever give any thought to what exactly the troops are doing. No one seems to ask that question. It just doesn’t seem to matter. The assumption is that whatever the troops are doing, they are protecting our “rights and freedoms.” As one sports broadcaster I recently heard put it, “We wouldn’t be here playing this game if it weren’t for the troops.”
There is at least one big problem with this phenomenon, however: The troops are engaged in actions that are harmful to the American people, including most of the people who have a reverential attitude toward them.
September 24, 2012
This is an unusual arrangement, but it makes sense in the larger picture:
The U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy conducted their first joint anti-piracy drill. A Chinese frigate (the 4,000 ton Type 54A Yiyang) and an American destroyer (the 8,200 ton Burke class Churchill) carried out several training operations over five hours. This included joint use of communications as well as boarding and onboard search procedures. This was done in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia.
While there was some PR angle to this, the crews of the two ships did get a useful look at how the other side operates. More to the point, it was a useful drill in the event that Chinese and American warships found themselves dealing with the same bunch of Somali pirates. Both sides will distribute what was learned throughout their respective fleets.
All this is part of a trend. China is becoming more inclined to work with ships from other nations patrolling the pirate infested waters off Somalia. Earlier this year, for example, China, India, and Japan agreed to have their warships off the Somali coast coordinate operations to more efficiently protect civilian ships in the area. Chinese and Indian warships have been operating independently off Somalia, while Japanese ships have been operating with Task Force 151. Most warships on anti-piracy duty belong to TF 151. Most of the remainder work with EUNFS (European Union Naval Force Somalia). But some nations continue to operate independently, more or less. In these cases there is always some communication, coordination, and sharing of information with TF 151 and EUNFS.
September 10, 2012
Poor Charles Stross has experienced one-too-many book tours. It’s so not conducive to anything like comfort or a normal life:
A book signing tour sounds romantic, but actually it’s not. It’s like one of those cheap package holidays in which you get to tour South America or Europe in seven days. Each day you have to get out of bed at dawn or earlier and head to the airport for another cavity search and economy-class ticket to a new city. When you arrive, a new guide meets you in, shovels you into their car, and then takes you on a whistle-stop tour of sights of the city. (On a tourist tour, it’s museums or monuments; on a signing tour, it’s bookstores, where you render the stock non-returnable by defacing it with your signature.) You might be allowed to dump your bag in a hotel room if timing permits. The hotel room will be luxurious and expensive and you will spend so little time awake in it that it seems like a cruel joke, because your time will be programmed so tightly you barely have a chance to eat. It is possible that you will be dragged in front of microphones or cameras to answer confused or confusing questions by journalists who haven’t read your book; then, each evening, you will show up at a bookstore where hopefully there will be an audience who will listen to you deliver a canned speech and/or reading and then buy books which you will then sign. And you will have to be nice to everybody, on pain of potentially not getting another tour (which might sound like a blessing in disguise until you work out what’s going to happen to your income thereafter). Finally, your head hits the pillow around 11pm — don’t forget to check in for tomorrow’s exciting anal probe and air-sickness theme-park ride! — for as much as five or six hours’ sleep.
But then, the nightmare thought: a book tour reality TV show…
September 7, 2012
“When I discover something surprising in data, the most common explanation is that I made a mistake.”
John Kay suggests you always ask how a statistic was created before you consider what the presenter wants you to think:
Always ask yourself the question: “where does that data come from?”. “Long distance rail travel in Britain is expected to increase by 96 per cent by 2043.” Note how the passive voice “is expected” avoids personal responsibility for this statement. Who expects this? And what is the basis of their expectation? For all I know, we might be using flying platforms in 2043, or be stranded at home by oil shortages: where did the authors of the prediction acquire their insight?
“On average, men think about sex every seven seconds.” How did the researchers find this out? Did they ask men how often they thought about sex, or when they last thought about sex (3½ seconds ago, on average)? Did they give their subjects a buzzer to press every time they thought about sex? How did they confirm the validity of the responses? Is it possible that someone just made this statement up, and that it has been repeated frequently and without attribution ever since? Many of the numbers I hear at business conferences have that provenance.
[. . .]
Be careful of data defined by reference to other documents that you are expected not to have read. “These accounts have been compiled in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles”, or “these estimates are prepared in line with guidance given by HM Treasury and the Department of Transport”. Such statements are intended to give a false impression of authoritative endorsement. A data set compiled by a national statistics organisation or a respected international institution such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or Eurostat will have been compiled conscientiously. That does not, however, imply that the numbers mean what the person using them thinks or asserts they mean.
August 23, 2012
At Politico, the story of a former NPR congressional reporter who finally had enough of the political lies:
After 14 years at National Public Radio, Andrea Seabrook left in July and, to hear her talk about her experience covering Capitol Hill, it’s clear that she had one takeaway: It’s damn frustrating.
“I realized that there is a part of covering Congress, if you’re doing daily coverage, that is actually sort of colluding with the politicians themselves because so much of what I was doing was actually recording and playing what they say or repeating what they say,” Seabrook told POLITICO. “And I feel like the real story of Congress right now is very much removed from any of that, from the sort of theater of the policy debate in Congress, and it has become such a complete theater that none of it is real. … I feel like I am, as a reporter in the Capitol, lied to every day, all day. There is so little genuine discussion going on with the reporters. … To me, as a reporter, everything is spin.”
If you’ve had any contact with politicians, you very quickly learn that they are always trying to spin: it’s just that some of them are naturally better at it than others, and some get help from the media to make them seem better at it.
August 13, 2012
At sp!ked, Ben Pile explains why the first casualties in the climate change debate are usually the facts:
In plain sight of the fact that the melting was neither unexpected nor unprecedented, environmental journalists the world over picked up the story and ran with it. In the Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg, wrote: ‘The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history, with virtually the entire ice sheet showing signs of thaw.’
As I have noted elsewhere, Guardian journalists have a fetish for stories about melting ice. In September last year, following an unusually low measurement of Arctic sea-ice extent, Damian Carrington wrote: ‘Ice is the white flag being waved by our planet, under fire from the atmospheric attack being mounted by humanity.’ But the low measurement of sea ice that Carrington pointed to disagreed with at least five other continuous measurements of the Arctic, and was thus unreliable. This kind of over-reaction to scientific developments are facile attempts to turn science into stories of political intrigue. When images of the Arctic taken by US spy satellites were declassified in 2009, the headline of an article by Goldenberg and Carrington proclaimed that ‘the secret evidence of global warming Bush tried to hide’ had been ‘revealed’.
The rash of excited articles about the dying cryosphere caused some surprising corrective responses from voices within climate research. Malte Humpert from the Arctic Institute Centre wrote a stinging response to the headline histrionics. ‘The Greenland ice sheet, which is up to 3000+ metres thick, is not “melting away”, did not “melt in four days”, it is not “melting fast”, and Greenland did not “lose 97 per cent of its surface ice layer”.’ Humpert continued: ‘Most articles also exaggerated the importance of the melt event on global sea levels by explaining how sea levels would rise by up to 7.2 metres if the ice sheet were to melt.’
Similarly, Mark Brandon, a sea-ice scientist at the Open University, reproduced an interesting series of tweets and links to articles that showed the development of the current panic about ice, beginning with (alleged) comedian Marcus Brigstocke’s misconception of the story. To Brigstocke, an ‘unprecedented’ melt was the proverbial canary in the coal mine — a harbinger of doom. But as Brandon and his colleagues pointed out, it was a bit soon to be calling time on the human race. This was just weather.