December 21, 2013

I’m starting to think that Megan McArdle is a bit jaundiced about Obamacare

Filed under: Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

Otherwise, how can you account for running a column titled like this?

Obamacare Initiates Self-Destruction Sequence

On Wednesday, Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reported that the administration was saying fewer than 500,000 people had actually lost insurance due to Obamacare-induced cancellations. This struck me as a strange leak: Half a million is a lot less than many people (including me) have been estimating, but it is still not a small number, and the administration has tended to sit on negative information until the last possible moment.

Yesterday, we had a more official announcement from the administration: Anyone who has had their policies cancelled will be exempt from the individual mandate next year. The administration is also allowing those people to buy catastrophic plans, even if they’re over 30.

What to make of these two statements? On the one hand, the administration is trying to minimize the number of people who have been affected by cancellations, and on the other hand, it is unveiling a fix to the problem of cancellations. And these are not minor changes.


The White House is focused on winning the news cycle, day by day, not the kind of detached technocratic policymaking that they, and the law’s other supporters, hoped this law would embody. Does your fix create problems later, cause costs to spiral or people to drop out of the insurance market, or lead to political pressure to expand the fixes in ways that critically undermine the law? Well, that’s preferable to sudden death right now.

However incoherent these fixes may seem, they send two messages, loud and clear. The first is that although liberal pundits may think that the law is a done deal, impossible to repeal, the administration does not believe that. The willingness to take large risks with the program’s stability indicates that the administration thinks it has a huge amount to lose — that the White House is in a battle for the program’s very existence, not a few marginal House and Senate seats.

And the second is that enrollment probably isn’t what the administration was hoping. I don’t know that we’ll start Jan. 1 with fewer people insured than we had a year ago, but this certainly shouldn’t make us optimistic. It’s not like people who lost their insurance due to Obamacare, and now can’t afford to replace their policy, are going to be happy that they’re exempted from the mandate; they’re still going to be pretty mad. This is at best, damage control. Which suggests that the administration is expecting a fair amount of damage.

November 25, 2013

What hasn’t been told in the official story about drone hit on USS Chancellorsville

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Recently the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville was hit by a target drone that reported malfunctioned. There were some injuries onboard, but none were said to be serious and the ship was safe and could continue operations. However, as this post shows, there are some pretty big open questions based on what the US Navy’s public relations department has shared:

The Navy tells us the drone malfunctioned, and apparently the combat system on the ship had no problems if the ship remains capable of operations, so based on those details of the press release the officers and crew of the USS Chancellorsville tracked the target missile drone — during the radar tracking exercise — apparently as it scored a direct hit into side of the ship.

But the ship was unable to defend itself? I get it that the safety systems were probably engaged that would prevent the full capabilities of the AEGIS combat system from being employed against the rogue drone, but what about the independent close-in point defenses of the cruiser?

The official story, based on the details as released officially, is that the most advanced AEGIS warship in the world tracked a direct hit by a missile drone and was apparently unable to defend itself successfully. Did the ship even try to defend itself from a rogue drone? We don’t know, because the press release focuses on telling the public the technology of the ship is sufficient enough for the ship to conduct normal operations, but tells us no details at all regarding what the crew did or did not do to defend the ship from a direct hit.

There is a detail that is omitted in the official press release, and because it is a detail of the incident known at the time of the press release, we can only assume the omission is intentional for purposes of protecting a reputation. The ships officers and crew apparently did try to defend the ship. The CIWS apparently fired at the BQM-74 but was unsuccessful in defending the ship. That detail matters, because the omission of that detail is the difference between protecting the reputation of the ships officers and crew who tried to defend the ship, or protecting the reputation of a piece of technology that was unsuccessful — for unknown reasons — in performing the technologies primary role as the last line of defense for the ship.

You can understand why a detail like that would fail to make the cut for what the PR department wanted to release to the media.

H/T to John Donovan for the link.

October 23, 2013

Game company provokes a massive Streisand Effect

Filed under: Business, Gaming, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In Hit and Run, Scott Shackford explains how Wild Games Studio learned (the hard way) about the Streisand Effect:

The game [Day One: Garry’s Incident] is getting terrible reviews, and YouTube is host to a ton of them. The reviews may actually be a little bit of a challenge to find now thanks to Wild Games Studio’s response to one particular review. A gentleman by the name of TotalBiscuit (no, really, that’s his … okay, fine, his real name is John Bain) is probably one of the most successful video game critics on the Internet. His YouTube channel boasts just shy of 1.3 million subscribers. He sampled the game on October 1 and did not find it enjoyable (Sample of response to the game: “Screw everything about this!”).

Video game reviews on YouTube allow critics to do something they can’t do through blog posts or print reviews: They can actually play and demonstrate the game in action in the video. This is a boon for consumers looking to spend their game money on a quality product as the game market grows and grows and grows. It’s also a boon for good game developers, as there’s nothing like the sight of a reviewer with a big audience enjoying your product to push folks off the fence in your favor. For bad games, though, it has the potential to devastate more than those old-fashioned reviews, as video watchers can actually see how terrible the problems are.

Wild Games Studio made their problems even worse by trying to retaliate against Bain. They made a copyright claim against him on YouTube, using a flimsy excuse that he monetizes the videos with advertising (Bain manages a living with his game journalism and announcing) and thus cannot use their assets without their permission. The studio succeeded. YouTube yanked the review. Furthermore, YouTube’s copyright-protection system threatens users that their channel will be deleted if they get three of these takedown claims. In Bain’s case, that would result in the removal of hundreds of videos.

I first encountered TotalBiscuit’s YouTube channel during the Guild Wars 2 beta period, and quite enjoyed his iconoclastic views of the game. I’m happy to hear that this particular thuggish attempt to shut him down has failed, and largely due to the response of gamers and his channel subscribers.

October 22, 2013

China’s not-so-foolish consistency

Filed under: China, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:22

The Naval Diplomat reminds us about Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quip about “foolish consistency” being “the hobgoblin of little minds” and makes the point that China’s consistency may not qualify as foolish at all:

Last week Mark Stokes and Russell Hsiao of Project 2049 Institute published a longish report profiling the PLA General Political Department. Like all good analysts, Mark and Russell telegraph their thesis at the outset, subtitling the monograph “Political Warfare with Chinese Characteristics.”

A term that pops us repeatedly in the text is the “three warfares,” namely legal, psychological, and media warfare. The Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng appears to have been the first to look into the concept in a serious way. I did some research on it a couple of years back. To oversimplify, Chinese officialdom — not just the diplomatic apparatus but also the PLA — has undertaken a concerted effort to bend opinion among various target audiences. International law and the media are two channels through which it influences these audiences, prosecuting psychological operations.

In one sense, the three-warfares concept is innocuous. Any government worth its salt tries to project a favorable image abroad, swaying popular and elite opinion in its interests. That’s what public diplomacy is all about. But the notion of three warfares waged constantly, in peacetime, by all arms of the Chinese Communist regime, including a far-from-apolitical military, should give foreign observers pause. It bespeaks a combative temperament toward the wider world, and a single-minded zeal toward messaging. In all likelihood, ulterior motives are at work even in routine interactions with mainland interlocutors.

June 20, 2013

Colby Cosh on re-visiting the TWA 800 crash investigation

Filed under: Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:39

I remember there were lots of “shoot-down” speculations about the loss of TWA flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996, and that the formal investigation seemed unusually inconclusive, but I didn’t know that the National Transportation Safety Board was considering re-opening the investigation after all this time:

Many witnesses insisted they had seen a streak of light ascend toward the plane before it exploded, creating an initial suspicion that TWA 800 had been brought down by a missile. That is the theory favoured by the “Independent Researchers.” Although they are very careful about referring to “an external explosion” as their pet alternative to the official story — which is that an electrical short circuit blew up a fuel tank — it is clear enough that they are thinking “missile”. And it is clear enough that they suspect the investigation was obfuscated at the behest of powerful forces in the government, either because terrorists had succeeded in embarrassing its intelligence-gathering or because the explosion was actually the result of a military accident. Much is made of the radar signature of a mysterious craft that appeared on the surface of the water briefly at around the time of the disaster.

It makes for a wonderful case study in the way conspiracy theories arise. The FBI was permitted to horn in on the NTSB investigation precisely because, and only because, there were so many witnesses offering contradictory accounts of the explosion. That, in turn, allows the Independent Researchers to hang upon the FBI every error, imperfection, and bit of official superciliousness perpetrated in the course of the investigation. The bureaucracy’s sincere desire to rule out a crime if no crime took place becomes, in the eyes of skeptics, circumstantial evidence of a crime concealed.

[. . .]

The NTSB’s respectful response to the Independent Researcher petition raises the question of whether there might exist a “Snowden Effect” resulting from the revelations recently made by a certain four-eyed former tech contractor for the National Security Agency. The TWA 800 conspiracists/countertheorists have been hard at work almost since the evening of the accident/incident. They have a filmed documentary in the works — which is, incidentally, a sizable point against them in my personal ledger: I observe an increasingly unshakeable rule of thumb that all documentaries are, if not lies, then practically indistinguishable from lies. (If you wish to disagree, I ask only that you send me a five-minute video clip of you doing or saying absolutely anything, and allow me to apply the composition, colour and film-grain effects, editing, and music of my choice.) Obviously they are not taking advantage, per se, of the climate of hostility and paranoia created by Edward Snowden’s account of the American security state. They were already hostile and paranoid.

But Snowden’s globally televised dissident activity may serve to create a more receptive audience for conspiracy theories about the U.S.A. It might, on the other hand, make American government agencies more aware of their public image and more eager to at least appear somewhat libertarian and sensible, a bit less like servants of bloodthirsty alien lizard-beings. And, then again, there’s a third possibility: Snowden’s audacity might shame other officials trying to retire with secrets in their bosom into stepping forward sooner. I think I have, unfortunately, listed these conceivable Snowden Effects in the order of their real likelihood.

June 9, 2013

Jim Souhan has drunk the Purple Kool-Aid

Filed under: Football, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:24

In the Twin Cities, Jim Souhan has always been a voice of reason among the sports writers, rarely falling into the trap of optimism about the Minnesota Vikings. His carefully cynical, humourous approach has always set him apart from the herd. Until now

For decades, when you left the Vikings’ Winter Park facility, you needed a long shower. Maybe even a luffa.

You were constantly confronted with the ugly realities of an ugly business, from ownership and management infighting to angry and sometimes felonious players. Paranoia often ruled, and often for good reason. The Vikings had a lot to hide.

These days, the franchise that brought you such great hits as Denny Green’s Basement Tapes, The Love Boat, the Original Whizzinator and “Straight Cash, Homey,” has become the kind of place you wouldn’t mind bringing your children.

Wednesday, while enjoying 100 percent player attendance at an OTA for the first time in memory, the Vikings played host to a bunch of Special Olympic athletes, kids who are competing in Punt, Pass & Kick. While that’s not exactly a new development — Green pushed players to be active in the community — the atmosphere at Winter Park has changed.

It used to be like “Game of Thrones.” Now it’s more “Cheers,” with Jared Allen as Norm.

Winter Park has become a place of genial professionalism. The organization has achieved remarkable stability among key employees on all levels, and the team’s best players also tend to be their most gracious representatives when dealing with the public and media. Leslie Frazier might be the friendliest coach in football, and Adrian Peterson might be the friendliest superstar in sports.

May 30, 2013

A valuable lightning rod – Eric Holder as Attorney General

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:27

In the Daily Beast, Nick Gillespie explains why Eric Holder may not be the worst attorney general ever, but he’s doing exactly what an attorney general is expected to do — taking heat off the president:

Eric Holder may not be the worst attorney general in American history, but he is the most recent — which amounts to nearly the same thing.

Despite its exalted status as the nation’s “top cop,” the job is best understood as a dumping ground for intermittently competent bulldogs who take out the president’s trash and act as his public-relations human shield. That was the basic duty of George W. Bush’s troika of torture apologists: John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey. Ashcroft went so far after the 9/11 attacks as to argue that dissent itself verged on the unconstitutional.

[. . .]

There’s no reason to believe that Holder will be sent packing anytime soon or that he’s somehow at cross-purposes with the president. Obama has voiced nothing but support for his attorney general, which means that there’s every reason to keep questioning Holder’s truthfulness. One of his first actions upon taking office was to underscore the Obama administration’s position that federal resources would not be targeted at medical-marijuana users and providers who complied with laws in states where the stuff is legal. The result? A record number of raids against medical-marijuana dispensaries in California and elsewhere in Obama’s “war on weed.” And yet Holder continues to insist, as he did last year before Congress, that “we limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals and organizations that are acting out of conformity with state laws.” So Holder is either out of touch with reality or following a script scribbled together in the Oval Office. Neither prospect is comforting given that Obama’s DOJ has yet to state its position regarding the full legalization of pot in Colorado and Washington state.

It’s daunting to remember that Holder served as a deputy attorney general in Janet Reno’s Justice Department during the Clinton years. What lessons in self-preservation and executive-branch overreach might he have learned under Reno, the second-longest-serving attorney general in American history and surely one of the worst?

Recall that Reno was at best Clinton’s third pick for the position, being selected only after his first two selections were undone by revelations that they had employed illegal aliens as nannies. Reno’s tenure was marked by horrifyingly misguided law-enforcement debacles such as the deadly standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, and the armed raid to separate 6-year-old Elián González from his American relatives and return him to his father in Cuba. But she held on as a political lightning rod, absorbing political punishment before it could reach her boss.

May 14, 2013

Is this week’s Scandalpalooza actually a “big bath” move?

Filed under: Business, Government, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:22

Megan McArdle explains what a “big bath” is and how the current rash of scandals might be a political version of this financial accounting trick:

I confess, when I woke up this morning, I half expected to find that Obama had confessed to being one of our lizard overlords, or made an offhand mention of the time he’d had the CIA price out a drone attack on Mitt Romney’s headquarters. Between Benghazi, the discovery that Kathleen Sebelius has been leaning on insurers to finance their Obamacare PR, uncovery of a freelance political inquisition by the IRS, and last night’s revelation that the Department of Justice had been trolling through the phone records of AP reporters, this has been the most scandalicious week in living memory. I mean, sure, none of it rises to the level of Watergate. But while the gravity may pale in comparison, the volume is breathtaking. So breathtaking that it’s tempting to think that the administration is doing this deliberately.

In finance, there’s an art known as “Big Bath Accounting” which is used to manage earnings expectations. Here’s how it works: if you know you’re going to have a bad quarter, you look around for anything else that might go wrong in the future, and you decide to “recognize” that bad news now. Inventory looking a little stale? Write it down, man! Customers getting a little slow to pay? Now would be a good time to write off their accounts as bad debt. Is there some uncertainty in the projections about depletable assets like oil stores? For heaven’s sake, why not use the low end of the projections rather than the medium or high end? And we should really book some sort of charge to account for the risk that the Yellowstone supervolcano will explode, killing hundreds of thousands and covering the entire western half of the United States in volcanic ash, and in the process severely dampening demand for our premium line of Wyoming-themed memorabilia.

Corporations call this “cleaning up the balance sheet”. Accounting professors call it things I can’t print because this is a family blog.

QotD: Litmus testing political scandals

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:27

Dear friends in the media.

Come on.

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

April 18, 2013

PVFW heroically takes the fight back to disparaging military bloggers

Filed under: Humour, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

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

Chris Kluwe on the PR disaster that was the SimCity 5 launch

Filed under: Business, Gaming — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

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.

BC’s ruling Liberal party facing very long odds of re-election

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:40

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

The difference between professional journalists and mere bloggers

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:03

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

Orwell updated: how politicians lie in “plain speech”

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:25

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

Money talks, fading historical memories edition

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:42

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.

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