Quotulatiousness

January 8, 2018

QotD: Differentiating between lies and (political) bullshit

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

Thirty years ago, the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt published an essay in an obscure academic journal, Raritan. The essay’s title was “On Bullshit”. (Much later, it was republished as a slim volume that became a bestseller.) Frankfurt was on a quest to understand the meaning of bullshit — what was it, how did it differ from lies, and why was there so much of it about?

Frankfurt concluded that the difference between the liar and the bullshitter was that the liar cared about the truth — cared so much that he wanted to obscure it — while the bullshitter did not. The bullshitter, said Frankfurt, was indifferent to whether the statements he uttered were true or not. “He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

Statistical bullshit is a special case of bullshit in general, and it appears to be on the rise. This is partly because social media — a natural vector for statements made purely for effect — are also on the rise. On Instagram and Twitter we like to share attention-grabbing graphics, surprising headlines and figures that resonate with how we already see the world. Unfortunately, very few claims are eye-catching, surprising or emotionally resonant because they are true and fair. Statistical bullshit spreads easily these days; all it takes is a click.

Tim Harford, “How politicans poisoned statistics”, TimHarford.com, 2016-04-20.

January 5, 2018

Justin Trudeau’s PR team fumbles badly with Boyle photo-op

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

Late last year, the Boyle family were “rescued” from the Taliban and the Prime Minister not only met with them, but allowed some photos to be taken that quickly made their way out onto social media. Now that Joshua Boyle has been arrested for a long list of offenses, the PM is looking very bad indeed, as Chris Selley points out:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Boyle family in Ottawa, 18 December.

The supposed geniuses surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are capable of some very strange decisions. Arranging a meeting with Joshua Boyle and his family after their release from Taliban captivity, and agreeing to the Boyles photographing the smiling encounter — Joshua later tweeted out some snaps — is certainly one of them.

Boyle was arrested Tuesday and charged with a raft of offences including sexual assault and unlawful confinement, concerning events beginning immediately after the family’s return to Canada in early October. Trudeau met the Boyles on Dec. 18. Now photos of Trudeau beaming with the accused are all over the news. If PMO procedures somehow didn’t flag the investigation, that’s a serious concern. If they did and the meeting happened anyway, it’s horrendous political risk management at the very least.

Indeed, these were hardly the first red flags. The PMO argues it would agree to such a meeting with any released hostages — a very stupid policy if it exists, because the Boyles aren’t quite any released hostages. When the Taliban nabbed Joshua and five-months-pregnant Caitlin Coleman in 2012, they were ostensibly “backpacking in Afghanistan.” The phrase dances off the tongue a bit like “scuba diving in Yemen” or “gastronomic tour of Somalia”: not inconceivable, but the Boyles will not have been surprised to learn that some in the U.S. intelligence community were suspicious. They reportedly refused an American military flight home over fears — perfectly reasonable ones, surely — that they might wind up stuck at Bagram Airfield.

But what the heck, let’s think the best of the Boyles. Sunny ways, etc. The best still involves the unpleasant matter of Joshua’s short-lived marriage to none other than Zaynab Khadr — daughter of the late Ahmed Khadr, the Egyptian-Canadian al-Qaida financier for whom Jean Chrétien famously went to bat when he was detained in Pakistan.

[…]

Unseriousness is a serious charge against Trudeau: big hat, staff photographer, few cattle. Another non-official photo released this week shows Trudeau and his Castro-worshiping brother Sacha in matching sweaters depicting the Last Supper attended by emojis, with the words Happy Birthday strung over top. In a rather over-the-top tweet, Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused the PM of “intolerance” and of “mocking Christianity” — and no question, many Canadians might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment lest it cause offence. (It was in private, of course, but it’s public now.) But many Canadians also might expect the prime minister to eschew such a garment because he’s the leader of a G7 country, a serious person with a serious job that he’s taking seriously.

This touchy-feely cool-dad happy-go-lucky shtick has taken Trudeau a long, long way. I very much doubt it can take him any further. And I think the backlash, when it comes, could be legendary.

October 27, 2017

The revival of the paranoid style in social media

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

During the Clinton presidency, the conspiracy theorists were limited to the reach of their printed-and-mailed newsletters and fringe radio to spread the word (because so relatively few people were online yet). By the time George W. Bush was president, the paranoia had gone digital but had switched sides … now it was the left’s turn to fret about shadowy quasi-governmental organizations amassing arms caches and plotting to throw everyone into prison camps. Then Obama was elected, and the far-right conspiracy theorists re-emerged, bringing in the racist fringe to spice up the crazy. Now Trump is president, and both left and right are free to get their total paranoia on. This is a wonderful example of the type:

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

October 25, 2017

The new “movie plot threat” – The Revenge of the Return of the Bride of the Sex Trafficking Mafia

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

The rising moral panic over sex traffic gets a well-deserved takedown by Lenore Skenazy:

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam’s Club, one such post explains, “a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter.” Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, “feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter.”

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: “I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell.”

And I have absolutely no doubt that she’s wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a “movie plot threat” — a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you’d see at the Cineplex. The more “movie plot” a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. “I had a bad feeling,” she wrote. Fortunately, she “managed to lose them.”

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, “that doesn’t mean Toyos didn’t have reason to be concerned.”

Actually, it does.

October 19, 2017

QotD: Confirmation bias and anecdata

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

First, identify some linguistic thing everyone believes, or can be persuaded to believe, that women do (for this purpose it doesn’t matter whether they really do it, or whether men do it just as much). You could choose something that’s already been defined as a problem (like uptalk or vocal fry), or, more ambitiously, you could go for something no one’s been paying close attention to (like women over-using the word ‘just’ at work). Pitch a piece on ‘Why this thing women do with language is damaging to women’ to the editor of just about any publication. It’s a perennially popular formula and there’s always a place for it somewhere.

You can establish that the thing is a real thing by using anecdata and exploiting confirmation bias. ‘Have you noticed that thing women do?’ you might begin. If the thing is already a cliché, like uptalk, then you’ll immediately have them nodding; if it’s not then they probably won’t have noticed it, but many of them will think that’s only because they’re not as observant or as keenly attuned to the zeitgeist as you are. Either way, you’re priming them to accept your premise. Then you can follow up with a tedious anecdote involving some everyday scenario your reader can relate to. Like, ‘the other day at my office, a woman made a presentation where she did X a heck of a lot; my interest was piqued and I started counting Xs, which confirmed that women do X far more than men.’

Once people have accepted that there’s something to be noticed, they’ll be susceptible to the phenomenon known as ‘confirmation bias’ — a tendency to notice things that match your expectations (in this case that would be instances of women doing X), while failing to register counter-examples (women not doing X, or men doing X). Soon, everyone will be sharing your article on Facebook with comments like ‘This is so true! I’d never noticed women doing X before, but after I read this piece I heard it everywhere!’

debuk, “How to write a bullshit article about women’s language”, language: a feminist guide, 2015-08-03.

September 2, 2017

“Nice little business you’ve got here, Mr. Forbes. It’d be a shame if something happened to its Google search results…”

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Gizmodo, Kashmir Hill recounts the tale of what happens when Google decides to suppress media coverage it doesn’t like:

Six years ago, I was pressured to unpublish a critical piece about Google’s monopolistic practices after the company got upset about it. In my case, the post stayed unpublished.

I was working for Forbes at the time, and was new to my job. In addition to writing and reporting, I helped run social media there, so I got pulled into a meeting with Google salespeople about Google’s then-new social network, Plus.

The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s “+1″ social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button. They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results — a crucial source of traffic to publishers.

This sounded like a news story to me. Google’s dominance in search and news give it tremendous power over publishers. By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network.

I asked the Google people if I understood correctly: If a publisher didn’t put a +1 button on the page, its search results would suffer? The answer was yes.

After the meeting, I approached Google’s public relations team as a reporter, told them I’d been in the meeting, and asked if I understood correctly. The press office confirmed it, though they preferred to say the Plus button “influences the ranking.” They didn’t deny what their sales people told me: If you don’t feature the +1 button, your stories will be harder to find with Google.

With that, I published a story headlined, “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers,” that included bits of conversation from the meeting.

    The Google guys explained how the new recommendation system will be a factor in search. “Universally, or just among Google Plus friends?” I asked. ‘Universal’ was the answer. “So if Forbes doesn’t put +1 buttons on its pages, it will suffer in search rankings?” I asked. Google guy says he wouldn’t phrase it that way, but basically yes.

(An internet marketing group scraped the story after it was published and a version can still be found here.)

This article reminded me that I was still showing a “Google+” share button on my postings … it’s still available for all three of you that still use that service, but it’s now in the “More” group instead.

August 26, 2017

#happy #hashtag #anniversary

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

Brittany Hunter informs us that the #hashtagrevolution is now ten years old:

This week the hashtag turned ten years old. As a writer, I am always looking for interesting and current topics to tackle. But this particular topic seemed completely insignificant to me. The symbol itself has existed for years. Why should I care about the anniversary of its repurposed use?

But upon further investigation, it became apparent to me that the advent of the hashtag should not simply be brushed off and dismissed as a silly pop culture trend. In fact, it actually answered many questions posed in F.A. Hayek’s essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society”.

The Hashtag is Born

Social media’s presence in our daily lives has reshaped the way our society exchanges information. But the fact that social media posts themselves are now able to be organized by a single “#” is quite remarkable. Now, all this decentralized knowledge is searchable on almost any social media platform.

Ten years ago, entrepreneur Chris Messina tweeted “#barcamp” from the then-obscure South by Southwest conference. By the end of 2007, it had been used on Twitter over 9,000 times. Today, over 125 million hashtags are used every day just on Twitter. With other social media platforms now utilizing this symbol, the total numbers are even grander.

But at its very core, the hashtag provides the means of connecting humanity with essential knowledge for better managing our lives – no matter where it comes from or where it ends up. The hashtag serves as a symbolic reminder of the remarkable information utopia that is emerging via technology in our time, and its existence portends vast increases in human well being the future.

August 13, 2017

CBC Comedy exists to make us appreciate private-sector comedians that much more

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the National Post, Tristin Hopper gently points out that the taxpayers are not getting positive results from their involuntary funding of yet another Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “comedy”:

If there was ever a textbook example of the terrible, bone-chilling things a government can do to humour, it’s CBC Comedy.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the general phenomenon of comedy appearing on CBC. I’m talking instead about cbc.ca/comedy, a section of the CBC website devoted in part to publishing satirical news headlines.

Although it’s existed for three years, chances are you’ve never heard of it. Because while CBC doesn’t publicly release its website analytics, all signs point to the site having utterly dismal traffic.

CBC Comedy’s social media accounts are embarrassingly devoid of attention. On Twitter, posts will commonly fail to attract a single retweet or like — meaning that they aren’t even being promoted by the writers who created them.

On Facebook, a sample of 53 recent satirical news posts found that they averaged 65 reactions apiece — a standard routinely bested by Newfoundland grandmothers.

So where can you go to get your regular ration of full maple-flavoured online comedy? That is, something actually funny, unlike CBC “Comedy”.

Of course, there already is a Canadian Onion: The Beaverton, an online satire site founded in 2010.

The Beaverton became so widely read that its producers secured a show on the Comedy Network. Meanwhile, their posts routinely tear up social media, constantly topping 1,000 likes on Facebook and dominating the Canada sub-forum on Reddit.

They are a motivated, private sector venture that has arguably mastered the form — and yet our public broadcaster insists on propping up a piss poor competitor.

In head-to-head competition, The Beaverton routinely spanks anything that comes out of CBC Comedy offices.

H/T to Chris Myrick for the link.

August 5, 2017

“… theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen”

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Atlantic, “Gen Xer” Jean Twenge is worried about the ways the new generation differ from their Millennial predecessors:

Click to see full-size image

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

It could be that the widespread use of available technology to “virtualize” adolescence is at least to a degree a reaction to helicopter parenting.

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

July 26, 2017

Sure-fire way to reduce the number of bugs reported – arrest the reporters

Filed under: Europe, Law, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Budapest public transit authority has come up with a new technique to handle bug reports:

The tale started last week when an unnamed 18-year-old found that he was able to, when purchasing a ticket online, poke the BKK website in a particular way to modify the ticket’s price and buy it at that new price.

Rather than take advantage of virtually free travel in the country’s capital, however, he did the right thing and reported the security hole to the BKK, complete with a demo in which he was able to buy a $35 ticket for just 20 cents.

The response was not what he expected. Four detectives turned up at his door at 7:00am on Friday, photographed him and questioned him extensively over his actions. The BKK then held a press conference at which its CEO Kálmán Dabóczi proudly announced they had caught a hacker and had filed an official complaint against him. Dabóczi assured everyone that the website was now perfectly safe.

That version of events was immediately questioned by the teenager himself however, in a Facebook post.

“I am an 18-year-old, now middle school graduate,” he wrote in a message that has since been posted hundreds of times to the BKK’s Facebook page. “I trust that I can help solve a mistake.”

In the message, he says he informed the BKK “about two minutes” after he discovered the flaw. “I did not use the ticket, I do not even live near Budapest, I never traveled on a BKK route. My goal was just to signal the error to the BKK in order to solve it, and not to use it.”

He continued: “The BKK has not been able to answer me for four days, but in their press conference today they said it was a cyber attack and was reported. I found an amateur bug that could be exploited by many people – no one seriously thinks an 18-year-old kid would have played a serious security system and wanted to commit a crime by promptly telling the authorities.”

He then asks others to help out: “I ask you to help by sharing this entry with your acquaintances so that the BKK will come to a better understanding and see if my purpose is merely a helper intention, I have not harmed or wanted to harm them in any way. I hope that in this case the BKK will consider withdrawing the report.”

And so they have shared the entry – in their thousands – putting the BKK on the back foot.

July 23, 2017

Requiem for an SJW heavyweight

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

James Delingpole on the Twitter phenomenon Godfrey Elfwick:

Linda Sarsour/Sally Kohn/Graham Linehan/Caroline Criado Perez/Gary Lineker/Diane Abbot/someone from the Guardian/a guy from CNN/ISIS has said something really hateful, stupid, and wrong on Twitter. Again.

Back in the day, this would have been a cause for celebration, not dismay. Why? Because within milliseconds of their fatuous utterance tainting the ether with its embittered, warped, politically correct insanity it would have been endorsed – and simultaneously destroyed – by the mighty Godfrey Elfwick.

Godfrey Elfwick was the funniest and best thing on Twitter.

To have your tweet singled out for praise by Godfrey was the kiss of death. It meant that you were a humorless, self-righteous, deluded, smug, sanctimonious, insufferable Social Justice Warrior. Just like Godfrey purported to be.

Which is why, of course, Twitter had to silence him. Sure, the official reason given for Godfrey’s permanent ban was because he had broken Twitter’s terms of service – apparently having upset a millionaire potato chip salesman called Gary Lineker.

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 9, 2017

Historical ignorance

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

Jonah Goldberg laments the constant displays of historical ignorance in the media and on social media:

Ideological and political polarization is a big concern these days, and commentators on the right and left have chewed the topic to masticated pulp. But it occurs to me that one unappreciated factor is widespread historical ignorance, and the arrogant impatience of reaching conclusions before thinking. The instantaneity of TV and Twitter only amplifies the problem.

For instance, on the Fourth of July, NPR’s Morning Edition tweeted out the text of the Declaration of Independence, 140 characters at a time. The angry responses, from left and right, were a thing to behold. “Are you drunk?” “So, NPR is calling for revolution,” “Glad you’re being defunded, your show was never balanced,” and so on.

World War II and the Cold War, particularly Vietnam, used to define the intellectual framework for how we understood many events. For people in their 30s, that framework changed to the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In my more curmudgeonly moments, it seems like the new paradigm for millennials (and the journalists and politicians who pander to them) isn’t some major geopolitical test or moment but the adventures of Harry Potter. Having never read the series, I also don’t read the countless articles using the books to explain the political climate, but I do marvel at their ubiquity.

It should go without saying that a children’s book about a magical boarding school for wizards is of limited utility in understanding, well, just about anything in a world without wizards.

I once heard a story second-hand of a general who was talking to an audience full of 20-somethings. He was explaining how the War on Terror challenged his generation’s mindset. “I spent most of my career worrying about the Fulda Gap,” he said. To which one “educated” fellow reportedly replied, “I know that Gap! It’s in a mall near my house.”

The Fulda Gap is the location in the German lowlands where the Soviets were most likely to launch an invasion of Europe.

Today, we face a multitude of challenges, at home and abroad, that can only be met by people with a modicum of historical literacy. If only Harry Potter could cast a spell to give it to us.

July 3, 2017

QotD: Smartphones, the Internet-of-things, and social controls

Filed under: Government, Health, Quotations, Religion, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It’d be interesting (in a gruesome sort of way) to see what Da’esh (or the government of Saudi Arabia) could do with a citizen score. Currently enforcement of public morality in hardcore Salafi Muslim states is carried out by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia, and other religious police in other states. As with all police forces, there is a cost associated with putting boots on the ground. If you have, for example, a modest dress code, you could go some way towards enforcement by feeding purchases of garments into the citizen’s score. (Buy too much of the wrong kind of underwear and you could be singled out for an in-person check by the mutaween. And heaven forbid they catch you streaming music from a western cloud service.) Signs of non-conformity could be punished indirectly: it’s a lot harder to resist ubiquitous peer pressure than it is to dodge external resource-limited law enforcement.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s Republic of Gilead subordinates women rapidly by taking control over the financial system. But that’s a comparatively crude mechanism. The more data you’ve got, the more tightly you can constrain your reward/punish metrics and the more accurately you can focus your oppression — and micro-focussed oppression minimizes the risk of generating wide-scale resistance. Everybody’s experience is different, isolated, locked inside an invisible cell with asymmetric walls that their neighbors can’t see. And if you can’t see the invisible walls locking your neighbours in, you can’t establish solidarity and exert collective pressure against them.

We are heading towards a situation where we all carry smartphones, all the time; where we need them to call a cab, or check a bus timetable, or unlock our cars, or pay for something. Your smartphone knows who you are, knows where you’ve been, reads all your correspondence, and hears everything you say. The discrete activity of placing a voice phone call is in the process of replaced by barking “phone, put me through to Sandy in Sales”, followed by rapid connectivity (unless Sandy is in do-not-disturb mode or talking to someone else, in which case their phone will take a message for you). With always-on recognition, your phone (without which you can’t really exist in an internet-of-things world) will track your mood and your pulse rate and possibly award you citizenship points or penalties if you respond to the wrong stimuli.

But that’s the nightmarish, dystopian grim-meathook-future version of citizenship scoring: a system that facilitates the pervasive enforcement of mandated behavioural standards and punishes quantifiable expressions of individuality. Nobody would vote for (or buy into) that! So it’s going to be even more gamified, to make it fun. You can see your score in real time, get helpful tips on what to do (or not to do) to grind for points, and if you’re thinking about doing something a bit naughty a handy app will give you a chance to exercise second thoughts and erase your sin before it is recorded. But that’s not all. Obviously you didn’t really want to date that manic pixie dream girl (she’ll murder your citizenship score with her quirky and unpredictable fun transgressions) but we can apply the magic of Affinity Analysis to look for someone more suitable for you — similar preferences, similar tastes, and most importantly a similar attitude to social improvement and good citizenship.

Now eat your greens; your phone says you haven’t been getting your five a day this week and if you keep it up we’re going to have to dock you a point.

Charles Stross, “It could be worse”, Charlie’s Diary, 2015-10-09.

July 1, 2017

Trump’s Twitter tactics are still working to perfection

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

David Warren, while not a fan of Trump, notes that Trump’s use of Twitter is still serving to keep his critics in a state of impotent rage:

Twitter is anyway full of foul; and I first observed that Trump is exceptionally crass, long before he ran for public office. I have never expected better of him, and as we say, pessimists are never disappointed. Rather I’ve noticed that he uses his indecencies to clever effect. For he is intentionally driving his opponents crazy; counting on them always to take the bait. This works better for him than any other tactic. Take his Twitter account away, and the Democrats would soon have him cornered. Instead they stay too angry to land a telling punch.

Today, I just smile at the antinomian craftsmanship.

I used to like boxing, when I was a kid, including the first-round knockouts in which Trump specializes. Liston versus Patterson, 1962 and ’63. Clay versus Liston, ’64. In the latter case the media had predicted a one-round outcome, but said it would go the other way. Liston, whose manager had been a mob hit-man, learnt boxing in the Missouri State Penitentiary, and never played cat-and-mouse. Imagine his surprise when Cassius Clay connected. The young lad had sparkling reflexes, on very quick feet, and was secretly more ruthless than the evil-eyed thug who’d come the hard way from Arkansas. It was all in the stars Hillary Clinton was seeing the night of the big match. I meant, Sonny Liston, who thought so little of Clay, that he was drinking the night before Clay flattened him. For Clay combined arrogance with a devilish sense of humour — and “we all know” funny people are ineffectual.

What might have driven me crazy in the old days was not Trump’s tweet, but seeing it at the top of the BBC World News, and played for all it isn’t worth by the various other “commie” networks. Their humourless malice against Trump is like Liston’s against Clay: something they don’t bother to hide. But malice is not the same as ruthlessness. The ruthless strategize; the malicious merely lunge.

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