Quotulatiousness

June 16, 2017

“Who knew, either, that there was so much hate within the left?”

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

Julie Burchill on her relatively recent discovery of the depths of hate members of the left have for the rest of us:

Growing up in a communist household, I thought ‘Tory’ was a curse word till I was a teenager. My father was the kindest and, yes, most noble of men — maybe the fact that his socialism was a product of being genuinely working class, rather than a pose struck to impress/shame others, had something to do with it — but I had no idea until Brexit of the bigotry that lurks within the Brotherhood of Man. We are often reminded of the ‘hatred’ the referendum and recent election ‘stirred up’ in our society — warned off democracy by those who would control us for our own good, as if we were wayward children eyeing the biscuit tin. What these sorrowing sad-sacks fail to add is the hate comes largely from their side. Too much democracy has merely flushed the poison out. Brexit did indeed unleash hate — but the hate it unleashed was not that of the British for foreigners but rather of the liberals for the masses.

It sounds strange coming from someone who has made a lovely life out of peddling vitriol for pleasure and profit, but I’ve been amazed — and not a little amused, comparing their swivel-eyed social media savagery with their mollycoddling manifestos — at the level of nastiness that the Great and the Good (or, as I think of them, our Betters and Wetters) have displayed over the past year. During my entire career of evil, from 17-year-old enfant terrible to 57-year-old grande dame, I only recall wishing death on one person — well, two: the Eurythmics. But my dad, when he shouted ‘Tory!’ at the TV, was content to leave it at that.

What my dad didn’t do, unlike Alastair Campbell, was compare those who thought differently from him to jihadists. He wouldn’t, unlike Julian Barnes, have wanted those who thought differently from him ‘punished’ by an unelected club of bureaucrats. Unlike Ian McEwan, he didn’t look forward to a time when those who’d voted differently from him were ‘freshly in their graves’. He wouldn’t, as Paddy Ashdown did, have referred to those who disagreed with him as ‘Brownshirts’.

My dad left school at 14. He had no privilege. Yet he knew more and was capable of far more decent behaviour than these privileged, highly educated men. He was from the working class, so he knew better than to dismiss the working class for thinking that they deserve something better than sleeping six to a room and working weekends for the minimum wage. If he’d seen the tax-avoiding multi-millionaire Bob Geldof and his boatful of Remainer mates mocking a flotilla of men worried about making a living under EU rules, he’d have known which one was the ship of fools.

May 29, 2017

Using Nigerian spam techniques to build your audience and reliably broadcast your message

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:03

An amusing set of tweets from Popehat:

April 23, 2017

The “transformation of mental illness into a fashion accessory”

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

Brendan O’Neill on the mainstreaming of mental illness as a status marker for “respectable society”:

One of the great media myths of the 21st century is that there’s a taboo against talking about mental illness. Please. Then how come I can’t open a newspaper or flick through my TV channels or browse social media without seeing someone go into grisly depth, often replete with sad selfies, about his latest bout of mental darkness? Far from taboo, having a mental illness, and talking about your mental illness, is all the rage. It’s the latest must-have. You’re no one unless you’ve had a mental episode. And I find this transformation of mental illness into a fashion accessory far worse than the old treatment of it as a taboo (which was very bad).

[…]

It’s dangerous firstly because it springs from and reinforces the weird 21st-century trend for actively inviting people to define themselves as mentally ill. Everything from exam stress to general anxiety to feeling up one day and down the next – which used to be called ‘moods’ but is now called ‘bipolar disorder’ – is being recategorised as a mental illness or disorder. Everyday emotions and experiences have been co-opted into the field of mental health. You think you’re shy? Nope, you have social anxiety disorder. Do you have an awkward friend? Maybe he has Asperger’s. Finding it hard to cope with your workload? Check out this Workplace Stress and Anxiety Disorder Survey to find out if really you are mentally ill.

Virtually all of life’s struggles and people’s personality quirks are being medicalised. And in some cases treated: Britain is said to be in the grip of a ‘psychiatric drug epidemic’, as the number of prescriptions for mental-health drugs rose by an astonishing 500 percent between 1992 and 2014. It’s like something out of Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people are given a mind drug that suppresses their ‘malice and bad tempers’. And people actively seek a diagnosis. A few years ago, a psychiatrist told the BBC that patients come to her saying, ‘I want to be bipolar’. She said the desire for a mental-illness diagnosis often reflects ‘a person’s aspiration for higher social status’. Yes, you can now boost your standing in respectable society by having a mental illness. This is how cool it has become to be mentally ill.

The dire impact of the must-have mental illness is most clear among the young. I can’t remember the last time I met a student who didn’t claim to have a mental illness of some kind. A few weeks of stress over their exams and they think they’re Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They post long social-media confessions of mental ill-health and everyone says ‘How brave’, overlooking that it’s really not brave to do something everyone else is doing; to say ‘I am mentally ill’ in a world in which you can’t swing a tote bag in Waterstone’s without hitting 20 books about being mentally ill. Everyone’s mentally ill; you aren’t special – you’re boring.

April 8, 2017

QotD: “Fake perfection” in woodworking

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

After the 2016 election, I did what every sane American did: I eliminated the annoying people from my social media feeds on both the left and the right who had become singularly obsessed with politics. And then I took another healthy step: I eliminated feeds from the “fake perfectionists.”

Who are the “fake perfectionists?” You probably know them. They are the people who post beautiful photos of their work on social media and never seem to experience a single glitch. And, in the cases of schools with “fake perfectionist” feeds, they crow about the beauty, detail and perfection of the work being taught there.

To which I say: Hogwash.

Woodworking is about failure. In fact, I consider successful projects to be ones that simply endured less failure than usual. Stuff goes awry. Wood chips out. Table legs go into the burn pile. If you aren’t making errors – of the hand or of the mind – you are a robot and need to have your firmware downgraded.

Christopher Schwarz, “Failing Daily Since 1993”, The Christopher Schwarz Blog, 2017-03-16.

March 19, 2017

QotD: Social media and the mentally unbalanced

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

I should also add here that, in my limited experience, social media is God’s gift to grandiose psychiatric patients. None of them are “a guy with a Facebook page”. They’re all “social media celebrities with hundreds of followers”. It’s always “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I HAVE HUNDREDS OF FOLLOWERS ON TWITTER! EVEN [NAME OF TWITTER PERSON I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF] FOLLOWS ME! THIS IS GOING TO GO VIRAL!” One patient even told me, in a threatening manner, that his blog had over a thousand hits. “You mean a day?” I asked. “No, total,” he answered. Then he wondered why I was so utterly failing to look impressed.

Scott Alexander, “The Case Of The Famous Physicist”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-07-03.

March 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 1, 2017

The different “flavours” of propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 23, 2017

An open letter to the DHS on social media identities

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

Cory Doctorow:

A huge coalition of human rights groups, trade groups, civil liberties groups, and individual legal, technical and security experts have signed an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security in reaction to Secretary John Kelly’s remarks to House Homeland Security Committee earlier this month, where he said the DHS might force visitors to America to divulge their social media logins as a condition of entry.

The letter points out that the years’ worth of private data — including commercially sensitive information; privileged communications with doctors, therapists and attorneys; and personal information of an intimate and private nature — that the DHS could access this way would not belong only to non-US persons (who are, of course, deserving of privacy!), but also US persons, whose lives the DHS would be able to peer into without warrant, oversight or limitation.

The letter also points out that once America starts demanding this of foreigners visiting its shores, other governments will definitely reciprocate — so American travelers would be forced to reveal everything from trade secrets to the most personal moments with their loved ones with governments hostile to US interests.

Trade disputes tend to devolve into tit-for-tat retaliation. Initiatives like this will work exactly the same way (except you can be certain that politicians will hold out for their own right to privacy while demanding that private citizens and foreigners give up theirs).

February 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 11, 2017

Chris Selley boldly defends John Tory’s latest media mis-step

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

While I have no particular affection for Toronto mayor John Tory, I have to agree that he doesn’t actually deserve the rough ride he’s gotten from the Toronto media and grandstanding local politicians for his “broken promise” on municipal swimming pools. Chris Selley detailed the “story” and the facts on the ground and pointed out the non-obvious:

In short, this is a bog-standard managerial decision the likes of which gets made every day in every big city that’s trying to keep costs under control: reducing a library’s hours for lack of demand; altering swimming pool or ice rink seasons based on recent years’ weather; raising the price of greens fees or tennis court bookings; not clearing little-used pathways in parks in winter. Of course people are going to raise a fuss; you manage the fuss as best you can and soldier on.

But in Toronto, especially when a celebrity gets involved, these minor decisions inform a sort of battle-of-civilizations narrative in which the mayor of the day seeks the ruination of all things good about the city — and they all end up on the floor of council.

Even in apocalyptic times for media, City Hall is relatively well covered; council meetings in particular will bring out the cameras, in certain knowledge some elected officials will make hairy asses of themselves and others will burst into tears over the smallest things, let alone the largest.

You could hardly do any worse for entertainment value, but if you wonder why city councillors can’t seem to make any big decisions properly, tune in next Wednesday for budget deliberations and watch them try to make a bunch of small ones. You will wonder no more.

February 6, 2017

Social media, big data, and (lots of) profanity

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

Scott Adams linked to this video (which is very NSFW), discussing how social media platforms can use their analytic tools to “shape” communications among their users:

February 5, 2017

“The left sought to reprimand the right. What they did was alienate it.”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

It’s been interesting watching the conservatives begin to adapt to (and in some cases surpass) the “everything is political” message that US progressives had embraced a decade earlier:

Which leads me to social media, Facebook specifically.

As this dramatic shift occurred, we began to see another shift within social media, one that reached its apex during the 2016 presidential election. That was the politicization of everything, not just by the institutional left, but by the soft left as well.

Where before the voters on the left were mostly passive receivers of Cultural Marxism, they had now become active participants via propaganda, slander, social shaming, and otherizing. This meant that conservatives were now being assaulted on two fronts, both from the institutional left and the soft left.

Every conservative who is active on Facebook knows what I’m talking about. After decades of Americans keeping their politics mostly to themselves, suddenly our feeds were jammed up with political invective.

It wasn’t just directed at politicians. It was personal — a relentless litany of insults and abuse, first at the Tea Party and then Trump supporters. Most of it was generalized, but the message was clear. They held our kind in contempt and didn’t care who knew it. In fact, they seemed to be in a contest to see who could broadcast it the loudest.

Most conservatives were hurt by this. We tend to keep our politics relatively private, both out of decorum and respect for our relationships with people whose politics differ from ours. The message that these public posts sent to us was that our “friends” on the left didn’t respect or value us enough to avoid giving offense.

As someone who has been following politics since high school, I tend not to trust my own instincts what the average voter thinks. I’m simply to close to the subject. My wife, however, is a fairly low-key traditionalist who doesn’t care to immerse herself in that world and so I use her as my political weather vane.

And so I knew that there was a storm brewing when she snapped down her phone over breakfast one day after reading Facebook and told me how sick and tired she was of her friends’ political posts.

“When they say those things,” she fumed, “they’re talking about our family.”

“I’m so sick and tired of being told that I’m a bad person because I disagree with someone’s position on abortion or transgender bathrooms. Who do they think they are to tell everyone what they’re required to believe?”

The hurt had turned to anger and quiet resolve.

The left sought to reprimand the right. What they did was alienate it. Their social media echo chamber only served to steel conservative misgivings about Donald Trump, if for no other reason than we simply couldn’t abide by being pushed around for another 4-8 years.

It’s one thing to know that your friends disagree with you. It’s another to realize that they think you’re stupid, uneducated, a bigot, bully, sexist, jerk and everything that’s wrong with the world.

My Facebook feed has almost completely bifurcated into two silos that don’t communicate much at all (Americans more than Canadians, but even my Canadian lefty friends are less likely to interact with folks on the right than they used to be). The libertarians are, as usual, not statistically significant (we’re used to that).

February 2, 2017

The best explanation of the downside of social media, in one tweet

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

January 30, 2017

An interesting reading on the significance of #GamerGate

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

At Samizdata, Perry de Havilland considers the historical footnote that was #GamerGate:

Looking back, it’s hard to overstate the cultural significance of GamerGate: it marked when the Left suddenly and unexpectedly lost control of social media, right at the point where the influence of social media actually started to matter. In a sense, it was the second wave of discontent that started with the arrival of anti-MSM blogs in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but within a very different internet environment compared to ‘The Golden Age of Blogging’ 2001-2010. As has often been the case in military campaigns, when one side becomes greatly overextended, they only realise they have lost the initiative when they seek to advance and experience a completely unexpected reversal: a result that may seem obvious and perhaps even inevitable to a historian looking back, but which was far from obvious to the people on the ground at the time.

So certain was the Left that they had won the culture war, so confident with the established media under their effective control that ‘truth’ was theirs to declare, that they gave up on any pretence of objectivity. After all, their enemies had been swept from both airwaves and print (I sometimes cannot tell the difference between the Times and the Guardian and the Economist). And so they began to manoeuvre with the assurance and arrogance of an army under an umbrella of complete air(wave) supremacy, a supremacy that suddenly proved to be illusory because opinions had moved on-line.

January 24, 2017

A nation divided against itself

Filed under: Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Bretigne Shaffer on the intensely partisan American political scene:

It’s been a weird couple of months. I’ve seen more people unfriend each other on FaceBook than in the past few years combined; There have been several reports of both Trump supporters and minorities being physically attacked; I’ve been asked to wear a safety pin to proclaim to the world that I am not a racist, because the presumption now is that everyone is a racist and you have to (secretly – only not so secretly) announce to everyone if you’re not; and the senior editor of ThinkProgress is afraid of his plumber. (This, based solely on whatever profiling techniques they use over at ThinkProgress – “…a middle-aged white man with a southern accent who seemed unperturbed by this week’s news.” – rather than anything resembling a conversation with the man.)

Here’s the thing: I’m a libertarian. I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t agree with me for as long as I can remember and it has never occurred to me to isolate myself from everyone because of our political differences. Certainly not to assault them. Nor am I filled with anxiety by the thought that people who work in my home might have different political views than mine. To me, you’re all a bunch of fascists. But I’ve somehow learned to live with you.

For me, watching people unravel over this election has been instructive. The – yes, I’m going to say it – bigotry of many on the left, in their caricaturing of Trump supporters, has never before been so blatant. Nor has the jaw-dropping, mass-hypnosis level of selective partisan-driven outrage. I understand that a lot of people are worried, upset, even frightened over the prospect of a Trump presidency. Good. They should be. But they should have been worried eight years ago, or at the very least, four years ago.

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