Quotulatiousness

November 29, 2016

Justin Trudeau’s 15 minutes of internet fame

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

In his statement on the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went unexpectedly viral and his phrasing was turned into a hilarious Twitter hashtag: #TrudeauEuologies. In the National Post, Colby Cosh sums up the responses:

The Prime Minister has received a thousand-bomber raid’s worth of invective for his formal statement on the death of Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba who was an old friend of the Trudeau family. You probably need no reminding of the first sentence of the press release, already lampooned worldwide as a triumph of putrid euphemism: “While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante’.”

Habitual readers will know that when I see a thousand people gathering stones to throw at one, I try to see things from the side of the one. So my first impulse was to search for even a half-satisfactory justification of the PM’s statement. Alas, nothing came to hand. Just more rocks.

There is the “diplomacy is the art of lying about terrible things” defence: the idea that the interests of Canada might demand that Justin Trudeau use the opportunity presented by Fidel’s demise to suck up to his family and inner circle. This seems to me like an upside-down understanding of diplomacy. The Canadian government may sometimes be obliged to take, and even defend, morally ambiguous actions in the name of state interests. Merely telling sweet-sounding falsehoods about individuals is rarely involved. Like Trudeau’s acknowledgment that Castro was a “Comandante” — a pompous sadist who turned a beautiful country into a giant barracks — the diplomacy defence tacitly confesses the truth: Cuban government is lawless personal rule — as of now, the rule of a restless ghost who must be placated.

The statement might even be taken as a cryptic critique of the Castro regime, but there is no evidence the Prime Minister’s friendship with Castro was anything but genuine. When Trudeau writes “I know my father was very proud to call (Castro) a friend” he is stating fact. If the younger Trudeau does not believe that Castro was just a superhuman social reformer, and he really sees Cuba’s generations of exiles and political prisoners as more than hazy abstractions, then his family’s sucking up to Castro is fully conscious, fairy-tale evil, rather than the aftertaste of Fidel’s long-standing glamour cult among halfwit intellectuals.

Update: In Maclean’s, Terry Glavin twists the knife:

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Ever since his election as Canada’s Prime Minister last October, Justin Trudeau has revelled in global tributes, raves and swoons. He’s the Disney prince with the trippy dance moves, the groovy Haida tattoo and the gender-balanced cabinet. He’s the last best hope for globalization, the star attraction at the Pride parades, the hero of the Paris Climate Summit, the guy everyone wants a selfie with.

Trudeau made himself synonymous with Canada. He made Canada cool again. It was fun while it lasted.

By the early hours of Saturday morning, Havana time, Trudeau was an international laughingstock. Canada’s “brand,” so carefully constructed in Vogue photo essays and Economist magazine cover features, seemed to suddenly implode into a bonspiel of the vanities, with humiliating headlines streaming from the Washington Post to the Guardian, and from Huffington Post to USA Today.

It was Trudeau’s maudlin panegyric on the death of Fidel Castro that kicked it off, and there is a strangely operatic quality to the sequence of events that brings us to this juncture. When Trudeau made his public debut in fashionable society 16 years ago, with his “Je t’aime, papa!” encomium at the gala funeral of his father in Montreal, Fidel Castro himself was there among the celebrities, as an honorary pallbearer, lending a kind of radical frisson to the event. Now it’s all come full circle.

November 25, 2016

QotD: Megalothymia, the malady of our age

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

… so many people want to glom onto the moral stature of the civil-rights movement and reenact it for every single American with a grievance (save for conservatives who, like the Civil War re-enactor who’s always forced to play a Confederate, must always be cast as the bad guys). If you take all the people idiotically, reflexively, and sanctimoniously invoking Jim Crow at face value, it’s hard not to conclude they’re reflexive and sanctimonious idiots — or simply dishonest. And while that’s probably true of some, it’s clearly not true of many. Instead, I think you need to see this tendency as a Freudian slip, a statement of yearning, a kind of self-branding or what you (well, probably not you) might call moral megalothymia.

Megalothymia is a term coined by Francis Fukuyama. It’s a common mistake to think Fukuyama simply took Plato’s concept of “thumos” or “thymos” and put a “mega” in front of it because we all know from the Transformers and Toho Productions that “mega” makes everything more cool.

But that’s not the case. Megalothymia is a neologism of megalomania (an obsession with power and the ability to dominate others) and thymos, which Plato defined as the part of the soul concerned with spiritedness, passion, and a desire for recognition and respect.

Fukuyama defined megalothymia as a compulsive need to feel superior to others.

And boy howdy, do we have a problem with megalothymia in America today. Everywhere you look there are moral bullies utterly uninterested in conversation, introspection, or persuasion who are instead hell-bent on grinding down people they don’t like to make themselves feel good. If you took the megalothymia out of Twitter, millions of trolls would throw their smartphones into the ocean.

Make no mistake: This is a problem across the ideological spectrum, because it is a problem of human nature in general and modernity in particular. But in this context, it’s a special malady of elite liberalism.

Jonah Goldberg, “Moral Heroism without Morality”, National Review, 2015-04-03.

November 9, 2016

QotD: The power of Twitter’s shame-storms

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

Twitter makes it absurdly easy to shame someone. You barely have to take 30 seconds out of your day to make an outraged comment that will please your friends and hurt the person you’ve targeted. This means it is also absurdly easy to attack someone unfairly, without pausing to think about context — or the effect you are having on another human being much like yourself. No matter what that person did, short of war crimes, you probably would not join a circle of thousands of people heaping abuse upon a lone target cowering in the center. But that is the real-world equivalent of what online shame-stormers do.

This sort of tactic may buy silence, though it is likely to be the most effective on people who already agree with you and simply said something infelicitous. What it cannot buy is community, beyond the bonds that build between people who are joined in collective hate. With the exception of Lehrer — who clearly realized he’d done something wrong without needing to be told — the people whom Ronson interviews do not think that they were the victims of perhaps excessively harsh justice; they think they were victims of abuse. They often recognize that they did something stupid, but they don’t think they deserved to be fired after having their lives dissected and their character impugned by thousands of people who had never even met them.

And perhaps this satisfies the shame-stormers; they may want to change hearts and minds but be willing to settle for silence. This sort of shaming has costs, however. If you haven’t changed someone’s mind, you haven’t changed their behavior, only what they say. If they do harbor the bad beliefs you accused them of, those beliefs are now festering in private rather than being open to persuasion. And you haven’t even necessarily changed what they say in a good direction, because people who are afraid of unjust attacks aren’t afraid of being punished for saying things they know they ought to be ashamed of, but of being punished for saying something they didn’t know would attract this kind of ire. So they’re afraid to say anything at all, or at least anything more interesting than “Woo, puppies!” That’s not norm enforcement; it’s blanket terror.

Megan McArdle, “How the Internet Became a Shame-Storm”, Bloomberg View, 2015-04-17.

October 14, 2016

Twitter’s ailing business model

Filed under: Business, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I’ve been on Twitter for several years, and I have to admit that along with John Brandon, I’m finding it less useful as time goes by:

What does it mean when a major tech company starts slipping like a seal on wet rocks? Rumors about an acquisition start to rumble then quiet down, the CEO seems beleaguered and frustrated, there’s more news about Internet trolls beating up on people than the firm adding any new features, and an identity crisis becomes so pronounced it obfuscates any real purpose. Who you once were becomes less important; the big news is that you’ve lost all momentum. That’s essentially the story of Twitter, a company that seems perpetually stuck in the past. They created micro messaging and now they can’t seem to do anything else.

I use Twitter all day, but the truth is — tweets are becoming like white noise on a lost FM radio station. A colleague mentioned how the service is mostly used by celebrities, journalists and Donald Trump. That’s a vast oversimplification, but of 20 or 30 friends, not a single one bothers with the service anymore. That means my friends not only removed their account long ago, they don’t browse the feeds anymore and don’t care what anyone posts. Guess what? They’re too busy using Facebook, which provides all of the social networking they will ever need. Twitter has lost the mass market.

The phrase “pedaling backwards” comes to mind. Also, the one about “reliving former glories”. Oh, and you might as well throw in “retracing your steps” to the mix.

My primary use of Twitter these days is my various lists: my Vikings list, my Military list, and my Libertarian list are the ones I most frequently look at. My main Twitter feed? Too busy and too unfocussed to be worth more than a few minutes of scrolling. That, plus the “shadowbanning” of certain controversial users (so they’re not actually banned, but their tweets aren’t being propagated to their followers, who have to actually visit the poster’s feed to see the tweets), help to make the service less than it used to be.

H/T to Andrew Torba on Gab.ai for the link.

October 4, 2016

When you suppress hate speech, you don’t actually eliminate it

Filed under: Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

People seem to be surprised that censorship generates pushback from the censored. In this case, the more active censorship of certain words by Twitter, Facebook and other social media companies has encouraged the targets of the censors to come up with other ways to communicate with fellow-minded people, in this case a simple substitution code:

Now a new type of hateful internet code appears to be emerging: The systematic use of innocuous words to stand in for offensive racial slurs. Search Twitter for “googles,” “skypes,” or “yahoos,” and you will encounter some shocking results, like this tweet: “If welfare state is a given it must go towards our own who needs. No Skypes, googles, or yahoos.” Or this one, reading “Chain the googles / Gas the yahoos.”

What does this mean? Nothing good. In this lexicon, “googles” means the n-word; “skypes” means Jews; and “yahoos” means “spic.” The word “skittles” has come to refer to Muslims, an obvious reference to Donald Trump Jr.’s comparing of refugees with candy that “would kill you.”

By all accounts the lexicon seems to have been conceived on 4chan — a message board famous for its trolls — as a response to Google’s improved method for identifying pages and comments with offensive content and potentially removing or flagging them. The title of the 4chan post that seems to have started it all is “RIP alt-right trolls, SkyNet is coming for you.” The trolls responded with a loosely organized effort called “Operation Google,” which aims to get around these algorithms, and to trick them into blocking the names of their own services and companies.

Hence the use of “google” to mean what is arguably the most offensive term of them all. For a fuller list, including coded anti-LGBT terms, click here. (Warning: It’s not pretty.) This list appeared on 4chan’s “Politically Incorrect” /pol/ board, and has been widely shared on Twitter and elsewhere, and similar terms can be found as well.

August 23, 2016

Hey, EU! Two can play this silly medal total game!

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

If you’re on Twitter or Facebook, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one variant of this bit of EU self-puffery going around:

EU fake 2016 Olympic medal ranking

As Guido Fawkes points out, under those rules the British Empire completely eclipses the medal total of all the EU states:

The former countries of the British Empire won 396 medals – 138 more medals than a post-Brexit EU. While the European Parliament invents an EU state to “win” the Olympics, the medal tally of a one-time actual supra-state leaves Brussels for dust. Former member countries of the British Empire accrued 76 more medals than the rest of the world (24%). In all, the Empire’s score of 137 gold medals trounces the EU’s, which after removing Great Britain sits at just 79.

Looking at other alliances NATO countries took a stunning 443 out of the 974 medals on offer (45%), while Anglosphere countries grabbed a whopping 288 – 30% of the world total. This is compared to Francophone states’ measly 87 (9%), even with Canada’s 22 (2%) generously included. Hoisting the colours appears to have been good luck; countries with Union Jacks in their flags took a massive 115 medals, of which 40 were gold!

August 14, 2016

When virtue signalling became the dominant form of social media content

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Dan Sanchez explains why political “discussions” on social media tend to be worse than useless:

When children are free to learn from undirected experiences, they learn to conceive of truth as something that guides the successful pursuit of their own goals. But in the domineering, tightly-directed environments of school and the modern household, we condition our children to conceive of truth as received wisdom handed down by authority.

Children are largely deprived of the noble joy of discovering truths as revealed by successful action. Instead they are left with the ignoble gratification of pleasing a taskmaster by reciting an answer that is marked “correct.” And this goes far beyond academics. For the modern child, learning “good behavior” is not about discovering through trial and error what kinds of behaviors are conducive to thriving socially. Instead, it’s about winning praise and avoiding censure from authority figures.

Thanks to this conditioning, we have all become approval-junkies, always on the lookout for our next fix of external validation: for the next little rush of dopamine we get whenever we are patted on the head by others for being a “good boy” or a “good girl,” for exhibiting the right behavior, for giving the right answer, for expressing the right opinion.

This is why the mania for virtue signalling is so ubiquitous, and why orthodoxies are so impervious. Expressing political opinions is not about hammering out useful truths through the crucible of debate, but about signaling one’s own virtue by “tattling” on others for being unvirtuous: for being crypto-commies or crypto-fascists; for being closet racists or race-traitor “cucks;” for being enemies of the poor or apologists for criminals.

Much of our political debate consists of our abused inner children basically calling out, “Teacher, teacher, look at me. I followed the rules, but Johnny didn’t. Johnny is a bad boy, and he said a mean word, too. Teacher look what Trump said. He should say sorry. Teacher look what Hillary did. You should give her detention.”

You can’t expect much enlightenment to emerge from this level of discourse.

December 20, 2015

Are you the customer or are you the product?

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Howard Tayler explains why he’d be willing to pay real money to Twitter for the use he gets out of the service and in the process, change from being a product to be resold into an actual customer:

Facebook’s actual plans were far more problematic. At a high level, the plan was to monetize their user base as a product, rather than as customers. This meant selling the product to OTHER customers — advertisers and market research firms, for starters. I don’t mind being advertised to, but in order for the monetization to work, Facebook had to step into our feeds and adjust the content we were seeing.

Facebook became less useful to us, and this loss of utility was hidden much of the time. When we actually noticed it, it was status quo.

Twitter is doing similar things to monetize their user base. The insertion of Promoted Tweets is the most immediately intrusive, but recently they’ve begun mucking with our timelines in order to adjust the content we see.

Look, I get it. These companies are providing an exceptionally valuable communication service to hundreds of millions of users. They deserve to be paid for that. The question is, what’s the best way to pay them? What will make them the most money, while keeping their users not just happy, but loyal?

Twitter’s 2014 revenue was $1.4B. They have over 900 million users, but most of those users do not tweet things. If we assume, conservatively, that there are only 100 million human beings actively using Twitter’s service, they were worth $14 each during 2014. Much of that money was paid in by advertisers.

$14 isn’t much. It’s less than $1.20 per month. I would cheerfully round up, and pay $20 for an annual Twitter membership without batting an eyelash.

For that money I would obviously expect to NOT be monetized further. Don’t market to me, don’t promote Tweets, don’t mess with my feeds. Maybe give me instead some cool tools that let me better manage this awesome communications tool.

If those 100 million users were willing to pay $20/year for “Twitter Prime,” Twitter’s revenues would be $2B. It’s not beyond the pale to further assume that their profit margins would be better, since all the overhead that goes into making a useful advertising engine could be dust-binned. Additionally, Twitter would become far more valuable to its users (who are now CUSTOMERS,) and they’d attract more paying users pretty quickly.

My ISP is Rogers, and I’ve been a customer for more than a decade. I use their web client for my personal email most of the time and it’s part of the services I pay for. At some point, Rogers decided that they needed to take over part of the screen to advertise at me. That was what finally induced me to install AdBlock Plus in all of my web browsers. Had the email been a free service, I wouldn’t have objected, but I was paying real money for it and chose not to be subject to having to put up with animated ads every time I needed to read or write an email message.

December 2, 2015

QotD: “It’s microaggressions all the way down”

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

A while back, when I wrote about shamestorming, I ended up in a Twitter discussion with a guy who chided me for letting my privilege blind me to the ways that minorities (specifically women in tech, and more broadly on the Internet), experience microaggressions. You know how that conversation ended? When I pointed out that he had just committed a classic microaggression: mansplaining to me something that I had actually experienced, and he had not. As soon as I did, he apologized, though that hadn’t really been my intent. My intent was to point out that microaggressions are often unintentional (this guy clearly considered himself a feminist ally).

But I inadvertently demonstrated an even greater difficulty: Complaints about microaggressions can be used to stop complaints about microaggressions. There is no logical resting place for these disputes; it’s microaggressions all the way down. And in the process, they make impossible demands on members of the ever-shrinking majority: to know everything about every possible victim group, to never inadvertently appropriate any part of any culture in ways a member doesn’t like, or misunderstand something, or make an innocent remark that reads very differently to someone with a different experience. Which will, of course, only hasten the scramble for members of the majority to gain themselves some sort of victim status that can protect them from sanction.

Megan McArdle, “How Grown-Ups Deal With ‘Microaggressions'”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-11.

September 2, 2015

The communal WitchFinder

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jonathan Foreman on the social media witch hunt that crashed Tim Hunt’s career and reputation:

In 1983, the British biochemist Timothy Hunt discovered cyclins, a family of proteins that help regulate the life of cells. Eighteen years later, in 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Between June 8 and June 10 of this year, the 72-year-old Hunt went from being a universally respected and even beloved figure at the top of the scientific establishment to an instant pariah, condemned everywhere for antiquated opinions about women’s role in science that he does not, in fact, hold.

In only 48 hours, he found himself compelled to resign his positions at University College London and at the august Royal Society (where Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke once fought petty battles) after being told that failure to do so would lead to his outright firing.

The Timothy Hunt affair represents more than the gratuitous eye-blink ruination of a great man’s reputation and career. It demonstrates the danger of the extraordinary, almost worshipful deference that academia, government institutions, and above all the mainstream media now accord to social media. It is yet more evidence of the way moral panic and (virtual) mob rule can be accelerated and intensified by the minimalism of Twitter, with its 140-character posts and its apparently inherent tendency to encourage snap judgments, prejudice, and cruelty.

Fortunately, the story did not end on June 10. In the weeks following the initial assault, some of Hunt’s most ardent persecutors have been exposed as liars or blinkered ideologues, abetted by cynical hacks and academic rivals on a quest to bring him down or use him as grist to a political mill. Hunt’s partial rehabilitation has largely come about thanks to the dogged investigations of Louise Mensch, the British novelist and former conservative member of parliament who lives in New York City and is herself a powerful presence on Twitter. Mensch was alarmed by what she calls ‘the ugly combination of bullying and sanctimony” in the reaction to remarks made by “an evidently sweet and kind” older man.

She did some checking on Twitter and soon found that the two main witnesses for the prosecution contradicted each other. Then she began a more thorough investigation of Hunt’s offending comments and the lack of due process involved in his punishment by various academic and media institutions. The results of her exhaustive research, published on her blog, Unfashionista.com, encouraged an existing groundswell of support for Hunt from scientists around the world but most important from Hunt’s own female colleagues and former students.

June 2, 2015

QotD: The internet’s public shaming machine

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

In the small groups we evolved to live in, shame is tempered by love and forgiveness. People are shamed for some transgression, then they are restored to the group. Ultimately, the shamed person is not an enemy; he or she is someone you need and want to get along with. This is how you make up with your spouse after one or both of you has done or said something terrible.

In a large group, shame is punishment, but it still has a restorative aspect. One of the most surprising passages of Ronson’s book reveals that the drunken driver who had to stand by the side of the road with a sign detailing his crimes got more compassion and support than bitter catcalls from the people who drove by him.

On the Internet, when all the social context is stripped away and you don’t even have to look at the face of the person you’re being mean to, shame loses its social, restorative function. Shame-storming isn’t punishment. It’s a weapon. And weapons aren’t supposed to be used against people in your community; they’re for strangers, people in some other group that you don’t like very much.

Megan McArdle, “How the Internet Became a Shame-Storm”, Bloomberg View, 2015-04-17.

April 27, 2015

Automated epistemic closure

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

In Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown talks about the time she got blocked by a bot:

The first time I noticed it I merely found it odd: a person whom I had never interacted with in any way on Twitter had blocked me. But then it started happening more frequently; I would click on someone’s handle after seeing an interesting retweet or mention and find myself blocked by yet another stranger.

If you’re not familiar with how Twitter works, blocking someone prevents them from following you, messaging you, and showing up in your mentions. The feature was designed to compensate for Twitter’s notorious inability to really banish abusive users. Unlike other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter makes it easy to create multiple and anonymous accounts, so someone who violates Twitter’s terms of service can be back on the platform in about five minutes. Blocking gives any user an instant way to tune someone out entirely.

But as I mentioned: my blockers were people I had never tried to follow and never so much as tweeted “hi” at, let alone anything disagreeable, abusive, harassing, or unkind. And I had few to no friends in common with these individuals, making the chance of me being frequently retweeted into their timelines very unlikely. How did these people even know of me, let alone find me odious enough to block me?

And then I learned about the Block Bot. Created by Twitter user @oolon, the Block Bot “automate(s) the blocking for anyone that signs up, so you don’t need to … worry about what trolls are trolling the twittersphere -> they will be removed from your timeline seamlessly,” as its FAQ page states. Subscribe to the Block Bot, and anyone added to the list will automatically be blocked by your account.

Well, isn’t that special? You no longer need to worry about uncomfortable notions getting through your personal social media bubble … you don’t even need to think about it: you just farm out control of your Twitter feed to the crowdsourced notions of what other people think you don’t need to see. I’m sure there’s no possible way this could go wrong…

April 18, 2015

BBC radio finds two of the only people who have never seen Star Wars

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

… and one of them is Godfrey Elfwick, who runs a parody Social Justice Warrior twitter account:

Listeners of the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say programme were treated to a bizarre analysis of the Star Wars franchise today by a caller who claimed that “Dark Raider” was a “racial stereotype” who listened to rap music and “the only female character ends up in a gold space bikini chained to a horny space slug.”

Godfrey Elfwick is a student from Sheffield who regularly fools observers with his parody Twitter account, an off-the-deep-end “social justice warrior” persona that tweets bizarrely and hilariously about racism, sexism, misogyny and other favoured topics of the political Left.

Elfwick attracted the attention of the BBC World Service today, when he tweeted that he had never seen Star Wars. A World Service presenter who was producing a segment in the wake of the recently-released trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Force Awakens took the bait, inviting him onto the programme.

Because of course the BBC can’t tell the difference between an outlandish, obviously fake social-justice obsessed parody account and a normal member of the public.

March 19, 2015

The latest snowstorm in the Maritimes may have been the proverbial straw

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:52

If the reports from Nova Scotia are typical, the new ice age may have already started in the Maritime provinces:

February 20, 2015

My Twitter word cloud

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

If you’d like to generate one of these for your own (or someone else’s) Twitter account, the instructions are here.

Click to see full-sized at imgur.com

Click to see full-sized at imgur.com

Because I use my Twitter account primarily for auto-posting links to my blog, the word “post” is by far the most common word, followed by “qotd” for my daily quotation posts. After that, it seems pretty representative of what I’ve been blogging about for the last year or so.

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