Quotulatiousness

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 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 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.

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:

May 20, 2017

“Trump has always said the kinds of things that most of us learn to think the better of around our freshman year of high school”

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

Megan McArdle on the calls to impeach or otherwise depose Il Donalduce (soft coup, anyone?):

Trump has always said the kinds of things that most of us learn to think the better of around our freshman year of high school — not just the tragic wailing about how hard everyone is on him, but also the needy self-flattery: When he isn’t claiming that he knows more about Islamic State than our nation’s generals do, he is putting similarly laudatory words in the mouths of the brilliant and impressive people who apparently constantly ring him up so they can gush like tween fangirls at a Justin Bieber concert. Does he expect people to believe these utterances? I have no idea. But the reason most people don’t say such things is that whether you expect them to or not, no one ever does.

As for the rest … the twitter rants? Check. The lack of respect for longstanding political and institutional norms? Check. The outrageous, uncalled-for attacks on anyone who gets in his way? Check-plus. All quite evident before the American public went to the polls in November. And that is the rub.

It’s one thing to remove a president who is clearly no longer the man (or woman) we elected to the office. But this is what Americans, in aggregate, pulled the lever for. Do his staffers and Congress have the right to step in and essentially undo that choice?

Even as a thought experiment, that’s a tough question. It becomes much tougher still when we are not in a tidy textbook, but in a messy real world where his followers, having voted for this behavior, do not recognize it as a sign of impairment. If Trump is removed now, they will see the removal not as a safeguard, but as a soft coup. And they won’t be entirely unjustified. The damage to our political culture, and its institutions, would be immeasurably grave.

I think there’s a case for removing Trump on the grounds that he is clearly not competent to execute the office — not that he has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but that he simply lacks the emotional and mental capacity to do the job. But preserving the very norms he’s destroying requires that removal not be undertaken until things have reached such a state that most of his followers recognize his problems. So those of us who believe that the competence of the executive matters — that there are things worse in a president than “more of the same,” and that what we are now seeing is one of them — will simply have to hope like heck that his supporters come to the same conclusion we have before he damages much more than his own reputation, and the hopes of the people who elected him.

February 18, 2017

Twitter turns on the free speech filters

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

At Forbes, Kalev Leetaru reports on Friday’s introduction of “hate speech” filtering on Twitter:

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

It was just a year ago that I wrote on these very pages about Twitter’s evolution from bastion of free speech to global censor as it stepped back from its utopian dreams as they collided with the realities of running a commercial company. Yet, even after changing its official written policy on acceptable speech and touting that it would do more to fight abuse, little has changed over the past year. Indeed, from its inception a decade ago, Twitter has done little to address the problem of hateful and abusive speech on its platform.

[…] the concern here is that Twitter has thus far refused to provide further detail into at least the broad contours of the indicators it is using, especially when it comes to the particular linguistic cues it is concerned with. While offering too much detail might give the upper hand to those who would try to work around the new system, it is important for the broader community to have at least some understanding of the kinds of language flagged by Twitter’s new tool so that they can offer more informed feedback to help it shape that tool given that both algorithms and people are far from infallible. Simply rolling out a new tool that begins suspending users without warning or recourse and without any visibility into how those decisions are being made is a textbook example of how not to roll such a feature out to a user community in that the tool instantly becomes confrontational rather than educational.

Moreover, it is unclear why Twitter chose not to permit users to contest what they believe to be a wrongful suspension. The company did not respond to a request for comment on why suspended users are not provided a button to appeal a suspension they believe is due to algorithmic or human error or lack of contextual understanding. Given that the feature is brand new and bound to encounter plenty of unforeseen contexts where it could yield a wrong result, it is surprising that Twitter chose not to provide a recovery mechanism where it could catch these before they become news.

H/T to Peter Grant for the link.

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 2, 2017

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

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

January 20, 2017

The White House press corps anomaly – “Journalists aren’t treated as housepets anywhere else”

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

Colby Cosh on the rumours that Trump was going to physically evict the press from the White House:

What struck me was that American journalists seemed to agree unanimously that this was a dangerous and alarming signal — as if they really could not do their jobs effectively without office space in the residence of the chief magistrate. No Canadian or other foreigner needs to have it explained how anomalous, downright freaky, this is. Journalists aren’t treated as housepets anywhere else. Even our royal family, which exists explicitly as a public spectacle, regards reporters more as a pack of wild animals to be chastised and fended off.

We are hearing a lot right now about the American press consciously transforming into a political opposition, rediscovering its appropriate, adversarial relationship with the American presidency. How wonderful, if true! But if it is, why did no American reporter say “Please, throw us out immediately: we dare you”? Imagine the opportunity to make a memorable scene: dozens of journalists turning in their White House security credentials simultaneously — maybe burning them! — then marching across the street in ranks to the Old Executive Office Building, carrying their heartbreaking little boxes full of notebooks, laptops, and desk totems. Why, it would be the most inspiring thing you ever saw.

Or maybe it would not serve to make journalists a little more popular for a moment. But, believe me, we have tried everything else. One might even ask why the White House press would wait to be kicked out. If it arranged a sort of pre-emptive general strike, of course, it would have to admit to being a tad hagiographical in the past. Specifically, over the past eight years.

There was a suggestion to defenestrate the media jackals after the election, but it came from outside Trump’s circle of advisors. While I liked the idea at the time, I think Cosh is right in his analysis:

It ought to be obvious why Priebus disavowed talk of evicting the press from the White House. A president who intends to operate by means of whispers, grumbles, threats, and hints needs to have the ears of the press close by. That is the entire historical reason it is close by. Reporters do not have to love Trump to serve his purposes. The glamour of going to work in the White House will do the work of seduction, as it has done down through the decades. I feel certain Trump would no more throw the press out of the West Wing than he will consider leaving Twitter.

January 19, 2017

Trump “is vulgar and offensive. That is my best argument for him”

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

David Warren responds to insinuations that he’s changed his opinion of Il Donalduce since the election:

Several correspondents who berated me (in fairly colourful language) for opposing Trump through the Republican primaries now congratulate me for “warming to him.” I find this odd, since most had said they wouldn’t be reading me any more. Too, I’m not aware of warming to Trump. Nor has my pleasure in the defeat of Hillary Clinton waned. (I did say from the start that Trump would win.) One of the two had to win the election, and while I was willing to concede Hillary’s particular merit — for corruption is a humanizing force, that works against leftish ideology — I could find no other. Perhaps the thought of having to look at her for another four years was another paradoxical plus. She might cure me of any remaining Internet addiction. There might also be peace and quiet, or at least quiescence from the progressive media, who only report on the scandals they invent.

Whereas, I have come to enjoy Trump’s turbulence: fat man waddling on the high wire. He may not represent anything resembling the sort of policies I could sincerely endorse, but he is hated by all the right people. Their gasps of horror suspend him aloft. And while he gives no promise of turning the clock back, in the manner I should wish it turned, his approach to the management of the Nanny State cannot be ham-fisted enough for me.

He is vulgar and offensive. That is my best argument for him. And while I am opposed to the existence of Twitter, I do enjoy his tweets. A surprisingly high proportion of them are true, which is what makes them so outrageous. He has found a way to get entirely around the “mainstream” newsmongers, thus hastening their extinction; and as a bonus he scares the bejeezus out of America’s enemies around the world. This is a happy change from Obama, who scared only America’s friends. As I once had the honour of explaining to one of George Dubya’s senior aides, I have nothing against appeasement: so long as your enemies are appeasing you.

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.

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