The Internet — a global force for go- … OK, evil

In 1995, a perceptive astronomer named Clifford Stoll warned that the Internet was going to open a gateway to a flood of misinformation and hostility.

In 2010, Stoll hopped into a conversation about his supposed error. The Mission’s Rob Howard summed up what happened:

Everyone appears to have missed the irony that a bunch of anonymous Internet commenters were trolling a renowned scientist, 15 years after the fact, for accurately predicting the proliferation of anonymous Internet trolls.

(Reminder: In 2000, some hack grad student at Duke said roughly the same thing, only not as brilliantly.)


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The death throes of the reasonable media?

Thomas Frank has a pessimistic view of the media’s “war on Trump” that raises quite a few good points:

  1. Groupthink has got to go.
  2. Being in constant “Trump in crisis” mode is a sure way to make the public tune out.
  3. The marketplace is complicated.

I think (2) is the most immediate problem to tackle. Let something else lead the front page or the email newsletter sometime. Maybe tackle an issue in which Trump is relevant but not the dominant player. That might actually be more effective in demonstrating the harm this president is capable of causing. His Tweets, as juvenile as they are, aren’t going to toss millions of people into poverty or start a war. (Probably.)

Then (3) is a tough one. The notion of Trump taking instruction from a morning show of right-wing bullies and news-twisters the way a toddler takes instruction from Dora The Explorer is hilarious and horrifying, and it shows how the “pick your own media” landscape can be harmful. (If only someone had warned us about that in a grad-school thesis back in 2000.) But if anyone has found a way to fight back against Fox and Friends (or the “Dirtbag Left” that figures everyone might as well cede the moral high ground and race to the bottom), please let me know.

But for (1) — there’s an irony on groupthink. The groupthink on groupthink is that groupthink is bad. Sometimes, it isn’t.

Consider what Frank says here:

These things don’t happen because the journalists that remain are liberals. It happens because so many of them are part of the same class – an exalted and privileged class. They are professionals and they believe in the things that so many other professional groups believe in: consensus, “realism”, credentialing, the wisdom of their fellow professionals and (of course) the stupidity of the laity.

First of all, I think a lot of journalists would be surprised to learn that they’re exalted and privileged. It’s rare to find a print or online journalist who couldn’t be making twice as much money elsewhere. If you want to make the same money you could’ve made by taking the law school route instead of paying your dues in journalism, you have to be a TV talking head. A reporter or editor at The New York Times or The Washington Post is probably making enough money to get by in a big city, but that’s the top of the pyramid.

And today’s New Media journalist? Looks like Vox pays decent money, but I doubt their staff is “exalted.”

But more importantly — many of the things Frank says professional groups “believe in” are things that everyone should believe in. The “wisdom of professionals” and “credentialing” is at the heart of everything from science to economics.

The “stupidity of the laity” is harsh as a general statement. Consider the great quote from Bill Nye, reminding us that everyone’s an expert on something.


But Joe the Plumber wasn’t an expert on economics. Coal miners may or may not be experts on climate change. Jenny McCarthy is not a freaking expert on vaccine safety.

Where consensus exists, it has to be announced. Loudly.

And yes, that means a steady beat of fact-checking on the sheer volume of bullshit emanating from the political realm these days. And elsewhere.

And it’ll make you unpopular. A couple of people aren’t happy with me to this day, but it’s not my job to let false or grossly misleading statements go unchecked. My first college-paper editor, one of the nicest guys in the world, had a saying: “This is no place to be nice. This is a newsroom.”

So the challenge here will be to meet Frank’s valid critiques without pandering. Without conceding. Make clear that it’s not a “war on Trump” but a “war on bullshit.” Go ahead and piss off the Bernie bros now populating the “Dirtbag Left,” too, because the right-wing media is too incompetent and myopic to do it.

Good luck. We’re all counting on you.

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Font-ification and political scandal

The font I often use on my Google Drive documents (Calibri) is at the center of a political scandal.


The (allegedly forged) documents from 2006 submitted by Maryam Nawaz (daughter of PM Nawaz Sharif) were in the Calibri font. That font, according to the investigation team’s leaked report, wasn’t publicly available until 2007.

But did they get an earlier version?

Source: Microsoft’s Calibri font is at the center of a political scandal

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Republican on Rand vs. reality

Quote of the year, at least when it comes to economics and philosophy: “I loved Ayn Rand when I was 18 — before I had children and figured out how the world really works. That’s not how it works, as it turns out.”

You’re my hero of the day, Stephanie Clayton.

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“Inclusive!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Gay pride parade organizers in Chicago pride themselves on being inclusive.

Except, apparently, in this case: Demonstrators carrying Star of David flags kicked out of Chicago Dyke March.

The situation might be more complicated than you’re going to see on cable news. For one thing, there is a backstory here. This isn’t the first time the issue has come up in Chicago. Last year, an organization called A Wider Bridge — connecting LGBTQ Jews in the USA and Israel — tried to do a presentation at an LGBTQ conference, but they were shut down. Chicago’s parade organizers say the group is a bunch of agitators trying to impose a “pro-Zionist” agenda, to which a previous Slate story cried “baloney.”

That’s not to say leaders of any movement, whatever it is, shouldn’t worry about their movement being co-opted by people who’ll try to take it another direction. (South Park has covered this on more than one occasion.) But it’s pretty clear parade organizers messed up here. In their zeal to keep out “Zionists,” they made a lot of Jews feel unwelcome.

I think there’s an underlying problem here. People who speak up for marginalized people (or marginalized people themselves) sometimes get the lecturing-to-listening ratio wrong. Being marginalized or being an ally for the marginalized doesn’t mean you’re right 100 percent of the time.

And no one’s 100 percent oppressed or 100 percent oppressor. No one’s family, let alone anyone’s country, is 100 percent innocent. You can be an LGBTQ person of color, and you still have blinders of “privilege” because you’re American or wealthy or goodness knows what else. I have a ton of “oppressor” in my family tree — I’m descended from Confederate military officers, and I’m the grandson of someone who argued forcefully against segregation. But I’m also descended from people who fled France, Scotland and England, not always in search of greater wealth in the New World. My kids are descended from grandparents and great-grandparents who weren’t free to go “home.”

So what does this all mean?

It means we all have to listen. To everybody. Writing off someone’s input because they’re Jewish or American or white really isn’t any better than writing off someone’s input because they’re Muslim or African or black.

If people have malicious intent, it’ll reveal itself soon enough. Let them speak. They might have a point. And if they don’t have a point, feel free to let them know.

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Bloggers 1, British tabloids 1

Good look here at how a blogger doing a deep dive into research helped sway the British election to be a lot closer than The Sun and the Daily Mail would’ve wanted: How Newspapers Lost Their Monopoly On Influencing Voters In The 2017 General Election

Sure, I’m a little wary — I don’t want people taking Joe Schmoe blogger at the same weight as The New York Times. But if they’re doing the research, they can have the same impact as, say, John Oliver. Which is good.

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The actual divide in this country, illustrated

Forget rural vs. urban. Forget left vs. right. Forget rich vs. poor (both of which have been convinced to vote against their self-interests, anyway).

Here’s the divide in this country:

Duke course catalog, Statistics 642:

Statistical models for modeling, monitoring, assessing and forecasting time series. Univariate and multivariate dynamic models; state space modeling approaches; Bayesian inference and prediction; computational methods for fast data analysis, learning and prediction; time series decomposition; dynamic model and time series structure assessment. Routine use of statistical software for time series applications. Applied studies motivated by problems and time series data from a range of applied fields including economics, finance, neuroscience, climatology, social networks, and others. Instructor consent required.

TV listing for third-rated cable show in 18-49 demographic for June 21:

Sonja’s love triangle gets more complicated as things heat up with “Frenchie.” Meanwhile, Tinsley goes apartment hunting. Carole and Adam bicker over items he left behind in her apartment. Fredrik and Bethenny look over her apartment as they plan to put it on the market. Carole and Dorinda go to Washington DC for the Women’s March. Ramona throws a party at her apartment with a surprising guest list.



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