Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Worth pondering


Every herd is a refuge for giftlessness, whether it’s a faith in Soloviev, or Kant, or Marx. Only the solitary seek the truth
Boris Pasternak
Doctor Zhivago


Monday, July 24, 2017

Russia without illusions


A sober and informative piece by David Warsh:

The “Snow Revolution” and the Attribution Problem
Previously:

The Ukraine crisis without blinders
Since the whole Russian debate seems to be driven by Ben Rhodes and his echo chamber, it is worth revisiting this post:

The country is in the very best of hands....
It is also useful to listen to the beginning of this lecture where Dr. Gaddis reviews the steps and missteps of US policy toward post-Soviet Russia.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Are we in a Big Data hype bubble?


Who are you going to believe? Newsweek or your own lying eyes?

Based on past experience, an industry or economic trend becomes a market bubble when the media offers up credulous stories based on their sources in the stock hyping business. Said stories, to the reader willing to look around, seem to conflict with observed reality and direct experience.

Reminder: Bubbles always depend on ignoring Conquest's Law #1:

Everyone is conservative about what he knows best
I'm beginning to wonder if Big Data hype is now at the bubble stage. This realization came while reading this piece in Newsweek:

APPLE'S POTENTIAL FATAL FLAW? IT DOESN'T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT YOU
The quote that broght me up short:

Data make a company’s machine-learning software get smarter so that the company can better serve customers and vacuum up more market share. Think of Amazon’s recommendation engine.
Now, Keven Maney may be right about many things. Apple may be headed for a fall. Amazon may be a master at using data to drive profits. (Or maybe not.)

But what I know to be categorically false from personal experience is that Amazon, Netflix, etc. are using data to improve their recommendations and "better serve their customers."

As long-time Amazon customer I've found their recommendations to be less useful and less accurate over the past several years.

Netflix is even worse.

So put me in the skeptical camp when it comes to Big Data.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Creativity comes from seeing old ideas in a new light


Short but interesting take on invention and creativity:

Not Invented Here

Ideas build on each other

There is no such thing as a completely new idea. Every step we make is based on the combination of different ideas that create something new.
...
Combination drives innovation

Everywhere you look progress comes from mixes and mash-ups
...
The way to create something new is to mix two old ideas.
Not a new idea, certainly, since David Gelernter discussed precisely this idea in his Muse and the Machine in 1994

Some related posts on the subject:

Finding big ideas

Thinking about thinking, creativity, and innovation

Killing creativity


Monday, July 17, 2017

What you see when you connect the dots


Important post over at Hot Air:

Remembering Journolist And Progressive Media’s Bag Of Tricks

A couple weeks ago I came across an old article about Journolist which I found striking. In particular, I was struck by the ways in which some of the debates taking place among left-leaning journalists back in 2008 still seem to encompass the ways the left-wing media operates today.
As Sexton shows, the Journolist scandal was a temporary embarrassment for the MSM, but, in the end, Ezra Klein’s propaganda lab won and won big.

While Sexton writes “left-wing media”, he could just as easily have said “main stream media”. One of the key things about the Journolist scandal was that membership seems to enhance, rather than harm, career prospects. Outlets like the Daily Beast and the Washington Post happily hired Spencer Ackerman and Dave Weigel after they were exposed as propagandists.

Commenter Rob Crrgin nailed it at Hot Air:

It's also important to note that even when journolist was exposed, no members received any professional sanction, despite having disgraced their profession. The closest was Dave Weigel, because he was the most egregious abuses, who lost his position, but a few months later accepted one at an even bigger news outlet.
Three lessons for the Army of Davids:

1. Every scandal needs a Sussman

2. The MSM authority depends on the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect; the thumbnail reminder is a powerful weapon against it.

3. Twitter and other social media can easily turn an Army of Davids into “an Army of ADHD Kids” and a pack of squirrel chasing canines.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Something to ponder


The survival of civilization in the twentieth century was a near thing. And the perils were greatly exacerbated by unreal thinking within the democratic culture itself. Kierkegaard once said that the most dangerous mental faults are laziness and impatience. Laziness of mind meant unwillingness to face unfamiliar, complex and refractory realities. Impatience led to infatuation with supposedly all-explanatory theories in lieu of thought and judgement.
Robert Conquest
Reflections on a Ravaged Century


Saturday, July 08, 2017

The MSM's problem in a nutshell


Mollie Hemingway:

The New York Times ran an ad campaign claiming, “The truth is more important than ever,” a statement indicating that for the paper the importance of truth was conditional on whether its management agreed with the politician in charge.


Friday, July 07, 2017

Media-fueled hysteria


The Great Day-Care Sexual-Abuse Panic

The blunt fact is that the “satanic” day-care ritual-abuse cases of the 1980s and early ’90s were our contemporary version of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s; and since human nature tends to be immutable, they featured many of the same symptoms across the centuries: mass hysteria, impressionable and unreliable child-witnesses, prosecutorial zeal and abuse, a mob tendency to prey on the hapless and defenseless. The devil in Massachusetts took the form of religious belief in malevolent spirits; in California and in Texas, Illinois, Florida, and elsewhere the frenzy was sanctioned by public credulity, police and judicial misconduct, sensational journalism, and a ritual conviction, among certain therapists, social workers, and polemicists, that children never lie. And as happens when such episodes explode and blight the landscape, they are quickly and efficiently tossed down the memory hole.
Two points worth noting.

1. The media, which is forever rehashing the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, is curiously uninterested in examining this more recent paranoid episode.

2. This is a timely reminder that outrage mobs are dangerous. Once they get going, rational thinking gets tossed aside. When someone starts to gin one up, it is always worthwhile to remember McLuhan's point:

Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.

Related:

They trusted the experts


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Life goes on, even after the Unthinkable happens


Really interesting blog post on what history can teach us:

We all fall down

Most disasters are not absolute. They are real, devastating, and consequential, but they do not wipe the slate clean. Human beings are resilient and are also creatures of habit. You can panic, but you can’t keep panicking, and once you’ve finished, you tend to carry on, because what else is there? The real catastrophes of the West in the past century (world wars, the Spanish flu) have been of this kind: even as the principal imagined one (nuclear war) is of the absolute variety.

We need to learn to be better at imagining serious but non-terminal disasters, the kind which are actually going to hit us. (For a recent cinematic example, the excellent and chilling Contagion.) That way, when we confront such things, we will be less tempted simply to say ‘Game over!’ and to attempt to reboot reality, and will instead try to work out how to deal with real, permanent but not unlimited damage. Plus, doing the work of imagination beforehand may also give us a more prudent attitude to the risks we recklessly run.
Worth remembering Gen. Harold Moore's three lessons of crisis leadership :

First, never quit. Three strikes and you're not out. Put that on your refrigerator.

Number two - there's always one more thing you can do to influence any situation in your favor. There's always a way.

Number three - trust your instincts.


Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Journalists and Twitter redux


Ain’t no fun when the bunny gets a gun

Farhad Manjoo of the NY Times is having second thoughts about Twitter.

How Twitter Is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation
It’s an interesting read, but much of its interest lies in what it ignores and excuses, not in what it analyzes or indicts.

For instance, Manjoo wants to blame Twitter for elevating the stupid over the serious:

It prizes pundit-ready quips over substantive debate, and it tends to elevate the silly over the serious for several sleepless hours this week it was captivated by “covfefe,” which was essentially a brouhaha over a typo.
What he never mentions is that “serious” news organizations like CNN happily covered the “covfefe” crisis on their news programs. Manjoo really cannot explain why it is Twitter’s fault that CNN wasted time on “a brouhaha over a typo.”

A large part of this article is a sly attempt to excuse and coverup the moral and intellectual failings of professional journalists and established news organizations.

When journalists see a story getting big on Twitter, they consider it a kind of responsibility to cover it, even if the story may be an alternate frame or a conspiracy theory,” said Alice Marwick, who was co-author of a recent report on the mechanics of media manipulation for the Data & Society Research Institute. “That’s because if they don’t, they may get accused of bias.”
Note how neatly this absolves the legacy media. They are forced to cover these stupid Twitter-generated stories because they bend over backwards to avoid even the appearance of bias.

Here’s an alternative explanation that Manjoo conveniently ignores.:

Covering a Twitter-centric story is cheap and easy. The journalist never has to get out of his chair. As such, this content is catnip for penny-pinching editors as well as lazy, ill-informed reporters.

I am a journalist and so am vastly ignorant of many things, but because I am a journalist I write and talk about them all.”--G. K. Chesterton

"A typical reporter on deadline calls a couple of people and slaps something into the paper the next day."--Scott Shane (New York Times reporter)
[Related: Cable news, vox populi, and professional sleaze]

In previous posts I’ve argued that journalists were early adopters of Twitter because it strengthened their control of “explanation space”.

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Why twitter?
The huge BOTS! RUSSIANS!! CONSPIRACY THEORIES!!! freak-out now underway is simply another battle in that war to control the Narrative.

A few years ago Twitter was praised for the way it empowered and energized the Black Lives Matter movement. The MSM was singularly uninterested in the role conspiracy theories played in that movement and the fake facts promulgated to support the favored Narrative (“Hands up. Don’t shoot”)

DeRay McKesson: Leader, Activist, and Unrepentant Conspiracy-Monger
Other curious omissions

Manjoo and his editors cast this piece as an even-handed look at how a technology can be exploited to disseminate lies and misinformation. Oddly enough, he chooses his examples from Trump supporters and the populist Right. Sean Hannnity and Seth Rich get a lot of attention. Louise Mensch, extravagant and misleading claims that “Russians hacked the election“, and flat charges that “Trump committed treason” are largely ignored.

Outside of Twitter in message boards or Facebook groups a group will decide on a particular message to push. Then the deluge begins. Bots flood the network, tweeting and retweeting thousands or hundreds of thousands of messages in support of the story, often accompanied by a branding hashtag #pizzagate, or, a few weeks ago, #sethrich.
If it is mostly bots retweeting bots, just how many people are reading the tweets let alone the underlying stories?

The passage quoted reminded me of something else-- an earlier conspiracy to frame the narrative and shift debate during a presidential election.

Journolist.

In that case, though, journalists and activists were not creating trending hashtags for a small audience on Twitter. Instead, they were injecting them right into the MSM.

And the defenders of truth and honest journalism did not care.

Because, in the end, facts and truth are not a major concern for them. It is simply Narrative Uber Alles.