Friday, December 23, 2016

Fake News

I posted this last week. I've since updated it with a comparative news item from a fake news YouTuber, with a liberal bent. Also, you might like this article that explains just what fake news is. My comments are at the bottom.  Fake news is different from President Johnson fabricating a military incident like The Gulf of Tomkin as he did in 1964. Reporters were not there to verify the facts. Today's fake news is reporters making up facts. 


This is what fake news looks like. I saw this on facebook yesterday and decided to google it. Note the time stamps. Within minutes all of the fake news sites had picked this up. Many of them just cut and pasted the original story. Note the language "harass", "accosting", "trumprage". Read any one of them and you will have trouble finding supporting evidence for those words. 

The list of websites that picked this up early went on for 6 pages. They all have names like "RedState", "WND", "inquistor" and "hollywoodlife". That's your first clue. And watch out for names like The Washington Times. Many are in that "credible yet biased" gray area. Just the fact that they reported it so quickly, without time for gathering any information, should tell you something. That's a major part of their strategy, to blast the internet with their version of the truth and don't worry about facts. It makes it difficult for you to find any professional journalism on the topic. 

2 days earlier, there was a similar incident, where someone videoed themselves getting kicked off a plane because they were speaking Arabic. Sounds like something that a liberal would want to hear as proof that there is a conservative conspiracy against Muslims, being enforced by a corporation. I saw it, but didn't click on it or look it up like I did the Ivanka story, but here's what I came up later.

Note several differences. The name of the person creating the news is mentioned in many of the headlines, unlike the tweeters in the Ivanka story. And it tells you he is "known for pranks". It says he "claims". This is more like Jon Stewart from the Daily Show, starting his show by saying "welcome to the fake news". He told his audience often to listen to other news sources. A fake news site would never say those things.  

You will also notice a mix of mainstream media and fake news sites. What's interesting though is, the story looks about the same in both. For a conservative news site that wants to sensationalize everything, the true story of an Arabic speaking man making up a story to get attention, is the narrative they want to sell. Their audience is conservatives. That's who gives them the clicks. 

So this story about Saleh is actual news. The mainstream media tells you who did it, and tells you what he normally does, so it's pretty easy to figure out his motives. Fake news sites tell you the same thing, and maybe add a little something about how stupid the prank was, or how this proves something about all liberals and how "they" create fake news. But it's not fake news, it's news about a guy faking something. 

The difference between these two is one started with a tweet that was not intended to be picked up, but was then broadcast by TMZ. The other 6 pages of conservative fake news providers watch for things like that and repeat it. It gives the appearance of it being important because it is being reported, and it drowns out actual fact checking news organizations. 


But the worst part of fake news is it legitimizing the kind of lying that has always come from politicians. Fact checking helped for a few years, but now the fact checkers are being called fake. It's true that fact checking often favors Democrats, but only in the sense that they are said to be lying less often. That doesn't account for the fact of whether or not they are actually lying less often. When a fact like; Snopes debunks more conservative news stories than liberal stories becomes evidence that they are bias, we have moved very deep into the post truth world. The data that says fake news is more often geared toward conservatives is now considered illegitimate. The space for a reasonable conversation is now lost. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Birth Lottery

I heard a "Millennial" the other day say she had lost in the "birth lottery", that she was born into high college costs and dwindling job prospects and a service economy. That's all true, but who ever won this lottery? It seems to me it's not the time you are born, but to whom, and that is usually about a 1% chance that you will win.

I was born in the previous generation and there were lakes on fire from garbage, Presidents being shot, murder rates on the rise and corruption so bad they impeached an administration. The generation before me had free love, but they also got drafted into Vietnam. You have to go back another generation to get to 80% of young people doing better than their parents, but how did they do it? America did well because the economies of Europe were destroyed by World War II.

Before that, you were the "Greatest Generation", which means you saved the world from Fascism, which means a lot of you died. It gets worse. The Great Depression, the First World War, the Civil War and there were Depressions back then too. And if you were born somewhere else in the world, it was probably under a King who choose your religion for you and your job choice was most likely to do the same thing your parents had done. For women, that would be raising children.

If you were doing well, you were most likely white and your affluence was directly related to the exploitation of people from non-European countries, or the fact that your country was stripping resources from one of the other continents. If that's the lottery you want to win, maybe you need to rethink your values.

I'm not picking on this Millennial young woman. This happens to most people in their 20's, they start to look beyond the limits of what their education handed them and find out things don't work the way they thought they did, the way they were told. It's not just the education systems fault, it's also that each of us has to do some of that figuring out on our own.

That's a long conversation, but I think it's instructive to look at that period of growth and prosperity right after the 2nd world war. At that time, we all were working on spreading the wealth by working on making the world wealthier. We invested in Europe and Japan because the people who lived there, the people being born there, weren't the same people that tried to kill us. They didn't cause the problem, just like a child born in Mexico or Afghanistan is not causing us any problems now.

The birth lottery ticket most of us get is to work on some little part of the world and try to make it better than you found it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Speaking to Racism

Have you ever wanted to ask tough questions to a racist? This journalist, Al Letson, does it. The result might be what you expect, but that it didn’t devolve into yelling and end with either one walking off, is out of the ordinary. What this tells us is, racism never ended, it just dressed itself up nicer. This has been happening for decades. The language of racism is no longer acceptable, but the institutions of racism are basically the same. It was working for a while; blacks were losing votes, losing jobs, more were going to prisons. All of these indicators were there, but with the indicators of more blacks in business and government, you might have missed it.

But it’s coming back out into the open now. No matter how powerful or pervasive, culture like this can’t remain hidden for very long. It worked because it was kept quiet. Now that people are “finding their voice”, we’re hearing it again. Meet Richard Spencer, a self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right. He believes America should be all white and of European descent. He believes the races all hate each other according to natural human nature and we should have policies that reflect that. On his website it proudly says,  “Spencer’s publications and activities have been reported on by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, The Rachel Maddow Show, Buzzfeed,,, among many others.  Spencer has been a frequent guest commentator on the cable network RT International.” This of course does not mention what any of those publications actually say about him, or that RT is funded by the Russia government.

He lives in a small town in Montana now, but he thinks it is time to move to Washington DC and seek more attention and more funding. It’s entirely possible that he is right, and it’s also quite probable he is completely deluded. He thinks he can become an institution of the type that was started by people like Lewis Powell, in the Nixon Administration. They created the misinformation that was reported by the news organizations that were created to report them. Legitimate media had to respond but this often only served to legitimize the poorly done studies and biased data.

These include; the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute. They are not designed to answer questions or find solutions so much as instill doubt and add confusion to already difficult issues. Instead of using the university system that we built over centuries, politicians and pundits can now pick their sources. For an average person who just wants to be assured that they are right, this is a gold mine. With the rise of self-publishing and web based news, the powerful people who started this now have little control over it.

Actually, most of those people are dead. We really can’t be sure what was in their hearts. They probably didn't anticipate the world wide web. We can look at what is coming out of this cesspool of misinformation and who is using it and we can do something about it. It has a very social nature to it, so I’m afraid that means talking directly to the people who believe it. Attempting to fight non-facts with facts tends to have the effect of simply entrenching both sides. Al Letson instead talks about the people he loves and how he wants them to live together and care for each other. Spencer had little choice but to say he believed in hate.

It’s in the last 5 minutes of the show. Link is in the first sentence of this post. There’s a transcript too.

"I think we actually kind of hate each other, and that is a very tragic thing, and that's a very sad thing, and we don't trust each other. We can talk about how one day we're going to all be holding hands, or we can actually be realistic about this, and we can actually look at the power of human nature and the power of race." -- Richard Spencer

“If that is your world view then I'm sorry because like I said I have white family members that I love, and I think that they love me, so no I don't think that we hate each other. I think that there's not a nation in this world that doesn't have problems, but I would say when you just said like if we could go back X amount of years would we be better? No, because I wouldn't be talking to you right now.” – Al Letson

Sunday, December 4, 2016

I love the Internet, it does not love me back

Paul Young, author of "The Shack" recently gave an analogy of religious zealotry in an interview. He said there are people who go looking for something. Let's say you have a guitar player living in rural Indiana who can't find people who get what the blues are all about like he does. So he straps his guitar on his back and starts hitchiking toward Memphis. He passes through small towns and is given sideways glances and maybe even spit on for how he is dressed or the vision he talks of to anyone who cares to ask.

Then he gets closer and sees a sign, "Memphis, 100 miles". He sits down, so happy he almost cries, plays a tune. People ask him why he's sitting there and he says, "Because I've found it, look, Memphis, it's a sign. I was so moved by this sign. It's real, it's attainable. I'm going to plant myself here and sing songs about this sign and invite others to share in the feelings I've had about it."

The analogy of going to church on Sunday is obvious, but there is also the analogy to social networks. Many people find themselves alone in their communities, with a belief system that is not shared by the people they are in contact with everyday. They go to the internet looking for something else, and they fall in love with the internet. Their friends are named PragPop27 and scrmdidle. It can be very satisfying and also a complete waste of time.

The tools of the information age have been demonstrated to be very powerful. They helped overthrow Qaddafi and bring awareness to many struggling people around the world. They have also been used to recruit terrorists who then can't be traced back to any specific government or entity. Tools are tools, they aren't the answer.