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2011 February 22 Tuesday
Civil War Erupts Over Libyan Leader's Last Name

How can the Libyans be expected to be ruled by one guy when news media from around the world call him many different names? The Wall Street Journal calls the clown Gadhafi.

In Libya, Col. Moammar Gadhafi's army shot at pro-democracy protesters in the capital city of Tripoli, according to witness reports.

Putting on airs and acting all pretentious The NY Times editors call him el-Qaddafi. Just using the Q wasn't good enough. Using the Q without a u after it wasn't good enough. They had to do the "el-" dash in front of his name.

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya vowed on Tuesday that he would “fight on to the last drop of my blood” and die a “martyr.” We have no doubt that what he really meant is that he will butcher and martyr his own people in his desperation to hold on to power. He must be condemned and punished by the international community.

Even in this coastal town, more than 900 miles from Libya's capital and in an area that has slipped well beyond the government's control, some still support Gaddafi, who has ruled this country for 41 years.

Reuters banded with the Washington Post in calling the murdering buffoon Gaddafi.

Pressure mounted on the White House on Tuesday to intervene to stop Muammar Gaddafi's bloody crackdown on democracy protests as a lawmaker close to President Barack Obama urged oil firms to halt work in Libya.

Now we come to the K spellings. Expatica calls him Kadhafi.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described a televised address Tuesday by Libya's Moamer Kadhafi as "very scary" and said Berlin would consider sanctions unless he halted a crackdown on protestors.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) moves the h into the first syllable.

A leading academic at the university who knew Moamer Khadafi's son when he studied there said he was "deeply disturbed" by the former student's condemnation of anti-regime protests.

But the splittists at the San Francisco Chronicle insist on calling for the overthrow of Khadafy with a "y".

Moammar Khadafy, despot of Libya for the past 42 years, needs to go. As the Arab spring of revolutions rolls on, it is becoming clear that he will go. But how many of his people will he take with him?

I think this has to be a big inside joke among newspaper reporters and editors: See how many names can we call Ghadafi/Gadhafi/Khadafy/Qaddafi while posing as deadly serious. ABC News counted 112 last names used for KQGaddhafiy.

By Randall Parker    2011 February 22 10:29 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2010 November 13 Saturday
Ted Koppel On A National Entitlement To Be Wrong

Ted Koppel, who was the anchor of ABC's Nightline news program for 25 years until his retirement, says punishing Keith Olbermann for donating to the Democratic Party when his job is to be openly partisan makes no sense.

To witness Keith Olbermann - the most opinionated among MSNBC's left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts - suspended even briefly last week for making financial contributions to Democratic political candidates seemed like a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.

Back then, a policy against political contributions would have aimed to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. But today, when Olbermann draws more than 1 million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan, it is not clear what misdemeanor his donations constituted. Consistency?

Gotta agree with Koppel. Does MSNBC honestly expect us to believe that Olbermann is some sort of objective reporter and not just a partisan showman? His suspension for partisan political donations is an insult to our intelligence. Do they really want us to believe they are being evenhanded or objective? This is as ridiculous as Fox News' "fair and balanced" mantra.

Koppel sees the development of more avowedly partisan news networks as unhealthy for the republic.

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic.

I'm not so sure. Back during the era of NBC/CBS/ABC news dominance they were just lower toned in their partisanship. They put enough effort into objectivity that they could pretend nonpartisanship. But they were obviously liberal. The advantage of the rise of MSNBC and Fox is that the pretend objectivity is easier to see thru.

Here's Koppel's most interesting observation: The American people are developing a strong sense of entitlement to be wrong and to listen to and read a stream of agreeable opinions.

It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement.

Feminism has contributed to this. Maintaining relationships plays a bigger role versus objective truth in female minds than in male minds. Are Olbermann or Sean Hannity as bad as The View? I don't think so.

By Randall Parker    2010 November 13 07:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2010 September 12 Sunday
Razib On Commenters

Razib links to a Discover Magazine blog post he wrote about whether conservative whites are more racist than liberal whites. But while the Discover post is worth reading I find his comments about comments both funny and correct.

I analyzed some GSS data over at Discover. The commenters were only cursorily engaging the data, and I don’t have much patience for long rhetorical back and forths which are already predetermined as to the nature of the conclusions of the principals (also, no one was offering any data themselves, and I get kind of exhausted at having to be the one who is expected to leg-work while others hold forth with their awesome analyses). But in all honesty my standards are lower for the comments here since I don’t vet/read them nearly as closely, so if you guys want to argue the results, go ahead.

Some commenters write really long flow of consciousness comments. I hate that. They offer no evidence because evidence takes work. Yet they just know that every other reader ought to read their long (and direly in need of editing) comment and agree or at least be in awe. I see this as laziness and narcissism.

Then there are commenters who just write a sentence or two of insult. Again, it is all about them and their emotional needs.

I'm not dissing all commenters here. Some are great. But think before commenting and, better yet, do some digging and bring real facts to your comments.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 12 10:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2009 October 29 Thursday
Crime TV Show Watchers Have Distorted World Views

TV shows cause people to have distorted perceptions of the criminal justice system and the incidence of crime.

Sparks and Susan Huelsing Sarapin, a doctoral student in communication, conducted 103 surveys with jury-eligible adults about their crime-television show viewing and their perceptions of crime and the judicial system. Their research was presented earlier this month at the International Crime, Media, and Popular Culture Studies Conference: A Cross Disciplinary Exploration at Indiana State University.

"Many people die as a result of being murdered in these types of shows, and we found the heavy TV-crime viewers estimated two and a half times more real-world deaths due to murder than non-viewers," Sarapin says. "People's perceptions also were distorted in regards to a number of other serious crimes. Heavy TV-crime viewers consistently overestimated the frequency of crime in the real world."

Viewers of crime shows also misjudged the number of law enforcement officers and attorneys in the total work force. Lawyers and police officers each make up less than 1 percent of the work force, but those surveyed estimated it at more than 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively, Sarapin says.

Stop watching TV. It is warping your brain. Next time you want to watch TV distract yourself with a video game instead. Though beware that playing video games probably impairs your ability to recognize road-side bombs. So surf the internet instead.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 29 11:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 May 14 Thursday
Left Wing Blogosphere Influences Journalists

Journalists mostly read the left wing of the blogosphere.

According to research by a Brigham Young University political scientist, people who closely follow both political blogs and traditional news media tend to believe the content on blogs is more accurate.

Professor Richard Davis reports this and other blog-related insights in Typing Politics, a new book published by Oxford University Press.

“Blog readers still get most of their news from regular news sources, but they are concerned that they are not getting the whole side of the story there,” Davis said. “They suspect habitual bias in the traditional news content.”

Davis studied daily blog readers from a nationally representative sample and found that just 3 percent got most of their news from blogs. Most readers still got their information from traditional news organizations, despite some bloggers' predictions that they would entirely replace traditional media. Instead blogs have become an echo chamber that extends the shelf life of news stories, Davis said.

Professional journalists and political bloggers have different takes on accuracy in the world of political news, with the former pursuing objectivity and the latter openly peddling their personal opinions.

Yet political bloggers hold an edge with shared readers when it comes to the trust factor.
- 30 percent said blogs are more accurate
- 8 percent said traditional media are more accurate
- 40 percent said they’re about equal
- 21 percent were not sure

Davis also queried more than 200 journalists to learn how they use blog content in their coverage of political news. Most journalists were aware of influential blogs on both sides of the political spectrum, such as Daily Kos and Talking Points on the left and Michelle Malkin and Instapundit on the right. Despite equal awareness, journalists spend more time reading posts in the liberal blogosphere.

For example, more journalists know about Michelle Malkin than Talking Points. Yet twice as many journalists actually read Talking Points than read Michelle Malkin.

“When journalists take story ideas from blogs, those ideas naturally will come from blogs they read,” Davis said. “These reading patterns suggest journalists may be getting primarily one view of the blogosphere.”

In the near future, Davis expects continued coexistence of traditional media and blogs under the mutually beneficial arrangement where the former produces the news, and the latter provides commentary.

I'm surprised the ratio of reading TPM and Michelle Malkin is only 2 to 1. That's more time reading the Right than I'd expect from journalists. I wonder how many journalists read the more insightful right wing bloggers who do more in depth analysis.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 14 07:18 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 May 10 Sunday
An Example Of Obama Idolization

On the Half Sigma blog commenter "100 Miles and Running" points to a ridiculous example of liberal press love of Obama with SF Gate columnist Mark Morford besides himself in Obama idolizing.

No, this time the Dems just so happen to be blessed beyond human comprehension with something very unique indeed, a true golden ticket, a magic death-ray force field of intellectual virtuosity even they don't seem to fully comprehend or know how to keep up with. They have Barack Obama himself.

Truly, the man outpaces and outshines even his own party. At nearly every turn, Obama often seems to be merely tolerating the whole two-party system, the whole D.C. dance he's forced to waltz, all of it merely a distraction to getting things done. It's as though he's an entirely new political mechanism, and the Dems just happen to be lucky enough to be the party that's most aligned with it. Meanwhile, it's all apparently driving the opposition party -- quite literally -- insane.

Of course these sorts of extremes of happiness do not last. Clinton eventually wore on his party. George W. Bush made a lot of Republicans sick of him too. Eventually the ecstatic feelings will start to wear off for at least some of the Obamanatics.

On the bright side the newspapers are going broke. So every week fewer nutty columnists get paid to spout nonsense.

Want to create a specialty blog that will serve a historically useful function? Just collect ravings by commentators and reporters about Obama and write a blog that just posts these outpourings of worship and delusion. You won't even have to comment on the emotional outpourings.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 10 04:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 January 24 Saturday
Obama Inaugural Popularity Exaggerated By Press

If you listened to the gushing descriptions of Obama's inauguration you might get the impression that the whole country is extremely excited and happy and everyone was tuning in. Well, while Nielsen estimates 37,793,008 watched Obama take office the inaugural star was clearly Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1969 with 41,800,260. The difference is even bigger than it looks at first glance since the United States had a much smaller population of 229 milion versus 304 million today. That is 12.4% for Obama versus 18.3% for Reagan. Obviously Reagan is the bigger star.

If you click thru you'll see that Obama scored a Nielsen HH (head of household?) rating of 25.5. Starting with Nixon (33.5 in 1969 and 28.5 in 1973) 3 other presidents beat him by Nielsen rating. Curiously, both Bushes scored very low for all 3 of their inaugurals.

The liberal press is ga ga over getting a leftie into office. We can't expect most of the press to do critical reporting about Obama. But if his TV ratings are any indication the public isn't as enamored as the press.

Unfortunately America's problems are more fundamental and deeper than either party's platform even begins to address. Our biggest problem by far is demographic decay. We are becoming both older and dumber. Clever macroeconomic policies or social policies can't fix these causes of decline. As long as conventional problem descriptions to not admit to the underlying causes of our problems those problems are going to grow in size.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 24 10:20 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2008 December 13 Saturday
Associated Press Can't Recognize Absurd UAW Claim

Associated Press reporters Tom Krisher and Kimberly S. Johnson get used as tools of the United Auto Workers to uncritically relay a UAW claim that is obviously incorrect.

DETROIT (AP) -- Festering animosity between the United Auto Workers and Southern senators who torpedoed the auto industry bailout bill erupted into full-fledged name calling Friday as union officials accused the lawmakers of trying to break the union on behalf of foreign automakers.

What did Bob Corker and other Republican Senators propose that would help foreign automakers? Nothing. In fact, Corker and colleagues wanted to lower UAW salaries in order to make US automakers more competitive against foreign makers. The key Republican demand to make UAW wages competitive would hurt foreign makers by lowering the costs of US makers. US automakers are stuck in a death hug with the UAW. Corker wants to give them some relief from this death hug.

The irony here is that the Senators from states that have non-union foreign transplant factories are promoting a policy that would help the Michigan competitors of these southern factories. But the AP writers can't seem to notice that what the Republican Senators are saying is true.

The vitriol had been near the surface for weeks as senators from states that house the transplant automakers' factories criticized the Detroit Three for management miscues and bloated UAW labor costs that lawmakers said make them uncompetitive.

The AP writers do not think to question the reasonableness of the UAW President's absurd claim.

"They thought perhaps they could have a twofer here maybe: Pierce the heart of organized labor while representing the foreign brands," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said at a Friday morning news conference in Detroit.

Corker wants a deal that results in low enough costs for the American makers that they can survive and thrive. That is a wise and prudent position to take. The companies need to get all their costs (and that includes union labor) down to a level that allows them to compete with foreign car makers.

"Our members wanted to know that the UAW was willing to be competitive," Corker said.

"I basically pleaded with them to give me some language by some date certain that they were competitive with these other companies," Corker said. "That's where it broke down."

You can listen to Corker's press conference after the deal fell thru where he explains what happened from his vantage point. What amazes me about the whole thing: The US automakers are effectively at death's door and yet the UAW refuses to make big concessions. The UAW wants the US taxpayer to start funding union wages and very high benefits for an indefinite period of time. The UAW wants its manual laborers to continue to get benefits that no other manual laborers in the United States get. They want to do this at taxpayer expense and they expect everyone else to solve their problems.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 13 07:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2008 November 09 Sunday
Washington Post Admits Obama Bias

Usually the liberal press denies its overwhelming liberal bias. But in a rare bit of honesty on this subject Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell admits the her paper's uneven handling of Obama and McCain.

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces (58) about McCain than there were about Obama (32), and Obama got the editorial board's endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain.

Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Post reporters, photographers and editors -- like most of the national news media -- found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic. Journalists love the new; McCain, 25 years older than Obama, was already well known and had more scars from his longer career in politics.

The number of Obama stories since Nov. 11 was 946, compared with McCain's 786. Both had hard-fought primary campaigns, but Obama's battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton was longer, and the numbers reflect that.

McCain clinched the GOP nomination on March 4, and Obama won his on June 4. From then to Election Day, the tally was Obama, 626 stories, and McCain, 584. Obama was on the front page 176 times, McCain, 144 times; 41 stories featured both.

Before McCain ran for the Presidency and even while McCain was trying to win the Republican nomination McCain was the press's favorite Republican. This should have been a tip-off to Republicans that McCain is to the Left of much of the party. Once McCain clinched the nomination the press's interest swung clearly toward attacking him and puffing up Barack Obama.

In this particular case of press bias I can't say I'm angry since I do not like McCain and think he would have made a bad president. Plus, the Republican leaders needed to be punished for their many bad decisions while in power. The big downside: Obama will probably be more willing to push immigration amnesty thru than McCain would have been. I think the backlash from the Republican base against the last time McCain and Bush tried to push thru amnesty made McCain decide to think twice about pushing it thru even though he's for it.

By Randall Parker    2008 November 09 03:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2008 August 09 Saturday
John Edwards Private Life Fair Game?

On Slate E.J. Graff complains about the media coverage of the John Edwards affair. Er, complaining about it is itself coverage.

I am incredibly annoyed that we have to waste any air, print, or pixel time on this. Why do I care about some dude's marriage and marital problemsunless he did something that in any way abuses public power? Comstockery, as I wrote in CJR once upon a time. Celebtainment and domestic voyeurism disguised as politics.

I just don't care what politicians do with their zippers, so long as their policies and votes are in order.

But the coverage is there because lots of people eat up this sort of thing. So Graff is really complaining about the public. Also, read the last sentence above carefully. A lot of Democrats were willing to defend Bill Clinton against assorted attacks based on his sexual escapades. But a fair number of them will attack a Republican on the same sorts of private activities because, well, in the minds of the attackers those Republicans do not have their policies and votes in order. So I'm skeptical when Democrats claim that private lives should not matter.

In the very next blog post on Slate Hanna Rosin argues basically that once people open up their private lives in order to promote themselves whatever happens in their private lives becomes fair game.

I find this Elizabeth Edwards post on Daily Kos excruciating. We are supposed to ride with this couple through her cancer diagnosis and relapse, through their son's death, their fertility treatments, and the rededication of their marriage, but then we are supposed to butt the hell out when the story line veers from the tragedy and heroics. If you believe in a system, you have to live and die by it. Elizabeth Edwards buys into the culture of overconfession.

I'd love to see politicians not use their families as props. But politicians trot out their families and use stories from their past because it works. One reason for this is that people want to look at the families of politicians as a way to help form a judgment about the whole person. Another reason is that a large fraction of the voters are pretty shallow in how they appraise candidates. Watching a political couple get interviewed on Larry King Live is as easy as watching Oprah. No need to think difficult thoughts about foreign countries or economics or the real causes of poverty.

There's an old say "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword". That's certainly the case with the political career of John Edwards.

Update: My assumption is that all Slate writers are Democrats. Maybe they have a house Republican. I don't know. But my guess is that Melinda Henneberger is a Democrat too. Well, Melinda's got zippo sympathy for Edwards.

When Elizabeth waited to tell you that she had a lump in her breast the size of a golf ball because she swore to God after Wade died she'd never give you any bad news ever again ... your way of repaying her was with the news you'd betrayed her, Cate, Wade's memory, and the babies she gladly took dangerous hormones to conceive? Got it.

Oh, and just one more: Remember all those holier-than-Bill Clinton remarks? So do I. If you think anyone in the universe believes your beyond Clinton-esque "I was standing on one foot when we did it so it doesn't count'' nonsense, or cares whether you used the L-word, or trusts for a single segundo that you're not the baby daddy? I think you're about to find out how cold it can get in summer, senator.

What I want to know: Where did the money come from to run the cover-up and support the mom and baby? I saw a tabloid publisher claiming it came from a big campaign donor. Do some of the people who invest in candidates lay out big money to cover up scandals? How far does this sort of thing reach and how much influence does this give the donors?

By Randall Parker    2008 August 09 09:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2007 July 29 Sunday
Developed And Developing Countries Misnamed

One of Tyler Cowen's New York Times articles illustrates a common misuse of the term "developing" to refer to countries with very low per capita GDPs.

It is unfortunate that economists have to debate whether natural resources are a blessing or a curse for a developing nation. Minerals, diamonds or oil may appear to represent automatic wealth but resource-rich countries usually become mired in corruption. High oil revenues, for instance, allow a government to maintain power and reward political supporters without doing much for its people. The government of Nigeria has taken in billions from high oil prices, yet the average person was probably better off 40 years ago. The easy-to-reach wealth of a resource also encourages coups, and thus political stability is problematic.

Note Tyler's reference to "a developing nation". Typically (and in his usage) this refers to really poor countries. Every country in Africa qualifies for the "developing" appellation. Yet most countries so labeled aren't doing much developing. It would make more sense to refer to them as undeveloped. Some might say "underdeveloped". But that implies there's some standard they should be compared to and it is not clear to me which standard that should be or why.

Similarly, the term "developed" nations gets used to refer to relatively rich countries such as the United States, Japan, Germany, France, and Britain. Yet these developed countries are still developing and increasing their per capita output of goods and services. The ratio of per capita GDP between the most developed and least developed countries is increasing, not decreasing.

I'm not trying to pick on Tyler here. I've misused these terms in the same fashion and so does just about every writer in mainstream media publications. But these usages amount to Orwellian speak. In realty the "developed" countries are still developing. They are growing, developing new technology, producing new kinds of technology, expanding economically. By contrast, most of the "developing" countries are not developing or they are developing more slowly. The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to widen. The more industrialized countries are not sitting still waiting for the poorer countries to catch up.

Some poor countries really are developing. China most dramatically illustrates the idea behind the use of "developing" to refer to poorer countries undergoing rapid per capita economic growth. But many other countries are not doing much development and use of the term "developing" to refer to them obscures what is really going on with them.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 29 10:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2007 May 06 Sunday
Warren Buffett Sees Desire For Power Behind Newspaper Bids

Warren Buffett thinks Rupert Murdoch's $5 billion News Corp bid for the Wall Street Journal is more about power than money.

Speaking after the annual meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway investment vehicle, Mr Buffett said several investors were prepared to pay more than newspapers’ instrinsic worth because of the power and exposure they confer. “I think you will see newspapers drift to owners that are motivated in part by non-economic factors.” Mr Buffett is thought unlikely to counter bid but said others might enter the fray.

The declining newspapers are going to all become mouthpieces for rich people? If so, I'm expecting an increase in the variety of editorial slants as each billionaire expresses their particular views through their editorial and front pages. Or will the billionaires have such similar views that the newspapers will become more consistent with each other?

By Randall Parker    2007 May 06 09:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 August 07 Monday
New York Times Monty Python Players

The New York Times editorial board sounds like actors in a Monty Python skit. The editors have written a skit called "A Truce For Lebanon".

It is now 26 days since Hezbollah and Israel began their latest combat — a very long time for the world to allow such a deadly conflict to rage in the Middle East powder keg. Yet the fighting still continues. Diplomats still dither over cease-fire details. Innocent people still keep dying.

Enough. This is the week that the international community must impose a truce, to be followed, in short order, by a political settlement and the dispatch of a robust international force to patrol Lebanon’s oft-violated border with Israel.

26 days is a long time for this sort of thing. The UN can simply declare enough is enough. It is as simple as just saying so. Great. I did not know that. At least we can declare that if we've managed to become members of the New York Times editorial board. Great! So we all ought to become members of the New York Times editorial board. Right! Then when we propose obvious solutions for all the problems of the world people will listen to us.

Time to negotiate a comprehensive solution.

Efforts must therefore quickly turn toward negotiating a comprehensive and lasting political settlement. This needs to go beyond immediate issues like returning the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, releasing Lebanese prisoners and determining the size of the zone to be patrolled by the international force.

Great! Why didn't I think of that? Anything we do not resolve now will just cause new fighting later. So we should resolve everything now. Of course! Why didn't someone think of this sooner? Great.

It also needs to address such festering issues as Hezbollah’s refusal to heed U.N. requests to disarm, and Hezbollah’s claim, contrary to U.N. findings, that some of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is not part of Syria, but really belongs to Lebanon. Anything not resolved now risks setting off new fighting in the future.

Of course! Line up troops for an international security force. It just takes the decision that we want this to happen and that decision will make it happen. Why hasn't someone already lined up those soldiers? Who forgot to tell NATO countries to line up their troops? NATO nations will resist. Easy solution: Just do not take "no" for an answer. We just have to be haughty enough and the problem will be solved.

Troops must also be lined up for the international security force. The idea is to draw them from NATO countries like France, Italy and Turkey, along with perhaps Australia. None of these countries want to send soldiers if either Israel or Hezbollah is going to keep shooting. Therefore the political settlement has to be packaged so that both sides can claim some sort of victory.

These guys are funny. But they are so good at playing straight men (never mind that they are not straight men) that few notice. They've got to be thinking their editorials are big insider jokes. Does the NY Times have editorialists named Alan and Jackie?

Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to be a gynaecologist, and this week on "How to do it", we're gonna learn how to play the flute, how to split the atom, how to construct box-girder bridges...

Jackie: Super!

Alan: ...and how to irrigate the Sahara and make vast new areas cultivatable, but first here's Jackie to tell you how to rid the world of all known diseases.

Jackie: Hello Alan!

Alan: Hello Jackie!

Jackie: Well first of all, become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something and then, when the medical world really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right, so that there'll never be diseases anymore.

Alan: Thanks Jackie, that was great!

GC: Fantastic!

Alan: Now, how to play the flute. Well, you blow in one end and move your fingers up and down the outside.

GC: Great Alan! Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony and Alan will be over in Moscow showing you how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. Till then, cheerio!

Alan: Bye!

Jackie: Bye bye!

GC: Bye!


By Randall Parker    2006 August 07 09:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 January 28 Saturday
Aaron Brown Says Cable News Viewers Want Shallow Fare

After getting replaced by Anderson Cooper Aaron Brown says that TV news viewers click away from intellectually heavy news stories.

Brown said he tried to give viewers a balanced diet of light and serious news with NewsNight. "But I always knew when I got to the Brussels sprouts, I was on thin ice," he said.

When NewsNight spent four hours covering the arrest of actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, Brown received thousands of e-mails criticizing the amount of time the show spent on the story. Nevertheless, that show, which aired in April 2002, received the highest ratings of any program since NewsNight's coverage of the November 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587.

"Television is the most perfect democracy," Brown said. "You sit there with your remote control and vote." The remotes click to another channel when serious news airs, but when the media covers the scandals surrounding Laci Peterson, the Runaway Bride or Michael Jackson, "there are no clicks then," the journalist said.

Over half the US population have IQs below 100 and the percentage of lower IQ people is growing. So what does he expect? Any coverage that attempts to explain the complex causes of events goes over the heads of at least three quarters of the public. Most people just can't handle that much complexity and see no reason to put themselves through intellectual workouts when watching the news.

Also, my guess is that smarter people in America are either watching C-SPAN or financial news or, more likely, get their news from reading. TV news tends to appeal to those who do not want to read or can not read (Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener/Chauncey Gardiner: "I like to watch TV").

The irony about Aaron Brown pining for the old pre-cable days when the regular nightly news anchors ruled the air is that the famous nightly news anchors of previous decades in America (Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, etc) were not brilliant men. They were smarter than average. But they did not have special insights and there was never a great renaissance in TV news reporting. The skills required to make appealing news anchors never overlapped well with the skills needed to understand economics, history, science, technology, and other areas which can provide real understanding.

Then there are problems in human cognition aside from IQ. People get a drug-like high from shutting down their reasoning facilities in support of their political tribe. So Fox News functions to give junkies their fixes. So does partisan coverage on other news channels. You can't appeal to addicts with reason. They want their partisan fix.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 28 02:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2005 June 21 Tuesday
Does Proliferation Of News Media Improve Quality Of Governance?

Tim Hanrahan and Jason Fry argue that the proliferation of news and entertainment delivery mechanisms are not making people more ignorant.

Moreover, while it's certainly true that the Internet fits perfectly with an age in which our attention is divided into more and more multitasking slivers, the Net also rewards some more-positive traits. Curiosity, for instance: If you need or just want to know something right now and have a Net connection, you can – no need to wait for the evening news or tomorrow's paper. And your hunger for more information is limited only by the amount of time you have – Cronkite was great, but he didn't have time to explain the history of Vietnam or what China, the Soviet Union, France and the U.S. wanted out of the region. And if you were interested then, too bad: The library was closed.

But people by and large aren't curious, you object. True – but then most people never have been; at least today those who are have the tools to have their curiosity rewarded. But what about all the junk that passes for news these days? Also nothing new – today's runaway brides and rumored celebrity pairings are on the same one-way trip down the memory hole, to be remembered by virtually no one a generation hence. (It is possible that Google results from, say, 2045 will be littered with badly designed Omigod-Tom-and-Katie sites and abandoned blogs whose last entry is about same, but it's hard to see this crumbling the republic.)

I agree with the general thrust of the argument. Ignorant, dumb, and uncurious people have ever been such. The dumbing down of the public due to changes in the press is exaggerated.

I do see one problem though: A lot of people find it increasingly easy to follow only celebrity gossip or duck hunting news or other news which does not exactly enhance a person's ability to make wise voting decisions or otherwise good public citizens. Cocooning into subcultural niches is enabled by media streams that are increasingly tunable to the interests of each citizen (or of each illegal alien who can't speak Englsh for that matter).

Back in the days of Walter Cronkite if one had the desire to watch news one had to find out something about the big political news stories of the day. Today one can avoid that stuff and still sate a desire for information. The problem is that some people want to sate their desire for information with junk information the way they sate their desire for food with junk food. The decline in consumption of milk and the increase in consumption of sugary high acid soda drinks surely has a media parallel with at least a portion of the population watching Entertainment Tonight rather than reading a newspaper or watching a news show. Even a lot of people watching news channels pig out on stuff like celebrity trials and scandals.

Still, the internet seems a huge net plus. Got an interest in, say, the demographics and economics of aging? You can find a blog that has a category archive entitled "Economics Demographic" or some Ph.D. economist who links to all the major reports on the subject (and I don't happen to know which econ blog is best at this or I'd tell you). Want to go back to before the Iraq invasion and find out what was known and what has come out since then about the Bush Administration's decision making process to decide whether to invade? (which, parentheticaly can be summed up as "We want to invade Iraq and now 9/11 has given us the conditions to cook up an excuse for doing so")? Well, again, you can find out. Tons of news articles and blogs linking to groups of news articles can be found on this subject if you want to spend some hours doing searches on Google.

I get calls from family and friends who know I'm adept at web searches asking me to find out some fact or other. Sometimes the questions are like "Who played such and such part in the XYZ movie in the late 1940s". But other times the questions are about issues which matter for the good health of the commonwealth. C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb says the level of knowledge of viewers who call in on C-SPAN political talk shows has improved greatly since 10 or 15 years ago. While this is just one indicator my guess is that people who follow political issues have, on average, better quality information on those issues than they did 10 or 20 years ago.

My question is this: Does the increase in the quality and quantity of information consumed by the smarter and more politically informed yield a net benefit in terms of quality of governance that cancels out the ability of less well informed people to shift their attention toward even less politically relevant junk news? I think the net result is positive in part because I find it a lot easier personally to figure out when I'm being lied to by politicians. Also, I find it much easier to find the best minds on any given issue and read what they have to say about it. But I'm open to contrary arguments.

By Randall Parker    2005 June 21 11:36 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 March 31 Thursday
Heather Mac Donald Takes On Claim Of Blogging As Men's Club

Heather Mac Donald responds to charges that blogs are dominated by white males because we supposedly run an old boys network.

Bad move, guys. The "diversity" mongers have just brought up the one thing that they should have stayed far far away from: the web. Newsweek's technology columnist Steven Levy has declared that the lack of "diversity" among the web's most popular blogs requires corrective action. The goal? A blogosphere whose elite tier "reflects the actual population" — i.e., where female- and minority-written blogs are found among the top 100 blogs in the same proportion as females and minorities are found in the general population.

Levy's complaint comes on the heels of Susan Estrich's campaign against the Los Angeles Times for allegedly refusing to publish female op-ed writers, a campaign that has caused widespread wringing of editorial hands about male-dominated op-ed pages. For Levy to have mentioned the web at this moment is about as smart as inviting Stephen Hawking to an astrologers' convention: The web demolishes the assumptions behind any possible quota crusade.

Levy attributes the white male domination of blogging to a club of white males who make sure we dominate.

So why, when millions of blogs are written by all sorts of people, does the top rung look so homogeneous? It appears that some clubbiness is involved. Suitt puts it more bluntly: "It's white people linking to other white people!"

Levy's argument is an insult both to blog writers and blog readers. I have lots of people coming through my blogs reading just a single post that they found through a search engine or through a link from a blog list or because someone emailed a URL to my site (I can even tell some of these by seeing referring URLs that are for Yahoo mail pages for example) or because a news site linked to something I wrote. So I get lots of one-time visitors. The vast bulk of them do not return. I know that because if even a tenth of them did return I'd have one or two orders of magnitude more regular front page visitors. The point is that lots of people can find blogs using a variety of methods and can choose whether they want to come back again. No "old boys network" is necessary.

Does Levy want to argue that Google is an old boys network? Does Google have a special algorithm for detecting male versus female writings styles in order to bring searchers to male writing or does Google have a racial writing style detector? Levy is supposed to be a technology columnist. Look at what his embrace of leftist ideology has done to rot his brain. He should be ashamed of himself.

In a way these "diversity" advocates are doing us a favor by trying to pressure top bloggers to adopt racial and sexual preferences in their linking. Why? Blogging is an environment where there is extreme ease of entry, total absence of gatekeepers, and fierce free competition. By objecting to the outcomes in the blogging environment the diversity scamsters are showing that they clearly oppose outcomes that are the result of differences in talent and effort. The advocates for racial and sexual preferences in hiring are not seeking to make advancement and success in our society more achievement-based. Their goal is obviously not to produce environments which are more competitive as a result of fewer obstacles to entry and achievement. They want entitlements based on sex, race, sexual orientation, and whatever else will benefit whatever group they feel they belong to.

Big liberal media organizations have implemented policies that give preferences to women, blacks, and Hispanics. But an increasing portion of all opinion and analysis writing is being done by self-chosen volunteers working for free and is delivered outside of the major media organs. Therefore the whole preferences/diversity racket is being undermined by competition. Unless the racketeers can find some way to regulate bloggers (time to buy a gun) I think their influence in the media and on the public has peaked.

If, for example, fewer women than men want to work for free or peanuts writing blog posts why is this a bad thing? Maybe the bad thing is that so many men are willing to waste their time in financially unremunerative activities when they really ought to be putting more time into paying work (and this is an on-going debate for myself in my own mind). But bad for who? If some people want to trade off on how they spend their time and make less money but have more influence shouldn't they be free to do so? If others would rather only work for pay or around the household raising their own kids (and women obviously have stronger preferences in the latter direction) to get more direct benefits from their labor, again, why shouldn't they be free to do so?

The diversicrat scamsters are unwilling to accept that various groupings of humans have different preferences on average and that those differences in preferences produce different patterns of achievements and in uses of time both in and out of jobs. The irony then, is that the self-proclaimed advocates of "diversity" are opposed to the outcomes that inevitably result when populations are diverse in their abilities, preferences, interests, values, and drives.

It is not surprising to see the "diversity" scamsters come after blogs. Blogs are problematic for their world view. If a medium which has no gatekeepers ends up being dominated by white males then doesn't that strongly suggest that other pursuits notable for their white male dominance (e.g. top academic math, physics, and engineering departments or Fortune 500 top management or software development and engineering teams) are that way due to differences in interests, drives, and abilities between the various under- and over-represented groups? If free competition results in differences in ethnic and racial composition of the top people in various fields (and this does not always work in the favor of white males: look at the NBA for example) then the bar for proof of discrimination should be raised from the automatic assumption of unfair discrimination to instead require empirical proof for accusations of unfair treatment.

Steve Sailer has previously quoted Slate editor Dahlia Lithwick who states that orders of magnitude fewer women try to write op-eds.

I can also swear to the fact that as an editor, the number of pitches I receive from men outnumbers the pitches I see from women by several orders of magnitude. I can add, again purely anecdotally, that women largely send in pitches for reported pieces, and are far less inclined to frame a piece as an "argument"—which may prove Tannen's point that argument is not necessarily a comfortable or natural mode of communication for women (a phenomenon I observed in law school as well). This is, in short, an insanely interesting thought problem to which we are applying very little interesting thought.

Steve attributes this difference to a preference on the part of women for more practical pursuits.

Women are simply, on average, more practical than men. They aren't as interested in big issues where they are unlikely to have much impact. They are more interested in how to improve their own lives and those of the people they care about.

I've spent enormous amounts of time standing around magazine racks in my life, and I can assure you that women almost never look at the prestige section where they group together "The Economist," "The New Republic," and "The National Interest," and other journals that don't have anything to do with your personal life. Attractive single women look at fashion and beauty magazines. Attractive married women look at expensive home decorating magazines.

From the standpoint of natural selection this female preference makes perfect sense.

The median woman's life is simply more important from a Darwinian perspective than the median man's life because women are the limiting resource in reproduction, so they can't afford to waste their lives on disinterested interests, like all those guys who submit op-eds to Dahlia Lithwick about, say, the Lebanese situation even though, in practical sense, Lebanon is irrelevant to their lives.

One way to look at the complaints of Estrich and company is that they either want women to be more like men or they want men to make it easy for women to get as much prestige and power as successful men get but without all the hard work it takes to come influential and successful.

Heather Mac Donald has previously responded to Susan Estrich's whining.

Gee, thanks, Susan. Political pundit Susan Estrich has launched a venomous campaign against the Los Angeles Times’s op-ed editor, Michael Kinsley, for alleged discrimination against female writers. As it happens, I have published in the Los Angeles Times op-ed pages over the years, without worrying too much about whether I was merely filling a gender quota. Now, however, if I appear in the Times again, I will assume that my sex characteristics, rather than my ideas, got me accepted.

Ms. Estrich’s insane ravings against the Times cap a month that left one wondering whether the entry of women into the intellectual and political arena has been an unqualified boon. In January, nearly the entire female professoriate at Harvard (and many of their feminized male colleagues) rose up in outrage at the mere suggestion of an open discussion about a scientific hypothesis. That hypothesis, of course, concerned the possibly unequal distribution of cognitive skills across the male and female populations.Harvard President Lawrence Summers had had the temerity to suggest that the continuing preponderance of men in scientific fields, despite decades of vigorous gender equity initiatives in schools and universities, may reflect something other than sexism. It might reflect the fact, Mr. Summers hypothesized, that the male population has a higher percentage of mathematical geniuses (and mathematical dolts) than the female population, in which mathematical reasoning skills may be more evenly distributed.

Meanwhile there's science. It is becoming harder and harder to deny what it is saying about human nature. Cognitive differences in averages and distributions between sexes and races are going to get hammered down at the genetic level. What are the leftists going to do then? Reject all of science?

If women want to be heard on various political issues there are no obstacles in the way of blogging. Women can make names for themselves (and a few do; economist Lynne Kiesling has a high position on my FuturePundit blog roll due to the quality of her posts). It only takes hard work and talent. Male chauvinism is an increasingly unconvincing explanation for what is happening in the blogosphere or in the rest of society.

By Randall Parker    2005 March 31 02:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2005 January 16 Sunday
Desertion By Right Wing Driving Big Media Leftward?

Stanley Kurtz says we are caught up in a cycle where as conservatives and other non-left-liberals abandon the major media organizations those organizations are driven their remaining viewers to be more biased in favor of the preferences of those viewers.

When the Rather affair broke, I suggested in “From Biased to Partisan” that the controlling business dynamic of the media would make network news more liberal, not less. Media bias has become self-reinforcing. As the public turns to alternative and more conservative outlets, the mainstream media’s audience grows more liberal. That puts on pressure for more bias, not less. Now Peggy Noonan has also predicted more, and more open, media bias, not less.

I think greater openness of bias is refreshing. I hate to see journalists and commentators pretend that they are not motivated by partisan concerns when they so clear are. On the other hand, we may be entering a period where there is simply less effort by reporters to try to be objective. Though on the bright side the power of search engines and the massive internet make it easier for the rest of us to check the facts behind media reports.

Stanley's refers above to a previous article of his reflecting on the RatherGate affair and what he sees as a trend in the media toward greater bias. The RatherGate affair you might ask? Oh you know, it was seen as an important story before the 2004 Presidential election by some media types and bloggers and involved hardcore liberal staffers on the CBS 60 Minutes show so eager to help John Kerry get elected that they were suckered in by bogus a document unlikely to have been written on a rare IBM Selectric typewriter with proportionate font support. Excuse me if I'm so automatically bored by that sort of story to recall any details that don't involve computer tech. I think it was relating to the something involving George W. Bush in the National Guard. Yawn. Swift Boats and National Guard: Who cares? The candidates were both nauseating choices for President. The South Park episode involving the school mascot election between the Turd Sandwich and Giant Douche sums up my view of Bush and Kerry quite succinctly.

Anyway, the election and that media scandal might have been worth it because they caused Stanley to think through what he sees as a trend in the MainStream Media (or MSM if you want to go read conservative sites that do a lot of criticism of liberal media and are confused about why they are talking about Methyl Sufonyl Methane - well they aren't being that practical). I think Stanley is correct and

What's more, the cycle of division is self-reinforcing. First came the of the movements of the 60s. Then the media was captured by the Left. Then the conservatives started to exit, building up alternative outlets as they went. As the fundamental cultural and political issues dividing the country sharpened, more and more people started flooding to the alternative media. This self-selection process began to turn the mainstream audience into a self-consciously liberal audience. So even as complaints about liberal media bias escalated, the mainstream media was bound to become more liberal, not less liberal — because that's what was happening to its audience. What all this means is that, given its audience, CBS News is no longer concerned about preserving it reputation for fairness. On the contrary, CBS now wants and needs to preserve its reputation for liberalism.

One way to see this trend is that America is becoming more like Britain with newspapers that are aimed clearly and openly at political and class factions. But I see this trend as part of a bigger trend where people segment themselves into communities (both real and virtiual) of kindred spirits. People within America are migrating to be near people more like them. White Flight is just one part of a larger shuffling of people to be near people with whom they have more affinity. The utopian notion that we are all going to come together due to advances in communications technology does not strike me as correct. I see greater divisions in all sorts of ways. Media is increasingly narrowcasted at smaller groups of people because there are more channels. The internet makes the number of channels enormous. Look at you ParaPundit readers. I'm narrowcasting to you small number of the few, the proud, the brave. Oh wait. those are the Marines. Not sure what you guys are. But you are rare and self-selecting.

How about election campaigns that do computer-driven phone bank calling aimed at very small segments of populations to push their buttons on issues hot for them while not letting the rest of the populace know this is happening? Does that bring people together? Homey doesn't think so. Or how about cable TV's rarely mentioned effect on racial relations? Well, I remember that ancient historical period of like 15 or so years ago when Bill Cosby had a hit TV show among both blacks and whites. Now with so many more channels and more shows the shows can be tailored to all sorts of different demographic profiles. The races are now thoroughly divided on what their favorite shows are. The top ten shows among blacks and among whites had no overlap a year or two ago when I saw some charts on this. It was not always thus. As a result blacks and whites have far fewer common experiences with the media than they used to. No doubt this is happening with other was of slicing up the population as well.

Stanley says at this point the effect of media criticism over charges of bias is to drive viewers and readers more rapidly toward outlets that reflect their biases. The criticism tells the conservatives and moderates that they do not share the same values and goals as the people who are producing liberal newspapers.

The purpose of media-bias stories is now different than it once was. The goal is no longer to reform the mainstream media, but to expose it for the partisan political player it is, so as to pull as many doubters as possible into alternative outlets. Is this good for the country? I doubt it. It would be far better to have a fair and trusted mainstream media to present the news, flanked by thoughtful journals of opinion on both sides of the political spectrum. But sadly, that is not where we are.

So if you point out lies and misleading coverage in The Grey Lady (which one blog I encountered has the NY Times in its links list as Liberal Death Star) you are being divisive and driving people apart. Yes, criticism of the liberal mainstream media publications undermines a sense of shared community and common interests. Taken to an extreme this could eventually lead to civil war. Think about that the next time you carp and complain about CBS News and the New York Times.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 16 01:49 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 October 31 Friday
Brian C. Anderson On The End Of The Liberal Media Monopoly

Writing in the City Journal Brian C. Anderson has written an article for conservatives about the new sources and shapes of media entitled We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore.

The first and most visible of these three seismic events: the advent of cable TV, especially Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel.

Cable TV has so many channels and each channel is in intense competition for viewers. This inevitably leads to channels that cater to niche interests. Comedy shows that are politically incorrect such as South Park and Tough Crowd and talk shows aimed at conservatives are just another way for media providers to try to appeal to some unaddressed segment. The effect on politics is to provide platforms for points of view that went unheard during the era of the monopoly of a few left-liberal TV networks. This benefits all other points of view at the expense of the liberal left.

Then there are the on-line news sites and the blogs:

It’s hard to overstate the impact that news and opinion websites like the Drudge Report, NewsMax, and Dow Jones’s OpinionJournal are having on politics and culture, as are current-event “blogs”—individual or group web diaries—like AndrewSullivan, InstaPundit, and “The Corner” department of NationalReviewOnline (NRO), where the editors and writers argue, joke around, and call attention to articles elsewhere on the web. This whole universe of web-based discussion has been dubbed the “blogosphere.”

While there are several fine left-of-center sites, the blogosphere currently tilts right, albeit idiosyncratically, reflecting the hard-to-pigeonhole politics of some leading bloggers. Like talk radio and Fox News, the right-leaning sites fill a market void.

Why are there more right-wing blogs? I think the biggest reason is that right-wingers have been tokens on TV news and in newspapers. George Will played token conservative panelist on sunday TV news shows while Bill Safire was the token conservative (and not intensely so) columnist for the New York Times. All the people who have been fuming at the TV news shows and newspapers for decades have finally been given a way to have their voices heard.

One factor that Anderson doesn't mention is that the internet breaks media monopolies in another way: one can read more of the already existing sources. Few could possibly afford to subscribe to even 50 newspapers. But one can go to Google News and search thru hundreds of newspapers and magazines to run down a story. The editing decisions of individual editors suddenly matter much less.

Also, the research resources of, say, the New York Times mean far less. One can go to plain old Google and look for economic data, dates of previous events, details of some scientific facts, and countless other things. One can even find experts in various fields, find their web sites, send them email and sometimes get responses. As the amount of information available to anyone who wants to spend time searching goes up the ability of editors and writers for major publications to shape the public discourse by presenting selective subsets of relevant facts goes down. Not only can each individual do fact checking but the fact checkers can easily share their results with each other and with the larger audience of web readers.

The web also creates a record of what many people have said. It is a lot harder for journalists and politicians to contradict themselves by saying different things at different times to different audiences. It is becoming too easy to dig out the contradictions.

Changes in book publishing and book promotion are breaking the monopoly on ideas as well.

“The rise of Amazon and the chain stores has been tremendously liberating for conservatives, because these stores are very much product-oriented businesses,” observes David Horowitz. “The independent bookstores are all controlled by leftists, and they’re totalitarians—they will not display conservative books, or if they do, they’ll hide them in the back.” Says Marji Ross: “We have experienced our books being buried or kept in the back room when a store manager or owner opposed their message.” She’s a big fan of Amazon and the chains.

Amazon’s Reader Reviews feature—where readers can post their opinions on books they’ve read and rate them—has helped diminish the authority of elite cultural guardians, too, by creating a truly democratic marketplace of ideas.

All these changes feed on each other. Conservative talk radio, Drudge, and blogs can all promote books. Reviewers can make comments on Amazon on books. Bloggers can point their readers to other blogs and to great articles in newspapers from around the world. Blogging becomes easier as the mighty Google News indexes ever more newspapers and magazines and as Google has more useful data out in the growing web to index.

Anderson forecasts a further decline in the power of the old line liberal media.

Here’s what’s likely to happen in the years ahead. Think of the mainstream liberal media as one sphere and the conservative media as another. The liberal sphere, which less than a decade ago was still the media, is still much bigger than the non-liberal one. But the non-liberal sphere is expanding, encroaching into the liberal sphere, which is both shrinking and breaking up into much smaller sectarian spheres—one for blacks, one for Hispanics, one for feminists, and so on.

Well, the Right and the Left are both going to splinter. More factional divisions will be possible when there are more ways to get a hearing for unorthodox opinions.

One thing that is probably happening is that the velocity of idea spread is increasing. The delay between when an article is written and when it appears in a magazine delivered to a physical mailbox is on the order of weeks or months. The letters to the editor in response take more weeks and months. But articles written for the internet can get responses and their authors can respond back again thru several cycles in a single day. People can send emails to experts asking them whether some claimed fact is accurate. Reference sources can be checked. Faster information and more fact checking will speed up debates and accelerate changes in opinion. New memes will propagate more rapidly.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 31 01:57 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 September 16 Tuesday
NY Times Reporter John Burns On Corrupt Reporters In Baghdad

New York Times reporter John Burns was reporting from Baghdad while Saddam Hussein was in power. What he has to say about the other reporters who were there and how those reporters tried to curry favor with Saddam's regime while failing to report on what the regime was doing to the Iraqi people is an extremely damning look at major newspaper and TV reporters.

There were correspondents who thought it appropriate to seek the approbation of the people who governed their lives. This was the ministry of information, and particularly the director of the ministry. By taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror.

In one case, a correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people's stories -- mine included -- specifically in order to be able to show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state. He was with a major American newspaper.

Burns believes in the power of the truth and the existence of absolute evil.

Now left with the residue of all of this, I would say there are serious lessons to be learned. Editors of great newspapers, and small newspapers, and editors of great television networks should exact from their correspondents the obligation of telling the truth about these places. It's not impossible to tell the truth. I have a conviction about closed societies, that they're actually much easier to report on than they seem, because the act of closure is itself revealing. Every lie tells you a truth. If you just leave your eyes and ears open, it's extremely revealing.

We now know that this place was a lot more terrible than even people like me had thought. There is such a thing as absolute evil. I think people just simply didn't recognize it. They rationalized it away.

Read the whole article. It is moving and quite informative.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 16 11:54 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2003 July 13 Sunday
Jack Shafer Says "Reform" Is A Much Abused Word

Jack Shafer points out in a Slate essay that the term "reform" is used by advocates of changes in public policy and spending to give their causes a positive spin to the public. He argues that journalists should follow USA Today's example and try to avoid the use of the word "reform" to describe one faction's policy proposals.

Let's eliminate this moldy buzzword from the vocabulary. Then we can move on to banishing its sisters in obfuscation: "diverse," "choice," "empower," "values," "inclusive," and "frankly."

It would make a lot more sense to describe a proposal by saying exactly what it will do. For instance, if you hear the phrase "Medicare Reform" what does it mean to you? Efforts to eliminate corruption? Efforts to reduce eligibility? Efforts to expand eligibility? Or something else altogether? Since the term "reform" has positive connotations any faction that can gain broad press acceptance of their use of the term to describe their proposals wins a valuable edge. The press should refrain from using the term.

By Randall Parker    2003 July 13 01:01 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 03 Tuesday
Peter Maass Employed Salam Pax As Interpreter

There has been considerable debate on whether Salam Pax is really an Iraqi in Baghdad and, if he is, whether he was a Baathist propagandist for the Saddam Hussein's regime. I always figured him for what he said he was and didn't think he was an effective propagandist even if he was one. Well, turns out that journalist Peter Maass knows who Salam is from his writings and employed him as an interpreter.

His latest post mentioned an afternoon he spent at the Hamra Hotel pool, reading a borrowed copy of The New Yorker. I laughed out loud. He then mentioned an escapade in which he helped deliver 24 pizzas to American soldiers. I howled. Salam Pax, the most famous and most mysterious blogger in the world, was my interpreter. The New Yorker he had been reading—mine. Poolside at the Hamra—with me. The 24 pizzas—we had taken them to a unit of 82nd Airborne soldiers I was writing about.

Interestingly, Maass had the good taste to realise that anyone found reading Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle is more likely to be interesting than the average person.

Maass also links to an article in The Guardian that announces Pax will be writing a column for them.

Much of the criticism came from Americans who favoured the war and were riled by Salam's dismissive criticism of US ambitions in Iraq. He argued endlessly with Raed and Ghaith about whether the war was justified. He was reluctant to cheer the US invasion in his writings but, like most Iraqis, says only a foreign invasion could have overthrown Saddam and so accomplished what most of the population longed for.

But, again like most, he is bitter about the looting and lawlessness which for the past six weeks have gripped Baghdad. "The Americans are not taking control of the situation and stopping it. There is no way they could wash their hands clean of it," he says. "Two months like this is too much, three months is a disaster."

The lawlessness has certainly made Iraqi attitudes worse than they needed to be.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 03 11:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 28 Wednesday
News Article Datelines Are Meaningless

New York Times writer Rick Bragg, recently suspended from his job for using a stringer to do most of the interviewing for a story that Bragg flew in to write up, defends himself to Howard Kurtz arguing that what he did was routine.

Times editors are fully aware of these practices, said Bragg. He recalls asking to take an extra day on a story about a man who was awarded more than $1 million as the never-recognized son of musician Robert Johnson. But since the paper wanted the story immediately, he took two planes to Jackson, Miss., and "only got there by deadline," cobbling a story together literally on the fly.

Suppose what Bragg is saying is true. Kurtz knows enough about how print journalism is done to know whether Bragg is being realistic here. Kurtz says other staffers at the Times say they do not do as much of what Bragg does. But does that mean they do not do it as often with as high a percentage of their stories? Or does it mean they use stringers and assistants for a lower percentage of their material than Bragg uses them for? Writing in Slate Jack Shafer takes aim at Bragg. But I find the emphasis of Shafer's argument misplaced. Is Bragg the main offender? Or were his bosses aware that his travel schedule and filing deadlines made it impossible for him to have witnessed much of what he wrote about? It seems hard to believe that Bragg's managers did not know how he operated. They must have had some idea of his travel schedule and the total amount of time needed to do each article.

Shafer has a later article on Bragg where he argues that what Bragg did is not typical. But do we really know that? Also, as even Shafer acknowledges, we do not know how much Bragg's editors knew about Bragg's style of working. I suspect they had to know quite a bit about it in general regardless of how much they knew about where the material came from in the specific case where he filed an Apalachicola dateline. The fact that Bragg has apparently violated the written official Times dateline and byline policy does not prove that Bragg is guilty of misconduct. Lots of companies order their employees to do things that are not SOP. High level managers make the rules and they can order subordinates to break the rules. My take on this is that some newspapers are willing to fool us by having reporters fly to places and pretend that the credited writers are really doing all the interviewing and other work that their names at the top of the articles would make us believe they did.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 28 01:42 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 10 Saturday
Salam Pax Is Back At Where Is Raed

Salam Pax survived the war in Iraq and is back posting on his Where is Raed blog. He has some lengthy posts which Diana Moon has received from him. If blogspot offset links are working (never a sure thing) then you can find his big war diary blog post here. Here's a great excerpt:

I still can’t bring myself to sleep upstairs, not that anything too serious happened after that night but I rather sleep under as many walls and roofs as possible, fist size shrapnel gets thru the first wall but might be stopped by the next, seen that and learned my lesson. So the million dollar question is of course “what the fuck happened?”. (Syrian/Lebanese/Iraqi) Fedayeen were somewhere in the area.

It has become a swear word, dirtyfilthy and always followed by a barrage of verbal abuse. Syrian, Lebanese and of course Iraqi sickos who are stupid enough to believe the Jennah-under-martyrs-feet rubbish. They want to die in the name of Allah, so what do they do? Do they stand in front of “kafeer infidel aggressor”? No they don’t because they are chicken shit. They go hide in civilian districts to shoot a single useless mortar shell or a couple of Kalashnikov shots which bounce without any effect on the armored vehicles. But the answer they get to that single shot is a hell of mortars or whatever on all the houses in the area from where the shot came. This has been happening all over Baghdad, and in many places people were not as lucky as we have been here in our block.

Sometimes you didn’t even know that those creepy fucks have moved into your street for the night. All over Baghdad you see the black cloth with the names of people killed during these things. It is even worse when the Americans decide to go into full battle mode on these fedayeen, right there between the houses. I have seen what has happened in Jamia and Adhamiya districts. One woman was too afraid to go out of her house hours after the attack because she had pieces of one of these fedayeen on her lawn.

Now whenever fedayeen are seen they are being chased away. Sometimes with rocks and stones if not guns. If you have them in your neighborhood you will not be able to sleep peacefully. The stupid fucks. For some reason the argument that if he wants to die then he should do it alone and not take a whole block down with him does not hit home.

His descriptions of life in Baghdad during the war show either how much journalists never find out or do find out but never bother to report. Occasionally I come across accounts of observers living in war zones claiming that many Western journalists stick closely to their hotel or just go out to interview major figures. Certainly there are aspects of Pax's account that strike me as things we should have learned in greater detail from the media. His above account about Baghdadi attitudes toward the fedayeen is a great example.

There are Iraqi reporters who are writing for local newly started newspapers. Western journalism organizations ought to look at what these journalists are writing in Arabic for Iraqi consumption and see whether some of it ought to be translated into English for our consumption.

What would be really great would be if some organization would provide funding for internet access to an assortment of Iraqis who would agree to do blog posting in exchange for their access. This could be done by paying for their access to some internet access cafe of the sort that will shortly be popping on in Iraq.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 10 01:23 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 28 Monday
How Saddam Bought Influence In The Press

Stephen F. Hayes describes how Saddam Hussein's regime spent money to get favorable coverage in the Arab and Western press.

At the same time, Saddam began to realize the importance of good press. "Media people were paid monthly by the Iraqi embassy in Amman," says Nimat, "in cash. They were also given presents, like cars and expensive watches." And Saddam built a "housing complex for the Jordanian Press Association" in Amman, according to Nimat, at a cost of $3 million.

Saddam bought good press in less obvious ways, too. "He would award big contracts to newspapers in Jordan to publish all sorts of stuff, like Iraqi schoolbooks and other things," says Nimat. "The contracts were worth millions, and no one ever found out if they ever printed the books. No one cared."

There should be many more juicy revelations to come on this with all the captured Iraqi regime files. My biggest concern on that is that the US intelligence agencies might classify all the captured files and not allow reporters and historians to spend a lot more time studying them.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 28 02:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 21 Monday
How Many Christians Are In Iraq?

Population numbers of foreign lands reported in the press are frequently unreliable. I've just encountered another example of this unreliability. Some of these reports must be wrong because they all disagree with each other. The Christian Science Monitor says there are 650,000 Christians in Iraq.

There are 650,000 Christians in Iraq, most Chaldeans but also Syrian, Latin, and Armenian Catholics, and members of a variety of Orthodox sects. Their numbers have fallen from more than a million during the past 20 years, as emigration has taken its toll.

The biggest bloc of Christians in Iraq are Chaldeans and MSNBC says there are only 190,000 Chaldeans in Iraq.

Though Iraq is largely a Muslim nation, it has some 190,000 members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, an Eastern Rite branch of Catholicism that retains some ties to the Vatican.

The UK Independent says there are 700,000 Christians in Iraq.

Christians, most of them Chaldean Catholics, account for an estimated 700,000 in Iraq, about 5 per cent of the population.

The Oakland Press says that Christians are 3% of Iraq's population which would be about 720,000 Christians.

Just 3 percent of the nation is Christian, mainly Chaldeans and Assyrians.

But CNN says there are 250,000 Christians in Iraq.

Christians are a minority in Iraq, only about one percent of the population, or 250,000, according to Baghdad church officials

A Malaysian newspaper says there are only 500,000 Christians in Iraq.

As Iraq's estimated 500,000 Christians celebrated Easter, thousands of Shiite worshippers were expected to continue to flock towards the holy city of Karbala in an annual pilgrimage that Saddam's regime had banned for years.

The Globe And Mail agrees with the 500,000 figure.

The Christian population of Iraq remains substantial — numbering about 500,000 people, or 2 per cent of the country.

The CIA World Factbook puts Christians at 3% of Iraq's population.

Muslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%

So how many Christians are in Iraq? You can't trust the press to tell you. The lesson here is that some times figures are bandied about as if they are known with precision when they are not.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 21 12:23 AM Entry Permalink
2003 March 21 Friday
On The Amateurish Iraq War Reporting Camera Operators

The cameras being used to broadcast live from the battlefields in Iraq have obvious limits on the bandwidth of their upload connections. Therefore they get very low res and jerky when a lot of movement and change happens in their view. One can accept the limitation of the technology. However, the style of usage by the camera operations is making the effects of this technology limitation far worse than they need to be.

It makes no sense to pan around at a constant rate. That cause the number of pixels that are changed from frame to frame to so exceed the uplink bandwidth that the resulting images become incomprehensible. The camera operators should pan fast and stop and then pan fast and stop again to give the camera time to send a complete image of each point and to gradually give a panoramic view of a given location. I've watched a scene out in the desert where the camera operation constantly panned and when he finally stopped panning he immediately started zooming. He never gave the image at any one location to become fully developed and resolved to a high resolution. The viewers got to watch a series of low res images of terrain that was itself very still and unmoving. This is dumb.

Another thing that would help is if the cameras have a frame rate control where the frame rate could be turned down. I'd rather occasionally look at 1 frame per 3 or 4 seconds of a moving convoy and see it with clarity than to look at some higher rate that has such low resolution that one can tell nothing more than that the convoy is in motion. I'd be curious to know how big the rocks are (if indeed they are rocks) that the convoys were moving past in the desert and to see how uneven the terrain is. But the resolution of the moving convoy images prevents one from seeing that level of detail.

A smart camera with suffficiently sophisticated software ought to be able to dynamically adjust its frame rate to maintain its transmitted resolution in spite of the cluelessness of the camera operators. What is the point of sending us a big splotch of large squares?

As for the reporters looking into the camera: Don't move your head. Just move your mouths. That'll keep the quality of the image much higher. Also, see if a tripod could be erected inside of a Humvee so that the camera operator aiming at you isn't being jostled around by the movement of the vehicle.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 21 10:58 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 24 Thursday
Google Filtering German and French Versions

See this ZDNet article for details:

"To avoid legal liability, we remove sites from search results pages that may conflict with German law," said Google spokesman Nate Tyler. He indicated that each site that was delisted came after a specific complaint from a foreign government.

The fact that they even filter a site that opposes abortion seems more than a little odd:

The study found that among the banned sites are a "white pride" site,, and a fundamentalist Christian site opposing abortion,

Testing revealed that 65 sites removed from German were also removed from French results with an additional 48 sites removed only from results.

But on closer inspection there are so many interesting things bing said on the site that it might have been put on the filter list for all sorts of reasons. Here are a couple of excerpts from their main page:

Muslims are killing, raping, torturing, mutilating, kidnapping, and enslaving Sudanese Christians in their Islamic jihad ("holy war").

"ROMAN" Catholicism is the MOTHER of harlots and abominations (She's not a daughter, the Bible says she's a MOTHER--the one CONCEIVING, GESTATING, BIRTHING, DELIVERING, AND REARING HARLOTS, WHORES, SODOMITES AND OTHER ABOMINATIONS)

Some Sudanese Christians really are enslaved but perhaps stating the obvious in that case is considered to be prejudicial against Muslims. Or perhaps the site's rather anti-Catholic tone caused offense? Look at what mischief ensues when governments put themselves in the business of judging and regulating hate speech. Of course now that the Harvard Law folks have drawn attention to this list many of these sites are going to experience big bursts in traffic.

You can read the original report by Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamin Edelman and published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School by going here. Check out the bottom of the page where you can use the form they provide to compare the and results with to look for more filtered sites:

Second, anyone interested can use the Real-Time Testing System, below, to test and filtering of a specified site. Note that uses of this system are logged for future study, analysis, and publication.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 24 11:30 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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