Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Newsletter Natural Selection

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Slime Mold Time Mold has a very interesting post, which begins:

Apparently, Substack wants to destroy newspapers. And maybe that would be good — maybe it would be good for journalism to be democratized, for bloggers to inherit the earth. Of course we’re bloggers and not newspapers, so maybe we’re biased.

Obviously it would be great if someone came up with a set of blogging and newsletter tools that were just amazing, that were the clear front-runner, that outperformed every other platform. We’d love it if the technical problems were all solved and we just had a perfect set of blogging tools.

But if everyone ends up on the same platform, well, that’s kind of dangerous. If one company controls the whole news & blogging industry, they can blacklist whoever they want, and can squeeze users as much as they want.

Even if you think Substack has a good track record, there’s no way they can guarantee that they won’t squeeze their writers once they control the market. Even if you trust the current management, at some point they will all retire, or all die, or the company will be bought by wesqueezeusers.biz, and then you’re shit outta luck.

Substack just can’t make a credible commitment that makes it impossible for them to abuse their power if they get a monopoly. You have to take them at their word. But since management can change, you can’t even really do that. They just can’t bind their hands convincingly.

But there may be some very unusual business models that would fix this problem. 

On the Origin of Substacks

Imagine there’s a “Substack” company that commits itself to breaking in half every time it gets 100,000 users (or something), creating two child companies. Each company ends up with 50,000 users. All the blogs with even-numbered IDs go to Substack A, and all the blogs with odd-numbered IDs go to Substack B. The staff gets split among these two companies, and half of them move to a new office. Both companies retain the same policy of breaking in half once they hit that milestone again — an inherited, auto-trust-busting mechanism.

(Splitting into exactly two companies wouldn’t have to be a part of the commitment. They could equally choose to break up into Substack Red, Substack Blue, and Substack Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition.)

In addition, a core part of the product would be high-quality, deeply integrated tools to switch from one of these branches to another. Probably this would involve an easy way to export all your posts and a list of your subscribers to some neutral file format (maybe a folder full of markdown, css, and csv files), and to import them from the same format into a new blog. If you end up in Substack B and you want to be in Substack A instead (your favorite developer works there or something), the product would make it very easy to switch, maybe to the point of being able to switch at the push of a button.

To help with this, the third and final commitment of the company, and all child companies, would be to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall. And it’s intriguing — and something a company could easily do.

What I like is that it harnesses the power of cultural evolution in a way that supports the common welfare.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:25 pm

Fox News makes money from poisoning society

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Is it a good thing that Fox News profits from creating a toxic political environment? Not for the public, nor for the functioning of our society and government, but quite good for Rupert Murdoch and his family and shareholders. 

Read this post by Kevin Drum.

A hospital might profit from contaminating a town’s water supply. I don’t think we would want that, nor would we allow it. I do know about freedom of the press, but the press for which that freedom was guaranteed is not at all like the “press” we experience today.

I’m not sure what the right remedy would be, but doing nothing risks the breakdown of social trust and productive amity. 

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 1:35 pm

The Unreality of Money

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David Troy writes in Medium:

The Tenuous Relationship Between Money and Reality

What’s Happening Now

Continue reading. There’s more. The game is afoot.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 3:44 pm

Manufacturing grievances for profit at an industrial scale

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Kevin Drum has an excellent post that begins:

Julian Sanchez says:

Some products satisfy preexisting needs; some need to manufacture a perceived deficiency to move units. Modern politics generates demand by manufacturing grievances.

This is pretty much the Fox News raison d’être. Like the makers of many useless cosmetic products, they can exist only if they create problems their buyers never knew existed and then convince them that only using their product will solve these previously unrecognized problems.

Masks? An invasion of your freedom! CRT? They’re brainwashing white kids! The 2020 election? It wasn’t lost, it was stolen! Some judge had to take down his Ten Commandments plaque? Your Bible is next!

There was a time when this kind of thing was restricted to mimeographed newsletters mailed to maybe hundreds or thousands of people. But Fox News is the Henry Ford of outrage: the first to truly industrialize and then mass produce feverish outrage.

Their secret? Better . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2022 at 3:40 pm

If American democracy is going to survive, the media must make this crucial shift

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Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post (gift link; no paywall):

In the year since the Jan. 6 insurrection, mainstream journalists have done a lot of things right. They’ve published major investigations, pointed out politicians’ lies and, in many cases, finally learned how to clearly communicate the facts of what happened leading up to that horrendous riot at the U.S. Capitol — and what is happening now as pro-Trump Republicans steadily chip away at the very checks and balances that saved American democracy last year.

Much of this work has been impressive. And yet, something crucial is missing. For the most part, news organizations are not making democracy-under-siege a central focus of the work they present to the public.

“We are losing our democracy day by day, and journalists are individually aware of this, but media outlets are not centering this as the story it should be,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a scholar of autocracy and the author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.”

That American democracy is teetering is unquestionable. Jan. 6 is every day now, in the words of a recent New York Times editorial that noted the growing evidence: election officials harassed by conspiracy theory addicts, death threats issued to politicians who vote their conscience, GOP lawmakers pushing measures to make it harder for citizens to vote and easier for partisans to overturn legitimate voting results.

“The reactionary counter-mobilization against democracy has accelerated,” wrote historian Thomas Zimmer, a visiting professor at Georgetown. “It’s happening on so many fronts simultaneously that it’s easy to lose sight of how things are connected.”

[A Trump lawyer wrote an instruction manual for a coup. Why haven’t you seen it on the news?]

To be sure, even some of the most studiously neutral of news organizations are doing important journalism on this subject.

“ ‘Slow-motion insurrection’: How GOP seizes election power,” read the headline of an Associated Press news story last week. It detailed the ways in which Republicans aligned with former president Donald Trump, after the near-miss of last year’s coup attempt, “have worked to clear the path for next time.”

The story explained what’s happening in the battleground states that could determine the next occupant of the White House: “In Michigan, the Republican Party is restocking members of obscure local boards that could block approval of an election. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the GOP-controlled legislatures are backing open-ended ‘reviews’ of the 2020 election, modeled on a deeply flawed look-back in Arizona.” Writer Nicholas Riccardi stated his findings in his own equivocation-free words, without washing it through the voice of some academic or activist: “The efforts are poised to fuel disinformation and anger about the 2020 results for years to come.”

Similarly, NPR recently ran a seven-minute segment on what it called “the clear and present danger of Trump’s enduring ‘Big Lie.’ ” As NYU’s Jay Rosen noted, the piece was admirably direct in its language: “No dilution via ‘both sides,” no ‘critics say,’ Just a straight-up warning.” And on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this weekend, moderator Chuck Todd — who has deservedly drawn criticism in recent months for too often allowing GOP talking points to go unchallenged — stepped up in a significant way to detail the “big lie” spread by Trump allies this past year to evoke the specter of a supposedly stolen presidential election.

More pointedly, the Atlantic magazine — which positions itself as centrist rather than left-leaning — published an entire issue in December devoted to the topic of democracy under threat. The cover headline’s message was hard to miss: “January 6 was practice.” The cover story by Barton Gellman began with this chilling paragraph:

“Technically, the next attempt to overthrow a national election may not qualify as a coup. It will rely on subversion more than violence, although each will have its place. If the plot succeeds, the ballots cast by American voters will not decide the presidency in 2024. Thousands of votes will be thrown away, or millions, to produce the required effect. The winner will be declared the loser. The loser will be certified president-elect.”

[Words matter. So these journalists refuse to call GOP election meddling an ‘audit.’]

All of this is good, necessary and important. The Atlantic, particularly, seems to have taken on the challenge.

But, in general, this pro-democracy coverage is not being “centered” by the media writ large. It’s occasional, not regular; it doesn’t appear to be part of an overall editorial plan that fully recognizes just how much trouble we’re in.

That must change. It’s not merely that . . .

Continue reading. Gift link: no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

3 January 2022 at 1:29 pm

Year-end good news

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Heather Cox Richardson shares some good news — and some other news:

Year-end accounts of the U.S. economy are very strong indeed. According to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal—which are certainly not giddy media outlets—U.S. economic output has jumped more than 7% in the last three months of 2021. Overall growth for 2021 should be about 6%, and economists predict growth of around 4% in 2022—the highest numbers the U.S. has seen in decades. China’s growth in the same period will be 4%, and the eurozone (which is made up of the member countries of the European Union that use the euro) will grow at 2%.

The U.S. is “outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century,” wrote Matthew A. Winkler in Bloomberg, “and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years….”

In February, Biden’s first month in office, the jobless rate was 6.2%; today it has dropped to 4.2%. This means the Biden administration has created 4.1 million jobs, more than were created in the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined. Wages in America are growing at about 4% a year, compared with less than 1% a year in the eurozone, as worker shortages and strikes at places like Deere & Co. (which makes John Deere products) and Kellogg’s are pushing wages up and as states increase minimum wages.

The American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats in March without a single Republican vote, cut child poverty in half by putting $66 billion into 36 million households. More than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured have gotten healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act, bringing the total covered to a record 13.6 million. When Biden took office, about 46% of schools were open; currently the rate is 99%. In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges and roads and get broadband to places that still don’t have it.

Support for consumers has bolstered U.S. companies, which are showing profit margins higher than they have been since 1950, at 15%. Companies have reduced their debt, which has translated to a strong stock market.

The American economy is the strongest it’s been in decades, with the U.S. leading the world in economic growth…so why on earth do 54% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy (according to a CNN/SSRS poll released yesterday)?

That disapproval comes partly from inflation, which in November was at 6.8%, the highest in 39 years, but inflation is high around the world as we adjust to post-pandemic reopening. Gas prices, which created an outcry a few weeks ago, have come down significantly. Patrick De Haan, an oil and refined products analyst at GasBuddy, an app to find cheap gas prices, tweeted today that average gas prices have fallen under $3 a gallon in 12 states and that in 36 U.S. cities, prices have fallen by more than $0.25 a gallon in the past 30 days. Falling prices reflect skyrocketing gasoline inventories.

Respondents also said they were upset by disruptions in the supply chain. But in fact, the much-hyped fear that supply chain crunches would keep packages from being delivered on time for the holidays has proved to be misguided: 99% of packages are arriving on time. This is a significant improvement over 2020, and even over 2019. It reflects that companies have built more warehouse space and expanded delivery hours, that people have shopped early this year, and that buyers are venturing back into stores rather than relying on online shopping.

What it does not reflect is a weakened retail market. Major ports in the U.S. will process almost one-fifth more containers in terms of volume than they did in 2019. Container traffic at European ports has stayed flat or declined. Consumer goods are flying off the shelves at a rate about 45% higher than they did in 2018: it looks like Americans will spend about 11.5% more in this holiday season than they did in 2020. Indeed, according to Tom Fairless in the Wall Street Journal, American consumer demand was the key factor in the global supply chain bottlenecks in the first place.

And yet 63% of the poll’s respondents to the CNN/SSRS poll said that the nation’s economy is in poor shape. And here’s why: 57% of them say that the economic news they’ve heard lately has been mostly bad. Only 19% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy.

How people think about the country depends on the stories they hear about it.

Those maintaining the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election know that principle very well.

Yesterday, former national security advisor Michael Flynn filed a request for a restraining order against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a temporary injunction against a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Today, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Tampa denied Flynn’s request, noting that his lawyers had not followed correct procedure. On Twitter today, legal analyst Teri Kanefield pointed out that, like so many others launched by Trump loyalists, Flynn’s lawsuit was not an actual legal argument but part of the false narrative that Trump and his loyalists are being persecuted by Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stole the election.

That was the strategy behind the  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

23 December 2021 at 1:57 pm

NY Times Responds to the Historians Who Critiqued The 1619 Project

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Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of the NY Times has a strong response to some historians who wrote in response to The 1619 Project. The link is a gift link, so no paywall.

The historians:

RE: The 1619 Project

We write as historians to express our strong reservations about important aspects of The 1619 Project. The project is intended to offer a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes. The Times has announced ambitious plans to make the project available to schools in the form of curriculums and related instructional material.

We applaud all efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism to our history. Some of us have devoted our entire professional lives to those efforts, and all of us have worked hard to advance them. Raising profound, unsettling questions about slavery and the nation’s past and present, as The 1619 Project does, is a praiseworthy and urgent public service. Nevertheless, we are dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed process behind it.

These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or “framing.” They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology. Dismissal of objections on racial grounds — that they are the objections of only “white historians” — has affirmed that displacement.

On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain “in order to ensure slavery would continue.” This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part,” black Americans have fought their freedom struggles “alone.”

Still other material is misleading. The project criticizes Abraham Lincoln’s views on racial equality but ignores his conviction that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed universal equality, for blacks as well as whites, a view he upheld repeatedly against powerful white supremacists who opposed him. The project also ignores Lincoln’s agreement with Frederick Douglass that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, “a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.” Instead, the project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists and proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.

The 1619 Project has not been presented as the views of individual writers — views that in some cases, as on the supposed direct connections between slavery and modern corporate practices, have so far failed to establish any empirical veracity or reliability and have been seriously challenged by other historians. Instead, the project is offered as an authoritative account that bears the imprimatur and credibility of The New York Times. Those connected with the project have assured the public that its materials were shaped by a panel of historians and have been scrupulously fact-checked. Yet the process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as “consultants” and fact checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern.

We ask that The Times, according to its own high standards of accuracy and truth, issue prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in The 1619 Project. We also ask for the removal of these mistakes from any materials destined for use in schools, as well as in all further publications, including books bearing the name of The New York Times. We ask finally that The Times reveal fully the process through which the historical materials were and continue to be assembled, checked and authenticated.

Sincerely,

Victoria Bynum, distinguished emerita professor of history, Texas State University;
James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 emeritus professor of American history, Princeton University;
James Oakes, distinguished professor, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York;
Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 professor of American history, Princeton University;
Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wade University emeritus professor and emeritus professor of history, Brown University.

Jake Silverstein’s response as Editor in Chief of the NY Times:

Editor’s response:

Since The 1619 Project was published in August, we have received a great deal of feedback from readers, many of them educators, academics and historians. A majority have reacted positively to the project, but there have also been criticisms. Some I would describe as constructive, noting episodes we might have overlooked; others have treated the work more harshly. We are happy to accept all of this input, as it helps us continue to think deeply about the subject of slavery and its legacy.

The letter from Professors Bynum, McPherson, Oakes, Wilentz and Wood differs from the previous critiques we have received in that it contains the first major request for correction. We are familiar with the objections of the letter writers, as four of them have been interviewed in recent months by the World Socialist Web Site. We’re glad for a chance to respond directly to some of their objections.

Though we respect the work of the signatories, appreciate that they are motivated by scholarly concern and applaud the efforts they have made in their own writings to illuminate the nation’s past, we disagree with their claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding. While we welcome criticism, we don’t believe that the request for corrections to The 1619 Project is warranted.

The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life. We are not ourselves historians, it is true. We are journalists, trained to look at current events and situations and ask the question: Why is this the way it is? In the case of the persistent racism and inequality that plague this country, the answer to that question led us inexorably into the past — and not just for this project. The project’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer at the magazine, has consistently used history to inform her journalism, primarily in her work on educational segregation (work for which she has been recognized with numerous honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship).

Though we may not be historians, we take seriously the responsibility of accurately presenting history to readers of The New York Times. The letter writers express concern about a “closed process” and an opaque “panel of historians,” so I’d like to make clear the steps we took. We did not assemble a formal panel for this project. Instead, during the early stages of development, we consulted with numerous scholars of African-American history and related fields, in a group meeting at The Times as well as in a series of individual conversations. (Five of those who initially consulted with us — Mehrsa Baradaran of the University of California, Irvine; Matthew Desmond and Kevin M. Kruse, both of Princeton University; and Tiya Miles and Khalil G. Muhammad, both of Harvard University — went on to publish articles in the issue.) After those consultations, writers conducted their own research, reading widely, examining primary documents and artifacts and interviewing historians. Finally, during the fact-checking process, our researchers carefully reviewed all the articles in the issue with subject-area experts. This is no different from what we do on any article.

As the five letter writers well know, there are often debates, even among subject-area experts, about how to see the past. Historical understanding is not fixed; it is constantly being adjusted by new scholarship and new voices. Within the world of academic history, differing views exist, if not over what precisely happened, then about why it happened, who made it happen, how to interpret the motivations of historical actors and what it all means.

The passages cited in the letter, regarding the causes of the American Revolution and the attitudes toward black equality of Abraham Lincoln, are good examples of this. Both are found in the lead essay by Hannah-Jones. We can hardly claim to have studied the Revolutionary period as long as some of the signatories, nor do we presume to tell them anything they don’t already know, but I think it would be useful for readers to hear why we believe that Hannah-Jones’s claim that “one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery” is grounded in the historical record.

The work of various historians, among them David Waldstreicher and Alfred W. and Ruth G. Blumrosen, supports the contention that uneasiness among slaveholders in the colonies about growing antislavery sentiment in Britain and increasing imperial regulation helped motivate the Revolution. One main episode that these and other historians refer to is the landmark 1772 decision of the British high court in Somerset v. Stewart. The case concerned a British customs agent named Charles Stewart who bought an enslaved man named Somerset and took him to England, where he briefly escaped. Stewart captured Somerset and planned to sell him and ship him to Jamaica, only for the chief justice, Lord Mansfield, to declare this unlawful, because chattel slavery was not supported by English common law.

It is true, as Professor Wilentz has noted elsewhere, that

Continue reading. Again: gift link = no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2021 at 7:57 pm

The Oil Industry’s War on Reality

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David Troy interviews Christine Arena.

Christine Arena is a public relations veteran, climate activist, and filmmaker based in San Francisco. For the last several years she’s been studying the funding of influence campaigns by the carbon fuel industry, looking at ways to expose and disrupt their strategies.

She and Dave discuss the history of how the oil industry has not only sought to deny climate science, but to target lawmakers and the public with influence and psychological warfare campaigns that minimize the harms caused by the industry while outright obstructing any kind of action that might stand in their way.

Christine’s current project is a grant-funded documentary, PLAYED, which outlines the influence of the oil and gas industry and proposes ways to disrupt it. She has also appeared on the podcast series DRILLED by journalist Amy Westervelt, specifically in Season 3.

For more information, check out her website at generousfilms.com, and check out DRILLED at criticalfrequency.org.

Listeners may also want to check out work on Discourses of Delay:
www.cambridge.org/core/journals/gl…B6212378E32985A7

Written by Leisureguy

17 December 2021 at 12:48 pm

What Happens to Democracy When Local Journalism Dries Up?

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Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post:

It has been our great privilege to bring you news from Stoneham and Woburn over the years,” read the announcement. “We regret to inform you that this will be the final edition of the Sun-Advocate newspaper.” The Massachusetts weekly, as of August, is no more.

It is an increasingly familiar story across the United States. Already in a sharp downward spiral, the local news industry was hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic. The worst blows were taken by newspapers — businesses that, as a group, had never recovered from the digital revolution and the 2008 recession. Between 2005 and the start of the pandemic, about 2,100 newspapers closed their doors. Since covid struck, at least 80 more papers have gone out of business, as have an undetermined number of other local publications, like the California Sunday Magazine, which folded last fall — and then won a Pulitzer Prize eight months later.

Those papers that survived are still facing difficult straits. Many have laid off scores of reporters and editors — according to Pew Research Center, the newspaper industry lost an astonishing 57 percent of its employees between 2008 and 2020 — making these publications a mere specter of their former selves. They are now “ghost newspapers”: outlets that may bear the proud old name of yore but no longer do the job of thoroughly covering their communities and providing original reporting on matters of public interest.

Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor, describes the loss of the Sun-Advocate in Massachusetts as “a grim picture but not nearly as catastrophic as in some parts of the country.” After all, he told me, there are other news organizations nearby, including the Daily Times Chronicle in Woburn and WickedLocal.com, a digital site run by Gannett that serves swaths of Massachusetts. (Gannett had owned the Sun-Advocate until its closure.)

By contrast, in many regions of the country, there is no local news coverage at all, or next to none. These areas have come to be known as “news deserts” — a term used by academics and researchers to refer to areas where coverage of the community by local news outlets is minimal or nonexistent. It’s in such places that the collapse of local news is being felt most dramatically. Then again, even if you don’t live in a defined news desert, you may have noticed that your regional paper long ago ditched actively covering your community if it is outside the immediate city and first-ring suburbs.

A Vast Landscape of Lost Newspapers

Between January 2005 and December 2020, about a quarter of U.S. local print newspapers ceased publishing, according to data that Northwestern professor Penny Muse Abernathy collected while at the University of North Carolina. By 2020, out of the 3,000-plus U.S. counties, half had just one local print newspaper of any kind. Only a third had a daily newspaper. Over 200 counties had no newspaper whatsoever.

This trend in local news has been life-changing, of course, for the employees who lose their jobs and incomes. But even more concerning is what happens to the communities they used to serve — and, more broadly, what happens to our society and our ability to self-govern when local news dries up.

An extreme case of the withering of local news over the past decade is Youngstown, Ohio, where the beloved 150-year-old daily newspaper, the Vindicator, abruptly went out of business in 2019. The death of “the Vindy” made Youngstown — just minutes from the former General Motors manufacturing plant in Lordstown — the biggest U.S. city without its own daily newspaper. (A neighboring city’s newspaper began putting out a Vindicator edition, plus a small group of former staffers launched a digital news site, Mahoning Matters. But it is not the same as a dedicated newsroom of 40 journalists.)

As I researched my 2020 book, “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy,” I traveled to Youngstown just after the shocking announcement. Residents had gathered at a quickly called public meeting, and many were in tears as they contemplated the future of their city and region without this institution.

I spent some time with Bertram de Souza, the paper’s editorial page editor, who had been at the Vindicator for 40 years. As a reporter, he helped reveal the corruption of James Traficant, who was expelled from Congress and sent to prison in 2002 after being convicted of racketeering, taking bribes and using his staff to do chores at his home and on his houseboat. Youngstown “is absolutely the kind of place that needs watchdog reporting,” de Souza told me, “and this newspaper was committed to exposing corruption.” The problem, going forward, is that when it comes to revealing malfeasance, you don’t know what you don’t know: If there’s no one to keep public officials honest, citizens might never find out how their faith is being broken and their tax dollars squandered.

Mark Brown, the paper’s general manager and a member of the family that owned it, said something I found poignant as he recalled the Vindy’s heyday, when editors were able to send a reporter or freelancer to all of the municipal board and school board meetings in a three-county area. Public officials knew journalists were present, Brown said, “and they behaved.”

What happened to the Vindicator was a particularly notable version of an oft-repeated story: There just wasn’t enough  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s ominous. A sidebar to the piece:

Since 2005, about 2,200 local newspapers across America have closed. Here are some of the stories in danger of being lost — as told by local journalists.

Written by Leisureguy

8 December 2021 at 12:23 pm

The mainstream media are failing us

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Heather Cox Richardson points out how the US is being undermined by click-oriented (instead of thoughtful) journalism. She writes:

Today, Nate Cohn noted in the New York Times that the policies President Joe Biden and the Democrats are putting in place are hugely popular, and yet Biden’s own popularity numbers have dropped into the low 40s. It’s a weird disconnect that Cohn explains by suggesting that, above all, voters want “normalcy.”

Heaven knows that Biden, who took office in the midst of a pandemic that had crashed the economy and has had to deal with an unprecedented insurgency led by his predecessor, has not been able to provide normalcy.

In her own piece, journalist Magdi Semrau suggests that the media bears at least some of the responsibility for this disconnect, since it has given people a sense of the cost of Biden’s signature measures without specifying what’s in them, focused on negative information (negotiations are portrayed as “disarray,” for example), and ignored that Republicans have refused to participate in any lawmaking, choosing instead simply to be obstructionist. As Semrau puts it: “Democrats want to fix bridges, provide childcare and lower drug costs. Republicans don’t. These are political facts and voters should be aware of them.”

To this I would add that Republican attacks on Democrats, which are simple and emotional, get far more traction and thus far more coverage in the mainstream press than the slow and successful navigation of our complicated world.

In illustration of the unequal weight between emotion and policymaking, Biden’s poll numbers took a major hit between mid-August and mid-September, dropping six points. That month saw the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was widely portrayed as a disaster at Biden’s hands that had badly hurt U.S. credibility. In fact, Biden inherited Trump’s deal with the Taliban under which the U.S. promised to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban met several requirements, including that it stop killing U.S. soldiers.

When Biden took office, there were only 3500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000 during the Obama administration. Biden had made no secret of his dislike of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and, faced with the problem of whether to honor Trump’s agreement or send troops back into the country, committed to complete the withdrawal, although he pushed back the date to September.

What he did not know, in part because Trump’s drawdown had taken so many intelligence officers out of the country, was that as soon as Trump’s administration cut the deal with the Taliban, Afghan troops began to make their own agreements to lay down their arms. The Biden administration appears to have been surprised by the sudden collapse of the Afghan government on August 15. As the Taliban took the capital city of Kabul, Afghans terrified by the Taliban takeover rushed to the Kabul airport, where an attack killed 13 U.S. military personnel who were trying to manage the crowd.

Republicans reacted to the mid-August chaos by calling for Biden’s impeachment, and the press compared the moment to the 1975 fall of Saigon. That coverage overshadowed the extraordinary fact that the U.S. airlifted more than 124,000 people, including about 6000 U.S. citizens, out of Afghanistan in the six weeks before the U.S. officially left. This is the largest airlift in U.S. history—the U.S. evacuated about 7000 out of Saigon—and evacuations have continued since, largely on chartered flights.

By comparison, in October 2019 under Trump, the U.S. simply left Northern Syria without helping former allies; the senior American diplomat in Syria, William V. Roebuck, later said the U.S. had “stood by and watched” an “intention-laced effort at ethnic cleansing.” And yet, that lack of evacuation received almost no coverage.

Complicating matters further, rather than agreeing that the withdrawal was a foreign policy disaster, many experts say that it helped U.S. credibility rather than hurt it. According to Graham Allison, the former dean of Harvard Kennedy School, “The anomaly was that we were there, not that we left.”

And yet, in mid-September, while 66% of the people in the U.S. supported leaving Afghanistan, 48% thought Biden “seriously mishandled” the situation.

Aside from getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, is it true that Biden has not accomplished much?

Biden set out to prove that democracies could deliver for their people, and that the U.S. could, once again, lead the world. He promptly reentered the international agreements Trump had left, including the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization, and renewed those Trump had weakened, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Biden set out to lead the world in coronavirus vaccinations, making the U.S. the world’s largest donor of vaccines globally, although U.S. vaccinations, which started out fast, slowed significantly after Republicans began to turn supporters against them.

Under Biden, the U.S. has recovered economically from the pandemic faster than other nations that did not invest as heavily in stimulus. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package to rebuild the economy, and it has worked spectacularly. Real gross domestic product growth this quarter is expected to be 5%, and the stock market has hit new highs, as did Black Friday sales yesterday. Two thirds of Americans are content with their household’s financial situation.

The pandemic tangled . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 November 2021 at 3:26 am

Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV

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Richard Hanania writes in his newsletter:

Disclaimer: This is a very long piece (about 9,000 words). I thought about breaking it up into different essays, but concluded this is one of those things where you need to see the argument in its entirety to appreciate the constituent parts. I also think it needs many qualifiers and caveats in order to avoid misunderstandings, as the argument is extremely broad. Anyway, feel free to read in more than one sitting. A summary can be found in the table right above the first sub-heading.

How are conservatives and liberals different?

There are many ways to approach this question. One can discuss psychological predispositions, demographics, education, professional background, or a hundred other things.

Political psychology interested in the question has fallen into two camps: narratives that flatter the left and insult the right, and those that work in the lab but don’t explain all that much in real life.

For example, some have claimed that conservatives are more “authoritarian” than liberals. When you ask people whether individuals should like the military and defer to cops, surprisingly enough conservatives are more “authoritarian.” Yet change the elites in question, and suddenly liberals become the authoritarians. Attempts to explain that conservatism is rooted in prejudice similarly fail because it turns out both sides are prejudiced, just against different groups.

The second way to explain differences is by positing different moral values. I don’t think this effort has had much success. Jonathan Haidt showed that in the abstract conservatives and liberals will adopt different values, but moral foundations matter a lot less than partisanship in the real world. This research is also extremely sensitive to how one defines terms like “sanctity.” When it comes to religion, conservatives are higher on this value, but as I saw Haidt himself once ask an audience, what would the reaction in the room be if he made a joke about Martin Luther King?

Psychological accounts focusing on the individual also tend to miss larger dynamics within each movement and society as a whole. If you want to understand the social norms of a prison, it is not enough to study the psychological profiles of criminals. One must also take into account the environment they’re in, which includes people with similar traits, and how such individuals interact with one another. We likewise miss quite a bit when we reduce political differences between groups to individual psychology and ignore the ways in which communities organize themselves.

I want to present a new theory of American politics: liberals live in a world dominated by the written word, while conservatism is something of a pre-literate culture. This can be summarized as “liberals read, conservatives watch TV.” Let’s start with a graph:

On the Republican side, when it comes to newspapers, the most relied upon source is The Wall Street Journal (11%). On the Democratic side, 30% read The New York Times, and 26% read The Washington Post. Democrats even read the WSJ more than conservatives do, and are just as likely to report The New York Post as a source! On both sides, only a minority reads any particular newspaper, but having half of your supporters read something instead of 15%, or whatever the exact numbers are, creates a completely different culture.

On the conservative side, 19% got their information from Hannity, and 17% from Rush Limbaugh. There are no equivalent personalities on the left, although liberals do listen to radio in the forms of NPR and the BBC. Yet those outlets are very different from Hannity and Limbaugh; although biased, they have apolitical content and should actually be considered more news than sources of entertainment. I think if you want to find a Hannity equivalent on the left it would be someone like Keith Olbermann, who is nowhere as influential.

Here are another two figures, showing media sources trusted by each side. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2021 at 6:54 pm

Worn down by bad news? You’re not alone …

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I must admit that more seldom peruse the news these days. And perhaps that is wise, from the standpoint of mental heallth. Neill Fitzpatrick, Assistant Professor, Journalism & Communications, MacEwan University, writes in The Conversation:

n 1983, Canada’s Anne Murray released another hit song. This one, though, was different than what her fans were accustomed to. A Little Good News is a sombre ballad summarizing the mood of the day:

“One more sad story’s one more than I can stand; Just once how I’d like to see the headline say; ‘Not much to print today, can’t find nothin’ bad to say’ […] We sure could use a little good news today.”

Nearly 40 years later, the lyrics strike a chord. Except, these days, the news coverage of those sad stories is non-stop. There’s a “fire hose” of information in the palm of our hands, day and night.

As we grapple with grim headlines about the pandemicpolitical upheavalracial injustice and climate change, we could all use a little good news.

In the meantime, many people — of all ages and backgrounds — are giving up on news, joining the ranks of the so-called “news avoiders.” Some are limiting how much they consume. Others are shunning it altogether. They don’t watch, listen or read.

News avoidance is the subject of my research paper “No News is Not Good News,” soon to be published in the Athens Journal of Mass Media and Communications. As a journalist for more than 30 years, I experienced massive changes to the news industry first hand. Now, as a journalism professor, I have the opportunity to explore what’s behind the avoidance trend.

Worn out & needing breaks

The weight of the world’s news can be too much. Even before  . . .

Continue reading.

I wonder whether this is an instance of ignorance being, if not bliss, then at least some increase in peace of mind.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2021 at 4:33 pm

An infuriating report on biased, hidebound, opaque management at the Washington Post

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I’m a Post subscriber, and Clio Chang’s article in New York, which describes the hypocrisy, insensitivity, and outright bias among senior managers of the Washington Post, is very disturbing — particularly in light of their motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” to which they offer merely lip-service when it is their own activities that are being questioned. The (lengthy) article begins:

In February 2020, the leadership of the Washington Post was in the midst of an internal crisis. Marty Baron, the revered executive editor credited with reviving the Post after it was nearly washed away by the tsunami of the internet, had launched a listening tour to address the staff’s concerns about the company’s social-media policy. Specifically, Baron and his lieutenants were being grilled on their recent decision to suspend the reporter Felicia Sonmez after she tweeted a 2016 Daily Beast story about rape allegations against Kobe Bryant shortly after his death in a tragic helicopter crash. The first of the meetings was packed. Staffers say that leadership seemed cagey and annoyed, refusing to even mention Sonmez by name. “Marty sat there, did not say a word, and stared down at the desk the whole time,” one former editor on the national desk told me. “Smoke was coming out of his ears.”

Sonmez had been a point of special focus for the Post’s top brass. Before joining the paper’s politics breaking-news team, she had accused a fellow reporter, former Los Angeles Times correspondent Jonathan Kaiman, of assaulting her in Beijing in 2017. Not long after she was hired in 2018, she was barred from covering stories related to sexual assault. According to a lawsuit Sonmez filed in July of this year against Baron and his inner circle, she was told that, by speaking up about her alleged assault, she had acted like an “activist” and had “taken a side on the issue,” which in their view meant her reporting on assault could open the paper up to accusations of bias.

The ban sidelined Sonmez on a wide range of stories, including those involving former presidential candidate Herman Cain and former New York governor Andrew Cuomo. Though she was discouraged from speaking publicly about her experiences, the ban forced her to talk about her assault constantly in private since she had to regularly explain why she had to step away from assignments. As Sonmez told me in a statement through her lawyer, editors at the Post “retraumatized and humiliated me by forcing me to relive my assault at work, over and over, whenever news broke and a colleague would ask why I wasn’t allowed to cover the story.”

The broader newsroom knew few of these details at the time of Baron’s listening tour. Many staffers were unaware that the Post’s top editors had long believed that Sonmez was undermining its attempts to cover the news objectively and that her tweet about Bryant, which ran against the hagiographic coverage of his life and career, was for them a final straw. As the Post’s managing editor, Tracy Grant, explained to the press at the time, Sonmez’s tweet “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” Baron emailed Sonmez personally, saying, “Felicia, a real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution by doing this.”

But for others on staff, it was her suspension that raised greater alarms in the newsroom. On one stop of the listening tour, the lawsuit states that someone asked Baron if murder and sexual assault could be seen as issues with “two sides.” Baron responded, “Murder is evil, okay? … It’s when you get to the point of advocacy of certain policies [that the line is crossed].”

Many in the newsroom already felt that the Post’s social-media policy was applied unevenly, disproportionately punishing women and reporters of color. The general guidelines, which date back to 2011, state that reporters must “refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything — including photographs or video — that could objectively be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism.” An additional social-media-policy document from 2017 instructs Post employees to avoid maligning subscribers, advertisers, and competitors.

In a memo sent by staffers in April 2020 in the wake of Sonmez’s suspension, solicited by editor Steven Ginsberg, they pointed out that it was common to receive emails from managers with “Your Tweet” in the subject line, in which they were instructed to delete a tweet but not always told why. One person told me that emails from Baron were sometimes referred to as “Marty-grams” — if they arrived at an odd hour, it almost certainly meant that a reporter was in trouble. Meanwhile, as one person put it in the memo, “People who are stars get away with murder.” Sonmez’s suspension was a turning point. While not everyone approved of her decision to tweet about Bryant, the newsroom broadly agreed that management had badly overreacted, particularly since Sonmez was receiving death threats at the time. Over 300 people, younger reporters and veterans alike, signed a Post Guild petition criticizing the “fundamental flaws” in the Post’s social-media policy and urging leadership to take immediate steps to protect Sonmez. Soon after, she was reinstated.

The controversy cast only a thin shadow on Baron’s otherwise glorious tenure. When he retired a year later, this past February, the air was thick with paeans to his brilliance. “He’s made every institution he touched better,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times. Sacha Pfeiffer, an investigative reporter who worked with Baron on the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (the inspiration for the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight), told the Times, “It’s well known that Marty is not warm and fuzzy. But he’s one of the best editors I’ve ever had, because he has an excellent moral compass, an uncanny instinct for what could make a good story, and he seems to be fearless. He knows how hard reporting can be.”

Sonmez’s suit revived the scandal this past summer, a direct challenge to Baron’s legacy. “Marty was held in very high regard in the newsroom, deservedly so,” Christopher Ingraham, a Post reporter who left the paper in June, told me. But, he added, “I think for a lot of folks, some of the shine came off Marty after what happened with Felicia.” The suit, which alleges discrimination based on her gender and protected status as a victim of sexual assault, details a level of persecution that is as cruel as it is baffling. It also reveals an internal culture that appears to be at odds with the paper’s motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” in which there is such a deep institutional discomfort with acknowledging the realities of sexual assault that they are relentlessly smothered.

How the Post got to this strange place, where its very highest editors bent over backward to punish a single reporter for talking publicly about being assaulted, is a story of generational differences and blind spots and changing journalistic standards. But it’s also a story about Marty Baron, who appears only rarely in the lawsuit itself but presided over a top-down management structure made in his image. “Everybody was trying to please Marty,” the former “National” editor told me, “and Marty expected his every word to be a command, all the way down.”

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013 and flooded it with money, a subsequent wave of hiring brought in younger, more diverse reporters. The schisms in the newsroom are not necessarily generational — older reporters supported Sonmez and are staunch union members — but there is a tension between a more experienced editorial guard that lives and breathes by the institution and a new, digitally fluent cohort that very much has its own ideas about the relationship between social justice and journalistic integrity. The Post’s traditions die hard: Grant famously hands out a copy of Katharine Graham’s memoir to new reporters.

The Post’s culture clash has played out most visibly in the debate over newsroom objectivity. The fear of running afoul of the objectivity standard has consistently led the Post to some odd places. There was the editor’s note added to a reporter’s story about a district-attorney candidate in San Francisco that pointed out the reporter had a “parent who was formerly incarcerated,” as if this was some indication of bias. (The note was lambasted online.) Or, a hairsplitting memo from Post leadership, widely ridiculed within the company, on what kind of events reporters were and weren’t allowed to attend: “A newsroom employee would not hold a protest sign at a parade or wear a hat supporting or opposing a political candidate or legislative policy, but might wear a rainbow cap, wave an American flag or wear a t-shirt celebrating their identity.”

Antonia Noori Farzan, a former staff writer on the Post’s foreign desk, said that during her orientation, Grant used an example of a reporter solely posting videos of Syrian atrocities on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Grant said the practice could raise questions about their objectivity on that issue and that they might be barred from covering it. “Obviously a super-weird comment — is there really a fear that we’re going to be overly biased against human-rights violations?” Farzan asked me.

Baron & Co. were at pains to avoid even an appearance of conflict, especially difficult during the Trump era, when right-wing hostility toward media outlets reached new heights. Ingraham recalled that he was disciplined for a tweet about Trump and “collusion” that he sent during the Robert Mueller investigation. Conservative media started attacking him, and he got a write-up on Breitbart. Ingraham was told by editors to delete his tweets and to fly to Washington to get a formal write-up and lecture from management.

“They were dumb tweets, sent in the heat of the moment,” Ingraham acknowledged. “But the incident was reflective of how social-media policy actually worked at the Post: Management effectively let the policy be dictated by the worst elements of the far right. A surefire way to get a Post reporter in trouble at work was to get a critical mass of conservatives mad at that reporter on Twitter.”

The fraught atmosphere of the Trump era formed the backdrop for a clash between unlikely opponents. Baron is an imposing figure, a bear of a man in wire-rimmed glasses. By all accounts, he can be stern, brusque, and, at times, inaccessible. Those who have worked with Baron agree that Liev Schreiber’s taciturn portrayal of him in Spotlight is spot on. (Baron declined a request for an interview.) As Baron has said about himself, “People don’t have to like me, but I hope that they’ll respect me.” Sonmez, who also declined to speak to me directly, cuts a different figure, according to colleagues, who described her as warm, inclusive, and reliable, a team player quick to share sources. The suit Sonmez filed remains an open wound at the company; she still works there, as do the five other editors named in the suit.

They include Grant, Ginsberg, and Lori Montgomery as well as Cameron Barr and Peter Wallsten. Between them, they have decades of reporting and editing experience. Montgomery, now the business editor, started at the Post over 20 years ago. Ginsberg moved his way up to national editor over the course of nearly three decades at the paper after starting as a copy aide. Wallsten, who covered politics in Florida early in his career, is the politics editor. Grant, who is often lauded as the second woman to rise to the managing-editor position at the Post, was, according to her bio, the “arbiter of the newsroom’s standards and ethics policies” at the time Sonmez’s lawsuit landed. Barr started as a reporter on the metro desk and was acting executive editor upon Baron’s retirement. These editors are, needless to say, on the older side, and they are all white. At least a few of them were in the running to replace Baron, but their handling of the Sonmez situation may have hurt their chances. Instead, the Post named Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of the Associated Press, as Baron’s successor in May.

According to the suit, Sonmez came forward publicly with her allegations against Kaiman in 2018 — the second woman to do so — just as she was interviewing for a job at the Post. Soon after Sonmez started the gig, the Los Angeles Times announced that, following an investigation into his conduct, Kaiman would resign.

In September 2018, three months after Sonmez was hired, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And WaPo management looks very bad indeed. For example:

The editors also questioned Sonmez’s own actions related to the assault, according to the suit. Montgomery and Wallsten allegedly asked Sonmez why she did not go to the police in Beijing, while Montgomery told Sonmez that “she was always taught that a woman should ‘just say no’ if a man tries to assault her.”

Written by Leisureguy

15 November 2021 at 7:18 pm

The mystery of the “same sky” postcards

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Local tie (Victoria BC).

The notes at the YouTube listing are worth looking at. Here are some:

Darkroom is a history and photography series that anchors each episode around a single image. Analyzing what the photo shows (or doesn’t show) provides context that helps unravel a wider story. Watch previous episodes here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list… Explore James’s full postcard collection online here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9420710… Bill Burton’s online magazine Postcard History: https://postcardhistory.net/ Read up on Dexter Press and all things postcard on MetroPostcard: http://www.metropostcard.com/publishe… Original Dexter Press postcards at Queen of Chrome’s eBay store: https://www.ebay.com/str/queenofchrom…

Written by Leisureguy

9 November 2021 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life, Media, Memes

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Dave Troy’s Situation Report for 29 Oct 2021

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Dave Troy writes:

Crypto bros continuing to try to make ‘fetch’ happen. If you’re trying to get a trend going, a good way to do it is to get people with a lot of influence to keep going on about it. We keep seeing this among a certain class of tech bro, this week from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey who incorrectly proclaimed that “hyperinflation” is happening in the US, and soon would be affecting the whole world. This is, of course, nonsense; we are seeing some mild inflation in certain classes of goods. Economists generally agree that this is due to supply chain disruptions imposed by the global pandemic, and that prices for most things will likely drop once those conditions are eased. Hyperinflation by contrast is a condition where currency is devalued in a runaway vicious cycle of 50% per month over time, and, well, that is not happening.

Dorsey seems to have fallen victim to the same cult of cryptocurrency promoted by the likes of the John Birch Society, and has been convinced that he should be part of a growing chorus to try to take down the US dollar. That, of course, is insane, and the forces mounted against him in that endeavor are bigger than he can possibly imagine.

But that’s not stopping him, or others, from trying, it seems. Couple this with the lingering uncertainty over the pending infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling which must be raised on December 3rd, and it’s clear there are people who would like to try to take down the dollar. And like January 6th, which was not successful, any attempt along these lines could be incredibly damaging and costly, even as it is likely to fail. This all needs to stop. Now.

Facebook changes name to Meta; the world yawns. If there’s one thing that’s becoming clear, it’s that people are increasingly not interested in buying anything that Mark Zuckerberg is selling. People don’t trust him and they don’t trust his company to put societal or individual interests above profits.

This is going to become an increasing strategic bind for the company. As he is the majority shareholder, he controls the board and so thus can’t be “fired,” and if he were to step aside and install non-sociopathic leadership, he would still own a majority of voting shares. A reckoning is coming: he is creating negative value for the company.

In the meantime, we can rest assured they have done no work with ethicists or sociologists to consider how to promote a healthier society with their platform designs, just as he did not consult with ethicists when scheming about how to rate women via web browser from his dorm room. The intention seems to be to divert attention from an increasingly frail business model towards heavy cap-ex and bets on future products no one is sure anyone wants.

Libertarian blockchain-tech types are suggesting that we should want ‘decentralized’ versions of this stuff, which also has not been considered from an ethical or sociological perspective. We don’t really know how to reconcile ‘free speech’ with the tendency for humans to form cults and commit genocide, which is what is likely to happen if we pursue unregulated or self-moderated social media architectures. We know from experiences with structures like Facebook Groups that this is a possible if not likely outcome.

Koch Foundation behind Critical Race Theory assault. We’ve known that the Council for National Policy has coordinated an attack on local school boards. This week The Nation reports that Charles Koch has helped fund that assault. The US Senate hearing this week with Attorney General Merrick Garland was a bit like a horror film; while he was spuriously attacked by senators like Tom Cotton, no one would dare utter a word about the coordinated attack coordinated by CNP and Charles Koch. Why? Who knows. Ignorance? Are they beholden in some way? Hard to say. But reality has yet to poke its nose into the Congressional discourse.

Yale Law School working with disinformation purveyors, Wikileaks, and Russia. A network of people linked to Wikileaks is pushing a distributed blockchain-based social media platform called PanQuake. (The idea is that it can’t be controlled or regulated by governments.) Sean O’Brien, founder of the Yale Law School Privacy Lab, seems to be serving as a chief technical architect. Suzie Dawson, a self-described citizen journalist who had been involved with Occupy Auckland in 2011–2012 and with Wikileaks is leading the effort from Moscow, where she has apparently been in exile since 2017. The group also produces a blog and video series called Talk Liberation, which has promoted noted provocateur Laura Loomer as well as COVID conspiracist anti-vax activist Naomi Wolf. I don’t know why Yale is affiliated with this group, just as I don’t know why the Stanford Internet Observatory and Harvard Kennedy School are taking money from the Koch organization. But it’s worth understanding better what’s going on here. Do Yale Law alumni think this is appropriate? I find it troubling.

Rep. Mo Brooks has a lot of explaining to do—about Space Command and January 6th. Rolling Stone’s Hunter Walker reported this week that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. We live in a time rich in event.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 5:33 pm

Why Don’t Societies See Their Own Collapse Coming?

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Umair Haque provides some reasonable answers to the title question:

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more, and I must say his arguments are persuasive.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2021 at 6:45 pm

What makes a cultural superpower?

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Noah Smith posts at Noahpinion:

The hit Netflix show Squid Game — the most-watched program in the platform’s history — once again has everyone talking about the amazing success of South Korea’s cultural exports. Two years ago it was the movie Parasite. And the massive appeal of K-pop is now one of the most-discussed phenomena in entertainment, with BTS becoming an international sensation comparable in some ways to the Beatles, and K-pop fandoms in the U.S. becoming so big and organized that they’re now politically relevant. Meanwhile, Korean cosmetics are doing huge business in America, with sales quadrupling between 2016 and 2018 alone; the “K-beauty” industry is forecast to be raking in $31 billion worldwide by 2029. And though they haven’t yet caught on huge in the U.S., Korean romantic dramas have been a global phenomenon for a while now.

As I see it, this qualifies South Korea for the title of “cultural superpower”. There’s no hard-and-fast definition for this term, of course. We might try to create some metric — cultural exports per capita, perhaps weighted by the number of export markets with significant penetration — but in South Korea’s case, we know it when we see it.

There are a lot of interesting questions surrounding this phenomenon. The main one, of course, is “Why do people like South Korean stuff so much?” A lot of ink has been spilled over this, and I don’t really know enough to weigh in. But there is one interesting thing I’ve noticed, which is that South Korea is among the first countries — perhaps the first country — to become a modern cultural superpower without having had an empire in the last 500 years.

Culture and empire

The U.S., Britain, Japan and France export lots of cultural products and have strong mindshares around the world. But all of these countries have a history of conquest and military might. The U.S. perhaps least so — our overseas wars and string of overseas bases are not really an empire in the sense that Britain or France was — but enough people say that “America is an empire” that it’s clear that many people think of it in a similar way. It’s easy to imagine that these countries’ international cultural appeal is connected, in some sense, to the sense that these are, or were, mighty and powerful countries. That is a fundamentally nationalistic way of thinking — it implicitly sees the world as a competition between nations in which great nations conquer and lesser ones are conquered. It seems possible that this vision of the world is lurking in the back of many people’s minds when they consume Hollywood movies or British fantasy novels or Japanese cartoons or French perfume.

But not South Korea. Korea has always been a small country (or set of countries) surrounded by bigger countries, which often invaded it — a “shrimp among whales”, as the saying goes. It has never been on anyone’s list of the most martially powerful civilizations. And yet, people love K-pop and K-dramas and K-beauty and K-everything. Not many other countries have accomplished that. The closest examples might be Italy (which is a powerhouse in the global fashion industry but whose colonial empire was barely deserving of the name), Jamaica (whose music is highly influential), India (which has had some success with Bollywood exports to developing countries), and maybe Hong Kong (which was a British colony when it created its internationally recognized film industry).

So does this mean that the “cultural appeal comes from imperial prowess” theory is just wrong? Perhaps! Another possibility is that it used to be more right than it is now. After World War II and the advent of nuclear weapons, the norm of fixed international borders became generally accepted and entrenched; conquest still happens, but it’s rare and frowned upon now, and there have basically been no new empires created in recent decades. Perhaps after enough generations have passed such that imperialism and conquest fade into history for much of the world’s population, people simply move on to other concepts of national greatness. In other worlds, maybe South Korea’s appeal is a sign that the world is finally becoming a less martial, nationalistic place.

Can government sell culture?

The next question is: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2021 at 5:34 pm

Seasoned Journalist Uncovers What Most Media Ignore

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Maybe I’ve just become too pessimistic from a diet of daily journalism, with confirmation bias pushing me along: once a person adopts a pessimistic outlook, one can find many anecdotes to support the view.

Here’s another talk by Charles Groenhuijsen:

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 4:13 pm

Some significant requests from Pope Francis

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Pope Francis on October 16:

I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only three or four per cent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated.

In the name of God, I ask financial groups and international credit institutions to allow poor countries to assure “the basic needs of their people” and to cancel those debts that so often are contracted against the interests of those same peoples.

In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries-mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people.

In the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.

In the name of God, I ask I arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead.

In the name of God, I ask I the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation.

In the name of God, I ask the telecommunications giants to ease access to educational material and connectivity for teachers via the internet so that poor children can be educated even under quarantine.

In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged.

In the name of God, I call on powerful countries to stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth. No to neo-colonialism. Conflicts must be resolved in multilateral fora such as the United Nations. We have already seen how unilateral interventions, invasions and occupations end up; even if they are justified by noble motives and fine words.

This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 2:42 pm

Bill Maher on the slow-moving coup

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Maher summarizes the situation:

1. Trump will run for President in 2024.
2. He will win the Republican nomination.
3. When the polls close, Trump will declare that he has won (regardless of the count).
4. Election officials now being put in place by Trumpist Republicans will declare enough local Trump victories to give Trump the Electoral College votes he needs.

The situation in the US is dire, and I don’t think it’s being addressed. Democrats in Congress cannot bring themselves to act effectively, and election reform is key to saving US democracy. It is not happening.

Watch Maher’s monologue.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2021 at 11:33 am

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