Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

I Don't Much Bother with Television News

Thursday, 18 March 2010

There is a hugely important difference between consent within a system and consent to that system.

Some examples:

  • Many people object to some matters being decided by bullet; they think that such violence is a Bad Thing. But that doesn't make them hypocrites if they respond to shooting or to the threat of shooting with bullets of their own.
  • Some of us object to some things being decided by ballot; we feel that some things (such as the ability of consenting adults to marry) are rights that cannot be taken (though power may be taken) no matter how many people object. But that doesn't make us hypocrites when we respond to voting or to the threat of voting with ballots of our own.
  • Quite a few people think that Social Security is a Bad Idea. But that doesn't make them hypocrites if they accept it when offered; they were forced to pay into the system, and they may conclude that refusing to take the money may have no marginal effect on whether it continues.
It is a separate issue whether returning fire, voting in elections that one feels should not be held, or consuming entitlements that one believes should not exist would be wise practical responses; the point is that none of these actions is hypocritical.

Okay, I'm going to presume that all my readers recognize the class of distinction upon which I'm focussing.

So, to-night, I saw NBC News present a report on United States Senators and Representatives who have voted against stimulus bills, yet had subsequently sought to get some of the monies therefrom for their respective districts. The report treated these people as hypocrites. The reporter repeatedly claimed that they'd somehow reversed themselves, and quoted others representing them as hypocrites; and no one was quoted offering any sort of explanation of why this would not be hypocrisy. The only defense quoted was merely that of one congressman, allowed to explain that he thought that seeking monies for which his constituents had paid was in their interests.

Haig-Speak

Sunday, 21 February 2010

A lot was and is again being made of Alexander Haig's declaration on 30 March 1981, when the President was shot and rushed to hospital, I'm in charge here. Frankly, I think that his remark at that time was willfully misinterpretted by various hostile parties. On the other hand, I remain disgusted by something that Haig said just twelve days earlier, on 18 March.

In 1980, El Salvador was caught-up in civil war, with the United States supporting the Salvadoran state against left-wing insurgents. On 2 December, four American church-women (a lay missionary and three nuns) were beaten, raped, and murdered by members of the Salvadoran National Guard.

As these events were being uncovered, Haig was called before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Haig told the Committee

I'd like to suggest to you that some of the investigation would lead one to believe that perhaps the vehicles the nuns were riding in may have tried to run a roadblock, or was accidentally perceived to have been running a roadblock and there may have been an exchange of gunfire and perhaps those who inflicted the casualities may have tried to cover it up, and this could have been at a very low level of both competence and motivation in the context of the issue itself.
(Underscore mine.) By referring to an exchange of gun-fire, Haig tried to creäte an impression that these women had tried to shoot it out with the National Guard.

Haig went to his grave mocked for attempting to tell the nation that the White House was under active leadership while the President was incapacitated and the Vice President was in-transit. Haig faced minimal consequences for having attempted to depict four unarmed victims of torture and murder as guerillas who had simply died a gun-fight.

The Story

Thursday, 29 October 2009

This video

has drawn a lot of attention on the Web. Here's an example of how the story is being covered by journalists:
Terrible parker in viral video charged from the Toronto Star
York Regional Police charged Tripta Kaushal, 62, on Wednesday with failing to remain at the scene of an accident. She is to appear in court Dec. 1.

But here's what I found when I poked-around:

In Remembrance of Shayam Kaushal, 1968 - 2009 by David Mandel at Canadian Mortgage Trends
Shayam is survived by his wife Anita, son Keshiv and daughter Karishma, and by his parents Amar and Tripta Kaushal, his brother Rajan, and his sister Kiran.

So here's how I read that video: Tripta Kaushal loved her son, as most mothers do. She lost him earlier this year, and it has been hard to cope. But she's trying to get on with her life, because, well, what else can she do? Part of trying to cope is exercise, so she's going to the gym. She's in the lot, trying to park her car. But even this is harder than it use to be, and she messes it up, terribly, unbelievably terribly. She literally drives onto a couple of cars. Not knowing what to do then, she backs off them. Then she sits in her vehicle, and starts crying. Because it's all too much. Not as bad as losing her Shayam, but another awful thing on top of losing him. And she knows that it's her fault, but she can't deal with it. So she drives away.

I'm not saying that what she did is anything but awful. She ruined people's cars, inflicting significant economic damage and damage that is less tangible but may none-the-less have been worse for the victims. She is responsible for this damage. But this is a video of a person who was and is held-together with the emotional equivalent of twine.

[Up-Date (2011:01/04): The YouTube account associated with the link to the video which I original used has been deleted, and with it the video. So I have linked to a different copy of the video.]

[Up-Date (2016:08/19): I notice that, once again, the video to which I linked was removed. So I have linked to yet a different copy.]

Quite Different

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Consider two propositions:

  • The first is that markets are smart, to the extent that they cannot be tricked into anything unless one carefully hides most or all of the contrary evidence.
  • The second is that, left unregulated, markets produce some best possible outcomes.
These aren't at all the same proposition. On the one hand, something can be hard to deceive, yet work at purposes contrary to those that one favors. On the other hand, a mechanism can be vulnerable to some sorts of disruption but, in the absence of that disruption, perform some task well. I'm not saying that the propositions are contrary; they could be simultaneously true; none-the-less, they're plainly not identical.

The run-up to the latest economic crisis seems to have been founded in no small part by a confusion of these two distinct propositions. The Bush Administration represented itself — and may well have considered itself — free market, in-so-far as it expected considerable resilience on the part of the market in the face of remarkable levels of state borrowing and considerable other interventions (compassionately conservative or kleptocratic). And Alan Greenspan, who surely considered himself a believer in laissez faire, is these days explaining his optimistic proclamations from before the crisis as stemming from a failure to reälize that investors would not recognize that a boom could not last forever, to which lack of recognition he also attributes the crisis, as if irrational exuberance were simply a Keynesian animal spirit, rather than a product of things such as lending regulations and Federal Reserve interest rate policy.

Meanwhile, many of the Keynesians, socialists, and pragmatic technocrats (long-standing or born-again) are arguing that the fact that the market could be fooled shows that markets aren't clever and that thus various sorts of interventions are needed, as if any defense of free markets must hang upon a belief that markets are simply too clever to be fooled. Left unaddressed is whether the confusion were endogenous or brought on by state intervention, whether those prior interventions that may have been the cause of the confusion produce actual benefits worth the costs of that confusion, and whether more intervention would produce a more clever system or a less clever system.

In fact, there are various long-established free-market schools of thought that attribute economic crises to a propensity of state intervention to fool economic participants. For example, it is difficult to distinguish to what extent interest rates reflect the supply and demand of private savings for future consumption, and to what extent they are an artefact of central bank intervention for other purposes. In the face of Federal Reserve manipulation of interest rates, the market will not be sufficiently smart to see what the price of loanable funds should be, and therefore will almost certainly build too much or too little for the future.

…and Eating It Too

Friday, 4 September 2009
White House Objects to School Lunch Advocates' Poster Mentioning Obama Daughters by Jake Tapper at ABC News

We've been very clear I think from even before the administration started that their two girls would have a very private life, and we want to protect that private life and their privacy, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning when asked about the PCRM posters. And we hope that others will be respectful, as many in the media have been, about not using the girls as a publicity stunt.

Obama photo evokes Kennedy moment from the BBC

The US White House has released a photograph of President Barack Obama's daughter Sasha sneaking up on her father as he works in the Oval Office.

The image has drawn comparisons with the famous 1963 image of John F Kennedy Jnr playing underneath the Oval Office desk as his father reads documents.

Painting by Numbers

Thursday, 3 September 2009

On 9 September, President Obama is to address Congress on health care reform. Here is what I predict to follow:

  • The main-stream media will declare the speech to be a sort of triumph.
  • In all likelihood, the President's approval ratings will blip back up over the next few days, and the main-stream media will treat this increase as a trend.
  • The approval ratings will begin again to decline, but the main-stream media will ignore the decline until his ratings are at or below the previous low.
  • When the main-stream media admit to the lack of an upward trend, it will be to declare the approval ratings to be volatile, as if they are merely oscillating, rather than trending downwards.
  • When it can no longer be denied that the President is generally unpopular, main-stream media analysis will largely be of a supposed inability of the American public to be happy with any President, as opposed to an honest examination of the differences between what had been hoped and expected (reasonably and unreasonably) of Mr Obama in particular, and what has actually come under his Administration.

All? Most? Some?

Friday, 7 August 2009

When you read or hear some writer or speaker — especially a journalist or a politician — asserting

Economists say X.
ask yourself two questions:
  • Is this all economists or most economists or just some economists?
  • Why has this writer or speaker chosen not to specify whether it is some, most, or all?

The same point applies to other areas of expertise. A bald climatologists or scientists or health experts or historians or philosophers should get one to ask the analogous questions. But, right now, I am provoked by yet another article about what economists say.

To Hate All but the Right Folks Is an Old Established Rule

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Years ago, a friend of mine used to regularly listen to right-wing talk radio. (I imagine that he still does.) I was often a passenger in his car, and there usually had to listen to this programming as well. What I heard drove me up a wall. These commentators didn't usually target people with whose views I agreed, but they routinely misrepresented the arguments that were used by their opponents, made ridiculous universalizations or near-universalizations about the motivations of these opponents, and pretended that the only alternatives to the views of the political left were those of the political right. And the abiding emotion was hate.

For the past few days, I have been visiting my parents. Nearly every evening, they watch MSNBC, and I catch some of it whenever I visit them. What I hear drives me up a wall. The commentators of MSNBC don't usually target people with whose views I agree, but they routinely misrepresent the arguments that have been used by their opponents, make ridiculous universalizations or near-universalizations about the motivations of these opponents, and pretend that the only alternative to the views of the political right are those of the political left. And the abiding emotion is hate.

For example, during this latest visit, I heard Rachel Maddow mocking William Kristol as ostensibly claiming a few weeks into the invasion of Iraq that the war was won, when what Kristol had actually said was that every battle had been decisively won. Were I now to claim that, a few weeks into the American Civil War, every battle had been decisively won by the Confederacy, I would plainly not be claiming that the Confederacy had won the war.

(Maddow was more generally concerned to pretend that the neoconservatives were trying to reposition and to repackage themselves as supporters of the war policy of the Obama Administration. The truth is that, in actual practice, this policy far more closely resembles that of the later Bush Administration than it does the policy described during the Obama candidacy. The neoconservatives, then, don't have to reposition much, though they plainly need to repackage if they are to regain active influence, since their persons and past organizations are anathematized.)

On top of being bothered by all this hate and misrepresentation in-and-of-itself, I am bothered that my father seems to be at least amused by this rubbish, and that my mother sort-of waves-away the fact that there's a stream of misrepresentation, and refuses to acknowledge that the hate is on a par with that of right-wing talk radio.

I end-up closing myself into the principal guest room, away from the television but also then away from my parents.

Amendment (2009:04/10): My father stated, last night, that while my mother likes Rachel Maddow, he finds Maddow unpleasant. Now, if only he would reject some of the other folk on MSNBC.

Dissolved Truth

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A pH change of .24 of the oceans is definitely cause for concern. However, the natural pH of seawater is 8.2, well into the alkaline range, and reducing that by something between .24 and .45 would mean that the ocean were still in the alkaline range (though quite worryingly less). So the headline here

and much of the rhetoric within the body of the article is just rot.

As to the suggestion that the pH will be lowered by as much as .35, it comes from the IPCC, so caveat lector.

Future events such as these will affect you in the future!

Sunday, 22 February 2009
Jade Goody prepares for wedding from the BBC
Terminally ill reality TV star Jade Goody is making final preparations for her wedding, which takes place later.

(Underscore mine.) Not much point in preparing for things that have already taken place or are happening now.