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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Worse Than The Disease



Politico's Jack Shafer declares Facebook's potential ability to squash fake news to be "worse than the disease." He makes a few points:

  • Fake news of sorts has been around for a while--so why squash it now?
  • People who consume fake news are like people at a magic show--they know some of the news they see will be fake--but that's okay because it's a rush.
  • Political bias contributes greatly to who believes a fake-news story: Clinton-voters were less fooled because they didn't want the news (anti-Clinton stories) to be true.
So he thinks that the moral panic around fake news should be allowed to burn itself out without creating a new technology around restriction of speech and information.

Well, Is He Right?

No. He is catastrophically wrong about fake news and therefore his conclusion is a bit, well, stupid.

Uh, That Escalated Quickly

Lest Shafer, who will have this tweeted at him in short order thinks The Omnivore is just another Internet hater, let The Omnivore assure the reader that is not so. Shafer on the whole isn't stupid. His take on fake news moral panic isn't necessarily off base. No, this piece is wrong because The Omnivore (apparently) knows things about fake news that (apparently) Shafer doesn't

What Does The Omnivore Know?

The Omnivore knows 'fake news' from the inside. The Omnivore has watched its creation, propagation, and fin-crest into the mainstream media. The Omnivore knows what kinds of fake news spread better and faster. The Omnivore knows who consumes it and how they think. The Omnivore has spoken with people fooled by fake news--and has a history of (trying) to debunk fake news with its adherents.

In short, The Omnivore is an expert (right now Jack is going "The hell he is. That claim up there? Probably fake.") and The Omnivore knows Shafer is wrong. Let's look deeper.

Fake Newsies Want To Be Fooled

This, alas, is not true: Fake Newises want emotional vindication / validation. Fake news, overwhelmingly provides a feeling that "you are right" to its consumers. It's a statement that stands in the face of the mainstream media which keeps, relentlessly saying "you are wrong" (Hillary did not order a Benghazi stand-down!--She didn't try to get those people killed!). The Mainstream Media also says, sometimes "You are racist."

Fake (or just heavily biased) news says "No, you're OK! You should fear the spreading plague of The Knock Out Game."

So, no, it's not like going to a magician. It's far, far deeper rooted than that, which makes it far more psychologically powerful.

But They Know It's Fake, Right?

No. They don't. They may acknowledge that they aren't sure what's fake and what's not--but that applies as strongly or more to the mainstream media as to random Internet news. They aren't just playing a game: fake newsies think that the mainstream media cooks up lies as much as anyone else and the only time they tell non-leftists truths are when events of great magnitude force them to.

So, no. They don't know it's fake.

What About The Great History of Fake News?

The idea that fake news has been around for a long time is almost intentionally deceptive. Facebook hasn't been around for a long time, neither has Twitter, neither has Internet advertising. What we are seeing here is a new thing. It should, at least, be treated as such.

Fake News Is Easily Debunked By Experts

Jack points out that in other arenas such as sports or automotive areas fake news is quickly and easily debunked. He also notes that Hillary voters were rarely fooled compared to Trump voters--but he ascribes confirmation bias as the major factor here.

Well, yes: that's why Hillary voters were largely not fooled by fake news created for Trump voters--but why didn't they fall for fake news created for them? It was out there.

Here's why: when you trust the main stream media it takes you two seconds to tell if a blockbuster story is true or not: go to Memorandum.com and see if the story is on there. Look at ABC or NBC or CNN and if you don't see the big news about Obama selling Alaska to the Chinese you know it's something's fishy right away.

Conservative consumers of fake news have no such back-stop: they have already come to the conclusion that the overwhelming bias of the liberal media is such that they will do almost anything to squelch a story they don't like.

The reason this same dynamic applies easily in, say, sports is that there are plenty of recognized authorities. That's not the case in America anymore. Not on the right, at least.

What About The Cure?

The cure--where Facebook does something to either flag news as fake--or likely fake and then impedes the spread of it--could  be used to stop other things. That's true. What's questionable is "What other things?"

The example is other "moral panics" which, fine, if we accept the classification of concern about fake news as a moral panic--but what if it's not? What if fake news is more like a disease? How so? Well, firstly it "infects and spreads." It has a pattern that is like a disease. Secondly, while some people build up an immunity others, if hit with enough of it, might "get infected" (decide it's true) even if it isn't.

Finally, it comes through contact--nodes that are connected in our social graphs. Fake news, per se, unlike a magic show isn't something people seek out (yes: people go to The Onion--but they go for humor. Most fake news isn't funny). If you get fake news from trending stories, that's kind of like going out into the big wide world and being exposed: you may well reject it. But when it comes from someone you know and trust? 

That's different.

How Facebook Helps

What Facebook will do is essentially automate the fact-checking part of the equation: people can still email stories around, after all. A lot of people--and herein The Omnivore includes his highly educated cousin--have no idea how to use Google to fact-check a story or a quote. They don't especially like being told their forwarding fake news but they also don't (generally) intend to forward fake news. 

If Facebook can convince moderate skeptics that its algorithm is decent, there's a good chance people will like it.

This is very different from Facebook then re-purposing its technology to stop some other form of news from spreading: without support of the user-base the back-lash would be severe (it may be severe anyway) and the barrier to leaving is high--but as we saw from Facebook trying hard to accommodate conservative critics . . .  Facebook itself doesn't think it's that high.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Don't Call Me Racist

Totally, Absolutely Not Racist. Also: Not Real.
If anything is clear--has always been clear--and has never stopped being clear--calling people racist doesn't make them change. It sure doesn't make them any less racist and, depending on where you draw the lines, the charge might not be valid anyway.

The Omnivore is sure that there are a few conservatives he knows reading this with a growing leery feeling: He's going to call me racist.

You're right. The Omnivore is going to call you racist.

But Hasn't It Been Overused So Much It's Lost Its Power?

You wish. If those words come out of your mouth or off your fingers, that's a good clue that you are, in fact, racist. Being called racist is incredibly powerful--which is why it annoys you so much. It's why Trump voters (some) were quick to claim that's why Hillary lost--because she called everyone racist!

If that were true then the reason Obama won was because people called him a Sekret Muslim Tyrant--what's that? Oh, he was? Yeah, well, if that's you--same chain of logic makes you racist. If all that nonsense wasn't why he kept winning then, no, it's not why Hillary lost either.

Calling people racist is still super annoying--especially when it is true--and it's going to keep happening. Brietbart just lost Kellogg as an advertiser--because they're racist.

Brietbart, the non-safe-place tough as nails real-man website is full of a million articles complaining about Kellogg. There's even a boycott! The Omnivore is old enough to remember when that was something liberals did.


Okay--So, You're Gonna Call Me Racist?

Yep. Well, kinda.

This Should Be Good

That's what you think.

Is This In Like The "Everyone's Racist" Kinda Way?

Nope. The Omnivore did that a few articles ago. This is a more direct way--the bad way--the "I'm not a racist and I hate it when people call me that" way. So let's do it.

What do you think about flying the Confederate Flag? The Confederate Flag (sigh, okay, The Confederate Battle Flag) was (one of) the symbols of the rebellious Southern States that fought a war to keep the racist institution of slavery on-going.

Nuh-Uh--It Was About Overreaching Federal Power and Economics

Georgia: First paragraph, second sentence - "For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. "

Guess it wasn't "economic anxiety" after all?

Back to the Confederate Flag. While the symbolism of the Civil War is a pretty deep study in its own right, the Confederate Flag came back into American culture in 1961 when George Wallace raised it over the Capitol Dome in Montgomery Alabama. Wallace, who ran for president--and won several states--ran explicitly on "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever."

We all agree segregation was pretty racist, right?

The Confederate Flag became associated with Wallace and the segregation movement. That's how it came back into American life. Of course not everyone knows this--the Duke boys weren't racists--so what's the problem?

The problem is that black people bloody well knew it. It mattered to them--and it mattered to the South Will Rise Again crowd. The Dukes of Hazard was Hollywood. The real lynchings happened in the south.

Even If I Grant That The Confederate Flag Might Be Racist--Then What? I Don't Fly It

Of course you don't. Statistically speaking if you read The Omnivore you don't--and wouldn't--fly the Confederate Flag. But that's how bubbles work. So here's the actual question we've been angling towards: What would you tell your buddy who does have the Confederate Flag on his truck, who is complaining that people keep calling him racist?

Since this is hypothetical, let's dispense with the "I wouldn't say shit" reality of the situation. No, your buddy is complaining--he's not a racist--no more racist than you are, anyway--which is dead zero--he just loves his southern heritage and rebel soul. Black people are free to fly it alongside him. Right?

Right?

Alt-Right?

Here's what you wouldn't say: "Dude, look--the symbol has some baggage to black people who were, yeah, slaves. So look: even though it means something different to you, it's not hard to see how it might legitimately offend people who know its actual history and have skin (color) in the game."

That's what you wouldn't say--because that would reflect badly on you.

Huh? What The Heck?

We'll get there. What you might actually say--or say in this hypothetical imaginary scenario--is "Fuck them--they don't know you. You're not racist. Your intentions are not racist. Go ahead and fly it with pride. Southern pride."

Closer? Yeah--The Omnivore knows. Your hypo-buddy is, for real, hypothetically actually not racist--says you--and says The Omnivore--so he can get away with doing anything--even things that might be legitimately perceived as racist--such as using racist symbols--or racist language--or whatever--because he's not racist.

Is that right? Is that cool? After all, blacks can call each other the n-word because they're not racist. So why not a non-racist white person? It's because they're reverse racist. Right? Right? Alt-Right?

So here's the deal: the reason that telling your buddy to cool it with the racist symbolism because it legitimately makes him look like maybe a racist--which isn't good both because it's bad for him and it's good for actual racists who also fly the flag because they want segregation now, segregation in the future, and segregation forever--because if you were self-reflective enough to realize that you'd also realize that there's a buncha things in that spectrum that you do.

What kinds of things? Oh . . . well, which party is pretty cool with flying the Confederate Flag. Let's start there. It's the Democrats, right?

Sorry--was that too aggressive--okay, which Presidential Candidate had Confederate Flags sold with his name on them? Like, did they do that with Hillary? Nope. It's the candidate you voted for, right?

Sorry--don't mean to offend here.

How about the Alt-Right? The Alt-Right comes from Spencer who is a full-bore Nazi. He coined the term. Breitbart's chief, Stephen Bannon called Brietbart the platform of the Alt-Right. He said it--not The Omnivore. Bannon is in the White House.

You're cool with it--but that's because you definitely won't click over and spend some time reading Radix Journal--but if you do and confound The Omnivore--you will quickly raise your Star Trek mental shields and decry it as a fringe movement (there were only 200 Nazis at the convention, you'll say--ignoring strenuously, that prior to Trump the Nazis could not even muster that in Washington DC).

And then you will certainly and vigorously not draw lines between the Alt Right and Brietbart, which you read (and if you don't, you watch nothing but Fox News which pioneered the Brietbart model).

Don't strain yourself--The Omnivore already knows all this. And you know it too: nothing is going to change your mind. Certainly not being called racist.

But the fact is that you do some--or maybe a lot--of this stuff. Stuff that is dripping with racist signifiers and stuff that gives social strength and credibility to the actual wannabe Goebbels of the world who do plan to use the social credibility you've lent them to raise their stature and power and are savvy enough to use you to do it.


But None Of This Means I Actually Am Racist!

Oh? Well, right--no--it doesn't. It just means you aren't in a good position to actually tell. See, everything--every chain of thought here--begins with the axiom that "Since I am not racist it is okay to [ X ]." And if someone should call you racist, well, you doth protest--a lot. Too much? The Omnivore can't say.

But think about this: if you are aiding the alt-Right, while being in denial about it (admit it, you haven't studied the alt-right--not because they're not important--but because you might learn something uncomfortable)--if you are happy to defend legitimately racist signifiers (and either haven't thought about it too much--or have avoided learning something about it--because you might learn something unpleasant)--isn't it possible that your avoidance strategy would lead you to avoid any self-reflection because you might learn you're racist?

Nope. Didn't think so.

Real Talk About the Radical Islam Threat



Suffice it to say that we're finally going to have a president who will say the words "Radical Islam"--in fact, it's probably going to be hard to stop him from saying it. Of course saying the magic words and doing something about it are two different things. So what exactly is the threat--and what can we do about it?

Real Talk: The Threat Inside America Isn't Islam

The problem with defining Islam as the problem is that the negative case is far too strong: the number of Muslims in America who do not become terrorists is simply way, way too high. If you used Islam as you terror-test, your false-positive rate would be incredibly high. You wouldn't accept that in any other condition so you can't accept it here just because it won't impact anyone you know personally.

On the other hand, Islam does seem to have some contributing factors to terrorism. If you deny that, you probably voted for Sanders in the general election.

Real Talk: Part of the Problem Is Guns

As someone who supports the right to own and use firearms, including AR-15s, The Omnivore is sad to tell you that another contributing factor to the terror-threat is access to these weapons? How can that be? Well, in the past year we have seen:

  1. A mass shooting by Islamists -- San Bernadino
  2. A mass stabbing (and attempted vehicular homicide) by an Islam/ISIS motivated guy - Ohio State
  3. A bombing by an Islam inspired guy - New York
What were the death totals?
  • 16 killed
  • None
  • None
In fact knife attacks are less than 50% as lethal as gun attacks--and that includes the gruesome statistic that world-wide, for some reason, many people who go into knife attacks go against children (who are more fragile). If you don't believe the stats, call The Omnivore out. He's got 'em.

The Problem is Scripts


In these cases the problem isn't ISIS--which apparently had next to no contact with any of the attackers (if any). It isn't even Islam per-se (the Columbine shooters did virtually identical things without needing even one Allahu Ackbar).

No--the problem is Scripts. Scripts are the psychological term for roles and actions that people take in a cultural context. For example, the script of the lone shooter is now fully understood. There's a uniform (black tactical dress), there's a tool (the AR-15: accept no substitutes). There's a method: Manifesto, YouTube video, go shooting.

If you find their computers, this stuff is all over them.

For Islamists it's there too--knife and car attacks have been pioneered in Israel by Palestinian terrorists. A knife attack earlier this year at a Minnesota mall was also carried out by a Somali refugee.

So here's the deal: when a Muslim gets angry and alienated enough, unlike the Sanders voter who posts an angry Twitter Rant, they have this script where they go and kill people. Other folks have this script too--white, All American High School outcasts with a little bit of sociopathic bent can try to "beat" Adam Lanza's "High Score."

Islam is a contributing factor in Islamic attacks the same way that social "elevation" of white mass shooters is a contributing factor in white-people attacks. It isn't the active ingredient--that's murderous rage and unjustified feelings of victimization--it's just an ingredient we can recognize.

What Do You Do About Scripts?

You can do three things:
  1. Make the script less attractive. That means (a) aggressively calling these people losers. (b) Taking them alive (far less sexy) as a "solution to your problems." Treating traditional ideological terrorists as common criminals breaks them. It broke the IRA badly. That may be less successful vs. ISIS but it's still useful as an approach.
  2. Provide better scripts. Make sure people who have the attention and/or respect of potential attackers provide other alternatives. This, paradoxically, means being less suspicious of, for example, Somali immigrants--yes, two out of thousands have gone terribly bad--but providing a script where they can be accepted by American society is an antidote to the shooting. If you think that's "already happening" you aren't paying attention.
  3. Make scripts harder to execute. This means making it harder to get guns. It means better and smarter monitoring of social media. Americans hate both of these options--but they are the most likely "solutions" to the problem.
Of course accepting immigrants for Jihad-rich areas (Syria, Somalia) is also, yes, a risk factor. We have to decide which of our principles are held highest--helping endangered people? Constitutional easy-access to guns? A society that treats everyone as equals (no racial profiling!)? A right to privacy? Freedom of speech (I can say Jihadi Stuff without getting a visit from the FBI)? And so on. How much attrition of these is stopping one attack worth (or blunting its kill-numbers?). Are all these principles equal? Or are some more "equal" than others?

That's the question we need to be asking.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Big Lie About Fake News


Let's not pretend, for a minute, that the Fake News issue isn't politically loaded. It is--and assuming that all Fake News is just either Macedonian kids making a buck or merry pranksters out for 'the lulz.' It's not: Fake News is a political beast--and you're not going to want to hear this--but it's conservative.

The (Solid) Conservative Case Against The Mainstream Media

Conservatives have long--long--decried the media's bias. The media is biased. That's true: humans have bias. Bias is often invisible and definitely pervasive. Bias matters--that's why drug tests do double-blind experiments. Something as flimsy as news can't hope to be bias free. So conservatives have a point.

Attempts to quantify the impact of this bias have ranged from the fanciful to the scientific ('Left Turn' uses [ math ] to decide that if the media were "unbiased" the US would be more like, Tennessee or something, The Omnivore thinks (The Omnivore doesn't remember and can't be arsed to look it up). Suffice it to say that the book's methodology is questionable--very questionable--but let's acknowledge that the sum-total of bias in the media does definitely have some impact on the end-product (both in what is/isn't reported, how headlines are constructed, etc.).

Finally, Conservatives can point to very explicit cases where the news media falls down. There are faked stories, legitimate news orgs falling for hoaxes, contradictory reports from big outlets, anonymous sources, a dearth of fact-checkers and editors in a shrinking profession where the cycle has gone into blindly fast overdrive. Basically, if you want a table full of smoking guns, The Omnivore can provide you with a bunch of 'em.

But don't. Don't pretend. Don't pretend for a minute that this is what the Fake News dialog is actually about.

Just don't. If you think the mainstream media is worse--or even roughly equal--to other sources--you are kidding yourself. Badly.

Conservative media has discovered that it can flourish best by lying to its consumers--and it has. If you didn't like reading that, tough.

Reality Has A Liberal Bias?

Self-congratulatory liberals are, perhaps, the most annoying species of political animal. Smugly saying "Reality has a liberal bias" has all kinds of problems with it--to the point where it's actually a stupid thing to say. However: what has happened with conservative news is not a balancing act--but rather a break--a break where anything that succeeds as conservative news on the large scale has to actually disassociate itself from reality.

It isn't that reality has a liberal bias--it's that conservative news has an imaginary bias.

How can The Omnivore say that with such certainty? Let's look at the building blocks. These are "directional sign posts." You're (the reading conservative) not going to be able to disagree with them--instead you're going to rationalize why they don't matter, or why the other side is just as bad. In doing this, you're going to lie to yourself. Sorry.

1. Entertainers as News Sources
There are a lot of attempts to make news entertaining. You are probably thinking of Jon Stewart, John Oliver, or Rachel Maddow. Right? You weren't thinking of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity--probably. What's the difference? The difference is two fold:

(a) On the right, both Limbaugh and Hannity (the top dogs in terms of views--and hugely listened to/watched) defend themselves as entertainers and not journalists or newsmen. That isn't something that Stewart, Oliver, or Maddow do. If you corner the left on this, they'll tell you that they are, in fact, intending to report the news--with a perspective, yes--a bias, if you will--but they do not dodge the issue by hiding behind the "I'm just an entertainer" deal. Limbaugh has done this repeatedly. Hannity has done this recently.

Don't believe The Omnivore? Call me on it, bro.

(b) The left simply has no one like Limbaugh (and now maybe Hannity). These "entertainers" reach high-propensity voters like no one else and for much of the Obama administration, Limbaugh was picked by voters as the "head of the party." These are facts--if you don't believe them, Call The Omnivore out. The reach and trust that conservatives put in people who defend themselves as "not newsmen" is greater than any voice on the left.

2. A Belief In Conspiracy Theory
Everyone believes in "conspiracy theory"--especially if you go to "a conspiracy theory" and will let in any one theory that someone has called a "conspiracy theory." The left and the right have their own theories--although studies have shown there are more prominence for a lot of them on the right, you don't have to believe those studies.

No--the conspiracy theory thinking in this case is a belief in an apocalyptic future (not the biblical Armageddon here, but rather the plans by evil liberals to destroy America's currency or force Americans into concentration camps under the One-World-Government of the UN). These beliefs have been internalized strongly by the right but not the left. How can The Omnivore say this, you ask, perhaps annoyed by the accusation?

Simple: advertising. For one thing, look how people like Hannity and Beck have made their money over the years. They sell gold or gold certificates. On the phone, the operator tells the caller that Obama is about to use a old law to confiscate gold--so they up-sell them to some particularly horrible "gold item." Don't believe The Omnivore? Hannity got a lawsuit against him.

Call The Omnivore out if you think it's a lie.

Think Rachel Maddow or John Stewart is making millions selling their listener's gold? Nope. The Omnivore knows you don't watch 'em. Go ahead: throw down if you don't believe there's a difference.

The second is the iconography that is used to sell things to conservatives and the pitches. Look here for examples (with pictures). These are rank conspiracy theories used to scare conservatives out of their money.

Does this sort of thing exist on the left-wing sites? No. It did/does not. It might now under Trump, we'll see--but for more than decade it hasn't. These apocalyptic lies made hucksters a lot of money off conservatives.

Don't like it? Go for it: Call The Omnivore out.

Finally, The Omnivore points to Alex Jones and Trump as evidence of Republicans wholesale swallowing the Conspiracy Poison. If you don't watch Alex Jones--or don't know who he is--get yourself an education. It'll shock you.

3. A Basic Lie: That Republicans Were Sold Out By Their Leaders
A final break from reality that The Omnivore has tracked is the lie that congressional Republicans sold out their constituents by "not fighting hard enough." This was used by marginal voices, insurgent primary challengers, and even major voices in the Conservative media to further individual causes. When you look at what Obama managed to do, despite consolidated opposition, it is clear that there isn't anything more congress could have done to stop him.

Conservatives were told that Congress just needed to:

  • Shut down the Federal Government until Obama caved - Why would Obama cave when Republicans were taking the blame for it?
  • Default on the Debt Ceiling - This is insane. If you thought for a minute that this would be "okay" you have no idea what's going on. If you listened to some conservative analysis saying this would be okay and believed it? Well, you were lied to . . . and you bought it.
  • Impeach Obama--that his lawless tyranny could be pointed out and could bring him down. This was never the case and Congress people who looked into it knew it. Forget about "not winning" the impeachment, there was never grounds in the first place.
  • Investigate the numerous, numerous scandals that Obama was implicated in and find the smoking gun. They did. Often. Stringently. Unsurprisingly, they found nothing actionable.
And so on. Part of the problem is that a lot of what congress does is more or less invisible to even educated voters (due to complexity more than obscurity)--but part of it is that Fox News didn't tell you when investigations didn't pan out.

Fox didn't tell you, for example, that none of the Benghazi investigations found anything reasonably actionable. They kept announcing "bombshells."

4. A Narrative Gap Around Strategy
Conservative ideology, not unlike, liberal ideology, is carefully constructed. We can see a "hole" in it when Trump was asked if the woman having the abortion should be punished legally in addition to the doctor. He said "Yes," horrifying the entire pro-life movement who have carefully built a narrative where the woman hiring a doctor to execute her child is also the victim (something that would never fly if the child was, say, a day old, right?).

This doesn't mean the narrative is wrong--or a lie--just that the logic of it is intricate and ideological (for a view on the left, the argument that Islam, as a global religion, is identical in modern-malice to Christianity is absolutely absurd).

The problem with the right-wing news is that their ideological constructs go deeper than just having opinions on good vs. evil and wander into the American equivalent of holocaust denial (and, with Bannon at the helm, may move into the reality of holocaust denial).

What does The Omnivore mean by such an offensive statement?

Well, let's start with the Confederate flag. The Republicans can't do real-talk on it because it would alienate southern voters who fly it. That it's a symbol of treasonous racism isn't a matter of opinion. It's fact--but the strategic ambiguity that the GOP must exercise around it has repercussions.

There's the "Democrats are the real racists" argument--the GOP can't (usually) come out and say "Look, guys, we have an issue with racism." That's for a very good reason: it would do a ton of damage. On the other hand, you've got David Duke running as a Republican, White Supremacists making Robo-Calls for Trump, and the KKK holding a victory march. 

Yes, Trump did better than Romney with Latino and Black voters--but, uh, guys? That wasn't a high bar to clear. More Republicans than Democrats are against mixed-race marriage. That's today. Is that kind of a problem? Well, if your talking point is that the Democratic economic policies clearly make them racists--uh, yeah? Yeah, that might be.

We're going to see the Trump White House defend the alt-right (and you, Mr. Conservative Reader have no idea what that is--and certainly won't go read Radix or VDare to find out--but oh, boy if you did: you'd wind of figuring out why it wasn't important to anything in 10 seconds).

The point here isn't that "Republicans are racists"--the same thing applies to women. Republican strategists have this thing where they try to reach Republican law-makers and teach them how (not) to talk about rape. That's kind of a gap when you are trying to say there is no "war on women" and it's all "made up."

The GOP's stance on voter Identification is that large-scale in person voter fraud is happening all over. You, Mr. Conservative reader, probably believe that either:
  1. There is and it's being suppressed --or--
  2. It's happening but without the Id checks, there's "no way to prove it" so they can't show it.
Both of these are wrong. Voter fraud can certainly be caught--and is--and courts that have given very, very interested parties plenty of time to look for and bring in evidence, have consistently and repeatedly failed. Before you decide that in-person voter fraud isn't a myth because of something you've read somewhere (10 million cases of voter fraud discovered by X!) ask yourself why states with Republican governors and GOP election heads aren't making more of this. Because the media is suppressing it?

No--because it never. pans. out. Go check. The Omnivore will wait.

So What Did You Disagree With?

The Omnivore knows better than to think he persuaded you. You probably decided that whatever the flaws of the right-wing media are, the left's are just as bad for other reasons--or even worse. Where was the Gosnell abortion atrocity in the national news?? Why the black-out?? Right?

The answer is this: there is an actual, 100's of years old, process to doing news. There are fact-checkers, editors, and standards. There are publications with actual reputational value. When these policies are followed, as they are at major outlets--even at FOX--the news gets far more right than wrong. 

You can point to problems--but if you compare them to the vast number of stories produced, they vanish. Sure, you can decide that there was a ton more nobody caught--but you are ignoring the fact that there are a ton of people looking. Everything in the MSM gets scrutinized by the right. Just like every hint of voter-fraud gets followed up. These processes are already in place. Bias gets called out. Falsehoods get exposed, and so on. You are seeing the entire iceberg.

The War For The Narrative of America

Which brings us to Fake News. The reason why conservatives in general are against censorship of "fake news" is because they (correctly) fear that legitimate conservative news sources will be put on the black lists. This is a real fear and should not be discounted--but like the racism and sexism quagmire, conservatives find themselves unable to address the issue plainly because it's a political landmine for them.

Here is what's going on:
  1. They benefit from fake news
  2. They engage in heavily biased reporting--far moreso than most leftwing media--which makes them vulnerable to fake-news accusations or bans
  3. They have created an environment where fake news can flourish to the economic advantage of conservative media and right-wing insurgents and now dismantling that would hurt entrenched power.
Are these even arguable? The second one is the most interesting. If the left-wing were trying to elect Hillary Clinton (probably true) and abandoned their journalistic methods, stories about her email would not have outpaced her policies by a huge margin.

Fox has positioned itself as the leader in legitimate conservative journalism. While it has told some whoppers, The Omnivore believes that its production is, largely, legitimate. The issue is not one of truth but of pervasive bias: Fox News is unapologetic about its bias and, because of the mix of the above points (entertainer-news-casters, strategic doctrine gaps, etc.) it is often forced to maneuver around the unvarnished truth.

This makes it vulnerable to accusations of fake-news rather than a primary offender of fake news--but this also means that it can't come out and start going after TruthFeed or The Angry Patriots Facebook site or whatever. If it did that, it could destabilize its viewing base.

It can't say "Yo, guys, Obama's pretty bad but he is definitely not trying to institute sharia law--oh, and black people were not better under slavery. Also, voter fraud? Never been a serious identified case of it and people do have the tools to look and find it."

They can't say that because then no one would trust them.

They also make a lot of money off fake-news consumers like the gold-certificates thing (Okay, Beck makes money off it--but you see the point).

Fake news is good for conservatives. It's bad for liberals.

That's the truth that people are skirting around.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Crying Wolf



Slate Star Codex makes a data-based case that Trump isn't (a) especially racist for a 70 year old guy and (b) maybe isn't even especially racist at all. His points, at a high level, are roughly:

  1. Trump improved over Romney with the minority vote share.
  2. Trump's explicit message has been pro-minority and pro LGBT--even if clumsily.
  3. There are just not a lot of white supremacists out there--so who cares if they support him?
  4. Trump's positions on campaign violence, immigrants, and so on are at least nuanced to significant degree. He did, for example, disavow David Duke (albeit clumsily).
These are all true--and taken together make a reasonably powerful argument. So is he right?

Well? Is He Right?

Do you believe that advertising makes a difference? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Firstly, advertising makes a difference because it makes people who don't know a product is out there aware of it. Secondly, advertising provides a best-case narrative to promote a product, service, or idea. And finally, advertising provides a cultural context for a product--you know where a VW Jetta fits into society because you see the ads touting its safety and showing parents letting their kids take the car out because it's such a responsible choice.

There can be little question that Trump is advertising for white supremacy.

How So?

The first is the obvious: Brietbart. Brietbart is Bannon's web-news site that is the herald of the alt-right. If you want to address Slate Star Codex's argument, go there, read a bunch of articles, and then realize that the guy in charge of that is Trump's White House Strategist. Bannon has enough ties to the alt-right that he might not pass a security check.

Of course none of that means Trump is racist himself--just that he has placed a pretty blatant racial provocateur in a position of high power.

Brietbart is a mouth-piece--a massive narrative engine with more traffic than any of the white supremacist sites Codex lists--that does, in fact, promote a voice that is pretty clearly racist. Bannon, ensconced in power, will obviously increase that voice's reach.

Secondly, Trump's rise is air-time for white supremacists. From David Duke getting headlines to Klan marches making the news, Trump has created an environment where these "products" are becoming more and more visible in our society.

The Alt-Right cheered when Hillary gave her Alt-Right speech because it had made the front page (finally!) and while Hillary may have been unwise to add her voice to that mix in the end, the fact that she was even thinking about saying anything at all is telling.

Finally, Trump will be the leader of the free world. If anything could happen to mainstream his supporters--many of whom hold ideas that the majority (according to SSC's polling) find abhorrent, it's that. Trump's victory will--and has--elevated what was, yes, a minority force into something with a national cultural footprint.

Just look at all the people proudly declaring themselves "deplorable."

If the "deplorables" were really all volunteering at soup kitchens and tending the sick, that'd be one thing--but as far as The Omnivore can tell, they're mostly on Twitter doing the tweet equivalent "I'm not racist but--[something racist]."

Simply put: Yeah, there may not be a ton of White Supremacists right now--but Trump seems like to make more of them. Maybe a lot more. Depends on how well advertising works.

The Thing SSC Doesn't Address

SSC is right that if you take "dog whistles" out of Trump's list of pandering and you align both pro-and con-Trump you get a lot of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (we will need better reporting to sort this stuff out). On the other hand, Trump certainly could have addressed this stuff himself. Trump has re-tweeted a bunch of white supremacists accounts. Why does that keep happening? Well, because they're tweeting stuff he likes and he can't be arsed to check?

Sure--maybe--but if he cared? He'd check.

There are pro-Trump memes that show Trump in Nazi garb next to ovens. Yes--these are online--but also, yes, Trump counts his on-line efforts as a major part of his campaign. 

Trump could put a stop to this--at least a lot of it--in addition to talking up minorities and kind of faintly disavowing David Duke, he could could come out and say those people aren't welcome in his coalition. Why doesn't he?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Warning Signs



There are numerous reports of various shake-ups and screw-ups in the early days of the Trump transition team. Christie was cut loose (for a variety of reasons). Pence has allegedly excised all lobbyists. One of the Nat-Sec guys, Mike Rogers, resigned (was pushed to resign?). There are allegations that American allies were randomly dialing into Trump Tower trying to speak with the President Elect. And so on.

Trump, himself, said (tweeted) that everything was under control. If you think that presidential communication via tweet is maybe not the best idea in the world, that might not be confidence inspiring.

But who knows?

What Do We Know?

Right now we know very, very little. This isn't necessarily bad--It's always nicer to know more than less--but the team isn't even in power yet. It's also, well, it's what people voted for: a guy who isn't a politician who doesn't do things the standard way. If he can make it through--or muddle through--all of this, in a few months no one will care.

We also saw a bunch of reports of things like Trump asking for TS clearance for his kids. Now we're hearing it was a low-level aide. Who knows what the truth is--and right now? Honestly? While Trump is in no way The Omnivore's candidate, we have to really wait and see what happens before having a conclusive judgment. That's just the way it works.

On the other hand . . .

At What Point Do Yellow Flags Become Red Ones?

Right now a fledgling administration having transition pains is going to look to some people like vindication that Trump was awful and to others like no-big-deal. So when does it become a big deal?

First Point: How Would You Know?

The Omnivore really, really hates to have to say this--but how would you, a hypothetical person who voted for Trump, know if something bad had happened? Who would you trust to tell you? Does it have to be Trump himself saying "I screwed that up?" Would you trust Sean Hannity? Who?

The answer is, if you're honest, no one--a news report of any stripe--save one from sources that would never release it--is going to be dismissed as partisan / biased and, Trump voters being as unfortunately human as the rest of us, are near-perfect engines of rationalization.

To-Wit:

  1. Has Trump broken a promise to repeal Obamacare?
  2. Has Trump downgraded a beautiful wall to maybe-a-fence?
  3. Has he decided he's not going to deport 11MM people but, rather, focus on the criminals (which Obama was doing)? That he's not going to create a new, muscular "Deportation Force"?
  4. He has promised to leave the TPP--but is he going to tear up the Iran deal on day one?
According to some news sources Trump has back-tracked on all of these. What do Trump voters think? Probably not much--either that the reports are overblown, that Trump will do the right thing--even if he doesn't do literally what he said--and so on. 

The fact that much of this--indeed, almost all of it--save for the TPP, which The Omnivore suspects most voters (Trump or otherwise) don't understand correctly, are Obama policies. Hated Obama policies.

But the point is that The Omnivore has yet to hear a Trump voter analyze this and conclude anything. And to be fair, why should they? He's not in office yet. Maybe he will repeal O-Care on day one and replace it with something amazing. But maybe not. So the question remains: At what point would you trust a news source to tell you that Trump had done something you didn't like?

Second Point: What Are The Practical Consequences?

The Omnivore finds it very, very, very unlikely that Trump would, say, drop a nuke on Mosul to kill off ISIS commanders--but if he did? Would you complain? The Omnivore suspects that most people (Trump voters or not) would have a hard time directly articulating what the ramifications of such an act would be. 

Trust The Omnivore: It would be bad--but in terms of immediate practical consequences? We'd get to see, as Ted Cruz said, if sand glows in the dark after being nuked. ISIS would, almost certainly, be plunged into disarray. What's not to love?

Let's say that Trump shut down the New York Times (somehow). Would you, the Trump voter, disavow him? The Omnivore thinks not--sure, some Trump voters probably do/did read the NYT--but not many (probably). If he managed to sue it into oblivion, who would cry for it? Liberals. Who cares about liberals.

So: what practical consequences would you consider to be evidence of a bad administration?

Third Point: What Are The Alternatives?

One of the under-rated critiques of the Obama administration, especially with regard to foreign policy, is that mostly there were just no good alternatives. Everybody hates the Libya war--but to The Omnivore's eye, it was already going south, we had a broad base of support to go after Kadaffi, and, hey, we finished what Reagan started.

There were not a lot of alternatives. Same with Syria: even smart conservatives hand-wave the issue by asking for "leadership" or "strength" which would have presumably done something? The Omnivore remembers Congress rejecting Obama's direct strikes against Assad. What were the alternatives? What are they today? What do you do about North Korea? Answer: Nothing. If there was something to be done that wasn't an absurd risk, someone would have done it.

So keep in mind that even if you think the Trump administration has made some awesome fuck-up, unless there are some good, clear alternatives (that were never evidenced for, say, Obamacare), just complaining doesn't get you far.

Fourth Point: What About The Racism (and Sexism, etc.)?

If you are upset about Trumps placing Bannon in the White House Strategist position, The Omnivore hears you. This is one of the disqualifying things that The Omnivore holds against the Trump administration--even if it does well. For right now, though, The Omnivore is talking to Trump voters who are, presumably, okay with Bannon (who???) in the White House.

The Omnivore's Assessment

The Omnivore is going to call the above so you don't have to:
  1. The Omnivore will trust any mainstream news source that reports an event where the report stands for more than 96 hours (4 days). If contradicted by another major news source, the event will be deemed "unclear." Major news sources include Network / Cable news and news or Internet publications that fall between Fox on the right and, say, NPR on the left. The Omnivore will also accept a rebuke from Speaker Ryan as evidence that the administration has badly screwed up.
  2. The Practical Consequences would need to be: (a) loss of American life in what seems like a needless or callous fashion (b) Damage to the economy (a market drop of more than, say 7% for more than 2 weeks) due to uncertainty in the government or screw-ups in management, (c) A significant military engagement with boots on the ground in a way that seems unlikely to create a short-term win (sending a large mass of troops to Syria, for example). (d) Compromising our security in some illegal fashion (leaking data to Russia, for example). 
  3. There are several "Alternatives" that are currently "on the table." The first is honoring American commitments or, if they are broken, broken with the consent of the whole government. Tearing up the Iran deal on day one would not be a reasonable action since there are alternatives around renegotiating it. Threatening North Korea with no good end-game is a lousy idea since there is an alternative in "just waiting." And so on. So status quo, right now, is an alternative.
  4. The Racism. Trump would have to do something herculean to get rid of the racism. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. The Omnivore isn't holding his breath.
A final note: if you think that Trump-Pence's expulsion of lobbyist is a good thing, consider that you've been given a "good-guys/bad-guys" view of the world. Lobbyists do have outside interests in mind, yes--but they are also avenues to expertise that is, despite what you might want to think, very, very useful in running a government. 

America being "humiliated" in the eyes of the world is something we'll survive, for certain--but if you think that Trump's demeanor is going to help him exercise leadership, you're wrong about that. He will have to lead in a significantly different fashion than he has campaigned or run his business. We'll see if he can--but the idea that other countries--allies--are (allegedly?) appalled by him isn't a good thing.

If you thought those things were signs of hope, we'll, you're wrong about that. If you think they're likely survivable? The Omnivore agrees.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What's a Racist?

Probably a Racist. Can't Be Completely Sure, Of Course.
This New York Times Magazine article has an interview with a woman who was "for Obama" and then soured on him--and then voted Trump.
When Obama was elected, she hoped he would “bridge race relations, to help people in the middle of Iowa” see that black people “are decent hardworking people who want the same things that we want.” She said people in rural Iowa often don’t know many black people and unfairly stereotype them. But Obama really turned her off when after a vigilante killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin, he said the boy could have been his son. She felt as if Obama was choosing a side in the racial divide, stirring up tensions.
On Twitter, a few days ago, The Omnivore tweeted: "Nobody knows what a racist is anymore." It's true--they just know it bloodly well isn't them. Everyone else though? Well, inside our own heads, we know what a racist is. It goes, roughly, something like this:

  1. I hate niggers and other non-whites and I want them to die -- I am a racist (and proud)
  2. I don't want to live with niggers (etc.). I'm ethnocentric. If  you call me a racist, I'm . . . okay with that.
  3. I think black people and white people would do better living apart. That's my experience. I guess if you want to call that racist go ahead. You live with 'em.
  4. I'm accept that as a whole whites do better--but a lot of that actually is merit based. Blacks commit more crimes for whatever reason--I think genetics has something to do with it probably. I'm a race realist. Call me racist and I'll say you're uneducated.
  5. I want everyone to have the same opportunities--but aren't a lot of black people are behaving badly with the Black Lives Matter thing. That's just like (kinda like?) the Klan, isn't it? Why can't all lives matter? Maybe black people have it rougher--but I and the white people I know have it rough too. Call me racist and I'll vote for Trump.
  6. I'm totally not racist. I have black friends, after all. Maybe even some black family--but I've had it with all this institutional racist crap and this innate-racist crap and people trashing the police when it always comes out the guy who got killed was resisting or otherwise doing something they shouldn't have. Call me racist and I'll tell you that you're why we can't have an honest conversation about race in this country.
  7. I'm totally color-blind. Not racist at all. Why would you think that. If you point out something I did that seems racist HOW DARE YOU!!??
  8. I'm totally racist--as a white guy my patriarchal upbringing and the white over-culture mean that I'm racist by nature. Sorry about that. I'm working on it.
Everyone agrees that 1-3 are at least very likely racist. They mostly accept it themselves. After that, it gets dicey. Most people probably think everything one or two levels below them are racist.

Does This Cover Everyone??

Of course not. This is making a point--that there are a lot of ways to "be racist" (and this applies with slightly different terms for sexist or Islamophobic or homophobic or transphobic or whatever). We don't have a real standard anymore. Maybe we never did--maybe it was always 1-3 and after that it was always dicey?

Who knows? The point is that there's no longer a good way to talk about this in anything approximating a productive manner. Every term becomes a bludgeon (see what happened to 'privilege' once it escaped from a corner of academia and went running around biting people like the infected monkeys in 28 Days Later).

So What Does This Mean?

The Omnivore is going to tell you. Straight up: you're racist. Yep. Even if you're black. You're racist. Forget about that sociological institutional black-people-can't-be-racist bullshit. Okay. With The Omnivore so far?

Let's go to step 2: You are actually racist. Not in the "hard-coded-into-my-genes" or whatever meaningless way that we're all racist. No, you are racist in ways that matter. That goes for sexist, and so on. You don't get a pass on being "racist"  because everyone is. 

So This Is Lefty Liberal Bullshit?

Not exactly. The deal is that racial tensions despite what we've wanted to tell ourselves are real. They didn't go away and they can and do color everything we perceive. These prejudices or lenses mix with other similar ideological lenses to make our ability to have a solid appraisal of reality very difficult.

When Obama was asked, off the cuff, about the Trayvon Martin shooting and his comment was that if he had a son, he'd look like Trayvon, a lot of people saw that as choosing sides. Some people saw that as emphasizing with the family that just lost their son. Some people saw it as a random remark that just came to mind.

The Omnivore will say it clear and say it cold: it was NOT off the cuff (Obama had certainly thought about this prior to his unrelated speech) and it was an amazing attempt to bridge the gap between black and white perceptions of the event. The fact that it alienated people should be seen as horrible--not evidence that Obama is polarizing.

Why?

Well, for black people the killing of Trayvon Martin was seen as unnecessary, a miscarriage of justice, and evidence of the system (the police) supporting a white vigilante. For white people it was seen as a guy defending himself and, otherwise, behaving reasonably in defense of his neighborhood. (The Omnivore is generalizing here--clearly some people saw it differently on both sides).

What Obama did was emphasize with the black people who felt loss and outrage--while making making explicit comments that we should wait until the investigation concludes (that's the rest of his quote--you can go look it up).

The fact that a lot of people saw this as a moment of racial polarization (and in this case, we'll generalize to "white people") is fucking tragic. Yes, he could have said nothing. Yes, he could have said something with zero empathy for the African American community--but as the first African American president, why would you want him to do that?

If you are one of those people who felt that Obama's comment was divisive there, that is a, let's call it a racial factor. It maybe does not rise to racism--but it's a damaging racial influence.

The lady in the above quote is doing it. But don't you DARE call her a racist. Right?

But wait, that's fine--fucking everyone is doing it. You're doing it. The Omnivore is doing it. Everyone. Is. Doing. It. Not just with race--but everything else

But it's real. It's not in the margins. It's has actual consequences (we may be about to see some of 'em. The Omnivore hopes not though).

The point is: if you think the rise of the Klan under Trump isn't real--or isn't a big deal? You're wrong. Dead wrong.

On the other hand, if you think that anti-Trump voters marching in the streets--which inevitably leads to violence isn't real--or isn't a big deal? You're also wrong. Dead wrong.

But chance are you think one and not the other--or you think both--but you're too forgiving of Islam's repeated excesses and the growing pattern in Europe. Or you're -- whatever. Nobody's perfect.

That's the point.

You're not perfect. That's the bigger point.

What Do You Do From Here?

Once again, The Omnivore will say it clear--and say it cold: if you voted for Trump you have voted in the guy least likely to be a good president in, most probably, our history. While you may not think of yourself as a racist, sexist, Islamaphobe, or whatever, like the woman in the opening quote, those factors are still at work in all of us. All the time. In some cases they don't make a difference. In some cases they do. This may have been one of them.

So's The Omnivore--but look: almost the entire republican National Security apparatus warned us about Trump. Newspapers who had never endorsed a Democrat endorsed Hillary. The top brass at the Pentagon is very wary of Trump. This isn't about gravy-train guys trying to protect their status-quo. These people are deep patriots who spend all day thinking seriously about pertinent issues.

So look, don't worry if someone calls you a racist (The Omnivore desperately hopes someone will tell him to check his privilege some day)--but if you felt Obama was divisive and political correctness has gone too far and some [ nonsense about the economy which Trump has never seriously addressed either and which you're fooling yourself about anyway ]--then you are making decisions that have real and serious impact on some fairly baseless stuff. If you believed a slew of fake news because the mainstream media was biased? You're kidding yourself. If you think Hillary was just as likely to make catastrophic mistakes as the head of state? Sorry--the odds are not in your favor. If you listen to Fox News all day--or CNN--try listening to some of the other stuff for a while . . . just to see.