We interrupt your regularly scheduled media frenzy over yet another act of insane bloodlust, to bring you this tidbit from Charlie Brooker way back in 2009. Brooker, of course, is the Guardian’s media critic and he’s easily among the most pointed and entertaining in the English language. It’s worth sharing with others, so that they too might be able to defend themselves from the onslaught of bubble-headed asininity that always follows in the wake of these things.
From Amy Gahran at Contentious, from a journalist’s point of view:
It sucks when you work really hard to do the fairest, most systematic investigation of a topic that deeply affects many people’s lives — but the very people who are suffering most from the topic of your research refuse to believe what you have to say, or accuse you of being part of some conspiracy to hoodwink them. And meanwhile, your less skilled or less ethical colleagues are producing their own research and reports designed to foster fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
That generates considerable friction, controversy, and conflict. And worse, it delays the discovery and implementation of real solutions.
Why does this happen — and what can journalists and scientists do about it?…
Panic Virus isn’t a great book (I found most of it tiresomely redundant, like a heavily padded feature article), but the 2nd half of ch. 16 on cognitive biases is relevant here.
There (starting at about location 3100 in the Kindle edition), Mnookin explains psychological phenomena such as pattern recognition, the clustering illusion, cognitive dissonance, and availability cascades. They’re just part of how our brains work, and the practices of science and journalism often act as counterbalances to these innate tendencies. That’s why science and journalism are fundamentally uncomfortable and controversial professions.
But these quirks of how brains work are why just presenting facts and information often has the opposite social effect that journalists hope for.
I think if our goal as journalists is to help people understand how things really are, how they got that way, what might happen next, and what people might do to steer the future or protect their interests, we need to think hard about how to accommodate — not deny — these psychological tendencies.
Aside from an excellent post, about an issue Paul Rosenberg explored for years at Open Left, the post has a great update. The question of how you deal with true believers, who believe despite their belief hurting their interests, how do you bring them to an awareness of reality, that’s a key question for progressives as well as journalists.
There is a core 15-25% in this country that consistently vote against their interests because they’re triggered by some larger group, usually by triggering racist fears (e.g. “Don’t give Medicare to people not like me”) but economic fears also can trigger a reaction (and a vote) against ones interests. This group, while small, is big enough to swing close elections and off elections. Which is one reason, of many, that we need to discuss and debate this issue of how people perceive reality and how to help people see reality more clearly.
The Predator State Endgame – Using Supposed Deficit Crisis They Created to Justify Selling Off Public Assests [New]
A story in today’s Washington Post says that conservative economists are proposing selling off public assets, like the gold at Fort Knox, to address the deficit. But the gold is just a distraction.
The United States may have run up a huge debt, but it is not a poor country by any stretch of the imagination. The federal government owns roughly 650 million acres of land, close to a third of the nation’s total land mass. Plus a million buildings. Plus electrical utilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority. And an interstate highway system.
Economists of a conservative or libertarian bent have long argued that the federal government needs to get out of certain businesses, unload unneeded assets, and privatize such functions as passenger rail service and air traffic control. No one advocates selling Yellowstone, but why, some economists ask, should the federal government be in the electricity business?
The answer is because if it’s not, then many will be left without electricity. But I suppose we’re here to serve markets, not vice versa. Of course, we all know what we should do – work with reasonable conservatives in Congress to come to a bipartisan agreement about how much of the assists of the American citizenry we need to sell off in order to prevent taxes on the opulent, reductions in corporate profits, or fewer wars.
Got another Democracy for America email this afternoon, this time about an explosion of a fracking well in Canton, Pennsylvania four days ago. Naturally I visited Google News to read coverage. There’s 1 (yes, one) major news outlet with a story, the Frenchies at AFP:
Crews in Pennsylvania gained control Friday of a natural gas well that blew out and spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laden drilling fluid into the environment over two days.
But the incident has drawn attention to concerns over a controversial drilling process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which is seen as having enormous potential for capturing natural gas but has environmental risks.
The operator of the well, Chesapeake Energy, has suspended operations at its wells in Pennsylvania pending its investigation into the causes of the spill.
The environmental damage from the spill is unclear. The exact amount of fluid that spilled from the well was not disclosed, and it was not clear exactly what the fluid contains.
From Matt Taibbi at his Rolling Stone blog:
We are in the middle of a major national disagreement over budget priorities, and that debate is going to turn into a full-scale cultural shooting war once the 2012 presidential election season comes around. It is obvious that we have a debt problem in this country and that something needs to be done about it. But a huge part of the blame for the confusion and the national angst over our budget issues has to be laid at the feet of media assholes like Brooks, who continually misrepresent what is actually happening with national spending.
The last ten years or so have seen the government send massive amounts of money to people in the top tax brackets, mainly through two methods: huge tax cuts, and financial bailouts. The government has spent trillions of our national treasure bailing out Wall Street, which has resulted directly in enormous, record profit numbers – nearly $100 billion in the last three years (and that doesn’t even count the tens of billions more in inflated compensation and bonuses that came more or less directly from government aid). Add to that the $700 billion or so the Obama tax cuts added to the national debt over the next two years, and we’re looking at a trillion dollars of lost revenue in just a few years.
You push a policy like that in the middle of a shaky economy, of course we’re going to have debt problems. But the issue is being presented as if the debt comes entirely from growth in entitlement spending. It’s bad enough that middle-class taxpayers have been forced in the last few years to subsidize the vacations and beach houses of the idiots who caused the financial crisis, and it’s doubly insulting that they’re now being blamed for the budget mess.
But the icing on the cake comes when a guy like David Brooks – like me a coddled, overcompensated media yuppie whose idea of sacrifice is raking one’s own leaves – comes out and calls Paul Ryan courageous for having the guts to ask seniors to cut back on their health care in order to pay for our tax breaks.
The introduction is vintage Taibbi and worth the read. But it’s also good to see someone intelligent in the media crying bullshit on the Kabuki around the US budget. My only quibble is that this dynamic started in 1981 when Reagan took office and has continued unabated, in many different forms, in the three decades since.
From the New York Times, Open Networking Foundation Pursues New Standards:
The intelligence in the original Internet was meant to reside largely at the end points of the network — the computers — while the specialized routing computers were relatively dumb post offices of various size, mainly confined to reading addresses and transferring packets of data to adjacent systems.
But these days, when cloud computing means a lot of the information is stored and processed on computers out on the network, there is growing need for more intelligent control systems to orchestrate the behavior of thousands of routing machines. It will make it possible, for example, for managers of large networks to program their network to prioritize certain types of data, perhaps to ensure quality of service or to add security to certain portions of a network.
The OpenFlow standards project also happens meets the anti net neutrality goals of allowing network carriers to control the internet and thereby control what you see quickly and what you see slowly (or not all, if you give up because the throughput speed is slowed to a site), based on what the carriers can charge content providers and sweetheart deals for their content partners.
The OpenFlow project is being pushed by the Open Networking Foundation, a collection of (you guessed it) big global corporations deciding open standards that have the (intentional or non-intentional) result of nuking net neutrality. If you recall, the December 2010 FCC decision on net neutrality extended neutrality to landline internet, not mobile. This landline only focus was a compromise pushed by Google and other large corporations with a financial interest in controlling the internet. Read the rest of this entry »
Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear. –– Hannah Arendt
Who doesn’t want to be lied to in the event of a radiological disaster? I’m sure many a PR professional are being paid good money by the nuclear industry right now to play on that very question. I’m sure even some good natured journalists are even prone to offer up palliatives as an alternative to perceived potential for panic. But it doesn’t exactly help move the national discourse along productive lines. And so it is with one of my worst pet peeves: the misrepresentation of “experts” for the purpose of manipulating public opinion. At the moment, there is a real need for the nuclear industry and their cohorts in government––past, current and future migrants of the institutional Revolving Door of Fortune––to dispel fears and tamp down concern about radiation poisoning and the relative worthiness of nuclear power itself, especially now that we’re having a “nuclear renaissance” and all the federal subsidies needed to make that happen.
Public opinion has been pretty intolerant of nuclear power in the US since Three Mile Island. But recent efforts to shore up opinion were somewhat successful, until now.
Most Now Oppose The Increased Use of Nuclear Power
So if you’ve watched any television news segments lately, you’ve probably already memorized the name of one Jeffery Merrifield. On CNN and MSNBC (owned by GE, makers of the fabulous Mark 1 BWR), he is simply identified as “former NRC Commissioner.” Not a word about what he’s up to these days. Here’s POGO’s timeline of his career:
October 23, 1998 – Merrifield begins term at NRC
November 2006 – NRC Chair taps Merrifield to lead Combined License Review Task Force
March 1, 2007 – Westinghouse/Shaw Consortium completes framework agreement that includes early funding with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Company to build four AP1000 nuclear power plants in China
April 17, 2007 – With a 4-1 vote, the NRC approved the final rule on “Limited Work Authorizations,” which one power plant lobbying firm says responds “favorably to industry comments” and “eliminates a major impediment” for new power plant construction. In addition to voting in support of the rule, Merrifield had championed the rule to ease environmental and oversight restrictions for construction activities at nuclear power plants. Few companies stood to benefit more from this “Limited Work Authorizations” rule than the Shaw Group.
April 18, 2007 – Task Force published the “Report of the Combined License Review Task Force,” which was distributed to the Commissioners for review
May 23, 2007 – Merrifield signs, on behalf of the NRC, the Memorandum of Cooperation on Nuclear Safety for the Westinghouse Advanced Pressurized Reactor (AP1000) with the National Nuclear Safety Administration of the People’s Republic of China. Shaw has a 20% ownership position in Westinghouse
June 8, 2007 – Merrifield accepted an offer to serve as Senior Vice President of Shaw Power Group
June 14, 2007 – Merrifield visits with General Electric in Albany, New York, regarding job search. General Electric picks up the ~$800 travel tab.
June 22, 2007 – NRC approves the recommendations of the Combined License Review Task Force. Merrifield recuses himself from vote.
June 26-30, 2007 – Merrifield and family accept visit to the Shaw Group in Baton Rouge,Louisiana. Shaw picks up the $2,915.87 tab.
From the NY Times:
It is not that there are no jobs, but rather that the jobs available pay too little and have no benefits, resulting in, as Mr. Beaver put it, “just scraping by.” A private hospital and two power plants do offer good jobs, but they are highly competitive and many require some higher education, something that fewer than one in five people here have, according to 2009 census data.
So most people scrape by, as Ms. Taylor did before landing her state job in 1996. At the time, she was living in a trailer and working in low-wage jobs at Wendy’s, Dairy Queen and a Big Lots discount store. Her hourly wage jumped to $9 when she started at the Gallipolis Developmental Center, a state home for mentally retarded people, up from $5.25 at a private nursing home.
And yet state legislators in Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere will crush these people by busting unions. If that doesn’t make one feel impotent. Kudos for the Times for publishing these details.
On one hand we are faced with a Corporo-Conservative assault on labor unions using their mercenary GOPper legislators in WI and elsewhere.
On the other, a cultural hegemonic front that systematically excludes Progressive views, analysis, and solutions from the mainstream media, elected office, and the history of our nation.
As Merge Left was taking form from the remains of Open Left one idea that percolated up was for us to use this site to organize members to swarm other web-sites and media outlets in a effort to push their coverage toward the left. To show them that the Right Lane is Closed!
This coming Monday morning from 9 – 11 AM (CST) we have an opportunity to swarm Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) during the Midday call-in program. The site is structured to allow non-members to stream the programs in real time and to submit questions via the website or a toll-free phone line. We can do this.
Read the rest of this entry »
This story is slightly funny, a bit creepy and rather puzzling from the standpoint of a sitting president who seems interested in being re-elected in 2012.
First up, the oddly funny/creepy part, which these reporters gleefully scribbled into their notepads, in which an ostensibly Democratic POTUS seems to be kissing the ring of his seeming successor:
MIAMI – In his first year as Florida governor, Jeb Bush was vilified by Democrats as a “radical” for an education agenda they argued would undermine public schools. So it was a striking moment when, 12 years later, a Democratic president came here Friday to hail the Republican as a “champion of education reform.”
It was even more striking to consider that President Obama, introduced by Bush for a speech at a Miami high school, was teaming up with the younger brother of the man he replaced in the White House – a predecessor he has been quick to blame for many of America’s troubles. And even more intriguing to think that, if only his last name were not Bush, Jeb would probably be the Republican Party’s best hope of beating Obama next year.
Yet there they were, warmly shaking hands, exchanging laughs and declaring themselves brothers in arms when it comes to fixing the country’s schools.
“I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service,” Obama said, declaring he was “grateful to him for the work that he’s doing.”
Bush was more muted, withholding direct praise for Obama but adding: “Mr. President, as you have said, educational achievement is not a Republican or Democrat issue.”
The exchange served as a reminder that the president and the former Florida governor are two of the more pragmatic figures in American politics, and both no doubt saw much to be gained politically from at least the appearance of harmony.
(Emphasis mine, of course)
Apparently MSNBC didn’t include blogging in Keith’s non-compete clause. Here’s an entry from last week which contains another great “shoot the pig” story of sorts, demonstrating why everyone should want to be in a union.
Two days later I was back at work as if nothing had happened. I didn’t get fired by a drunken boss because while I was being paid so little that if I could get a free meal at a ballpark on an off-night that meant I could bank the $3.25 I would have otherwise spent on dinner at Burger King and I felt like I had just gamed the entire economy, the Wire Service Guild union was there when I really needed them and their pain-in-the-ass rules and the foremost of them was the boss couldn’t just fire somebody for being a pain-in-the-ass and if he tried to they could get him sent home and get a letter put in his file too.
It’s really as simple as that. If this movement- the resistance to the wholesale corporatization of the government and subsequent destruction of the middle class- is to succeed, then relatable stories like Keith’s, from a person with a position of relative fame, are going to be key to getting the message out. The average American in 2011 understands two things very clearly- the power of celebrity and the desperate need for job security. It would be in everyone’s mutual interest if more “big names” came out with simple explanations of the need for the leverage of a labor union such as this one.
Another great example of big names using the spotlight to expose the crimes of the moneyed class is the speech given by Charles Ferguson last night as he accepted the Best Documentary Oscar for his film “Inside Job”-
Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong…
One can only hope that the average Joe will start picking up on these messages and asking the tough questions of their politicians (not to mention their employers).
In a Bizzaro World version of “bite the hand that feeds you”, newspapers and broadcast media loves to love social networking. Watch any newscast for 10 minutes and you’re guaranteed a reference to either the Twitter account or Facebook fan page for whichever bobblehead is gabbing at you at the moment. Newspapers are also quite enamored with the social networking fad.
As you may have noticed (if you haven’t, simply search Google News), most mainstream outlets are attempting to completely ignore the massive wave of actions that took place today nationwide- both the US Uncut actions against Bank of America (the DC protest reportedly caused the branch to close early) and the solidarity actions arranged by MoveOn.org and other liberal groups.
How can the movement for social justice use this to our advantage? Simple- scream at old media over the internet until they notice. Of course, by “scream”, I mean “politely point out”. There are still many in the traditional media (shout out to Dan Rodricks here in Baltimore) who are at least willing to hear out those who support the cause of the working people.
For starters, here’s a list of news organization Twitter accounts. Simply searching “[news organization] Twitter” or the name of the news organization on Facebook will almost always garner results. The best part of social media (especially Twitter) is that (as long as everyone is well mannered), the access to the person on the other end is instant AND public. Add your city’s hashtag to a tweet asking why there’s no US Uncut coverage (i.e. “Hey @NewsChannel88, why no coverage of #USUncut here in #Springfield?”) can alert other like-minded users in your town that a question’s been asked and needs an answer. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with Twitter or Facebook, guides for both can be found here and here.
Whenever a story (such as the two major ones developing today) appears to be going un-noticed, feel free to gently remind your local news media that, in fact, things are happening and they should mention it. The more local the outlet, the better. Local talk radio hosts tend to be all over Twitter, as do local NPR affiliates.
The concurrent (and one hopes, soon to be merged) movements against the plutocracy will only gain momentum if enough people are made aware of them. Local traditional media outlets are one excellent way to spread the word.