Saturday, November 5, 2016

Two from Joe Gould's Teeth

from Joe Gould's Teeth by Jill LePore (NY:  Alfred A Knopf, 2015 ISBN 9781101947586)

(page 92)  Joe Gould:  “My muscular coordination is poor.  As you know I am left-handed in both hands…”

(142)  Joe Gould:  “You solve the problem of escape by being an expatriate," he’d once written to [Ezra] Pound.  “I am an extempore.”  He believed he lived outside of time.  He believed he’d escaped.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking

The Cult of Information:  A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking by Theodore Roszak
Berkeley, CA:  University of CA Press, 1986, 1994
ISBN 0-520-08584-1

(22)  Depth, originality, excellence, which have always been factors in the evaluation of knowledge, have somewhere been lost in the fast, futurological shuffle.  As we will see, this is a liability that dogs every effort to inflate the cultural value of information.

(45)  Already there may be a large public that believes it not only cannot make judgments about computers, but has no _right_ to do so because computers are superior to its own intelligence - a position of absolute deference which human beings have never assumed with respect to any technology of the past.

(88)  That is the great mischief done by the data merchants, the futurologists, and those in the schools who believe that computer literacy is the educational wave of the future:  they lose sight of the paramount truth that the _mind thinks with ideas, not with information._  Information may helpfully illustrate or decorate an idea;  it may, where it works under the guidance of a contrasting idea, help to call other ideas into question.  But information does not create ideas;  by itself, it does not validate or invalidate them.  An idea can only be generated, revised, or unseated by another idea.  A culture survives by the power, plasticity, and fertility of its ideas.  Ideas come first, because ideas define, contain, and eventually produce information.  The principal task of education, therefore, is to teach young minds how to deal with ideas:  how to evaluate them, extend them, adapt them to new uses.  This can be done with the use of very little information, perhaps none at all.  It certainly does not require data processing machinery of any kind.  An excess of information may actually crowd out ideas, leaving the mind (young minds especially) distracted by sterile, disconnected facts, lost among shapeless heaps of data.

It may help at this point to take some time for fundamentals.

The relationship of ideas to information is what we call a _generalization_.  Generalizing might be seen as the basic action of intelligence;  it takes two forms.  First, when confronted with a vast shapeless welter of facts (whether in the form of personal perceptions or secondhand report), the mind seeks for a sensible, connecting pattern.  Second, when confronted with very few facts, the mind seeks to create a pattern by enlarging upon the little it has and pointing it in the direction of a conclusion.

(90)  _Ideas are integrating patterns_ which satisfy the mind when it asks the question, What does this mean?  What is this all about?

(91)  …what might be called the _master ideas_ - the great moral, religious, and metaphysical teachings which are the foundations of culture….  _Master ideas are based on no information whatever._

(93)  This is the point Fritz Machup makes when he observes a striking difference between “information” and “knowledge.”  (He is using “knowledge” here in exactly the same way I am using “idea” - as an integrating pattern.)  “Information” he tells us, “is acquired by being told, whereas knowledge can be acquired by thinking.”

(93-94)  …new knowledge can be acquired without new information being received.  (That this statement refers to subjective knowledge goes without saying;  but there is no such thing as objective knowledge that was not previously somebody’s subjective knowledge.)

(94)  It is precisely because some ideas - many ideas - are brutal and deadly that we need to learn how to deal with them adroitly.  An idea takes us into people’s minds, ushers us through their experience.  Understanding an idea means understanding the lives of those who created and championed it.

(95)  “Nothing is more dangeorus than an idea,” Emil Chartier once said, “when it is the only one we have."

(98)  The stew of personal experience is too thick, too filled with unidentifiable elements mixed in obscure proportions.  What emerges from the concoction can be genuinely astonishing.  Which is only to observe what all culture tells us about ourselves:  that we are capable of true originality.
NB:  from “Entire Sermon by the Red Monk” by Lew Welch:  1. We invent ourselves. 2. We invent ourselves out of ingredients we didn't choose, by a process we can't control...

(105)  The empiricists were right to believe that facts and ideas are significantly connected, but they inverted the relationship.  _Ideas create information,_ not the other way around.  Every fact grows from an idea;  it is the answer to a question we could not ask in the first place if an idea had not been invented which isolated some portion of the world, made it important, focused our attention, and stimulated inquiry.

(107)  But even more ironically, the hard focus on information which the computer encourages must in time have the effect of crowding out new ideas, which are the intellectual source that generates facts.

(147)  It [Homebrew Computer Club and Community Memory] would undergird a new Jeffersonian democracy based, not upon the equal distribution of land, but upon equal access to information.

(150) Lee Felsenstein of Community Memory:  “The industrial infrastructure might be snatched away at any time, and the people should be able to scrounge parts to keep his machine going in the rubble of the devasted society;  ideally, the machine’s design would be clear enough to allow users to figure out where to put those parts.”

As Felsenstein once said, “I’ve got to design so you can put it together out of garbage cans.”
NB:  Roszak sees this as hippie utopian pipe dream but it turns out to be a fundamental aspect of an ecological circular economy, restorative and renewable

(157)  Also, intuitively, they [the Utilitarians] grasped that in societies as chronically dynamic as England was becoming, the control of facts - or even the _apparent_ control of facts - begets power.  It creates the impression of competence;  it confers the very ability to govern.

(157)  The historian G. M. Young describes what he calls “the Benthamite formula” as consisting of “inquiry, legislation, execution, inspection, and report.” 
NB:  A variation of John Boyd's OODA [Observe Orient Decide Act] loop?

(158)  “Knowledge of the facts,”  Young observes, “and an apt handling of figures was… the surest proof of capacity” in public life.  Gladstone, whose carefully wrought budgets were the new world standard of modern statecraft, was perhaps the first politican to build a career on the magisterial control of social statistics.  He would make an admirable showing these days in an American presidential debate, spouting numbers in all directions.

(159)  Yet despite their stance of studied objectivity, the Utilitarians actually worked from a definite political ideology, a not-so-very-hidden agenda of ideas and ideals that served to animate the information they collected.  It is important to underscore this aspect of their work because it reveals the inevitable interplay of ideals and information….

We now know that the Utiliarians  who served on this great inquiry were determined from the outset to scuttle the system.  So they assiduously documented the waste, the inconsistency, the ineptness of the Old Poor Law….

The Utilitarians, documenting the mess, quickly convinced the government that the law should be replaced by a new, uniform, centralized, and far cheaper program of their own design.  They won their point.  The result was the draconian workhouse system we find depicted in the novels of Charles Dickens.  While the Poor Law Commission sought to make its survey look totally neutral - a purely professional inquiry based on principles of sound economy - it was shaped from the beginning by a well-structured social philosophy, based, for example, on the assumption that poverty was a form of criminal parasitism which deserved to be punished and that too generous a system of relief will only corrupt the people’s will to work.  Lurking behind the investigation was a perfectly dismal vision of human nature and a grim obsession with cash values. The Utilitarians firmly believed that the poor must be whipped to work.

(161)  Namely, it is not facts that determine policy, but more often policy that determines the facts - by selection, adjustment, distortion.

(162)  Ironically, computers that can violate personal privacy do not assure public access….

Here is the problem the Utilitarians never foresaw:  that there can to _too much_ information.  So much that the forest gets lost among the trees.
NB:  The forest can get lost in the trees and the trees can be lost in the leaves

(163)  It even becomes advantageous to have lots of contention about facts and figures, a statistical blizzard that numbs the attention.

In the view of some computer enthusiasts, data glut is no worse than an unfortunate, temporary imbalance in the system.
NB:  “If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”  W.C. Fields

(164)  What computer enthusiasts overlook is the fact that data glut is not some unforeseen, accidental fluctuation of supply, like a bumper crop of wheat.  It is a strategy of social control, deliberately and often expertly wielded.  It is one of the main ways in which modern governments and interest groups obfuscate issues to their own advantage;  they dazzle and distract with more raw data than the citizenry can hope to sort through.
NB:  Grown out of hand with the NSA that can’t find its own way through data glut

(165)  But in all cases, we are confronted by sprawling conceptions of information that work from the assumption that thinking is a form of information processing and that, therefore, _more_ data will produce _better_ understanding.

(165-166)  Rather, we must insist upon a new standard of political discourse.  In a vital democracy, it is not the quantity but the quality of information that matters.  What are the criteria of quality?  Relevance, coherence, and insight.  How do we bring these criteria into play?  By shaping information into issues.  Issues, in turn, are well formulated when they help to focus attention, raise questions, facilitate criticism, and finally allow us to make choices with the sense that we have intelligently discriminated among all the available options.

(167)  Investigative reporting of [IF] Stone’s caliber reminds us that news, which is the daily pulse of politics, is never simply information;  it is not raw factual material that simply drops out of the world into a data base.  It is focused inquiry and interpretation based upon a solid set of ideas about the world:  what matters, where is the history of our time heading, what’s at stake, what are the hidden agendas, what is the big picture?  The answers to these questions are the ideas that determine the value of information.  Often what a good journalist must do is cast out tons of obfuscating data glut in order to get down to the living truth.
NB:  Context, story, and sourcing as filters for information overload

(170)  The medium never guarantees anything about the quality of its messages.

(174)  Since its inception, the library has been an offense to private property.
NB:  There are private libraries, like Ben Franklin’s first American library or the Boston Athenaeum.  

(175)  When was the last time you saw “information” associated with the needs of the distressed and victimized? 
NB:  Wash Post and Guardian for the tally of people killed by the police over the last two years

(203)  [Norbert] Wiener had two potential abuses of information technology in view:  its military exploitation as a means of making war, and its industrial exploitation as a means of deskililing and disemploying workers.  Wiener, the conscience of his much-compromised profession, did what he could to resist these evils;  it was surely as much as any single person might be expected to do.  With respect to the first, he resolutely refused to accept any research support that came from military sources and agitated among his colleagues to do the same, though with no success.  With respect to the second, he made his services available as a consultant to the labor movement as early as 1950.  In that year, he wrote to Walter Reuther, head of the United Auto Workers Union, warning him of “the very pressing menace of the large-scale reduction of labor by machines” to which automation would surely contribute.  Cybernetics in the workplace, he observed, will “lead to the factory without employees” and the corresponding reduction of union power.  “I do not want to contribute in any way to selling labor down the river, and I am quite aware that any labor which is in competition with slave labor, whether the slaves are human or mechanical, must accept the conditions of work of slave labor.”  In this prospect, Wiener saw the lineaments of nothing less than “fascism."

(218)  It [imagined Borges story on present politics] will begin with a poll asking people if they approve of the way the polls have been handling the president’s approval rating.  Then there will be a poll measuring the public’s opinion about the results of that poll.  Then there will be a poll about the poll about the poll.  At last there will be an election in which the public will vote for the poll that it thinks most accurately reflects the public’s opinion.

Politics in the Information Age.

(225)  Perhaps the most ambitious effort at applying information technology to the art of government took place in Chile in the early 1970s.  Then President Salvador Allende brought in the British cybernetics expert Stafford Beer to develop and administer an optimum economic order for the country.  Working from the formula “information is what changes us;  information constitutes control,” Beer had brainstormed an intricate computerized system which he quaintly called the Liberty Machine.  Its purpose was to concentrate every scrap of data available from a national, or even from the world economy, and from this to fashion a “cybernetic model.”  The computers governing the model would “receive real-time data from the systems which they monitor, and they would distill the information content.”  It would then be possible to “formulate hypotheses, undertake simulations, and make predictions about world trajectories.”  Between 1971 and 1973, Beer, working in secret for the Ministry of Finance, sought to establish something like the Liberty Machine in Chile.  The effort was a serious one, installed at great expense in a central control room (the “Opsroom”) in Santiago, where it succeeded at the height of its powers in bringing 60 percent of the Chilean economy into its data gathering and governing network.  The system included the ability to anticipate and break strikes.  Beer has reported:  “We used every scrap of relevant scientific knowledge in designing the place - neurocybernetic knowledge of brain processes, knowledge from applied and group psychology, knowledge from ergonomics.”  The exercise entailed an interesting new conception of “Freedom.”  “Liberty,” Beer decided, “may indeed be usefully redefined for our current technological era.  It would say competent information is free to act - and that this is the the principle on which the new Liberty Machine should be designed.”  It is a definition that makes the computer an integral part of the concept. 

(237-238)  What I am suggesting is that, in little things and big, the mind works more by way of gestalts than by algorithmic procedures.  This is because our life as a whole is made up of a hierarchy of projects, some trivial and repetitive, some special and spectacular.  The mind is naturally a spinner of projects, meaning it sets goals, choosing them from among all the things we might be doing with our lives.  Pondering choices, making projects - these are the mind’s first order of activity.  This is so obvious, so basic, that perhaps we are only prompted to reflect upon it when a different idea about thinking is presented, such as that thought is connecting data points in formal sequences.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Victorian Internet

The Victorian Internet:  The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers by Tom Standage
NY:  Walker and Company, 1998
ISBN 0-8027-1342-4

(46)  … a bill was finally proposed allocating $30,000 toward building an experimental [telegraph] line” for Samuel FB Morse, December 1842, from the USA government

(62)  “the Prussian method of burying wires beneath the surface protects them from destruction by malice, and makes them less liable to injury by lightning.”  1852

(77)  The Atlantic Telegraph Company was duly set up, and [Cyrus W] Field persuaded the British and United States government to back his project;  in return for an annual subsidy and the provision of ships to help lay the cable, offical messages would be carried free of charge. ~1857

(81)  August 5, 1858 celebrating the Transatlantic cable
Torch-bearing revelers in New York got so carried away that City Hall was accidentally set on fire and narrowly escaped destruction.

(84)  That first cable stopped working on September 1, less than a month after its completion

(136)  Ellen Cheever Thayer’s 1879 novel Wired Love built its plot around an on-line courtship

(142)  Edison, courting his second wife, Mina:  “I taught the lady of my heart the Morse code, and when she could both send and receive we got along much better than we could have with spoken words by tapping out our remarks to one another on our hands.”
NB:  Stepan and Kitty in Anna Karenina

(143)  He [Edison] preferred to take the night shift so he could spend the day experimenting in a back room at the telegraph office, and he lived on a frugal diet of apple pie washed down with vast amounts of coffee.

(179)  … Edison locked his workforce in the workshop until they had finished building a large order of stock tickers, with “all the bugs taken out.”
NB:  How old is bug?
Here's an extract of a letter he [Edison] wrote in 1878 to Theodore Puskas, as cited in The Yale Book of Quotations (2006):
'Bugs' -- as such little faults and difficulties are called -- show themselves and months of intense watching, study and labor are requisite before commercial success or failure is certainly reached.

Word nerds trace the word bug to an old term for a monster -- it's a word that has survived in obscure terms like bugaboo and bugbear and in a mangled form in the word boogeyman.
source http://www.computerworld.com/article/2515435/app-development/moth-in-the-machine--debugging-the-origins-of--bug-.html

(203)  [Charles] Wheatstone [one of the inventors of the telegraph] invented the stereoscope and the concertina

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Planet of Slums

Planet of Slums by Mike Davis
London:  Verso, 2006
ISBN-13:  978-1-84467-160-1

(9)  Indeed, in many cases, rural people no longer have to migrate to the city:  it migrates to them...

The result of this collision between the rural and the urban in China, much of Southeast Asia, India, Egypt, and perhaps West Africa is a hermaphroditic landscape, a partially urbanized countryside that  [Gregory] Guldin argues may be "a significant new path of human settlement and development... a form neither rural nor urban but a blending of the two wherein a dense web of transactions ties large urban cores to their surrounding regions."  German architect and urban theorist Thomas Sieverts proposes that this diffuse urbanism, which he calls Zwischestadt ("in-between city"), is rapidly becoming the defining landscape of the twenty-first century in  rich as well as poor countries, regardless of earlier urban histories.  Unlike Guldin, however, Sieverts conceptualizes these new conurbations as polycentric webs with neither traditional cores nor recognizable peripheries.

(21)  The UN authors [of The Challenge of Slums] acknowledge a particular debt to Branko Milanovic, the World Bank economist who pioneered these [global household] surveys as a powerful microscope for studying global inequality.

(27)  As the anarchist architect John Turner famously pointed out, "Housing is a verb."

(61)  In early 1960, for example, Cuba's new National Institute of Savings and Housing, led by the legendary Pastorita Núñez, began to replace Havana's notorious shantytowns, (Las Yaguas, LLega y Pon, La Cueva del Humo, and so on) with prefabricated homes erected by the residents themselves.

(77)  Lea Jellinek, a social historian who has spent more than a quarter-century studying the poor in Jakarta, in turn, recounts how one famed NGO, a neighborhood microbank, "beginning as a small grassroots project driven by needs and capacities of local women," grew Frankenstein-like into a "large, complex, top-down, technically oriented burueacracy" that was "less accountable to and supportive of" its low-income base.

From a Middle Eastern perspective, Asef Bayat deplores the hyperbole about NGOs, pointing out that "their potential for independent and democratic organization has generally been overestimated.  [The] professionalization of NGOs tends to diminish the mobilizational feature of grassroots activism, while it establishes a new form of clientelism."

(85)  Timothy Mitchell, "Dreamland:  The Neoliberalsim of Your Desires," Middle East Report (Spring 1999), np (internet archive)

(118)  In City of Walls (2000), her justly celebrated study of the militarization of urban space in Brazil, Teresa Caldeira writes that "security is one of the main elements in its advertising and an obsession of all involved with it."  In practice, this has meant vigilante justice for criminal or vagrant intruders, while Alphaville's own gilded youth are allowed to run amok;  one resident quoted by Caldeira affirms:  "there is a law for the mortal people, but not for Alphaville residents."
NB:  Ballard's Super-Cannes

(127)  Erhard Berner adds that a favorite method for what Filipino landlords prefer to call "hot demolition" is to chase a "kerosene-drenched burning live rat or cat - dogs die too fast - into an annoying settlement...  a fire started this way is hard to fight as the unlucky animal can set plenty of shanties aflame before it dies."

(134)  Patrick Geddes (the true father of bioregionalism)

(140-141)  "The absence of toilets," writes journalist Asha Krishnakumar, "is devastating for women.  It severely affects their dignity, health, safety and sense of privacy, and indirectly their literacy and productivity.  To defecate, women and girls have to wait until dark, which exposes them to harassment and even sexual assault.

(158)  Indeed, some researchers argue that SAPs [Strategic Adjustment Plans] cynically exploit the belief that women's labor-power is almost infinitely elastic in the face of household survival needs.  This is the guilty secret variable in most neoclassical equations of economic adjustment:  poor women and their children are expected to lift the weight of Third World debt upon their shoulders.

(184)  An NGO worker in Haiti, Yolette Etienne, describes the ultimate logic of neoliberal individualism in a context of absolute immiseration:

"Now everything is for sale.  The woman used to receive you with hospitality, give you coffee, share all that she had in her home.  I could go get a plate of food at a neighbor's house;  a child could get a coconut at her godmother's, two mangoes at another aunt's.  But these acts of solidarity are disappearing with the growth of poverty.  Now when you arrive somewhere, either the woman offers to sell you a cup of coffee or she has no coffee at all.  The tradition of mutual giving that allowed us to help each other and survive - this is all being lost."

(191)  Of the world's megacities, only Dhaka is as poor, and Kinshasa surpasses all in its desperate reliance upon informal survival strategies.  As an anthropologist observes with some awe, it is the simultaneous "miracle and nightmare" of a vast city where the formal economy and state institutions, apart from the repressive apparatus, have utterly collapsed.

(193)  The Kinois, indeed, were caught up in a desperate frenzy of betting:  French horse races, lotteries organized by the big breweries, bottle cap games by the soft drink companies, and, most fatefully, a pyramidal money scheme, secretly controlled by the military.  (A similar quasi-magical "pyramidmania" would sweep Albania with equally devastating results in 1996-97, sucking up and destroying half the impoverished nation's GDP.)

(194-195)  In the face of the death of the formal city and its institutions, ordinary Kinois - but above all, mothers and grandmothers - fought for their survival by "villagizing" Kinshasa:  they reestablished subsistence agriculture and traditional forms of rural self-help.  Every vacant square meter of land, including highway medians, was planted in cassava, while women without plots, the mamas miteke, went off to forage for roots and grubs in the brush.  With the successive collapses of the world of work and then of the fantasy universe of gambling, people returned to a reliance upon village magic and prophetic cults.  They sought release from the "disease of the whites," "yimbeefu kya mboongu":  the fatal illness of money.  In the place of abandoned factories and looted stores, tiny churches and prayer groups set up shop under crude but brightly painted signs.  In huge slums like Masina (locally known as "The Republic of China" because of its density), Pentecostalism spread at a tropical velocity:  "At the end of 2000, it was reported that there were 2,177 religious sects newly constituted in Kinshasa, many who meet during all-night prayer sessions.

(196)  As a result, literal, perverse belief in Harry Potter has gripped Kinshasa, leading to the mass-hysterical denunciation of thousands of child "witches" and their expulsion to the streets, even their murder.  The children, some barely more than infants, have been accused of every misdeed and are even believed, in the Ndjili slum at least, to fly about at night in swarms on broomsticks.  Aid workers emphasize the novelty of the phenomenon:  "Before 1990, there was hardly and talk of child witches in Kinshasa.  The children who are now being accused of witchcraft are in the same situation:  they become an unproductive burden for parents who are no longer able to feed them.  The children said to be 'witches' are more often from very poor families."
NB:  Canetti's Crowds and Power

(199)  The late-capitalist triage of humanity, then, has already taken place.  As Jan Bremen, writing of India, has warned:  "A point of no return is reached when a reserve army waiting to be incorporated into the labour process becomes stigmatized as a permanently redundant mass, an excessive burden that cannot be included now or in the future, in economy and society.  This metamorphosis is, in my opinion at least, the real crisis of world capitalism."
NB:  USA today

(203)  All the armed services, coordinated by the Joint Urban Operations Training Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic slum conditions.  "The future of warfare," the journal of the Army War College declared, "lies in the streets, sewers, highrise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world..."
NB:  Ballard's High Rise

Monday, September 19, 2016

Notes on Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future?

"Every day more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera."

“At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

_Who Owns the Future?_ by Jaron Lanier
NY:  Simon and Schuster, 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-5496-7

(1)  Maybe you bought, or stole a physical copy, paid to read this on your tablet, or pirated a digital copy off a share site.
NB:  No library, first paragraph of the book

(12)  Nonspecialist doctors have already lost a degree of self-determination because they didn't seize the centers of the networks that have arisen to mediate medicine.  Insurance and pharmaceutical concerns, hospital chains, and various other savvy network climbers were paying better attention.
NB:  US-centric

(18)  When music is free, wireless bills get expensive, insanely so.
NB:  US-centric

(19)  Lately, network-empowered finance has amplified corruption and illusion, and the Internet has destroyed more jobs than it has created.
NB:  Any data to back that up?

(20)  In the event that something a person says or does contributes even minutely to a database that allows, say, a machine language algorithm, or a market prediction algorithm, to perform a task, then a nanopayment, proportional _both_ to the degree of contribution _and_ the resultant value will be due to the person.
NB:  like copyright?  for how long?

(45)  We just went through taxpayer-funded bailouts of networked finance in much of the world, and no amount of austerity seems enough to fully pay for that.
NB:  No Keynes

(46)  Unfortunately it turned out that buying a home, one of the principal strategies of that movement [Rich Dad, Poor Dad], summarily turned into an invitation to be scammed.
NB:  Why?  A network effect?

(51)  The peasant's dilemma is that there's no buffer.  A musician who is sick or old, or who has a sick kid, cannot perform and cannot earn.
NB:  No healthcare and no social security

...Please notice how similar music is to mortgages.  When a mortgage is leveraged and bundled into complex undisclosed securities by unannounced third parties over a network, then the homeowner suffers a reduced chance at access to wealth.  The owner's promise to repay the loan is copied, like the musicians' music file, many times.

(52)  To put it another way, the promise of the homeowner to repay the loan can only be made once, but that promise, and the risk that the loan will not be repaid, can be _received_ innumerable times.  Therefore the homeowner will end up paying for that amplified risk, somehow.  It will eventually turn into higher taxes (to bail out a financial concern that's "too big to fail,"), reduced property values in a neighborhood burdened by stupid mortgages, and reduced access to credit.
NB:  Bailout banks but not homeowners is a choice

(54)  Finance got networked in the wrong way.  The big kinds of computation that have made certain other industries like music "efficient" from a particular point of view were applied to finance, and that broke finance.  It made finance stupid.

(56)  The latest waves of high-tech innovation have not created jobs like the old ones did….  This is documented in Martin Ford's book_The Lights in the Tunnel_.

(60)  Misrepresented assets flowed through Great Recession-era funds that were bailed out, but as of this writing most of the beneficiaries have escaped any of the downsides, which were radiated out to taxpayers and ground-level investors.
NB:  ass-backwards;  he treats the net as prime mover rather than financialization

……the primary business of digital networking as come to be the creation of ultra secret mega-dossiers about what others are doing, and using this information to concentrate money and power.
NB:  NSA information inequality and Big Data/Big Servers

(61)  We are not benefiting from the benevolence of some artificial intelligence super being.  We are exploiting each other off the books while those concentrating our information remain on the books.  We love our treats but will eventually discover we are depleting our own value.

That's how we can have economic troubles despite there being so much wealth in the system, and during a period of increasing efficiencies.  Great fortunes are being made on shrinking the economy instead of growing it.  It's not a result of some evil scheme, but a side effect of an idiotic elevation of the fantasy that technology is getting smart and standing on its own, without people.
NB:  Naive

(66)  It seems as though online services are bringing bargains to everyone, and yet wealth disparity is increasing while social mobility is decreasing.  If everyone were getting better options, wouldn't everyone be doing better as well?
NB:  And it's only the net driving this?

… When health insurance companies turned into digital networks, general-practice physicians became somewhat marginalized, serving increasingly as nodes in a scheme run by statistical algorithms and, to a lesser degree, pharmaceutical concerns.
NB:  US only?

(67)  instead of economics being about a bunch of players with unique positions in a market, we devolve toward a small number of spying operations in omniscient positions, which means that eventually markets of _all_ kinds will shrink.
NB:  Late stage capitalism, economic and political totalitarianism

(72)  In the network age there can be collusion without colluders, conspiracies without conspirators.

(86)  …the United States, which has ever-fewer manufacturing jobs to protect anyway.
NB:  Really?  Conventional wisdom masquerading as insight.  US manufacturing jobs have stabilized and the sector may actually be growing after declining since WWII.

(115)  When correlation is mistaken for understanding, we pay a heavy price.  An example of this type of failure was the string of early 21st century financial crises in which correlations created gigantic investment packages that turned out to be duds in aggregate, bringing the world to indebtedness and austerity.  Yet few financiers were blamed, at least in part because the schemes were complex and automated to such a high degree.

(135)  "See, in the old days, they worried that technology would make people obsolete and it didn't happen.  Similar worries today are just as silly."

To that I say, "I agree completely that the fears were wrong then and wrong today, in terms of what's actually true.  People are and will always be needed.  The question is whether we'll engage in complete enough accounting so that people are honestly valued.  If there's ever an illusion that humans are becoming obsolete, it will in reality be a case of massive accounting fraud.  What we're doing now is initiating that fraud.  Let's stop."
NB:  Taylorism, no Weiner and Human Use of Human Beings

(153-154)  Health insurance companies in America, by using cloud computer analysis to mostly insure people who didn't need insurance, similarly ejected risk into the general system.  But there wasn't some giant vastness to absorb the waste.  Instead, the economies in which finance and insurance could exist in the first place were weakened.

(167)  What if the eHarmony algorithm analyzed a customer and calculated that she was gay even though she had never realized that before?
NB:  Does he not know eHarmony has refused gay clients?

(184)  If people are paying money to use your server, don't accept any of it directly if you can possibly avoid that.  You should be a broker between buyers and sellers to the degree that's possible  You can then earn commissions, placement fees, visibility fees, or any number of other fees yet to be conceived, but without taking any responsibility for the actual events that took place.
NB:  cash vs credit - credit costs

…….These click-through agreements are the grandiosely verbose descendants of the Zen koan about a tree falling in a forest that no one hears.
NB:  Not a koan

(200)  Spymaster Siren Servers thrive in all countries by now.  We tend to hear more about the excesses of foreign ones in China or even Britain, but the trend is universal.

… When governments engage in the Siren Server game, they get good at it fast.  (It appears that governments are getting better at getting ahead of citizen cyber-movements than commercial schemes, which consistently outwit regulators.)
NB:  First admission of big corruption, he implies that commercial Siren Servers exist before government Siren Servers

(201)  Economic interdependence has lessened the chances of war between interconnected nations.
NB:  Friedman's naive McDonald's theory of peace - no two countries with McDonald's will declare war against each other.

(207)  And it's not Facebook's fault!  We, the idealists, insisted that information be demonetized online, which meant that services about information, instead of the information itself, would be the main profit centers.

That inevitably meant that "advertising" would become the biggest business in the "open" information economy.  But advertising has come to mean that third parties pay to manipulate the online options in front of people from moment to moment.  Businesses that don't rely on advertising must utilize a proprietary channel of some kind, as Apple does, forcing connections between people even more out of the commons, and into company stores.  In either case, the commons is made less democratic, not more.
NB:  No Ostrom;  intellectual property rights

(223) Ted Nelson's Xanadu:  The first principle is that each file, or whatever unit of information the thing is built of, exists only once.  Nothing is ever copied.

(224)  The pre-digital world had evolved a set of laws and conventions for how people could reflect and reuse each other's expressions.  This is the familiar and uncomfortable web of logistics and procedures including copyright, fair use, libel laws, and so on.
NB:  Extended and undermined at the same time

(225)  IN a Xanadu-like system, you could extract a misleading out-of-context passage of a politician's video because that would be a free speech right.  You wouldn't need permission.  But the link back to the original would always be right there. 

(227)  A core technical difference between a Nelsonian network and what we have become familiar with online is that Ted's network links were two-way instead of one-way.  In a network with two-way links, each node knows what other nodes are linked to it.

That would mean you'd know all the websites that point to yours.  It would mean you'd know all the financiers who had leveraged your mortgage.  It would mean you'd know all the videos that used your music.

(240)  A more incremental path to security would not answer the hard philosophical questions about such concepts as copyright, but it would make them less contentious.  In a world in which a person starts to earn royalties on tens of thousands of little contributions made over a lifetime of active participation on the 'net, it will matter a little less if there is a conflict about attribution in some minority of those cases.
NB:  Siren Server, what about people who don't make information contributions?

…. If everyone gets a taxi medallion, then medallions become worthless.  That also means speculators can buy up medallions and corner the market, undoing the original purpose.  What we should seek instead is a system where value _increases_ as more and more people participate in it.
NB:  Already happened in Boston and NYC and not how taxi medallions have ever worked

(246)  In humanistic information economics, provenance is treated as a basic right, similar to the way civil rights and property rights were given a universal stature in order to make democracy and market capitalism viable.
NB:  Civil rights and property rights now being systematically removed.

(257)  The crazy network-based wealth of inscrutable investors lately can serve as both a warning and an inspiration.  What I'm arguing is that just because networked finance boomed at everyone else's long-term expense, there's no reason in principle a similar outbreak of lucky-starism couldn't happen much more broadly, so that more people could enjoy the fruits of modernity based on more complete accounting.
NB:  His model is kleptocratic finance

(274)  You meet a future spouse on an online dating service.  The algorithms that implement that service take note of your marriage.  As the years go by, and you're still together, the algorithms increasingly apply what seemed to be the correlations between you and your spouse to matching other prospective couples.  When some of them also get married, it is automatically calculated that the correlations from your case were particularly relevant to the recommendations.  You get extra nanopayments as a result.

(278)  Financial concerns, through the magic of digital networks, can now take risks without paying for those risks, while gaining benefits for successes.  It's sometimes called "too big to fail."
NB:  It's not just a network effect but planned legalization of criminality

(286)  There can't a a different kind of dollar just for certain stores.
NB:  Never heard of local currencies?

(289)  Mortgages were a reliable, clean mechanism for many years.  What happened in the early 21st century was exceptional, and caused by the poor use of digital networks.

(293)  A liberal might be inclined to extend the safety net, perhaps including a highly evolved version of the public library.  In such a place you might be able to print out the medical prosthetic you need for free.  In that scenario, the state would serve as a surrogate customer for information services for those who cannot afford to be customers directly, beneficiaries would have access, but perhaps not in precisely the most convenient way.
NB:  First mention of libraries

(300)  If homeowners with mortgages had been owed something resembling royalties whenever a mortgage was leveraged, then there would not have been over leveraging.  The cost of risk would have been built in from the start, and would have been paid for by the investor creating the risk.  Benefits would have been shared with those who were creating the fundamental value:  homeowners who promised to pay the mortgages.  Economic symmetry would have prevented investors from taking risks on other people's uninformed behavior, using yet other people's money.

(311)  No amount of regulation can keep up with perverse incentives, given the pace of innovation.  This is also why almost no one was prosecuted for financial fraud connected with the Great Recession.
NB:  Um, no

(363)  The human mind is particularly susceptible to engagement by rapid-fire feedback that taunts on the edge of granting treats.  Semi-random feedback is a more intense dominator of attention than consistent feedback.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Confidence Game: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Election?


Found this book at the library and thought I'd read it to understand the 2016 Presidential election cycle.  It's been useful in that regard.

The author arranges the chapters in the way she defines the structure of a confidence game.  Each chapter explores the progressive steps in the con:  Put-up, play, rope, tale, convincer, breakdown, send, touch, blow-off, and fix.  You can play along until Election Day 2016 by identifying each step of at least one candidate's confidence game as he/she strings the public along.


The Confidence Game:  Why We Fall for It… Every Time by Maria Konnikova
NY:  Viking, 2016
ISBN 978-0-525-42741-4

(5)  “Religion,” Voltaire is said to have remarked, “began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.”

(18)  “There’s a sucker born every minute, and one to trim ‘em and one to knock ‘em.”

(34-35)  According to psychologist Robert Feldman, who has spent more than four decades studying the phenomenon, we lie, on average, three times during a routine ten-minute conversation with a stranger or casual acquaintance.

(36)  Would you be a grifter - even a mild one - if given the chance?  Try this short test.  Take your index finger, raise it to your forehead, and draw the letter Q.

Done?  Which way is your Q facing - tail to the right, or tail to the left?  The test, described in detail by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and famed skeptic, is a way to gauge your “self-monitoring”tendency.  If you drew the letter with the tail to the left, so that others could read it you are a high self-monitor.  That means you are more concerned with appearance and perception - how others see you.  To achieve the desired effect, you are likely more willing to manipulate reality - even just a bit - to make a better impression.

(59)  In one series of studies, [Nicholas] Epley and his colleagues found that people were far slower to discern a different perspective from their own, and that under time pressure they were unlikely to do so at all.  He called it “egocentric anchoring”:  we are our own point of departure.  We assume that others know what we know, beleive what we believe, and like what we like….

We never learn to be expert people-readers because that expertise can backfire spectacularly.  Why form accurate judgments when the inaccurate ones make our lives far more pleaseant and easy?

(82)  Fred Demara:  “Americans would rather be liked that right.  (This fact allowed you to operate after reasonable suspicion was aroused.)  Americans are amazingly forgiving to the errant sinner (almost everywhere you went they would take you back).  Americans are among the most trusting people in the world.  Accept you at your word and at your face value until proven otherwise.  (They don’t stand and watch you or quesiton you but wait for you to volunteer your own information.  This, of course, is a great asset to the impostor.)  The test of freedom of this country.  Where else but in American could a guy like me operate?  On ability of famed impostor to circulate:  If they aren’t looking for you, they don’t see you."

(111)  The con artist can employ something called “wishful identification.”  We don’t feel sorry for the character;  we want to be him.  He has attained presicely what we want.  And don’t we deserve that, too?  Now it’s our turn.  The more similar the characters in the story are to us, whether because of appearance or social position, the more likely we are to relate to them. The more we like the confidence man, the more we relate to him.

(118)  It’s no coincidence that cons tend to thrive in the wake of disaster:  natural disaster, illness, economic disaster, national disaster, personal disaster.  The play is almost built into disaster zones from the start.  Emotions are already high.  There’s already a compelling story line.  Imagine the implications for the play:  create a sense of fear, and then the feeling of relief (not to worry!  there’s a solution!) and your mark is all but guaranteed to fall.

(121)  In one study, arousal alone was enough to get someone to agree with a request for help;  it little mattered what the content of the request might happen to be.  

What visceral states do is create an intense attentional focus.  We tune out everything else and tune in to the in-the-moment emotional cues.  It’s similar to the feeling of overwhelming hunger or thirst - or the need to go to the bathroom - when you suddenly find yourslef unable to think about anything else.  In those moments, you’re less likely to deliberate, more likely to just say yes to something without fully internalizing it, and generally more prone to lapses that are outside the focus of your immediate attention. 

…Cons, long and short both, thrive on in-the-moment arousal:  we have no time to repent.  The best play makes use of that tendency.  Con artists heat us up.  That is their living.  As one put it, “It is imperative that you work as quickly as possible.  Never give a hot mooch time to cool off.  You want to close him while he is still slobbering with greed.”

(133)  The first, alpha, was far more frequent:  increasing the appeal of something.  The second, omega, decreased resistance surrounding something.  In the one, you do what you can to make your proposition, whatever it may be, more attractive….

The put-up identified the mark and mapped out his idiosyncrasies, hopes, and fears.  The play caught the mark’s attentioin and baited the hook.  The rope makes sure he bites and the hook sinks deep - else, with a bit of wiggling, the almost-sure-deal prey swim hastily away.

(133-134)  Robert Cialdini…. argues that six principles govern most persuasive relationships:  reciprocity (I rub your back, you rub mine), consistency (I beleive the same thing today as I did yesterday), social validation (doing this will make me belong), friendship or liking (exactly what it sounds like), scarcity (quick! there isn’t much to go around), and authority (you seem like you know what you’re talking about).  These are all alpha principles, used to increase persuasive appeal…

(136)  In 1966, Stanford University psychologists Jonathan Freeman and Scott Fraser observed an interesting phenomenon in their experiment:  someone who has already agreed to a small request - like opening the door for you - would become more, not less, likely to agree to a larger request later on.

(137)  As Cialdiini points out, one of the elements that make us more vulnerable to persuasion is our desire to maintain a good image of ourselves.  If something is framed so as to make us feel like worthy people, we are much mroe likely to comply with it.  We want to behave in a way that’s consistent with the image we’ve created.

Consistency here plays a crucial role in the other direction too - not just in our evaluation of ourselves but in our evaluation of the person we’re helping:  if I’ve helped you before, you must be worth it.  Therefore, I’ll help you again.

(139)  But niceness isn’t the only way to go.  Another effective technique that Cialdini first identified in 1975 is the door-in-the-face, a near opposite of the foot-in-the-door.  When someone we don’t really know asks us for a large favor - or even someone we do know catches us on an off day - and we (understandably) refuse, we _do_ indeed feel rude, just as [Daryl]  Bem would have predicted.  But we don’t like feeling rude.  And so we also feel something else we don’t like:  guilty.  So what happens when the person we turned down asks us for something else, something smaller, something that seems far more reasonable in comparison?  We say yes.  Guilt assuaged - and con artist’s mission accomplished.

(142-143)  In 1986, Santa Clara University psychologist Jerry Burger proposed a persuasion - or roping, if you will - tactic that relied not on a comparison between two separate favors but on a comparison within the favor self:  the that’s-not-all-technique.  An effective approach, Burger found, is to start with a false baseline (that is, not at all what you’re planning to eventually propose) and then, in quick succession, make changes and additions to that starting point that make it seem increasingly attractive.  You make an initial bid - how would you like to get in on this land deal in Florida? - and before your mark can respond, you turn it into something else.  “That’s not all.  You also get a guaranteed return on your initial investment.”  People who were approached with a that’s-not-all story, Burger found, were more likely to buy into it than those who heard the great offer right away.  (The that’s-not-all-ing, incidentally, can continue for a while.  You need not stop at one.)

That’s-not-all is actually a member of a broader set of persuasive tactics, known as disrupt-then-reframe techniques.  First you disrupt someone’s understanding of an attempt to influence her, and then you reframe the attempt in a way that makes her more vulnerable to it.  Here’s how it works.  Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert proposes that we understand the world in two stages.  First we take it at face value, in order to decipher the sense of what someone is telling us.  And then we evaluate it, in order to judge the soundness of what we’ve just deciphered.  Disrupt-then-reframe attacks the evaluative part of the process:  we don’t have a chance to give a proper assessment because each time we try to do so, the situaiton changes.

(144)  A request for a tiny amount of money legitimizes you in the eyes of others.  If you were a swindler, you’d ask for a lot, wouldn’t you?

(145)  A closely related approach is Cialdini’s lowball technique.  This time, you tell your intended victim that what you wnat is actually quite small - and oncehe commits to doing it, raise the stakes.

(149)  In their influential 1959 work “The Bases of Social Power,” John French and Bertram Raven posited that there were five major bases from which power derives:  reward power, or the belief that someone is able to reward you;  coercive power, or the belief that someone is able to punish you somehow;  legitimate power, or an actual basis of authority;  referent power, or power derived from your affiliation with someone (or desire to be affiliated with them);  and expert power, from someone’s expertise on a topic.

(154)  When someone in power tells us to do something, we tend to do it.  The rope is often at its most effective when we trust the power of its source, the con man….

One of the first things a con artist does is establish trust - often by being the exact type of person he thinks you aspire to be, or at least, want to be associated with.

(155)  And there was something else crucial about Madoff:  he was part of the Jewish community.  A community he leveraged to its full extent.  As Michael Shermer put it, “It was an affinity scheme, it was insidery.  We have to take care of each other;  he’s one of us.”  Madoff is far from alone.  Con artists often use communities to quickly gauge character and belief targets…  The authority we grant someone comes often as more of an afterthought than anything else, by virtue of their belonging to the exact right group, one that we’re particularly eager to either join or be liked by.

(159)  Our desire to be accepted as a member of groups that appeal to us is, according to Cialdini, one of the strongest motivators in our being persuaded by something:  it is an important reason that the rope often works effectively.  We are more likely to go along with something if it has the stamp of approval of a group we trust or promises us entry in a group we’d like to belong to.

(160)  Take this example:  by the order in which someone presents us with options, she can reliably make those options look better or worse - even if we wouldn’t naturally think so.

(161)  … position effects - where something is located physically….  default effects - or what your choice is by default….  anchor effects - the initial cues you see that influence your subsequent decision...

(163)  Information priming works so well because it exploits an effect we’ve already seen several times:  the ease that comes from familiarity. Mention something in passing , and then when you elaborate on it later - especially if it’s a few days later - it seems that much more convincing.  It’s a phenomenon known as the illusion of truth:  we are more likely to think something is true if it feels familiar.

(165)  Something else happens, too, when our minds feel bombarded from all sides.  In situations where we’re overtaxed, psychologist Katherine Milkman has found, we are more likely to make decisions that fit with what we _want_ to do rather than what we _should_ do.  The two are often in conflict, and even without outside help, it can be difficult to choose the path of the “should.”

(183)  Simply put, when it comes to ourselves - our traits, our lives, our decisions - our personal attachment overshadows our objective knowledge.  We systematically misevaluate evidence based on our own characteristics, and if we’re given evidence that something about us poses a threat, instead of thinking about how to change our own behavior, we call the evidence itself into question.  

(188)  Memory is a tricky thing, and once we’ve been taken once, it becomes all the more likely that we will fall for a con again.  There is no better mark, many a con artist will tell you, than one who has already been duped.

(195)  “The secret of rulership,” wrote George Orwell, “is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes.”

(205)  Had it been up to Raines, he might have kept believing until the end.  It would have been a simpler, happier reality.  And that basic desire for a happier, simpler reality is at the center of the convincer’s success.

(235)  That’s the question at the heart of the breakdown, the moment when the con artist sees just how far he can take us.  In the put-up, he picked us out of the crowd with care.  In the play, he established a bond through some emotional wrangling and expert storytelling.  In the rope, he laid out his persuasive pitch for our already-willing ears.  In the tale, he’s told us how we will personally benefit, relying on our belief in our exceptionalism.  In the convincer, he’s let us win, persuading us that we’d been right in going along with him.  And now comes the breakdown.  We start to lose.  How far can the grifter push us before we balk?  How much of a beating can we take?  Things don’t completely fall apart yet - that would lose us entirely, and the game would end prematurely - but cracks begin to show.  We lose some money.  Something doesn’t go according to plan.  One fact seems to be off.  A figure is incorrectly labeled.  A wine bottle is “faulty.”  The crucial question:  do we notice, or do we double down?  High off the optimism of the convincer, certain that good fortune is ours, we often take the second route.  When we should be cutting our losses, we instead recommit - and that is entirely what the breakdown is meant to accomplish.

(237)  Changing your perception or your memory is easier than changing behavior.

(263)  The send is that part of the con where the victim is recommitted, that is, asked to invest increasingly greater time and resources into the con artist’s scheme - and in the touch, the con finally comes to is fruition and the mark is completely, irrevocably fleeced….  Once the send is in motion, with the mark recommitted to raising the stakes the touch - the con’s end - is inevitable.  Once we are in, well and good, we are all in.

(366)  … once we’ve invested heavily in something, we no longer see it clearly, no matter the costs.

(367)  [Richard] Thaler termed the phenomenon the sunkuuu-cost fallacy….

In theory, we should only care about new, incremental costs.  What we’ve already put into something shouldn’t matter:  it’s lost anyway, whatever “it” happens to be - time, money, energy, whatever else.  We should stick with it only if it still seems worthwhile in light of new evidence.

(271)  In psychology, that idea is called the endowment effect, first articulated by Thaler in 1980.  By virtue of being ours, our actions, thoughts, possessions, and belief acquire a glow they didn’t have before we committed to them.  Sunk costs make ys loath to spot problems and reluctant to swerve from a committed path.  Adn the endowment effect imbues the status quo - what we’ve done - with an overly optimistic rosy glow.  It makes us want to hold on to it all the more.

(273)  The status quo bias only makes things worse.  We like things as they are.

(286)  In the blow-off, the confidence artist has one main goal:  now that the touch has been taken, get the mark out of the way as quickly as possible.  The last thing you wnat is for someone to complain and thus draw attention to the whole enterprise.  The blow-off is often the final step of the con, the grifter’s smooth disappearance after the game has played out.  Sometimes, though, the mark may not be so complacent.  If that happens, there’s always one more step that can be taken:  the fix, when a grifter puts off the involvement of law enforcement to prevent marks from making their complaints official.

(307)  “When people want to believe what they want to believe, they are very hard to dissuade.”  - David Sullivan

(310)  We’re really adamant we have free will,” [Jennifer] Stalvey said.  “But so often, that’s simply not true.  everyone has a weakness.  We want to connect to someone or something greater. 

(311)  Joshua Jelly-Shapiro:  “They [cults] are all founded on meaning, community:  what everyone wants.”

That’s why [David] Sullivan found cults to be a particularly enraging confidence game, more infuriating than most:  it was a co-optation of a very legitimate quest for meaning.  Everyone wants to believe, everyone wants meaning, everyone wants stories that make sense of incoherence.

(312) … the key to resisting persuasion and manipulation was to have a strong, unshakeable, even, sense of self.  Know who you are no matter what, and hold on to that no matter what.  It isn’t easy - it was years before Sullivan was able to find a suitable female infiltrator;  Stalvey, he said, was an exception.  “It’s very rare to find someone to put into a cult.  You have to have a very strong sense of your own identity,” he said.  “And it’s not easy to do this.  The psychological techniques that are now employed to coerce you are phenomenal.”

When we spoke, Stalvey elaborated on the approach her mentor had taught her.  One of the most important things, she said, was to maintain objectivity:  logic to counteract feeling.  You know your emotions will be manipulated - they always are, in any con, big or small.  That’s the whole point of the put-up and the play.  And once you become emotional, your reasoning can easily become short-circuited.  “Always pay attention to the details,” she told me.  That is one way to ensure that you are staying rooted in the physical, the objective, rather than the psychological, the subjective…. “Through it all, you have to make sure you are observing as much as feeling.”

(313)  Know what people you’re likely to trust, what triggers are likely to catch you, whether positive or negative, and try to be aware enough of your own behavior that you won’t get swept up in it.  In short, hone your skills of observation and detail-noting, as Stalvey puts it, when it comes not just to others but to yourself.

Another key element is Stalvey and Sullivan’s arsenal:  set limits.  “I’d decide before I went in what my limits were, the lines I wouldn’t cross, physically or emotionally,” Stalvey said.  She made sure that trusted others knew those limits and were ready to step in if she was getting close to the edge.

(320-321)  Nobody joins a cult, Sullivan repeated often and emphatically.  People join something that will give them meaning.  “They join a group that’s going to promote peace and freedom throughout the world or that’s going to save animals, or they’re going to help orphans or something.  But nobody joins a cult.”  Nobody embraces false beliefs:  we embrace something we think is as true as it gets.  Nobody sets out to be conned:  we set out to become, in some way, better than we were before.

(327)  The Big Con by David Maurer

(328)  Hustlers and Con Men by Jay Robert Nash

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Losing the News

_Losing the News:  The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy_ by Alex S. Jones
NY:  Oxford University Press, 2009
ISBN 978-0-19-518123-4

(14)  My best guess is that the amount of serious reporting on important topics would average around 15 percent...

(38)  Reverend Jerry Falwell came to Miami to support [Anita] Bryant, and not long after founded the Moral Majority...
NB:  The culture war is the war against gays and was founded first and foremost in that battle

(43)  According to [Robert] Entman, the media can be divided into four categories:  traditional journalism, tabloid journalism, advocacy journalism, and entertainment.

The first way to distinguish each from the other is on the basis of its commitment to five key journalism standards.  The first four are accuracy, balance, holding government accountable, and separation of news from editorial and advertising.  The fifth standard is the degree to which there is a determination to maximize profit.  Bear in mind that all these forms of media are intended to make a profit, but one of Entman's key insights is that they are different in the _degree_ to which maximizing profit is a motivation.

(48) Until the recent downturn, a local television station that was showing less than a 60 percent profit margin was performing below the industry standard. This is three times the profit margin of most local newspapers.

(59)  Lost in the mists of history is the fact that three states did not ratify the Bill of Rights until 1939, in anticipation of its sesquicentennial:  Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

(77)  Libby, who was a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, had systematically leaked information to reporters on a confidential basis that was intended to discredit a C.I.A. report that was judged harmful to the administration's case that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons.
NB:  No mention of Valerie Plame

(81)  What _makes_ journalism good?  Everyone would agree on accuracy.  For most consumers of news, the next requirement would be lack of bias:  journalism should be fair and balanced.
NB:  No mention of context

(87)  As Kovach and Rosenstiel point out, "In the original concept, in other words, the _method_ is objective, not the _journalist_."

His example of a failure of objectivity in the press is the debate over "partial birth abortion," in which most sources took the word of the pro-life faction that few of these late term abortions were done and that they were done because of health issues, something that didn't hold up under investigation.  Seems to me that this is less a failure of objectivity than a failure of fact-checking.

"If your mother tells you she loves you, kid, check it out" or, as BB King put it, "Nobody loves me but my mother and she could be jiving too"

(90)  "news consumer" "truth"
NB:  not informed citizenry, facts

(92)  Ruth Padawer of Bergen County Record and David Post of Washington Post reported on the facts of "partial birth abortions" or late term abortions

(106)  A slightly different way of framing journalism's ethical demands was distilled in _The Elements of Journalism_....
1.  Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
2.  Its first loyalty is to citizens.
3.  Its essence is a discipline of verification.

(107)  The first _obligation_ is to truth.  Finding truth is a universal journalistic responsibility.  It is not a goal, but a duty. [?!]

(109)  ...a promise of confidentiality may have to be breached as the lesser evil

This dilemma of conflicting claims on honor lies at the heart of the worst ethical problems in journalism.
NB:  Honor?!

(123)  When the investigative series appeared, the meat and potatoes consisted of material unearthed by hard-nosed, shoe-leather reporting.  But the most sensational and titillating bits were verbatim quotes from company officials that could have come only from voice mails.  The truth quickly came out, and under pressure from Chiquita, the Gannett Company, owner of the _[Cincinnati] Enquirer_, renounced the entire series, removing it from the paper's Web site.  They also paid a multimillion-dollar settlement and issued an abject apology.  The reporter was charged with a crime, and his career was over.  He had, in a sense, integrity.  He told himself that he had done it to expose what he thought was an abusive company. 
NB:  Integrity?

(129)  With this ploy, he [Gutenberg] won the contract for printing indulgences....

(137)  In an institutional sense, newspapers took on a fatherly role for their readers.  They assumed a position of superior knowledge and gave direction as to what one should think. 

(161)  The problem at this moment for the papers whose stock is publicly traded isn't just one of making a profit.  The problem is making enough profit to satisfy Wall Street and also to pay off the huge debt that many newspaper companies carry from their purchase of more newspapers.

(175)  And as for news, his [Dean Singleton] formula was - to my ear - both realistic and chilling.  Newspapers can survive "if we print what our readers - not what we - want;  if we discard our arrogance and old ideas;  if we let our readers participate."

(191)  One of the most innovative efforts to marry participatory journalism with traditional reporting is under way at Public Insight Journalism, the brain child of Michael Skoler...

(192)  "You listen to people who listen to you," [Michael] Skoler told an audience of traditional journalists in October 2008, "and journalists have not listened to the public for ages."

NB:  Clay Shirkey:  Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for.
Cluetrain:  A market is a conversation
Talk is cheap and silence is fatal.

(201)  The newspaper industry that emerges will be leaner and, when the economy turns and some of the lost advertising returns, the new revenue will have an outsized reviving power like food to a starving man.
NB:  Really?

(208)  Perhaps the Web will facilitate a restoration of close ties, but I believe that it will more likely come from something that is based not so much on the Web's interaction as on demonstrating commitment to a community, presenting a distinctive personality, and reflecting a genuine affection for the people it serves.  Perhaps it is counterintuitive given the open forum of the Web, but these things - to my mind - show themselves more persuasively in print than online.
NB:  No listening here.  Never read _Virtual Community_ I guess

(221)  My nightmare scenario is one of bankrupt newspapers, news by press release that is thinly disguised advocacy, scattered and ineffectual bands of former journalists and sincere amateurs whose work is left in obscurity, and a small cadre of high-priced newsletters that serve as an intelligence service for the rich and powerful.
NB:  That's not today?

NB:  George Seldes was dedicated to the facts, to truth, and to history. He ends his memoirs with a conversation he once had with William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette of Kansas:

"As his final word, Mr White said: 'The facts, fairly and honestly presented,' and I added, more in the nature of a question than a statement, the words: 'and truth will take care of itself?'
"White leaped at these words. 'That's it,' he said, 'that is our formula: "The facts fairly and honestly presented; truth will take care of itself."'

"I have thought of these words for more than forty years. I know of no better rule for all newspapers of the world."