SocraticGadfly: 3/30/14 - 4/6/14

April 05, 2014

Dear conservatives: You want to actually make government efficient?

Having spent some time recently at the Department of Public Safety, I have one Grade A suggestion. (And no, fellow Texan readers, I wasn't in the clink.)

Let's start with the driver's license office.

The DPS, or the Department of Motor Vehicles as a separate agency in many states, are the driver's license folks. And who can't and doesn't tell horror stories about them? Add to it that Texas' voter ID bill passed last year has extended its leprous spread to the driver's license portion of the DPS, like if you're a woman and got married since your last driver's license renewal, and the clusterfuckocity (my blog, I'll invent an occasional word when I want) has only increased here in the Pointy Abandoned Object State in general, and specifically for newly married women, if you want license renewals.

(Note to women: Don't change your "maiden" name. Period. Just don't do it. Or, if you're religious enough to think you have to as part of marital "submission," you know who to blame. Gov. Helmethair.)

Further bollixing things up, and leading to my point, is that the "great" (sorry, Wendy Davis, sit down) State of Texas has seen fit to close DPS driver's license shops in a number of smaller counties. Mine's one of them.

Well, in the last decade, banks have started keeping evening and Saturday hours at more branches, and even going so far as to, in bigger cities, opening branches inside groceries. (Of course, that's with hiring most employees on a PT basis, and paying them only a step or two above WallyWorld. No wonder some of said employees call themselves "money clerks" or similar.)

Anyway, why can't we do similar with DPS? (And non-Texans, ditto with the DMV or whatever in your states.)

At least in bigger cities, have a few office that stay open until 7 or so a night or two a week. Have a few others that have Saturday hours.

Oh, and hire the extra people to make this happen right, and to improve the current situation.

With people not having to spend 2-3 hours renewing licenses, or non-maidenly Texas women having to waste 10-12 hours or more, work in private sector jobs would be aided a bit, too.

April 04, 2014

America and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Per polls from Gallup and elsewhere, even with the Great Recession officially being over for a few years, income inequality continues to rise, and so, more and more Americans don't talk about themselves as middle class any more.

Maybe this is good. Maybe, per Thomas Piskotty's new book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," Americans are finally realizing that capitalism doesn't work, at least not for them. Maybe, with the Supreme Court ruling that capitalism should subvert politics earlier this week, they realize that politics isn't designed to work for the middle class, either.

Setting aside an oft-times sociological problem in such situations in general (and specific in America in the past, with "poor whites" sneering at blacks in the South for generations simply because they were lower on the social totem poll), maybe something else is coming into play — the Dunning-Kruger effect, or rather, the decline of its hold.

To partially oversimplify, but easily explain? The Dunning-Kruger effect is American exceptionalism on the level of individual persons.

Per Wiki, it's normally used just about cognitive and intelligence issues: 
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.
However, the idea certainly applies further than that. 

Instead, I would apply it more broadly sociologically, beyond the individual level. Namely, it's the idea that one's own group, culture, nation, etc. has special, exceptional attributes. 

With American exceptionalism, the bias for why America is so great:
  • Ignores that European diseases had killed off many American natives, yet not so long ago that their developed fields and parkland forests hadn't reverted to the wild
  • Ignores finding petrochemicals in abundance with the lucky timing of beginning industrialization at the same time 
  • Ignores that, in many, many ways, we're not No. 1 at all.
That's just some tip of the iceberg observations.

In other words, other countries can care for their citizens better than we do, have happier citizens, and have more realistic views about the world at large at the same time.

Sen. Betty Crocker — wrong on torture, wrong on American history

Dianne Feinstein, aka Sen. Betty Crocker thinks torture is an "error" to be admitted. That's why any huff she has with the CIA will eventually be solved only to help Congress and not We the People:
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., maintained that the eventual release of the summary and findings will show “that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them.”

She called the findings shocking, adding: “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen. This is not what Americans do.”

The report “certainly depicts the program as much, much worse than generally thought,” said Alberto Mora, a former Navy general counsel and an early critic of the Bush administration program. “Oh my gosh, it’s a devastating critique.”

The finding that 26 detainees were held without legal authorization and the confirmation that the CIA in some cases went beyond the techniques approved by the Justice Department might fuel legal challenges.
Uhh, first, as the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates would tell you, it's what white Americans did to black Americans for some 200 years, under guise of some legality, until Emancipation, then continued to do a century after that.

And, we did it to other white people elsewhere, too. Perhaps not as much as other countries, but we shot surrendered prisoners of war, in WWII, in Germany and Italy.

And, later than that, we committed a laundry list of atrocities in Vietnam.

And various things to American Indians — though, with one partial exception, the smallpoxed blankets is a myth, and the Indians, even if on the defensive, had no problems inflicting torture themselves.

And, I'm just hitting the high points of the low points.

Second, I doubt the legal challenges. Hamdam and Hamdi, the Supreme Court gave a bare nod to rights of detainees. But, I'm sure a Bush v. Gore type majority will flatly cut off any such suits against the US government or its agents.

No, not every Euro-American in US history is rotten to the core. But, American history has been about more than bad apples. It's been about bad appleseed, too.

And, until the likes of American exceptionalists, including most politicians of both major parties, admit that, we'll still be proving Santayana true, though not Marx.

We'll continue to repeat our unremembered history. Unfortunately, it will be always as tragedy in matters like this and never as farce.

Read more here:

Warren Buffet's gamble on community papers a loser — and other stupidities (updated)

Warren Buffett doubled down on community newspapers a couple years back, and it's a loser, so far. Hell, I could have told Bloomberg that. First, despite Buffett allegedly supporting paywalls, here in Central Texas, his two small 7-day dailies only paywall the PDF e-edition, which means bupkis, especially as nobody reads PDFs on mobile devices. And, the HTML news stories on site are all free. Given that most non-daily community papers still think this is what a paywall means, it's no wonder that community newspapers are basically, with some differences in detail, about at the same spot in the financial stupidity curve as larger newspapers were a decade ago.

Linked to this is that smaller metropolitan areas, at least here in Tejas, aren't fully sharing in the economic recovery of the big cities.

Take Waco, where the Tribune-Herald is one of the two papers I'm talking about. On Saturdays, which should be a big day, the paper struggles to hit the 30 percent mark on ads, and that's counting the inches of paid obits as straight ad space. I don't know about Bryan-College Station, but I venture to guess the Eagle's in somewhat similar boat, though maybe not as bad.

Beyond that, whether his investments in the biz are small or not, Buffett knows nothing special about newspapers, other than fairly typical slash-and-burn. At the Buffalo News, early on, he was strong on union-busting as part of reducing costs.

Back to the main point, though. PDFing an e-edition while posting in HTML all your main news stories for free is NOT a paywall.

What it is, is stupidity and a waste of time even as newspapers try to do more with less on staff time as well as money.

And this isn't likely to get better in the near future.

Meanwhile, per Editor & Publisher, "winning stratetegies" of small and middle sized dailies include:
1. Publishers using the C-word. Any time a publisher mentions "content," I reach for my revolver.
2. Newspapers "rediscovering" special sections. Problem? If you're hosting the event for which the special section is about, and "hosting" as in paying costs to put it on, having staff on the ground, etc., aren't you losing at least part of your profit? If so, how much? Are you trying to minimize this by having only salaried and not hourly people do this? If so, how much, if any , comp time are you giving them?
3. Newspapers "partnering" with folks like chambers of commerce for tourism guides, etc. Sounds good — until your chamber of commerce does ill-advised spending of hotel-motel tax money, or the equivalent in your state, and, you have to write a story about it. What if the chamber, the economic development board, etc., then "un-partner" with you?
4. A newspaper saying that its expanded database of email addresses for discount blasts have helped ward off Groupon. If you're that worried about Groupon, a company more and more despised by merchants, and you're that worried in part because you've not read NEWS STORIES and not CONTENT that has reported exactly this about Groupon, then [sigh].

What can you expect from such stupidity, though? Per Poynter, back with the big boys, the Boston Globe is now going to a metered paywall, with 10 freebies per month, vs none before. But, it refuses to call it a paywall, just using the term "meter." It's unclear if the totally free is staying around. If it is, then the Globe is as stupid as the Chron in San Francisco and the Snooze in Dallas.

That said, the stupidity isn't limited to the U.S.

The Guardian is getting a pretty penny for selling its majority stake in Auto Trader, but, without a paywall, Alan Rusbridger and gang will continue to burn through Scott Trust money, and this "infusion," like money's going out of style.
The company, which has divested of non-core newspaper assets such as GMG Radio – the third largest radio group in the UK which owned brands including Real and Smooth – for £70m has revealed that the sale of its majority stake in AutoTrader has secured the financial future of the newspaper portfolio for a minimum of 30 years.
Yeah, we'll see if this last for 30 years. Meanwhile, how much profit were these other assets making? Maybe you should have kept them and done more to fix the Guardian's bottom line at the same time.

I mean, you can chase the allegedly "lucrative U.S. market" all you want, but since that market, for newspapers, is expected to have another 8 percent ad revenue decline this year, it gets less lucrative all the time. And, new numbers on digital circulation aren't doing a lot more than offsetting print subscription declines, in many cases.
There is essentially now an infinity of digital inventory, very different than scarcity in print, so you can buy digital advertising anywhere and everywhere,” (Ken Doctor) said.
This is something I've been hammering myself, as the flip side of the Gnu Media gurus talking about how the digital world offers an infinity of room for news stories, length of news stories, etc. Throw in programmatic advertising, which is further driving down rates, primarily in print, but surely in digital, too.

Add in that digital dimes are likely to be replaced by mobile nickels, especially per my note above about PDFs and mobile devices, and, Rusbridger can chase diminishing returns all he wants.

Unfortunately, the only real hope Doctor sees is from points 2 and 3 under the "best practices" above:
Growth may come, he suggested, as companies expand into “third, fourth, and fifth” businesses, in addition to the first two, advertising and circulation. Newer revenue sources include digital marketing services, sponsoring events and conferences, and in-house publishing activities to help other papers looking for publishing services.
Uhh, given that Doctor was one of the first media analysts to talk about Digital First Media shutting down Thunderdome for its own papers under "in-house publishing activities," as I noted in my blog about DFM's pending implosion, that's a big negatory, Ken, on that being likely to do anything.

Doctor should also read this piece by Jack Shafer. Shafer gives a good smackdown to the NYT's "Premier" premium website in specific, and to the concept of "premium" newspaper websites in general. Folks in Dallas, Boston, and likely San Fran, who think they can "sell" a premium website while keeping a totally free, totally unpaywalled basic one, should take note. But almost surely won't.

Doctor doesn't specifically mention "swag" under his ideas, but it's kind of hinted at.

So, let's look once again at this.

Digital marketing services? In small towns, papers may have a partial edge on this. But, big cities? Nahhh. That's what public relations companies do, Ken. Thousands of them, both newer and older, flood Monster, Indeed, and other job sites with "SEO specialist wanted" ads all the time, even as that job market loses steam.

So, scratch No. 3.

No. 4? I've already poo-poohed this on conflict of interest grounds. Or worse, on sponsored conferences? We've already seen this backfire with the NYT and WaPost. And Politico. That said, as we see with the likes of Advance Media paying writers bonuses for, essentially, promoting clickbait, journalistic ethics, on the management side, continues to sink by the day. John Paton at DFM should be kicking himself that he didn't think about hosting digital-only cyberconferences, like ginormous Google Hangouts.

No. 5? Given that more media companies are already consolidating printing services, and the long-term future points digital only, how can you even offer this one? And, as I just updated, with that link a few grafs above, that ain't going anywhere, either. Joint copy desk hubs in major newspapers will likely become bigger clusterfucks the more newspapers they're asked to build in the future. (And it's probably time for a separate blog post just on that.)

Shows that outside stereotypical Jarvis, Rosen, Shirky, and other Gnu Media gurus, other analysts aren't so brilliant all the time, either.

I have the feeling that many newspaper companies, their top management, their family owners, or whatever, suffer from the Dunning-Krueger effect.

Folks, analytics say that ads are going to fall 8 percent on average this year. Odds are there's nothing special about your newspaper to beat those odds.

The big issue is that, as Michael Wolff notes, we still haven't figured out how (with select exceptions) to make the online model pay. I've blogged before that the Net is exactly the opposite of print in this way. Because space for stories was limited, it made the "information" of ads pricey, to quote the second paragraph of Stewart Brand's famous saying — one that Gnu Media gurus routinely ignore. Wolff adds elsewhere that advertisers have figured out that Net traffic numbers aren't real, either, which is why click-per-impression rates continue to drop. (Yet more from Wolff here.)

(Brand himself claims he's blamed for a lot of tech-neoliberalism stuff that is not his fault. The rest of that interview indicates he's lying to himself if he really believes that and lying to the rest of us anyway.)

On the Net? Because story/photo/video/space is limited only by server size, and every daily paper with a website, plus top blogs and news aggregators, post wire service stories, ad "information" is almost free, even if it doesn't "want" to be so.

In Buffett's case, other than staff-slashing at Buffalo, then Omaha, he knows no more about new media revenue models than any other old media owner. And, since Omaha's a relatively recent buy, and both it and Buffalo, pre-Media General, were tiny drops in his empire, he's never bothered to give much thought to it, unlike buying BNSF stock a few years back because he expected both intermodal and energy shipping to pick up as the Great Recession lessened.

April 03, 2014

GOP nuttery on Fort Hood shoting starts

Yes, I know the specter of Maj. Hidal Hasan hovers over the April 2, 2014, Fort Hood shooting.

But, no, Rep. Mike McCaul, Fort Hood is not likely becoming a jihadi hot spot for terrorists.

Rather, as the war in Iraq winds up (we think) and the one in Afghanistan lessens, but continues, Fort Hood will instead become a hot spot for more veterans like Ivan Lopez, suffering PTSD, possibly linked to a traumatic brain injury, and shoddily, cheaply treated by our government because of largely GOP rah-rah Congressional warmongers like you.

Yes, per the NYT's story, there was also a foiled 2011 attack, but that was three years ago.

Let's focus on the actualities we know. And they are that Lopez was treated for PTSD and may have had a TBI. And, instead of foaming over something unlikely, let's ask how we can prevent more Ivan Lopezes by:
A. Getting better treatment for the ones now;
B. Not going into more stupid wars with "the army we have now."

Coming soon: The #GregAbbott Pal of the Month club!

Given that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has moved from palling around with pervert-lite Ted Nugent to known racialist Charles Murray, he obviously needs the help of We the People to pick his pals and best buds.

Hence, the title of the headline.

My first suggestion?

If Abbott wants to overcome the foot in mouth on equal pay for women that he and most other Republicans have, make a brazen pitch for minority voters and try to play havoc on the Democratic side of the fence, why not pal around next with LaRouchite nutbar Kesha Rogers as part of her Senate primary runoff against David Alameel?

He could then follow that a week or two later by palling around with Daddy Warbucks Alameel and try to get some campaign donations from him.

After that? Well, Abbott needs to bid for even more of the Religious Right vote. Given that Pat Robertson just called Jews "diamond polishers," he seems perfect.

So, send your nominations in.

Oh, and thanks to Perry; this post kind of inspired me.

April 02, 2014

"Scientific" skepticism, like #GnuAtheism, is no guarantor of moral high ground

I've blogged more than once in the past about how atheism in general, and more specifically, Gnu Atheism and its offspring, Atheism Plus, is no guarantor of moral or intellectual superiority to the general public.

Well, the so-called scientific skepticism movement, which I also call "movement" skepticism at times, shows the same. That's specific in the ongoing saga between Ben Radford and Karen Stollznow.

The two of them have worked together at various organizations for a number of years. (Or maybe not; see below.) During a fair part of that time, they also had a personal relationship. Well, after it ended, in a long blog post at her then-regular site with Scientific American, Stollznow accused Radford of sexual harassment which she said eventually became sexual assault. SciAm eventually pulled down the post. (In hindsight about Bora Zivkovic, I have to wonder if there weren't certain reasons it was pulled down. Or maybe there were other reasons; see below.)

Well, in mid-February, Radford sued her. The first page of the filing is on his Facebook feed.

He then did two things that hit, er .... below the belt, pun intended.

First, he had asked her to sign a retraction letter, in exchange for dropping the suit. He posted the letter on his Facebook feed, which, as you can now see, he's pulled down, probably as a result of getting caught on what seems like a skeevy move. (But see below on the request for her to sign this letter.)

Related to that, he and allies of his browbeat some other skeptics for their ongoing support of Stollznow, or their support for her in the first place, again giving the implication that she had signed the letter.

In even bigger skeevyness, after filing suit, but before announcing it to the general skeptical public, Radford wrote a blog post at Center for Inquiry which, as you can see, is about hypotheticals in sexual harassment lawsuits. It was bad enough that CFI Executive Director Ron Lindsay wrote a follow-up blog post a day later essentially rebuking Radford. Given that CFI gave Radford a slap on the wrist (not more, but not nothing), at the time of Stollznow's claims, why Lindsay, over this "spirit of fraud" move, hasn't suspended Radford, I don't know.

Radford's not hugely impressed me as a skeptic. He's a degree or two of informativeness above a Brian Dunning, but no more than that; his Live Science posts have generally been dreck-plus. Also, when discussion of his lawsuit started on Facebook, I had thought he was a plaintiff in another case, a personal injury case, but I was incorrect. It turns out that was a woman, eventually deceased, with first name of Benjamine (sic), so my apologies to Ben for the wrong implication there.

Anyway, Stollznow didn't sign the retraction paper, contra Radford's implication, so now she's seeking legal financial help.

I have no idea who's telling more of the truth, let alone if we've heard all of it from either one. I also don't know how much money Radford does or does not have himself behind his filing of the suit. I do know that some of Stollznow's defenders say she accused him of sexual assault as well as harassment. She did not, and states in her legal defense fund link that it was just harassment. Whether this is "telephone," poor memories on a SciAm article now pulled down, or deliberate claim manipulation, I don't know. Turns out it was correct that she accused him of both, and thanks to the person who got me the cached version of the article. And, doesn't a place theoretically as web-savvy as SciAm think about web caches?

And, a friend of mine who's a lawyer said that surely, in a place as big as greater Denver, she could find a lawyer to start work for a nominal retainer. I think the smell of tribalism is in the air. Related to that is that Skeptchick, with the one-and-only (thank doorknob there's not two non-skeptical but claiming to be skeptical Sarah Palin act-alikes in the Atheism Plus movement!) Rebecca Watson leading the charge. (And, no, not every move, or comment of yours, is fascinating. Good effing doorknob. Maybe narcissism is part of human nature, but social media and smartphones have sure added gasoline to the fire.)

Update, April 2: Now we may have more reason why Stollznow conducted a fundraising campaign for a lawyer. It may have been part of a PR campaign.

Radford has come out with a website with extensive, purportedly documented information on how Radford's claims of specific dates in their correspondence and relationship are wrong, perhaps even deliberately wrong, but how she has a history of making false accusations about relationship closeness, sexual harassment, and more, from fellow skeptics in her native land of Australia to the man who is now her husband, both of whom were arrested for assault charges against each other.

If a quarter of this is correct, she's all wet. And why she and Matt Baxter married one another, who knows. But, per the annual Darwin awards, I have a sexual selection variant of it: better they're with each other than with two other people.

Radford also claims she is misstating and overstating their professional relationship

And, if a quarter of this is true, I can understand his request for her to sign something.

SciAm might either have been tipped off about allegations in her background, or else maybe she was displaying some of this in the foreground while there.

Some skeptics think yet another of their number, Blake Smith, has been a dupe. Maybe he directly worked with her less than Radford and wasn't in a position to know differently; who knows?

In any case, nobody's reputation is perfectly clean; Gnu Atheists and Atheism Plusers, who have usd Stollznow as a "tool," least of all, though. 

Meanwhile, per talk amongst skeptics on Facebook, now about Ben's link, I want to add a bit more. (And may eventually do another post.)

How authentic Ben's claimed authentication is, is not ironclad. I figured that myself last night, hence my caveats, while at the same time making my "if a quarter" observation, and noting that the article in the Sydney Morning Herald isn't a thing that Ben could have faked, altered, etc. 

On the third hand, even if their personal relationship wasn't as close as Ben claims, why did he stay as close to her as long as he did?

On the fourth hand, a lawyer friend of mine, and a secularist, questions why she didn't just quietly hire a lawyer for an inexpensive retainer first, then do a fundraiser later for additional needs?

Everybody's sheets keep getting dirtier on this issue. And will likely continue to do so for some time.

Actual and alternative history meet in book on Hitler's rise

Hitler's Thirty Days To Power: Jan-33Hitler's Thirty Days To Power: Jan-33 by Henry Ashby Turner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Easy read, and a lucid and well-thought one, of one of two transitional points in the 20th century; the other being 1917 in Russia, of course.

Turner shows that three people were primarily responsible for Hitler coming to power: current Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher; his predecessor, Franz von Papen; and President Paul von Hindenburg. Lesser roles were played by Hindenburg's son Oskar and his presidential secretary, Otto Meissner, along with Alfred Hugenberg of the German National People's Party.

A key point is that Hitler's rise was not inevitable, and Turner lays out a detailed case for its contingency.

The crux of the matter was the Weimer constitution. The German president had plenty of non-ceremonial powers, including the right to issue emergency decrees. From 1930 on, no Chancellor was able to form a parliamentary majority, so all governed in part by use of these decrees, and their cabinets were known as presidential, rather than parliamentary, cabinets.

Papen tried to rope Hitler into his late-1932 cabinet as vice chancellor, a title he showed as useless himself when he got the same role in Hitler's cabinet. Hitler, with his all-or-nothing strategy, refused.

Hindenburg, also in late 1932, offered Hitler the chance to govern, but only if he could form a parliamentary majority; he declined.

Schleicher, who had put Papen in power as a tool, then grew tired and distrustful of him, so he resigned his Army commission and stood for the Chancellorship himself.

Turner makes clear that all three major players, and the two main secondary ones, consistently underestimated Hitler. None apparently had read Mein Kampf, even though at the state level, the state of Prussia, when under control of the Social Democrats, had civil servants do an analysis, based on the book, on what exactly the Nazis would do if they got power.

Also, Papen and Schleicher both, naively, thought they could control Hitler.

Once the Hindenburgs took a personal dislike to Schleicher, and Papen convinced them that he could control Hitler and (according to Turner) deceived them that Hitler would have a parliamentary cabinet pending the filling in of a few blanks, and Hugenberg decided that this was the best brass ring he could grasp and that he could join Papen in controlling Hitler, the die was cast.


Turner concludes with something that will always get my attention: alternative history.

He asks, "What if the Three Stooges, and the Three Lesser Lackeys, hadn't given in to Hitler?"

It's a very good question.

As for Hitler himself, he notes, as all history aficionados of the period know, that the Nazis' vote declined from summer 1932 to the end of fall election, and that the party was nearly broke.

So, Turner says, if only Schleicher had waited him out, Hitler and the Nazis would have continued to slide.

Of course, Hitler could have called out the storm troopers and made a putsch attempt.

But Turner notes that the WWI allies had already agreed to remove the 100,000 man limit on the Germany Army. He thinks a resolute chancellor could have put down such a coup.

As for Hitler's reviving the Germany economy? A large part of that was actions undertaken by a Schleicher cabinet minister.

So, what might have happened? Turner notes that by 1933, a fair chunk of central and eastern Europe had already gone to traditional-type military dictatorships; arguably, Franco a few years later fit this mold. Given German militarism, such a dictatorship, probably with some degree of anti-Semitism but far less than that of Hitler's, could easily have been implemented by coup.

Schleicher himself was in position, but irritated Hindenburg and hit his Peter Principle limit as chancellor.

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Democracy just died a little more in America

In a ruling that rank and file Tea Partiers, like their rich overlords, are likely surely celebrating, the Supreme Court has ruled, in McCutcheon vs. Federal Elections Commission, that aggregate donation limits on donations are unconstitutional.

The Chief, John Roberts, took a very narrow view of what was at stake to justify this ruling:
"The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combatting corruption and its appearance," Roberts wrote. "We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government's efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them."
The story also notes that, per the SCOTUS' post-ruling stance on Citizens United, this could also invalidate state laws that have in-state caps on total campaign donations.

Ahh, Citizens' United. The case that brought the flood of money, and the idea that money = democracy, and that money = speech, to a new low. Citizens United — the case that most cleanly and clearly ripped the mask off Glenn Greenwald in his claim that he's a liberal and not a libertarian.

Speaking of libertarians, and Greenwald's claim that he's never influenced by his current employer, I will head over to The Intercept later, and see what he has written, and if he's interviewed Pierre Omidyar about this or not. I'll also see if anybody else there has written — or not written — anything. (Twenty-four hours and counting, and bupkis. And I have now tweeted two of the better known non-Greenwald writers there, Marcy Wheeler and Dan Froomkin, to ask if anybody at The Intercept is going to write about this, at all. And, yes, in a week or so, I'll do a separate blog post about the silence. I'll also rhetorically ask if this doesn't affect Greenwald's claim to not be subservient to his employers, since by a loophole, he's simply found one that congenial to him.)

That said, so far, Glenn and friends, contrary to what it says in its "about" section:
Our long-term mission is to produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues. The editorial independence of our journalists will be guaranteed. They will be encouraged to pursue their passions, cultivate a unique voice, and publish stories without regard to whom they might anger or alienate. We believe the prime value of journalism is its power to impose transparency, and thus accountability, on the most powerful governmental and corporate bodies, and our journalists will be provided the full resources and support required to do this.
Has written about nothing other than NSA-related issues and snarking on Obama. My emphasis added on the block quote. The Intercept's parent body, First Read, promises:
Coming Soon
We'll cover the world, from sports and entertainment to politics and business.
So far, that hasn't happened yet, either. (And Froomkin and Wheeler are on the clock, too.)

For background, Greenwald embraced Citizens United and the "money = speech" idea behind it. He also showed his usual high level of disingenuousness when he claimed that we should always separate legal rulings from their outcomes, no matter how likely said outcomes will be. More on how that idea is wrong, here. That includes the wrongness of his statements that because this also frees up union and advocacy nonprofits, Citizens United was a level playing field. Bull. Unions don't have as much money as Apple, and Glenn's beloved board-gagging ACLU certainly doesn't. And he knows that.

Contra one Twitter correspondent, this isn't an obsession, at least not on my part. Glenn has, in the opinion of many people beyond me, shown himself to be more libertarian than liberal, as I have blogged, even a second time, and issues like this illustrate it. (Glenn knows this, and if he wants to prove me wrong, next time he's at a youth socialism conference, he can talk about things like a living wage, higher minimum wage, strengthening the NLRB, and similar issues, not just privacy rights.)


The New York Times, again, tries to find a "bright side" on an issue where there really is none. It notes that this could divert more donations away from the super PACs that Citizens United helped and toward donations to individual candidates. Money in politics is highly fungible; the "no linkage" rules on campaign ad details between super PACs and candidates are already regularly ignored and twisted.

Related? After all the talk about tweaking its rules about Internet neutrality, in response to a plea by Netflix to, well, to actually follow through, the Federal Communications Commission officially said pay-for-access issues aren't part of Net neutrality.

Well, then, what the hell is?

So, rich people can contribute even more to adulterate our election process, and telecommunications companies can then charge extra for anybody wanting to discuss what's bad about that, among other things. As in eXXXon, which has indicated that possible future climate change regulations should be damned to hell. McCutcheon makes it a lot easier to buy Congresscritters who will do their bidding.

As this MSNBC review of Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" makes clear, rising income inequality threatens democracy. And, ever-more-unfettered campaign contributions is likely to only increase income inequality. Especially since, per the NYT, this could be the start of even more, and since, arguably (contra Glenn elsewhere), this kicked stare decisis in the ass on Buckley v Valero:
The next case may arrive soon. At their private conference on Friday, the justices are scheduled to consider whether to hear Iowa Right to Life Committee v. Tooker, No. 13-407, a petition from James Bopp Jr., one of the lawyers on the winning side in the McCutcheon case. It challenges an Iowa law that bans contributions from corporations but allows them from unions.

Mr. Bopp said he had scoured Chief Justice Roberts’s controlling opinion in the McCutcheon case for hints and clues. “I didn’t see any real blatant signals about what they would entertain in the future,” he said. “On the other side, this is the latest in a series of cases from a five-member majority that is very friendly to the First Amendment.”
There you go.

Add in that the Federal Election Commission is already deliberately gridlocked by its GOP members, who will now only dig in further, and the story is complete.

And, hence, Greenwald's idea that we should segregate likely, even highly likely, legal outcomes from actual legal rulings is a crock of shit. Apply that logic to, oh, say Plessy v Ferguson. Or keep living in Brazil while continuing to ignore the favelas.

At the least, have the balls to try to defend McCutcheon.

Waco discusses jail marketing — why?

First, it's kind of a sad state of affairs on Texas' economy (yes, Rick Perry, it is), when not just small towns, but a metropolitan area like Waco talks about jail marketing, specifically as part of rehabbing an old downtown jail out of use for a few years.

Why? Hoping for federal jail contracts plus overflow from elsewhere, even though, among state-level inmates, the trend finally seems to be toward a drop, or at least, no more rises. The talk of a warm-weather increase in inmates doesn't wash here.

And, as Texas Prison Bidness notes, this is a road that both McClennan County and LaSalle have already been down before. Add in a "tough on crime" and "hang em high" district attorney, Abel Reyna, at the county level, and, if a federal contract or two doesn't materialize, I'm sure the old DA will get tougher yet on crime.

And, LaSalle doesn't have a stellar track record elsewhere, either. (I was in Burnet County when this went down.)

The bottom-line fact is that the Harwell Center itself was a spec-built project, its size being in part a gamble on getting contracts to house prisoners from elsewhere. Well, as I just noted, those days, if not coming to an end, are likely at least on the decline.

Related to that? Let's get back to that word "economy."

Even in Texas' metropolitan areas, if you're not a really big metro, or not in the oil patch, the recovery hasn't fully been happening yet.

Waco's unemployment rate is about at state average, so, it's ahead of small towns but trails some other areas. And, not a lot of the recovery has involved a lot of higher-pay jobs.

And, after the oil patch, prison expansion arguably was a part of Rick Perry's "Texas miracle" in the first place.

April 01, 2014

Derek Jeter vs. Barry Larkin

As hagiography watch on The Cap'n of the Yankees, Derek Jeter, heats up with his final opening day, one good point to call BS is Ian O'Connor of ESPN talking about how lucky the Yankees were for five teams ahead of them in the draft to be idiots.

He first calls out the Houston Astros for taking Phil Nevin. Halfway fair, though let's not kick Nevin too far. He turned in 15 WAR and change.

He later calls out the Cincinnati Reds for already having some shortstop named Barry Larkin on the team, and that's just bull, if he's implying Jeter would have been some upgrade above Larkin.

Reality? Using Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, Jeter ranks exactly one spot ahead of Larkin among shortstops. He may pass Alan Trammell to move one spot higher, barely, but that's it. Meanwhile, most of O'Conner's fellow writers at ESPN, and elsewhere, don't expect Jeter to play more than 135 games or so this year. And, probably with slashes of around .265/.330/.360/.690. That's based on 2010 numbers. He did better in 2011, but with less than 135 games. And, nobody this side of Ian O'Conner-level fluffers of Jeter expect him to reduplicate 2012. (And, if Jeter plays below 2010 levels, he won't pass Trammell on JAWS.)

And, Fangraphs says similar. On total offensive + defensive runs created, Larkin has 379.4 by its methodology and Jeter has 343.4, even while playing more games. Meanwhile, going by win-loss percentage added, B-R ranks Larkin higher.

Besides, as I've blogged before, showing the value of defense, he's multiple spots behind Ozzie Smith. And, if you want to talk about "intangibles," Smith had them in spades, too. So did Larkin.

O'Connor's not quite the fellator that Greg Doyel is, but he's bad enough.

Anyway, would it be nice for him to go out in style? Sure. But, I expect him not to. This won't be a Mariano Rivera farewell.

That said, with Brendan Ryan on the DL, and likely on there for a month or more, when Jeter needs some of those days off, who do the Yankees turn to? That defense-ugly infield just started sounding even uglier.

Advance Media hits full-stage "churnalism"

In this sense, I'm not talking about recycling press releases, although what Advance Media is doing with at least the Portland Oregonian, and possibly also at the New Orleans Times-Picayune could lead to that.

Rather, reporters are being paid bonuses based on how much they post online. And, they're being encouraged to be the first person to comment on their own posts. (I'm surprised that Advance isn't going a step further, and encouraging them to create fake accounts for commenting purposes only.)

Obviously, if you're spitting out pulp mill updates on stories, and filing each update as a separate item on your website, then writing commentary pieces about what you've just written, you can fellate management and easily win this game.

But, it's a very, very blunt "eff you" to readers, telling them that you're treating their mouse hand and eyeballs as click-for-views meat and ignoring their brains. 

Update, April 8: Here's how you do it, as a writer at the paper illustrates. You do a headlines roundup, and, if the paper formerly known as the Oregonian has website content software of the normal type, you stuff the SEO keyword box full of about 100 keywords. You've got two murder-related links, a couple of political endorsement links, local government story links, recreational links and more.  That's not even "churnalism" as much as it is a bulletin board service. Welcome to the early 1990s, Advance. Oh, and that link definitely gets a "no follow" in the HTML for this page! (End of update.)

And, Advance continues this "eff you" with this press release linked above. It includes this:
IS THIS ONLY ABOUT THE NUMBERS? Absolutely not. The primary goal always will be quality and impact in our journalism, and that is a topic built into competencies and objectives. At the same time, our ability to grow audience and engagement is directly related to our success as a business, and we need to build a culture that embraces growth and accountability.
Uhh, wrong. As Poynter and other folks have carefully documented, in the past two or three years, top editorial staff have fled your papers in droves.  

Meanwhile, per Willamette Week, which got a memo that somebody leaked at Advance, those bonuses aren't even guaranteed:
The Oregonian will hand out yearly bonuses—if the finances of the company allows it—to reporters who exceed these goals. The policy says “final performance ratings will determine merit pay.”
Who will determine if finances allow it or not? The CEO, who makes sure the board of directors votes HIM a bonus first?

And, will this affect quality, contra the blurb higher above? Absolutely:
 “There will be more bits and bites of content,” says Ken Doctor, a longtime analyst of the news industry and a one-time editor and publisher in Oregon. “But you’ll see fewer of those stories that require talking to 5 or 10 people, as opposed to talking to 1 or 2 people.”
Yep, that's about right.

Specifically how will this work? WW breaks it down:
The new policy will likely increase’s use of daily, short posts that follow an original news post by reporting on readers’ comments, creating polls to gauge reader reaction, and “aggregating” the site’s most popular stories—as a way to build page views.
Reporting on readers' comments? Wow. In other words, your entire website's going to be like a giant effing Facebook page. Wow.

Nicholas Carr of the NYT takes these thoughts further:
Beginning immediately, according to the documents, the company’s leadership will require reporters to post new articles three times a day, and to post the first comment under any significant article. It’s part of a companywide initiative to increase page views by 27.7 percent in the coming year. Beyond that, reporters are expected to increase their average number of daily posts by 25 percent by the middle of the year and an additional 15 percent in the second half of the year.

If that sounds like it won’t leave much time for serious work, the new initiative also calls for reporters to “produce top-flight journalistic and digitally oriented enterprise as measured by two major projects a quarter,” which will include “goals by projects on page views and engagement.” In the more-with-less annals of corporate mandates, this one is a doozy. Contacted by email, Peter Bhatia, who is departing as editor of The Oregonian, scheduled an interview, but then declined to comment.
What results? Carr looks at Kinja, started by Gawker, where anybody can blog, and gets paid for hits, and has the answer for that:
 It’s bracingly meritocratic, but there are hazards. Quizzes are everywhere right now because readers can’t resist clicking on them, but on an informational level, they are mostly empty calories. There are any number of gambits to induce clicks, from LOL cats to slide shows to bait-and-switch headlines.
Of course, you're not about "news" any more anyway, you're about "content."

And, since Advance still refuses to put paywalls on its newspapers, even as ad revenues continue to shrink, this isn't even good businss practice. It's fucking stupid.

And, at some point, when more traditional advertisers like furniture stores and realtors ask for demographic specifics of the eyeballs that are visiting your site, they'll start pulling their ads, or at a minimum, demand further rate reductions.

Advance Media — bad for your brain, bad for journalism. When you're doing stuff that BuzzFeed won't do, you're a real bottom feeder indeed.

US again gives lip service to Mideast neutrality, back of hand to #Palestinians

So, Mahmoud Abbas wants the government of Palestine to join a few UN agencies?

Nope, can't do that, the US says; Dear Leader tells Secretary of State John Kerry to stop talking to the Palestinian leader.

Specific on which agencies the Palestinians want to join?
A senior Palestinian official said the 15 agencies Mr. Abbas moved to join — out of more than 60 possible — did not include the International Criminal Court or International Court of Justice, where many Palestinians hope to prosecute Israelis for what they consider war crimes, including the demolition of homes, arrests and killings of Palestinians, and the building of settlements. The 15 did include the Geneva and Vienna Conventions and agencies dealing with women’s and children’s rights, the official said.
Sounds reasonable to me. Abbas is deliberately avoiding being highly provocative.

But, we still give him the back of the hand.

And, that's why this idea that we would release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard 18 months early to speed up the peace process is bullshit. Because, as al-Jazeera documented a couple of years ago, the "peace process" that the US envisions has always been on Israel's terms, and the Palestinian Authority has always had to dance to the puppet strings of US money, whereas, ever since Poppy Bush's one brief "hold" on foreign aid to Israel, we've never put Tel Aviv through the same hoops.

And, if anything, Obama's worse than Poppy's son Shrub, not better. From diminishing the severity of Israeli settlements in Palestine to

That said, per the link about Israeli settlements, Abbas has been a good Palestinian leader only through the soft bigotry of low expectations and comparisons to his predecessor, Yasir Arafat.

On the third hand, mainstream media have a history of misrepresenting how much, or how little, Israel is actually ready to give away on the land issue.  Also on the third hand, it's not just Abbas that's been getting the back of the hand; it's PA leadership in general.

Back to the original link, though, with this as the nut graf:
Israel and the United States have argued that Palestinian membership in these international agencies is a mistaken approach to Palestinian statehood, which should instead be negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinians. Congress passed a law saying such membership could trigger a withdrawal of United States financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and other steps.
Uhh, I thought Palestine already was a state? So says 70 percent of UN member states; only the US and Western allies, plus a stray country here and there, disagree.

That said, the reason the US and the West reject it is because the PLO and Israel both agreed in the Oslo Accords not to act unilaterally on this issue.

On the fourth hand, this is the real world; usually a geopolitical action is part of a chess board, and a chess board that's not quite so blatantly underwritten with US dollars. And also on the fourth hand, since Bibi Netanyahu intransigently opposes Palestinian statehood, one could argue HE is the one acting unilaterally.

And, since Obama and Kerry won't lean on him to loosen up (despite Bibi's tears over various Obama alleged actions) there you go.

Surgery: End of the line for #TigerWoods?

USA Today photo via ESPN
I just saw this on Golf Channel: Woods has had surgery for a pinched nerve.

He will definitely miss the Masters. I assume he'll be early enough in his rehab that while he may appear at the US Open, he won't be worth much there. And, per in-house injury analyst (really?) Stephania Bell in ESPN's piece, average rehab time is 4.5 months, so scratch the US Open for sure, and possibly the Open, maybe even the PGA for this year.

Vegas is leaning to Rory McIlroy as the new betting favorite. Pundits are giving Adam Scott and Jason Day (sorry, but his bum thumb scares me off) some love.

Let's look at the future, though.

Earlier this year, I said I expected him to move to No. 15 on majors wins, because both the Open and PGA tracks favored him. But now, all bets are off, are they not? Certainly, until we see the actual rehab process at work.

Given Phil's back problems last week, at Golf Digest, John Strege recently asked if we're at the end of an era. Could be yes, indeed.

So, Rory? While America and Mrs. Robinson may not be waiting for you, the PGA of America sure as hell is, as are other golf organizations. (An ESPN fan poll says that 15 percent of previously potential TV viewers will skip the Masters because Tiger isn't there.) Ditto on TV networks hoping for some star power, I'm sure.

And it's funny that on April 3, Rory said this thing himself, that golf needs a dominant player. He didn't talk about his "lost" 2013 or a couple of "lost" chances to win earlier this year being part of the problem.

For Woods, it's the first Masters miss since his initial appearance 20 years ago. Here's what happened, at Augusta and elsewhere, in 1994.

As for Tiger's future beyond this year? Lee Trevino won one of his six majors after undergoing more serious back fusion surgery after being struck by lighting. However, overall, he was never the same player after then. (I guesstimate he would have won at least seven majors without that happening.)

And, per Sports on Earth, there's two other questions. First, there's the issue of whether Tiger's workout regimen may have focused on bulking up to the detriment of flexibility. Second, as golf fans all know, Woods moved to Hank Haney to overhaul his swing to reduce stress on his left knee. With the back problems, will current swing coach Sean Foley have to do further work?

And, Woodsaholics? You may need to work on getting a life.

March 31, 2014

Adaptation not necessarily bright spot in #IPCC latest #climatechange report

We're going to need all the work we can get on adaptation to changes in our planet due to climate change, whether they're higher tides, more acidified oceans, changing ocean currents, desertification or whatever.

But, just from that incomplete laundry list, the New York Times, with its claim that there's a bright spot in the latest report on climate change issues from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be treated with a skeptical eye. And, I'm not even counting the non-adapting stance of the four types of climate change deniers, most common in the US, but not invisible elsewhere. Given that the BBC reports that some of the IPCC's own scientists consider some of the report to be "alarmist," the idea that short-sighted, short-terming national governments would actually take full account of what climate change will cause, and take full account of adaption and mitigation efforts and costs, is pretty laughable.

If we said, "there's a less dark spot," that might be more true. I'm no James Kunstler, building a backyard bunker that's strategically resistant to 130-degree temperatures and Bay of Fundy tides. But, "adaption" and "mitigation" ain't cheap. Although the cost of ignoring it could be.

The Times' own piece says that:
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.

The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during an editing session of several days in Yokohama.
And, that's just "poor countries." The developed world may be more resilient, or it may not. And it certainly has a lot of pricey infrastructure in coastal areas that developing countries don't.

Related to that is the "why" of these edits:
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations were private.
Again, NYT, your idea that there's some "bright spot" is undercut by your own reporting.

But, given the structure of the US government, especially the states' equal representation in the Senate, there's slim hope that just maybe, the likely ongoing drought in Plains states might finally wake up Senatorial eyeballs. And, today's drought will be tomorrow's normal, on agriculture in that area.

On the other hand, who am I kidding? I live in a state that, whether in reality or in snark, John Cornyn parrots everything Ted Cruz says.

#GregAbbott: Has time to sue Obama, but not hunt down child predators

With April, starting tomorrow, being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it's too bad that Greg Abbott isn't doing more to track down child abusers.

Per the story, which links to a paywalled original at the American-Statesman:
There are a couple of reasons the Attorney General’s office might prefer to use Williamson County to arrange busts. There’s the jurisdiction’s tough-on-crime reputation, and an easy relationship with local police departments. There’s also the fact that it’s a short drive from the office—coordinating a bust in El Paso, of course, would require a much greater expense of both time and money for Abbott’s officers.

But it doesn’t seem like an ideal use of resources, as a deterrent or a general policy. We may hope that the herd of child predators in Round Rock has been thinned significantly, but what about cities far from the attorney general’s task force headquarters, where prospective sex offenders know they are significantly less likely to get caught if they look for prey in Uvalde and not Leander?
Beyond this, it seems like a much more thorough overhaul is needed. Why not (with some appropriate state funding) set up regional task forces to investigate child abuse? It would be a much better use of the state's time and money than the current drug tasks forces, we all know.

But, besides Abbott being too busy suing Obama and wasting state money while doing so, we all know that asking him to make his tough talk be matched by a tough statewide stand, Abbott says that's a PC dirty trick, to ask him to stand for anything.

Besides, being too tough on child abusers, which, in sexual abusers, largely adult men getting too friendly with young women of previous acquaintance, might offend his best bud Ted Nugent.

That said, given his relative lack of success in suing Obama, that's probably another reason he's cherry-picking his child abuse cases.

Too bad we have an AG who often does more about slinging shit than cleaning it up.

This isn't about politics alone. This is a gross dereliction of some of the basics of his duties to the public as attorney general. And, it's not the o nly issue where Abbott as AG is essentially AWOL.

For example, discussion is growing around the state about raising the age of consent, including for adult criminality, from 17 to 18. Given how this would affect the prison population, juvenile detention and many other things, one would think that an attorney general who actually cared about being an attorney general would have his office working on some analysis at a minimum, and ideally, some policy recommendations. Well, so far, all we hear from Abbott is crickets.

Texas GOP responds to unequal pay for women

Rick Perry says this will create new jobs in Texas. In case it won't, he offers Texas Enterprise Fund millions to whoever can pretend to actually make that happen.

Ted Cruz blames Obama because he has made income levels all about socialism. Besides, Cruz says, the Democrats are the party of the rich.

John Cornyn repeats what Ted Cruz said because, per LBJ, Cornyn has voluntarily put his pecker in Cruz's pocket.

Louie Gohmert says complaining about equal pay for women is a plot by abortionists to destroy the culture of Texas as we know it, and that we will next have Satanists asking for equal pay.

Greg Abbott says he can't sue any state agency or private company over unequal pay because there's no state law about it, and besides, he's too busy suing Obama over something else which he can't remember because he hasn't checked his sue Obama calendar, even though there's no state law about it. When asked about unequal pay in his own office of Texas Attorney General, Abbott said it would be a conflict of interest to investigate his own office. When asked how he can stand this happening, Abbott says that's a PC dirty trick, to ask him to stand for anything. He did promise he has Ted Nugent heading a task force looking at pay for underage women.

Dan Patrick says he can get some female Ill Eagles to do lots of work for cheap, and that the men will be and do the same, as long as none of them wants to return home then come back, or put anything in writing.

David Dewhurst says he agreed with all of the above in spades, because Ted Cruz put the Dew's pecker into a pig in a blanket 2 years ago.

Jerry Patterson promises to give women as many concealed weapons as men.

Joe Straus says to himself that he sure hope Democrats unite with the few non-nutbar GOPers in the House to re-elect him as speaker.

A few thoughts on 'branding' and 'media gurus'

In my recent blog post about the good (well, maybe I didn't have much about that) the bad and the ugly at the newest version of Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, part of the ESPN stable, I didn't at all tackle one issue.

It's exactly the issue in the header. And, while it's not specific to him, his somewhat acrimonious divorce from his previous employer, the New York Times, and his move to a new one, ESPN, makes him the perfect lead-in.

From a New Deal liberal-type perspective, would be great to salute the likes of Silver, David Pogue and Ezra Klein (both of whom will also get more discussion below) as showing how journalists can empower themselves against the ongoing decline in the industry. After all, J-school grads at major shops (I'm going to call for-profit, big-biz type colleges "colleges" less and less in the future) are being encouraged to do just this. One could even argue that support for this is some sort of labor solidarity in general. 

Well, the initial sidebar argument is that if I want to support journalism branding, I'll say, great, let's help AlterNet brand itself better. The second argument is that, if I want to support rich entertainment journalists get richer (and I consider all three to be entertainment journalists in part, to some degree), why not support rich entertainers, like athletes and actors, fight back against sports owners and movie studios?

And, that rhetorical question should tell you a bit of how I feel about "branding" in general. Also, "branding," whether on the labor or management side, seems part of the rise of the culture of narcissism that's part of the Net 2.0 world. Old St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Kevin Horrigan has a great column with additional takes on "branding" that agree with mine.

That said, if one is to look at branding, let's look at all three.

Silver was driving jealousy at the Times, tis true. Especially with hindsight, while some of it was undeserved, to me, some of it clearly was deserved. Again, Nate, your choice on how you want to deal with critics. I'd suggest a different approach than your current on, but, maybe successful enough branding will get you enough fans seeing you as a martyr of old media.

And, of course, that's not true. In terms of today's world, ESPN is as much old media as is the Times. Given the number of properties the Times has sold off, in terms of today's world, ESPN is about as much of a Big Media outpost as the NYT, too.

You had a reputation, pre-NYT, for sports stats crunching. You'd moved into politics at the NYT. And now, with the hint of going from there into broader culture and science, you were meeting an ideal "sweet spot" for ESPN, especially if it had some plan already in place to further expand outside of traditional sports coverage. And, on the younger half (I think) of GenX age, you hit the demographic sweet spot, too. Congrats.

Klein wanted to expand his domain at the Washington Post. Unfortunately, he wasn't reading the tea leaves well, and that may say something about his chances of future success. The Post, like the Times, was contracting even before the Post sold itself to Jeff Bezos. The fact that, even after a few years, the Post didn't see fit to build on its location and strengths to do a Politico-style spinoff speaks volumes. And, given the degree of cost-cutting Bezos has done with Amazon, the idea that he'd suddenly open his wallet for Klein was a laugher.

So, Ezra was negotiating from a position of weakness, in a product market that, per Politico, is pretty saturated and, as far as I know, without a specific sales pitch for new lines and areas of coverage, contra Silver. And, as far as I can tell, even before that, his "brand" may not be as shiny and spit-polished as is Silver's.

Pogue was already writing for enough spots besides the Times that, at some point, there was going to be a parting of the ways. Because he wasn't intruding into sacred turf like the op-ed space (and Silver wasn't always totally right there), the separation here was much more amicable.

Whether Yahoo was at or near the top of his target list, I don't know. But, with it trying to make itself more relevant again, and knowing that because Pogue has written for a number of different publications before, he had a decent brand level, he surely became high on Yahoo's list once he became available.

I think that, in Pogue's own terms, he'll be more successful than before with the move. Will he be successful enough for Yahoo? That's still an open question.

And, while I already had tags for Silver and Klein, because of my interest in politics, I don't for Pogue.

So, there's kind of the branding lesson of the day. Part of building the brand is expanding the brand, and knowing how to do that when the time is right. Ezra's still a bit behind the curve.


That said, the bottom financial line on "branding" will be to likely increase income inequality within the media world. And, there's only one-quarter of a step between this and the likes of Pierre Omidyar's new venture, since it's based on Glenn Greenwald as a brand.

March 30, 2014

#FiveThirtyEight — Nate Silver as Biggus Dickus? (updated)

Nate Silver, posing for a cheap knockoff of Rodin's "The Thinker."
Photo from The Guardian.

I've already written one blog post about how I'm not a total fan of Nate Silver's new incarnation of FiveThirtyEight as part of the ESPN "stable." My critique, like many others, and per the theme of this blog post, was about "data," namely, in this case, his hiring of a known climate change skeptic.

Update, March 28: Silver claims to be listening to some of his critics, namely on that climate change piece.

But, is this real, or is it a head fake by Nate Silver on his response to criticism of the Roger Pielke Jr. story? Per his claim that Pielke is not a "skeptic" (not even his knowledgeable critics have called him a "denier," Nate), and Silver not saying who is the the person he has commissioned, I'm not holding my breath. Given Pielke's reaction, Silver's "commissioned response" had better be damned good. (end update)

And, hey, this side of Neil deGrasse Tyson and brilliantly hyped overmarketing, where would you go but Bristol, Conn., to buff your buttocks?

Turns out I'm not alone. Far from alone.

A leading pooh-pooher? Paul Krugman, taking a break from economics, but not taking a break from data, in accusing Silver of, in part — taking a break from data.

That said, I said I'm not alone, and far from alone. Krugman himself links to this piece from Noah Smith in his first sentence, and quotes, as shall I: 
In sum, this so-called “data-driven” website is significantly less data-driven (and less sophisticated) than Business Insider or Bloomberg View or The Atlantic. It consists nearly entirely of hedgehoggy posts supporting simplistic theories with sparse data and zero statistical analysis, making no quantitative predictions whatsoever. It has no relationship whatsoever to the sophisticated analysis of rich data sets for which Nate Silver himself has become famous.

The problem with the new FiveThirtyEight is not one of data vs. theory. It is one of “data” the buzzword vs. data the actual thing. 
As I said? Bristol, Conn. and marketing. (Go to Urban Dictionary under "Simmonsfication," for example. Or read some of my blog posts about him.)

Don't stop there, though. Smith does a piece-by-piece analysis of several different FiveThirtyEight pieces, and compares them with outside writing from places like Atlantic. His thoughts, right before those two graphs above?
Looking at a bunch of other posts, you can see that this is par for the course. And not one of the posts attempts a single quantitative prediction, which is what Silver has famously thrilled the world by doing in the past.
In short, playing with numbers isn't the same as analysis. (This said, why does Noah say he's still a fan of Silver's, other than him drinking too much of Silver's marketing Kool-Aid?)

So what does Silver do? Shoot the messenger. And, other than his cute graph, he does so without any analysis. As for Krugman's latest, the link up top? He, like Noah Smith, critiques something specific — Silver's Obamacare coverage.

Update, March 30: That said, there's other people weighing in on how "data" isn't "analysis." Latest? And simply crushing Silver, here's Massimo Pigliucci.

Piglucci starts here:
Like Wieseltier, I am aware that the state of public intellectualism and opinion making isn’t exactly without problems. But, with Wieseltier, I find it oddly naive of Silver to talk as if “ideological priors” (otherwise known as beliefs about the world) weren’t inevitable in anyone (including Silver), and — within limits — were not actually a good thing.

Moreover, as a fellow Bayesian, Silver ought to know that his own analogy is ironically flawed: in Bayesian analysis you always begin with priors, and the whole point is to revise those priors as new data comes in. That is, embedded in the very fabric of the Bayesian approach [4] is that you start with beliefs, you add data (collected on the basis of your beliefs!), and end up with (likely modified) beliefs. You just can’t take the belief components out of the analysis, it’s integral to it, and it’s both affected by the data one gathers and determines which bits of information “out there” actually get to count as data.
Sounds like Massimo is politely saying that Silver doesn't like that his ox is being gored.

And, in future reference to a piece by Leon Wieseltier, Pigliucci also seems to hint that Silver is missing the forest for the trees:
Wieseltier ends his piece by asking whether numeracy is truly the American public’s most pressing problem. Seems to me that a vibrant democratic discourse could use more numeracy among its participants, and Nate Silver has certainly contributed his share in acquainting people with the power of data crunching. But that’s peanuts compared to the hurdle of fostering critical thinking abilities without which no amount of data crunching will help move society forward.
Totally agreed. Unless an understanding of proper use of statistics is grounded in a broader proper critical thinking methodology, it's of relatively little value.

In his own piece, Pigliucci shows that by going next from Nate Silver to naive misuse of Ngram. He then asks, in a variant on a timeless classic, "Who's Assessing the Assessors?" (end second update)

Jonathan Chait has another interesting angle on the original Silver-Krugman brouhaha.
The real cause of Krugman’s disdain is the sheer ambition of Silver’s new venture. Silver’s great added value was to bring basic statistical literacy to the fields of political forecasting and sports commentary, which are dominated by old-line hacks who rely on horse sense and either disdain data in any form or use data very badly.

The new FiveThirtyEight tries to expand this revelatory contribution to other fields. The trouble is that many of those fields, like economics and climate science, already have real experts. Silver’s role, at least in its crudest form, represents the kind of autodidactism that Krugman rose to fame decrying. His war against Silver is nothing terribly new, but merely the return of an old love, or, more accurately, an old hate.
That said, Chait and Ed Kilgore, where I saw the Chait link, are both neolibs. If Silver has any political leanings, it's of the same. Krugman, who at one time was a full-bore free trader, isn't necessarily such a paleolib on all issues as some might thing.

So, my take? Some of this is not Silver thinking Krugman is jealous, or Krugman actually being jealous, of success, or platform locations. It's elbow-throwing in the neolib public square. Or elbow-throwing in the public marketing square. Alert ... alert ... Wodewick!

And, per my header and the GIF, we'll see at some point, in some way, just how thick or thin Silver's skin is, especially if his "brand" is slow out of the gate. Per my first blog post, beyond the Roger Pielke issue, I'm not that impressed so far. And, beyond neolib elbow-throwing, I'm sure this is an issue itself, per Chait. Silver figured that by the power of his "brand" alone, he could woo the masses in new fields, and he's simply ....


Nate, it's a word to learn to add to your vocabulary.

And, until you learn to admit you're wrong at times, get thicker skin, and grow a pair, the likes of Lisa Needham are going to bitch-slap you even harder than I did. Meanwhile, I remembered to put a "no follow" on Nate's link; I don't need to aid his marketing empire.


And, beyond the possibility of wrong, what if you're overrated, or at least if what you do is overrated?

Good one here. Note that, on things like Google Flu, the bulls-eye fallacy, the file-drawer fallacy, and other related issues are in play.