Media Manipulation?

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By Mike Cronin

This week has provided us with yet another example of how the mainstream media has given up on political neutrality. How?  We’ll get to that in a minute, but first a very quick recap on what journalism schools and editorial boards generally deem to be “newsworthiness criteria:”

1) Impact

2) Timeliness

3) Proximity

4) Human Interest

5) Conflict

6) The Bizarre

7) Celebrity

With those criteria in mind, let’s look at the fast one the media pulled this week:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ploy to embarrass President Trump with regards to her claimed Native American ancestry backfired.  When Senator Warren’s announcement that her DNA test showed her to indeed have Native American ancestry, the mainstream media were falling all over themselves to capture the “see, I told you so” moment.  Then more of the story surfaced.  The DNA test revealed that Senator Warren’s native ancestry was a minuscule percentage. Worse for her, the Cherokee Nation announced that the test didn’t tie her to a North American tribe at all, let alone the Cherokee tribes (which she had claimed previously), and denounced her. The entire episode has revealed Warren’s true character: She is a white woman unsatisfied with the supposed privileges thus bestowed, so she appropriated some grievance entitlement from a more disadvantaged group and tried to leverage it into political clout.

When that information came out, the media cranked up the emphasis on the Jamal Khashoggi story.  Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist/activist who entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, supposedly for business related to marrying his fiancé. He didn’t come out alive.  After “investigating,” the Saudi Government offered the dubious explanation that Khashoggi died in a fist fight inside the consulate.

The assumption in the media is that Khashoggi was killed by agents of the Saudi government for his “dissident” writings. Why is the alleged murder of a foreign journalist half-way around the world more newsworthy than a US Senator’s political blunders and character self-destruction during election season?

While there is no doubt a certain amount of “wagon circling” going on among journalists in response to the probable murder of one of their own, there is another reason: The Khashoggi affair can fill the void caused by the failed Warren gambit: To make Republicans look bad right before the midterm elections.  How?  By attempting to paint the picture that the Trump Administration is taking it easy on the Saudi government over the Khashoggi investigation because looming sanctions against Iran threaten to upset oil markets. The reasoning is that President Trump needs the Saudis to increase oil production to replace whatever Iran will not be allowed to inject into the global market. This will theoretically keep oil prices stable before the election, benefiting Republicans.

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The alleged blasé attitude of the administration towards the Khashoggi case couldn’t possibly stem from the fact that the US has absolutely no jurisdiction in the matter, could it?

The Warren story meets several, if not ALL, of the newsworthiness criteria, but the media de-emphasized it as soon as it lost its potential value to benefit Warren or damage Trump. Then they inflated the Khashoggi story – which normally might rate a short mention under the “conflict” or “timeliness” newsworthiness criteria – and are making it out to be an international crisis that the administration is mishandling.

Random Myth Debunking

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By Mike Cronin

The latest myths and legends that need to be debunked:

Global warming caused Hurricane Michael. Nope. It was a normal hurricane following a normal path during the annual hurricane season. There was nothing special about it as a hurricane per se.  It was so destructive because of where it hit: Places where there are lots of people and many expensive buildings and assets.  Thankfully, most of the people were evacuated and the death toll has been low.

Taking a knee during the national anthem isn’t disrespectful.  If it wasn’t disrespectful, it would have no value as a symbol of protest! There would be no controversy, it wouldn’t make the news, and no one would be talking about it.

America has one of the highest murder rates.  Simply not true. Our murder rate is in the middle of the pack. http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate-per-million-people.

Violent crime is at an all time high. Again not true. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, ratings wars, and alternative media, reporting of crime is pervasive, because it gets ratings.

The now solidly conservative Supreme Court (SC) will overturn Roe v Wade and multiple gun laws.  It might, but not on a whim. First, a relevant case would have to be appealed through the lesser courts, then appealed to the SC, then the SC would have to agree to hear the case – then it might overturn a law, or it might not. Much depends on the exacting details of the case and what precisely is being argued.

There are more than two genders. Not quite. Homo sapiens reproduces sexually, thus, as with other mammals, we come in two sexes: male and female. No doubt masculinity and femininity are scales. No doubt there are transgender people and intersex people and people with chromosome disorders. They might feel “non-binary,” or they might be hermaphrodites, or they may feel that they want to be the opposite of what their genitalia indicate. I’m not hating on any of them. But nothing suggests there is anything other than male and female characteristics being desired or undesired, hormone levels to manipulate, and male and female organs available for surgical manipulation. Humans haven’t evolved new sex organs, new methods of reproduction, or new genders, we’ve just reached a level of technological development and affluence where it’s possible to play mix-and-match between the two existing ones.

There’s a lesson here somewhere

By Mike Cronin

Teachers in my state are currently pushing for higher salaries and better funding. For they most part, they do deserve higher salaries.  But there are some education and teaching realities that our governments, our public education system, and teachers’ unions would rather we not notice.

We are supposed to believe that public schools are the best place to put our kids, yet homeschooled and private school kids generally do better on the SAT.

We’re supposed to believe that public schools have such a dismal record on test scores because they are so under-resourced, yet public schools have the highest average per-student spending of the three. And federal spending, which went up 375% over 30 years, has done nothing to improve test scores. And private school teachers make less money and have fewer benefits.

We’re supposed to believe that only a qualified, professional teacher is capable of teaching our children, but we’re supposed to ignore that parents can and do teach their own children just fine – else the kids wouldn’t generally be speaking or potty-trained before they get to pre-school or kindergarten. We’re also supposed to ignore that “Research over the years has indicated that education majors, who enter college with the lowest average SAT scores, leave with the highest grades.”

We are supposed to lament that a teacher might pay a few hundred dollars out of her own pocket for materials she desires in her classroom, but we’re seldom informed that a mechanic, welder, plumber, or electrician fresh out of trade school has to spend $7-10,000 or more on tools, or that a new cop might have to spend $2-3000 for her body armor, weapons, footwear, and leather gear. And an independent trucker? A new semi runs $115-125,000 off the lot, but runs to $400,000 for parts, tires, and service over a 15-year expected lifespan. And that doesn’t include fuel, taxes, insurance, or other expenses. Our independent trucker may have to gross $180 K in order to bring home less than a teacher’s salary!

We’re supposed to believe that public school teachers deserve more money – but we aren’t supposed to suggest that yes, the good ones do…but the mediocre ones don’t, and the bad ones need to be fired. We aren’t supposed to suggest that merit-based versus tenure-based compensation and career progression might stimulate performance and hiring, even though it works quite well in almost every other occupation.

ACT LIKE A PREDATOR, GET OSTRACIZED; ACT LIKE PREY, GET PREYED UPON

By Mike Cronin

With all of the celebrity sexual misconduct coming to light in recent weeks, you might be tempted to believe that all men are created predators.  Certainly, some prominent figures want you to believe exactly that. But is it true? Let’s look at it.

To start with, homo sapiens are indeed predators – the most successful predators on the planet. In a very real sense, we are animals: vertebrates, mammalians, primates, at the very top of the food chain. Or at least we still have all of the genetic traits of animals, including the drive to survive – both as individuals, which we fulfill by eating, seeking shelter, etc., and as a species, which we fulfill via the individual drive for procreation. With a few specific exceptions, we use the same physical equipment and engage in similar behavior for both drives: We use our senses and our appendages to seek out suitable “subjects.” This makes it is easy to equate predation for food with “predation” for sex.

Much more recently we evolved the capacity to reason. Some animals can adapt their surroundings to themselves in very limited fashion. A variety of animals make nests. Termites can make temperature-controlled mounds.  Various other animals have some rudimentary problem-solving skills. They can use a stick to dig, or a rock to smash open a nut. Some very bright primates can even use sign language to communicate with humans. But no other animal can derive abstractions from concretes and principles from abstractions. No other species has mastered fire, or the ability to make more complicated tools out of simpler ones, or to make written language, or to do any of the myriad other things that only humans do.

This highest function has given humans something no other animal species has: the ability to consciously override our most basic drives. In contravention of the drive to survive, humans can commit suicide, go on hunger strikes, and take crazy physical risks.  In contravention of the drive to procreate, humans can be chaste, or they can resist the full force of the sex drive in subtler ways, such as monogamy and self-restraint, for example. Holding our animal natures under a degree of restraint has enabled the rise of civilizations.

On the other hand, the actions of sexual predators are easy to interpret: they are the actions of people (usually men) that have chosen to give in to their animal urges. Some of their actions are completely natural in the context of animal behavior, but they are abhorrent in the context of civilization, and absolutely destructive in the context of rights-respecting societies. Perpetrators of such acts deserve to be ostracized and punished.

In the case of the ongoing sexual misconduct revelations in the mass media: clearly, many powerful men have either chosen to stop being civilized, or they felt entitled to take such liberties as reward for their prominence, or both. Dozens (and perhaps hundreds, by the time the dust settles) of men will be implicated. This is not typical of all, or even most, males. If most males engaged in such behavior, there would be no such thing as civilization; we would be stuck at the hunter-gatherer stage of technological advancement.

So, what about women? Just as surely as men, women have animal drives. In females, the drive to procreate manifests in attraction to males who are best suited to ensure their offspring achieve physical maturity.  The preferred indicators of such suitability vary among women, but they boil down to “Alphaness.” A suitable male might be regarded as such for his dominance (not domineering) behavior, wealth, physical appearance, intellect, confidence, prominence among others, or some combination of such factors. Regardless, a male with a high degree of “Alphaness” will be more attractive to more women than a male with less.

In the context of cases now being played out in the media: There are women who are naturally attracted to prominent men for their “Alphaness,” such as the ones now being revealed for their sexual misconduct. While it is true that no criminal liability should attach to the victims of sexual misconduct, it is fallacious to think that any and all such victims were selected completely at random. Predators look for easy prey. So, what was it about these victims that screamed “prey” to these predators?  Youth/inexperience. Incapacitation/innebriation. Low situational awareness. Low confidence. Isolation. False or misinterpreted willingness signals. It could have been any combination of any of dozens of factors.  If sexual predators can notice these “victim signals,” they are ipso-facto noticeable. We can identify them and teach people how to avoid giving them – or to mitigate their effect.

So, what can we make of this?

  1. Most men are not sexual predators, but a few are.
  2. Sexual predators choose to ignore civilizing restraint and act on baser animal drives. This often results in criminal conduct.
  3. Most victims of sexual assault are not random. They were selected based on giving some combination of “victim” signals the predator found enticing. The victims might not have been aware they were giving off such signals. “Victim signaling” is not criminal. We shouldn’t blame or punish the victims for it. But it’s not undetectable; we can identify it and teach people to avoid it.

Taking a Knee (to the Face)

By Mike Cronin

After several highly-publicized shootings of young black men by white police officers in 2015 and 2016, San Francisco ‘49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of football games. In one post-game interview, Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, Mr. Kaepernick has lost his job, but several players, and in some cases entire teams, have begun emulating his actions. Many fans have been outraged, including President Trump. Both attendance at stadiums and ratings for televised games are way down. This story is vitiating the country.  So, what gives? Let’s unpack it a bit.

First and foremost is whether the protests are having, or can have, the desired effect: eliminating racism, especially alleged police brutality driven by alleged white racism against blacks. That will be hard to measure, since each and every case of alleged racially-driven brutality must be judged against the context of the situation and the facts of the incident that precipitated it. We cannot rationally, automatically infer that just because a young black man is shot and killed by a white cop that there was any racial bias (or injustice of any kind) involved; that has to be proven.  In some cases it is, in many more, the opposite conclusion is reached.

Second is the issue of context and message delivery. While Mr. Kaepernick told the press his actions were taken in protest to police brutality, in his statement above he conflates police brutality with the entire country being oppressive against blacks and other minorities: “I am not going to…show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people…” This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of the entire affair. Mr. Kaepernick may have been the subject of racism and police brutality himself at some point (I have no idea), but as someone who made more money in a single game than most NFL fans will make in several years, he is at best an unlikely spokesperson against oppression. He brought further ambiguity to his alleged anti-oppression message by wearing socks depicting a pig in a police hat during training camp:

And by attending as press conference wearing a pro Fidel Castro T-shirt:

That tone-deafness has now been amplified by entire teams of seven- and eight-digit salary earners “taking a knee” for the anthem (in stadiums often built with the aid of tax subsidies) to protest the “oppression” of the nation that gave them the opportunity to become one-percenters, while the people that defend that opportunity in some cases don’t even make enough to buy groceries without resorting to food stamps.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick really is just trying to turn the national conversation towards the elimination of police brutality and racism. Or, perhaps Mr. Kaepernick hates cops and hates America. Or both, or neither. The trouble is: his message is mixed, and those who are emulating him are diluting it further. Are we to accept that our entire country is racist and oppressive? Racism and oppression have certainly existed and will continue to exist, in this country and elsewhere, as long as humans refuse to treat others as individuals, instead of as units. Even so, I don’t think we have to accept the premise that the entire country is that way now. After all, every racial barrier to high office or position has been broken: President of the United States. Senator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Secretary of State. Ambassador. CEO. Doctor. Lawyer. Astronaut. General. Police Officer. Professor. Sports Star.

That leaves police brutality. Are we instead to infer that all police are brutal, racist thugs? That’s a ludicrous proposition that I won’t even dignify with a rebuttal.

Third: Rights. The players protesting the anthem absolutely have the right to do so, but they do not have the right to usurp someone else’s platform to spread their message, nor can they reasonably expect that they can piss off their employers’ customers and keep their jobs.

Lastly: Importance. In the grand scheme of things, the NFL, its games, its ratings, and its stadium attendance are irrelevancies, but the issues of racism, police brutality, and patriotism are not. I don’t know, or care, what Mr. Kaepernick really believes or what message he thinks he was really trying to get across, but he certainly started a national conversation about…something. To borrow from Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy:

If you cannot treat your fellow Americans with dignity and respect, then get out.

Stop The Hurricane Blame Game

By Mike Cronin

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Those are the words of Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff under President Obama. Plenty of people are taking him up on that advice by exploiting notable natural disasters (presently, Hurricane Irma is their wellspring) to further their own agendas. Curiously, people on (supposedly) opposite spans of the ideological spectrum are finding ways to blame Irma (and Harvey before her, and Katrina before both) on human activity they don’t like:

The first variety are stories that repeat the oft-heard statistic that Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and that she is a result of human-caused global warming. Let’s break this down.  First, whether or not a given natural phenomenon is the “most powerful” in recorded history makes good headlines, but it’s almost irrelevant – because recorded history is a vanishingly small slice of time on the geologic clock. If we scale the lifetime of the earth to be represented by a human lifespan – say eighty years, then all of recorded human history represents the span of an eyeblink or two.   Indeed, reliable recordings of meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes have only been commonplace for perhaps the last 150 years or so.

Another angle: Right now, there are three hurricanes: Katia in the western Gulf of Mexico, Irma, and Jose east of the Caribbean. Some articles are noting this as another bit of evidence that global warming is to blame – but there have been at least two recorded occasions when four hurricanes existed at one time, and the earliest of those dates to 1893.

Then there are the religious extremists who claim that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, especially homosexuality and abortion. This pastor claims Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment of Texas for failing to pass an anti-LGBT law. Actor Kirk Cameron claims Harvey and Irma have been sent by God to teach us humility and to make sinners repent. The same tone was on offer from some of the more extreme branches of the religious right for Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.

Bottom line: We have no way to know whether Irma is in fact the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history, ergo we can’t possibly know if her notable strength is truly the result of human-caused global warming, or of natural climate change, or if she is merely a “normal” large hurricane among the millions that have crossed the Atlantic over the eons. Since the conditions that cause hurricanes pre-date human industrial activity, we can safely assume the sin of emitting too much carbon dioxide is not the cause of Irma. What about biblical sin?  As the late Christopher Hitchens once pointedly observed, Hurricane Katrina, allegedly sent to punish us for the sins of homosexuality and fornication, destroyed almost every part of New Orleans except the French Quarter, wherein lies the red-light district!

The jury is out on the effects of humans on climate change, but the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable – it is always changing. Likewise, the idea that God punishes us through disasters is ancient, but “disasters” only result when humans are affected by specific incidents of naturally occurring phenomena that have been occurring since before the rise of humanity.  The real tragedy of disasters is that we continue to put faith ahead of reason. Reason tells us that if you occupy a place that is in a hurricane zone, you are at risk. You can either mitigate that risk by being well-prepared to evacuate or to survive, or you can deal with the consequences of failing to make such preparations. Neither God nor global warming are responsible for that, you are.

Virginizuela

Q: What is an idiotic thing to do to a country?

A: Drag it down from being one of the strongest economies in Latin America to being on the verge of failed state status, all under the banner of “Bolivarian” Socialism. Hugo Chavez started the process in Venezuela (with plenty of help from the Castro brothers from Cuba); now Nicolas Maduro is overseeing it. How can these men destroy their own countries? What tools do they use? Hatred and envy. It is human nature to lay blame on others for one’s own failings; charismatic leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez master the art of convincing the masses that their troubles are the result of the machinations of the rich and powerful, then ride the wave of popular support to positions of…wealth and power, while their countries burn around them.

Q: What is an idiotic thing to do “for” a news audience?

A: Provide them convenient (but not necessarily accurate) labels for the apparent factions involved in the Charlottesville, VA riot. Attendees of a “Unite the Right” rally were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Because some part of that crowd contained white supremacists, KKK members, and “neo-Nazis,” the mass media took an accuracy short cut and simply branded the entire crowd as “white nationalists.” Another crowd was protesting the first crowd. This second crowd contained “antifas” (anti-fascists) and “Black Lives Matter” supporters; yet the  media neglected to apply a hot-button label to this crowd, simply referring to them as “activists” and  “counter-protesters.”  The facts are that one crowd containing some people hanging on to irrational hatred clashed with another crowd containing some people clinging to their own hatreds. Because drama and conflict get better ratings than cold facts, the media turned the riots into the Battle of Charlottesville in a nascent Civil War II, with the heroic leftist crowd battling the evil right-wing crowd. There’s nothing quite like fanning the flames so one can report on the fire, eh?  It’s almost arson.

Q: What is an idiotic thing to do with your time?

A:  Indulge in hatred or envy; especially in hatred or envy that others tell you to indulge in.  Think for yourself when charismatic leaders peddling vitriol try to attract you into their orbit, and think for yourself when the media shows you burning conflicts in-camera, while what is left unreported may be the more important (if less sexy) part of the story.