Tag Archives: media

Real news or fake news? Give me the fake news

In case it wasn’t already obvious, I don’t hold the news media in high regard:

Why the News Is Still Mostly Pointless

The Financial Media: It’s Still Useless

Right now the left is losing their collective minds over so-called ‘fake news’, blaming it (along with fraud and racism) for Hillary losing and demanding that Facebook and Google do something to stop it.

The reality is, as the links above show, almost all news sucks and is pointless.

The left elevates ‘the news’ as somehow being an incorruptible, unimpeachable institution that answers to a higher calling in the pursuit of the truth, when in reality the news media is just another for-profit venture, like selling shoes or running a casino. Without advertising, the news media would have no reason to exist. The purpose of ‘news’ is to fill the spaces between the ads, but the only difference between ‘real’ news and ‘fake’ news is that the former supposedly has more ‘integrity’, but even that is suspect…remember, ‘real’ news gave the world rape hoaxes, ‘rape culture’, and an imaginary ‘college rape epidemic’. ‘Real’ news said that the US economy and stock market would implode if Trump won (stocks are now at 52-week highs two weeks after Trump’s win), or, between 2009-2015, that there would be ‘dollar collapse’, hyperinflation’, ‘stock market crisis’ and ‘recession’, none of which have happened. Or the WMDs in Iraq, that apparently didn’t exist but the New York Times said they did. One can argue that real news, through spreading lies and sensationalism wrapped in a veneer of ‘credibility’ and ‘respectability’, is far more destructive than fake news can ever be.

Also, fake news is fun, whimsical…real news is depressing (terrorism, death, murder, etc.)…fake news may be an escape for some people from the drudgery and monotony of day-to-day life. There is also a social element to it: conservatives may share fake news on Facebook, not because they always believe it, but to ‘signal’ a political position to their followers, in much the same ways liberals share Onion articles to their friends.

Third, the ‘left’ doesn’t hold their own fabulists and satirists to the same standards that they hold the ‘right’. How is fake news different than Colbert or The Onion, yet not a peep of outrage by the left over those. So really, it’s about censorship of websites and views that threaten the left’s pursuit of political power and media dominance, than promoting ‘journalistic integrity’.

A retort is that The Onion is an obvious satire and fake news is not…or is it? Nowhere on theonion.com is the word ‘satire’ or ‘fake’ mentioned. I guess the left, in a usual display of insularity and lack of awareness, just assumes ‘everyone’ knows what The Onion is, and that anyone who could possibly misconstrue it as ‘real’ is an idiot, but those ‘fake’ news sites, on the other hand, are apparently so convincing that they threaten the institution of democracy and something must be done about these sites, urgently.

The rise of ‘concern liberalism’ and the decline of ‘identity liberalism’

As more evidence of how the far-left is losing the war of words and ideas, many people, including those identify as the ‘left’, are rejecting how the liberal media caricatures its targets. We’re not seeing an anti-left or anti-right backslash but, since 2013, rather a backlash against ‘low information’ discourse, but it just so happens the liberal media may be the most susceptible to falling into the trap of reductionism, straw-manning, and oversimplification that constitutes ‘low information’.

Emotive and polarizing forms of liberalism have ceded to ‘concern liberalism’ whereby liberals now want to better understand their ideological opponents, going so far as to empathize or converse with them, not simply attack, dismiss, or ridicule them as was common during the ‘Bush Era’. I see it all the time…sensible liberals criticizing the New York Times in how it unfairly caricatures Trump supporters as one-dimensional bigots, whereas maybe a decade ago liberals didn’t speak up when the same paper (and its commenters) denigrated Bush and Romney voters, which is a welcome development and further evidence of the post-2013 anti-SJW backlash, that this blog has documented. For example, since 2015, there have been hundreds of articles by left-leaning publications in an effort to try to understand the alt-right instead of simply dismiss it. A recent example is an article in the Huffington Post My Journey to the Center of the At right. Or articles by Vox.com about the alt-right and NRx (neoreaction).

Other examples include social media such as Reddit, where liberals are holding other members of their ‘tribe’ accountable, unlike as recently as a decade ago when there was more unanimity. In response to the New York Times article Reddit and the God Emperor of the Internet, here are two highly up-voted comments of how the New York Times, as well as the rest of liberal establishment, has been blaming everyone but themselves for losing, and how attacking the alt-right has backfired:

The liberal media prides itself on being impartial and ‘open minded’ but such open-mindedness and impartiality doesn’t apply to their coverage of Trump and his supporters, in which the left trots out the same tropes and generalizations of ‘racism’ without considering the subtleties, such as how Trump represents a bottom-up approach to politics rather than a top-down one. Cries of ‘racism’ are ways to shut down debate, not foster conversation and understanding.

In the wake of Clinton’s loss, the pundit-left did some soul searching, in a well-received, highly viral piece The End of Identity Liberalism, that argues how liberalism cannot be about dividing people (such as by class, gender, or race) but by uniting them, finding similarities and ‘common ground’ (such a common yearning for freedom). Whites are people, too, who, like everyone else, have aspirations, concerns, and fears. Either bring them into the conversation, as with other groups, or exclude everyone equally. You cannot win an election by elevating some groups but disparaging or excluding others:

But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded.

A retort is that Trump also ran a campaign of identity politics, but Trump never elevated any specific group. It may have been implied that he was appealing to Whites, but unlike Hillary, he didn’t make his preferences and pandering so explicitly obvious, as Hillary did with women and Hispanics.

People who post on Reddit seem to grasp this, which is why Identity, as well as the comments in the screenshot above, got so many up-votes and was shared thousands of times, but, by in large, the liberal media is still late to catch on, blaming racism or fraud for Clinton’s loss. You didn’t lose because of a cartoon frog, liberals; you lost because your message failed to resonate with voters; because you thought that the self-congratulatory affirmations that work for members of your own ‘tribe’ would somehow transfer to others, and it didn’t; because you thought that everyone would share or indulge in the same manufactured outrage, divisiveness, and sanctimoniousness that to you, the left, seemed self-evident but to others was repulsive. But also, the failure of the left to grasp how minorities can support Trump, because maybe they are tired of being pandered to. The left’s ‘conversations’ about race are just appeals to simplistic archetypes that fit into convenient political slots, stereotypes, or roles, as pawns for the lefts acquisition of power.

In an era of media sensationalism and politically biased misconstructions, Reddit and 4chan are solaces of rationalism where young people go for the unvarnished truth, while the old hacks over at the New York Times keep patting each other on the backs and wondering why their politicians are losing or why readership is down. Both the ‘rational left’ and the ‘rational right’ understand that appealing to the echo chamber of ‘low information’, where trite and divisive thinking reverberates, only hurts their causes. Instead of preaching to the choir, you have to preach to your harshest critics, and then not misconstrue their views but rather afford them the same intellectual courtesy that you give your own ‘tribe’.

‘Show, don’t tell’

‘Show, don’t tell’ is a literary technique whereby the author ‘shows’ what is happening through vivid language and senses as to allow the reader to make inferences from the clues that the author leaves behind, than merely ‘telling’ the reader what is happening.

But this also applies to extent to post-2013 internet journalism, with the trend being towards more ‘showing’ and less ‘telling’. ‘Telling’, in the context of punditry and exposition, is to tell the reader what is on your mind, often in a brusque, impassioned, or long-winded manner, and it sometimes reads like a rant. For decades, until its abrupt end some time around 2013 for reasons that still remain largely a mystery, punditry and journalism, particularly online, was dominated by ‘telling’. For much of the 90′s and 2000′s, during the whole Clinton and Bush era, bloggers could make a good living writing emotive, hyperbole-laden ‘cons/libs are good/bad’ screeds, which were shared through email lists, blogs, and aggregators like Drudge, in the process generating significant traffic and advertising revenue for bloggers and aggregators alike. Of course, all that changed around 2013 and it became much harder up-and-coming bloggers, pundits, and writers to ‘make their monthly nut’ by linking the ‘left/right’ with the incarnation of Satan, as worked so well in the 90′s and 2000′s.

Between 2007-2009 on a different website, I blogged about the 2008 presidential election, but it was less about ‘coverage’ than me taking potshots at Obama at every opportunity, and it was a lot of fun. But much has changed since then – that was back when Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were far smaller than they are today, and there were fewer political pundits. The major online media properties (Fox, CNN, WSJ, etc.) tended to have delayed opinion coverage (because they were late to the whole ‘blogging’ thing), allowing bloggers to one-up them, but these mega-sites have long since caught up. There is just so much content: Vox, WSJ, Bloomberg, etc., but the number of hours in a day, reading speed, and eyeballs haven’t grown to match the rate that content is being produced, so the result is a constant churn of content piled upon heaps of older content, and a lot of it ignored. This ties into post-2008 themes of winner-take-all, network-driven capitalism and how we’re in an age of abundance (content, ‘stuff’) but at the same time great scarcity (attention, differentiation).

But, again, the decline of opinionated punditry blogging (‘telling’) and the post-2013 rise of data-driven, nuanced style of online journalism, is also to blame for this decline, and as I will expound in a forthcoming post, most of the novelty that made blogging very successful in the 90′s and 2000′s has now worn off.

Although pundits can still do well with ‘telling’, it’s usually because they have already built a large, established audience/readership during the ‘telling’ days, that remain loyal. But in our era of ‘showing’, ‘telling’ techniques no longer work (or at least not nearly as well as they did years ago), and are perceived as ‘low information’ and intellectually lazy by a savvier readership and demographic that have grown tired and weary of charged partisan polemics and instead seek nuance, data, and intellectualism.

What is ‘showing’? Whereas ‘telling’ is to tell the reader what is on your mind, often in blunt terms, ‘showing’ is the use of data and empirical evidence to nudge, not force, the reader to your desired conclusion. Your opinions, beliefs are secondary to the evidence, not foremost. ‘Showing’ techniques include citing many references and links contextually and in footnotes, referring to historical evidence and case studies, data visualizations, as well as comparing and contrasting viewpoints, with the implication that your view is correct (or ‘less wrong’) but without explicitly saying so (showing).

Regarding contrast and brevity, the undisputed master of this technique was Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. For instructional purposes, if you can overlook his obvious political bias, he used this technique masterfully by showing on the screen, before the live audience, examples of the ‘right’ being hypocritical, by pasting quotes or juxtaposing images, and the audience ate it up without fail. He didn’t have to recite a 1000-word rant to convey his point, but just by the use of imagery and the inflection of his voice, was effective. This technique is employed heavily on Twitter, with Tweets of screenshots and highlighted passages of hypocrisy, not links to huge rants, going viral. Here is one example of viral image passed around the alt-right and NRx sphere of Twitter, about the difference between ‘order’ and ‘chaos’:

The aforementioned paragraph discusses brevity, but what about long-form, which is also hugely popular online? Isn’t that a contradiction? Not quite. In long-form, again, ‘showing’, not ‘telling’, is employed, but even more so. Showing in long-form involves, as mentioned above, data visualizations and lots and lots of links. Some examples of long-form sites that heavily employ ‘telling’ techniques to great success are Priceonomics, Ribbon Farm, Slate Star Codex, and Wait But Why.

A good example of ‘telling’ is a recent article by Social Matter Where Did It All Go Wrong. Note the extensive use of hyperlinking within the post, that instantly conveys authority and expertise in the eyes of readers. And not just links to Wikipedia, but many other sources, too. There’re are links to Moldbug, published studies, Amazon.com, etc. – all within a single paragraph. Even if you don’t agree with the underlying message, there is so much information that it’s impossible to not come away smarter having read the post, and because of these ‘showing’ techniques the post was successful and generated significant discussion in the comments and was shared extensively. Of course, it’s not going not be as popular as a Wait But Why article (and that’s an unfair comparison to make, as NRx is a very small niche, relatively speaking) but these techniques help immensely for all niches.

One problem with long-form is that it’s kinda pain in the ass, as it raises the standards for everyone, which is good because it means better content, but such content is very time consuming to produce. When Wait But Why wrote about cryonics, they didn’t just write an 800-word article about it – they wrote the most exhaustive article about cryonics ever. After I wrote my article about the simulation hypothesis, I realized that to get it to the standards of Wait Buy Why it would have to be 5,000-9,000 words and be filled with links and pictures, but I don’t think I would have been able to hold my interest long enough. After a certain point, you just want to move on to a new subject.

Also, having massive traffic, as Wait But Why obviously has, is in itself a great motivator to create longer content. Supply-side says that supply create demand, but demand also creates supply. If a boxing promoter cannot sell enough tickets (demand) to make it worthwhile, there is no fight (supply).

Post-Pundit era and decentralization

For some reason I’ve been fascinated by why certain stories/articles go viral. It’s obvious why breaking news – such as the death of Bin Laden for example – may go viral, because it signifies a major event or outcome. But other instances are less obvious.

There has been a significant amount of research on why certain stories go viral, and mentioned above, many viral stories involve a major event. But they also evoke primal human emotions – greed, fear, sadness, envy, etc. – or entice the readers’s curiosity through an irresistible headline. But some viral stories involve not evoking an emotion but rather a ‘shared narrative’.

Here is an article that went hugely viral Why are Adults so busy? Notice how the subject matter is apolitical and on the surface seems kinda bland in a news cycle dominated by major personalities such as Hillary and Trump – it’s about why adults are so busy – a question that everyone, regardless of their politics, is curious about and can relate to (a shared narrative). Even for Ann Coulter, despite her rapier wit and decades as a public figure, none of her individual columns will ever be as viral that seemingly mundane article about adults being busy. Or the Wait But Why article about being ‘Insufferable on Facebook’. It’s weird how that works…how articles that seem mundane can be so successful, whereas as opinionated articles that try to get a reaction out of readers tend to have the opposite effect. Perhaps this is a symptom of the ‘post-pundit‘ era we find ourselves in, in which more and more people have become deaf to punditry.

One reason why the alt-right has been so influential is because it bypasses punditry and instead uses decentralized means of disseminating its message, through social media and thousands of anonymous contributors on imageboards, blogs, and forums. The internet is becoming reality, if it isn’t already. Amazon is consuming the world right now, subsuming brick and mortar stores as its stock price keeps rising to no end. Facebook and Twitter are the arteries through which information and advertising dollars flow. Pundits began writing about the alt-right only after it became influential.

The Genius of Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat may be the most talented columnist alive, and by perusing some of his most recent articles, for instructional purposes, we can get a better understanding of his style and why it’s so effective.

When reading a Douthat column, typically the first paragraph sets the scene, almost like a panorama, giving a bird’s-eye view of the protagonists and scenery before delving into more detail.

From The Myth of Cosmopolitanism (his July 3rd article, which went viral):

NOW that populist rebellions are taking Britain out of the European Union and the Republican Party out of contention for the presidency, perhaps we should speak no more of left and right, liberals and conservatives. From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists. From now on the loyalties that matter will be narrowly tribal — Make America Great Again, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England — or multicultural and cosmopolitan.

Notice how he lists the ‘actors’ all at once, and in the first sentence: rebels, Republican Party, European Union, left and right, liberals and conservatives.

Another characteristic is repetition and redundancy. ‘Left’ and ‘liberals’ are, for demonstrative purposes, tautological, but listing both gives ‘weight’ to the sentence.

And when he writes ‘Make America Great Again, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England’…note the repetition, and the emphasis on ‘Make America Great Again’ in reference to Donald Trump, and all capitalized. Also the assonance (repeated ‘ea’ sound) in ‘earth’ and ‘realm’. He also uses the ‘rule of three‘, but often he extends it to five or more items.

Another characteristic is the use of contrast, from The Donald Trump Show:

USUALLY political conventions are attempts to tell a story — a story about what a party stands for, a story about where its presidential candidate came from, a story about what kind of chief executive he would be.

The Donald Trump National Convention in Cleveland (technically the Republican National Convention, but let’s be real) wasn’t really much for storytelling. Its messages were muddled, its shared agenda boiled down to hating Hillary Clinton, many of its speakers didn’t want to talk about the candidate and one declined even to endorse him.

Note how he contrasts a typical political convention, which is supposed to tell a story, to the Donald Trump convention, which didn’t.

The parenthetical statement ‘technically the Republican National Convention, but let’s be real’ adds a conversational tone to the writing.

Also ‘one declined even to endorse him’ is in reference to Ted Cruz. But by not mentioning his name, it adds wryness to the writing in reducing Ted Cruz to the gender-neutral pronoun ‘one’. It’s subtle, but little details like that matter.

Back to Cosmopolitanism, although the sentence belongs to Peter Mandler, it’s still effective:

They can’t see that what feels diverse on the inside can still seem like an aristocracy to the excluded, who look at cities like London and see, as Peter Mandler wrote for Dissent after the Brexit vote, “a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations.”

Note the use of lists again, and the attention to detail: ‘Increasingly hereditary caste of politicians’…not just any politicians, but a hereditary caste.

They can’t see that paeans to multicultural openness can sound like self-serving cant coming from open-borders Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project, or American liberals who hail the end of whiteness while doing everything possible to keep their kids out of majority-minority schools.

Again, the use of contrast: ‘Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project,’ to show the hypocrisy of the elite.

They can’t see that their vision of history’s arc bending inexorably away from tribe and creed and nation-state looks to outsiders like something familiar from eras past: A powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world.

The writing is rich with indignation, with words and phrases like ‘self-serving’, ‘it alone’, ‘their vision’, ‘caste’, and ‘rule the world’ – all packed into one sentence.

Figurative language such as ‘history’s arc bending inexorably away’ produces images in the reader’s mind of a curved trajectory such as that of a cannonball. Also, the adverb ‘inexorably’ modifying ‘away’ adds more detail and specificity to the sentence.

Also, the introductory clause ‘they can’t see that’ is repeated (anaphora), adding rhythm and emphasizing how the elite are blinded by their hubris.

Note his extensive vocabulary: ‘paeans’ and ‘coteries’, words that usually don’t come up in everyday conversation, and adding richness to the writing and boosting Douthat’s own credibility as a highly educated expert. In The Trump Show, he uses synecdoche in a sentence, another ten-dollar word. Yeah I know there’s a widely-shared ‘study’ that shows how using ‘big’ words doesn’t make you sound smarter, and I can tell you it’s bunkum. Ceteris paribus, someone who uses bigger words will sound smarter than someone who doesn’t [1]. Also, specialized, well-targeted words that have a specific meaning can add both variety to writing and succinctness, instead of having to use six words when one may suffice.

Now that we’ve focused on the structure, it’s also worth asking: Why are Ross Douthat’s articles so well-received, both by liberals and conservatives, and always go viral, whereas Paul Krugman’s articles do not?

Paul Krugman and Ann Coulter are like opposite sides of the same coin, and although I am partial to the latter, they are stalwarts of what I call ‘pre-2013′ online journalism, which is partisan and emotive. By contrast, as I discuss in Solvent Part 1, post-2013 journalism is more nuanced and intellectual, and focuses on ‘shared narratives/themes’ that transcend the left-right political divide, rather than just browbeating your readers with your political opinions. This new intellectual style as epitomized by sites like Vox.com, Priceonomics, and WaitButWhy is seeing rapid growth, whereas traffic and readership for opinionated political blogs peaked years ago. This is possibly due to readers growing weary of angry partisanship and yearning for more evolved discourse that touches on existential/humanistic matters and ‘shared narratives’ such as:

-anomie and ennui arising from rapid societal (both economic and social) changes and the breakdown of the ‘family structure’

-distrust of elites and central planning

-anxiety about the economy

-will technology eliminate all jobs?

-existential questions such as ‘What if we’re all living in a computer simulation?’

-how to find meaning in life

-social anxiety, existential depression, social isolation, etc.

-how to afford healthcare, tuition, etc., student loan debt being too high

and so on…

These are questions and issues that are vexing to everyone, beyond the ‘left’ and the ‘right’, and Ross Douthat frequently addresses them, especially the first two items.

Importantly, Douthat makes an effort to empathize with his subjects and his readers, despite being a member of the ‘elite’ himself, to understand and be mindful of why there is resentment against the elite, and to understand why people make the choices they do or hold the beliefs they have, as described by Scott in his recent post: HOW THE WEST WAS WON:

This is true in every case except with the cultures we consider our outgroups – in the US, white Southern fundamentalist Christian Republicans; in the UK, white rural working-class leave voters. In both cases, their ignorance is treated as worthy of mockery, their religion is treated as stupidity and failure to understand science, their poverty makes them “trailer trash”, their rejection of economic-growth-at-all-costs means they are too stupid to understand the stakes, and their desire to protect their obviously inferior culture makes them xenophobic and racist.

Rather than ridicule, dismiss, or belittle the ‘outgroup’, Douthat lends an ear. But it’s not so much about trying to being right or wrong – rather it’s about understanding why the stakes have become so high, and why there is so much passion about these issues.
From the Art of War, victory isn’t through attrition, but by reconciliation that renders further conflict unnecessary, ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’ It’s very difficult to defend a moral high ground or to change minds; it’s easier to find common ground and understanding. Like why there so much resentment towards the elite (a common criticism is that the elite are insulated from the consequences of their actions), not so much whether the elite are right or wrong policy-wise. Douthat explores the meta-discussion and the humanistic angle to issues, not just the issue itself isolated in a vacuum removed from the human condition. For example, instead of explaining why ‘guns are good or bad,’ Ross implores, ‘why do people care so much about this issue, and what it says about America and society.’ He takes it to the next level, the meta level.

Although Paul Krugman is a Nobel Laureate, which lends a lot of credibly (even though he has been wrong on many occasions), he can’t elicit the necessary visceral reaction, the meeting of the minds, that is necessary to make readers on the sideline (those who aren’t already initiated) actually like him and want to share his ideas. Everyone is wrong occasionally, myself included, but when you put yourself on a pedestal or sanctimoniousness and infallibility, the harder the fall from grace and the more inclined people are to push back and go after your weak spots. Yes, Paul Krugman is popular, but his columns read like a shill rant, hammering the same partisanship and divisiveness over and over again and devoid of worldly introspection.

[1] Big words may backfire if they are misused.

Why the News Is Still Mostly Pointless

1. Pretty much all all news sites have some sort of ulterior motive, whether to advance a certain agenda or to push advertising. True ‘impartiality’ is far and few between.

People read Reason, Pathos, Zerohedge, Unz Review and other ‘alternative media’, because they think they are getting the ‘full story’, but often they aren’t. These views are often missing important details, intended to promote a specific agenda, or just flat-out wrong (like autism and vaccines), leading readers astray, herding readers to bad investments (overpriced gold and silver), or enticing them to click spammy advertisements filled with malware. ‘Alternative media’ is often just as carefully crafted as ‘mainstream media’ and does not represent some spontaneous, grassroots uprising. They care more about generating ad-clicks than any higher calling of ‘truth’.

For example, here are some crappy ads on the homepage of Reason.com, some of which are disguised as news stories. Clicking any one of these will likely trigger a barrage of pop-ups and malware download prompts.

Like how fire needs oxygen, the media needs outrage and your attention, to generate ad-clicks and pageviews. Without the ads interspersed between the stories, print media has no reason to exist. The whole point of TV media is to fill the 8-12 minute space between commercials.

2. The news never ends. Here is a partial screenshot of the front page of Unz Review.

In about a week, there will be a whole new batch of opinions and stories. It never ends, and trying to stay on top of the pile can be likened to a Sisyphean struggle of futility. It’s like a never-ending pile of paperwork, but unlike a job you’re not getting paid.

3. It won’t matter anyway. Yes, had in 2006 you heeded media warnings about a recession and housing bubble and sold your stocks, to repurchase them at the market bottom in 2009, you would have done well. But the vast majority of the time, whatever the latest ‘crisis’ is – Brexit, European debt, Ebola, Greece, etc. – it will blow over. About 95-99% of the time, what is supposed to be a crisis is, in retrospect, just noise:

4. Time spent reading the news can be better spent improving your own life and those around you. Let’s assume Hillary goes to jail. You’ll feel good for about a couple hours, and then it’s back to the daily grind. Unless you make a living from the news (as some bloggers and journalists do), nothing changes. Time spent reading about the ongoing developments with Hillary or the election can be spent learning a skill that can yield dividends long after the latest outrage fades from memory. Do I want Hillary behind bars? Yes. But is worth a large time commitment on my part in keeping track of the day-to-day developments? No.

5. You cannot influence the outcome. No amount of ranting and raving about Hillary emails will put her behind bars, just like no amount of ranting and raving by the left will result in a ban on automatic firearms.

6. Following the news can be perilous to your financial health. Had you sold your stocks in 2008, at the depths of the crisis when the media had nearly everyone convinced capitalism and America was doomed, you would have not only sold at the bottom but missed out on the 2nd-greatest bull market ever – a bull market which continues to this day. The S&P 500 is up 80% (including dividends) since 2005, despite the crisis. Had you sold your stocks following the Brexit vote, you would have sold at the bottom and missed the 4% rally that immediately followed. Had you listened to the media and sold stocks in 2013 on fears of QE ending, you would have missed out an additional 25% gains in the S&P 500. Other examples include numerous predictions since 2008 of hyperinflation and dollar collapse, neither of which happened.

7. A lot of it is just wrong. For example, the supposed link between autism and vaccines, while widely disseminated by the media, was later debunked by experts. The purported existence of WMDs in Iraq (the Times Judith Miller scandal) is another example. Although the ‘alternative media’ was right about the absence of WMDs and the futility of spreading democracy in the Middle East, it was wrong about inflation, the US dollar, the stock market, gold, and treasuries.

Inflated college rape statistics, rape hoaxes, and so-called ‘rape culture’, are other examples of the media being wrong. For example, the statistic that 1 in 5 women are raped on college generated a media firestorm, but only later after heat had died down did it get debunked (to less media fanfare), but the damage had already been done.

Because initial stories have a non-trivial likelihood of being wrong, you have to follow-up for corrections, which means more work. Maybe it’s easier to just ignore the news altogether.

Welcome To the Working Class Nick Denton!

From Justine Tunney: Welcome To the Working Class Nick Denton!

As many already know, Gawker recently filed bankruptcy and is seeking to sell its assets to cover the Hogan judgement. Justine Tunney, one of the earliest pioneers of NRx (until she was unfortunately expelled), recounts how Gawker tries to ruin lives:

You may remember me as the woman whose reputation was destroyed by your Valleywag writer Sam Biddle, who labeled me a “Pro-Slavery Lunatic.” Tsk tsk. Your staff didn’t even have the professionalism to link to actual tweet for which I was indicted.

Because if you had, your readers would have been able to clearly see I was talking about how we should help Walmart workers, who suffer injustices worse than slavery. But your late media empire didn’t care about the truth. The only thought that probably crossed Sam Biddle’s trustifarian mind was that he could make more ad revenue for ol’ Nick Denton by destroying the life of yet another innocent working class American.

Good points. As usual, in today’s culture of shaming and sanctimonious mob vigilantism, we seldom hear the other side of the story. Once a narrative is established that affirms a preexisting liberal bias, the reputation damage cannot be undone.

But I don’t pity myself. I’m actually quite fortunate compared to most of your victims. I never lost my job.

Kudos to Google for having a spine and defending their employees instead of capitulating, but they need to stop pulling YouTube videos and disabling accounts that accidentally ‘violate’ their intentionally Kafkaesque rules on ‘hate speech’ and ‘copyrights’. Often the latter is used a boilerplate excuse for the former. Someone will report a video that is not 100% PC, and YouTube will invoke some arbitrary ‘copyrights’ rule as justification for pulling it down, such as for music or images used in the video.

Another example, which I forgot, is Pax Dickinson, yet another target of the Puritanical SJW digital lynch mob, who lost his programming job:

Take for instance Pax Dickinson. You got him fired from his job back in 2013 for a joke he made on Twitter a few years earlier. A joke which, twenty years ago, would have just made everyone at a party pause for a moment of discomfort and move on. But his entire career was destroyed. He tried to find work for years, with no success.

His employer was Business Insider, a ‘news’ site that pays interns a pittance to churn out low-quality articles and infographics for page views, and will fire interns who fail to meet page view quotas. Henry Blodget, the founder of Business Insider, like Ivandjiiski of Zerohedge, has a checkered past and was barred from the securities industry by the SEC for conflict of interest violations. Is it any surprise those who preach the most virtue are often the most morally compromised? Not if you understand the hypocrisy of liberalism.

Nick Denton, you’ve committed far more wrong than Pax and I ever have or will, and you deserve so much worse. But I won’t revel in your newfound equality with ordinary Americans.

Unfortunately, I doubt this will have much of a ‘dent’ on Denton, besides lost money. He’ll probably quickly be poached by another media company for a high salary, and the whole thing will start again.

Gawker’s Power: The Symptom of a Bigger Problem

I have not been keeping close tabs Hogan (Bollea) v. Denton saga, but as of late May 2016 a trial judge denied Denton’s appeal to lower the judgement or throw out the jury verdict. And it’s come to light that tech billionaire Peter Thiel is helping Hogan fund his lawsuit.

Unfortunately, Denton losing isn’t going to be good enough.

Gawker may still survive even if they are forced to pay the full judgment. The new suitors would receive equity instead of cash and would likely not want to terminate the site (as it would destroy the equity). Gawker’s value is in the content that, while reprehensible, still generates a lot of traffic and advertising revenue.

Even if laws are passed outlawing all forms of non-consensual pornography, that still leaves everything else. And it’s not just Gawker…It’s posts on Twitter or Facebook from years past that are dredged up to ruin someone; it’s the off the cuff remark, joke, or tweet that is taken out of context or blown out of proportion; it’s personal information dumped anonymously on public repositories like Pastebin, it’s the Gawker clones that are likely (or already exist) going to fill the void should the plug be pulled; it’s that social media is a double-edged sword: it can expose media lies, but also foment witch hunts and lynch mobs against innocent targets.

Targets who believe they are defamed can sue, but winning is harder because in civil cases, unlike criminal, there are no specific laws or statues that can be invoked, and these are handled on a case by case basis, and it’s up to the judge and jury to decide if and how much damages can be rendered. The time and expenses involved can be substantial, which explains why even Hogan, a multi-millionaire from his wrestling career, still needed help.

The question that is seldom asked is, why is Gawker so powerful. Gawker’s power, ultimately, lies in their ability to ruin lives. By ‘ruin lives’, get people fired, demoted, blacklisted, etc.

More more maliciously, however, than sites like TMZ, Gawker and their ilk go after seemingly ordinary people.

Celebrities, especially actors, because their careers and lives blur the lines between fact and fiction, are better able to rebound from negative press. [1] Business professionals and academics, however, cannot as easily shed the scarlet letter, and often their careers are ruined or derailed significantly [2]. Tila Tequila wearing a Nazi costume – is she racist? Maybe, maybe not. The pubic is incredulous, and her public image isn’t completely ruined. But a professional (or even just a regular person) cracking a joke that offends The Easily Offended? Then it’s off to the stockades.

Gawker’s power is perhaps a symptom of a bigger problem: namely perfidy and public relations. Perhaps corporations, friends, family, and colleagues, need to ignore Gawker and start standing up for their own. Employers should stand behind employees and free speech instead of firing them at the drop of a hat, but in our economy the supply of labor vastly exceeds demand, and employees for the vast majority of jobs are dispensable, replaceable, and interchangeable. It’s not worth the PR risk (along with advertiser boycotts) to keep an employee who is smeared by Gawker or unfairly written-up by Getting Racists Fired, when there are endless replacements who can do the job. So companies readily fold under pressure. Universities, too, don’t want the risk, and even even noble laureates are at risk (as in the case of Tim Hunt, ‘I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs’). But all jobs are at risk. But just imagine if every corporation and university said, ‘no’ when pressed to fire or demote someone. ‘Outrage’, the lifeblood of the social justice warrior, would fall on deaf ears and so would Gawker.

Until that happens, some commonsense solutions:

Don’t use your real name on Facebook; the ‘real name’ policy is almost never enforced. If you have to use your real name, remove all employment and educational information, and remove all pictures of yourself (anything that can link the account to you). Set account to maximum privacy setting.

Never use real name on Twitter. Never mention job-related information. No pictures of yourself.

People who depend on paychecks should probably never use Twitter – that’s how bad it is.

[1] There is a reverse-hierarchy, and conservative white males are at the bottom and have the smallest margin of error of all, and are a single tweet or post away from damnation. Some could liken it to a perverted form of ‘Puritanism’, with ‘social justice’ as ‘god’. As in the case of Justine Sacco, Tim Hunt, or Larry Summers, even women and liberals are not safe, provided the are white. Even liberal Wil Wheaton was forced to repent in a lengthy pubic apology for, by guilt by association, condoning ‘sexism’ in defending ‘Bernie bros’. So in other words, if group ‘A’ says something ‘profane’, and person ‘B’ supports ‘A’, then by the left’s logic ‘B’ condones everything ‘A’ says and does, and thus in order to remain in ‘good standing’, ‘B’ must completely disassociate from ‘A’.

[2] For example, ‘Sportscaster fired for tweet‘ turns up many queries.

Lessons From the Trump Surge: What We Learned

1. You cannot buy victory. Although the left insists money has corrupted politics, allowing the rich to buy elections, Jeb Bush spent over $130 million on his campaign, with nothing to show for it, while Trump spent very little and still bested all of his competitors by a large margin:

2. The pundits are (almost always) wrong. With the exception of Mike and Scott, few pundits predicted the accent of Trump. Even Nate Silver got it wrong.

3. Connecting with voters is crucial. Trump’s divorces, past ‘liberal leanings’, and bankruptcies didn’t impede his ability to connect with voters, who supported Trump on one issue above all: immigration. In 2008, Obama wooed voters on a single issue: economics, specifically promising to undo the mistakes of the Bush administration. Jeb, Rubio, and Cruz were never able to forge the necessary connection with voters, preferring instead to uphold ‘safe’ status quos instead of taking risks by tapping into the fears and frustrations of voters.

4. Never apologize. Trump received flak for his comments on Mexico, Muslims, Megyn Kelly, and John McCain, but refused to recant, knowing that doing so would show weakness to his supporters and that apologizing would not change minds of those who already didn’t support him. Also this tries into ingroup/outgroup dynamics. By making these comments, Trump is signaling to like-minded supporters (ingroup) against an outgroup (‘establishment conservatives’, feminists, SJWs, mainstream media, etc).

5. Make others play your game; don’t play someone else’s game. Trump knew he would not get a fair shake at a Fox News debate, so he didn’t show up, knowing that that the ratings would plummet in his absence; consequentially, the debate was cancelled.

6. Leverage the media. Trump would quote statistics that were possibly exaggerated, knowing that the media in ‘fact checking’ would inadvertently make the subject matter of those comments the focal issue. Trump quoting statistics about black-on-black crime got the media talking about crime, for example.

7. Trump is a one-man media empire. Although the WSJ and NYT twitter accounts have 11 million and 22 million followers, respectively, their tweets on average only get 40-100 ‘engagements’ (likes, retweets) whereas Trump’s account, which has only 8 million followers, gets between 4-10 thousand engagements per tweet. This means a single Trump tweet probably has more ‘reach’ than all of the mainstream media combined. There’s no need for Trump to waste money on ineffective, costly campaign ads when Twitter and Facebook are free and have substantially more engagement and virality.

8. Related to #7, social media is taking over traditional media. From Reddit to 4chan to the ‘alt right’, Trump is like the Ron Paul of 2016, channeling internet grassroots enthusiasm, with ‘cuckservative’ as a rallying cry for millions of those on the ‘right’ who had enough of a party indifferent to the issues really important to voters (immigration).

9. Until recently, hoaxes took time to debunk, often after the damage had already been done. However, with the collective intelligence of social media and sites like Reddit, these armies of netizens are not only influencing the news cycle but are also debunking hoaxes within hours instead of days or weeks, forcing the mainstream media to quickly retract stories and issue corrections. A recent example is the Michelle Fields assault hoax, which falsely implicated Trump staffer Corey Lewandowski. Now the left is trying to create a narrative that Trump is a womanizer, in a New York Times article that too was quickly debunked as a hoax, with many comments by women taken out of context to defame Trump.

10. Trump is like Teflon. Related to #3, because Trump is so masterful at connecting with voters, he’s impervious to everything, and the media’s only recourse if to make stuff up (#9) when facts fail.

Sharing Economy Dying? Debunking Salon.com Hype

Good riddance, gig economy: Uber, Ayn Rand and the awesome collapse of Silicon Valley’s dream of destroying your job

The problem with Salon articles (and to a lesser extent, Slate) is that there is often a substantial mismatch between the headline, which is often sensationalist, and the rest of the article, and or the argument is weak and easily refuted by anyone with rudimentary knowledge or just common sense.Other problems include: an obvious liberal bias and ads that clutter and slow the site.

The sensationalism is a bait and switch technique to get clicks, as the content of the article almost never commensurate with the hype in the headlines. The headline and byline make bold proclamations which are gradually dialed-down as the article continues, until eventually diluted completely.

The sensationalist headline of the article is based on Farhad Manjoo’s opinion, but this only occupies the first paragraph of the article:

The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an oddly lamenting piece about how “the Uber model, it turns out, doesn’t translate.” Manjoo describes how so many of the “Uber-of-X” companies that have sprung up as part of the so-called sharing economy have become just another way to deliver more expensively priced conveniences to those with enough money to pay.

And here is the ‘dialing-down’ part:

Yet that strikes me as too black-and-white, as overly gloomy as Manjoo once was excessively optimistic. The sharing economy apps have proven to be extremely fluid at connecting someone who needs work with someone willing to pay for that work. Some workers have praised the flexibility of the platforms, which allow labor market outsiders – young people, immigrants, minorities and seniors especially — who have difficulty finding work to access additional options. It’s better than sitting at home as a couch potato with no income. And by narrowing the scope of their services, these companies stand a better chance of contracting with quality people, and developing real relationships with them.

Historical experience shows that three out of four startups fail, and more than nine out of 10 never earn a return. My favorite example is SnapGoods, which is still cited today by many journalists who are pumping up the sharing economy (and haven’t done their homework) as a fitting example of a cool,…

Also, as alluded by the second quote, it’s not that Silicon Valley techno-libertarian is dying, but rather in any new industry not all companies will succeed. Alta Vista and eToys dying in the 2000′s was not a harbinger for the end of search engines and online commerce; instead, Google and Amazon did it better and took over, becoming much more successful than ever imagined. Same for Facebook, which took off where Friendster and Myspace left off, with much much more success.

Uber is still very successful, and pivoting is not a sign of decline, but rather of evolution. In any new industry, there will always be more winners than losers, but as in the case of Uber, Google, and Facebook, the winners tend to be very big. Bitcoin’s meteoric ascent spawned probably over a hundred imitation digital currencies, all of which failed to gain traction, but Bitcoin is doing better than ever.

I suspect that, properly pivoted in the right direction, these app-based services will continue to play a role in the economy. Eventually many traditional economy companies may adapt an app-based labor market in ways that we can’t yet anticipate.


But he also writes

Indeed, the reality that the sharing economy visionaries can’t seem to grasp is that not everyone is cut out to be a gig-preneur, or to “build out their own businesses,” as Leah Busque likes to say. Being an entrepreneur takes a uniquely wired brand of individual with a distinctive skill set, including being “psychotically optimistic,” as one business consultant put it. Simply being jobless is not a sufficient qualification. In addition, apparently nobody in Silicon Valley ever shared with Kan or Busque the old business secret that “you get what you pay for.” That’s a lesson that Uber’s Travis Kalanick seems determined to learn the hard way as well.

Thee nice thing about the gig economy, for consumers, is that low-quality workers who are not ‘cut out’ for it tend to be weeded out quickly – or not even visible. In a typical salaried job, these low-quality workers stay until they get fired or quit, hurting profits and productivity, and possibly leading to higher prices for consumers. In post-2008 ‘results-orientated’ economy, people are getting paid for the economic value they produce, not what they think they deserve.

So instead of: Good riddance, gig economy: Uber, Ayn Rand and the awesome collapse of Silicon Valley’s dream of destroying your job The Uber model just doesn’t work for other industries. The price points always fail — and that’s a good thing

It’s more like: Gig apps provide some benefit to the economy and workers, and will likely continue, but some apps will fail. It’s not a collapse or ‘good riddance’, but a reshuffling as the industry evolves. Sometimes the price point does not work as well as hoped, and other times like Uber it is hugely successful.

The second version won’t get as many clicks or shares though