Categories
meantime

Too Many News

It’s obvious why everyone’s gone so existential of late, from Hope Hicks to Attorney General Barr. With Brexit entering its 50th season and Israel having to repeat elections, it feels like deja vu all over again. Is this real? How can this be real?

And nobody won the spelling bee and Game of Thrones is gone and Calvin ate all that cereal just to get the stupid beanie that broke! Ugh!

Not to mention New Hampshire banning the death penalty while a myriad of conservative states pass new and decayed attempts to ban abortion. The existence of so many problems does (or does it not?) amount to an existential problem.

That we can’t even deal with climate change, is mine, I think. That day by month by year by decade, the politicians admit it exists (the sane ones, anyway), but we don’t actually do anything much. The news media runs stories, here and there, but it’s too much of a creeper to sustain its rightful place in the news cycle, so it gets washed over.

I mean, the White House tried to make a whole Navy vessel, the USS John S. McCain, perform the old Monty Python skit, “How Not to be Seen.” And Mueller finally quit while saying, ‘Look the Russians screwed with us, maybe do something about that.’ But the Republicans only heard, ‘Trump maybe or didn’t obstruct but I can’t tell you so you figure it out.’ Which is important in its own right, but the headline of that story is really still about the damned Kremlin.

But the president wants everything to be about him, so of course he keeps bringing up impeachment. And yeah, we know that you were promised the full presidential experience, Donnie, but there’s a lot going on right now so maybe just chill out? Dude has no chill. Turns around and says, ‘Pass my trade deal with Mexico,’ right before he turns around again and says, ‘Also, tariffs on Mexico until they solve the Reimann hypothesis.’

Meanwhile, more carbon goes up in the air, more infrared light gets hugged back to the earth by it, the earth traps a little more heat, the ice melts a little more, the ocean gets a little more acidic, the storms get a little stronger, the future coast gets a little bit smaller.


Just too many news.

Categories
meantime

News Snippets for 26 September 2015

Candidates Dropping Like Flies

Just as quickly as candidates joined the GOP field for the nomination for president, they are dropping out. At this rate, the GOP field will run a deficit by Thanksgiving. The party is seeking a stopgap measure to keep the Republican meat market from insolvency.

From March to June, 17 major candidates signed up, a rate of about four per month. So far September has seen two drop out, bringing the total left to 15. As no new entries have come, the entrance rate has already dropped to about 2.5 per month, and it will fall below the exit rate in November unless something changes. Assuming the trend continues, the field will be entirely depleted by next May, well ahead of the July 2016 Republican National Convention.

Do Volkswagens Ever Win?

The axiom that ‘cheaters never win and winners never cheat’ is undergoing more scientific scrutiny as carmaker Volkswagen concludes its emissions testing experiment. The CCO (Chief Cheating Officer) of the corporation announced early results are inconclusive, stating, “We sort of got away with it, for awhile. We made a lot of money. We’re not sure if it’s a long-term strategy, though. Further tests will be needed.”

Trump Considering Run for Papacy

Donald Trump has publicly attacked Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church, calling him several names and saying he is not flashy enough to turn around the falling attendance rates. Trump says he may make a bid to become the Bishop of Rome, if things don’t pan out with his current presidential campaign. “Make the House of God Great Again” is on the short list for his potential slogans.

An alternative plan would see Trump move to Rome and only visit the USA every once in awhile. “I noticed that everyone made such a big deal about the Pope coming, and one of my servants told me about this whole ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ thing. I might have to try that,” Trump said. Fingers crossed.

Pope to Readdress Congress

The Pope, saying he is pretty sure they didn’t get the message the first time, is hoping to give a second address to Congress. “I think a lot of them just saw it as another day, another motivational speaker. A glorified pep rally. But I was trying to get them to pull their heads out of their asses. I am doubtful it worked,” the Vicar of Christ said.

“I get it,” he added. “All that money and power goes to their heads. It swells their heads up, inside their rectal cavities. At this point, I don’t think a few words of warning from me will get the job done. I feel I need to go back and try again. With lube and forceps, this time.”

One exception to the phenomena may have been John Boehner, who unexpectedly announced his resignation following the Pope’s address. Boehner, a Roman Catholic, has been criticized in recent months by some in his own party for not being heartless enough for their tastes.

Categories
society

Today’s Headlines

Today I’m going to examine the current top headlines on Google News, not so much for what their covering as for why they are covered.

I’m viewing the site without a Google Account, though they still may be applying location data based on my connection’s IP address and/or other tracking being done. Let’s start with some basic numbers:

  • 34 headlines
    • Six in Top Stories
      • Three of the six related to tragedies surrounding Celebrities
      • Four related to death and sickness
      • Two related to political struggles
    • Five in World
      • All five about Leaders of factions, nations, etc.
    • Five in U.S.
      • Two related to death and sickness (one historical)
      • No leaders or celebrities directly mentioned
    • Two in Business
      • One about an investigation into corruption
      • One fluff piece about a famous/historical restaurant
    • Five in Technology
      • Of the seven companies mentioned in Technology (not including the names of the companies hosting the articles), two are mentioned eight times (three times and five times), with the rest being mentioned once each.
    • Two in Entertainment
      • Both heavy on the Celebrity, of course
    • Five in Sports
      • Two about trades/hires
      • Two on future success chances
      • One about a labor dispute
    • Two in Science
      • One on a company selling flights to the moon
    • Two in Health
      • One on fighting childhood obesity, the other on treatment for depression
  • Ten mention someone of Celebrity in the headline

Ah, the news. The soap opera of our world. Teaching us that if you want more than your immediate family to take interest when tragedy or success comes your way, it’s either got to be weird or you’ve got to be famous.

Celebrity is a problem. Whether it’s a member of some cultist royalty, a political leader, military leader, sports star, musician, or just a yokel elevated to celebrity status by a hyperactive media, it’s a problem.

It’s even a problem in the open source/free software community, when people like Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman are given heightened attention not for what they say, but for who they are.

I don’t care where Guido van Rossum (inventor of Python) works, though I’m very happy to use the language. I hope his life is good, but no more than anyone else.

When Stallman talks about an issue (such as the recent Free Software Foundation: Blogs: Richard Stallman: 7 December 2012: Ubuntu Spyware: What to Do?), I’m not concerned about his past endeavors or opinions. I read that essay with the goal of evaluating the ideas. Now, knowing something of his background helps to charitably parse his argument. But that’s the general case of having a feel for an individual’s ideas.

The problem comes when people feel one way about the man and therefore automatically gravitate to one side of an argument. The problem comes when people confuse success with merit (eg, in admiring a political, religious, or athletic figure). If Michael Jordan is the best damn player in the history of the National Basketball Association, I’d better get his shoes.

Celebrity is toxic. It lets us look past the character flaws of a leader, for no good reason. If a leader behaves badly in one way, they aren’t necessarily unfit, but their achievements do not absolve them.

The news media (both mainstream and niche) focuses on celebrity. It does this because it’s an easy sale. If someone walks into your delicatessen and you offer to sell them some exotic meat on some exotic bread, they might try it. But you’ll do the bulk of your business with standards like the BLT and reuben on rye. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry ice cream. Cheese pizza.

There are vegetarians and vegans, but at present there aren’t really any celebrity-free news junkies or sources. You can’t get political stories without the (R) and (D) plastering. Technology to the media means gossip about a small number of high-profile firms.

For most of the news, my answer hasn’t wavered in years: no thanks, I am not hungry (for that). I’d rather eat ideas than celebrities.

Categories
society

Celebrity News is not News

Looked at the news today to find this utterly silly celebrity news story about the Pope adding another 22 Cardinals to his team (they had been part of the lower-tier Archbishop team that performs with Pope on tour). What is the big deal that this gets classified as World News? I specifically unsubscribe/remove celebrity news and sports from any news content I consume. Because it’s not meaningful to me.

The question is why the Pope is considered meaningful enough to garner mention in a non-religious news context.  The answer is that historically the Pope had a lot of power to cause people to kill each other.  Same reason they still cover the various Royal Families of the world without properly sequestering those to Celebrity News.

Having had the ability to get a lot of people killed, they were relevant.  You might be one of the people that would be killed, or that would kill, or know some of those people.  It was good to know if people were going to be killed.

But these days, I don’t think the Pope can have anyone killed, and if he or she can, a stop ought be put to that Papal power.  Same for the Royal Families.

It’s different for Roman Catholics, as it is for the subjects of the Royal Families.  But is that any different than being a fan of a pop singer or a fan of a sports organization, when viewed from the outside?

At best, isn’t the modern non-Royal, non-Religious celebrity just a counterpart to the former celebrities that were ordained by the gods?  And the other counterpart, the leaders and politicians, they are news only because they have the power to get people killed and otherwise harm society in similar ways.

But high profile figures are harmful in and of themselves, as they are seen as archetypes for the rest of us.  If the politician or the Pope resort to certain types of rhetoric, the average person for whom they represent archetypes will follow their leads.

This is clear when we look at nations brought to war on the backs of bad arguments and shoddy evidence.  The debate isn’t just shaped, but fabricated by the hands of these archetypes.  Whether the war is on illegal immigrants or a foreign nation, the capacity for the average person to make their voice heard depends upon the archetypes’ ability to show respect for the rest of us, and they seldom do so.

So, celebrity news is not news, but seldom is the new authority’s view news.  It’s agenda, it’s propaganda.  It is the cloth that the followers hang inside their minds, and when they look out to the world, their view is framed with that cloth.

Categories
hyperweb

Badges and the Social Fabric

Mozilla started a project called Open Badges; they propose to develop of something of a cross between a human-readable Geek Code and traditional Scout badges.  They recognize learning on the internet, so that if you put forth the time and effort to learn about a topic, you earn a badge that displays that ability to others.

Screenshot of Google News, Politics Section showing a story about Conan the Barbarian
Screenshot of Google News, Politics Section showing a story about Conan the Barbarian

Google News has initiated its own Google News Badges, where by reading stories about a given topic you can show off your subject prowess through a badge.

Today’s post delves into the social fabric of the internet, and looks at the pitfalls that these badges try to bridge and how to improve the efforts.

Google works hard to make their news more relevant, so please do not take this as a criticism of their efforts.  The problem they look to solve holds its ground, and the Google News site still beats the other, non-user-driven news aggregation sites I’ve seen.

Media quality varies wildly, so reading a lot of articles does not necessarily make one informed.  Also, for a lot of stories the headline tells the tale, but users receive no credit for a story they understood at a glance.  But, possibly worst, taxonomical issues devalue the results.

For the last example, the current Google News results suffice.  The second headline under Politics for me is about the movie Conan the Barbarian.

Bad enough in itself, there are two other problems, namely the Murdoch Empire bookending the Conan story.  This, despite my best efforts to rid my Google News sections of those sources which I consider too biased to bother with.

Subjectivity abounds in badges for news and similar pursuits, and Google News’ categorization attempts have not been dependable to date.  I would not want a badge based on reading those stories, and would not trust someone’s badge based on them either.

This symptom simply represents the larger problem with crafting badges, namely taxonomy.

Someone possessing a given skill, in name versus practice, might meet, exceed, or fall short of expectations.  The fact that I read a book or watched a film does not mean I understood it, and the fact that I did not, I could know it implicitly from cultural references (eg, Citizen Kane).

The delicate art of communication riddles us to decipher who knows what in an efficient manner.  Our ability to solve large problems depends on such things, and yet we often fail to uncover the knowledge pool.

Studies reveal that groups with more women tend to have higher group intelligence.  For example, quoting “Collective intelligence: number of women in group linked to effectiveness in solving difficult problems,” from Science Daily:

When it comes to intelligence, the whole can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts. A new study co-authored by MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Union College researchers documents the existence of collective intelligence among groups of people who cooperate well, showing that such intelligence extends beyond the cognitive abilities of the groups’ individual members, and that the tendency to cooperate effectively is linked to the number of women in a group.

While the studies tend to cite sensitivity to the emotions of the group members, it seems plausible that the type of communication, beyond simple sensitivity, holds a key.  More social groups construct better social taxonomies (ie, recognition of the role capabilities for the members) and do so more efficiently.  A study purely about discovery of the social taxonomy would probably reveal as much.

Badges may improve discovering the group ability.  Chiefly, badges should assist in motivating learning and crediting it.  But to truly uncover the promise of the internet, both pieces are needed.

One of the ways to improve badges might be to grant special statuses, like teacher, atop the regular badges.  Teaching refines existing knowledge, as it challenges you to present information in different ways and to approach the subject differently than as a learner or user.

Most specifically, teaching relies on formalizing the models of a subject, taking them from primordial form to crisp edges and smooth, consistent surfaces.

The other major challenge and improvement involves ascertaining the existing skills.  Some websites already work toward that end.  For example, the Reddit community, AskScience currently marks members with scientific training so that readers may measure the reliability of their answers on a given topic.  If new-web initiatives like badges take hold, those acknowledgments may be transformed into true badges.

The internet’s potential remains untapped, but with all of the experimentation going on, results will come.