2018-03-24

Parkland victim's family unwelcome at rally.

Gateway Pundit:
The family of slain Parkland student Meadow Pollack was disinvited from speaking at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC. The family is not pushing gun control, but rather securing our schools and protecting our children. ...
Go to the link for Hunter Pollack's speech.

Cobb: Bring blogs back.

Cobb:
You don't own your own words. When you live on Facebook's property, you don't own your own words. They can be deleted by someone other than you. They can be banned by someone other than you. You can hardly even know what you said a year ago by searching for it. I don't mean to suggest that Facebook alone is capable of this, but it is the 900 pound gorilla. The same things are true of Twitter and the comments sections of hundreds of new media outlets.

When it comes to participating in the debates that a free and open society require, these social media spaces do not facilitate. That is not why they exist. That is not their business model. They were not created to sustain collaborative thought, but to let everybody connect in social ways. They are not town halls so much as they are gas station bathrooms on the information superhighway. They serve everybody without much discrimination, but their facilities often stink. Sometimes you wonder who came in here to write what you see on the walls, and you cringe. No matter how many bots or attendants you apply to a roadside rest stop, it will never become a town hall. That's something you design from the ground up. Social media needs a redesign.

However, there was a moment of glory in the past in which the level of discourse broadly available to the internet public was better than it is now. That was the age of the blogosphere. ...

2018-03-23

Back to the future: Robert Tracinski on blogging.

Robert Tracinski at The Federalist:
The era of blogging offered the promise of a decentralized media. Anybody could publish and comment on the news and find an audience. Guys writing in their pajamas could take down Dan Rather. We were bypassing the old media gatekeepers. And we had control over it! We posted on our own sites. We had good discussions in our own comment fields, which we moderated. I had and still have an extensive e-mail list of readers who are interested in my work, most of which I built up in that period, before everybody moved onto social media.

But then Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along and killed the blogs. There were three main reasons they took over.

The first was that maintaining your own website is kind of a bother. ...

Read the whole thing.

For me, circumstances in my personal life conspired to encourage me to follow the larger trends, both toward and away from traditional blogging. In the early 2000s I was newly single and had some inherited assets, and consequently had ample leisure time to read and write about the events of the day at a leisurely pace. Around 2007 - 2008, I got involved in a high-drama relationship and soon found my schedule full with the demands of work and parenting. This of course coincided with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, and although I initially resisted, I eventually joined the social-media bandwagon.

One thing in particular about the Facebook format is that while it makes it very easy to offer your comments on *one* news item, there's no real provision for writing a post linking two or more sources. This is a very big drawback in my opinion, because one of the potential strengths of the internet as a news forum is the ability to correlate and compare different sources in a single place.

I agree with Robert's conclusion and I'm on board with his four-point program. I'm looking forward to getting more involved with long-form blogging, and I am adding The Trancinski Letter to my blogroll.

(Blogroll: that's "a roster of websites and blogs with good information" for you youngsters.)

2018-03-19

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is first to visit Rwanda.

Avigdor Liberman became the first Israeli Defense Minister to visit Rwanda.


Arutz Sheva:

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman today held an historic first visit of an Israeli Defense Minister in Kigali, capital of Rwanda.

Liberman met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Defense Minister James Kabarebe, and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. ...

Related: Rwanda ready to take African migrants from Israel and Libya - AllAfrica.
Rwanda has reiterated its readiness to receive African migrants from Israel and Libya.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, affirmed that Kigali would accept the refugees and asylum seekers as long as the process of relocating them was in line with international laws. ...

2018-03-18

Source analysis toolbox.

Ever since I started blogging, I've been interested not only in current events, but also in the meta-questions of "How do we know what we know?" In 2005, I posted "How can you determine a source's biases?" in an attempt to list some of the mental processes and checklists I go through to try to decide what to believe and what not to believe. The more recent phenomenon of fake news (in the sense of overtly false and spurious hoax news sites) gave fresh urgency to the problem, as I posted at my LiveJournal. Related posts are collected under my epistemology tag. This post is the latest update to my checklist.

Look in the mirror.
This is really the most important thing when analyzing a source for credibility or bias: knowing your own beliefs and your own possible biases. It's always tempting to accept something uncritically because it fits what we think we already know.

Premises / logic / values.
Know what you differ on: what you believe is a fact, or what consequences follow from it, or whether something is good or bad.

Confirmation bias.
This is our natural tendency to believe things that fit our world-view. I find it helpful to divide between "things I think I know" and "things I know I know". Only verified factual information - things I KNOW that I know - is useful for evaluating the truth or falsity of a new claim.

Narrative.
What kind of overall picture, or "narrative", is the source trying to present?

Baseline.
Before you can determine whether an event is significant or unusual (for example, a crime wave), you need to know what the normal state of affairs is (for example, the average crime rate).

Question sensational reports.
There's a military saying that "nothing is as good or as bad as first reported". Sensational reports do just what the name says - they appeal to our sensations (of fear, hope, disgust, arousal, etc.) and can short-circuit our critical thinking. News stories with especially lurid details should be treated with skepticism.

Internal consistency.
Do all the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense?

External consistency.
Does the report agree with verified facts - things I know I know?

Dialog and dissent.
Does the source welcome opposing views and seek to respond to them?

Awareness of objections.
Does the source attempt to anticipate and refute objections?

Nuance.
By nuance I mean the recognition that a thing can be true in general and still admit of exceptions. For example, it may be true that tall people are generally better basketball players, but it can also be true that some short people may be outstanding players.

Logical fallacies.
There are many mistakes in basic reasoning that can lead us to wrong conclusions.

Red herrings / straw men.
A straw man is an argument that can be easily overcome, but that nobody on the other side actually made; you can "refute" this kind of argument to try to make it look like you refuted your opponent's argument, but you didn't actually respond to the claim they were making. A red herring is any kind of argument that is irrelevant to the main issue, and distracts you from it.

Snarl / purr words.
Some words have negative connotations (snarl words) or positive ones (purr words). Using them can be a way to appeal to people's emotions instead of arguing by reason.

Vague quantifiers.
"Many experts believe ..." Stop! How many is "many"? A majority? Half? Two or three? A claim involving numbers needs to give you specifics, or it tells you nothing.

Attributions.
Misquoting another party is, literally, the oldest trick in the Book - going all the way back to the Serpent in Genesis. It is also easy to selectively or misleadingly quote somebody, to give a false impression of what they said. My rule is, "go by what the person said, not what somebody else SAID they said."

Black propaganda - rhetorical false flag.
This is a particularly nasty trick: creating outrageous or shocking arguments and making them appear to be coming from your opponent, to discredit the opponent.

Discrediting by association - "57 Communists".
This is a little more subtle than the rhetorical false flag. This is the practice of making known false statements, which can be easily disproved, that appear to come from your opponent. The goal is to damage your opponent's credibility. A real-life example was the case of 'National Report' - the granddaddy of fake-news sites - which created all kinds of hoax stories designed to fool conservatives; the conservatives then would be made to look gullible when the stories were shown to be false. (See the "fifty-seven Communists" scene in the film 'The Manchurian Candidate'.)

Bias of intermediaries.
More subtle than the 'straw man' is the practice of pretending to present a neutral forum for debate, but deliberately choosing a more articulate, stronger debater for one side and a weaker debater for the other.

The human voice.
By this I mean an intangible quality that may include a distinctive personality, awareness of ambivalence, self-analysis and self-criticism. This one is not a matter of rigorous logic but of gut instinct: something tells you that the person sounds real or fake.

Hard to win a debate, easy to lose one.
When you're debating an issue, it is very difficult to "win" in the sense that your opponent throws up their hands and says "Oh, you were right and I was wrong" Or even to definitively convince an audience that your position is the correct one. However, it is very very easy to LOSE a debate, simply by saying or doing something that brings discredit to yourself and your cause: getting your facts wrong, making a basic logic error, or losing your cool and cursing or attacking your opponent. Sometimes the most important part of debating is knowing when to stop.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fires FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Breitbart, March 16:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting on the recommendation of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew “Andy” McCabe Friday.
By dismissing McCabe – who was set to retire at the end of the month – before Sunday, Sessions may have jeopardized McCabe’s ability to draw a pension. Speculation Sessions might make this move has stirred since the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report, which is yet to be publically disclosed, was reported to have recommend McCabe be fired over his handling of press disclosures during his investigation of the Clinton Foundation. The OPR, upon reviewing the IG’s report, issued a recommendation to fire McCabe. ...
Statements from Sessions and McCabe at the link.

Jonathan Turley at The Hill (March 17):
Following his termination late Friday night, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe declared that he was “singled out” after “unrelenting” attacks by President Trump and critics. McCabe’s objections are less than credible, given the virtually unprecedented recommendation of career officials to fire the one-time acting FBI director.

However, McCabe may have rectified his “singled out” status with his long statement criticizing his termination: In the middle of it is a line that could be viewed as incriminating fired FBI director James Comey, not just in leaking sensitive information but also in lying to Congress.

McCabe is accused of misleading investigators about allegedly giving information to a former Wall Street Journal reporter about the investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton family’s charitable foundation. McCabe asserts in his post-firing statement that he not only had authority to “share” that information to the media but did so with the knowledge of “the director.” The FBI director at the time was Comey. ...

The Last Refuge (Conservative Treehouse) has a summary of the big picture (March 18, by Sundance):
The FBI group was participating in a plan to exonerate Hillary Clinton. That same FBI group was simultaneously conducting opposition research on candidate Donald Trump and the larger construct of his campaign team. Those FBI officials were allied by entities outside official government structures. The ‘outside group’ were “contractors”. It is likely one of the contractors was Fusion-GPS or entities in contact with Fusion-GPS. {Go Deep}

The contractors were using FBI intelligence databases to conduct opposition research “searches” on Trump campaign officials. This is where the use of FISA-702(16)(17) “To/From” and “About” queries comes in. ...

2018-03-05

Meaning and identity.

Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a "secondary rationalization" of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
- Viktor E. Frankl, 'Man's Search for Meaning'

One universal quality of identity is that it gives life a meaning beyond life itself. It offers a connection to the world beyond the self. ... Whatever its form, identity offers a sense of life beyond the physical and material, beyond mere personal existence. It is this sense of a common world that stretches before and beyond the self, of belonging to something greater than the self, that gives strength not only to the community but to the individual as well.
- Natan Sharansky, 'Defending Identity'

2018-03-04

Let's blogroll!

Belmont Club: Russia's "new" nukes. 'The announcement of these wunderwaffe plus the revelation that "all of these systems were known to the Barack Obama administration — even the cruise missile" makes it harder to understand why president Obama publicly mocked then presidential candidate Mitt Romney for suggesting that Russia was a threat; or blithely allow Russia to muscle itself into Syria; or stand by and allow the Russian election hacking to proceed unchallenged when all along he knew, or must have known. ...'

Melanie Phillips: Prince William to visit Israel. 'The 70 year boycott has finally ended. Prince William will become the first member of the British royal family to make an official visit to Israel later this year. Kensington Palace has announced that he will visit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. In all of Israel’s existence, it has never been afforded an official royal visit. Prince Philip and Prince Charles have visited a few times on private occasions, but the royals have never gone there in an official capacity. ...'

Erin Palette becomes a Public Figure. 'After nearly a year of consideration, I have decided to make a Public Figure page on Facebook. I resisted at first, because I felt it would be extra work for limited gain, but I finally gave in when I realized that having a page which was solely for my pro-gun and pro-queer activism would look more professional than one which shared space with my insecurities and nerdy interests. ...'

State power.

The concern over State power is not only about the State's power to affirmatively harm the citizen; it is also about the State's ability to selectively and arbitrarily provide or withhold its protection. The latter, more insidious threat is perhaps the greater concern in today's world.