Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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23 December 2012

A Can't Lose Political Strategy

When your back's against the wall, and everyone is prophesying your imminent demise, your enemies crowing about how your days are numbered, as a party you'll want to come up with a sure-fire winner of a strategy, one guaranteed, if not to immediately turn the tables, to at least stanch the bleeding and start winning over converts. Obviously you're going to fight to the bitter end against tax increases for the top 2% of earners and demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The strategy writes itself!

21 December 2012

Times Reporters Dilemma: When to Work and When to Phone it in?

Sometimes good reporting requires herculean effort, as with the recent NY Times expose of Walmart's shady business dealings in Mexico. This was no two-bit investigation.
The Times has now picked up where Wal-Mart’s internal investigation was cut off, traveling to dozens of towns and cities in Mexico, gathering tens of thousands of documents related to Wal-Mart de Mexico permits, and interviewing scores of government officials and Wal-Mart employees, including 15 hours of interviews with the former lawyer, Sergio Cicero Zapata.
That kind of work couldn't have come cheap. You've got two reporters, at least, spending months and months of time, racking up some serious expenses along the way no doubt - getting people to talk isn't necessarily cheap either. At a minimum you're buying dinners and sending cars - though I'm sure the Times wouldn't have stooped so low as to actually pay off people for their scoops. And all for only the purest of motives - I mean, who could possibly benefit from a story undercutting one of Mexico's biggest businesses?

Meanwhile, in a news article yesterday on Mayor Bloomberg's crusade against guns, the reporter essentially acted as the mayor's PR assistant. The article featured these incisive gems:
Ask Mr. Bloomberg about firearms, and his usual stoic facade falls away, revealing anger and exasperation born of years of witnessing the blood and tears that can flow from gun violence.
Within days of the Newtown shootings, Mr. Bloomberg was on the phone with conservative senators, urging them to change their views. To his surprise, he said, some were willing to consider it. “You could hear in their voice, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” he said.
Why bother trying to contact any of these senators - Bloomberg's word is good enough!
Mr. Bloomberg, meanwhile, took to the phones, calling members of Congress to urge the passage of an assault-weapons ban. To prepare his pitch, he instructed aides to find out how many Americans had been killed by guns since the Arizona shootings in 2011, when Mr. Obama last promised changes in the firearm laws.
God forbid the reporter gather this data himself - and particularly data around murders by "assault weapons", the only guns under consideration in Washington.
The mayor was angry that New York’s gun laws, among the strictest in the country, did little to protect against the use of guns bought illegally in other states.
The mayor's angry! We've let him down!
Friends of Mr. Bloomberg said he came to view guns, like tobacco and unhealthy food, as a dangerous consumer product, and he could not fathom why lawmakers did not take steps to curtail their use. There was also a quixotic element to taking on the gun lobby that appealed to the mayor, who relishes challenges that others view as insurmountable.
Wow, he must have interviewed the mayor's friends - how'd he manage to track them down? Or did the mayor just tell him what his friends think?

I guess gun control is now, like global warming, a topic where there is only one way to think and there is only one-side worthy of attention.

17 December 2012

Sequence of Misinformation

The amount of misinformation that was reported on the Connecticut shooting is just staggering. I noted the initial reports on Drudge around 10:30 I think, and then would pop over to Google News every 15 minutes or so to check on the latest developments. This is my rough recollection of the timeline of the "reporting". Note that these times are not intended to be accurate, but only a rough guide to how I recall the reporting evolving throughout the day. If you were able to actually go back through the day in retrospect (which I don't think is possible), you'd probably find my timeline to be as big a mess as the reporting.

10:30 AM: Initial reports of a school shooting in Connecticut
11:00 AM: 1 person reported injured, school evacuated
11:30 AM: Principal might have been killed. May have been multiple shooters. Shooter was a father of a student in the school
12:00 PM: Multiple deaths reported, including a shooter. Still not clear on second shooter
1:00 PM: Finally, a death count of 27, including 20 children, was reported. Given the atrocious quality of the reporting throughout the incident, it is remarkable they got this one right so early on.
1:45 PM: Shooter's name is reported to be Ryan Lanza. He continues to be identified as a father of a student in the school while at the same time reporting that he is 20 years old.
2:00 PM: Shooter continues to be reported as Ryan Lanza, but that he is either  24 or 20 years old and father of a student.
2:15 PM: Student victims' ages reported as being between 6 and 10 years old. This would continue to be reported, including in the President's remarks, until corrected by the CME the next morning.
2:30 PM: Shooter's father found dead in Hoboken. It is now claimed that the shooter, rather than being a father of a student, is the son of a kindergarten teacher who was killed in her classroom along with her students. It would be a long time before this complete fiction would be corrected. It was later "corrected" to state that she was an aide, not a teacher, then that she was a former teacher, then a former aide, before we finally learned she was never employed there at all.
2:45 PM: Huffington Post reports that there are disturbing clues on Ryan Lanza's Facebook page
3:00 PM: Reported that a person in camouflage fatigues was led out of nearby woods in handcuffs announcing "I didn't do it." This person was reported to be the shooter's younger brother. In retrospect, this appears to be a conflation of the multiple-shooter reports with Ryan Lanza's actual Facebook wall post of "It's not me." While the reports of this person led out of the woods in handcuffs would persist for quite a while, nothing has been mentioned of it since.
3:15 PM: Shooter's identity now corrected to Adam Lanza, while it's still reported he killed his father in Hoboken before driving up to Connecticut to kill his mother and her students
3:30 PM: Shooter brought a rifle and two pistols. The rifle was found in his car. This falsehood would persist until the CME's press conference the following morning.

There were no doubt many other inaccuracies in the reporting that I don't recollect. What's fascinating is how it developed from initial reports of possible injuries to the principal and other adults by a father of a student into the madness it would later be revealed to be: a mass killing of kindergarteners by a deranged 20-year old with no connection to the school (other than that he lived nearby and attended it as a youngster years before). Reporters were obviously caught in a frantic and undisciplined game of "telephone". My feeling is that, while they are loathe to report anything that is not fully corroborated, there should be a way for officials to give reports a rating, like "red" for way off, "yellow" for not likely, and "green" for "on the right track." And in these mass shootings, word should get out early on in at least a general way that "it's really bad" or "limited in scope." Thus, the several hours of vague suggestions that there was just one adult injured or maybe one adult killed and another injured could have been short-circuited right off the bat.

The aspect of the reporting that has gotten the most attention is the initial identification of Ryan rather than Adam Lanza as the killer. But this is surely the most understandable error - particularly if it turns out to be true that Adam had his brother's ID on him at the time. At least it wasn't a completely unrelated individual. And from Ryan's standpoint, how much worse did it make his day to be incorrectly identified in the press as a killer versus the actual fact that it was his brother. But the other areas are just shoddy reporting, plain and simple.

15 December 2012

Laying Blame

Where do we lay blame after the horrific murders yesterday? Will the search be exhaustive and illuminating, or just settle into political cat fights? Some things I think we should be discussing:

Guns. Understandably, calls for gun control will be very strong. While the killer brought a semi-automatic rifle to the school, he apparently did not use it. He did however use two automatic pistols. But no one is talking about banning expensive pistols. Connecticut could surely pass very strict laws on gun ownership if it wants to - for example, banning all automatic or semi-automatic weapons. That might have worked - it seems unlikely to me that the killer would have confidently blown out the glass windows and strolled into two separate classrooms to shoot 27 people had he only been armed with a single-action revolver or even a pump-action shot gun requiring frequent re-loading. However few gun-control advocates would be satisfied with anything less than nation-wide bans. Symbolic bannings of so-called assault rifles could well be passed, but eliminating all the guns capable of such mayhem seems rather quixotic.

It would be nice if there could actually be an informed discussion on this topic. Imagine those who actually know a lot about guns - not just police, but NRA-types - without interference from those who don't know what they're talking about, like suburban housewives or billionaire mayors - all getting together to come up with a workable national strategy. It shouldn't be that crazy an idea - the NRA used to be all about gun safety.

Mainstreaming. Most of the recent mass shootings were perpetrated by individuals known to be mentally abnormal (I know we're not supposed to delineate anything as 'normal/abnormal' these days, but I think we can do away with such niceties for now) and this case appears to be no exception - though this killer apparently had Asperger's rather than psychosis. Still, from early news reports, it sounds like he was notably weird and a little scary to some. Our society expects these individuals to simply function normally as adults, with some counseling and medication. This should be re-examined. I don't know if it's feasible to identify those at-risk among this class of individuals, but we should certainly think more seriously about the implications of these 'special' children becoming adults rather than just accepting our pollyannish status quo.

Video Games and Violence in Entertainment. The closing episode of Boardwalk Empire, an OK show overall, depicted a preposterously violent climax where about two dozen men were triumphantly slaughtered.  In particular, it featured a sympathetic character marching through a large house armed with several weapons, going from room-to-room picking off bad guys. This was followed by the protagonist's allies ambushing and slaughtering some dozen men riding in a convoy. Such violence has no basis in history - it is merely the product of the juvenile imaginations of the show's creators (among whom is Martin Scorcese, whose thirst for blood has only grown as he has aged). Yet the press bends over backward to praise these infantile revenge fantasies, whether it's Scorcese or Tarantino or Stone.

But more likely the killer was a gamer, and video games glorify - if not tutor - search-and-destroy tactics. I don't find it at all surprising that an Asperger's individual who might also be angry and disturbed would adopt these gaming tactics and methodically pick-off little children, for whom he has no more of a personal connection than he has with pixel-images on a screen. I am surprised it doesn't happen more often, thankfully. Presumably such unstable people rarely have access to such dangerous weapons.

While I don't think government regulation is the answer, I would hope that public shaming of those who glorify violence would be more common. Would it be too much to ask that newspapers hire grown-ups to review movies - adults who would actually condemn or at least mock the childish gore-fests of our supposedly elite film makers. As for video games - well, these have been targeted for decades now. I don't expect there's much we can do there, except to understand the kinds of individuals who are at risk of acting on them.

13 December 2012

Charles M. Blow, Magnanimous in Victory

The Times's Charles M. Blow - he of the comically-haughty-African-potentate-like portrait - has joined the Great Triumphalist post-election wave. But he is so triumphant, he has no use for a Maureen Dowd-like reckoning. He knows who won and who lost, and knows the losers have no hope of ever regaining power. They are history - no need to take names and settle scores. Let them peacefully settle into their loser roles - get accustomed to their new irrelevancy. In considering the inevitable minority-status of whites, he asks:
when will public displays of white pride become culturally acceptable? Will they forever be freighted with the weight of history — tantamount to gloating about privilege? Or should all racial and cultural pride be viewed more or less the same?
I personally can't wait for that day. I'm sick of having to express my racial pride in code all the time - "Tax Cuts" this, "Personal Responsibility" that - first order of business: Re-establish the real Washington's Birthday holiday.

But Blow is no patsy - he's going to keep an eye on things, and make sure all sides - New Majority, New Minority - behave themselves.
The last thing we need is a racial and ethnic backlash in this country. Now is the time to move forward with sensitivity and respect and with a watchful eye on how we behave and what we expect as the traditional American majority becomes just another minority.
Understood, sir, understood.

12 December 2012

Republican Views Given Way Too Much Coverage in the Media

Yes, that's the latest meme, promoted by allegedly moderate pundits Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, highlighted by the NY Times' Public Editor. Republican arguments are lies, while Democrats generally tell the truth. So how can journalists, in good conscience, give Republican arguments equal time with Democrats' arguments, when the former are consistently false and the latter invariably true?

So far, the MSM, who are certain they are fair and balanced, are somewhat resistant to the idea. Their training has concentrated on subtle undermining of the opposition's arguments, the "still, budget experts point out that..." kind of steering. Blatantly excluding or outright attacking Republican arguments strike the old guard as reckless, just inviting attacks of bias. The new breed have no such qualms. Who worries about bias - old retired farts watching Fox News? Get with teh program - Truth to Power, my friend.

They apparently wrote a whole book on it, but if you read their seminal article on the topic, it is wholly empty of facts. Expect a lot of progress on this front, as in mainstream news items showing increasing disdain for Republican arguments coupled with wholesale acceptance of Democrats' fantasies. "Two-sides" arguments, already limited by excluding other less mainstream views, will soon morph into one-side discussions. It's an inevitable outcome of the New Triumphalism.

Why Such a Disaster?

My house got some pretty serious damage during Sandy. So I had this joke formed in my head for when I would meet up with people who would express their concern. It would go something like this:

Concerned Person: So how are you holding up?
Me: Oh, not good. What a disaster, it's just devastating. And worst is, there doesn't seem to be any hope that things will get any better.
Concerned Person: Oh dear. What does your insurance company say?
Me: Oh! -- You mean the house! Oh no, that's coming along fine...I thought you meant the election!

I haven't been really going out much, but I did get to use it once, and it worked pretty good - they laughed heartily, at least. I had another opportunity, but these people are extremely nice liberals and I didn't have the heart. And of course they'd just think I was crazy - what disaster?

And "what disaster?" indeed. As the man said to the fella who looked like a horse "Why the long face?" Is it really a disaster that Obama is going to raise taxes on wealthy people? Is Obama care really a disaster - and would it be any less of a disaster with Romney who would be unable to repeal it anyway? Is it really a disaster that America isn't even more pro-Israel than it already is? Have you lost your mind?

No, I don't think the next four years are going to be a disaster because Obama was re-elected. I still believe that Obama is smart enough not to do anything really stupid - though his apparent preference for Susan Rice as SoS has given me some pause in that regard. It's going to be very annoying for sure - more and more "disparate impact" suits - one of the more pernicious developments in Pink America - and of course the grotesque insufferableness of the Obamas and their shamelessly fawning lapdogs in the press. So while the next four years will be terribly annoying and could well be a disaster, I don't think Obama's election over Romney would be the proximate cause of any such disaster.

It's the handwriting on the wall that so depresses me. Or is it more like graffiti? It shouts down at us triumphantly and accusatorily: "Your America is over. Our America begins today. More Fair. More Equal. More Just. Get over it."

If you've had kids or been around children much, you know what the meaning of "fair" - it means someone else has more than you and you want it. "Justice" has a similarly straightforward meaning - if it favors us, it is just.

Many seem to be operating under the delusion that the Obama movement seeks to somehow level the playing field - to make sure that the unscrupulous machinations of the rich are reined in and their undeserved riches will now be spread among the middle class. Seems perfectly reasonable - after all, we did just suffer a severe financial crisis where a whole bunch of bankers made tons of money bankrupting their companies and bringing the economy to its knees - so it only makes sense!

Many on the right believe Obama is a socialist - an extreme left-winger. But he is nothing of the sort - sure he's very 'liberal' - he's the New York Times Editorial Page exemplified. But such grandiosity of purpose does not interest him. Just as the driving purpose of G.W. Bush was the Bush Dynasty, what drives Obama is his own attainment of power. He is hideously insufferable, but he almost surely won't do anything as stupid and destructive as, say,  invading Iraq.

No, it's not any specific acts or policies of the Obama presidency that I find so depressing. What we saw last month was sea change in electoral politics. Oh, yes they're all talking about it. Here's Maureen Dowd yesterday:
The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys. Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.
Nice. But forget the hate for a moment and let's focus on the triumphalism - and how, like most victors, Dowd is sure to paint her side's victory as an improbably triumph of an underdog. White men, lost, you see, because of "a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count." Again, let's put aside the sheer stupidity of such a statement, and understand that Dowd is outlining the tribalism that has come to dominate our discourse. As a natural tribalist, she can't resist shaking her poms-poms in her opponents' face:
President Obama’s victory margin is expanding, as more votes are counted. He didn’t just beat Romney; he’s still beating him.
Yeah, we're kickin' butt! Unlike her clueless (and, of course, white-male) colleagues, who think the election is all about policies, Dowd understands the war being fought, and she's pumped 'cause she's winning.

Now, admittedly, "policies" weren't totally irrelevant. Many "white men" (a term which is actually short-hand for "working white men and married women") voted against Romney for his policies. They rationally see the anti-tax absolutism of the Republicans as mistaken or their hawkishness as dangerous, and voted for Obama. But otherwise, policies are irrelevant. How else could you explain the insanity?

Preventing pregnancy has never been easier - birth control pills go for about $20 a month, there's a morning-after pill, all sorts of options readily available. New female college graduates now out-earn their male counterparts. And Obamacare promises free birth control for all! Yet when Republicans protested that religious institutions not be required to pay for this free birth control, they were denounced from sea-to-shining-sea for waging a 'War on Women.'

Similarly, life has never been better for gays, lesbians, trannies, etc. They're having weddings at West Point for god sakes, widely celebrated throughout the media. But those who object to gay marriage - a practice universally banned and pretty much relegated to the "absurd" file - are now considered evil bigots unworthy of society's polite attention.

And we just saw the Republican presidential race run its course from primaries to ultimate defeat without a mention of affirmative action and racial preferences, without reference to black crime or absurdly high levels of black illegitimacy - without any mention of racial issues whatsoever, despite the president himself being black and his black attorney general pushing a fairly aggressive race-conscious agenda. Yet these same Republicans were continuously denounced as racist at every advancement of their tame agenda. Even tax cutting, the one policy Republicans could push without any racial-angle, was attacked for having a racist agenda.

And so the Orwellianism will march on essentially unopposed. There are no voices of opposition except in these fever swamps of the Steve-o-sphere. Fox News, which looked so promising a decade ago, has descended into self-parody, a cocoon of mainstream Republican promotion which exists only because it is an unusually profitable enterprise in the brutally tough cable news business. Tribalism will thrive in America 2.0, as ethnic groups build alliances to topple majority control then fragment to divvy up the inevitably shrinking pie. The Republican tribe will indeed wither, as Miss Maureen prophesies, but her tribal alliances will just get uglier and uglier. And that is why I'm depressed.