Hello. My name is Bix.

Ongoing notes from a mediocre life.

Trying to scare white people is an effective political strategy, but it is also an effective ratings and traffic strategy. Trump’s ability to manipulate the media through provocation and controversy has been effective precisely because covering those provocations and controversies provides news outlets with the ears and eyeballs they crave. Trump considers the media “the enemy of the people” only when it successfully undermines his falsehoods; at all other times, it is a force multiplier, obeying his attempts to shift topics of conversation from substantive policy matters to racial scaremongering. The tenets of objectivity by which American journalists largely abide hold that reporters may not pass judgment on the morality of certain political tactics, only on their effectiveness. It’s a principle that unintentionally rewards immorality by turning questions of right and wrong into debates over whether a particular tactic will help win an election.

Adam Serwer

#Journalism #Morality #Politics #July2019

In it, [Thucydides] says that the motivations for us to go to war are fear, honor and interest. These three are all interpretations of evolutionary themes: fear of predation in order to simply survive to reproduce and rear the bearers of your genes; honor, pride or a sense of in-group protectionism to preserve the genes that related members carry; and interest in protection of resources that enable the survival of your genes, including territory, food and, for males, access to females. However, I am absolutely unwilling to offer these very sound evolutionary theories as any sort of moral justification for human warlike behavior. Though they superficially look like the same bases for going to war, it is intellectual folly and nonsense reductionism to attribute evolutionary principles to the extremely complex political and religious reasons that actual wars happen.

Adam Rutherford

Here's my thing, though: what if our storytelling compulsion simply creates narratives that mask the same old evolutionary imperatives? We construct social groups and definitions that might have no bearing on reality—say, race—and declare who is an outsider, who is a threat. Then the same old “fear of predation”, “in-group protectionism”, and “protection of resources” drives us. The only difference is for other animals the instinct is bare. For us it's wrapped inside a story.

Once again, it's not that we are so elevated or so different from the primal instincts which evolved to drive any other animal. It's just that we've come to tell ourselves and each other stories about these things, stories which don't necessarily have to be about real threats from predators, threats to the group, or threats to resources.

Much like the stories we tell ourselves about our decisions and our emotions don't necessarily mean they happen in ways greater than the ways they happen for other animals, the stories we tell ourselves about our reasons for war and hate don't necessarily mean they happen in ways greater than the ways they happen for, say, chimpanzees and their “coalition violence”.

What if the biggest story we've told about ourselves, that we keep telling about ourselves—the story that we are so very, very different—is wrong.

#Biology #July2019

Sometime between seasons four and five of Portlandia, after a two-year stint abroad, I moved from the Kingdom of Morocco to the City of Roses. I settled first in rural Oregon. A year later I settled in Portland proper. And a couple enlightening years after that, I settled for the natural beauty and the promise of this place despite its glaring shortcomings.

I’m talking about its lack of racial diversity and its history of racial prohibition. Its integration and then systematic marginalization of communities of color. And its circumstances today as one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, or the way I see it, one of the fastest growing cradles for whiteness.

Tiara Darnell

#Cities #Portland #Race #July2019

Normally I would find a good pull quote and just post this as a link, but I expressly want to call attention to “Me and Monotropism” by Fergus Murray, because I think the “focus on some key features of autism as seen from the inside” (emphasis mine) is key to convincing more people to look at autism through this lens of monotropism. Especially important to my mind is the reframing of “executive dysfunction” as “autistic inertia”.

#Autism #July2019

The press has been covering this as tit for tat. One side hits. The other hits back. On it goes, leaving citizens to wonder what’s what. Or worse: leaving us to wonder if all they want to do in Washington is fight and not get anything done. The news has been lots of heat but no light. Result: journalistic malpractice and a bewildered citizenry.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Journalists can but don’t act morally. I do not mean moralizing. I mean assessing information methodically and coming to a reasonable conclusion about its meaning—then relaying that information, and meaning, so we all of us are better informed citizens. In other words, acting like grown-up journalists.

John Stoehr

#Journalism #Morality #Politics #July2019

“What’s a TV show that you remember from your childhood,” we were asked, “that no one you know remembers?” Thus began my hours-long, rolling autistic flail on Twitter.

I knew, immediately, my answer, except that I didn't because I could not for the life of me remember anything other than the premise, and Google was providing me nothing but additional frustration.

By evening, finally, I'd hit upon the right combination of terms and found it in a decade-old thread on, of all things, a Jehovah's Witness bulletin board. Behold the glory that is “Outerscope 1”, a regular segment on the PBS show Vegetable Soup, which ran from 1975 to 1978, in which a group of large-handed puppet children manage to cobble together a space capsule out of scrap wood and other junkyard debris and thereby proceed to get lost in space.

Finding the name of the thing then led me to this look at Vegetable Soup a little more generally by Nick Sagan (yes, of those Sagans), and I admit that I'd forgotten most of the rest of the show. I also didn't realize that it was produced by the New York State Education Department, which would certainly help explain why I remember it at all, being from upstate New York.

Sagan thinks of Yellow Submarine when looking at the surreal opening titles, but I immediately thought of Ralph Bakshi. Sure enough, the sequence's animator, Jim Simon worked for Bakshi on his Spider-Man cartoon. Also responsible for the original and iconic open titles for Soul Train (this or his work for Sesame Street and Electric Company probably is where you would have seen it), Simon went on to become known as The Black Walt Disney.

I don't know if the people behind the “Outerscope 1” segments went on to become known as anything.

#PopCulture #Television #July2019

How sick do you have to be to publicly thirst for a concentration camp guard, or to be that concentration camp guard and think, “Oh, gotta go see if I can cash in on this sudden internet fame!”

(Not for nothing: leaning on a wall in a way that visually makes for a nazi salute is maybe not the best look, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, regardless of intent or happenstance.)

This isn't funny, and it isn't fun. It isn't something to “just relax” over. This sort of callous disregard for the severity of what was happening in that room she was in, what's happening in rooms like that up and down the border, literally is part of how we enable it getting worse.

If she herself actively disagrees with family separation and mass detention, I don't know what she's thinking basking in attention she received for being filmed in front of a crime against humanity. If she supports these policies, well, this sort of having fun with it is precisely the problem, and it certainly is perfectly consistent with having secret Facebook groups.

#Fascism #Internet #July2019

And I fear that we are collectively making a big mistake. To strip away honest words about a phenomenon like this seems to me an abdication of our post. To turn explicit racism in a demagogic presidential candidate into merely railing against immigration feels like the kind of malpractice that, in historical retrospect, often is seen as culpable for dark and gruesome things.

Anand Giridharadas

#Fascism #Journalism #Links #July2019

The convention adopted “high crimes and misdemeanors” with little discussion. Most of the framers knew the phrase well. Since 1386, the English parliament had used “high crimes and misdemeanors” as one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” granting warrants without cause, and bribery. Some of these charges were crimes. Others were not. The one common denominator in all these accusations was that the official had somehow abused the power of his office and was unfit to serve.

Constitutional Rights Foundation

#Law #Politics #Links #July2019

BuzzFeed has some pretty peculiar journalistic standards. Earlier today this story included a flat, declaratory statement by its author: “The federal act’s protections are contingent on these companies acting neutrally.” The federal act in question being 47 U.S. Code § 230, establishing “protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material”.

As was rapidly pointed out on Twitter, this remaining portion of the Communications Decency Act from the mid-90s carries no such neutrality provision. In fact, half the reason this BuzzFeed story exists at all is that rightwing politicians and their media enablers are pushing legislative “fixes” to make Section 230 require neutrality.

Both the plain language of the law itself and the very fact that attempts are being made to amend it demonstrate that it does not require neutrality. It's one thing (yet still problematic) to let rightwing partisans just push the argument that it does. It's still another thing altogether for a reporter to state that argument as fact in their own voice.

Here's the full paragraph from the original version of the story, as captured by the Wayback Machine.

“Things that were unthinkable in the past, like changing or repealing [Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act], like antitrust, they're all on the table for Republicans now in Congress,” the former employee said. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants legal immunity to technology companies for content on their services. The federal act’s protections are contingent on these companies acting neutrally, and the leak implied Google had not.

Here's the new paragraph as late this afternoon someone at BuzzFeed decided to heed the criticism from the reality-based community.

“Things that were unthinkable in the past, like changing or repealing [Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act], like antitrust, they're all on the table for Republicans now in Congress,” the former employee said. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants legal immunity to technology companies for content on their services. The law states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as a publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” and this has been interpreted by some to mean that private companies must take a neutral stance on what is published to their platforms, though 230 does not explicitly require neutrality.

I'm going to hit this from a couple of different angles because I think both angles are important.

First, I want to point out that while the revised version does include a disclaimer at the bottom, it simply reads, “This article has been updated to clarify Section 230's protections.” Nowhere does it indicate that initially the reporter was parroting a rightwing talking point in his own voice. That's less than great from the standpoint of best journalistic practices.

Second, the revised version in some ways isn't any better because it still passes along rightwing talking points without providing context. There is no legal analysis of Section 230 which credibly posits a current requirement for neutrality. That “interpretation” by “some” is a purely political position, and BuzzFeed News should provide that sort of context to coverage of the law.

There's a factual matter here that is easy to establish even when reporting on what the rightwing wants: the law says nothing about neutrality. It should have been reported that way from the beginning.

I know there is nothing magical about it being the year 2019 but I wish that by now we'd left this sort of reporting behind.

ETA: “I am conflicted about a number of aspects about section 230,” writes Jeff Kosseff, “but one thing is clear: Section 230’s applicability never hinged on a platform being 'neutral.'”

#Internet #Journalism #Law #July2019