They Live (1988) Directed by John Carpenter… is that it’s a really easy way to get people to ignore thinking about the ramifications and consequences of the particular situation, focusing their attention instead on the general opprobrium for the principle of order. The mind gets caught thinking about whether laws, in theory, are good on the whole, and forget to think about the ACTUAL ISSUE under question. Some examples:

“We need voter ID in this country to make sure there is no election fraud. Don’t you care about the rule of law in our democracy?”

“We can put up our satanic monument in the state capitol building, because if you let the christians do it, you have to let any other religious groups do it. That’s what the rule of law means!”

“The President’s executive order on immigration is making a mockery of the rule of law by bypassing the will of Congress”

“Those violent protesters really have some good points, but they should respect the rule of law and just let the cops and the justice system do their jobs.”

It’s a handy, general-purpose argument for whenever you want to try to defend the status quo from anyone who’d like to change it.

“Rule of Law” on Wikipedia

So, I didn’t know James Foley personally, but he and I had some friends in common. He graduated from the same journalism program as I did, just before I started.

His public execution by Islamic fundamentalists is yet another glaring example of the harms that religion does to the world. The animals who killed this man did so because of their religion and their ignorance. Because fundamentalism closed their minds, and convinced them their hatred was a virtue. They killed this man, not because he had committed some crime or threatened their lives or property, but just to MAKE A POINT.

Don’t try to tell me religion is harmless. It is actively poisonous, and it will continue to kill us like a disease for as long as we agree to let it. Fundamentalism, of every kind, is a toxic psychological plague.

A video purporting to show the beheading of James Foley, an American freelance journalist abducted two years ago in Syria, was posted by ISIS.

Click here for the full article

Posted from Facebook

Oh, Klout.  I want to love you, but you just won’t let me.

Let me begin this post by saying that Klout, the web site that claims to measure social media influence, isn’t a terrible idea.  There’s a really good reason to want a decent methodology for determining influence online.  After all, if you’re going to be spending time and effort to reach out to your audiences through social media, it makes sense to try to target the audience members who are most influential, and most likely to use their influence to talk up your product or service.

The idea is solid.  But Klout’s implementation is terrible, for one simple reason.  Their algorithm is ridiculously bad.

I’m not the first person to point this out.  But until today, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt; maybe it works, mostly, with little problems here and there.  But in fact, their ratings just don’t bear any resemblance to reality.

To demonstrate, have a look at the screen caps after the jump.  These were all taken today.

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Another post inspired by a mailing list post.

Today, a young lady posted, without context of any kind, an email to a semi-public email listserv, asserting:

Disclaimer:  All communication sent from charityXXXXX@XXXXX.COM, or from Charity XXXXX
is privileged communication, owned exclusively by Charity XXXXX, as proprietary owner/ideas and information as copyright. No duplication, dissemination or profit from the above-mentioned material may occur without the express discretionary consent of owner, Charity XXXXX.
Copyright Charity XXXXX 1958-2012
All rights reserved

You see a lot of these kinds of things these days.  Problem is, they’re completely pointless.  As was pointed out by the Economist back in April of last year.  And by Slate, in 2004.  In fact, the only thing I can find which indicates these sort of stupid things have any merit is this guy, and then only in very limited circumstances.
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So this is a fun little thing.

I made a thing that goes out to Twitter, and finds instances of the phrase, “Santorum is a,” and posts it in to a big, bold ticker.

Now you can find out in real-time what the internet thinks a Santorum is.

What do you think?  Funny or stupid?

Try it out here:

PS – If you’re interested, I made it with jQuery and a plugin called TweetQuote, which I modified a little.

Recently, I recall, in some conversations with friends who are also fans of electronic music, I’ve been critical of the dubstep genre.  But I have to admit, I’ve been reconsidering my position, especially since I’ve heard some of the harder stuff.  Think, Borgore, Skrillex, et. al.

Does this look like good business to you? Photo via Techcrunch

A couple of evenings ago, I went to a little spot around the corner from my house, here in the far north side of Chicago.  It’s a friendly little place, and I like it quite a bit — their prices are fair, their food is decent, and some of the folks on staff recognize me and say ‘hi’ when I come in.  What’s even better is that they have a nice selection of microbrews, scotches, and even some really rare stuff from time to time.

So, I’m sitting at the bar, enjoying a burger and a Guinness, and a fellow comes in and stands next to me while he collects his order from the bartender.  He’d ordered a to-go order of some sort of food, and I noticed he was using a Groupon to help pay for it.

“So,” I asked the bartender, “what are your thoughts on the whole Groupon thing?”

The bartender surprised me with his reply.  “It may well put us out of business,” he said.

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CC-licensed image, courtesy of Mr. Physics, via Flickr

An excellent post today on the Dangerous Minds blog, and an ensuing discussion on Facebook got me to thinking about the differences between the minds of conservative folks and liberal folks.

Namely, why should it be that so many conservatives have such a hard time changing their opinions when presented with bald facts that contradict those opinions?

We normally think of humans as rational agents.  That is, we expect the beliefs we each hold are based on some sort of evidence and argument, and as more data becomes available to a person, they should update their model of how the world works.  But often, in practice, it doesn’t seem to work out that way.

(This is going to turn out to be a long post.) Continue reading

Tonight, it’s “Snowpocalypse” in Chicago.  The Great Blizzard of 2011 means I get to cross one more disaster I’ve survived off my list.

  • House Fire
  • Flood
  • Hurricane
  • Forest Fire
  • Tornado
  • Blizzard
  • Volcano
  • Earthquake
  • Tsunami

Those last three are going to be tricky, but I think if I play my cards right, I’ll be able to knock at least two of the three off at the same time.

I’ll post a photo in the morning, and we’ll see much snow actually has fallen.

CC-licensed image, courtesy of Steve Rhodes, via Flickr

This post is an amalgam of several emails I sent to a private journalism-related listserv.  I’ve got a project brewing in the ol’ noggin relating to journalism, objectivity, and transparency.  I figured I’d post this publicly, in the hopes of soliciting more opinions, so please feel free to post in the comments.

So, one of my pet peeves about the universe of journalism is the fact that most (primarily non-journalist) folks, and particularly those on the conservative end of the political spectrum, insist that journalists must be “objective” in their reporting.

This notion is, of course, under constant debate, but it has recently been brought to the fore by several cases, including Juan Williams, Keith Olberman, Helen Thomas, and Octavia Nasr, who was fired over a mere tweet which was seen by some folks as partisan.

See also this article on TechCrunch for some insight:

Frankly, I don’t believe that it’s possible for such a thing as genuinely objective reporting to exist in the real world. We might aspire to write just the facts, we might try our best to present every side of an argument without favoring one or the other, but ultimately, there’s no such thing as a human with no bias, and therefore by logical necessity, no reporting without bias.

Furthermore, because of the epistemological impossibility of “objective” reporting, I’m personally inclined to treat those who base their journalistic reputation on objectivity as suspect, because they either A) haven’t considered the philosophical consequences of their claim or B) they don’t believe that I’ve thought about it deeply enough to see their claims are bogus, or perhaps worst of all C) they genuinely DO believe that they are being more objective than anyone else, which is a level of self-delusion I’m not prepared to accept.

The primary benefit that a professional journalist brings to the table (in my opinion) is the impetus towards investigation and a willingness to discuss multiple points of view in their stories.  Take for example Dave Weigel, who was fired from the WaPo for comments he made on a private listserv. Even though he didn’t personally hold the same beliefs as the folks he was reporting on, nobody was complaining about the content of his stories.  He was reporting on a point of view that differed from his own, and apparently doing it well enough to satisfy the conservatives of the world (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this point).  Ultimately, he was undone by expressing his personal opinions in a private forum.

Perhaps it is that the real advantage of professional journalism over “citizen journalism” is in fact that it requires a certain amount of exposure to ideas which may not completely cohere with your intellectual predisposition?  Maybe what the NYT, Dallas Morning News, and Chicago Tribune offer is the opportunity to encounter a bit of cognitive dissonance from time to time.  It may not be comfortable, but that just means you’re thinking about it.

I thought Mathew Ingram presented it well in this article on GigaOm :

David Weinberger, a former fellow with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society, has also argued that “transparency is the new objectivity,” and that readers can now make up their own minds about whether journalists are credible or not by looking at the sources of the news they are reporting, rather than relying on the notion of objectivity. “Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases,” he said in a blog post last year. “Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.” Transparency is also much more effective online because journalists can link to supporting evidence for their arguments, Weinberger said, instead of just relying on the principle of objectivity to buttress their opinions. “Objectivity,” he wrote, “is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links.”

Jay Rosen has taken to referring to the mythical objectivity which some journalists invoke as the “view from nowhere”, a term apparently coined by Thomas Nagel, and he’s got a lot of opinions which I find myself agreeing with on the subject.

Any thoughts from the noosphere on the subject?  Is transparency the new objectivity?  I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.