Tuesday, November 27, 2018


"The Weekly Sift"is a "Wordpress" blog,  "written by Doug Muder, a 50-something ex-mathematician who lives in Nashua, NH and hates writing about himself in the third person. (So enough of that.)"  He is educated in algebraic math and therefore cannot help seeing structure in everything, which is often enlightening.  It surely is in the book touted below.  

http://weeklysift.blogspot.com  Nov. 26, 2018

Muder is a specific kind of UUA from the humanist wing and writes for the UU World as well as other venues.  I consider that to be both progress and a handicap, since the world has moved on since both our Alma Mater, the U of Chicago, framed up its curriculum.  https://www.uuworld.org/authors/dougmuder  Both are rooted in the Enlightenment and militantly opposed to leaving it, though they'll let mysticism play around the edges.

"To speak of "polarization" is to assume symmetry. No fact emerges more clearly from our analysis of how four million political stories were linked, tweeted, and shared over a three-year period than that there is no symmetry in the architecture and dynamics of communications within the right-wing media ecosystem and outside of it."
- Benkler, Faris, and Roberts, Network Propaganda




Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics

Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts

This book examines the shape, composition, and practices of the United States political media landscape. It explores the roots of the current epistemic crisis in political communication with a focus on the remarkable 2016 U.S. president election culminating in the victory of Donald Trump and the first year of his presidency. The authors present a detailed map of the American political media landscape based on the analysis of millions of stories and social media posts, revealing a highly polarized and asymmetric media ecosystem. Detailed case studies track the emergence and propagation of disinformation in the American public sphere that took advantage of structural weaknesses in the media institutions across the political spectrum. This book describes how the conservative faction led by Steve Bannon and funded by Robert Mercer was able to inject opposition research into the mainstream media agenda that left an unsubstantiated but indelible stain of corruption on the Clinton campaign. The authors also document how Fox News deflects negative coverage of President Trump and has promoted a series of exaggerated and fabricated counter narratives to defend the president against the damaging news coming out of the Mueller investigation. Based on an analysis of the actors that sought to influence political public discourse, this book argues that the current problems of media and democracy are not the result of Russian interference, behavioral microtargeting and algorithms on social media, political clickbait, hackers, sockpuppets, or trolls, but of asymmetric media structures decades in the making. The crisis is political, not technological.


Originally this "left/right" stuff was a Brit invention to "balance" the peers of the realm against the town burghers and other former serfs.  That has evolved until now we have a rightish Senate dedicated to wealth and Ivy League schools which pretends to serve the "Middle Class" and an about-to-be-reimpowered House of Representatives which is close to "know-nothing" but also pretends to serve the "Middle Class."  The joke is that the middle class is in such disarray that it's hard to know who's really being served by anybody.

At least it appears that British Oxford can still get America by the neck and tell us a few things.  What this book does is try to push us all out of the ruts of the same old villains and assumptions and get us to look at the beneath-the-surface way of doing things that had made it so easy for outsiders to invade and persuade voters that they know how to make Paradise happen on earth despite all evidence to the contrary.  This is a data-based look at the way our media functions: trying to be balanced on the polite NPR liberal side (which introduces doubt and confusion) and pounding one strong nail on the volatile Fox right wing side (which sounds like winning to a lot of poeple.)  This is echoed in politics, which welcomed the atypical politicians like women and people of color because they were a relief -- they had made a commitment.

Political correctness took us off on a side-rail about words, encouraged by the idea that fancy educations like the French Algerian revolutionaries who pursued deconstruction was actually all about seeing the meanings under the words.  The words were full of hate, but the hate quickly migrated to the new euphemism -- would even if it were algebraic equations.

There has been failure to analyze and provide alternatives to gerrymandering, electoral college, capitalism, term limits, and demographics.  The white people (meaning old farts with bad eating habits and an unending greed during unending terms in office) feel they are in danger of extinction, which they are because they don't adapt.  The secret to being human, to surviving evolution is adaptation.  NOT power.  But no one can adapt to a moving target as the media presents to keep us interested nor can we go back to a 1950's world these guys love because they were young then.

The first book I read that used the Internet to make this kind of point was "A Billion Wicked Thoughts".  It was an inquiry into people's preferred porn based on a billion viewings recorded statistically.  Everyone was surprised by the results except the people in the business of providing porn.  The Cambridge Analytica scam was based on Facebook preferences the same way.  This kind of thinking is conventional for marketing so they can see what kind of toothpaste you will buy.

The surprise in this study was how different the left and right were politically in terms of METHOD, rather than content.  It wasn't that they thought people would want different things so much as that they responded to different kinds of presentation.  It's a very much needed idea because the media at present is in the middle of chaos in almost every aspect from ownership to financing to venue to social media versus professional reporters.

I keep narrowing the amount of news I have to process.  Facebook, the Great Falls newspaper, the radio (NPR and local), etc. all went.  This made me very atypical.  Am I in danger of becoming smug?  Possibly.

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