Consumer

Not Really Worth Your Time

[#nevermind]

Detail of video for "You Tell 'Em", by Zebra Katz x Leila

Two and a half not-quite random notes on blogging:

(1) While This Is has seen, in recent months, an apparent increase in readership, it is, as near as anyone can tell, all bots and spiders and whatever else. The pattern is clear, though: When posting daily, it is true the blog sees greater readership than, say, this time last year. Longer periods between posts can trigger a swell in readership; it really does appear some manner of Scooby-Snack behavioral econ, trying to get attention so someone will be encouraged to use the product more.

This Is weird: Top Searches for This Is, ca. 19 February 2018.(2) While this would seem to point back to WordPress and Automattic, neither can I explain the weird phenomenon about “Top Searches”. Then again, this has been going on longer than the increased reader statistics that never really do add up. Still, the constant inquiries about journalists are ridiculous.   (more…)

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A Deep Dark Secret, and Other Notes

A portion of the U.S. Capitol dome. (Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, 2013)

Nathan L. Gonzales notes—

The deep, dark secret of political handicapping is that there isn’t a singular equation that can project the winner of each congressional race.

—and I believe the polite response is to cough gently as if I just failed to properly drink coffee, smile sheepishly, and say, as near to apologetically as I can without actually achieving the tone, “Really?”

As in, “Really? That’s it? That is the secret?”

Honestly, it feels disappointing; the obvious is neither deep nor secret. Darkness is as darkness does in the eye of any given beholder.

Perhaps it sounds better than, “We don’t know what we’re doing”, but neither would that statement be fair; still, voters and advocates are well-advised to remember that election prognostication—calculating and projecting human behavior on constrained mass scale according to vaguely-identified and constantly-shifting circumstances evoking broadly diverse responses according to unknown and dynamic criteria—is not a science. The diverse arts of politics, dark or otherwise, are by nature rather quite occult.

To the other, here is an interesting question: “How do you rate a race for a seat that doesn’t exist?”

It is true, science cannot answer this one. Maybe someday, but not now:

The deep, dark secret of political handicapping is that there isn’t a singular equation that can project the winner of each congressional race. It is helpful to know who is running and where they are running. But thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throwing out the congressional map and GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan’s retirement, we barely know anything about this year’s race in the 7th District ....

.... Normally, this is where I would relate the recent presidential results of his 7th District (Hillary Clinton carried it narrowly in 2016 after Mitt Romney carried it narrowly in 2012, if you have to know), but those numbers aren’t particularly relevant considering the race is likely to take place under a new congressional map.

Nonetheless, the Roll Call handicapper has shifted his assessment of Pennsylvania Seven from Leans Republican to Tilts Democratic. As to dark arts, only time will tell, and something goes here about rabbits and flying monkeys and from where any magician is pulling them.   (more…)

Nearly Laughable

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 16 February 2017. (Photo: Associated Press)

At first glance, it seems nearly laughable—

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon will be interviewed next week by a U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The interview behind closed doors on Tuesday with the House Intelligence Committee will focus on Bannon’s time on the campaign, not the transition or his time in the White House, the source said.

Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, 11 December 2017. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)—but the news from Reuters reporters Karen Freifeld and Patricia Zengerle can also sound like the start of something, well, if not good then at least spectacular.

To the other, this is Steve Bannon, and if he can tell news consumers precisely what they want to hear, he can tell politicians exactly what needs to in order that the Beltway should rupture into flaming panic.

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Image note: Top —President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a press conference in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C., 16 February 2017. (Photo: Associated Press)  Right — Political strategist Stephen Bannon speaks at a Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore campaign rally in Midland City, Alabama, 11 December 2017. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Freifeld, Karen and Patricia Zengerle. “Bannon to appear before Congress committee for Russia probe”. Reuters. 11 January 2018.

Trashy Schizophrenic Drudgery (Bannon Booty Mix)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: Donald Trumps, père and fils, photo by Sam Hodgson/New York Times; Vladimir Putin protest image, artist unknown.

“The book does seem to be a collection of stuff Wolff heard. How much of that stuff is actually true is a different question—one that’s much tougher to answer.”

―Andrew Prokop

The idea that Andrew Prokop should be explaining anything about the “gossipy new Trump book” he has not read might seem somehow inappropriate, but everything we might survey about the tome is a matter of reputation, and in that the Vox writer gives reasonable enough consideration:

Stephen Bannon, CEO of Republican nominee Donald Trump's presidential campaign, meets with the Trump Hispanic Advisory Council at Trump Tower in Manhattan, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)The excerpts from it out so far tell a mostly familiar big-picture story of chaos during the presidential transition and in Trump’s early months in the White House. Wolff spruces things up, though, with new quotes, anecdotes, and purported personal details—many of which are eye-popping and unflattering.

Indeed, some of the things Wolff describes in the excerpts sound so outlandish—and also happen to be so hazily sourced—that there’s already a vigorous discussion in the political world about how, exactly, this book should be interpreted. As fact? As “trashy tabloid fiction,” as the White House argues? Or as something in between?

And while there is plenty about the reputation of author Michael Wolff, we might consider the idea of Matt Drudge calling Steve Bannon “schizophrenic”, and for better reasons than two assholes fighting for headlines, or noting this or that about once upon a time, the competition, and who counts as the establishment journalist. Remember that Steve Bannon told Michael Wolff precisely what news consumers want to hear from their favorite talking heads.

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Image notes: Top — Composite featuring Donalds père and fils, protest image of Vladimir Putin. (Credits: Sam Hodgson/New York Times; anonymous.)  Right — Steve Bannon (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters).

Edison Hayden, Michael. “Matt Drudge criticized ‘schizophrenic’ Steve Bannon”. Raw Story. 3 January 2018.

Prokop, Andrew. “The controversy around Michael Wolff’s gossipy new Trump book, explained”. Vox. 4 January 2018.

A Note on Why the Internet Goes to Hell When It Dies

[#nevermind]

Did you Know? In 2009, Eminem tweeted proof that he scored 465,800 in Donkey Kong, making him one of the highest scorers in the world. [via Salon.com, 11 November 2017]The Internet—(no, I do not like Capitalizing the Word)—sees fit to inform me that—

In 2009, Eminem tweeted proof that he scored 465,800 in Donkey Kong, making him one of the highest scorers in the world.

(via Salon.com; #nevermind)

—and no, it is true I did not know this before; nor is it clear how I should feel about this information. No, seriously, other than the fact that some editor somewhere saw fit to include a trivial widget to tell me stuff like this, I had precisely no reason to care.

Meanwhile, something, something, and now for something completely different.   

Hey, how about this: If I blame Tom Clancy, how fucking smart are you?

The Republican Character (Even More Fuckless)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is unsurprising, though perhaps saying so risks overstating the point. Via Washington Post:

The EPA inspector general’s office announced in August that it had opened an inquiry into Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma. The internal watchdog at the time said its investigation was triggered by “congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel—primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense.”

The probe was triggered in part by findings from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that detailed through public records that Pruitt had spent nearly half of the days in March, April and May in Oklahoma. Initially, EPA investigators said they planned to audit Pruitt’s travel records, as well as those of his security and top aides, through the end of July.

But on Friday, the inspector general’s office said it would expand that inquiry to include all of Pruitt’s travel through the end of September, and not just trips to Oklahoma.

(more…)

The Business Model (Social Distortion)

[#SinCity]

Ninamori eats a popsicle. (Detail of FLCL episode 5, 'Brittle Bullet')

This is the rule: You are not allowed to feel surprised at the state of things.

We’ve arrived at the sad, dumb point in history at which the only thing less surprising than acts of mass violence are the ways in which our planet’s mega information distributors muck everything up with ensuing frauds, hoaxes, and confusion. The problem is thoroughly identified: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter have the quality control of a yard sale and the scale of a 100,000 Walmarts. But despite all our railing and shaming, these companies have a major disincentive to reform: money.

In the wake of yet another American massacre, this time in Las Vegas, media scrutiny is aimed once more at Facebook, Google, and Twitter, for the same old reasons. The sites, time after time, and this time once more, served up algorithmic links to websites peddling deliberate lies and bottom-feeder misinformation. These companies provided an untold mass of online users with falsehoods posing as news resources, as is completely normal now and only noteworthy because it was pegged to a heinous national tragedy. The discussion will now swing from “This is bad” to “What can be done?”, and we can expect all the typically empty pro forma reassurance from Silicon Valley public relations offices. Don’t expect much more.

(Biddle)

(more…)

Unsurprising (Touchy Feelgood)

Detail of frame from 'Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor' episode 8, "Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …"

This is the least surprising news since the last time we said something of the sort; via Amitha Kalaichandran at The Cut:

In the study, researchers from the University of British Columbia surveyed 99 people and found that they behaved more “rationally” when shopping at a desktop computer compared to a touchscreen device (in this case, an iPod Touch). In one experiment, for instance, participants using the touchscreen indicated that they were more likely to make a “hedonic” purchase, like a restaurant gift card, than they were to buy a more useful item like a grocery store gift card; for desktop users, the opposite was true. In another experiment, the study subjects took a test to measure their thinking style on a scale from experiential (a more freewheeling, impulsive thought process) to rational (careful, analytical). In general, those using the touchscreen were higher on the former way of thinking, and those on the desktop on the latter.

Part of the discrepancy, the researchers note, likely stems from the fact that touchscreens are just more fun to use: “When a consumer uses a touchscreen device, the novelty and fun generated by finger movements create experiential and affective feelings, in alignment with the playfulness and emotional nature of hedonic products,” they wrote.

No, really. Just try to tell yourself you didn’t see that one coming.

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Image note: Detail of frame from Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor.

Kalaichandran, Amitha. “Touchscreens Turn You Into a More Impulsive Shopper”. The Cut. 25 August 2017.

The Avoidance of Stupidity (McConnell Mix)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY; left), walks with President-elect Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol for a meeting, 10 November 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This ought to be a striking note from Axios:

Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides.

“We aren’t stupid,” said one of the aides.

Then again, this is the twenty-first century, and these are Congressional Republicans.

(more…)

Terrific (Heroes and Villains)

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

“While the leaders of the ruling political party have convinced themselves that they are heroes, in reality they are villains and enemies of the American people.”

Chauncey DeVega

What? He’s got a point. Salon:

As the Republicans voted to steal away health insurance from the sick, children, pregnant women, the poor, elderly, babies and people with pre-existing medical conditions in order to give millionaires and billionaires like themselves more money, they reportedly played the theme song to the movie “Rocky” and found inspiration from George C. Scott’s Oscar-winning performance as Gen. George S. Patton. On one hand, these are just curious details that help to paint a picture of what happened that day in Congress. But they also tell us a great deal about how the Republicans who voted to overturn the Affordable Care Act see themselves in history.

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Image note: Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

DeVega, Chauncey. “Despite their twisted fantasies, Republicans are nothing like Rocky or George Patton—they are political terrorists”. Salon. 8 May 2017