Friday, June 16, 2017

Cruising the Web

CNN's Chris Cillizza made an unfortunate tweet the other day challenging the idea that there have been "fake" or "incorrect" stories and asking for examples of #FakeNews. His tweet has brought an avalanche of replies giving lots of examples in which the MSM has published or presented stories that later turned out to be false. And here is a list of five fake stories that CNN aired. Scrolling through these examples were quite a few that I'd forgotten about.

And the New York Times provided its own example of #FakeNews by publishing an editorial repeating the false story that the man who shot Representative Giffords and killed six people was motivated by heated rhetoric and Sarah Palin's PAC's map with targets on congressional districts where they wanted to defeat in the 2012 elections. Here is what they originally wrote:
Not all the details are known yet about what happened in Virginia, but a sickeningly familiar pattern is emerging in the assault: The sniper, James Hodgkinson, who was killed by Capitol Police officers, was surely deranged, and his derangement had found its fuel in politics. Mr. Hodgkinson was a Bernie Sanders supporter and campaign volunteer virulently opposed to President Trump. He posted many anti-Trump messages on social media, including one in March that said "Time to Destroy Trump & Co."

Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin's political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.

Conservatives and right-wing media were quick on Wednesday to demand forceful condemnation of hate speech and crimes by anti-Trump liberals. They're right. Though there's no sign of incitement as direct as in the Giffords attack, liberals should of course hold themselves to the same standard of decency that they ask of the right.
After an outraged response from all sides, the NYT inserted a line saying that there was no connection and issuing an apology. The Washington Post's Fact Checker issued their own analysis that this entire claim was bogus even though it had been pushed by the left at the time. They had also issued that fact check back in 2011. Jared Lee Loughner, the murderer, was a schizophrenic who had been interested in Giffords long before the shooting or the Palin PAC pamphlet which there was no evidence that Loughner had seen. As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, the corrected version of the editorial, which now includes this line about the Giffords shooting, "But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established," leaves a false impression.
It seems to me that if you were coming to this text fresh, with no awareness of the previous version of the editorial, the controversy, or the correction, you’d come away thinking that Palin may have had something to do with Loughner’s shootings but the connection had not been rigorously proven. You’d have the impression, that is, that Palin probably has blood on her hands but the Times is so fair-minded that it won’t come out and say so until every t is crossed.
So even their correction seeks to further the impression that somehow Republicans are to blame.

What astounds me was that writers at the NYT would have written this in the first place. Are they so insulated in their liberal bubble that they didn't know that the story was bogus? I find that hard to believe, but it's possible. The only other alternative is that they knew it was false and wrote it anyway. Either possibility is very damaging to the NYT's claim to be the paper of record. As Mark Hemingway points out, two years after the shooting and the debunking of the story, the Times was still writing that there were many people criticizing Sarah Palin for the shooting without adding that there was no such connection. David French points out that the NYT's own reporting on the Giffords shooting would have told the editorial writers that this story was totally bogus. As Hemingway writes about the Times mistaken editorial,
The Times didn't just botch a fact here, the editorial was largely premised on, once again, wrongly accusing right-wing rhetoric of inciting violence by way of looking to excuse an instance where left-wing violence could said to be a matter of incitement, regardless of significant evidence suggesting otherwise.

The fact that this was done when the contradiction was so obvious prompts discomfiting questions about why they didn't uphold basic standards of veracity and decency. It does not help that the editorial page also has quite the history of finding creative ways to blame Republicans for violent attacks, that by any reasonable standard, they had nothing to do with. Just to cite one of the multiple examples, last year, when ISIS terrorist Omar Mateen shot up a gay nightclub in Florida, the Times opined, "Hate crimes don't happen in a vacuum. … Tragically, this is the state of American politics, driven too often by Republican politicians."

....These are tense times in no small part because trust in the media as an institution is at rock bottom. The Times and other media institutions are understandably alarmed by the growing chorus of voices on the right that view the media as the enemy. But without a more thorough apology and meaningful efforts to be truthful and fair in the future, it's hard to see how the Times editorial won't make our civic discussions significantly more toxic than they already are.

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Nick Gillespie has a much more reasonable approach to how we should regard such violence. Both liberals and conservatives are leaping to point fingers at each other.
All of the above assumes that contemporary political speech is both somehow more virulent than ever and responsible for any actual physical violence that happens. In reality, there are no grounds for either belief. In a country where political violence is vanishingly rare, gun violence has declined precipitously despite wider circulation of guns, and mass shootings betray no clear pattern of increase, it's ridiculous to blame words for increases in violence. As important, Bernie Sanders' and other progressives' often-incendiary rhetoric toward billionaires, plutocrats, the 1 Percent or whatever is no more responsible for James Hodgkinson's shooting spree than J.D. Salinger is responsible for Mark David Chapman's killing of John Lennon.

If there is any lesson to be drawn this early from the disturbing and chilling attack that left the House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, in critical condition, it's that immediately politicizing everything and seeking cheap, partisan gain yields no meaningful insight and further alienates the vast and growing swath of Americans who already feel a need to escape from political tribes that include fewer and fewer of us.

Jim Geraghty is also writing along these lines.
I don’t think that talk radio made the Oklahoma City bombing happen, I don’t think violent video games made Columbine happen, I don’t think Sarah Palin’s Facebook page made the Tuscon shooter take his actions, and I don’t think crazy rumors posted on Facebook made that guy bring a gun into that Adams Morgan pizzeria. In each of those cases, an individual made the conscious choice to set off a bomb or pick up a gun and shoot at people. I think blaming these outside forces amounts to letting the perpetrator off the hook for his own actions and scapegoats a politically convenient target.

One of the sharper bits of social commentary on this topic came in the cinematic, er, classic, Scream 2, where a murderous film student boasts: “I’ve got my whole defense planned out. I’m going to blame the movies… Can you see it? The effects of cinema violence on society! I’ll get Dershowitz or Cochran to represent me. Bob Dole on the witness stand in my defense. Hell, the Christian Coalition will pay my legal fees. It’s airtight, Sid. I’m an innocent victim.”

So as satisfying as it might be to make Bernie Sanders squirm at the thought that his words may have driven the Alexandria shooter to take his actions, making that accusation requires asserting something that we don’t think is true. We didn’t think that conservative political rhetoric incites violence, so why should we contend that liberal political rhetoric incites violence, unless we just really enjoy embracing hypocrisy?

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I've only been to New York City once several years ago in the summer. Maybe it's because we happened to be there when people put their garbage out, but I was struck by how smelly it was as we walked by piles of garbage that had been put out the night before. And my main impression of Chinatown was how extremely odoriferous it was with whole blocks reeking with the smell of rotting chicken and fish. Other areas were wonderful, but it was quite a different experience than what I'm used to from other places I've lived such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, or Raleigh. Well, now New York is going to be even smellier because of a change that the City Council is enacting .
As of Tuesday, scofflaws who commit certain quality-of-life violations — including urinating, boozing or blasting loud music in public — will get little more than a slap on the wrist.

The change is the result of the City Council’s controversial Criminal Justice Reform Act, which allows law breakers who’ve been cited for those and other low-level offenses to face justice in administrative hearings rather than in criminal court.

Critics charge that the shift will undermine the “broken windows” theory of policing that began in the city in the 1990s. The theory maintains that cracking down on minor offenses prevents more serious crimes.

“It’s bulls–t!” fumed one high-ranking police source. “They shouldn’t be doing that. It’s just going to make crime go up again.”

Advocates claim the new procedure will divert 100,000 cases a year from the criminal justice system and prevent minor offenders from acquiring criminal records.

ut another source pointed out that many law breakers will be emboldened because they’ll no longer have to appear in criminal court — which might require taking a day off work.

Now, they’ll simply have to appear at an administrative hearing at a convenient location near them.

“It’s things like this that make it tough to do your job,” the source said. “So now we’re going to decriminalize the things they’re doing? Now they’re just going to do whatever they want.”

Under the old system, a person might’ve thought twice about urinating on an elevator because they didn’t want to get stuck with a record, he said.
Lovely, just lovely. New York City can proudly join Denver as cities that are trying to lighten the penalties for such crimes as public urination.

Here is an example of how public works get done.
Urban development is one of those areas where a perfect shit storm of fiscal mismanagement can quickly appear while the politicians responsible just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, that’s just the way things work.”

That was basically the reaction of New York City Councilman David Greenfield after he mentioned the $2 million price tag for a new 400-square-foot public bathroom in a park in his district.

“Government sucks at development,” Greenfield said during a Crain’s New York event on Wednesday.

Funding was first secured for the project in Brooklyn’s Gravesend Park in the summer of 2011, but construction didn’t begin until fall 2015. Residents of the neighborhood expected the bathroom to be completed by this spring—over two years since ground first broke on the project.
It really is amazing what we've allowed ourselves to become accustomed to when government is at work.

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The United Nations, having solved all the other problems in the world, are now examining whether they should or can ban cultural appropriation.
Indigenous advocates from around the world are calling on a UN committee to ban the appropriation of Indigenous cultures — and to do it quickly.

Delegates from 189 countries, including Canada, are in Geneva this week as part of a specialized international committee within the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a United Nations agency.

Since it began in 2001, the committee has been working on creating and finishing three pieces of international law that would expand intellectual-property regulations to protect things like Indigenous designs, dances, words and traditional medicines.

The meeting takes place as concern grows worldwide about the rights of cultures to control their own materials. In the U.S. this week, designer Tory Burch agreed to change the description of one of her coats for women after Romanians protested that it had been described as African-inspired when it actually appropriated a traditional Romanian garment.

Speaking to the committee Monday, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, said the UN's negotiated document should "obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions."

The committee has been working on three draft documents for 16 years, and member states are now going through them line by line....

"We are only halfway through 2017 and yet the number of occurrences of misappropriation happening to Indigenous Peoples in all regions of the world seems relentless with no relief in sight," said Aroha Te Pareake Mead, a member of the Ngati Awa and Ngati Porou tribes in Wellington, New Zealand.

"We asked the international community to help deal with a problem that traverses international boundaries and are still waiting."

Mead said part of the problem is that Indigenous groups around the world have no idea about the committee's work and often aren't being consulted by member states.
How does anyone determine the origin of any creative idea? They're supposed to be looking at "music, dance, art, designs, names, signs and symbols, performances, ceremonies, architectural forms, handicrafts and narratives, or many other artistic or cultural expressions." Do we really want to look to diplomats or international judges to be the ones to decide what degree of inspiration came from some indigenous group? It's just ridiculous. Ed Krayewski writes at Reason to ridicule this idea,
It's unclear how an international intellectual property bureaucracy would improve the situation.

But it's clear how it could create new avenues for rent-seeking. The World Intellectual Property Organization generates revenue from fees, such as the ones it charges for international trademarks. Any system the IGC creates is likely to include a similar international mechanism for registering whichever "traditional cultural expressions" get protections. Such a setup could have a chilling effect on any commercialization of folklore, even by members of the original indigenous communities.

After all, the same forces of globalization and decentralization that have made intellectual property laws more difficult to enforce offer the potential to drastically expand native producers' reach. KPMG has noted, for example, that the internet offers a "new potential for indigenous Australians in regional and remote areas to access global audiences." An IGC-style intellectual property regime would inevitably require such entrepreneurs, not just the big corporations accused of cultural appropriation, to get additional approvals for their activity.

Meanwhile, the same governments with long histories of abusing indigenous populations would be responsible for deciding who belongs to such populations and who faces criminal penalties for not meeting the governments' definitions.