Disconnection from Reality 2

Trump grasped that America is suffering from an epistemological weakness as well as economic ones: The line between truth and falsehood is becoming dangerously blurred. Again, America’s knowledge elite is partly responsible for this: Armies of postmodern academics had prepared the way for Trump by arguing that truth is a construct of the power elite. But the biggest culprit is technological progress. Digitalization is not only creating a deafening cacophony of voices. It is also making it harder to finance real journalism while simultaneously making it easier to distribute tripe.
- ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, A Conservative’s Case Against Donald Trump, NYT, JAN. 24, 2018

Mr. Bannon, who was recently excommunicated from his own media empire, Breitbart News, is not the first to draw a line from President Trump to Marshall McLuhan, the theorist whose “the medium is the message” mantra predicted a media-saturated era where reality is less important than its representation. ...
“The digital world is more real than the physical, analog world,” Mr. Bannon said, adding, of Mr. Trump, “He understands that in a very visceral way.”
Since Mr. Trump took office a year ago, the political press has endured a sustained assault from a chief executive who has called journalists “the enemy of the American people.” ...
A story’s “buzz,” variously defined by the number of retweets, Facebook likes or panicked text messages from White House aides that it generates, is at a premium, fueling news outlets that condense political reporting from 1,000-word stories into stand-alone nuggets designed to set Twitter aflame.

Trust in the press has eroded.... ...
Axios covers the Trump administration with a bullet-pointed morning newsletter, by the well-connected Washington journalist Mike Allen, and quick-hit scoops from its sole White House reporter, Jonathan Swan. To hear Mr. VandeHei tell it, the era of the in-depth newspaper story is over.

“People aren’t reading that long and, to be honest, they shouldn’t have to,” he said. ...
But Ms. Talev, a Bloomberg News correspondent and the president of the Correspondents’ Association, said that the briefing remains an opportunity to force the administration to speak on the record — a crucial forum in an era when truth is blurred. ...
Under her watch, the Correspondents’ Association has created a new committee on reporters’ security, to assist members who receive threats, an increasingly common occurrence. ...
Last week, a man in Michigan was arrested on suspicion of threatening CNN’s Atlanta headquarters, the kind of real-world effect that reporters here worry may be the inevitable result of a president who once called the press “a great danger to our country.”

- MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, In Age of Trump, Political Reporters Are in Demand and Under Attack, NYT, JAN. 29, 2018

Donald J. Trump issued an unusual videotaped apology early Saturday after a 2005 recording surfaced that showed him speaking in extraordinarily vulgar terms about women, setting off an uproar in the Republican Party.

“Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am,” he said. “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”
- ALEXANDER BURNS, MAGGIE HABERMAN and JONATHAN MARTIN, Donald Trump Apology Caps Day of Outrage Over Lewd Tape, NYT, OCT. 7, 2016

Shortly after his victory last year, Donald J. Trump began revisiting one of his deepest public humiliations: the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of him making vulgar comments about women.

Despite his public acknowledgment of the recording’s authenticity in the final days of the presidential campaign — and his hasty videotaped apology under pressure from his advisers — Mr. Trump as president-elect began raising the prospect with allies that it may not have been him on the tape after all. ...
Mr. Trump’s falsehoods about the “Access Hollywood” tape are part of his lifelong habit of attempting to create and sell his own version of reality. Advisers say he continues to privately harbor a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact.

In recent months, they say, Mr. Trump has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He has also repeatedly claimed that he lost the popular vote last year because of widespread voter fraud, according to advisers and lawmakers. ...
The president continues to boast of winning districts that he did not in fact win, the lawmaker said, and of receiving 52 percent of the women’s vote, even though exit polls show that 42 percent of women supported him.

Mr. Trump has a long history of stretching facts, predating his presidency. He has claimed his signature building, Trump Tower in Manhattan, was several stories taller than it actually is. In his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” he conceded to employing what he called “truthful hyperbole.”
- MAGGIE HABERMAN and JONATHAN MARTIN, Trump Once Said the ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape Was Real. Now He’s Not Sure., NYT, NOV. 28, 2017

Far too often, it feels easier and safer to see only what we want to see. Fear of jeopardizing some overarching political, religious, financial or other ideology — or even just losing friends or status — leads to willful ignorance of what is right in front of our own eyes....
- RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER, The Price I Paid for Taking On Larry Nassar, NYT, JAN. 26, 2018

There is no presidential science adviser for the first time in 50 years. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has half the staff it once did, most of whom reportedly have no background in science. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dismissed dozens of researchers from its nonpartisan scientific advisory boards, then changed the rules governing them to bar most academic scientists from joining. “The official mechanisms to tie public policy to reality are currently absent,” said Krauss, the chair of the Bulletin, on Thursday.
- ROBINSON MEYER, Shrugging Toward Doomsday, The Atlantic, Jan. 26, 2018

That “always-on” behavior that smartphones contribute to causes us to remove ourselves from our reality, experts said. And aside from the health consequences, if we’re head down, our communication skills and manners are slumped, too. ...
A study in 2010 found that adolescents ages 8 to 18 spent more than 7.5 hours a day consuming media. Since then, our digital addictions have continued to, in some ways, define our lives: In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that 24 percent of teenagers are “almost constantly” online.

Adults aren’t any better: Most adults spend 10 hours a day or more consuming electronic media, according to a Nielsen’s Total Audience Report from last year.
The National Safety Council reports cellphone use makes drivers more accident prone than drunk driving, causing 1.6 million crashes annually, mostly from young people ages 18 to 20. One out of four accidents in the United States are caused by texting.

“Mobile devices are the mother of inattentional blindness,” said Henry Alford, the author of “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners.” “That’s the state of monomaniacal obliviousness that overcomes you when you’re absorbed in an activity to the exclusion of everything else.”
- ADAM POPESCU, Keep Your Head Up: How Smartphone Addiction Kills Manners and Moods, NYT, JAN. 25, 2018

Bob Savage Tewksbury, NJ
It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump credits himself for increasing daylight as the northern hemisphere moves closer to the sun.
- Jan. 28, 2018, comment on Paul Krugman, What the Economic Data Don’t Tell Us, NYT, JAN. 28, 2018

As the technology news site Motherboard reported late last month, the latest merger of high tech and low urges is a phenomenon dubbed “deepfakes.” Using free, readily available software, the everyday horndog can now swap the faces of celebrities — or anyone else — into pornographic videos. While once such fakery would have required advanced video editing skills, the FakeApp, designed for the convenience of deepfake aficionados, makes use of machine learning algorithms to produce what is, in effect, a video editing Artificial Intelligence. ...
But perhaps even more unsettling should be the inevitable application of this free-to-download tech to politics and journalism. Combined with software like Adobe Voco, which can create a pitch-perfect virtual simulation of anyone’s voice based on a short audio sample, you’ve got a recipe for realistic viral “fake news” fodder that the average prankster can manufacture in an afternoon. ...
Technology has made it easier to fake; the economics of the internet make it increasingly likely that the fakes become news. And the inevitable blunders will confirm diminishing public trust in professional news media — the effect of which to date, ironically, has been to drive many viewers and readers into the arms of outlets with even fewer journalistic scruples.
- Julian Sanchez, Thanks to AI, the future of 'fake news' is being pioneered in homemade porn, Think, Feb.08.2018

According to the New York Times, a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan challenging the federal government's marijuana policy states that President James Madison credited hemp with giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation”:

In its 98-page complaint, the suit presents its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of a world-historical tour of marijuana use — from its first purported role 10,000 years ago in the production of Taiwanese pottery to the smoking habits of President Barack Obama in his younger days. It points out that the ancient Egyptians used the drug to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit notes.
- ALAN FEUER, Lawsuit Takes Aim at Trump Administration Marijuana Policy, NYT, FEB. 13, 2018

This claim about Madison can be found in many places, but (like many similar claims regarding marijuana use by early presidents) it is typically presented without any supporting reference. In some cases, reference is made to a Dr. Burke. For instance:

Dr. Burke, the President of the American Historical Reference Society, researched the correspondence of the first several presidents, and in 1975 confirmed that seven of them smoked cannabis. George Washington preferred to smoke "the leaves of hemp" rather than to drink alcohol. James Madison was once heard to say that smoking hemp inspired him to found a new nation on democratic principles.
- Robert A. NELSON, A History of Hemp, Chapter 2.

Only after much searching was an item found indicating that there is no evidence Madison made such a statement, and that Dr. Burke does not exist:

- Milwaukee Journal, Oct 21, 1971

The claim about Madison was often repeated, so that it is easy to find instances of it on the internet, and some people too readily take its widespread repetition (along with the difficulty of finding any refutation of it) of it to confirm it is correct. On Feb. 27, 2018, the New York Times again stated that the lawsuit said Madison credited hemp with insight, without noting that this story is apocryphal:

The 98-page lawsuit presented its case for legalization not only through a host of constitutional arguments, but also by way of history.... It pointed out that... Thomas Jefferson puffed it for his migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit noted.
- ALAN FEUER, Judge Rejects Lawsuit Seeking to Legalize Marijuana Nationwide, NYT, FEB. 26, 2018

A wide array of Russians, especially politicians, consider Mr. Zvyagintsev different for other reasons. They have called him Judas, accusing him of enlisting in a disinformation campaign by painting Russia as a dirty, bleak, unsavory place inhabited solely by the unscrupulous and the amoral, often drunk.

The recriminations crested in 2014 with his film “Leviathan,” also an Academy Award nominee. Its damning portrait of venal local officials destroying a man’s life to steal his land prompted the Ministry of Culture to issue new guidelines that barred state funding for movies that “defile” Russian culture. ...

“It [“Loveless”] is as big as a Russian art-house movie can get,” said Anton Dolin, a movie critic, calling Mr. Zvyagintsev perhaps the most significant Russian artist working in film. “He is the one who uses his talent to really try to honestly reflect the political and social life in Russia today.”
...said Anton Dolin, a movie critic, .... “He is the one who uses his talent to really try to honestly reflect the political and social life in Russia today.” ...
Mr. Zvyagintsev’s fans consider him a perfectionist whose movies reflect Russian reality, a difficult picture that most directors avoid by sticking to nationalistic films or comedies.
Not surprisingly, official organs panned “Loveless.”

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a government newspaper, called it a “sad irony” that such “tormented and counterproductive introspection” was considered “the most representative slice of not only Russian culture, but of Russian society.”

Even some Russians who respect Mr. Zvyagintsev’s work avoid watching his movies because the subject matter is so discomforting. That drives the director to despair.

It is like the fairy tale about the wicked princess who smashes the mirror when it shows her true image, he said. “It’s simply that when you raise pointed questions and show an unattractive portrait of your contemporaries, few people want to watch this.”

His role as social critic, however, is another reason the art-house crowd tends to respect Mr. Zvyagintsev. He is one of the few high-profile artists still brave enough to openly criticize the Russian government.
- NEIL MacFARQUHAR, A Russian Master of the ‘Dark Side’ in Film, NYT, FEB. 23, 2018

Ordinary citizens often seem to have been manipulated by anti-Rohingya propaganda, particularly on Facebook. One moderate Rakhine village leader, U Maung Kyaw Nyunt, told me that the hatred toward the Rohingya has escalated because of the arrival of smartphones and Facebook, resulting in virulent anti-Rohingya propaganda depicting them as murderous terrorists who commit atrocities against Buddhists.

“Young people are using their smartphones a lot,” he said. “They don’t see with their eyes; they just see with their phones.”

“I have arguments with my son about this,” he said, adding, “Facebook has been bad for Myanmar.”

The military has internet units trained by Russia, and one theory is that the army may be behind part of the social media campaign against the Rohingya.
- Nicholas Kristof, I Saw a Genocide in Slow Motion, NYT, MARCH 2, 2018

Donald J. Trump ✔
When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

2:50 AM - Mar 2, 2018
- quoted in THE EDITORIAL BOARD, Trade Wars Are Destructive. Of Course Trump Wants One., NYT, MARCH 2, 2018

This much is certain: On Oct. 14, 1981, a teenager armed with a .22 rifle went to the fifth floor of a building in Dunedin, New Zealand, during a visit by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.

When the royals stepped out of their Rolls-Royce to greet thousands of well-wishers on the street, the gunman, Christopher John Lewis, 17, a self-described terrorist who was hiding in a deserted toilet cubicle, trained his rifle on the queen and fired.

He missed. ...
When the shot rang out in 1981, news reports said, the New Zealand police told the British news media that it was the sound of a sign falling over. Later, they claimed it had been a firecracker.
- YONETTE JOSEPH and CHARLOTTE GRAHAM-McLAY, The Day the Queen Was Almost Shot, NYT, MARCH 3, 2018

Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact. ...
Similarly, at the University of Washington computer scientists successfully built a program capable of “turning audio clips into a realistic, lip-synced video of the person speaking those words.” As proof of concept, both the teams manipulated broadcast video to make world leaders appear to say things they never actually said. ...
Arguably, this sort of erosion of authenticity and the integrity of official statements altogether is the most sinister and worrying of these future threats. “Whether it’s AI... or fake political activism — these technological underpinnings lead to the increasing erosion of trust,” computational propaganda researcher Renee DiResta said of the future threat. “It makes it possible to cast aspersions on whether videos — or advocacy for that matter — are real.” DiResta pointed out Donald Trump’s recent denial that it was his voice on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, citing experts who told him it’s possible it was digitally faked. “You don't need to create the fake video for this tech to have a serious impact. You just point to the fact that the tech exists and you can impugn the integrity of the stuff that’s real.”
- Charlie Warzel, He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He's Worried About An Information Apocalypse., BuzzFeed News, February 11, 2018

What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general. ...
Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues. ...
As we click and click, we are carried along by the exciting sensation of uncovering more secrets and deeper truths. YouTube leads viewers down a rabbit hole of extremism, while Google racks up the ad sales.

Human beings have many natural tendencies that need to be vigilantly monitored in the context of modern life. For example, our craving for fat, salt and sugar, which served us well when food was scarce, can lead us astray in an environment in which fat, salt and sugar are all too plentiful and heavily marketed to us. So too our natural curiosity about the unknown can lead us astray on a website that leads us too much in the direction of lies, hoaxes and misinformation.
- Zeynep Tufekci, YouTube, the Great Radicalizer, NYT, MARCH 10, 2018

When Donald Trump came to office, many feared that he would break up our close economic relations with Mexico and/or start a trade war with China. So far, neither has happened. ...
But his trade ire seems increasingly focused on an unexpected target: the European Union, which he tweeted has “horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S. products going in.” ...
...Trump is just wrong on the facts. “U.S. exports to the European Union enjoy an average tariff of just 3 percent,” says the U.S. government’s own guide to exporters.
Where is Trump getting his misinformation? Probably from Peter Navarro, his trade czar....

First, how was Navarro recruited? According to reporting in Vanity Fair by Sarah Ellison... during the campaign Trump told Jared Kushner to find some research supporting his protectionist trade views. Kushner responded by going on Amazon, where he found a book titled “Death by China.” So he cold-called Navarro, one of the book’s authors, who became the campaign’s first economic adviser.

Navarro has an economics Ph.D. but holds views very much at odds with the mainstream. ...
In fact, Navarro’s nonmainstream views mainly seem to involve basic conceptual and factual errors. One of these errors, which bears directly on the Trump-Europe spat, is a complete misunderstanding of the trade effects of value-added taxes (VATs), which the U.S. doesn’t have but play a large role in most European countries’ revenue.
In Navarro’s version of the world, for example as expressed in a campaign white paper, VATs give European companies a huge, unfair trade advantage. U.S. products sold in Europe have to pay VAT — for example, they must pay a 19 percent tax if sold in Germany. This, says the white paper, is just like an import tariff. Meanwhile, German producers pay no VAT on goods they sell in America; this, the paper says, is just like an export subsidy. I’m pretty sure that’s what Trump means when he talks about “horrific” tariffs.

But what this story misses is the fact that when German producers sell to German consumers, they also pay that 19 percent tax. And when U.S. producers sell to U.S. consumers, they, like German producers, don’t face any VAT. So the tax doesn’t tilt the playing field at all, in either market. In reality, a VAT has nothing to do with competitive advantage; it’s basically a sales tax — a tax on German consumers — which is why VATs are considered legal by the World Trade Organization.
So how does someone who misunderstands such a basic, well-understood point about taxes and trade get to be a key economic adviser? As I said, it’s because he tells the boss what he wants to hear. ...

Here’s what he told Bloomberg recently: “My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters.”
- Paul Krugman, Springtime for Sycophants, NYT, MARCH 12, 2018

“People have these prototypes in their head about what a leader looks like,” Dr. McClean said. “When we see an individual, we ask, ‘Do they fit that?’”
If they don’t — even if they are acting like a leader — it’s harder to identify them as one. ...
But Erica was taking charge. Why didn’t anyone see that?

When we “process information through the lens of stereotype” our interpretation may be “consistent with stereotyped expectations rather than objective reality,” said Nilanjana Dasgupta, a professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
- Heather Murphy, Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?, NYT, March 16, 2018

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