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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 ✔
@realDonaldTrump
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


It's no good fighting an election campaign on the facts, because actually it's all about emotion.
- Mark Turnbull, Managing Director, CA Global Political at 7:40 in Revealed: Trump’s election consultants filmed saying they use bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians, Channel 4 News, 19 March 2018


“We will be greeted as liberators” upon invading Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney counseled in 2003 on the eve of the war. He had already relayed a prediction that the streets in Basra and Baghdad are “sure to erupt in joy.”

President George W. Bush declared that there was “no doubt” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that an invasion would be largely self-financing and that it would last “five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer.”

So 15 years ago this week, the United States careered into one of the most cataclysmic, expensive and idiotic blunders of the last half-century: We invaded Iraq.

The financial cost alone to the United States will top $3 trillion, according to the estimates of the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, or about $24,000 per American household. Some 4,400 American soldiers died in Iraq, along with approximately 500,000 Iraqis, according to a survey and academic study. ...
A recent Pew survey found that 43 percent of Americans still believe that invading Iraq was the correct decision.
- Nicholas Kristof, Trump’s Talk Worries Me, Like the Talk Before the Iraq War, NYT, MARCH 21, 2018


When President Trump told donors at a fund-raiser this past week that he had invented a fact during a conversation with Canada’s prime minister, the surprise was not that America’s leader makes things up, but that he openly admitted it.

Or maybe admitted is the wrong word. He actually seemed to boast about it. ...
Mr. Trump’s presidency has been marked from the start with false or misleading statements, such as his outlandish claims that more people came to his inauguration than any before and that at least three million unauthorized immigrants voted illegally against him, costing him the popular vote. He has gone on to assert that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, a claim that his own Justice Department refuted, and that he would not benefit from his tax-cutting plan. ...
The president also asserted that Japan bars American cars from its market through an odd test. “They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car,” he said. “And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify.”

At a briefing the next day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, acknowledged that the bowling ball anecdote was false. “Obviously, he’s joking about this particular test,” she said, “but it illustrates the creative ways some countries are able to keep American goods out of their markets.” ...
But the point was that Mr. Trump acknowledged to the donors that he made the claim having no idea whether it was right or wrong. And it was not even the only time that day he made false statements. ...
As a businessman, Mr. Trump often fabricated or exaggerated to sell a narrative or advance his interests. ...
He claimed to earn $1 million from a speech when it was $400,000. He claimed to be worth $3.5 billion when seeking a bank loan, four times what the bank eventually found. ...
Jack O’Donnell, who was president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, recalled Mr. Trump telling New Jersey authorities that he had secured bank financing for a new casino and would not use junk bonds, only to turn around and then use junk bonds. ...
The Washington Post’s fact-checker documented 2,140 false or misleading claims in Mr. Trump’s first year in office, a rate of nearly six a day, many of them repeated even after he was corrected.

A Quinnipiac University poll in January showed that only 35 percent of Americans consider him honest, while 60 percent do not.
- PETER BAKER, Trump and the Truth: A President Tests His Own Credibility, NYT, MARCH 17, 2018



The authors of a New York Times article seem to accept their source's belief that private conversations are not divulged when the person reporting on them remains anonymous:

Another person who has had conversations with both the president and Ms. Hicks in recent weeks, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to divulge private conversations, said that Mr. Trump relied on her and trusted her implicitly, mainly because she had never shown a willingness to put her own agenda ahead of his.
- KATIE ROGERS and MAGGIE HABERMAN, Hope Hicks Is Gone, and It’s Not Clear Who Can Replace Her, NYT, MARCH 29, 2018


Disturbingly, we found that false stories spread significantly more than did true ones.
- Sinan Aral, How Lies Spread Online, NYT, March 8, 2018


For months, we had been tracking riots and lynchings around the world linked to misinformation and hate speech on Facebook, which pushes whatever content keeps users on the site longest — a potentially damaging practice in countries with weak institutions.

Time and again, communal hatreds overrun the newsfeed — the primary portal for news and information for many users — unchecked as local media are displaced by Facebook and governments find themselves with little leverage over the company. Some users, energized by hate speech and misinformation, plot real-world attacks.

A reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s descent into violence, based on interviews with officials, victims and ordinary users caught up in online anger, found that Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing. ...
But where institutions are weak or undeveloped, Facebook’s newsfeed can inadvertently amplify dangerous tendencies. Designed to maximize user time on site, it promotes whatever wins the most attention. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, produce the highest engagement, and so proliferate. ...
Online outrage mobs will be familiar to any social media user. But in places with histories of vigilantism, they can work themselves up to real-world attacks. Last year in Cancún, Mexico, for instance, Facebook arguments over racist videos escalated to fatal mob violence.

Mass media has long been used to mobilize mass violence. Facebook, by democratizing communication tools, gives anyone with a smartphone the ability to broadcast hate.
- AMANDA TAUB and MAX FISHER, Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match, NYT, APRIL 21, 2018


''Tony Sydney, Australia 3 hours ago [4/21/2018]
A personal anecdote about Facebook:

Some time ago, I entered into a “robust” discussion with a stranger on a Facebook comment thread. This person (who lived in the US) threatened to rape and murder my daughter. Now, I don’t have children and live on a different continent but I was shocked by his threat, so I reported it to Facebook via their online reporting tool.

Their response? “This comment does not violate Facebook’s community standards”.

I’d love to talk to a real person from this out-of-control behemoth of a company and have them explain exactly how a threat to rape and murder a child does NOT violate any reasonable “community standard”.

I’m so over this company. Any benefits from being a “member of the Facebook community” are totally outweighed by the dubious, predatory nature of its influence worldwide. I can live without Facebook in my life.
- Comment on MANDA TAUB and MAX FISHER, Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match, NYT, APRIL 21, 2018


It was no accident that the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief. To adopt post-truth thinking is to depart from Enlightenment ideas, dominant in the West since the 17th century, that value experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and a respect for ideas.

President Trump both reflects and exploits this kind of thinking. It is fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree.
-Michael V. Hayden, Michael Hayden: The End of Intelligence, NYT, April 28, 2018


Rescue workers in Syria reported finding at least 42 people dead in their homes from apparent suffocation, and antigovernment activists circulated videos of lifeless men, women and children sprawled out on floors and in stairwells, many with white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils. ...
The latest atrocity in Syria’s agonizing seven-year civil war drew immediate condemnation from the United States and the European Union, but Mr. Assad’s allies in Moscow and Tehran dismissed allegations of a chemical attack as “bogus.” ...
State news media in Syria denied that government forces had used chemical weapons and accused the Islamist rebel group that controls Douma, the Army of Islam, of fabricating the videos to solicit international support as defeat loomed.

The Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries also denied that chemical weapons had been used. ...
The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the reports as fake.

“The spread of bogus stories about the use of chlorine and other poisonous substances by government forces continues,” the ministry said in a statement. “The aim of such deceitful speculation, lacking any kind of grounding, is to shield terrorists,” it added, “and to attempt to justify possible external uses of force.”
- BEN HUBBARD, Dozens Suffocate in Syria as Government Is Accused of Chemical Attack, NYT, APRIL 8, 2018


Even before the O.P.C.W. inspectors arrived in Syria, the Western allies said that they had ample evidence that the Syrian government had dropped a chemical agent on Douma, and that it had used chemical weapons many times during the seven-year civil war. ...
Russian and Syrian officials have suggested that a chemical attack never occurred in Douma, or that it was staged by rebel forces or Western powers as an excuse for attacking Syria. Mr. Lavrov accused Britain of playing a part in the supposed ruse, which British officials called outrageous.
- Richard Pérez-Peña and Rick Gladstone, Chemical Arms Experts Blocked From Site of Syria Attack, NYT, April 16, 2018


The Pentagon’s spokeswoman, Dana W. White, said Thursday that personnel at China’s military base in Djibouti have in recent weeks been aiming powerful lasers at American aircraft that also operate in or near the country, which is where the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden meet.

She did not detail the number of incidents but said the lasers — which can be used to target aircraft — caused minor eye injuries to two American pilots. ...
The use of lasers was first made public in April in a warning to pilots issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. It noted that there had been multiple instances of “a high-power laser” being used near where the Chinese base is. Using lasers to disorient or disable pilots is an old military tactic, but an international protocol adopted in 1995 and joined by China prohibits the practice.

''Ms. White said that there was no doubt about the origin of the lasers, and that the Pentagon had asked the Chinese to investigate. “It’s a serious matter,” she said, “and so we’re taking it very seriously.”

In a statement on Friday afternoon, China’s Ministry of National Defense strongly disputed the Pentagon’s accusations, saying they were “completely inconsistent with fact.”

The Global Times, a Chinese newspaper that often takes a hawkish line, published an article in English on Wednesday — before the Pentagon’s briefing on the injuries to two American pilots — that quoted military experts calling the accusations phony.
- Steven Lee Myers, Lasers and Missiles Heighten U.S.-China Military Tensions, NYT, May 4, 2018



The New York Times unfortunately provided some support for distrust of mainstream media by promulgating a false account of the amount of nerve agent used to attack former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal:

About 50 to 100 grams of liquid nerve agent was used in the March 4 attack on the former Russian spy Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, according to the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The amount of nerve agent used was not just presented as one detail among others about the attack; it was the main focus of the article, offered as evidence that the Russians had developed the poison for use as a weapon:

That quantity — a range from slightly less than a quarter-cup to a half-cup of liquid — is significantly larger than the amount that would be created in a laboratory for research purposes, meaning that it was almost certainly created for use as a weapon, the director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, said in an interview.
- Ellen Barry, Large Dose of Nerve Agent Used in Attack in Britain, Says Weapons Watchdog, NYT, May 3, 2018 [As of May 5, 2018, the link to this article brings up "We’re sorry, we seem to have lost this page, but we don’t want to lose you. Report the broken link here." but the article can be seen briefly at https://web.archive.org/web/20180504055858/https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/world/europe/opcw-salisbury-novichok-skripal.html before it redirects to the broken link message.]

To the Times' credit, rather than flatly claiming the large amount was used, it reported that Ahmet Uzumcu said the large amount was used. However, it is disappointing the Times failed to question Uzumcu's claim. By the time the large amount used was reported, it was generally understood that the poison had been applied to the door handle of Skripal's home. At the start of April, the Times had reported:

British officials investigating the poisoning of Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian double agent, believe it is likely that an assassin smeared a nerve agent on the door handle at his home.

And the article reporting the large amount reminded readers that

Investigators have said that the substance was applied to the door of Mr. Skirpal's home and probably seeped through their skin over several hours....

That half a cup, or even a quarter of a cup, of poison could be smeared on a door handle is extremely implausible. But both the Times and the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons seem to have lacked the common sense to notice the absurdity of using such a large amount.

The mistake was soon corrected (though not soon enough to avoid damage to the credibility of the mainstream media), with the Times revealing a day later that the actual amount was only one thousandth as much as had been reported:

A chemical weapons watchdog amended statements on Friday that its leader had given to The New York Times, in which he estimated that 50 to 100 grams of liquid nerve agent had been used in the March 4 attack on the former Russian spy Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England. The Times reported the incorrect information in an article published online on Thursday.

A statement issued by the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the amount should be measured in milligrams rather than grams.

The group went on to say that it would not be able to estimate how much of the nerve agent was used in Salisbury.
- Ellen Barry, Weapons Watchdog Corrects Estimate of Nerve Agent Used in U.K. Attack, NYT, May 4, 2018





They would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.
- John McCain, REMARKS BY SASC CHAIRMAN JOHN McCAIN AT THE 2017 MUNICH SECURITY CONFERENCE, Feb 17 2017


You're going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost and it's gonna be so easy.
- Donald Trump at a rally in Sanford, Florida, October 2016


More than five years after one of the most horrific mass shootings in modern history, the families of Sandy Hook victims are still enduring daily threats and online abuse from people who believe bogus theories spread by Mr. Jones, whom President Trump has praised for his “amazing” reputation. ...
The families allege in one suit, filed by Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport, that Mr. Jones and his colleagues “persistently perpetuated a monstrous, unspeakable lie: that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged, and that the families who lost loved ones that day are actors who faked their relatives’ deaths.”
More broadly, the families are seeking society’s verdict on “post truth” culture in which widely disseminated lies damage lives and destroy reputations, yet those who spread them are seldom held accountable. ...
Mr. Jones got his media start as a community college student in Austin in the early 1990s, when he repeatedly insisted on community access cable that the government was behind the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Distracted by his mission to warn of the dangers of the American government, Mr. Jones dropped out of college and founded InfoWars in 1999, in time to call the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks an “inside job.” ...
Mr. Jones issued a rare apology last year after spreading a fake story that Mrs. Clinton and Democratic operatives were running a child pornography ring inside a Washington pizzeria, which had led Edgar M. Welch, a Jones listener, to enter the pizzeria in 2016 with an assault-style rifle, firing it.
- Elizabeth Williamson, Truth in a Post-Truth Era: Sandy Hook Families Sue Alex Jones, Conspiracy Theorist, NYT, May 23, 2018





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