Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Correspondence: Social mediation

Edited by Moristotle

“Social Media’s Globe-Shaking Power ” [Farhad Manjoo, NY Times, November 16]. Excerpt:
As the technology industry came to grips in the last week with the reality of a presidential election that did not go its way, many in Silicon Valley landed on the idea that widespread misinformation spread online was a primary factor in the race’s outcome.
    On Monday, both Google and Facebook altered their advertising policies to explicitly prohibit sites that traffic in fake news from making money off lies. That’s very likely a worthwhile fix, even if it comes too late. The internet has loosened our collective grasp on the truth, and efforts to fight that dismaying trend are obviously worth pursuing.
    Yet it would be a mistake to end this investigation at fake news. In fact, the dangers posed by fake news are just a symptom of a deeper truth now dawning on the world: With billions of people glued to Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo and other popular services, social media has become an increasingly powerful cultural and political force, to the point that its effects are now beginning to alter the course of global events.
    The election of Donald J. Trump is perhaps the starkest illustration yet that across the planet, social networks are helping to fundamentally rewire human society. They have subsumed and gutted mainstream media. They have undone traditional political advantages like fund-raising and access to advertising. And they are destabilizing and replacing old-line institutions and established ways of doing things, including political parties, transnational organizations and longstanding, unspoken social prohibitions against blatant expressions of racism and xenophobia....
    Most important, because these services allow people to communicate with one another more freely, they are helping to create surprisingly influential social organizations among once-marginalized groups. These ad hoc social movements range widely in form, from “alt-right” white supremacists in the United States to Brexiters in Britain to ISIS in the Middle East to the hacker collectives of Eastern Europe and Russia. But each in its own way is now wielding previously unthinkable power, resulting in unpredictable, sometimes destabilizing geopolitical spasms. [read more]
A central mystery of the American presidential election: how Hillary Clinton’s reputation for untrustworthiness was worse than Trump’s: “‘Post-truth’ named 2016 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries” [Amy B. Wang, Washington Post , November 16]. Excerpt:
“We concede all politicians lie,” conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote in September. “Nevertheless, Donald Trump is in a class by himself.”
    She cited The Atlantic’s David Frum, who described Trump’s dishonesty in May as “qualitatively different than anything before seen from a major-party nominee.”
    None of this seemed to matter significantly to those who supported him.
    “There is no doubt that even in the quadrennial truth-stretching that happens in presidential campaigns, Trump has set records for fabrication,” Chris Cillizza wrote days before the election.
    And yet, Cillizza noted, Trump was seen as more honest than Clinton by an eight-point margin, according to a Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll released on Nov. 2.
    ‘Post-truth’ named 2016 word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries
    The Brexit referendum and a surreal U.S. presidential election caused usage of “post-truth” to skyrocket, according to the Oxford University Press. [read more]

More sad funny: “Photos Depict a United States Where Few Value the ‘Peaceful Transition of Power’” [Timothy Bertrand, ReverbPress, November 16]. Excerpt:
While the Left Protests Xenophobia and Sexism, the Right Fails to Remember Their Own Reaction to Obama’s Election in 2008....
    Right-Wing Opposition to Obama Was Rooted in Racism….
    Were 2016 the standard contest between Washington elites – say a Bush and a Clinton – a pat on the back and a “better luck next time” may very well have sufficed. Dream of that liberal democracy of yore: excruciatingly dull left and right-of-center candidates. Mass political disengagement and popular apathy. Politics—the domain of the few. The enlightened. The experts. The elite. Here, the Gentleman Moderate could thrive. And with stakes this low, who could begrudge a desire for good sportsmanship?
    But 2016 was no ordinary race. And while the fallacy of centrism is often subtle, right now it has never been so clear—the election of Donald Trump, a nationalist demagogue who has not only courted the White Supremacist vote but intends to install an alt-right figurehead as his chief strategist, is a wildly unprecedented occurrence in the United States. [read more]

Nixon's being forced to resign in 1974 showed that a strong democracy could overcome even the worst illness ravaging its body. It isn't clear that our democracy now will be able to survive Donald Trump: “A Democratic Opposition” [George Packer, New Yorker, November 21]. Excerpt:
Four decades ago, Watergate revealed the potential of the modern Presidency for abuse of power on a vast scale. It also showed that a strong democracy can overcome even the worst illness ravaging its body. When Richard Nixon used the instruments of government to destroy political opponents, hide financial misdoings, and deceive the public about the Vietnam War, he very nearly got away with it. What stopped his crime spree was democratic institutions: the press, which pursued the story from the original break-in all the way to the Oval Office; the courts, which exposed the extent of criminality and later ruled impartially against Nixon’s claims of executive privilege; and Congress, which held revelatory hearings, and whose House Judiciary Committee voted on a bipartisan basis to impeach the President. In crucial agencies of Nixon’s own Administration, including the F.B.I. (whose deputy director, Mark Felt, turned out to be Deep Throat, the Washington Post’s key source), officials fought the infection from inside. None of these institutions could have functioned without the vitalizing power of public opinion. Within months of reëlecting Nixon by the largest margin in history, Americans began to gather around the consensus that their President was a crook who had to go.
    President Donald Trump...has the temperament of a leader who doesn’t distinguish between his private desires and demons and the public interest. If he’s true to his word, he’ll ignore the Constitution, by imposing a religious test on immigrants and citizens alike. He’ll go after his critics in the press, with or without the benefit of libel law. He’ll force those below him in the chain of command to violate the code of military justice, by torturing terrorist suspects and killing their next of kin. He’ll turn federal prosecutors, agents, even judges if he can, into personal tools of grievance and revenge.
    All the pieces are in place for the abuse of power, and it could happen quickly. There will be precious few checks on President Trump. His party, unlike Nixon’s, will control the legislative as well as the executive branch, along with two-thirds of governorships and statehouses. Trump’s advisers, such as Newt Gingrich, are already vowing to go after the federal employees’ union, and breaking it would give the President sweeping power to bend the bureaucracy to his will and whim. The Supreme Court will soon have a conservative majority. Although some federal courts will block flagrant violations of constitutional rights, Congress could try to impeach the most independent-minded judges, and Trump could replace them with loyalists.
    But, beyond these partisan advantages, something deeper is working in Trump’s favor, something that he shrewdly read and exploited during the campaign. The democratic institutions that held Nixon to account have lost their strength since the nineteen-seventies—eroded from within by poor leaders and loss of nerve, undermined from without by popular distrust. Bipartisan congressional action on behalf of the public good sounds as quaint as antenna TV. The press is reviled, financially desperate, and undergoing a crisis of faith about the very efficacy of gathering facts. And public opinion? Strictly speaking, it no longer exists.... [read more]
English is the world’s international language. It is often used to explain things to tourists coming in from other countries. But while English is well known, it’s not always well written, resulting in some truly, although unintentional, comic signs. Here are some of my all-time favorite broken English signs:
Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop. Ladies may have a fit upstairs.

In a Bangkok dry cleaner’s: Drop your trousers here for best results.

Outside a Paris dress shop. Dresses for street walking.

In a Rhodes tailor shop. Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.

Similarly, from the Soviet Weekly. There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.
Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle

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