Thursday, September 30, 2004

Required Debate Post

I'm watching with rapt attention, but I have a problem: I find, and have always found, George W. Bush totally insuffferable in manner. Much though what he says disagrees with my thinking, all those "likeability" things that are supposed to be so much in Bush's favor make him utterly unlikeable to me, and I suspect would even if I agreed with the man.

On the other hand, I thought Al Gore was funny, charismatic, and empathetic. So it could be I'm just so far off the normal wavelength that I can make no sensible judgement on these issues.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Antonin Scalia: Confirmed Insanity

At the peril of saying something remotely topical (and worse, something remotely topical I stole from somewhere else), Atrios just pointed me towards an article about Scalia appearing at the K-School. I'll leave aside the poorly-written nature of the article and merely observe that however poor a job the reporter did, any of those quotes are well implausible and off-topic enough that I can only assume he's nuts. If only a single quote indicated plausible argument! “Is it racial profiling prohibited by the Fourth Amendment for the police to go looking for a white man with blue eyes? Do you want to stop little old ladies with tennis shoes?” Yes, and no, and duh, and none of that is relevent. “Would you rather have the president of the United States decided by the Supreme Court of Florida?” Well, you sure should, based on your precedent. None of these comments remotely make me suspect the man has a coherent judicial philosophy; I wish someone could tell me he had one so I could sound less shrill saying why it's dumb, but honestly only one decision has ever made me feel the man is a Kantian rational being, so none of this probably ought to surprise me. It's like the Bush administration: every time I suspect they couldn't really be that bad, they turn out to be worse. I just keep hoping I don't have to be that cynical. Oh, dire, dire gods!

... I suspect that's enough topicality to keep me going for a good long time. Also hopefully a lot more interesting that whatever is going on in my own life or work (for the record: horrible, horrible depression, and a dynamic combination of nothing, stacks, and comma categories). We'll see if any of the above drive me to more posting...

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Campaign Salsa!

At the risk of saying something precisely topical (rather than only vaguely topical), I have to mention the New Democrat Network's new song. It's jumpy peppy salsa, sung in Spanish, and the harshest attack on Bush I've seen yet. So obviously I love it. However, it's worth noting that I'm more enthused about the possibility of a real campaign song for 2004 than the asskicking, and of course most enthused about the particular song itself. My toes are a-tappin'!

"...Ten cuidado del nombre Bush..."

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Blind Criticism

Back to posting, at long last.

I just caught Bowling for Columbine on late night deep cable, and I am as usual not sure what to say. Michael Moore is a highly problematic filmmaker and a more problematic spokesman for me; at the same time, I don't have to agree with everything in a piece of art to think it's valuable. The film is a typical product of his, much like F9/11: affecting, serious, important stuff, tastefully handled, mixed together with cheap shots and cheaper arguments. I really think that everyone will see what they personally want to see in his films, be it crazy liberal propaganda or the serious work of a firebrand for the people, and his style is such that you can pick and choose what you want to see and believe that that's what he is almost without noticing you're doing it. As for me, I can't take his blind admirers or his blind detractors, but the one thing that gets me every time is protesters who haven't seen the films. There's a lot to like and a lot to hate, and I respect intelligent criticism (god knows I have enough of it myself), but I hear this "Michael Moore is a crazy propagandist who hates America" meme, knowing it comes from people who've never seen one of his films, and I can't take it, because the one thing you know beyond doubt when you see his work is that the man loves and respects his country and its people. He may not love it the way you do, but he loves it just the same.

I suppose that went nowhere; it's just time for me to vent some rage on the subject. There are inappropriate works of art in the world; I'm pretty sure his movies aren't among them, but I'm absolutely certain that you can't make up your mind about that question without seeing the films.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

More media strategy

Immediately after posting a small addition to Mycroft's comment, I had a large thought. Then I had a better one, midway through writing about the previous thought. Here we go.

Let's add to our theories about best strategy two assumptions about the way the world works. Both should be pretty obvious:

(1) Only change is newsworthy. That is, if nothing happened, there's nothing to report. Enough new stuff happens each day that our papers are filled, and we have to construe "change" as including "things that happened," but it should be clear that stories that report more change are bigger news.

(2) Credibility is key to popularity. Nobody would read a newspaper that said nothing true. Now, being credible enough isn't that hard, but being on top means being very credible.

Observe that these factors work in opposition to each other. If what people know is determined by what they read in the paper, and the newsworthy things are the things different from what people know, then reporting newsworthy things must inherently undermine the credibility of a news source, and thus be a bad strategy. In other words, a particular news source feels pressure to not contradict what it has said in the past, making it difficult to report news.

The payoff is that this explains media narratives. How do you deal with having a disincentive to report contradictory information? Choose a big story, then fit the events of the future in as supporting evidence. That way, nothing new has to go against the old information; indeed, there's the payoff in credibility coming from accurate prediction of future stories. And once some outlet has made up its mind on some narrative, it's bad strategy to go against it unless you have a more likely narrative. So there is a good strategic reason why narratives solidify. I wonder what more is needed to explain most major media behavior; any more examples of simple principles, or things that need explaining?

How should the media behave?

During this week of convention randomness, I'm again pondering how the media should work. Not how it should work if all were right with the world, mind you; how it should work theoretically if the media looks more or less the way it does at the moment (corporate control, profit motive), but is playing its optimal strategy in terms of market success. Is there some source I should go to to figure out the theory here? Failing that, here are my thoughts thus far:

-Scandal sells. This implies that if there's a way to legitimize a scandal, it goes on the air.

-Conflict sells. Conflicts are exciting; people want to watch rivalry. So better than a scandal is a disputed scandal.

-Conflict lasts. Conflicts are the news version of cliffhangers: a major question is a reason to tune in the next day. As a corollary, since the news decides what the facts are, they decide when conflicts are over.

-The news cycle exists. I'm not sure why, but there is one, and I'd like to understand why it is the way it is.

Can anybody add anything useful? I'm looking for more basic principles, but I can't think of any at the moment.