Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Brendan O'Neill's hypocritical virtue-signalling

The Manchester bombing was a pointless piece of cruel stupidity. At least it brought out the best in many people, though, from offers of emergency accommodation, free taxi rides and bottled water for shaken people unable to get home, to help finding missing loved ones and so many (perhaps misguided but well-meaning) people rushing to donate blood that centres are having to turn them away. Good on those people for doing their best to do something helpful.

And shame on those members of the commentariat with column inches to fill who decided to make it all about themselves. I'm looking at you, Brendan O'Neill. You could have had the decency to keep your big hypocritical trap shut, but after a career built on scolding others for empty "virtue signalling"*, you just couldn't resist lecturing them on how much more virtuously angry you are than everybody else.

Brendan, there are people today who will be feeling far more devastated and angrier than you could even imagine, and with good reason. Don't insult them by comparing your urge to churn out yet another repetitive piece of look-at-me contrarian instapunditry to something important happening to real people in the real world.

If you had any shame we'd never hear from you again.

*Brendan also makes the waggy finger here and here and here and here and here.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Hoggart's Law versus public relations bullshit

The public relations industry exists to take away your informed consent by messing with your head and crowding out useful information with spurious noise, for the exclusive benefit of the rich and powerful (who are the only people who can afford to pay for this shit). So, definitely evil.

It wouldn't be much of a consolation, but the evil PR business would be slightly less insulting to the rest of us if the diabolical people being paid to mess with our heads were worthy opponents, with subtle, piercing intellects, weaving complex, finely-crafted webs of spin and misdirection so beautiful that we'd be forced to admire the sheer craftsmanship of the people pulling our strings.

But, apparently, they're not. They're as dumb as a bag of hammers. Don't take my word for it. Just look at the blog of a public relations professional. `

Richard Bailey, of prstudies dot com, has been thinking about how to identify the best PR blogs being entered for something called the #bestPRblogs contest. His thoughts, such as they are, occupy the space taken up by this blog post.

Let's put the pronouncements of a PR professional through a bullshit filter. The filter I'm using today is Hoggart's Law™, which states that "If the opposite of a statement is plainly absurd, it was not worth making in the first place."

Richard,  who appears to have a Phd in the bleeding obvious, titles his blog post "In praise of excellence" (as opposed to "In praise of mediocrity").

Let's examine an expert's suggestions for writing an excellent PR blog:
  • "Have a blog" (because not having a blog can negatively impact your chances of winning a prize for having an excellent blog. Who knew? Do go on...)
  • "Be selected for my pick of the week roundup" ("One of the guys judging this contest wants you to impress him, so you can safely ignore him for ever.")
  • "Be consistent" ("Be wildly inconsistent")
  • "Be brilliant" ("Be stupid")
  • "Brilliant writing counts"" ("Write any old rubbish, nobody cares")
  • Quality content has value" (see the opposite of "Brilliant writing counts", above). 
I don't know about his students, but Richard certainly deserves a prize. For nature conservation. So long as we have an ecosystem which supports vast herds of bovine PR professionals like him, the duck-billed platitude is safe from extinction.

Image credit.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

"You might also want to try..."

Today's unintentionally funny suggestion comes from webopedia's attempt to define organic SEO. After defining the term, the entry gives examples of organic SEO techniques. I love the way that the very last technique listed is "writing content relevant for human readers."

I suppose you could try doing that if you were really desperate, but it'll never catch on.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Cultural recycling

"Why every American graduation plays the same song"[sic] was the title of this video I just came across. Never having been to an American graduation, I wondered which "song" (or rather "tune") it was. I guessed Brahms' Academic Festival Overture (or at least the tune of Gaudeamus Igitur, the rousing student drinking song that Brahms recycled at the end of his piece). Alternatively, I know from my wife, who organises degree ceremonies, that Charpentier's Te Deum and Purcell's Trumpet Tune often get an airing on these occasions, too.

Anyway, I clicked play and discovered that Americans celebrate their academic successes to the tune of Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March Number 1 - the "Land of Hope and Glory" tune. For a Brit who associates the piece with the union jack-waving crowds at the last night of the Proms, this just felt weird.

Which it maybe shouldn't have done considering that, in the USA, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture is a standard feature of July the 4th celebrations and most Americans apparently think Tchaikovsky's tune has something to do with America's inconclusive 1812 war with the British. We Brits are used to cultural appropriation happening to other cultures - heaven knows, Britain did enough of it back in the high noon of its Imperial pomp, so it's about time we got our heads around the idea that it can happen to us, too.

Personally, I'm quite happy with the discovery - I'm better disposed towards the piece, now that I know that lots of people associate it with a celebration of hard work and intellectual curiosity, not just a strain of jingoist Imperial nostalgia that's embarrassing at best and delusionally destructive at worst. Here's the vid:

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Breaking news: Trump assasinated

According to the entertaining cartoonist who inexplicably morphed into the parody geekbro and red-pillish men's rights activist still known as Scott Adams, we're witnessing "The Slow-Motion Assassination of President Trump", no less.

After all, as Scott has repeatedly pointed out, Trump is a master wizard, who's playing 10-dimensional chess, or whatever, while the rest of us clueless muggles don't even realise the game's started. Obviously, the only way such an omnitalented ├╝bermensch could fail is because his enemies have ganged up on him in a massive, sustained conspiracy. It's like JFK, except with bullets made of the purest fake news...

Up to a very limited point, I agree with Scott. There is probably less to the Russia thing than meets the eye. Trump's a careless blabbermouth and a security nightmare with an embarrassing man-crush on hunky Tsar Vladimir, but I'm not running with the outlandish idea thet he's some kind of Hollywood-style Manchurian Candidate.

But as for the character "assassination" idea, well, Mr President, you're no Jack Kennedy. If you want a historical parallel, Al Capone would be closer. Not because of Trump's alleged ties with The Mob, but because what got Capone in the end wasn't the stuff he was notorious for (being a gangster and killing people), but something far more mundane (tax evasion).

Likewise, Trump is notorious for a number of failings which are no secret to anybody. These include a short attention span, an incredible degree of ignorance, a lack of interest in remedying that ignorance, or learning the most basic facts he needs to do his job, an apparent inability to distinguish whether the stuff that comes out of his mouth is true, false, or even coherent, an admitted preference for living inside his own privileged filter bubble, a streak of petty cruelty, a desire to humiliate others and self-parodic levels of vanity. Don't just take my word for it - this interview transcript from The Economist gives chapter and verse on the evasiveness, the blustering ineptitude, the desire to escape from inconvenient facts and the epic vanity. As for the vindictive spite of the man, you shouldn't even need to google it unless you've been living under a rock, or on Mars, for the last couple of years.

Most of this stuff has been obvious for as long as people have been aware of Donald Trump. But, instead, what's damaging him is a less dramatic failing - inattention, combined with an underdeveloped theory of mind which mean that his attempts to explain the probably explicable end up sounding shifty and evasive. By the look of things, this is a guy who hasn't quite grasped the fact that a plain "I didn't do it" sounds more convincing than "I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, there's no way you can prove anything." But he seemingly can't help himself - every time somebody comes up with something circumstantial, but a bit dodgy-sounding, he manages to make it sound even worse - if he doesn't learn that less is more, and soon, he'll end up tripping over his own bizarrely over-long tie and falling flat on his big orange face.

And then, who knows? President Elizabeth Warren, according to Scott Adams, who clearly thinks that this would be a bad thing because, you know, the oppressive matriarchy, feminazis, whatever. However, by the end of his post, Scott goes back to his happy place and concludes with the consoling idea that President Warren, too, will only last a couple of years now that any president can be brought down by fake news and conspiracy theories. It would probably be useless to point out that Trump himself was only too happy to run with a ridiculous  conspiracy theory which was far less plausible than the Russia thing. Remind me, what was it called again?
"You're fired!"
Big Bertha? I'm sure it was something like that ... hang on, I've got it now:
"The FAKE NEWS media is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!"
Big birther. Turns out that if you sow the wind, you might just end up reaping the whirlwind. Who knew?

Speaking of irony, has anybody else noted the striking similarities between Trump and one of the characters in Adams's Dilbert cartoons, the pointy-haired boss? An entitled bully with weird hair, promoted way above his abilities who is way more clueless and ignorant than the people below him in the hierarchy. All these years I thought that Scott intended the pointy-haired boss to be a figure of fun, never realising that he was really a how-to manual for aspiring presidents. Whatever next? Steve Bannon as Catbert?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

"The pseudo-journalistic medium"

Breitbart, as described in Steffen Dobbert's interview with Nigel Farage for Zeit Online:
He was one of the first politicians to visit Trump after the election. Also to [visit his] electoral campaign manager and former head of the pseudo-journalistic medium Breitbart,* Stephen Bannon.
Interesting to see how the UK's answer to Pepe the Frog loses it under determined questioning, leaving his minders to shut down the interview. If only the UK media had been this tough on his fact-free assertions, evasions and bluster before the referendum.

*Update - although, in defence of Brietbart's pseudo-journalists, they do have a certain dogged tenacity.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Nixon in China moment

The shorthand is “Nixon goes to China,” meaning a moment in which a leader reverses his past positions to do something that is shocking but beneficial.

Richard Nixon is hardly a role model, overall; he was a devious president who encouraged illegal actions by his subordinates. But he was a clever strategist — never more so than in the opening to China that culminated in his February 1972 visit to Beijing...

...Nixon arguably was the only U.S. politician who could have gotten away with such a bold move. He had the right-wing credentials, as an anti-communist and advocate of Taiwan.
 David Ignatius, Washington Post 

In a similar way, Flip Chart Rick believes that Theresa May is counting on her right-wing credentials to sprinkle some of that fairy dust we call "credibility" onto previously derided Labour policies. He thinks we may be seeing:
...a shift away from free market ideology as Theresa May promises more interventionist policies, such as a cap on energy prices, a crackdown on companies who underfund pension schemes, investment in new council houses and the “greatest extension of rights and protections for employees by any Conservative government in history.”
Interesting, if true, although others doubt whether any such Damascene conversion has really happened ("Red Theresa my arse").

Whether or not you think the advertised policy shift is sincere, or even real, it's an interesting reminder that what's deemed politically possible often depends on who's doing or saying something, rather than the actual merits of what's being done or said. Which isn't, in my opinion, a good thing, although if the subsequent career of Richard Milhous Nixon did nothing to dent people's blind faith in the mystical power of "credibility", then I'm afraid nothing will.