Thursday, December 23, 2004

Primary phrasing

You can tell what kinds of messaging meetings are taking place at the White House, by looking at the shifts in primary phrases in press briefing archives over time. These phrases tie strongly to deliberate talking points, because it's hard to find many ways of expressing the same idea, especially when the whole point is to express exactly the same idea. Given changing talking points, we can see the framing strategy more clearly. All of this would be obvious to a politician or PR specialist in Washington DC ... but we'd like to automate the obvious, so we can begin to publicly tie these descriptions of policy to the actual effects, exposing the vast difference.

I wrote to feedback at the Google Suggest team. It would make sense to implement the "site:" constraint, so we could isolate the primary phrases of govenments & corporations. 'Google Suggest' finds the primary phrases that match what you type, in a much larger domain, in its type-ahead-like interface. But we'd like to actually list these phrases according to use, site by site. It would provide a PR diagram of any institution.

Of course, I can write a short program to do this for small sets. But getting Google to do it, with their vast database, would be much more potent.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

News gloss

"To gloss" has very poor connotations these days, especially relating to something like news! But gloss originally meant "added commentary". If you look at a manuscript from before the age of printing, the text is separated from the commentary around it. The commentary is meant to either support or explain the text. I suppose in some cases it was critical of the text, but usually not: why would you bother hand-copying a manuscript that you didn't like? I suppose there might be some examples. Certainly I do something like that here. Anyway, because "Gloss" was usually supportive annotation, the verb acquired its reputation for sycophancy.

Well, today the idea of annotation is more relevant than ever. There is more published material than ever, people comment on it regularly, and large automatic systems compile their commentary. This is crucial. The publicity industry, and its political counterpart in government, generates reams of nonsense everyday with the purpose of "controlling the message". This is not secret: it's talked about openly, and I believe the majority is aware of it, but is too overwhelmed to do much about it. That's where the Internet's potential for annotation, and data analysis, can come in handy for finding, and presenting, the truth.

Friday, December 17, 2004

"Strong dollar" = "none for you"

It shouldn't be hard to automatically translate these policy rumblings ...

After running up a huge military expense through invasion & conquest, the dollar starts to slide, and the White House then sees a justification for not spending tax money on tax-payers. In computational semantics, that only repesents a few dependencies, or productions, to resolve.

Note there's no reason to believe the White House is particularly interested in reducing the deficit or strengthening the dollar. Because, if it was, it wouldn't have expensively invaded yet another country.

The internal policy is to allow increasing impoverishment of the majority, strengthen the ruling class, but not so much that the majority stops spending heavily on goods & services, nor so much that the majority rebels.

The best road to a meek and impoverished population is reduced revenue spending on the majority, and increased spending on the wealthy and powerful. Who often pay no tax at all. It is their working model, that the ruling class will profit from militarization of the local empire (the US) and increased spending on police & jails etc. And this goes hand-in-hand with increased spending on militarization of the global empire.

None of this is in the news, but it's in policy papers, and is really obvious when you look at what is done, not what is said.

The important issue is the auomatic weighing, collecting and presenting of this evidence. And revealing the model behind it.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Press releases & wire services

The gap between reality and publicity is well understood, but not really measured. I think we could measure it, and automatically present the difference.

Take the White House press releases for example. These are strict products of the Public Relations industry. Statements are made in front of the press ... packed with cliches like "the role of government". If you do a google search of the White House PR on this cliche, you get some interesting statements:

"... the role of government is not to create wealth, but to create an environment in which entrepreneurs from all walks of life have a chance to succeed."

"Primarily it requires a proper understanding of the role of government to the economy. The role of government is not to try to manage the economy, the role of government is to create an environment in which the capital flows and entrepreneurs feel emboldened to take risk, and to make sure workers are trained for the jobs of the 21st century."

"America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens."

"The role of government is not to create wealth, but to create an environment where entrepreneurs can flourish."

"I don't believe the proper role of government is to try to pick and choose winners when it comes to tax relief. "


Some of the patterns that emerge are clear -- these are "talking points", essentially policy aphorisms, not intended to be true, but intended to sound sensible and, I suppose, "American". They are far from true indicators of policy.

If we identify enough context for this material -- speakers, dates, key phrases, semantic equivalence etc -- we would have a pretty strong model of the publicity strategy. That seems achievable, and interesting.

The reality part is harder, but one could start with legislation (say in the Thomas Library of Congress database) and treaties, proposed and signed -- as well as budget expenditures, which are usually in very formal language.

Then there is reality on the ground. The problem is context, as usual. Reality is very hefty context. But combining the weight of wire services, blogs, etc., real events can be isolated. There is a problem with actual hoaxes ... the Gulf of Tonkin incident for example. But with enough context on the ground (difficult in war, but possible) some picture could emerge to contradict the publicity & point to the real effect of legislation.

Something similar could be done with corporate publicity.

Sometimes, however, there's plenty of evidence in the press. The destruction of Fallujah was front page news. It was obviously an atrocity. It would get added to the list of counter-evidence to the statement "the US government is in Iraq to help the people." Which almost no one in Iraq believes, according to published polls.

Fluffy press release analysis, with no follow-up

From CNN: ""The policy of my government is a strong-dollar policy," Bush said during an Oval Office meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Certainly most people will just hear the sound bites at the top of this story. With no follow-up in the press, all that's being reported, and all that will be reported, is WhiteHousePR. It's up to the public to piece these things together, I suppose. You have to wonder what the point of the press is, then. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just print large sheaves of press releases? With ads on the back? It actually might be more real ... people would then understand that they had to figure out the truth.

Later in this story is some fluffy analysis:

"Some economists believe that the administration, while publicly professing support for a strong dollar, actually prefers the decline in the greenback's value against other currencies as a way of dealing with the country's huge trade deficit."

So, the news that a president is lying, isn't a good headline, but "Bush pledges strong-dollar policy" is. Strange decision. But the lie is mentioned again later for emphasis:

"Despite White House expressions of support, the administration has not taken action to prop up the dollar. During Bush's four years in office, not once has the administration intervened in currency markets to support the dollar or done anything else to stop the dollar's slide."

But the motivations mentioned in the article are complete nonsense. The Trade Deficit, for example. Where is the White House motivation to reduce the trade deficit? Or to reduce the budget deficit? Or to "prop up the dollar"? Why is it automatically assumed that these are important measurements? More importantly, why is it assumed that politicians are trying to do something good? Or that they are working in the public interest? Because they say so? Or because they are powerful?

Department of Hypocrisy & Insecurity

Bernard Kerik, a nominee for head of Department of Homeland Secuity, hired an immigrant without papers, and so withdraws, for pure publicity reasons. He said so, and most of the commentary has been about Bush's "publicity mistake". Kerik himself has been available for hire by public relations firms since he left public office.

Which means that politics is all about publicity. Which means that the issue of immigration is not about what's good for people, but about what's good for publicity.

So the Department of Homeland Security, with its newspeak name and Kafkaesque treatment of people, is partly about propaganda. But the DHS exists also to keep wages low in countries made poor, on purpose, by US policy. And because of that, the DHS cannot be about 'security', since it exists to hurt people. It certainly doesn't "protect americans", since it destroys work in the US by depressing wages elswehere.

The rich & powerful, in the US & elsewhere, wrest money & resources from the rest of the world, to keep the majority of the global population poor (see NAFTA, for example), and then they make it nearly impossible for people to come to wealthy countries to work.

It is illegal in this country to do the most natural thing imaginable -- bring your friends from poor countries to live & work with you here. It is so hard, that individuals rarely succeed. Sometimes corporations do it, but generally, with better communication and flow of capital, it's less expensive to open branches overseas. Especially for manufacturing & service jobs, but increasingly for white collar work. The policy of "keeping people where they are" curtails everyone's freedom, including that of US citizens, and is done on purpose.

The primary reason to keep overseas wages low, is to increase corporate profits across borders. The US government frightens the local population with images of hoardes from overseas. Which lets them build a Department of Homeland Security, to keep the majority of the world's population from threatening profits of the ruling class. This actually stops free markets, and keeps the world from becoming a level playing field. Because a level playing field would be disasterous for corporate profit.