Saturday, August 06, 2011

Story Epidemiology

Amazingly, people still believe that "Austerity Measures" are the proper response to government debt. Once we translate "Austerity Measures" as "make sure the government does nothing for the population" we see that the proper response to debt is, instead, to stop spending money on things that help nobody: limitless free money for the financial sector, welfare for large multinational corporations, huge profit margins for the medical industry, and vast militarism for the arms and oil industries. The government has been simply bought by these overt and powerful interests. Everyone knows that. But, somehow, the obviously false narratives invented by the minions of wealth and power, and broadcast on commercial news, are still believed.

It takes almost no effort to trace and find the origins of the propaganda of the rich and powerful. Although it should be done, probably even automatically, as suggested in this blog over the years, I don't believe it would even begin to change the current situation.

People are rarely getting enough coherent information to make solid judgments about the domestic situation. They are overwhelmed, and have decreasing time to study the problem, let alone to determine a protest strategy.

Instead, pro-people analysts need to make one incontrovertible point at a time, so listeners can use these points as needles to unravel the complex misinformation around them.

The first point is: aggressive corporate powers own your government, and are doing a good job of turning the US into a colony, after having done it to most of the world.

The solution? It's pretty simple ... organize a million people to sit non-violently around each of the bureaus of power, government bodies like the IMF and the Federal Reserve, corporations like Merck and Pfizer, "food" companies like ADM, banks like BofA and Wells Fargo, and all of Wall Street ... to stop these places from functioning. Almost every employee in these buildings will be very happy not to go to work.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pirates and Emperors

Certainly any chest-beating speeches about Somali Pirates will bring to mind St. Augustine's story of "Pirates and Emperors". Somalia has been accused of being a "failed state", and having "no government", but every well-organized western democracy, especially the US, has been seizing ships, attacking ships, seizing land, occupying territory, stealing resources, and attacking countries, whenever it's convenient.

Luckily, because of the movies, pirates have such good street credibility, that these Somalis almost look like Robin Hoods. I'm sure they're not, but it's going to be very hard for the general public to get riled about a few ships, while US jets are actively bombing nearly a dozen countries, and have over 1,000 military bases overseas.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Minding the gaps

Automating the uncovering of propaganda, could simply be a matter of finding the differences between local and global news coverage.

So, for example, the almost non-existent local coverage of the US votes in the UN against nuclear disarmament. This is a regular, big story, outside the US and UK, but it's self-censored within the US national press. Finding the differences should be a snap ... and the gap itself provides significant information.

The percentage of total coverage a story receives is also significant ... something well-understood within most countries. No one thinks that celebrity news or sports news is hard news, and this is regularly decried. But news from the White House also obscures hard news ... this is clearly stated in fictional movies and television shows involving the White House. And yet we have no automated place to go to determine the obscured, real story, in real time. Even though they are often reported loud and clear in the global press. For example, in the Reagan years, when the World Court convicted the US of funding terror attacks against civilian targets in Nicaragua, it really didn't make the news in the US. But the rest of the World Press reported on it, at length.

Ideally, I'd like an option in Google News, to see the top-rated global stories that are not among the top-rated US-UK stories. There's a local analog, where your city newspaper won't report the biggest national scandal about your city ...

People all over the world need to see these differences, to discover which stories their governments and media manage not to tell them.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Citizen rule #1: never trust your government

I remember when Guantanamo prison was first in the news after 9/11, and I told some friends that secret prisons make no sense, under any circumstances. They said something like "but what if they are really bad people?" My response: "do you trust your government to determine that?" We all want to relax, live our lives and trust that those with power are "doing the right thing". Unfortunately, it's just never true. If you think of it positively, the government always needs help just to know what the right thing is. Because it's too hard to know it, from the abstract heights of power. The system doesn't just need small optimizations -- different levels of government in the US create deadly hardship for people, here and abroad, every minute of the day. Although it's tempting to simply eliminate the insanity of modern government, and start fresh, we will still always need some form of higher-level cooperation -- even the Spanish Anarchists developed syndicalism. So, Citizen Rule #2: always help your government to do the best job it possibly can, and modify its structure as necessary.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Transmission cluster analysis

On the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour last night, a report from Iraq showed Iraqi families, kicked out of their homes by US soldiers in Bagdhad. This is clearly a violation of their Human Rights, but, in this environment, no one is going to help them. A reporter asked a soldier about this, quite clearly, but the soldier changed the subject, quite unconsciously, and started talking about how brutal was the existence of these families ... the ones he had just brutalized further ... In one sense, he's just doing his job, and wants to think about what he's doing in a positive light. We all do this, when we're being paid to do someone else's bidding. But, in another sense, he had internalized the "talking points" mentality coming out of the executive branch in Washington DC. He'd internalized the company line.

This is why I think some kind of automatic analysis of these "company lines", mined from the data on the web, is possible. Combinations of talking points are like markers of the origin of a line of thinking. The linguistic residue in replicated ideas could allow us to map global thought.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Matching data to slogans

When I read some politician say "America is the moral leader of the world", I'd like to see a hyperlink to a world-wide poll of opinion on the topic. Given the results of polls like this, it's quite likely that, if international pollsters were to ask the question "rank the US in morality", the US would be considered the most immoral force in the world. A more complex set of questions is appropriate, of course, and simplistic assertions one way or another don't reveal much. That's why it would be very interesting to automate ties between messages and reality. If you could pick out phrases like "american aren't against the war" and generate links to a list of polls about the war, the reader could think about the truthfulness of the speaker. This might have an influence on propaganda, if it could be done in an unbiased manner.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The lost art of evidence fabrication

On Charlie Rose last night, the Iranian Ambassador said the evidence, presented by the US government to the press, was fabricated. He talked about larger issues, but one thing he said was quite concrete: every weapon manufactured outside the US is marked "day-month-year". But the evidence was very clearly marked in the US fashion: "month-day-year". Talk about your "smoking gun" -- this is a very testable accusation. Either it's accurate, and the press should "press" the administration about it, or it isn't, and the Ambassador shouldn't have brought it up. Unfortunately, as Stephen Colbert points out, truthiness is more important than truth these days. The evidence against Iran was presented with much "military-CIA styling". The actual content is secondary.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The role of the weatherman

Unlike news based on the words of "opinion-makers", "news-makers", "pundits" and "leaders", weather news (and to some degree sports news) is based on tangible evidence -- reality, which we all review, in person. The weatherman collects more data than we do, but we know the nature of the data, more or less, and he presents his thinking, to a certain degree, and his experience, both of which we judge on its own merits.

His presentation is popular, amateur science. Any of us could do it, if we had the time. In the past, when we were farmers, everyone did it.

Everyone knows the difference between "news" presentations, and evidence presentation.

So let me propose ... that the role of the weatherman needs to expand.

Pollen counts, air pollution, water pollution, tide levels, traffic reports, number of soldiers & civilians killed ... this increasing evidence presentation moves, I believe, in the right direction.

So how about estimates of how many miles were driven today? Or, how many people left town on holiday? Or how many people are in town for conventions? Or how many people rode bicycles today? Or where people go during spring break? Or the effect anything had on local retail sales today? Or on how many people went to a dance or concert? Or, what's the estimate of kids who didn't go to school today? Or today's local homeless count? Or, the number of animals killed locally today, for varying reasons? Or the number of people who died in various ways, or were injured? Or births? Or the local average personal debt, broken down by income? Or, the number of people locally without health insurance? Or the number of people who weren't able to pay bills today? Or, the amount of money made by people of varying income? Or the amount spent by government, for different purposes?

Then, if you have a "weatherman", it would be someone who could begin to tie together some of this data ... and poll data. Like "the number of homeless passed the 1,000 mark in this week's count, and in a poll 30% of the homeless said that paying medical bills prevented them from paying rent. On the same topic, the hospital reports that it treated 500 uninsured patients this week."

We could get a computer to point out some of these possible correlations. But we need timely research, and transparency, to get the data. If there was a public demand, via "weathermen" in the media, such data would be forthcoming.

Note that this role (commentator, weatherman, traffic reporter ...) can be helpful for any specific non-profit project, any city, and any public activity. It can shift consensus and focus public effort upon reality.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Supposed Popularity of Fast Food

Back-of-the-envelope calculations can illuminate conventional wisdom.

For example, people get the impression that the majority of the population eats fast food.

But look at McDonald's last world-wide earnings report. $5.572 billion last quarter. Divide by 90 days, and by a $3 average meal price, and you get 20,637,037 meals a day. Well, even if that was all in the US, that's less than %7 of the population eating at McDonald's once each day. Let's say half that is in the US, though. So, if the fast-food industry is ten times the size of McDonald's, only about a third of the US population has a fast food meal every day.

The majority? They eat less branding than one would think.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Oh it's a major operation, I agree

An allegedly massive and supposedly devastating plot in Britain was "revealed": a well-coordinated trans-continental publicity explosion, a PR stunt and propaganda coup of stunning proportions.

It's quite obvious that the black teens captured in the US a few months back, announced by the Attorney General as "major terrorists", were a kind of "publicity prototype", to be extended and augmented when the next group of wayward teens was discovered. So here it is.

There's possibly some small pretext of reality behind the publicity -- we won't know for years. But the reaction is obviously disproportionate, and intentionally so, because the UK & US governments want to strike fear into the hearts of their citizens. They are kings, terrorizing their subjects, to ensure their re-election.

The talking points are so obviously void and manipulative -- whenever a journalist asked for details, the government officials would say "this is a plot of gigantic proportions -- it would have been worse than 9 / 11". They were well-trained in handling the media, because that's the only reason they bothered making the announcement at all. Not to increase safety, but to manipulate the public.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Automatic recognition and generation

Just as easily as the US press distributes "establishment wisdom" (or spin) we can recognize it.

Take Google News on the Mexican election. Here are the headlines:

* Calderon Readies New Mexico Government

Washington Post - 50 minutes ago
By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO. MEXICO CITY -- The top vote getter in Mexico's presidential election said Monday he has begun working on his new government, even though the country's electoral court has yet to declare a winner in the disputed race. ...

* Mexico’s leftwing candidate threatens unrest (Financial Times)
* Lopez Obrador fills the streets as marchers demand a recount (Oxford Press)

It's almost a perfect gradient. The US press calls Calderon the top "vote getter" when, in fact, that's in serious dispute. The business press worries about unrest. The non-US press headlines the actual dispute (the stolen election debate).

Here's an academic suggestion:

It seems like we could automate the recognition of the "diminishing influence effect" (probably inversely geometric or inversely exponential) after "talking point" generating events.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Publick Record

I found a volume, years 1803 - 1807, entitled "State Papers and Publick Documents of The United States ..."

Imagine my surprise to find the first document's subject: "relative to Morocco" !

"From the president of the United States to Congress. Nov. 4, 1803.

"By the copy now commuicated of a letter from captain Bainbridge of the Philadelphia frigate to our consul at Gilbralter, you will learn that an act of hostility has been committed on a merchant ship of the United States by an armed ship of the emperor of Morocco. This conduct on the part of that power is without cause, and without explanation. It is fortunate that captain Bainbridge fell in with and took the capturing vessel and her prize ; and I have the satisfaction to inform you, that about the date of this transaction such a force would be arriving in the neighborhood of Gilbraltar, both from the east and from the west, as leaves less to be feared for our commerce from the suddenness of the aggression."

This is Thomas Jefferson writing! He sounds like a CEO, making a report to his Board and chief investors.

Obviously the resources of the United States government were regularly used, in fact primarily used, to protect the profits of certain citizens ... merchants, insurance companies, producers etc. This is the reality of the "political process" to this very day.

The masses, the farmers, the natives, etc. had no part in these affairs.

This is just a snapshot, but a useful one. The government & the military grew up together, organically, to protect the interests of the profit-taking class, a small minority of the population. The shape of that state-corporate relationship is the standard history of the US. Nothing has really changed, except that the masses fought for their rights, and gained a measure of the country's resources. Now these are almost completely lost, again.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Colbert I'd really like to see

Of course Stephen Colbert's in-your-face satire, standing four feet from Bush, was both brilliant and ballsy. Mark Twain would have given him a standing ovation.

But I think it could have been ... more. If I could perform as well as Colbert, here's some additions to the script I would have made:


I'd like to excoriate, and eviscerate, those treasonous "citizens" who say that Bush is a war criminal. Can you imagine? Those "critics" say that "invasion" is the surpreme international crime, and they make not-so-subtle comparisons between our lovable president [salutes] and Adolf Hitler. Can you imagine? They say: "Germans hanged at Nuremburg for invading other nations" ... which means that these traitors are implicitly threatening our commander-in-chief! Itself a crime! I think we need to stop tolerating this hate speech, and send a special forces squadron after these people, now, before they go too far.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

South America & Web 2.0

Morales, the first indigenous president in modern South America, is taking Bolivia back from the foreign interests that have stolen it.

In Venezuela, nearly 100,000 new, small, local co-operative busisnesses have been created since Chavez took office, in a people-and-nature oriented policy known as endogenous development.

Argentina has just become the first country to free itself from the destructive pro-US policies of the hideous IMF.

There are similar movements in Peru, Uraguay, Ecuador, Brazil ...

Hopefully Columbia, suffering the most from US brutality, will soon free itself.

South America is, for the first time, leading the world in a democratic, populist rebellion against the destructive profit-centric forces of international development.

I don't see any revoluntionary Web 2.0 webapps that are specifically involved in this revolution. Isn't that a little strange? Shouldn't they be, I dunno, a bit more mutually supportive? The goals, after all, are pretty similar: Save the planet.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Noam Chomsky on Intellectual Property

No one should read the news about the patents, IP, inventors, or "market innovation", without first reading this essay (from

The relation of intellectual property
to personal freedom and its place in
public and academic settings is an
interesting topic with an interesting

The Uruguay Round that set up the
World Trade Organization imposed what is
called a free trade agreement, but which is,
in fact, a highly protectionist agreement
(the US and business leaders being
strongly opposed to free trade and market
economies, except in highly specific ways
beneficial to them). A crucial part of this
agreement was the establishment of very
strong "intellectual property rights". What
this actually means is rights that guarantee
monopoly pricing power to private

For example, consider a drug
corporation. Most of their serious research
and development - the hard part of it - is
funded by the public. In fact, much of the
dynamism of the world's economy comes
out of public expenditures through the state
system, which is the source of most
innovation and development. There is
some research and development in the
corporate system, but it's mostly at the
marketing end. And this is true of the drug
industry. Once the corporations gain the
benefit of the public paying the costs and
taking the risks, they want to monopolize
the profit and the intellectual property
rights. These rights are not for small
inventors. In fact, the people doing the
work in the corporations don't get much
out of them; at best, they would receive a
small bonus if they invent something. It's
the corporate tyrannies that are making the
profits and they want to guarantee them.

The World Trade Organization
proposed new, enhanced intellectual
property rights - patent rights - far beyond
anything that existed in the past. In fact,
they are not only designed to maximize
monopoly pricing and profit, but also to
prevent development. For instance, the
World Trade Organization rules introduced
the concept of product patents. It used to
be you could patent a process, but not the
product, so if some smart guy could figure
out a better way of producing something,
he could do it. The WTO wants to block
this. It's important to block development
and progress in order to ensure monopoly
rights, so they now have product patents.

Consider US history: suppose the
colonies, after independence, had been
forced to accept this patent regime. What
would we Americans be doing now? First
of all, there would be very few of us at all,
but those of us who would be here would
be pursuing our comparative advantage in
exporting fish and fur. That's what
economists tell you is right - pursue your
comparative advantage. That was our
comparative advantage. We certainly
wouldn't have had a textile industry. The
British textiles were far cheaper and better.
Actually, British textiles were cheaper and
better because Britain had crushed Irish
and Indian superior textile manufacturers
and stolen their techniques. They therefore
became the pre-eminent textile
manufacturer, by force of course. In
actuality, the US does have a textile
industry which grew up around
Massachusetts. But the only way it could
develop was by extremely high tariffs
which protected unviable US industries.
Our textile industry developed and later
had spin-offs into other industries. And so
it continues.

We would never have had a steel
industry either, for the same reason: British
steel was far superior. One of the reasons is
because they were stealing Indian
techniques. British engineers were going to
India to learn about steel-making well into
the 19th century. They ran the country by
force so they could take what the Indians
knew and develop a steel industry. In order
to develop its own steel industry, the US
used massive government involvement
through extremely high tariffs and the
military system, as usual.

This system continues right up to the
present, and furthermore it's true of every
single developed society. It's one of the
best-known truths of economic history that
the only countries that developed are the
ones that pursued these techniques. There
were countries that were forced to adopt
free trade and "liberalization" - the
colonies - and they got destroyed. The
sharp divide between the first and the third
worlds has really taken shape since the
18th century. And maintaining this divide
is what intellectual property rights are for.
In fact, there's a name for it in economic
history: Friedrich List, the famous German
political economist in the 19th century,
who borrowed his major protectionist
doctrines from Andrew Hamilton, called it
"kicking away the ladder". First you use
state power and violence to develop, then
you kick away those procedures so that
other people can't do it.

Intellectual property rights have very
little to do with individual initiative.
Einstein didn't have any intellectual
property rights on relativity theory. Science
and innovation is carried out by people
who are interested in it; that's the way
science works. However, there's been an
effort in very recent years to
commercialize it, much the same way
everything else has been commercialized.

So you don't do science because it's
exciting and challenging, because you want
to find out something new, and because
you want the world to benefit from it; you
do it because maybe you can make some
money out of it. You can make your own
judgment about the moral value.
Personally, I think it's extremely
cheapening, but also destructive of
initiative and development.

It's important to note that the profits
from patents commonly don't go back to
the individual inventors. This is a very
well-studied topic. Take, for example, the
well-studied case of computer-controlled
machine tools, which are now a
fundamental component of the economy.

There's a very good study of this by David
Noble, a leading political economist. What
he discovered is that these techniques were
invented by some small guy working in his
garage somewhere in, I think, Michigan.
After the MIT mechanical engineering
department learned about it, they picked up
these techniques and developed them and
extended them and so on, and the
corporations came and picked them up
from MIT, and finally it became a core part
of US industry. Well, what happened to the
guy who invented it? He's still probably
working in his garage in Michigan or
wherever it is. And that's very typical.
I just don't think intellectual property
has much to do with innovation or
independence. It has to do with protecting
major concentrations of power which
mostly got their power as a public gift, and
making sure that they can maintain and
expand their power. And these highly
protectionist devices really have to be
rammed down the public's throat. They
don't make any economic sense or any
other sense.

Neither do I think that intellectual
property should play any role in academic
and public institutions. In 1980 the Bayh-
Dole Act gave universities the right to
patent inventions that came out of their
own research. But nothing comes strictly
out of a university's own research; it comes
out of public funding. That's how the
university can function; that's how their
research projects work. The whole system
is set up to socialize cost and risk to the
general public, and then within that
context, things can be invented. But I don't
think universities should patent them. They
should be working for the public good, and
that means the fruits of their research
should be available to the public.

- Noam Chomsky

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Obscuring power: or why Jared Diamond, Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs make me see red

In the final episode of "Guns, Germs and Steel", I had some hope. Diamond pointed out that Africa, difficult for the west to settle, became a colonial source of slaves, mineral & agricultural wealth. "And I realized" Diamond said on the train "that the very train I was on, today still served the same purpose." My hopes rose: would he say it? These are still western colonies! Say it! "But these aren't colonies anymore. They are free democratic societies." Arrrrgh!!!!! He then blames malaria for poverty. It's unbelievable. This is what passes for anaylsis in the 21st century: a man who can't connect the dots, because it would accuse people he knows -- of continuing the tradition of Projecting Power.

It could be that Diamond is just a poor reader. He needs to study Rousseau, Marx, and lots of Chomsky. But, it's more likely that he just suffers from not wanting to accuse those in his class ... fellow professors, writers etc.

Take the other two in my title: Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Sachs. Professors, writers, movers & shakers ... they've also positioned themselves. Diamond is a biogeographical apologist for power. Friedman is a geopolitical apologist for power. Sachs is a macroeconomic apologist for power. And they all use the world's massive inequalities to further their punditry and obscure the truth: that poverty exists to continuously concentrate wealth & power, and does so now, at this very moment. It didn't stop in 1865, 1914, 1945, 1961 or 1990. It is still going on today, as fast as ever, killing millions. And the wealthy classes in all countries are hiding this fact from their intellectual & managerial classes ("civil society"), ensuring the masses continue to be enslaved, their resources stolen, their environments polluted, nature destroyed, etc.

The only difference, perhaps: Sachs & Friedman certainly know their crimes, because they purposely hide their own roles (Sachs in the destruction of every country he's ever advised, Friedman as propagandist for the Council on Foreign Relations). But Diamond is just an author, being polite, working within the framework. Maybe he'll open his eyes someday.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Blaming geography for 'progress'

On PBS, Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs & Steel" suffers from standard academic blinkering. Asked by a New Guinean why "white men have so much cargo, but we have none", he doesn't look at the power projection he represents in this aboriginal culture. He doesn't say: "because some people in my world make a lot of money from that disparity".

No. He starts to insult their food supply: not enough protein. In a strange oversight, somehow he doesn't mention that river & coastal-dwelling New Guineans eat fish. He says their food supply (he mentions mostly roots) "is viable, just not abundant". And he contrives a correlation between powerful civilizations and large domesticated animals. Somehow, Incan civilization was due to the Llama. I suppose Mayan civilization was fueled by magical-realist dreams about future cows? He's a biologist, but somehow hasn't noticed that 'progress' often happens because of scarcity, not abundance. And there's no questioning, in this show, of whether "cargo" is progress. Although, from the name of the series, we'll be seeing that western 'progress' is violent. I'd give him points for that, if it was a new idea.

Of course luck plays some role in the development of extreme power inequality. Or else there would be none. But power inequality develops to some degree in all human communities ... it exists on Papua New Guinea too. He just doesn't show it. With larger populations, the inequalities grow, as does the accumulation of habits & technology for conquest. He hints at this, but the overwrought presentation of his weak geographic evidence clouds over it. This is really a missed opportunity.

We live in a material world built on inequality. The system thrives upon it, and fools its intellectual class, who don't want to think of themselves as vampires, into instead thinking that inequality was an accident, and that it is lessening. In fact it is increasing dramatically, everywhere, continually. The only cases where this reverses, historically, are when mass opinion and action push back, against the inequality imposed upon it by the wealthy, powerful & violent minority.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Disappearing differences & assertive enclosures

Thoughtful religious people, with great subtlety, resolve for themselves the idea of a god, or gods, with what they learn about life through experiment & analysis, scientific and historical. Many thoughtful people who do not believe in a god, or gods, have nonetheless explored ideas about the force of life, and have an unquelchable fascination with the depth of human experience and insight possible under spiritual influence. These two views, or gradients, overlap in so many ways ... with a glass of wine, goodwill, time, and mutual respect, people can agree on almost everything about the nature of the universe.

Then propaganda and power politics enter the picture. The expensive 'Intelligent Design' publicity campaign builds walls between people, so supporters can be identified, money collected, votes counted. It's the death of subtlety, in yet another realm of potential connection between people.

It's fixable, however. We'll just need to spend more time together.

The Guardian is long gone

Peaceworkers are angry about the recent, hip-defamatory fake-interview with Noam Chomsky in The Guardian. They react as though the Guardian is a socially-responsible newspaper. On the contrary, it has been fascistic for several years, and has backed Blair's backing of Bush's invasions and occupations. It also universally praises western-style export development in the third-world, and elsewhere, as a good thing, and bashes social spending in Europe. In two years, The Guardian went from being rather pleasant to becoming transparently aggressive towards enlightenment values. So the Chomsky smear is unsurprising.

What does surprise me, kind of, is how the metamorphosis happened so quickly, and in the Internet Age, when there's supposedly better access to information. Apparently the major media are increasingly protecting their buttered sides in the face of the new opinions. Global Voices are really getting drowned out.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Journalism is NOT the first draft of history

Which shallow hack wrote "journalism is the first draft of history"?

One might as well say that "journalism is the first draft of Physics and Chemistry". Or that a historian's other resources -- interviews, government records, photos, films, buildings, the arts -- are also "first drafts of history".

The worst part, of course, is that journalism is usually very far from the truth, because journalists rarely investigate. This is because they are required to base their stories upon the quotes, reports, press releases of "significant" players -- giving their stories a striking elite bias. Also, journalists are heavily indoctrinated by their peers, who serve commercial interests, rather than popular interests such as justice, or scientific ones such as truth.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Lingering" nuclear weapons?

"The Hunt for Nazi Scientists", a show tonight on PBS's "Secrets of the Dead", does a pretty nice job of presenting the post-war competition for important Nazi military technology: jet fighters, ballistic missiles and nuclear fission. The Nazis define militarism to this day.

One of the nicest moments was a slave laborer, near-starved in Werner von Braun's V2 factory, commenting on his disgust when von Braun was celebrated after his success with Apollo 11. Von Braun is the classic "tech visionary for hire". He worked hard to kill civilians for the Nazis, and then he worked hard to build the US missile program, which backed the killing of millions of civilians by the US after WWII, and constantly pushed forward the arms race.

The program talks about these missiles in their nuclear silos, a von Braun legacy "that still lingers today".

The US is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons, against civilians. It has more than anyone, and refuses to reduce its stockpile. It is planning on building more. US nuclear weaponry is the bulwark of small-country bullying by hawks like Bush, and is the most likely future cause of a human holocaust. That's quite a heavy bit of "lingering".

Sunday, October 02, 2005


There are many courtiers serving powerful state & corporate interests, in the US, and in most countries. Some of them are disguised as economists, just as they were in Stalin's USSR, Hitler's Germany, in the British Empire, etc.

In the current global destruction, led by the US, Jeffery Sachs is a typical example of the economist-courtier. His crimes against humanity are well-documented, and obvious. But he works hard to polish his public image. He serves power so effectively, yet works so hard against the interests of people, that well-meaning journalists cannot understand him, and it's easy to find articles about him, which jump back and forth, confusing the frames of reference of the rich and the poor.

Sach's current obsession with debt relief, along with that of Bono, should immediately raise one's suspicions. On a recent PBS documentary, Bono answered some of his critics by pointing to their successful debt cancellation, saying something like "you can't argue with our success".

Well, yes you can. The debt was just a weapon: the banks didn't need the money. Debt was a 'means', not an 'end'. So far, this debt relief either 1) is used to further restructure a country in line with IMF rules or 2) make room for more destructive development money.

The assumption is that development/aid money is a good thing. It isn't. Because the purpose of these loans and aid are not to help people: they are intended to provide resources for a country's wealthy minority, and extract the maximum benefit for their powerful first-world allies.

The other assumption is that development itself is a good thing. It isn't. This assumption invalidates the lives & cultures of indigenous peoples all over the world, whose land and resources have been taken, and who are forced to migrate to the edge of cities & industrial centers in order to survive. Or worse.

Let's take the example of Bolivia. You can find essays everywhere, including in Sach's new book, about the miracles he performed there, as a young man. I think I'll just quote Noam Chomsky on the subject:

Take Bolivia. It was in trouble. It had brutal dictators, highly repressive, huge debt, the whole business. The West went in. Sachs was the advisor, with the IMF rules: stabilize the currency, increase agro-export, cut down production for domestic needs, subsistence agriculture, etc. It worked. The figures, the macroeconomic statistics, looked quite good. The currency has been stabilized. The debt has been reduced. The GNP is increasing.

There are a few little flaws in the ointment: poverty has rapidly increased. Malnutrition has increased. the educational system has collapsed. But most interesting is what has in fact stabilized the economy: agricultural exports. But not coffee. Coca.

It's interesting to me that, in principle, anyone listens to servants of power. They are bad sources.

Certainly people like Thomas Friedman, Fareed Zakaria, or Jeffrey Sachs would be in the same position no matter which kind of state system they were serving. That's clear from the fact that they will distance themselves from polticians they believe are declining in power (Bush, for example, in Friedman's recent conversion).

To reposition themselves, they simply change their double-speak as needed.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Last night, ABC had a reasonably well-researched show called "System failure" hosted by Ted Koppel. Many of the issues that arise from Hurricane Katrina were covered, in a nice general overview.

As always, good journalism has to be followed by bad.

The next show was called something like "Ready or not", an hour of poorly researched disinfotainment.

Just as a start, it probably caused some future deaths, because it repeated the long discredited notion that you should jump under a desk during an earthquake! That's a sure way to get crushed by a desk. Current field experts now recommend that you lie down next to a desk, so it can protect you from falling heavy structure.

But any show that begins with a panic propagated by the Council on Foreign Relations is already in the looney bin. The CFR does nothing without a purpose, and this purpose was clearly to distract from the ongoing problems in the medical industry, and divert funds to expensive 'emergency preparedness' plans. If we had a truly accessible, responsible and robust medical system, we'd be much better prepared for a disaster. Instead, the CFR-led story concentrated on the lack of a single drug, for a disease that has not yet evolved!

Someone, with money, should initiate a class action suit against the CFR, for causing death by distraction.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Not now? You're kidding ...

Powerful politicians plead "hey, no politics now. No investigations or accusations or blame, now. We're all in this together. Let's get to work. We'll investigate problems later."

Sheesh. The problems are happening now. They've been happening.They will continue to happen without immediate, hurricane-strength investigation. FEMA as a control organization is not concerned with helping people, and this is a political issue of tremendous magnitude.

I don't mean the emergency workers themselves: I mean the mission of FEMA the organization. It's supposed to maintain control. It didn't let the Red Cross in the city. It didn't let the Cuban doctors into the city. It didn't let Wal-Mart into the city with bottled water. FEMA even threatened to kill rescuers risking their lives in boats trying to help people.

The empire doesn't care about people. Th emperors are very good at 'acting' like humanitarians. Don't let power re-write your thinking about "what is reasonable". Question authority. Now.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Stylish Romans

According to Michael Babcock of Newsday, the US is an Empire, and should be proud of it. It's funny to see it said so openly. He means it as a compliment: the US is a 'good' empire. He says the US is the Roman Empire. Lovely.

Despite my love of the Monty Python movie "Life of Brian" (easily the funniest movie of all time), I don't think one can seriously think that the Roman Empire was good for the majority.

The subsistence economies Rome destroyed, the aboriginals they slaughtered, the deadly & capricious changes in the legal system, the extreme tyranny & terror ... and for what 'progress', exactly?

There's no such thing as a good empire.

The US is, however, the most destructive Empire in history. It beats them all. And has the best publicity money can buy.

Imperial cliché

It's really sad when a reasonable phrase is turned into a "talking point" for state terror.

Take "challenges facing US foreign policy". This means "how does the US keep its boot firmly on the necks of people who don't like it?" If you do a google search on this phrase, you'll get dozens of foreign poicy apologists, organized as 'think-tanks' like the "Council on Foreign Relations" and "Inter-American Dialogue".

Pat Robertson recently offered a glimpse of US foreign policy: kill, invade and keep the oil flowing. Oh, I'm paraphrasing. The real quote is much better:

We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.

To distract from this peek behind the curtain, the Foreign Policy spin-doctors immediately started operating on Chavez. Michael Shifter of Inter-American Dialogue:

The challenge for U.S. policy is to contest the validity of Chavez's claims and his grandiose but wrongheaded designs. Policy alternatives need to be devised that come to grips with harsh realities but do not jettison modern Western values.

Western values such as the killing of half a million people in Central America in the 1980's? Or the western values of selling Bolivia's water to private Western interests for profit? Or the Western Values of attacking any country that embarks on social spending?

Monday, August 01, 2005

The disaster trick

A dutch activist, raising conciousness about the famine in Niger, was irritated at me for posting about subsistence economies, and how modern development is designed to screw farmers. In Niger, the natural resources are getting privatized at a fast pace, like everywhere else.

So why was this dutch activist angry? At first, I thought it must be because I brought up 'unnecessary issues'. The dutch have a long history of individuals travelling to directly help crisis-stricken areas. But it wasn't that ... I couldn't figure it out. Finally -- sitting in a hot Moscow apartment on the bad side of town, watching a Russian dubbed version of 'The Day After Tomorrow', vegetating while recovering from a stomach flu -- I realized what was going on.

Publicity people know, that there's only one way to spin a natural calamity, if you're in power. "We're all in this together", you must say, appealing to natural human tendancies to help each other. Then you go on and take whatever advantage of the calamity you can. I think this is standard operating procedure among those in power ... I'd like to hear exceptions.

Anyway, in every disaster movie, the president, and people in power, turn out to be 'regular people', even if they started out bad. Yikes. This never happens in the real world! Those in power are constantly calculating and positioning during a disaster. They couldn't care less about the people -- they are quite hardened to such things. They may not do much, or they may do much harm, in the wake of calamities. But they will make a tremendous show of sympathy, and they will talk about supporting victims etc. These movies basically do their PR for them.

Reality helps their PR too. If you go on the ground during a diasaster, you mostly run into very sympathetic, driven, helpful people. It's those in power who don't care. It's very hard to remember that, when you've see how normal people cooperate in the face of adversity.

So I think I was being admonished for bringing up an ugly fact, which distracted from the sense of comraderie. But still, if you want those in power to help, you have to pressure them, by pulling down their curtain of disception.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Google news worsening

I'm sorry to say it, but the default English version of Google News just looks like a bunch of press releases to me.

The clustering technology weighs stories heaviest when they get the most press in the most places. But when a story gets released by press release or press conference, it automatically ends up on a lot of websites. It actually makes blogs a better filter ... who would write a diary entry about some posturing rhetoric by the Secretary of State? Very few people. But the newspapers cover it fully, widely ... and badly.

I feel that Google Maps is more interesting, and has more potential to be real, and I'm starting to write about it here. If you mapped Google News to Google Maps (why has no one done this yet?) you'd start to see the problem: the news is being generated in just a few places by the same few people, and is therefore a long way from real news.

The problem isn't just geographical, though. Important news is often happening in DC or NYC, and we just don't hear about it. It's happening in congress or at the UN. And there are no press conferences, except by a handful of activists.

Still, if the Maps were real enough, with good enough conflated data, it would become harder & harder for elite laws & regulations to take hold. There has to be a way for the true state of the world to shine through the publicity madness.

Monday, May 09, 2005

CFR eats PBS

Although this is old news, clearly the Council on Foreign Relations, the power-center of apologists for US foreign & economic policy, has taken over US public television. In a very direct way.

The CFR's slick publicist Fareed Zakaria has a new show Foreign Exchange, where Zakaria regularly attacks movements against exploitation as "backwards". While the US government, the World Bank, IMF, NAFTA etc. steal all possible resources around the world (including within the US) for the benefit of a few, propagandists like Zakaria steal language such as "free trade", "democracy", "civil society" and "progress" to cover the appalling reality.

Last night, on Wide Angle, I saw a piece of the superb documentary "Control Room", followed by what can only be considered a rebuttal of reality, by Richard Haass of the CFR. The only way to fight these ad-men is outside of the TV bubble. They have the media wrapped up, including public radio & television. And they're trying very hard to control the news on the web as well. Let's find ways for the voices of the majority, of people on the ground, to collectively push reality back into public discourse.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Real collaboration

This "advertocumentary" for giant US military contractors, and their expensive new collaborative systems, was on the PBS show "Innovation: life, inspired". It's about war, specifically about the invasion of Iraq, so it should have been "death, inspired".

The show included details about the new "non-hiearchical" approach to US military operations, letting soldiers see each other on the battleground, and coordinate their efforts, using network technology.

Of course, this technology doesn't let soldiers coordinate a rebellion against the war itself. It's only "non-hierarchical" in certain ways.

The US government understands "divide and conquer" quite well, because they use it on their own military. The show included soldiers saying "war is hell", and obviously they don't want to be there. But five soldiers can't desert effectively. If 50,000 of them decided to quit at once ... using their collaborative systems ... now that would be an interesting movie.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The note in the crowd

'Hate' is a word that should ring alarms for anyone concerned about truth. Somewhere behind the word, you'll find people & institutions that manipulate truth, and people's emotions, for worldly gain.

Everyone knows that hate is like a smoldering wildfire in our souls. So it's one of the most powerful forces available to anyone trying to manipulate a situation. If I was speaking to a crowd of people, and someone wanted to prevent me from speaking, the easiest approach would be to write an anonymous note, with the right lies, and come a little early, putting the note on the chairs of everyone in the room. If it's well-crafted, the little note would generate hate from the crowd, and if truly effective, could lead to a lynching.

If you feel hate, you should look to see if you're being manipulated, because it's highly probable. This is one of my most useful personal rules. So, if you agree with what I said above, about the note & the crowd, you might consider that, although there is some peer-to-peer effect in the spreading of hate, it's generally a top-down phenomenon. And consider too: there may be no hate at the top, only the self-interested generation of lies.

This goes against common wisdom. To pick an example at random: it's widely throught that leading anti-communists must truly hate communists: take for example Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, J. Edgar Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, Adolf Hitler, etc.

However, this isn't necessarily true. They may have been indifferent to communism, on a personal level. Their professional roles required anti-communism. Their feelings on the matter aren't really important.

Anti-communism was the 'note in the crowd' ... actually it was much more, involving massive institutional propaganda. The motivation was the important thing. A small group of people profited hugely from anti-communism: emerging multinational trade, finance & manufacturing groups; military & aerospace companies; and their powerful friends in high places. No one at the top needed to be truly anti-communist. They simply needed to promote the interests of the powerful & priviledged.

Of course, you become your job, as it becomes you. But we shouldn't worry about what powerful people think, or how they feel. We should worry about the damage they do, consistently. Before it's too late.

People in power work very hard to craft the perfect 'note', or message ... a heady mixture of hate, fear, pride, vision, morals etc ... all lies. Today, especially, there's plenty of evidence that it's simply straightforward PR. You just have to follow a story beyond its 'peak fame'. George Bush doesn't care about religion. He cares about the vote of organized religion, and the organizers of those religions are only interested in their own power too. John Kennedy didn't care about communism from a philosophical standpoint: he cared about its interference with profit-taking by US interests.

Let's stick to the subject of this blog: using hypothetical software to automate of this kind of analysis. It should be possible to isolate crowd-stirring rhetoric, as well as obsequious adulation of leaders, or speculation about their thoughts & feelings. I think this would reveal that only a very small percentage of the daily paper consists of facts.

Planned incandescence

When you think about it, it's very strange that cigarettes keep burning.

Cigars & pipe tobacco stop burning when you stop smoking. Hand-rolled cigs, and damn-cheap cigs, have to be re-lit all the time. Cigarette smokers don't want cigs to burn continuously ... it makes them disappear more quickly. This story, about Reduced Ignition Propensity (RIP) cigarettes, led me to a Canadian historical overview. Apparently cigarettes are designed to burn continuously, and to burn faster. As a result, they set things on fire:

Considerable controversy has surrounded the tobacco industry's use of burn additives to enhance the burn rate of cigarette paper. It would appear logical that the removal or reduction of burn additives would reduce ignition potential. Further, all three of the experimental cigarettes with the lowest ignition potential in the TSG study had no burn additives in their papers.

The obvious reason for the design, is profit. The product burns itself, raising sales.

It also kills 900 people, and starts 30,000 fires, every year, just in the US.

It's crazy that even the operation of the cigarette is the result of a sales plan. And of course, the industry refuses to remove the burn additives. Until corporations are forced to be transparent and under the control of the population, pervasive perversions like this will increasingly penetrate our lives.

We can start with a repository of engineering data, so that any mass-produced product that enters the market is analyzed, every ingredient explained, all sourcing traced, all manufacturing monitored. My feeling is that very few of today's mass-market products would survive the public's scrutiny.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More map tricks & annotations

I read about the release of satellite imagery for google maps first here. So I thought I'd mention it, to see how the annotation of major media works here.

Annotation is a term used in digital mapping, for almost any kind of category, tag, label, attribute, connection etc. It would be lovely to annotate Google's new map tool, to highlight environmental and community devastation. Currently, the only possible overlays are driving directions & search result points.

The neatest thing I've done with this, so far, is to trace back my local river to its sources. Which turned out to be reservoirs I've swum in. I think everyone is doing one of two things with this tool: exploring places they know well ("can I see myself?" "Is that what my old neighborhoodd looked like?") and exploring places they've dreamt of (unfortunately, only the US is available in any detail.)

One of the best features is the ability to switch back & forth between maps & satellite imagery. Even though I've been involved in GIS for years, I still can't get over how cartoon-like, and just plain inaccurate, a highway on a map looks, compared to the real thing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The news is the problem, not the people

From today's Reuter's newswire:

Humans are damaging the planet at an unprecedented rate and raising risks of abrupt collapses in nature that could spur disease, deforestation or "dead zones" in the seas, an international report said on Wednesday.

Absolutely. But who's to blame?

The study, by 1,360 experts in 95 nations, said a rising human population had polluted or over-exploited two thirds of the ecological systems on which life depends, ranging from clean air to fresh water, in the past 50 years.

Untrue, since a declining population, that of the first-world, and more specifically a tiny percentage of it, the priviledged class, are pushing all of this destruction, as hard and fast as they can, to profit as quickly as possible from it.

Note that the report says nothing about rising population. The Reuter's reporter added her own Malthusian spin to the story. The report actually says that the poor suffer the most from ecological degradation.

It's pretty disheartening when the major newswire can't even read a press release without spinning it against the poor.

Actually the report itself is trade-and-development-oriented, and seems to be concerned with making the world safe for sustainable profit. The crisis-inspired opportunities for large & lucrative contracts are listed in great detail. Even though they've understated the crisis, the report is clearly also a fear-mongering effort, spearheaded by the World Bank, to scare people into a catatonic state about the future ... ripening the fields for the reaping of short-term profit, and sowing the seeds of obedience: "there's nothing to worry about. The World Bank is dealing with poverty and ecological destruction. You can go back to work, pay your taxes, open a Bud, watch a movie. We'll take care of things. We are certified leaders."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Deception is the root of poverty

In the news: a telephone conversation between Bono & Wolfowitz. This is an extension of Bono's appearences at places like the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, etc. I have no idea if Bono is actually interested in eliminating poverty, but he's never uttered a word, at these festivals of power & priviledge, about the actual cause.

People would not be poor if a minority didn't profit from it. That's true in the US, and throughout the world. The resources of the world, which should belong to everyone, are stolen from them, by force, continually. The resources are abused & destroyed, wasted for short-term profit, and the poor have no access to even the most basic of them.

Stopping poverty would only require stopping this theft. There's no way to resolve poverty as long as the world is structured to maximize profit for the priviledged & powerful 0.1% of the population.

But this isn't talked about. The poor know it, and they are the majority. When things get so bad that they cannot live, they try to stop it ... but they'd prefer to just live their lives.

The amazing deceptions used by concentrated wealth & power to distract the educated classes, are not easily uncovered by textual analysis.

On the website of the World Bank: "The World Bank Group’s mission is to fight poverty and improve the living standards of people in the developing world." The complete opposite is true -- it's the purpose of the World Bank to institutionalize poverty, so that a suffering labor pool is cheap to hire, and easy to profit from. It is the job of the World Bank to make loans which benefit the rich, and which are paid for by the poor. And it is the role of the World Bank to insist that governments do not try to change this situation.

How can all those well-meaning people at the World Economic Forum be so easily deceived, one might ask? Because the real nature of these institutions is almost too terrible to believe. Still, the actions of these institutions can be made transparent, and then it wouldn't be hard to build a model of what is going on ... the emotional distance of computer models, created from real data, could save us yet.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The privatization of truth

The age-old deception of government: hide your own crimes, and invent or highlight the crimes of your antagonists. This is used everywhere, all the time. It's a basic tool. It's also pretty easy to see through, with a bit of research.

But finding the truth has become much harder in the past century ... the economic causes of war have always existed and are always visible, but the analysis of a specific event is very difficult, because the causes are hidden inside of private companies.

Perhaps Lebanon's former PM was killed by Syrian interests, or by US interests, or by someone else. But unless you know specifically what's going on around money, profits, contracts, resources etc., it's impossible to find the immediate, true motive. And unless you can find the motive, you can't find the culprit. Any police detective will tell you the same thing.

It's the privatization of truth.

Consider how difficult it would be to make a computer simulation of the Earth, right now. Most of the environmental & cultural destruction, most of the pain and suffering, and most of the plans & data regarding these, are in private hands. We can see the effects, and to some extent the physical causes, but the specific guilty parties aren't always visible. We know the larger cause -- maximizing profit. But unless transparency is required by the majority, we'll be in the dark as we all slowly boil to death.

The available public data is not well-organized. High-detail modelling of finance, resources, development & profits, including names and deals, based on current data on the web, could be invaluable. If we point out the destruction, it would help us to justify the alternatives.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

On the map

I used to consult to "News Corp", the media conglomerate started by Rupert Murdoch, and which owns Fox etc. I was working for a digital map division called Etak, which no longer exists, but which was sold to SONY before it disappeared into Bosch's map division, Teleatlas.

The reason Rupert Murdoch was interested in Etak, was simple. He felt that if he controlled the world's digital maps, he controlled a superb advertising medium. He could make deals with all the major franchises, so that the McDonald's logo would be as big as a national park, when you were using a digital map.

Well, obviously the web has made this a reality beyond In-car navigation systems, as my printer uses ink to print ads with the maps that I'm given by Mapquest and Yahoo. Google has entered this territory as well, and clearly is working to merge its google adsense program with the brave new world of digital geography.

But there's more that Google could do with these maps, as geographers and GIS people have known for years.

I was reading about the war between Peru & Ecuador, involving several remaining indigenous societies, over drilling rights for US oil companies. This is not something people in the US are aware of, and there are battles like this over potentially profitable resources all over the world.

An active map that geo-located poverty, resource extraction, torture, exploitation, immigration barriers, flow of money, exports, aid, development etc., and tied these maps into news stories, would tell an amazing, compelling story.

I understand that Google's intentions are to "do no evil". For that to happen, when a technology is self-supporting or profitable, they need to use it to "do good". Making the world visible is clearly something they are doing faster than almost any other company ... but focussing on the bottomline means their new features will be more about movie reviews, and selling products & ads, than about actually building a model of the world from the available data.

One thing that could help ... if you ever post a story about something that's happening in the world, give it an address & a "latlong", so google can put it on the map.

It's obvious, but is it visible?

Everytime a US politician speaks of the "Dangers of nuclear proliferation", some country like South Korea, Iran or China is mentioned. But the US is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons. Its publicly available strategy documents point to the federal government's nuclear array as a key component to "promoting US interests around the globe". So, obviously the US is the most dangerous nuclear power, and always has been. Nuclear proliferation mostly endangers one of the major power strategies of the US.

Obvious ... but visible? How would you figure this out when hundreds of times a day, news organizations speak of "rogue nuclear states"? How dare those rogues threaten the monopoly of nuclear death held by the Federal government.

Again, how can we figure this out from text?

I was reading the John Perkins book "confession of an economic hit man", when he wrote of the death of Ecuadoran populist president Jaime Roldos, in 1981. Roldos had stood against profit by US-run oil companies in his country, and the political battle had become critically heated. Then his helicopter crashed, under circumstances so obvious that headlines around the world declared that he'd been "eliminated" by the US. But, inside the US, the press merely reported Reagan's condolences to Ecuador. Reagan's team clearly was responsible for Roldos' death, something that is much clearer 25 years later ...

How can a computer figure this out? First, it would need the text of all of the world's newspapers, going back as far as possible. It's pretty clear that we could pinpoint differences between stories which the world found important, and which the US press did not. This is a generally useful analysis -- the press will cover a story about, say, a newspaper strike, which is not visible in the newspaper itself. Or a corporate magazine might not mention a major scandal which the whole world is aware of. There must be a certain structure to these kinds of blindspots. That structure has not yet been investigated. The analytic tools have not begun to be developed for this kind of work.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

How can a computer uncover physical reality?

The election in Iraq is spun, by the US government, as a victory for the invaders and occupiers of the country. Reality is somewhat different. The leaders of the Iraqi majority, and the Shia & Kurd masses of Iraq, voted as an act of non-violent resistance, so they could get rid of the invaders through international pressure. This is so obvious, and has been mentioned obliquely in almost all US news reports of any length. But somehow, it doesn't stick, and the US government spins around it.

This is very reminiscent of voting in the US, where publicists and pundits debate endlessly the 'meaning' of a vote. Polls actually show the results quite well, but the obvious answers are ignored.

Take the endless referenda on sales tax in Oregon. This is always forwarded by a State congressional body that does not spend money according to people's priorities. And so the State congress wants more money. And people refuse the sales tax. And then the pundits ask "what do people mean?" The answer is in the polls, if anyone bothered to pay attention: people are saying "you don't spend the money well". Then the State congress sets it up as a threat: "give us sales tax revenue, or we'll cut money for schools." People see through this threat, stick to their principles, and still refuse the sales tax. State leadership gets in front of the press and says something like "people obviously don't want to pay for their kids' education".

The only way to fix this bad habit of government, in the US, in Iraq, or anywhere else, is to make institutions directly run by the people. Then they'll know what's going on, everyone will, because only through knowledge can a participatory system work.

In the original democracy, the greek city-state, citizens were elected to council by random selection, a process called sortition. In this way, so went the theory, the citizenry would need to become educated. Of course, more than likely they were just manipulated by the ruling class and their city staff. But the notion of empowerment as a means of full education, something the greeks called paideia, is one that needs to be rigorously pursued. And the internet can help.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

On the other hand ... don't even listen

The point of this blog is to investigate approaches to the automated anaylsis of text, so that a picture of "the color of the spin" can be seen by anyone.

But sometimes the fog gets so thick ...

Think of the first time someone colors some piece of information, or hides something, and justifies it. These behaviours mark the beginnings of a career in public relations. There have been guidebooks on how to behave dishonestly, in this way, since writing was invented. What you hear, when you hear George Bush, or John Kerry, or Vladimir Putin, or Tony Blair, or either candidate in the Ukrainian elections ... is a creature adapted to put the best possible face on what they do. To do that, they don't say what they do, or what their priorities are. Unless forced to. And when forced to, they're expert at spinning the questions away from what matters.

The arrow which penetrates the truth is simple:

Never listen to a politician. Always watch what they do.

Believe action over rhetoric.

Now, let's be practical. The current media operates in almost exactly the opposite way. There's a media rule about sourcing: if a comment isn't sourced, then it's an editorial. It's not followed strongly -- convenient shorthand is used by the press, based on certain beliefs and certain world views. Even if it weren't, the sourcing rule still gives prominence to prominent sources of news: members of the ruling class in business or politics.

The only way to make action visible is to make the institutions transparent. And that will only happen if they become democracies. That's true whether they are corporate or political institutions.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Rank news

Today it's hard to find a publication, either mainstream or alternative, which is not covering the inauguration. If you dig a bit, there are much more important stories about human suffering, which deserve far more attention and action.

But people focus instead on the presidency. This lets Bush's folks set the agenda, and the framework.

We really need a news site that weighs world news based on, for example, death. That's awfully morbid. But disease, starvation, war, genocide, mass poisoning, accidents, disasters etc. are surely where we need to focus attention. Not on the people in power. If we concentrate on creating a truly global view, the crimes of the rulers will be more obvious.

This news tends not to be timely. See Google News searches for massacre, genocide or famine. Or they are watered down to irrelevance, because they are cliches or metaphors, such as plague.

But it is interesting to combine all these terms in a Google news search. This gives us a kind of "disaster trends" index. For example, when I posted this, "torture" and "disaster" were way ahead of "massacre", "genocide", "famine" etc. Interesting for news analysis, which I know is the point of this blog. But not that interesting from the point of view of getting a real picture. We'd have to compile the top stories in each subject.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Distraction & opportunity

A White House news briefing starts with detail about the Tsunami. Obviously, this disaster is not their biggest priority. But it's well understood by publicists that a natural catastrophe is a gift from heaven for the mendacious and powerful. With a tracking analysis, we could calculate the resulting shadow effect, that is, the effectiveness of the distraction.

It's just as interesting to measure the attempted distraction, the effort to focus attention elsewhere. The attempt is not necessarily as effective as the PR staff would like it to be. But you can measure the effort, separately from the effect.

In this briefing, the publicist manages to discuss the tsunami for roughly 3/4 of the time. In addition, he relates some trivial news, dances around a minor scandal (the subject is publicity), and repeats some talking points about Iraq. This doesn't give the reporters anything of interest, but it lets them file a story or two about the disaster, and finish their day's work. Most importantly, for the publicity strategists, it gives reporters some material about the tsunami efforts, and nothing about military policy. And nothing about health, work, happiness and other major issues effected every day by Federal policy.

Look at the spread of activity as measured by the federal budget, and the white house budget. The proportional dedication to those activities, and the proprtional discussion at press briefings, is hugely mismatched. This is measurable, and important. It shows that the activity of government is basically unrelated to public presentations. An index of this difference could be made for each press briefing, automatically. Announcing the differences, in a timely manner, might have an effect.

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.