Tuesday, February 26, 2013

All the "news" you wish to hear

A good case study of modern propaganda is the false "news" that gets taken seriously. Think The Onion declaring North Korea's Kim "sexiest man alive". Or when "serious" media post stuff from The Duffel Blog - and lawmakers believe it. Or the shark-killing Serb of Sharm el Sheikh, one of the best-known hoaxes by the satirical Njuz.net.

Partly to blame is the style of actual news reports. Purposefully designed to be formulaic and dense, it can be imitated fairly easily. And by adjusting certain words and tone, it is very conducive to perception management (as I've documented before). Imitate the style of authentic news in a spoof report, and you'll find a lot of people will believe it.

But the other element here is wishful thinking. Even if the fake report doesn't bother with passing as authentic, it will still be believed by some people simply because it tells them what they want to hear. Wishful thinking is an ally of all manipulators.

Last week, "news" that the actor Tom Hanks allegedly expressed support for the Serbs in Kosovo quickly made the rounds, fooling both the legacy media and the blogosphere in Serbia. Even the Imperial propaganda outfit Balkan Insight reported on it, though they actually contacted Hanks' publicist and established the report as false. Still, many in Serbia - and abroad - believed the story. Why?

It was packaged to be believable. Supposedly, Hanks was driven by his alleged Orthodox faith (his wife Rita is Greek, so the whole Orthodox connection is cleverly insinuated). Confirmation bias did the rest. Furthermore, the report claimed Hanks' alleged declaration that Kosovo was "Serbia's Jerusalem" supposedly took place on "E!" network. This is not a coincidence; the network is familiar to many Serbs from a 2011 scandal, when Chelsea Handler belittled the former Defense Minister for his idiotic tweets following an Amy Winehouse concert. Yet few seemed to notice the lack of a date, time, occasion, or actual name of the show where Hanks supposedly said what he said. Which makes sense, because it never happened.

Obviously, whoever crafted this fake report knew which buttons to push. Take a network previously involved in a verbal spat, add a long jump to conclusions about Hanks, garnish with the Serb sentiment about their occupied territory, and voila - instant propaganda.

Figuring out who was behind the fake story, however, may require more resources than a blogger half the world away possesses. To the best of my knowledge, the story was traced to "Pravda," a paper close to the ruling Progressive party. If true, this suggests a government ploy to distract the public from its unconditional surrender demands from Brussels and Washington regarding Kosovo.

Yet there might be more to it. The fact that many critics of the government swallowed the fake story hook, line and sinker may be used to discredit them (with the legacy media being collateral damage). Also, all these false reports may annoy the celebrities dragged into them, to the point where they embrace the causes of Serb enemies (if they haven't done so already, that is).

I don't think for a second that Serbia's current regime would have any moral qualms about engaging in something like this. They are already thieves and traitors, a bit of lying won't bother them. I do, however, doubt they are clever enough to come up with this by themselves. They are, after all, clients of the Empire - which relies on a manipulating media establishment to conjure and support the virtual reality it inhabits. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

On internet culture, or lack thereof

Earlier this month, I came upon a blog post (via GLPiggy) that was meant as a year-in-review essay, but actually contained more than a few interesting observations on how people act on the internet. I recommend reading it in full, and also checking out Matt Inman's (The Oatmeal) take on the topic.

Here are some of my thoughts, for what it's worth, below some of Baldur Bjarnason's points.
3. Best case scenario for doing stuff online is that people will start knocking on your door, asking you to work for free, never offering to give anything in return.  
While price isn't the same as value (only a proximate metric thereof, in a map/territory kind of way), it is often treated as such. It next to impossible to ask for a payment for something, having previously given it away. People value things they expend effort or resources to obtain more than things they get for free.
8. There is little to no discourse online. What you get are dug in factions and people’s opinion on you are based solely on whether your argument supports what they have chosen to be ‘their team’. If you try and stick to facts and logic, most factions will reject you. It’s ideological trench warfare and the best you can hope for is that the machine-gun nests don’t notice you.
Very true. However, some writers have realized this from the beginning, and the very purpose of their blogs (such as this one, for example) has been to smash up some of those trenches and machine-gun nests. And one doesn't do that with pikes and swords, but with tanks and artillery. There is nothing intrinsically dishonorable in using rhetoric (in addition to facts and logic, not to the exclusion thereof) as a weapon. It is incredibly effective in demolishing the trenches and machine-guns made out of pure rhetoric.
10. Writing isn’t highly regarded by anybody, even in publishing. There’s a lot of romanticism and inane adolescent fantasy about being a writer, but little to no follow-through by anybody, especially not those who call themselves writers.
Considering the adolescent fantasies that pass for writing these days, it's just as well I don't call myself a writer any more than I'd call myself a journalist.
12. People love to send you argumentative, angry, or otherwise negative emails. That is, if they aren’t asking you to work for free.
The key here is motivation. Dissent is a stronger motivator than consent. Words that validate people's views are expected and normal; words that rock the boat are cause for action. Successful rhetoric first gets the audience angry, then directs that anger at the desired target. 
14. Praise is generally only handed out on disposable media, like Twitter, and rarely anywhere where it counts (like blogs, reviews, or other writing), unless you pay for it... The end result is that positive feedback is ephemeral while negative feedback gets preserved forever on angry blogs, comments and forums.

In addition, praise is rarely constructive or cogent. It's not that I don't enjoy getting comments of the "Good job" kind, but it is far more useful when feedback elaborates a point I've made, or asks about something I may have missed. Paying for praise may produce some results in the short run, but there has to be substance behind the buzz, or the bump in interest will fade away fast.
15. People will always prefer you to state the obvious and spout common sense. If you say anything that requires a bit of thinking, or that would require them to learn new skills or ideas, your audience will evaporate into nothing, no matter how important those new things are. (Also see point 8 above.) You can trust that ideas that are new and unfamiliar to an audience will be either ignored or met with anger.
But anger is better than being ignored. Anger can at least be leveraged sometimes, while ambivalence cannot.
16. Nobody cares when you’re right but a lot of people really enjoy it when you’re wrong. They will rub it in your face.
Mistakes are inevitable. Which is why the best course of action when one occurs is to own up to it, make it a teachable moment by explaining why the mistake was made, and do one's level best to not make the same mistake again.
20. The only thing people like more than a post that states the obvious is an angry post that states the obvious. Angry and unreasonable will easily get ten times the attention of even-handed and rational.
See above under 12. Again, motivation. But this works both ways. If everyone is always talking and always shouting, the usually silent person who finally speaks up, in a normal voice, gets a lot of attention. However, that attention quickly evaporates if one has nothing to say.
21. Communities get the discourse they deserve. When either the inane and obvious, or frothing lunacy are all that get attention, then that’s all you end up getting. Moreover, it’s your own damn fault. People may well instapaper the good stuff fully intending to read it at some point in the future (hah!), but bile is the stuff they actually read and it certainly is the only thing they respond to.
It is tempting to "give the people what they want." But everyone else is already doing that. If one is targeting the disappointed, who are looking for a fresh perspective, then give them what they need.

The reason I prefer blogging over Facebook posts, forum posts and tweets is persistence. Today's world is a maelstrom of ephemera and emotions. History is an anchor. This is why I keep linking to things I've written previously, because I'm adding layers to what I've already built, not reinventing the wheel. Continuity helps with credibility - and credibility is the actual currency of the blogosphere, not the number of trolls or sycophants.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When the Drone is the Sword

I read Daniel Greenfield's "Sultan Knish" blog regularly. When he's right, he usually cuts to the very heart of the issue and his observations merit quoting. When he's wrong, however, he is very wrong - and that, too, merits quoting.

He has long been hostile towards Ron Paul, former representative in the House and presidential candidate, believing him to be hostile to Israel. This belief is misplaced. Dr. Paul is opposed to all foreign "aid" on principle, including that to Israel (but also that to, say, Egypt). Unlike most of his fellow Republicans, Paul really does believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the fundamental principles the United States were (notice the plural) founded on. And Paul is also opposed to the American Empire, which he rightly regards as antithetical to the American Republic.

But in Greenfield's latest essay, Paul is lumped with the "left" and denounced as a traitor, together with anyone who opposes Empire's foreign entanglements:
"The anti-war position automatically picks the other side and because of the innate whiff of treason in such a choice, it must justify that treason by utterly damning and demonizing its own side. It cannot afford nuance at home, though it often calls for it abroad, because to concede complexity is to endanger its own moral standing. The only thing standing between the anti-war movement and  treason is its ceaseless effort to demonize its own government, soldiers and people as monsters."
That last sentence is somewhat baffling, because I would think the demonization of one's own government, soldiers and people as monsters would not be an impediment to treason, but rather a component thereof. But Greenfield's point is nonetheless clear: anyone who argues against the American Empire is a traitor.

That is because in Greenfield's understanding, the Empire is America; the soldiers that invade, bomb and occupy across the world are "defending freedom"; and the Empire is actually fighting a rightful defensive war against Islamic jihad. Yet none of these things are true.

As I argued back in 2005:
"Being opposed to a gang of Muslim fanatics trying to re-create a VII (or XI?) century jihad with XXI-century technology did not, does not, and should not mean siding with the abomination that has murdered the American republic and possessed its cadaver. Or vice versa: just because George W. Bush and his minions have fabricated a danger that would justify their imperial adventure doesn't mean a danger does not exist. It just isn't the danger they are carping on about."
Because, you see, the Empire isn't opposed to jihad and Islam. Rather, it seeks to co-opt them for its own ends. Don't take my word for it. There's Charlie Wilson, the CIA, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and here is the late Tom Lantos (D-CA):
"... just a reminder to the predominantly Muslim-led governments in this world that here is yet another example that the United States leads the way for the creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe. This should be noted by both responsible leaders of Islamic governments, such as Indonesia, and also for jihadists of all color and hue."
Nor can one argue that this is "leftist" policy and therefore not applicable to the Bush II era, because Lantos said this in 2007, in support of a Bush II policy. Granted, it was a policy adopted verbatim two years prior, from a Democratic challenger Bush had defeated in 2004 - the same year occupied Kosovo became a bit more "predominantly Muslim" following a pogrom of Serbs.

Seemingly absurd, no? But it is an observable fact that the "left" and the "right" are of the same mind when it comes to imperialism. And one of Empire's articles of faith is that jihad can and should be used to achieve global dominance. That is why the CIA aided the jihadists in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s; why the Empire helped create the hysteria about Bosnia in the 1990s and "Kosovia" later on; why Washington has helped overthrow secular Arab dictatorships (Hussein, Gadhafi, Ben Ali, Mubarak) in favor of militant Islam. How successful that strategy has been, one ought to ask Ambassador Stephens.

Of course, Greenfield blames Obama for Stephens' death in Benghazi, and rightly so. But he doesn't blame Obama, as he ought to, for invading Libya in the first place. I can't seem to recall any Republican who actually argued against invading Libya and replacing Gadhafi's eccentric dictatorship with a Hobbesian hodgepodge of tribal and Al-Qaeda "rule" that followed the "liberation." Stephens went to Libya to help the jihadists take over the country. By way of a thank you, the jihadists murdered him. There is a lesson therein, for those willing to learn.

What prompted Greenfield's attack on "anti-war traitors" was Ron Paul quoting Jesus (Matthew 26:52, to be precise) apropos the death of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper recently murdered by a fellow veteran at a shooting range. To Greenfield, Kyle is a hero, his sniping a valiant defense of American freedom. But what Kyle actually did had nothing to do with "defending America". He was killing Iraqis in their own country. He was the aggressor and the occupier, and as if that weren't bad enough by itself, that invasion had absolutely zero to do with fighting against jihad. Zip. Zilch. Bopkess. It was also, let's remember, illegal, immoral and illegitimate by every metric - except that of power.

Thus, paradoxically, Greenfield defends the very same argument of force he opposes (and rightly so) when it comes to Islam, and within the very same essay! It amounts to "It's different when we do it," and it is the very Marxist moral relativism he continuously condemns.

By that logic, Ron Paul is a traitor for opposing the invasions of Serbia, Iraq, Libya, etc. - while those who ordered and executed the invasions, are "defending freedom". Those who invade someone else's country half the world away and support jihad (in effect if not intentionally) are patriots and heroes, while, say, the Serb soldiers, snipers or generals who defend their own country and people from jihadists are war criminals.

If pointing this out is treason, then in the immortal words of Patrick Henry, "make the most of it."