Tag Archives: Annoyances

The Web politicizes everything

People love to leap into political debates and disputes from the safety of their computers.

And why not? The anonymity, immediacy and reach of the Internet fires people up about politics. That’s good, in a way. We’re probably more informed about issues, and more engaged as voters, than at any time in our history.

But there’s a downside. Because the Web is such a polarizing, self-selecting information filter, and because we live more of our lives on it and through it, people politicize every aspect of life, even trivial ones like fast food or comic books  or coffee.

One of my favorite Twitter comedians, Uncle Dynamite, posted a fantastic essay on his Tumblr page about this disturbing trend a few months ago. Here’s a sample:

I don’t unfollow people for their politics because I understand that this really is who people are now. I don’t think they realize that because of this politicization, they’ve become greatly diminished. Boring, hectoring, supercilious, condescending, self-important and taken up with politics for much of the day. And YES, caring. Caring, caring, caring. We all care. I care. You care. Everybody cares. You don’t care that I care and I don’t care that you care. What’s important, everyone thinks, is that I myself care. You? You’re another story. (i.e. not as important as *my* story).

And more:

It’s important, in politicization, to never see the other’s point of view as even sometimes workable. Politics is a zero-sum game, unlike most of reality. “The other person’s view can only be stupid and evil. It’s motivated by money, by a desire to enslave people, or simply by wrong thinking made manifest. The candidate from the other party is not even human, could never be human, and therefore we are allowed to say the vilest things about him and do the internet equivalent of repeatedly poking him in the eye with a sharp stick. 

In that same vein, Sonny Bunch, a writer for the right-leaning Washington Free Beacon, wrote this recently:

This may sound odd coming from someone who has spent his life working in political reporting, but I find it extremely sad when people can’t separate politics from the rest of their lives. I’m not talking about people getting worked up about politicians; we live in divided times, so things are bound to get heated when talking about elected officials. I’m talking about people who say “I want nothing to do with [Person X] because he is a conservative/liberal/ Republican/ Democrat in his personal life.” …

I’d like to think I’m more tolerant about this sort of thing because I’m a conservative who loves pop culture. If I had to boycott every artist I disagreed with, well, my iPod would be pretty empty and my DVD shelves would be bare. Being tolerant of differing opinions is a defense mechanism, in a way: without tolerance for those I disagree with, I’d go nuts.

If you disagree with that last sentence, you’re stupid and evil and should be banned from typing on the Internet.


Project Censored loves … Cuba?

Does anybody still care about Project Censored?

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, they’re the media watchdogs whose annual list of  the “top 25 censored stories” is a year-end staple of alternative and free-weekly newspapers.

Project Censored started being irrelevant around 2000, as this Mother Jones article makes clear. (A lot of the stories they say are underreported or ignored are anything but, among other offenses.)

PC slipped deeper into irrelevance in 2007 when it embraced 9/11 conspiracy theories. Two of the biggest names on its masthead resigned in protest.

That record is sorry enough to make most right-thinking people write off Project Censored for good, but if you need another one, try this: those indefatigable guardians of press freedom absolutely adore Cuba, a totalitarian society with one of the most oppressive media environments on earth.

The latest example appeared this week on Project Censored’s website. The author, Peter Phillips, recently attended a conference in Havana, and his piece includes you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me lines such as this: “These are multi-generations of people who have never suffered media advertisements.”

Indeed they haven’t. Or “suffered media” of any kind that wasn’t first approved by the government.

Glowing reports about Cuba are pretty standard for Project Censored. Here’s Phillips again in an especially Walter Duranty-espue dispatch, “Cuba Supports Press Freedom”:

I toured the two main radio stations in Havana, Radio Rebelde and Radio Havana. Both have Internet access to multiple global news sources including CNN, Reuters, Associated Press and BBC with several newscasters pulling stories for public broadcast.

It’s good to know that a few dozen members of Cuba’s official state media can access some news sites on the Web.

Unfortunately, they can’t Google anything.

In 2008, the same year Phillips went on his stage-managed tour and posted that report, Reporters Without Borders revealed that “The Internet in Cuba is highly controlled.”:

There is a “national” network which gives users an email address and allows them to send emails abroad but not to surf the net. The “international” network, which costs three times as much, gives access to foreign news websites like the BBC, Le Monde, and Nuevo Herald (Miami-based Spanish-language daily). But if you type in “google.fr”, for example, you are redirected to the pages of the official Cuban newspaper Granma or the news agency Prensa Latina.

Phillips also pays respect to Cuba’s brave, state-controlled journalists and their role as vigilant defenders of La Revolucion:

In the context of this external threat (from the U.S.), Cuban journalists quietly acknowledge that some self-censorship will undoubtedly occur regarding news stories that could be used by the “enemy” against the Cuban people. Nonetheless, Cuban journalists strongly value freedom of the press and there was no evidence of overt restriction or government control.

No government control? Phillips seems to be unaware of  Cuba’s harsh “Black Spring” crackdown on independent media.

During a three-day span in March 2003, as the world focused on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Cuban government ordered the abrupt arrest of 75 dissidents–29 of them independent journalists. All of the reporters and editors were convicted in one-day trials and handed sentences that could leave some in prison for the rest of their lives. They were accused of acting against the “integrity and sovereignty of the state” or of collaborating with foreign media for the purpose of “destabilizing the country.” Under Cuban law, that meant any journalist who published abroad, particularly in the United States, had no defense.

Here in the early 21st century, it’s hard to understand the moral and intellectual obtuseness of people like Phillips. But someone like Malcolm Muggeridge, an early supporter of communism whose eyes were opened to the terrible truth after a visit to the Soviet Union in the 1930s, understood them well.

These dupes, Muggeridge wrote, are “resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous …  to approve anything, however obscurantist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyrannies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom.”

Would it surprise anyone to learn that Phillips is a sociology professor at a state-funded college in California?

The small-group process in education: Useless?

Does forcing students to work on projects in small groups make for a better educational experience? Maybe not:

Donald R. Bacon, a business professor at the University of Denver, studied group projects there and found a perverse dynamic: Many of the groups that functioned most smoothly were those in which the least learning occurred. That’s because students divided up the tasks in ways they felt comfortable with. The math whiz would do the statistical work, the English minor drafted the analysis. Then there’s the most common complaint about groups: Some shoulder all the work, the rest do nothing.

“I understand that teamwork is important, but in my opinion they need to do more to deal with the problem of slackers,” says Justin Triplett, a 2010 Radford graduate who is completing his first year in the university’s M.B.A. program. From his perch as a teaching assistant, he estimates that a third of students in the business school don’t engage with their coursework. At Radford, seniors in business put in an average of 3.64 hours a week preparing for class, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.

I hated the small-group process in college,  so I’m enjoying some schadenfreude reading that it probably doesn’t work.

Welcome to the United States of Umbrage, LLC

Americans can certainly be touchy about our perceived differences.

It’s understandable, given our history. “All men are created equal” has been a point of noisy, bloody contention from the beginning.

But in an America that’s radically different from the slave-holding, immigrant-bashing nation of the past, is constant vigilance against ethnic offense always a good thing?

As this classic 2002 article from Reason‘s Tim Cavanaugh points out, our  industriousness extends beyond cars, steel or hamburgers. We’re also pretty good at manufacturing bad feelings toward each other under the well-intentioned rubric of “anti-discrimination.”

Some good points from the article:

  • “Call it the anti-defamation industry, the anti-discrimination lobby, or maybe the umbrage market.”
  • “An anti-discrimination group has little motive to report improvement, or even stasis, in cultural relations, because that would lessen the perceived need for the group.”
  • “This may explain why anti-discrimination is a growth industry even — or especially — while identity politics fades into history, more Americans decline to identify themselves by ethnicity, and actual discrimination is, by virtually all measures, at historically low levels.”

The piece is long, but well worth your time.

Snowmageddon II: This time it’s personal

We survived another Snowmageddon here in the D.C. area this week.

It was “only” about eight inches, not the three feet that dumped on us last February, but in many ways this storm was worse. It was a wet, heavy snow that came down at a rate of about two inches an hour, and it started falling right at the peak of the evening commute. Hundreds of trees broke under the weight of the snow, which led to massive power outages all over the region, and traffic was tied up for hours on most major roadways. A nightmare all around.

Here in Fairfax, we lost power for about 24 hours — and it went out while we were working from home. Not fun, but we were lucky compared with the thousands in the area who still don’t have electricity as I write this. (How mad are people about this? Well, in a live interview that just aired on News 4 at 6, a visibly angry Jim Vance tore into Thomas Graham, the president of PEPCO, a utility in Maryland that has a reputation for gross inefficiency when it comes to fixing outages. Vance used the phrase “pissed off,” perhaps forgetting it was family TV time.)

On the upside, we did avoid the commute from hell.

Open letter to a barista

Dear blissed-out, beardy hipster working the counter at my local coffee shop:

You know that incessant patter you spring on every customer in your annoying, sing-song voice? It’s not engaging. It’s not cute. It doesn’t even rise to the level of quirky.

It’s more like a weird, pansexual come-on.

Please get that fixed.



P.S.: You have a fantaaaastic, amaaaazing day, too!!!!!!