Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘journalism’

Compensation

The US news media seem to be coalescing around a consensus view of the Trump presidency: On the one hand, he is impulsive, narcissistic, and hopelessly ignorant of even the rudiments of his job as president.

On the other hand, he likes to drop big bombs.

So, positive on balance.

The nuclear option

I wonder how many people who don’t follow the news in detail, seeing the juxtaposition of headlines about Republicans unleashing the “nuclear option” and US missiles bombing Syria, have concluded that Trump just went and did what everyone is afraid he will eventually do…

Stopped clocks and reporters

One convenient thing about the Trumpist banana republic is that rampant nepotism makes it easy to keep track of the key players, because no one trusts anyone but a blood relative.* So now the Washington Post reports that Trump’s absurdly incompetent choice for Education Secretary has a brother, Erik Prince, who just happens to be the founder of the infamous Blackwater mercenary troop. And that

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

Is it true?

A Prince spokesman said in a statement: “Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”

According to this spokesman it is a “complete fabrication”. On the other hand, “the meeting” occurred, apparently. I suppose the Post might have fabricated the story, which turns out only by sheerest coincidence to be true, like stopped clock that just happens to be showing the right time when you look at it. Seems like we’re getting deep into the epistemological weeds, though.

The best part is the last sentence, though, which sounds like the guy pulled over for drunk driving, who yells at the police, “I pay your salary. Shouldn’t you be out catching some real criminals?

* I heard the joke recently, after Trump gave his son in law the job of reforming the federal government, on top of bringing peace to the Middle East and reviving US manufacturing, that perhaps Trump is one of those fairy-tale kings who requires that the prince seeking to marry his daughter perform three impossible tasks. (Except they’re already married… or are they?) Perhaps he can use his experience to help the federal government find a wealthy heiress to marry…

Worst mathematics metaphor ever?

I’ve come to accept “growing exponentially” — though I once had to bite my tongue at a cancer researcher claiming that “exponential growth” of cancer rates began at age 50, because earlier the rates were just generally low — and didn’t say anything when someone recently referred to having “lots of circles to square”. But here’s a really new bad mathematics metaphor: the Guardian editorialises that after Brexit

Europe will be less than the sum of its remaining parts.

“More than the sum of its parts” or “less than” is something you say when you’re adding things together, and pointing out either that you don’t actually get as much extra as you’d think or, on the contrary, that you get more. That you get less when you take something away really doesn’t need much explanation and, in any case, it’s not about the sum of the parts. Whether the remains of Europe are more or less than the sum of the other parts seems kind of irrelevant to whatever argument is being suggested.

Women in the US Congress

I was somewhat perplexed by this line from a BBC report about women’s anger triggered by a photo of the all-male (actually, one woman out of the photo) at the White House negotiating cuts to, among other things, women’s health care:

Less than a fifth of Republicans in the House of Representatives are women, but gender representation is not just a Republican problem – the US Congress as a whole is still dominated by men.

With 20% female, the US ranks alongside Bangladesh in global terms. In Sweden it’s 44%.

It sounds like it’s about 20% of Republicans and about 20% altogether, meaning hardly any difference between Republicans and Democrats. In fact, there are 22 Republican women out of 237 in Congress, so 9%. “Less than a fifth” seems an odd way to put it. (Almost 1/3 of Democrats are women.)

Who’s on first?

I love Der Spiegel, I consider it one of the best sources for international news, in addition to (of course) news about Germany, and it has to some extent maintained the idiosyncratic playful and sophisticated language style of its founder. I’m not usually wild about its graphics, though, and find it dull and obvious, as well as straining to find a reason to associate an image of naked breasts with any article. 

That said, I find this cover amazing. Obviously I’d feel differently about the image if I felt differently about Donald Trump, but it’s not simply a feeling of gratification at an enemy being publicly insulted. Like the best graphics — like the best scientific plots — this image combines familiar iconography and space to give substance to the horror that so many of us feel, crystalising an idea that was elusive. The Statue of Liberty and the iconography of terrorist self-promotion decapitation videos. Yes. It’s a good thing Germany just eliminated its lèse majesté law…

The association with Daesh puts the “America First” slogan in a different light as well. It’s a slogan that the murderers of the self-proclaimed caliphate could share, in the same spirit as the terrorist narrator of Leonard Cohen’s song, First we take Manhattan, Then we take Berlin.

It’s not even inappropriate, given that Stephen Bannon and his cronies have been fairly open about their intention to use Trump as the point of the spear to destroy liberal democracy in Europe, in favour of white ethnonationalism.

It’s obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago

This is Donald Trump’s opinion of NATO. And possibly of the U.S. constitution.

Keeping out the riffraff

I was just interested in comparing the conditions for citizenship and annual number of new citizens between the UK and Germany. The UK numbers I found on this government website. Under “Key Facts” the first thing they have to say is

Applications for British citizenship fell by 29% in the year ending June 2015 to 137,406.
There were 112,407 decisions about British citizenship, 40% fewer than in the previous year (188,910). Correspondingly, there were 42% fewer people granted British citizenship (-75,908 to 105,043). This was the lowest annual figure since 2002 (120,121).

It seems like they’re really proud that British citizenship has become so unattractive. The number of people acquiring German citizenship in around the same timeframe was slightly higher — 107,181 according to the Statistisches Bundesamt — which also notes that this represents a slight decrease (1.1%) from the previous year.

The Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel commented on these statistics with concern:

 Deutscher Pass verliert weiter an Attraktivität

Die Zahl der Einbürgerungen in Deutschland ist seit Jahren rückläufig. Das ist ein beschämender Trend.

German passport continues losing its lustre

The number of people acquiring citizenship in Germany has been going down for years. This is an embarrassing trend.

The Statistisches Bundesamt also compares these numbers to the “Einbürgerungspotenzial” — the “potential acquisitions of citizenship” — finding that only about 2% of the available citizen material has been “ausgeschöpft” (made use of).

I might note at this point that the Germans take only 255 euros as a citizenship fee, as opposed to the £1,236 that the British take. (One wonders if the whole Brexit thing is just a scam to get Europeans living here to apply for citizenship. If all 3 million apply, that will be worth nearly £4 billion.

Political DNA

As someone who actually works with DNA — or, at least, DNA data — I find the drift of the colloquial use of “DNA” disturbing. It’s impossible for me to avoid the resonances of biological determinism, but I’m not sure how other people understand it. I’ve collected a lot of usages, and it seems to have been used in the past to suggest that individuals are being driven by their training or by the historical imperatives of their organisations. Which is sort of fair. But either the meaning is drifting, becoming more crude, or it’s being appropriated for racist purposes.

In this article in yesterday’s Washington Examiner

That Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will politicize everything is a given — it’s in his DNA 

Now, I’m pretty sure that the reference to his DNA is not meant to be an ethnic slur. But not completely sure. Why is it there? What is DNA supposed to be adding? Is it his political DNA, his personal DNA (in which case it’s just a redundant statement that this is his immutable characteristic), his family DNA, or his ethnic DNA (which would make it an antisemitic slur). Impossible to say.

Assets

Against all odds, all political sides in the US are converging toward agreement. Here was a headline from the left-wing Daily Kos that seemed extreme three weeks ago:

Former spy reports Kremlin cultivated Trump as an asset for 5 years

And here is Donald Trump, speaking yesterday at a press conference:

If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s called an asset

Tag Cloud