Sunday, March 01, 2015

Don't it strike fear into your heart?

You can see why the alarm bells are going off over at the National Review:

Google plans to bias its search engines in favor of the supposedly factual accuracy of the sites to which it links. From the New Scientist story:
THE internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free “news” stories spread like wildfire. Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.
Google’s search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.
Don't tell me -- that'd be like the ones that throw scare quotes around "facts"? Just wondering. Anyway, this is a matter of profound concern for Buckley's heirs:
As the old saying goes, there are facts–and then, there are facts. These days a lot of things are called “facts” that aren’t–often surrounding heated political and cultural controversies.
That is why I think Google’s plan will open the door for profound political, cultural, or ideological bias in what should be a neutral function. Perhaps that is the point.
Imagine a world in which links to Fox and Drudge -- and for that matter, the National Review itself -- weren't cyber-mistaken for votes in favor of their credibility.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Exterminate the brutes

If the question is whether Roger Ailes really wants a race war for Christmas, one reasonable answer might be: Sure, it beats the heck out of a Red Ryder BB gun.

The top story here isn't all that interesting, unless you're deeply interested in mediocre features written at long distance. The fun story is the one in the No. 2 slot (this being a Friday afternoon homepage, a story so good it was back Saturday night), in which a brave Democrat is apparently -- well, explicitly -- "under fire" for daring to challenge the usurper "over radical Islam."

Like most Fox stories, it's not literally fabricated, but it does rely on certain best-case understandings of real events -- the kind in which "I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" is a perfectly standard representation of "I saw some really gross pictures, so shut up." The fun is in tracking down the parts of the 1,160-word tale that support the claims in the display type, which is worth cataloging in some detail:

Dem under fire for taking on
Obama over radical Islam

The hed on the story itself has a little more room to play with scare quotes:

'Knives are out': Hawaii Dem faces backlash for taking on Obama over 'Islamist' extremism

... and the link itself holds lessons of its own: "hawaii-rising-dem-star-risks-future-to-take-on-obama-over-islamic-extremism"

The theme should be pretty clear: The craven libruls are turning on one of their own, now that she's exposed the Kenyan's lexical cowardice for what it is:

She was Hawaii's golden girl after winning a seat in Congress with support from top liberal groups, but now that Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been critical of President Obama, her political reputation in the bluest of blue states is taking a hit. 

Hold that thought!
Read more »

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

No, not 'related'

If your eyes and brain work together the way we describe it in design classes, you probably figured out pretty fast what the picture here illustrates, right? Even if you read the caption:

Missionary Rev. Phyllis Sortor, 87, of the Free Methodist Church was kidnapped Tuesday by unknown gunmen in the village of Emiworo.

And where in Syria might that be? Well, if you look at the last of the allegedly related developments in the Wednesday roundup:

Missionary taken: Masked gunmen abducted an American missionary in southeastern Nigeria, her church’s website and Nigerian authorities said Tuesday. The Free Methodist Church said Rev. Phyllis Sortor was taken late Monday from a school compound in Emiworo in Kogi state, where it said she developed a close affinity with the Fulani people — semi-nomadic herdsmen — and helped open schools for their children. The kidnapping motive wasn’t known, but Nigeria has had kidnappings by criminal groups for ransom, as well as by Islamist militants. 

 Which bears a strong resemblance to this Los Angeles Times story:

The motive of the kidnapping wasn’t known, but Nigeria has seen dozens of kidnappings of expatriates by criminal groups for ransom, as well as abductions of Westerners by Islamist militant groups, including Boko Haram.

The generally paranoid New York Daily News was more specific by Tuesday afternoon:

Thugs then contacted a friend of Sortor and demanded 60 million naira, or nearly $300,000, for her safe return, said Kogi Police CommissionerAdeyemi Ogunjemilusi, who speculated the kidnapping is the work of a criminal gang. The terrorist group Boko Haram does not usually operate in the area, he said.

When even the Fair 'n' Balanced Network is declaring Thursday that "they are most likely a small time criminal gang and not the feared Islamist group Boko Haram," you might want to consider the circumstances under which you cram everything into the Scary Brown People Roundup in the future. We have networks whose mission in life is to remind you that your way of life is under threat at every turn; when the allegedly librul media sing the same tune, we should be concerned about the future of the profession.

And in the You Kids Get Off My Lawn department: Does everybody over 30 just look the same to the night desk? All the other sources seem to give the kidnap victim's age as 70, not 87.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Another day on Planet Drudge

How does one even dare to get out of bed some mornings?
Things seem somewhat less sexy in the AP lede Drudge links to:

GENEVA (AP) — Edging toward a historic compromise, the U.S. and Iran reported progress Monday on a deal that would clamp down on Tehran's nuclear activities for at least 10 years but then slowly ease restrictions on programs that could be used to make atomic arms.

... and positively bureaucratic by the penultimate graf:

For the United States, the goal is to extend to at least a year the period that Iran would need to surreptitiously "break out" toward nuclear weapons development. Daryl Kimball of the Washington-based Arms Control Association said that with the IAEA's additional monitoring, the deal taking shape leaves "more than enough time to detect and disrupt any effort to pursue nuclear weapons in the future."

Since lying seems to be on everyone's mind these days, is it fair to quote Walter Lippmann again?
If I lie in a lawsuit involving the fate of my neighbor's cow, I can go to jail. But if I lie to a million readers in a matter involving war and peace, I can lie my head off, and, if I choose the right series of lies, be entirely irresponsible.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hyphens: Ur still doin it wrong

Q. Should "square foot" be hyphenated when used in front of a noun. For example "a 100 square-foot covered porch..." – from thornton, Pa. on Sat, Feb 21, 2015
A. Correct.

Partially correct at best -- yes, "square foot" should be hyphenated, but AP style also says pretty clearly that compounds of numbers and dimensions are hyphenated before nouns they modify. If you should hyphenate "the 5-foot-6-inch man" and "the 5-foot man" (pp. 76), you'd certainly want to hyphenate the whole of "100-square-foot covered porch." Why would the rule go away just because "square foot" is two words? After all, the "hyphens" entry itself says "use hyphens to link all the words in the compound except the adverb very and all adverbs that end in -ly" (p. 292).

"The fewer hyphens, the better" is the wrong way to go about setting up a rule. What you want is the right number of good hyphens and no bad hyphens. If that means you write "ice cream cone" on one page and "ice-cream-cone-shaped UFO" on another, fine. That's not inconsistent; it's consistent about avoiding foolish consistency.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

On answers and demanding them

It's not entirely coincidence that these were the second and third top stories at your Fair 'n' Balanced Homepage on Saturday morning. Both of them shine a light on the achievements of our friends in what's now known as "strategic communication."

First, it's reasonable to conclude that the vicious loonies of the Islamic State movement have adapted the lessons of 1970s-style "siege and barricade" terrorism to the age of interactive media. They don't even have to go to the Fox News budget meeting. They can get a story on the front page whenever they want.* A little skepticism about the veracity of any particular bit of propaganda is a good idea; if Fox wants to raise such concerns in the same place it usually does ISIS' bidding, good for Fox.

That suggests, of course, that when someone on your own side who knows exactly how to land on your front page pushes the button, your first reaction should probably be: Hmm. I wonder why he wants a chunk of my front page for this bit of information. Not, in other words, "Top Republican senators Friday demanded answers." Aside from conflating "we" with "top Republican senators," which is delightfully honest in its own little way, Fox is missing a chance to learn from its mistakes. When somebody just cold-ass beats you to the basket, it's probably better to ask why you got beaten, rather than to suggest that the other guy is a traitor for exploiting your friendly gullibility.

Because it's Saturday, and because realism and deranged exceptionalism will ever be at odds, here's your weekend Hans Morgenthau quote:

The first lesson the student of international politics must learn and never forget is that the complexities of international affairs make simple solutions and trustworthy predictions impossible. Here the scholar and the charlatan part company.

Charles Krauthammer, George Will --- call your office

* If you're reconsidering the degree to which you should help them in that effort, you should.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Three decade-old zombie rules

Q. Which is correct: The 20-million-year-old scroll or the 20 million-year-old scroll? – from Tucson, Ariz. on Fri, Feb 20, 2015
A. The second, though prehistoric dates are better phrased without a compound modifier: an object estimated to be 20 million years old. That long predates humans so it couldn't be a scroll.
With respect to our friends at Ask the Editor (who, to their great credit, introduce the annual revisions to the gospel in front of a room full of rabid style nerds, which takes no small amount of sand) -- no. That's just wrong, and it's wrong on a lot of levels, so stop it before you do any more damage to the cause of style.
AP style, like many, exempts number compounds of the million, billion and percent flavor from the general rule on hyphenating preposed modifiers -- reasoning, quite sensibly, that "$7.82 billion budget" and "4 percent increase" simply don't create the sort of ambiguity you get from "man eating blancmange" vs. "man-eating blancmange." The problem comes when the little compound turns into a bigger compound: in the example I still use in class, when a dozen photos taken 20 or so years ago become "two decade-old photos." It's charitable to call that one ambiguous; the word you want is "wrong."
You could always write a rule that says "use hyphens to be clear" and count on the grownups in the room to figure it out on the fly. They generally do, but human beings -- especially copy editors -- are rule-loving creatures. If you're going to write a hyphen rule, write one that isn't likely to paint you into a corner: "Hyphenate the whole damn compound."
While you're at it? "Prehistoric" doesn't seem like a very intuitive cutoff point for when a bunch of numbers ought to be clumped into a compound. And if you think something couldn't be a scroll because it predates humans and their silly artifacts, you haven't been paying attention.

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