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Sunday, December 28

"The Internet Is Bad For The Truth." John Batchelor rings out the old year by interviewing an idiot

I was going to tack this onto my earlier post about John's show tonight. But I decided not to ruin a great topic (Torpedo 8 squadron in the Battle of Midway) with mention of John's interview tonight with Melik Kaylan, who writes for Forbes business magazine. Melik will discuss his The Internet Is Bad For The Truth, which makes history as the stupidest essay published this side of 1999.

It is taking humanity almost a century to tunnel out from under the British foreign office's point of view, yet Melik yearns for the good old orderly days when the state-run BBC dictated for the world what was true. And when, like a fool, The New York Times and all other American major and minor dead tree outlets, and American television's Big Three networks and the tweet-brained CNN International, slavishly toed the BBC line on foreign affairs.

Boiled down, Melik's view is that a sense of order, force-fed to the public by a few powerful media outlets, is preferable to the masses struggling through the messy process of learning from a multitude of media outlets what is actually going on in the world.

Yet he makes an interesting point: large numbers of people getting their news from a wide variety of sources pose a challenge to the industrialization of the arts. If there is not a central arbiter of good taste, if there is no overriding authority on what constitutes good painting and good music, how can the industries connected with the arts survive?

Where is my Kleenex box? [Interlude while Pundita weeps and snuffles into mounds of Kleenex]

Now that I've had a good cry about the troubles of those who earn a salary from setting art trends in a disorderly world, I have a question: While sitting in offices lined with paintings deemed tasteful by the art sales industry, what would the workers in the Twin Towers have given to know the disorderly truths about the rise of Islamist terrorism?

Oh but that's right, I forgot! Gordon Brown was busy making Britain the Sharia banking capital of the world, so the BBC played Hans Brinker to hold back the flood of news stories warning of the gathering threat. And like a fool America's news media downplayed along, in slavish imitation of their more erudite counterpart across The Pond.

I fully understand the sentiment behind Melik's yearning to "... sense that it was possible to know what actually happened, to digest the knowledge and believe you knew the truth" and his irritation with the amount of brain sweat necessary to wrestle the day's news from "multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, transnational, infinite and contradictory sources of information."

I well remember how the paucity of U.S. mainstream reporting on political events in Latin America drove me to recommend the World Socialist Web Site to Pundita readers. The site is run by a bunch of foaming Trotskyites, but it has in-depth English language political reporting on America's southern neighbors.

The effort of picking through the commie agenda and the anti-globalization and anti-American rhetoric was worth it. When a reader complained that after visiting the site she'd had a dream about a sinister-looking man in a cheap leather coat, I snapped unsympathetically, "Don't worry; it's probably only Beria." Pundita readers who kept up with WSWS reports were not caught by surprise concerning the hard Left turn in several Latin American countries and its causes.

So yes, I know full well how hard it is to find good news sources, winnow the chaff of agendas from the grains of data, and fit together from the grains a ballpark picture of what is actually happening in the world. But you know something? The process gets easier and faster with practice. And with training, the process speeds up.

Eventually, the process builds an empirical view of high-impact world/domestic events -- and therein lies the real rub. Once your news gathering method allows you to escape the views put forward by major media, you find yourself standing in the pouring rain of a view approximating truth -- while you look in the window at cozy political platforms built on views so subjective they approach lunacy.

Thus, the French, Dutch and Irish citizens who flung a "No" vote at the ratification of the EU Constitution.

Thus, the widespread protests in Maharashtra against the state and central governments in the wake of the Mumbai massacres, which India's newly unrestricted news media reported in the most raucous and unprofessional manner, but with a freedom the old state-controlled news media never allowed.

Thus, the rising tide of American voters who reject both the Republican and Democrat party.

Thus, the presidential election of Barack Obama, who promises the party bosses to keep the Democrats' version of the ancien régime tottering along for another decade.

Thus, riots spread like raging forest fires in China, as hundreds of millions of Chinese learned from non-state media sources and methods of communication just how corrupt their local party bosses were.

Thus, the BBC hit by torrents of criticism from many quarters and mocked for its claim to impartiality.

Thus, thus --

Thus, the whirlwind of a world waking from its long slumber.

Is this anarchy breaking out all over? It's truth breaking out, bubbling up, escaping from its bonds, and maybe just in time to save what's left of democracy, for democracy cannot survive on the pack of lies that so many of its citizens have been handed in place of news.

It's also the trend I noted in How do you run a government when the voters are smarter than you? in which I asked what happens when a large segment of society is more knowledgeable than its civil servants and elected officials. There is no easy answer. And governments are still avoiding the question, despite the fact that it's looming larger with every year that passes.

There are still a large number of low-information voters, even in the most prosperous nations, and news followers so suicidally inclined that they prefer their agendas to an accurate rendering of facts on the ground. But the emphasis on empiricism in scientific fields and business practices, combined with the Internet, is starting to make itself felt in how citizens go about getting the news of the day nd avoiding the worst of agenda-based news.

How to get training for an empirically-based approach to news gathering and analysis? The motto of the website for the original version of the John Batchelor show was, "Unused intelligence is meaningless."

Audiences who listened carefully to John's original show (five nights a week; three hours a night) learned to approach news in the manner of an intelligence analyst and to think of news reports as "intelligence;" i.e., data 'mosaics' that one forms into various scenarios that one keeps adding to, until enough veritable data emerges to support the most likely scenario.

No approach produces infallible results but the intelligence-based one is the only way to deal with the welter of conflicting accounts and viewpoints arising in the course of news gathering and its dissemination in the modern era. Someday, schoolchildren in the upper grades, or at the latest in the first year in college, will be taught that method of news analysis, and with practice it will be second nature for them when they're adults.

What will the world look like when the whirlwind finally peters out? It will look like a considerably more rational place. Until then, we who prefer survival to death by media stupidity are resigned to a long march in the rain.

And that is a good thought on which to ring in the new year.

Meanwhile, stay tuned: Listen to John's interview tonight with Melik Kaylan, which will be online and is scheduled to air at 7:20 PM Pacific Time on the KFI-640 AM portion of the show (podcast available the next day). And to all you unwashed masses who get news from a multitude of sources on the Internet, be sure to write John and let him know your opinion of Melik's ideas.

This entry is crossposted at RBO along with a great crop of pictures. (How did Procrustes so quickly find those pictures of Melik lounging in an elitist armchair and Gordo playing rooster?)
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3:45 pm ET UPDATE
In reply to two comments over at RBO about my crossposted essay, I inserted the following:

"bg:" Yes, the past is always prologue, yet nothing happens the same way twice.
"No Soup for You:" I can’t think of a better analogy than the one you proposed, but today’s analogues have more draconian means at their disposal than the Middle Ages Church for controlling information.

The attempts to get ‘control’ of the Internet and tamp down freedom of speech continue to escalate around the world — mostly very quietly, except for Canada, where all at once many Canadians woke up and discovered that they had no freedom of speech left. This discovery came during the past year.

If the story is new to you go to my 2008 archives, to the January 8 post, skim forward from there (a few of the posts in January were on other topics) and follow the links. Of course the mainstream press in the US barely made any mention of the battle, so if you are new to the situation be prepared for a shock.

Consider this chilling exchange from the Warman vs Lemire Section 13 hate speech hearing before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Barbara Kulaszka is the attorney for Lemire. Dean Steacy is the chief CHRC investigator on behalf of Warman.
MS. KULASZKA: Mr. Steacy, you were talking before about context and how important it is when you do your investigation. What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate one of these complaints?

MR. STEACY: Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.

MS. KULASZKA: Okay. That was a clear answer.

MR. STEACY: It’s not my job to give value to an American concept.
How long have we got before a law like Canada’s Section 13 comes to the USA? Not long, I don’t think. America is considered the last holdout with regard to freedom of speech.

I have predicted that eventually the American Left and Right will link arms in a desperate attempt to save the First Amendment — but by that time it might be too late for anything more than a grand gesture. I hope my prediction is wrong but it shows the seriousness of the situation.

The tide of history is there, though, and it’s on our side as you noted — if we remember that we are the tide. Nothing is guaranteed; freedom is a never-ending process. No more stark example of that truth can be found in Canada.

Pundita
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