Never Cut the Truth

I'm going to put my old friend, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris, on the spot. The current issue of the magazine features a piece by Harold Pollack about the problem of over-aggressive police response to people with intellectual disabilities who are causing a public disturbance. Pollack himself is more than normally attuned to these issues because his brother-in-law has fragile X syndrome. Here's the conclusion of his piece:

Vincent didn’t pose safety issues in the three years he lived with us; he is blessed with a sweet disposition, and is wonderfully gentle with Veronica and our two young daughters. Still, the possibility of behavioral crisis remains in the back of our minds, in the queue of anxieties and worries. As does our concern about whether it would ever be safe or wise to summon law enforcement help.

Veronica and I were sitting at breakfast one morning. She was reading a Tribune story about a mentally ill young man who was shot and killed by police called to the family home. Veronica looked up and calmly stated: “I don’t care what Vincent is doing. Never call the police.” We have no particular reason to believe we’ll need to make that call. I just wish we had greater confidence in what would happen if we ever did.

That was the conclusion, anyway. The last paragraph got cut. This is going to sound harsher than I mean it to, but that was a very bad call, and it sort of pisses me off. It basically forced Pollack to lie, and editors shouldn't do that. Very plainly, Veronica Pollack is more than just uneasy about calling the police if Vincent is ever in trouble. She's flatly decided not to, and was willing to say so publicly. That's important, and not just because it most likely represents a widespread view, which makes it relevant from a policy point of view. It's important because it's the truth. We should never turn that down when it's handed to us on a silver platter.

Byron York notes "a new tone in straight-news general election reporting on Trump." Sounds exciting! Let's check out the New York Times first:

Mr. Trump carefully read his remarks from a teleprompter and offered more detail than his stump speeches generally contain, but his speech was still rife with the sort of misstatements and exaggerations that have typified his campaign.

He repeatedly stretched the facts, for example, in describing the United States as overrun by dangerous migrants. He claimed the country has an “immigration system which does not permit us to know who we let into our country,” brushing aside the entire customs and immigration enforcement infrastructure. And he asserted that there was a “tremendous flow” of Syrian refugees, when just 2,805 of them were admitted into the country from October to May, fewer than one-third of the 10,000 Syrians President Obama said the United States would accept this fiscal year. Mr. Trump described the gunman in the Orlando shooting as “an Afghan,” though he was born an American citizen in New York City to parents who had emigrated from Afghanistan to the United States over three decades ago.

And now the Washington Post:

In a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration, Trump was antagonistic and pugnacious, in stark contrast with his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, who also spoke Monday about combating terrorism....Trump’s address contained a number of inaccuracies and overstatements. Among other things, he wrongly claimed that Clinton wanted to abolish the Second Amendment; said the United States is “not screening” refugees, who undergo a rigorous vetting program that can take two years or more; and said the New York-born shooter was born “an Afghan, of Afghan parents who immigrated to the United States.”

I'm sorry to report that the LA Times didn't follow suit. They should. I know it's not much in the face of Trump's tsunami of lying, but the job of the press is to tell the truth. They should do it, regardless of whether it makes much difference or not.

Why don't we see more terrorist attacks like the one in Orlando? They're cheap, effective, and all but impossible to defend against. Megan McArdle has asked experts about this:

To summarize their collective responses: You have to think of a terror attack as having multiple audiences. First, there are the people you are trying to terrorize. Second, there are the people you are trying to recruit to carry out more terror attacks. And third, there are the people you want to give you money to finance your attacks. The first group can be terrorized by any number of means. But the second and third groups are most drawn to attacks that are grand in scale and paramilitary in tactics, and they are most impressed by attacks on high technology, such as airplanes, and famous buildings, such as the World Trade Center. Thus, terrorists do less overall damage than they could, because they spend a lot of energy attacking well-known targets that are fairly hardened.

I'd add another constraint. Most mass shootings and car bombings require something that's in short supply: people willing to die for their cause (or, in a few cases, spend the rest of their lives in prison for their cause). Even among the most extreme reaches of jihadism, there are fewer folks willing to commit suicide than you might think, and you can't afford to waste them on small attacks. You need to use them on big stuff.

I've always thought this was the gating item. It's absolutely true that in America, at least, it's trivially easy to buy the means of mass slaughter—a gun with a large magazine and a fast firing rate—and learn how to use it. It's also easy to find soft targets: night clubs, PTA meetings, church services, weddings, etc. If you could recruit a small army of terrorists truly willing to train for these jobs (which generally requires a certain minimum of self discipline) and then carry them out in the face of almost certain death (which generally requires a certain minimum of reckless volatility), the potential damage would be huge.

We'll be in real trouble if we ever get to the point where that small army exists—which is why it's important to make sure we never get there. This is not something the military can do: they can't make people less angry, and they can't kill every angry person. Nor is it something the FBI can do. They can try to track angry people and intercede before they kill anyone, but they'll never be able to ID more than a fraction of them.

One way or another, the only real answer to this dilemma is to reduce the number of young men who become so angry they're willing to die for a cause. So what's the best way of doing that? Every national politician should have an answer to that question. Immigration bans and air strikes may sound appealing, and they might even work in the short term, but they're just fingers in the dike. In the end, reducing the supply of angry young men is the only real solution.

What's your best idea for accomplishing that?

Why I Hate Video, Part 548

The end of the written word is nigh:

Facebook is predicting the end of the written word on its platform. In five years time Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London this morning. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has already noted that video will be more and more important for the platform. But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

Well, the demise of the written word may be happening sooner rather than later around here, thanks to a "scheduled" power outage from our friends at Southern California Edison. Last time this happened, power was back up in less than an hour. This time, who knows? They claim power will be out all day. That's far longer than the battery life of either my phone or my tablet, so the written word is likely to die here in just a few hours.

In the meantime, I'll take issue with the bolded part of Mendelsohn's comment. Video has many benefits, but information density generally isn't one of them. In fact, it's the very reason I loathe video. I can read the transcript of a one-hour speech in about five or ten minutes and easily pick out precisely what's interesting and what's not. With video, I have to slog through the full hour. Generally speaking, my habit is to never click a link that goes to video. It's just such a waste of time.

Of course, my needs are far different than most people's. I read/view stuff on the web in order to gather actual information that I can comment on. Most people couldn't care less about that. They just want momentary entertainment, and video overtook print for that many decades ago.

Which is fine. But please, call it what it is. Don't pretend to be doing the world a service by promoting a medium that helps us all "digest much more information." That's obvious claptrap.

The FCC has been trying for years to put in place rules that would ensure net neutrality. After some setbacks in court, they changed tack last year, reclassifying broadband internet service as a public utility. This legally allowed them to implement the rules necessary for net neutrality.

Naturally, broadband suppliers like Verizon and AT&T cried foul. They'd prefer to be left alone to do whatever they want. Today, though, the FCC won:

High-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, a federal court has ruled, a decision clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users....The court’s ruling was a slam-dunk for the F.C.C. The panel of three judges who heard the case late last year agreed that wireless broadband services were also common carrier utility services subject to anti-blocking and discrimination rules, a decision protested by wireless carriers including AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Roughly speaking, there are three ways we could attack the problem of net neutrality. In order of preference, they are:

  1. Encourage more broadband competition.
  2. Pass legislation.
  3. Let the FCC do the job.

Option #1 is hard. Local cable companies are almost always monopolies, and there's not much hope of seeing that change on a broad scale. Option #2 is very feasible, but Republicans simply have no desire to regulate the cable industry in any way. They talk about compromise a lot, but they never follow through and they probably never will. So that leaves Option #3. It's the worst of the bunch, but it's better than nothing. So three cheers for the DC Circuit Court. Now we just have to wait and see if the Supreme Court backs them up.

I don't generally go ballistic over every headline or Twitter summary that doesn't accurately represent the underlying story, but WTF AP?

The Twitter summary makes it sounds like both candidates were about equally fact challenged, but if you click through you'll find six (6) cases of Trump lying in various degrees, and two (2) cases of Hillary—well, of Hillary not lying. One passage is simply Hillary saying what she thinks policy should be, with AP's "fact check" consisting of telling us that this isn't what current policy is. The other is a little complicated, but it appears that Hillary may have overstated the results of a study.

So that's that. Trump pretty much lied his way through his speech, while Hillary was slightly too far over her skis about the results of one study. And that produces the Twitter summary above.

Sometime soon we're bound to get another round of "Gee, why don't people see through Donald Trump???" Well, this is one of the reasons. If you read only the Twitter summary of this AP story—and lots of people do—you'll come away with the impression that both candidates are basically cut from the same cloth. You'd never know that one makes only small and occasional exaggerations on policy issues while the other is a blowhard demagogue who flatly doesn't care about the truth one way or the other. No wonder so many people just shrug when you tell them that Trump lies practically every time he opens his mouth. Doesn't Hillary do the same thing?

Trump Idiocy Roundup of the Past Six Hours

OK, fine, back to Donald Trump. A daily roundup apparently isn't possible anymore. I guess we need one each for morning, afternoon, and evening. Sigh. Here's the latest:

Donald Trump announced Monday that he was revoking media credentials from the Washington Post, another sign that he does not tolerate criticism that often comes with presidential campaigns.

Trump has previously banned Politico, BuzzFeed, the Daily Beast, the Des Moines Register and other publications from attending his press events and rallies. But the Post ban is new territory, given the paper's historic role in covering campaigns and setting the nation's political agenda.

Hey! Don't forget about us! Pema Levy has also gotten herself banned from Trump events, which makes me incredibly jealous. Still, I suppose it's only fair. Pema actually tries to get into Trump events, which is probably a necessary first step to being banned. But I might still have a shot at making one of Trump's enemies lists, right? I assume he's got several.

What else? In the kind of plainly unfair reporting that got the Post banned, Max Ehrenfreund wrote an entire article this afternoon about the common Trumpism, "There's something going on." Ehrenfreund postsplains: "That phrase, according to political scientists who study conspiracy theories, is characteristic of politicians who seek to exploit the psychology of suspicion and cynicism to win votes." Roger that.

Then, five hours later, Jenna Johnson followed up with another entire article on the even more common Trumpism: "A lot of people are saying...." That really is probably Trump's favorite stylistic tic. Note, however, that when he's referring to himself, it's always "Everyone says...." As in, "Everyone says I won the debate." Or "Everyone says the judge has been totally unfair." Nobody ever asks him to name any of these people who are saying this stuff, of course. I guess that would be rude or something.

Finally, today brings a new study from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. It's worth a read, but my favorite part is the chart on the right. It relies on data from Media Tenor, so it hasn't been cherry picked by the researchers themselves. It shows that (a) only a tiny amount of primary campaign coverage was devoted to issues, (b) of that coverage, Donald Trump's was 57 percent positive or neutral (!), and (c) Hillary's was 84 percent negative. That's issue coverage. Hillary wasn't just savaged on her tone or her clothing or her poll numbers. She was savaged on the issues, the one place where practically everyone agrees she's strong and knowledgable. Even if you disagree with her—and that isn't supposed to affect media coverage—she knows what she's talking about.

And this wasn't driven just by Emailgate or Benghazi or whatnot: "Even the non-scandal portion of Clinton’s issue coverage—what she was saying on trade, jobs, foreign policy, and the like—was reported more negatively than positively. Clinton was the only one of the major candidates whose policy platform generated an unfavorable balance of news coverage."

And people wonder why she avoids the press. Maybe if they treated her with the same dignity and respect they reserve for Donald Trump's deep and profound knowledge of the issues, she'd open up a bit.

Aldi Has a Very Impressive Barcode Strategy

In a desperate last-ditch attempt to avoid Donald Trump for an extra few minutes, I stopped into our shiny new Aldi store after lunch. Aldi is—well, let's back up a second. There are actually two Aldis: Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord. Why? Because in a very Dallas-esque maneuver1 about half a century ago, the Aldi brothers decided to split their business in half. After expanding throughout Europe, Karl then proceeded to open up Aldi in the Eastern US in 1976 and Theo bought Trader Joe's on the West Coast in 1979. TJ's is famous for smallish stores, lots of private labels, and high-quality food. Aldi is famous for smallish stores, lots of private labels, and rock-bottom prices.

Anyway, Aldi has finally made it to Southern California, so I checked it out. The vibe is sort of like an HO-scale Costco except without any actual employees anywhere. The brand strategy reminded me of Radio Shack back in the day. At Radio Shack, everything was private label, but there were lots of different labels: Realistic, Micronta, Archer, etc. Aldi is the same: nearly everything is private label, and there are lots of different labels: Clancy's for snacks, Lifeways for allegedly healthy foods, and—my favorite—Welby for drugs. The packaging itself is such a brazen ripoff of major brands that I'm surprised they can get away with it. But I guess they do.

While I was there, I bought some Choceur chocolate (I had to buy something, didn't I?) and some Southern Grove peanuts. I'm forced to admit that they were pretty good—at about half the price I'm used to paying.2 The store I was at had a grand total of one (1) checker, which I gather is standard, but holy cow was she fast. The key, apparently, is to put large UPC codes on literally every surface of the packaging, so that checkers can just slide stuff over the scanner at light speed. This works fine since the packaging is all controlled by Aldi and doesn't have to be used to attract customers. You want potato chips? You're going to buy Clancy's.

So that's my report. I won't pretend it was very interesting, but it accomplished my purpose. I've now avoided Trump for yet another hour or so.

1Fans of the show know what I'm talking about. The rest of you can go here to watch one of the greatest scenes ever on network TV.

2Of course, my local store is Gelson's. But Aldi's stuff is still cheap, even compared to a normal supermarket.

From the Washington Post:

Trump's spokeswoman and campaign manager have yet to respond to a request for a fuller explanation of Trump's comments about the president.

I have a feeling this sentence is going to get a lot of use over the next few months. As for what this is about, apparently Donald Trump was busily making the TV circuit this morning implying saying outright that "there's something's going on" with President Obama and Islamic terrorism. This is, of course, front page news, so now we all have to talk about it. Tomorrow we'll get the thumbsuckers and fact checks explaining that, no, Obama is not in league with ISIS and he doesn't hate America—but those will be on A13 because Trump will be on to something else and that will take up the front page.

Plus I guess Trump gave a speech about something. Let's see...oh, here it is:

This was going to be a speech on Hillary Clinton and how bad a President, especially in these times of Radical Islamic Terrorism, she would be....But today there is only one thing to discuss: the growing threat of terrorism inside of our borders.

Reading through it, it sounds like a teleprompter special. A bunch of mush about getting tough and banning immigration from Muslim countries etc. etc., but without quite so many howlers of fact as usual. I guess we'll have to keep waiting for the speech about how bad a president Hillary would be.

This is barely worth mocking anymore, let alone covering seriously. I'm off to lunch.

BuzzFeed's Ben Smith was at Mitt Romney's big annual bash in Park City this weekend, which fairly seethed with anti-Trump sentiment. However, Trump had an ally in attendance: Anthony Scaramucci, the former Obama supporter who became a former Romney supporter who became a former Scott Walker supporter who became a former Jeb Bush supporter and is now a Donald Trump fundraiser. This history suggests that Scaramucci doesn't actually care much for Trump, but hey—he's a hedge fund manager. He'll sell whatever dog food he has to sell. And right now that's Donald Trump.

But Smith's story sure doesn't make Scaramucci look very effective in this role. "Scaramucci tried a series of approaches in quick succession," the story says, but those approaches look to me like they came from a sixth grader. You don't want eight more years of government regulation, do you? You don't want to abandon Paul Ryan, do you? You don't want to hurt the Republican Party, do you? And anyway, Trump "needs your wisdom," possibly the most hilarious serious sales pitch anyone has ever made on behalf of Trump. These are all pathetically obvious approaches. Then Scaramucci tried a harder sell:

“Let me ask you one other question,” he said. “What if he wins?”

“Do you want Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs to be the secretary of state and Gary Busey to be on the Supreme Court?”

This, Scaramucci suggested, is what Republicans can expect if they don’t get on the Trump Train now. (Combs and Busey — who Trump fired in 2013 on Celebrity Apprentice — support Trump. However, the candidate’s actual appeal to Republicans is how very very responsible he will be about Supreme Court appointments.)

“Everybody should oppose him, he wins anyway, and he should open the tent?” he asked, shaking his head.

Wait. WTF is this supposed to mean? It sounds like Scaramucci is saying that if mainsteam Republicans oppose him but Trump wins anyway, Trump is going to give the establishment a big fat middle finder by appointing two idiots to the Supreme Court. Because, you know, at least the idiots supported him from the beginning.

That's the sales pitch for Donald Trump? I dunno. Scaramucci's a rich guy, so I guess he knows how to sell. But if he ever offers his services to me, I think I'll politely decline. On the bright side, though, I learned that the guy who wrote How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul is now supporting Donald Trump. That was good for a laugh this morning.