Uncommon Sense

June 28, 2021

It Is Easy to Be Confused

Filed under: Culture,Medicine,Reason,The News — Steve Ruis @ 11:47 am
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I read two blog posts recently, one that stated that none of the vaccinated (in the US) are dying from COVID-19 and the other (from the UK) that only the vaccinated are dying from COVID-19. Actually, both are true.

In the US, the unvaccinated are many, just under half of the population. In the UK, the percent vaccinated is approaching two thirds.

The vaccines are reported to be in the mid-90’s% in preventive effectiveness, which is not 100%, so the vaccinated will still be getting sick, but the vaccines also prevent more severe symptoms, so the vaccinated getting the disease will be dying at a lower rate.

Consider a hypothetical region that is 100% vaccinated. What is the death rate of the unvaccinated? It is zero, of course. The death rate of the vaccinated must be higher, by default, but what people don’t hear is that the death rate is much lower than it had been for the unvaccinated. So, the vaccinated dying at a higher rate than the unvaccinated is a logical consequence of a vaccination program.

I wish that headline writers would strive to be more accurate and more complete.

Otherwise you end up with people seeing “None of the Vaccinated are Dying” and “Only the Vaccinated are Dying” and those who are not detail oriented throw up their hands and claim that “you can’t trust the news media because everything changes at the drop of a hat. Or the ideologues choose which stories to “pass on” to others who are like-minded.

In writing this I realize that a great many of the “issues of the day” have been treated the same way, exacerbating our divisions.

Do you have any ideas as to how to fix this? (Obviously expecting more from the general population isn’t going to work as it hasn’t worked for forever.)

June 27, 2021

Donald Trump 2.0?

Filed under: Culture,Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 8:29 am
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Before we have dispatched Donald Trump 1.0 people are trying to identify Donald Trump 2.0. My brilliant partner worried when Donald Trump was first elected that someone would come along who actually had the talent and desire to do the job in a Trumpian manner, and we would then really be in trouble.

A post today on Medium.com had the subtitle of “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be a GOP favorite to attempt to continue the former president’s brand of tyranny in 2024.” The title of the piece was “The Threat of Donald Trump 2.0 Is Beginning to Emerge.”

This is an abuse of the version labeling system.

While catchy and titillating as a title, the facts don’t match it, DeSantis is at best Trump v1.01.

He does not have the savvy, intelligence, or moxie to make it past v1.1 in my estimation. He is Trumpian in a slightly better looking package.

This is a little like when television became immensely popular. People worried about the effect it would have on education, children in toto, our culture, etc. I didn’t worry so much as I hadn’t seen anyone capable of using it effectively.

Have you seen a political TV ad recently? I stopped watching them years ago, but I occasionally watch one to see if anything has changed. So far, nothing has changed. There is nothing of value in a political TV ad and there are so many of them that any which might be effective are diluted out in a sea of mediocrity. (And they pay consultants millions of dollars to produce that crap.) So, no one has learned to use TV effectively, although Donald Trump did a better job of that than any previous presidential candidate.

The big threat right now is not Donald Trump, v1.0 or v2.0. The problem now is the antidemocratic Republican and Democratic parties. Yes, I know, one is worse that the other, I don’t care; they are both execrable. The uber-rich have captured our politics and now the entire system serves their interests and not ours. And, if you think their interests parallel yours, what planet are you from?

June 26, 2021

How Sloppy Language Misleads Us All

Filed under: Culture,Reason,The News — Steve Ruis @ 10:38 am
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With the release of the Pentagon’s “assessment” of “UAPs,” that is Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” more popularly known as UFOs, Unidentified Flying Objects, The Guardian offered a piece with the title “How pop culture has shaped our understanding of aliens.”

Hello?

We have no understanding of aliens . . . zero, zip, zilch.

We have never met an alien, we have never studied an alien, we have never questioned an alien. All aliens known to us so far are either: (a) fictional (am a big fan, am I) or (b) provisional in that they are based upon reports of individuals who claim they encountered such beings.

I am a big fan of fictional aliens because they offer a mechanism for authors to consider different ways to think, act, and live, without judgment. Very cool.

But as to any “understanding” of aliens, we have exactly none. If you think you do, a reality check is warranted.

A better title would be “How Pop Culture has Shaped our Image of Aliens,” or something similar.

August 6, 2020

Foot, Meet Bullet

It is a good thing the modern GOP doesn’t understand or even recognize irony. Because if they did, their Irony Meters would break over this one. Apparently, President Trump has decided that the news media are to be banned from the Republican National Convention.

This comes from a president who was elected largely through billions of dollars of free advertising provided by the news media in the run-up to the 2016 election. the news media were so into being there to see what batshit crazy comments Candidate Trump would make now, that they covered every word he uttered. (MSNBC used a count-down timer on screen to time how long it was until Trump appeared again so you wouldn’t take bathroom breaks away from their channel. Yes, that MSNBC.)

Since people were in a state of “I can’t believe he said that out loud,” they tuned in for hours and both the GOP and the news media made money hand over fist.

So, Mr, Trump’s Brilliant Idea is to ban the news media from the single biggest free media event leading up to a presidential election.

Crack! Shit, there goes another Irony Meter. <sigh>

In the GOP lexicon, the antonym for greed is stupidity, I think.

July 2, 2020

The Misuse of COVID-19 Statistics

Filed under: Culture,Reason,The News — Steve Ruis @ 12:25 pm
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I know Americans are virtually statistically illiterate but one thing keeps bothering me.

I read today in a local Chicago newsletter that “Illinois saw 828 new confirmed cases of Coronavirus and 30 more deaths in the past day. Both numbers were increases from previous days this week, but are still part of an overall decline since the peak of the crisis in mid-May. The weekend’s deaths were the lowest numbers in three months.”

Hello?

The deaths recorded today were of people who contracted the virus days or weeks ago. The numbers of cases reported and deaths for any particular day/week etc. are not correlated. If, say, it takes 13 days on average to die from COVID-19, then the deaths of any day are linked to the number of diagnosed cases from 13 days ago.

The US as a whole has seen a recent surge in the number of cases of COVID-19 with the daily numbers reaching record levels. Then people are commenting that the brighter side is that the number of deaths hasn’t gone up. They need to wait a bit to even know what the effect of that rise in diagnosed cases results in.

March 6, 2020

False Dichotomies

The corporate news world has a secret weapon . . . that being fairness. Even Fox (sic) News labeled itself as being “Fair and Balanced” for many years (but have stopped using that tag line, which means . . .).

Here is how it goes: a “news” program brings on a guest who decries man-made climate change. Then out of “fairness,” they bring out a guest who thinks man-made climate change is hooey. That’s fair, right? Both sides of the “debate” get their argument heard.

But if one were to have scientists as guests in this scenario, roughly 97% of climate scientists, the ones who have actually studied the scientific problem, have one view (It’s real, bitches.) and only 3% think that it is not man-made or not primarily man-made. To be “fair” you would put 97 white balls in a fish bowl and three black balls and pull one ball at random each time you had a climate change scientist as a guest. If you got a white ball, you selected a scientist of the 97% cohort and if a black ball a scientist of the 3% cohort.

If one were to use the global population as a guide, roughly (Pew polling numbers) 68% believe climate change is a major threat, 20% believe it is a minor threat, and 9% believe it is not a threat.

But this is not enough of an advantage to the advocates for the status quo, that is the people who are making money hand over fist doing business the way things are now. So, the dichotomy became a dichotomy of view points. Guest A representing one view, and Guest B representing the opposite view, no matter whether those views are representative of the population of experts.

But, wait, there is more!

Often the view favored by the plutocrats is presented by a doctor of something or other: medical doctors, dentists, engineers, etc. Medical doctors are preferred because they are given the honorific title of “Doctor” even though their doctorate is not at all germane to the discussion under way. Consider as an example Doctor Ben Carson. But the use of the title “doctor” lends credence to the position of the person speaking, even though it is not applicable. Professors are called “Professor” even when what they profess isn’t the subject at hand.

This is yet another reason why I do not watch televised/computerized news programs. Their objective isn’t getting at the truth of a matter, their object is . . . just what is their objective, do you think?

November 18, 2019

When Punching …

Filed under: Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 12:49 pm
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… make sure you are not punching uphill!

 

November 19, 2018

The Mass Media Are Giving Capitalism a Bad Name

Last night on television, one could watch a couple of documentaries. One was The Clinton Affair, an account of a presidential impeachment from 20 years ago. The other was an MSNBC “special” called Betrayal, The Plot That Won the White House, an act of treason by a GOP candidate for president from 50 years ago. Apparently we now have red and blue entertainments.

Other than treason being a mainstay in GOP national politics, both of these seem to be aimed at making money off of our political divide. There are enough Clinton haters to acquire a substantial audience for the first and enough Nixon haters to acquire a similar audience for the second.

This, of course, is as we are undergoing a major challenge to our fundamental system of government and there are topics galore that the public needs to become informed about. I do not see what benefit rehashing either of these stories has for people now. Nixon’s treason was undermining the Vietnam peace talks as a private citizen, is of a pattern. Ronald Reagan committed his treason in the Sandinista Affair and earlier in undermining Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free our captives in Iran (in order to get elected). The details of Mr. Trump’s treason(s) have not been elucidated as yet. (I also have my suspicions about G.W. but that is another story. None of these have stopped or even slowed down people voting for these or other candidates from that party.

And, clearly, the more our “mass media” are asked to conform to the “standards” of capitalism, the more they become rootless seekers of profit. At one time the head of CBS News said something alike to “The news division doesn’t need to make a profit; I have I Love Lucy for that.” Today’s “news media” are scrambling for “revenue streams” to stay afloat and under such conditions will succumb to the dictates of survival of the profitable. Pandering to “red” and “blue” audiences comes natural as does ignoring the role a free press plays in holding our leaders to account. (Doing it after they are dead is a tad late.)

August 18, 2018

Why Are We So Afraid?

On Quora, this question was posed: Why are so many Americans “tough on crime”?

One of the answers started this way:

“Americans are terrified.

“The United States of America is a nation of the coward, by the coward, and for the coward. Americans are the most frightened people you will find anywhere in the world.

“We are scared of everything. We’re scared of terrorists. We’re scared of immigrants. We’re scared of criminals. We’re scared of GM food. We’re scared of Muslims. We’re scared of brown people. If you come from any other industrialized country, and you’ve never lived in the US, it’s hard to understand the pervasive sense of fear that Americans live in.

“Americans are frightened, and this fear makes us cruel and mean.”

I immediately thought of the campaign to criminalize being a Black male (not just “driving while Black,” but existing while Black). As Jim Crow laws lost their footing in this country, some way had to be created to control Black people, especially Black men (just had to). After emancipation, one strategy was to criminalize the state Black people found themselves in. Vagrancy laws alone caused a great many Black men to be incarcerated and because they were poor and couldn’t pay their fine, they had to work off their fine … and room and board in the county jail. Voila, de facto slavery all over again. When these laws because unacceptable to society at large, the approach became “lock them up” on a much larger scale. Crimes that Blacks might commit had much longer penalties than if whites committed them. (Remember the crack cocaine sentences that were ten times longer than if powdered cocaine were involved? Guess which “possession crime” Blacks were more likely to be caught for.)

It has become our habit, through long exposure, to motivate ourselves to do anything politically by using fear. The message is “we must change because, if we don’t, something really bad will happen.”

Consider education: the report A Nation at Risk, claimed (erroneously) that our poor education system was dooming our country to second tier status … gasp, or worse! Also in education, the fear that girls were falling behind boys in math was promoted heavily at the exact moment at which girl’s math test scores had become equal to those of boy’s. (No mention was made of boy’s English language scores being much lower than girls, that was just “boys being boys.”)

The early environmental movement went to inflated extremes to gain attention. We were told we needed to “save the planet” as if it were at risk and not us.

Our “news media” haven’t helped one bit. They are not in the business of putting things in perspective, rather they are in the business of selling their wares. And the wares that sell are often the most alarming, most lurid, and most outlandish of stories.

Fear mongering is a booming business in this country.

And we are all paying for this by having fear dominate our lives. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was based solely upon fear. The slogan “Make America Great Again” implies we were great once, but are no longer …. but we could be again, just vote for me. Was there any analysis of this opinion? If a survey of world citizens were to ask the question “Which nation is the most powerful currently?” do you not think the USA would be voted to the top? (And if you didn’t so vote, would you expect to be invaded?)

When was the last time something was done politically because it was the right thing to do, rather than via a fear mongering campaign? Obamacare? The opposition to it was loaded with fear mongering, e.g. Death Panels! The national debt will skyrocket! The “safety net” will become a hammock! If not that, what?

If we insist that we will not do anything unless we are terrified, then all we are doing is waging a terror campaign upon ourselves. We are also letting the fear mongers and those who control the message in our news media to lead us around by the nose.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 26, 2018

Consequences of 24 Hour “News” Cycles

Filed under: Politics,Sports,The News — Steve Ruis @ 8:28 am
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I will start with a comment about sports reporting. Yesterday, the Cleveland Cavaliers won a game in dramatic fashion over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA playoffs (basketball). The Cavaliers now have a 3-2 advantage in a best of seven series. One more win and they move on to the second round of playoffs. The other team goes home with a “better luck next year” wreath. All of the yada, yada, yada surrounding the game, though, shows a lack of appreciation for the basic situation.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to win that game and should be described as being very lucky that they did not lose it. At the end of the “regular” season, the top eight teams are placed onto a playoff grid based upon their won-lost records. Then the first ranked team plays the eighth-ranked team, the second-ranked and the seventh-ranked teams play, etc. So, an advantage is built in for the better teams in that they are given weaker opponents (at least initially). Additional advantages are given to the higher ranked team in that four of the seven games are scheduled to be played in their home stadiums, with the first two games being played on their home turf, giving them the ability to get a “good start” to the series. This is the basis of what is called the “home field advantage” or “home court advantage.”

The team with the advantage gets to play at a site in which they get to sleep in their own beds, eat home-cooked meals, drive their own cars, practice in their own practice facility and compete on a field/court with which they are more familiar than anyone else. (The Boston Celtics old home court, the infamous Boston Gardens, was so irregular that a ball dribbled from one end to the other would not make the same sound on any two bounces. The floor had dead spots, live spots, unlevel spots, you name it. It was never repaired because the Celtics players knew what to expect everywhere on that court, but their opponents did not. Why give away such an advantage?)

The “visiting” team had none of those advantages. They sleep in hotel beds, eat restaurant food, practice in unfamiliar surroundings and compete at a disadvantage on the opponent’s favorite court.

And then there are the fans. The word “fan” is short for fanatic and there are stories that would curl your hair about what fans will do to give their team a further advantage. I leave that topic up to your own research.

In a seven game series in basketball or baseball, the home field advantage is significant. Teams are compared on their records “home” v. “away.” Good teams almost always have a better record at home rather than in other venues. This is due to the “home court advantage.”

So, the “home team” is supposed to win! Cleveland was supposed to win that game last night as it was in their home arena and had every advantage in doing so. Cleveland is the higher-ranked team. Cleveland is supposed to win their series. That they had to struggle so heroically on their home court to win a game they were supposed to win is not a good sign. Instead the focus is on how brilliant their star was, how well he performed, how he won the game for them.

So, why are these things not emphasized as they were in my youth?

I think it is a consequence of the 24-hour news cycle. If you turn on a TV at any hour, you can find sports programming. When I was young, that was not the case. (When I was young, there was nothing on TV from 12 midnight to 6 AM; all you would get was “snow,” the visual noise of your TV trying to process no signal at all.) The sheer volume of reportage has increased many fold. For example, the first NFL Super Bowl had a 15-minute introductory show. Currently, every NFL game during the ordinary season has two to three hours of introductory material, provided by multiple channels! The Super Bowl is hyped for two weeks, almost nonstop. This is typical of modern sports reporting.

And with that much time to fill, you cannot just repeat the basic parameters of a series. So, those basic “truths” get diluted, diluted, and diluted some more. And what do they get diluted with? Necessarily, they are diluted with less important details. For example, human interest stories abound … now. What impact do these have upon the outcome of the game being covered? Answer: none.

The “basic truths” of sports competitions are being buried in oceans of irrelevancies.

We can also fault the shallowness of the reporting. Whenever the Olympics comes around, we are inundated with stories of Olympians, of how at a young age they decided to “go for the gold” and then we are shown “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” in all of its drama. Why, at no point, do these reports put things in perspectives? Why do they not point out that a huge majority of those with “Olympic Dreams” did not even make their teams and are nowhere to be seen? Why do they not point out the unfairness of the competitions staged to make the teams and the myriad of other political issues surrounding those sports. They will point out Olympic organizing committee corruption because it is now part of the genre, but little else of what goes on behind the scenes is shown. Oh, and cheating gets reported, somewhat.

So, this is a bit of the impact of the 24-hour news cycle on sports reporting.

My whole purpose in laying this out is to ask: “What is the impact of the 24-hour news cycle on political reporting?” Instead of sports reporting in which nothing is really at stake, in politics lives and livelihoods are at stake. There are real consequences in the political arena. What basic truths are being buried in irrelevant details? Could a politician, latch onto this as a modus operandi, and bury us in irrelevant details to hide what is really going on? Deliberately feed “The Beast” (the reporting media) what they like to eat and to hell with the public’s need to know. The salacious sells, so the heck with in-depth economics reporting or business reporting.

Could somebody do this?

Yes, his name is Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

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