The Daily Show without Jon Stewart this summer

For twelve weeks this summer, the Daily Show is going to have a different host.  According to the New York Times Jon Stewart is taking time off to direct a movie called "Rosewater," which sounds like it's probably not going to be a light political satire because it's an adaptation of a memoir about the imprisonment of an Iranian Canadian journalist.  Now, I haven't read the book.  Maybe it's hilarious.  I'm just saying I wouldn't be surprised if it's not. The Times's article is mostly about the role that the Daily Show, and Jon Stewart, played in the imprisonment of the aforementioned journalist -- he was arrested on espionage charges because he participated in a joke interview that featured Jason Jones, dressed as a spy.

The part of this news I'm most excited about, though (and I feel really awful for changing the topic from an imprisoned journalist to get to this) is that John Oliver is covering for Stewart during his absence.

After Stewart, John Oliver is my favorite person involved in the Daily Show.  In fact, after Stewart, John Oliver is probably my favorite person who's appeared more than once on Comedy Central.  This is great news.

Texas woman has two sets of identical twins at once; CNN covers

I started watching CNN while I was having breakfast today, because there wasn't anything good saved on my DVR and I didn't want to watch Kitchen Nightmares.  I don't see much non-fictional-script based TV apart from Fox, which is what my parents watch, so I didn't realize how disappointing the institutions Fox imitates are.

The story

It was actually a pretty cool story, so I want to start with that.  A woman in Texas had a set of fraternal twins who both divided into identical twins, resulting in four children.  They named the kids alphabetically by birth order, Ace, Blaine, Cash and Dylan, and thematically after Las Vegas, in keeping with their two year old son, Memphis.

The birth-order naming scheme sounds to me like a recipe for insecurity and conflict, but I can't reasoonably claim to be sure about that.

About CNN's coverage of the story

My major criticism of this story comes from this section, similarly expressed in the video clip:

Identical twins result when a fertilized egg splits into two embryos. Twins occur in about 2% of all pregnancies, according to the University of Pennsylvania Health System. Of those, 30% are identical twins.

The odds of having two sets of twins at once is about 1 in 70 million, Dr. Alan Penzias, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. Attempts by CNN to reach Penzias on Tuesday were not immediately successful.

I think there might be some sort of selection bias in the kinds of doctors who talk to the press.

Obviously, 1 in 70 million is a number that guy pulled out of his ass, unless ABC just did some back-of-an-envelope math based on the true things he said.  If we take the numbers he listed, and assume that the events: having fraternal twins, one twin splitting, and the other twin splitting, are all entirely separate events, with no related causes at all, then you do get odds close to 1 in 70 million.

If, for one obvious example, the event that caused one zygote to split was the same event that caused the other zygote to split, the odds are closer to 1 in 10 thousand.

Here are those numbers next to each other, in monospace, so you can see how big a difference there is:

70,000,000
10,000

The actual odds, insofar as they could possibly be established, is probably somewhere between those two.  Those odds are also kind of a pointless thing to report on, but if they must, they could at least aim for a more critical approach to statistics.

That story was followed up with a blatantly prejudicial teaser titled "Michael Jackson's Son Gets a Job," then a commercial by a mother who said her kids hated her before she got her teeth whitened.

About CNN

News organizations set the standard for the quality of discussion in the community they serve.  That's why it pisses me off that CNN is failing this badly.  It shouldn't be easy to spot obviously misleading or false information in any given story I'm not an expert in, but it is.  I was writing more than I was paying attention in the next few stories, but it was clear I didn't just get lucky -- CNN clearly sets a very low standard, to the point that I think they're actually stigmatizing critical thought and complex evaluation.

I hear the argument that TV-based informational content is inherently reductionistic and trivializing, but there are hundreds of examples to the contrary -- examples where creators make it clear when they're simplifying,  examples where they clearly, fully explain the relevant context, examples where humor is used sensibly in relation to the content, so it doesn't obscure the points.  Those examples are all from the last week, and they're all from YouTube channels that get these poitns right consistently.

Granted, those are all on YouTube.  But I don't think you can seriously argue that there's anything inherent about network news that makes it impossible to do what people on YouTube do, some of them in their free time.  What you can argue is that there are economic forces preventing them from moving on past their decade or two of mistakes.

I think the appropriate response to that is for good journalists to abandon the industry.  Maybe we can talk Google into offering more grants for professional journalism on YouTube?

Media Diary

My Mass Media course has a new homework assignment today -- we are to keep a 5-day journal of all the media we consume.  I started as soon as I got the assignment, writing up the media I consumed before I got to that class (Webcomics in the morning, radio on the way to school, reading The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson, reading Reddit in the bathroom, texting, text books, historical texts...) and continued thereafter -- I'm already at over a page's worth of content.

I am debating whether to publish the diary here, after I've finished.  We've been told we're allowed to omit porn, (not exactly, but the teacher was very clear about our not having to list things we're not comfortable sharing,) but we're supposed to cover everything else.

If I do decide to publish it, I definitely can't count it towards my daily wordcount.  That would absolutely be cheating -- I'm only up to 4:30 on the first day and it's already at 351 words.

Atari filed for bankruptcy

I had an Atari when I was a kid.  I was too young for it, really, Super Nintendo was already out when I got it, but my dad brought it home one day and it was awesome. Maybe nostalgia was already a big enough influence on my life back then that I cared about connecting with the history of video games, but I loved playing Atari.

Al Jazeera writes,

Video game company Atari SA said it has filed for bankruptcy protection in Paris and New York after it failed to find a successor to main shareholder and sole lender BlueBay.

The US operations in addition plan to separate from their French parent to seek independent capital to grow in digital and mobile games, Atari Inc said in a statement on Monday.

The US businesses plan to sell or restructure all or almost all of their assets in the next three to four months and are seeking $5.25 million in financing from Tenor Capital, Atari Inc added.

[...]

Atari SA said no investor had been willing to replace BlueBay as its reference shareholder and main creditor because of its French listing, complicated capital structure and the difficult economic and operating environment.

The company said it owed 21 million euros ($28 million) to BlueBay.

This news hurts my nostalgia bone, but the fact that the list of notable games at the bottom of the article is "Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Battlezone and Tempest," suggests that this company really is where it ought to be -- To my knowledge, Atari hasn't accomplished anything extraordinary lately, and a company can only live so long on nothing but a strong feeling that they deserve to be around.

Twitter's horrible ethical call

(via Boing Boing) Having just announced that I'm leaving Facebook, and having listed Twitter as an ethically superior alternative, I feel it would be irresponsible of me not to write about Twitter's blatant ethical breach that the Guardian wrote about last night:

Twitter has suspended the account of a British journalist who tweeted the corporate email address of an NBC executive. The reporter, Guy Adams of the Independent, has been acerbic in his criticisms of NBC's (awful) performance during the Olympics in London.

Adams has posted his correspondence with Twitter, which claims he published a private email address. It was nothing of the kind, as many, including the Deadspin sports blog, have pointed out.

This would be an irresponsible decision even in isolation, but Twitter is partnered with NBC for Olympics coverage, and according to the Wall Street Journal, they're hoping to use this opportunity to expand into a more profitable audience.

If [they don't apologize and reinstate the account], this is a defining moment for Twitter. It will have demonstrated that it can be bullied by its business partners into acts that damage its credibility and ultimately the reason so many of us use it as a platform. And if that's the case, there will be much less incentive to use it.

Guy Adams's account was unsuspended literally while I was writing this post.

News organization suppressing the news: Cops attacking protesters

(via Wil Wheaton on Tumblr) CBS's KCAL News at 9 recently reported on a case of police brutality against a crowd of protesters, some of whom were children.  They fired either rubber bullets or bean bags into the crowd, and one officer let loose a dog, who attacked a woman carrying her child.

When that news showed up on YouTube, though, CBS had it removed, via a copyright claim.  I can't embed it, but Occupy Iowa's tumblr has a video, linked here, along with this accompanying message:

The YouTube corporation and CBS have now censored the original video of Anaheim cops shooting at children. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MST4RhWdlMQ

“This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by CBS.”

Spread links to the mirrors. Keep firing.

CBS might have removed the video to protect the police officers.  They might have removed the video to protect their ability to make advertising revenue on their content.  Either way, the decision is unacceptable.  News is news.    If it's not available, it's useless.

The Newsroom: My Thoughts

I've been trying hard to organize my thoughts about The Newsroom;  I seriously enjoy watching it (something I'll say several times in this post) but I knew it had been panned in the press, and Jay Smooth had some mean things to say about it, and amid what NPR's Linda Holmes describes, "Hearing a Sorkin character forcefully argue something you believe to be true is like bathing in a tub full of champagne while you listen to a CD of affirmations called You Are Great And Smart, And No One Understands You," there's an overwhelmingly uncomfortable sub-... Something. And that's what I keep slamming into.  It's not subtext, it's not a double meaning.  And it's certainly not the deep, pervasive cynicism of the show.  That, I'm fine with.  And it isn't the preachyness.  I love that, too.

But I think I've figured it out.  It's the nostalgia.

A Love Letter to the Great Men of History

The show opens with a beautiful rant, inspired by Will McAvoy hallucinating his ex in the audience[1. I know that (SPOILER!) it turned out she was actually there, but I liked it way better when I thought he was imagining it.].  The first half of the rant is awesome.  He rattles off all the statistics that I wish were printed in a column on the front of every issue of every newspaper.  Especially the thing about the defense budget.

Then he starts talking about the way things used to be.  When we "Never beat our chests," and "Acted like men," and "Aspired to intelligence," and "Didn't scare so easy."

The show has rightly been called on how much bull████ that second half is made of.  The past was not a superior time, we were not a better country back then.  Although, in episode three, they do start to defend the claims in what I think is a pretty coherent way.  And, again, I seriously enjoy watching this show.

MacAvoy, the great hero of the show, is sexist, racist and xenophobic, and MacKenzie's glowing endorsement that he's secretly a nice guy doesn't really make up for that fact.  It hurts, too, that the structure of the show supports that mythos.  You can pretty well rank the importance of the characters by arranging them by distance from the pinnacle, white-male-anglo-American.

It also portrays positive movement in news as a strictly backward trajectory.  I'm glad that someone mentioned WikiLeaks, but the fact that it was Neal, the Indian guy who writes McAvoy's blog (to his shock and disgust), and in the context of Jim (the white, male Batman producer) mocking him for suggesting that the internet is important.  Meanwhile, the model for the new program is Appeal to the Transcendent Model of the Great Men of Brodacasting History.

 On the other hand...

I mentioned the bull████ about the greatness of American history earlier.  But I also mentioned about episode three, where McAvoy points out to his boss, Charlie Skinner, who is easily my favorite character so far, that even at the height of the Hippie movement, the mainstream Democratic candidates were not interested in associating themselves with the Hippie leadership.

This is contrasted with the Tea Party, which now actively gets elected around the country.  I believe that McAvoy and Sorkin are right to raise the alarm, and to point out that this is something new.  Or, at least, something that hasn't happened lately, and should be getting more negative attention than it is.  I hope that the Tea Party aren't the major targets of the whole show, but it was a good defense of a hypothetically better past.

And the past they refer to in the show seems to focus more on the methodology than on the facts of the environment.  In many cases, McAvoy and Skinner seem to be nostalgic, not for a time when everything in America was awesome, but for a time when America was not so divided, when the methods by which change occurred were more organized, and better suited to rooting out bad change.

Indeed, the correlation between heightening scientific and philosophical understanding and heightening coherency in legislation seems to have... well, drooped.  Things may not have been better in the past America they're nostalgic for, but they were at least worse in ways that were proportional to their historical context.

In Conclusion

The Newsroom is not the greatest show in history, but it's a good show.  I seriously enjoy watching it, and I think that its arguments are more cogent than not -- and more cogent than many of the critics are saying.

I hope that in future episodes, the show gets more optimistic about the internet, and takes on the entertainment industry, copyright law, and student debt.  I hope the non-white and the non-male characters get fleshed out better, and get treated with a little more complexity, and I hope Jim ████s up, in a meaningful way, at least once -- and gets called on it.

I don't think there's much hope of getting away from the show's fetish for the Great Man, but I can suck that up.  It's a narrative thing, anyway.[2.  Not that narrative isn't important.  Narrative is the most important thing.]  And I'm not bothered by its preachyness, or the past-setting, "This is how the story should have been" mechanism.  If the show's going to help present-day viewers become informed, it needs to give them the appropriate context about where our country is and how it got there.

So, I recommend it.  It's clever and informative and truer than the news media is likely to admit (though it's not  totally true) and its cynicism is well-earned by its setting.  And I seriously enjoy watching it.

Medicative

I've just discovered Medicative, a blog run by Dan Gillmor about false information on the internet. The first post I read on the site has pretty strongly endeared me to its contents. It describes a business decision on the part of the New York Times to require commenters to log in via Facebook accounts, in order to verify their identity.  Gillmor says:

This is vastly, vastly better for Facebook than the Times. Given Facebook’s tendency to track what people do online whenever possible — something you can take for granted in this case, given the attractive (for marketers) demographics of Times readers — the company will gain deep insights into what these people read and buy.

This post is from March 20 -- posts on this site appear to be rare, the last three being in March, February, and January.  It might be dead, but I'll be checking back for a while just in case.  There's also a book, of the same title, which I'm interested in getting a copy of when I have money, whenever that happens.

Google Badges: Gamifying news

Google's news section has a new feature:  Google Badges.  Google is monitoring how much of particular types of stories you read, and you can level up in different areas by reading more stories on those topics.  So far, I've read 1 story about Google, so I've got a Google badge with no stars.

I have mixed feelings about this.  On the super-positive side, I love the idea of gamifying news consumption -- putting out in public your news reading habits as a ranked icon is a solid step towards objective measures of how informed people are in various topics, and provides a nice little social kick towards reading more news, and more substantial news.

On the other hand, it's subject to some problems.  This method rewards equally following up on light reading, like the example category, basketball, as it does more in-depth categories.  Google isn't exactly encouraging getting informed as a civic duty here.

The video says you'll be able to keep your badges private, or share them with your friends.  If you want to keep secretly informed about some topics, Google offers a solution:

Sharing Badges By default, only you can see your badges. You can choose to share a specific badge in your badge collection by mousing over the badge and clicking one of the sharing icons. When you share a badge, it reveals your badge’s name and level, as well as the rough number of articles that you have read about the badge’s topic. Your friends will not see the specific articles that you have read.

This mechanism seems handled altogether quite well, but I don't know whether to hope that, in the future, Google leans towards encouraging good information consumption habits and discouraging binges on nothing but pop culture, or whether the natural tendency towards easier news will go unchecked.