Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Friend of the blog James Grimmelmann on Emotional Mobilization (or Old Man Yells at Death…), which he starts by wondering whether the basic architecture of participatory democracy is broken beyond repair. The culprit isn’t necessarily Twitter or even mass media, but the forces that have learned how to get us to feel instead of think. As he puts it, “The way to build mass political power is to get something emotionally powerful and politically activating go viral among people who agree with you.”

But this new mode of political engagement is profoundly exhausting. Keeping up with the news requires struggling through a firehose of attempts to activate your passions. They’re pretty effective attempts, too, since the people making them share your values, goals, and premises. They know how to hit you where it hurts, and you count on them to. People who you disagree with are activating too. Deliberately or not, they make you mad at their stupidity and immorality – and the people who agree with you are great at digging up and highlighting the things most likely to make you mad.

Add another emotion: guilt. Every encounter with politics on social media makes me feel guilty if I sit it out: I’m not helping with a worthy cause. It makes me feel guilty if I join in: I’m degrading public discourse. And don’t even get me started on trying to post with nuance: I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve deleted a post because I expected to be yelled at or because I didn’t want to distract from useful yelling.

We are living in a crisis. Hugely consequential things are being fought over and settled daily. The most important election of anyone’s lifetime is probably the one coming up in November. This is the time to act; this is the time when it matters most. But it has never hurt like this.

I haphazardly danced around the periphery of this sentiment with my post on Lady Doritos earlier this year, but this puts the hammer firmly onto the flat part of the nail.

Published on under This of course kills the democracy

I can’t decide which is the best part of Laurie Penny’s endlessly quotable essay in The Baffler about Netflix’s Queer Eye series:

Queer Eye is wonderful and terrible and probably the last significant statement to be made in reality television. The show, a Netflix-produced reboot of the original, squealsome mid-aughts judge-your-jeans extravaganza, instantly launched a thousand memes when it premiered in February, and the new second season has been a huger hit than anyone expected. In a culture awash in both mawkish reality vehicles dripping with kitsch and nostalgic reboots of shows from a softer world, Queer Eye is both. It manages to exceed the sum of its parts by not actually being about what we’re told it’s about. It’s not about queerness at all. It’s actually about the disaster of heterosexuality—and what, if anything, can be salvaged from its ruins.

On the surface of things, it’s a straightforward quest for “acceptance,” supposedly of homosexuality, dramatized via the no-longer-so-outlandish vehicle of sending five gay men on an outreach mission to small-town Georgia with a vast interior design budget and a vanload of affirmations. What it turns out to be, though, is a forensic study of the rampaging crisis of American masculinity. In each new installment of the reboot, queerness is gently suggested as an antidote to the hot mess of toxic masculinity under late-stage capitalism.

Name a more iconic duo than toxic masculinity and late-stage capitalism. I’ll wait, right over here while I watch billionaires self-fund humanity’s second space race.

Oh right. Queer Eye:

The gimmick is that heterosexuality is a disaster, toxic masculinity is killing the world, and there are ways out of it aside from fascism or festering away in a lonely bedroom until you are eaten by your starving pitbull or your own insecurities. The men typically featured as the show’s reclamation projects remind me of some of the men who I see on Tinder, sitting on that touring reproduction of the Iron Throne, staring into the middle distance, while in their real lives, and certainly on Queer Eye, they sit on ugly, painful furniture, faux-leather recliners that damage their backs, couches soaked in cat urine.

Look, I have like seven paragraphs I marked to blockquote here, which might be a new record for “things that aren’t federal indictments.” I’m going to leave this last bit here and call it quits.

There is a reason straight women love this show. It’s the pornography of emotional labor.

There’s an old, bad joke where “porn for women” is supposed to involve soothing images of men doing the washing up and running around with a vacuum cleaner—the joke being, presumably, that women don’t like sex, and men don’t like cleaning, so our fantasies like theirs must also involve watching the so-called opposite sex pretend to enjoy something for our benefit. But let’s be clear: nobody is actually getting off on Queer Eye. In fact, the whole show is curiously unerotic, despite the constant on-screen presence of beautiful, charismatic men explicitly and relentlessly defined by their sexuality. The original series was far more explicit about making straight guys hotter—but the new series does exactly the same, from the inside out, there being nothing more off-putting than a man who can’t or won’t take basic care of himself, at least not for anyone who’s been down that particular road before.

There’s little I love more in life than consuming some book or movie or (gasp!) episode of reality TV, taking away some kind of meaning from it, and then learning what I could have taken away from it by reading what people who are smarter than me took away from it. I can’t say enough good things about this essay.

Published on under That episode with the cop though

FiveThirtyEight Oliver Roeder reviews a new academic paper from two professors at Clemson analyzing the tweets which were part of the Russian election interference. The findings are impressive, but I worry that real headline is buried at the end of the article:

Russia’s attempts to distract, divide, and demoralize has been called a form of political war,” the authors conclude in their paper. “This analysis has given insight into the methods the IRA used to engage in this war.” This war may or may not have had an effect on the 2016 election, but it certainly wreaked havoc. The man who would be named national security adviser followed and pushed the message of Russian troll accounts, according to the Daily Beast, and Trump’s eldest son, campaign manager and digital director each retweeted a Russian troll in the month before the election. Twitter itself informed 1.4 million people that they’d interacted with Russian trolls.

But the researchers emphasized that the Russian disinformation and discord campaign on Twitter extends well beyond even that. “There were more tweets in the year after the election than there were in the year before the election,” Warren said. “I want to shout this from the rooftops. This is not just an election thing. It’s a continuing intervention in the political conversation in America.”

​Hoo boy.

Published on under Hey Siri how do I say retweet in Russian

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein created the Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) on May 17, 2017 and named Bob Mueller to run it. Upon its creation, the SCO inherited the counterintelligence investigation of the Russian election interference from the FBI. That investigation had been going on since well before the election, at least as early as July 2016, and perhaps as early as April 2016, when a Trump Campaign staffer famously got drunk and bragged about Russia sharing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton with the Trump Campaign.

I’m going to sum up the documents that Mueller’s team has publicly filed, what they mean, and what they can tell us about where the investigation might head next. We’re going to go in chronological order.

Published on under The Mueller Chronicles

Jamelle Bouie on The War for a White Electorate in Slate:

Even if you blocked all immigration to the United States and removed millions of naturalized citizens, existing trends make demographic change inevitable. At some point in the not-distant future, a majority of Americans will be of black, Hispanic, and Asian origin. But there’s a difference between a nation’s population and its electorate—its share of people who can exercise the full rights and privileges of citizenship. Republicans realize this, and are trying—at every level of government—to reverse-engineer a white electorate large enough to secure their own power, and along with it, the existing hierarchy of class and race.

Donald Trump is a major part of this story. But as with all things Trump, it would be wrong to treat this project as unique to him and his administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House adviser Stephen Miller, as well as former advisers Stephen Bannon and Michael Anton, are unusually driven in their commitment to a racial vision of the American state: Sessions once praised the nativist 1924 Immigration Act, and Anton, writing under a pseudonym, once warned that the “ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners” would mean a “less traditionally American” electorate. But they are also largely in line with a broader Republican politics that’s become reliant on the revanchist anger of a white minority. Supercharged in reaction to Barack Obama, that motivated minority of the electorate delivered a House majority in 2010, a Senate majority in 2014, and brought unified GOP control to state governments across the country.”

Read this one together with Matt Yglesias’s piece for Vox on normcore politics. Even if Trump resigned today, there are plenty of other people in the Republican Party who’d carry on this work.

Published on under Electorate Clapping on the One and Three

Research scientist Janelle Shane writes a blog called AI Weirdness, examining how artificial intelligence isn’t always so intelligent. Here’s a post on what happens When algorithms surprise us:

Something as apparently benign as a list-sorting algorithm could also solve problems in rather innocently sinister ways.

Well, it’s not unsorted: For example, there was an algorithm that was supposed to sort a list of numbers. Instead, it learned to delete the list, so that it was no longer technically unsorted.

Solving the Kobayashi Maru test: Another algorithm was supposed to minimize the difference between its own answers and the correct answers. It found where the answers were stored and deleted them, so it would get a perfect score.

How to win at tic-tac-toe: In another beautiful example, in 1997 some programmers built algorithms that could play tic-tac-toe remotely against each other on an infinitely large board. One programmer, rather than designing their algorithm’s strategy, let it evolve its own approach. Surprisingly, the algorithm suddenly began winning all its games. It turned out that the algorithm’s strategy was to place its move very, very far away, so that when its opponent’s computer tried to simulate the new greatly-expanded board, the huge gameboard would cause it to run out of memory and crash, forfeiting the game.

To paraphrase friend of the blog James Grimmelmann, I’m not worried about humanity being killed off by a super intelligent AI, I’m worried about us being killed off by a dumb AI that just has a lot of resources at its disposal.

Published on under Algorithm and Blues