Dissecting Apple Link Bait

As the result of a mention on Daring Fireball, I wound up reading a column by Jon Friedman titled “Get that Apple iPhone 5 out of my face.” That was five wasted minutes I will never get back again. The article amounts to a worthless piece of link bait. Here’s why:

Mr. Friedman says: “I am proud to say that I won’t rush out to get an iPhone 5.”

First off, note the not-so-subtle subtlety here: Mr. Friedman doesn’t say he won’t buy a new iPhone eventually. It’s just that he won’t rush out to get one. Maybe he will buy one a few weeks after the announcement. But rather than clearly say that, he phrases it in a more “controversial” manner, designed to make it sound as if he’s fed up with Apple.

Regardless, I’m glad for him and his decision. But where is the news is in this proclamation? “Wait and see” is good general advice for all buyers of any technological device, not something to be linked to a gripe about Apple. Unless you absolutely need a new iPhone in a hurry, or know you want the latest from Apple regardless of what it is, you’re almost always better off waiting until the dust has settled and you can be reasonably certain you won’t regret your decision.

Further, I don’t see why this is a source of pride for Mr. Friedman. It takes no skill, talent or wisdom to not buy an iPhone. Anyone can do it.

Mr. Friedman says: “I don’t want to hear about the presumably superior way I’ll be able to take and store photos and all the rest.” Yet, in the next breath, he adds: “Apple makes useful, shiny products that are more crucial to my existence than clean air or water. No argument here.”

Huh? Give his obviously favorable history with Apple products, why would he not want to at least check out the new iPhone? This makes no sense. If he is unimpressed with the new device, he shouldn’t buy it. It’s not as if Apple forces anyone to sign a contract for an iPhone before they can touch one. And, on the chance that the new iPhone turns out to be a truly revolutionary product, what’s the advantage to sticking your fingers in your ears and failing to find out the news?

Mr. Friedman says: “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me. I already feel like I got taken by this company. I’m talking about my unsatisfying experience with the much-hyped Apple 4S model.”

“Taken buy this company?” What in the world is Mr. Friedman talking about? He bought a perfectly good iPhone 4S to replace an apparently broken one. Why is that foolish? As far as the reader can tell, his iPhone 4S has worked as advertised. The only feature that Mr. Friedman mentions as at all “unsatisfying” is that Siri did not live up to his expectations. That’s it. That’s the entire basis for his tirade of a column.

Give me a break. Very few people have been completely satisfied with Siri. That’s true. It’s also not news. At the same time, many people have been charmed by Siri and use it regularly. In either case, problems with Siri don’t make you a fool for having bought an iPhone 4S. I have not met one person who would agree with this assessment.

Bottom Line

Mr. Friedman has decided not to rush out and buy an iPhone 5. Personally, I don’t really care one way or the other what Mr. Friedman chooses to buy — unless there’s an interesting story behind his decision. There isn’t. There is virtually no useful information to be gleaned from his column.

Instead, we have an article lacking in logic that offers general and unsubstantiated condemnations of all Apple iPhones, the company’s marketing policies and anyone who is “foolish” enough to buy a new iPhone.

But offering useful information is not the goal of this article. Its main purpose is, via its provocative headline, to attract hits. This is a common practice these days. Given the high interest in Apple and its products, a controversial headline with Apple in its title is almost certain to attract more than the usual amount of attention. Unfortunately, if you follow all of the links to such articles, you’ll wind up reading a good deal of garbage.

That’s why I typically don’t write about such stuff. Why give these articles more attention than they deserve? Still, every once in a while, I feel it’s worth pointing out an especially blatant instance of this trend. That was my intent here. If anyone is being fooled, it’s not Mr. Friedman. It’s the people who mistakenly take the time to read his column.

Posted in Apple Inc, iPhone, Technology | 1 Comment

After the Supreme Court ruling on health care…

Here’s a collection of thoughts that have been running through my head these past couple of days, ever since the historic Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Obamacare and baseball. The Republicans are like a baseball team that, having lost 3-0 in a nine-inning game, refuse to get off the field. Instead of shaking hands with their opponents and starting to prepare for the next game, the Republicans demand to play extra innings until they wind up with the lead and the win.

Baseball doesn’t work that way. And neither does America. In the battle over Obamacare (as even the Democrats now call it), the Republicans lost in the House, lost in the Senate, and lost in the Supreme Court. It’s time to move on. Perhaps, if Romney wins the presidency, there will be a chance for a rematch. But let’s cross that bridge if and when we come to it. In the meantime, there are more important things to worry about than games that have already been decided.

Justice Roberts and conscience. I never thought I’d be saying this today, but I have new-found respect for Chief Justice Roberts. No matter how he votes on cases in the future, and I am certain I will often disagree with his votes, I will feel much more confident that his decisions are based on conscience rather than partisanship. That’s all I can ask. My change of heart is not primarily derived from his critical vote, a vote that created the 5-4 majority in favor of upholding the Affordable Healthcare Act. That helped. But that’s not all. More significant were the words in his written opinion:

“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices…We (the Supreme Court) do not consider whether the act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the nation’s elected leaders.”

In other words, a justice’s vote should not derive from whether they believe a law is good or agrees with their political viewpoint, only whether it is constitutional. I agree 100%. If only all the other eight justices followed that principle.

How can you tell what’s inside the head of a Justice? One way is to try out hypothetical tests. Here’s one: If Romney were president back in 2008 and he had passed a version of Romneycare with the support of a Republican Congress (basing his support on the law’s success in Massachusetts and the fact that it was originally a Republican idea), and the Democrats had challenged it, and the law arrived at the Supreme Court, do you think the justices would have voted the same way as they did this week? If you answer no for any justice, then that justice is voting out of partisanship not conscience or law.

And my number one candidate for an obviously partisan judge is Antonin Scalia. Check out these two recent articles: “Antonin Scalia, ranting old man” and “Time for Scalia to seek his true vocation – politician.” They say it better than I ever could.

The minority. It is still hard for me to see how the minority of the Court on this decision would have not only struck down the individual mandate provision, but the entire law. Even if you think the other parts would not be viable without the mandate, that’s for Congress to determine. As long as the provisions are constitutional, they should remain. And they were.

Speaking of minority opinions, I still have trouble wrapping myself around the notion that having half the Court disagree with a decision is irrelevant. A 5-4 decision means the same as a 9-0 decision. But that’s the way our country works. I accept it.

Popularity. People keep citing the low popularity of Obamacare among the American public. It’s true. It’s also true that people very much like many of the provisions of the law. If the Democrats can ever manage to aggressively explain and defend the law (something they have shown no inclination to do up till now), I believe many minds could be changed. Also, as more of the provisions go into effect, and people see it working well, minds will be changed.

I believe that, for many Republicans, the rush to overturn Obamacare stems not from their belief that it is a bad law but from fear that it will ultimately turn out to be a good law, one that wins popular support. This would mean a huge political loss for the right.

The extremes. I continue to be surprised by the level of vitriol in this country right now. It’s one thing to believe that Obamacare is bad law. That’s a legitimate debate. I happen to believe the law is a move in the right direction, even though it is far from perfect. But I understand others disagree. Heck, there are people on both the left and the right that believe it is a bad law, but for very different reasons. Regardless, the survival of this law does not mean the end of this country, or freedom, or the world. Some of the comments I see posted on the web are simply beyond belief. Here are two examples:

A reader commenting on the Supreme Court decision wrote: “The fire in the belly of the right had better be ignited immediately or the country will fall totally into Marxism and become a flaming dictatorship.”

Give me a break.

And a Michigan attorney who has held positions in the state Republican Party wrote: “If government can mandate that I pay for something I don’t want, then what is beyond its power? …Has the Republic all but ceased to exist? If so, then is armed rebellion today justified? God willing, this oppression will be lifted and America free again before the first shot is fired.”

O…M…G!

Krugman. As if often the case, I agree with Paul Krugman. I’ll let him have the last word on this week’s ruling:

“In short, unless you belong to that tiny class of wealthy Americans who are insulated and isolated from the realities of most people’s lives, the winners from that Supreme Court decision are your friends, your relatives, the people you work with — and, very likely, you. For almost all of us stand to benefit from making America a kinder and more decent society.”

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Let the Conservatives Win

“…since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a quiet, slow-motion coup d’etat whose purpose is to repeal every bit of progressive legislation since the New Deal and entrench the privileged positions of the wealthy and powerful – who haven’t been as wealthy or as powerful since the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.” How? “The plan is to inundate America with a few big lies, told over and over: The debt is Obama’s fault, and it’s out of control; corporations and the very rich are the ‘job creators’ that must get tax cuts to generate more jobs; government spending is wasteful unless it’s on the military; regulations are strangling the private sector; unionized workers are being paid too much; and so on…” Robert Reich

C-3PO: “I see your point, sir. I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the Wookee win.”

If you find yourself anywhere on the left side of the political spectrum, you’re probably dismayed by the continuing rightward tilt of this country. Surprisingly, according to surveys, the United States is the most politically conservative, strongly religious, gun-toting country in the Western world. And preventing further rightward erosion seems to be more and more of an uphill battle with each passing week. We have a Democratic President and the Democrats are in control of the Senate; yet it seems like the Republicans are running the country.

What is one to do in such circumstances? Fight harder? Perhaps. Or maybe…just maybe…we could try a new strategy. Let the conservatives win. Allow conservatives free rein to do what they want…without no restraints or opposition. If the left has been wrong all this time, the country will wind up a better place. If not, things may get so ugly that the middle of the country, the part that is not strongly committed to either side, will at last wake up and realize what is at stake.

Yes, it’s a risky strategy. And probably a misguided one. We had eight years of George W. Bush and there was no collective waking up. Thanks largely to Wall Street run amok, we had the financial meltdown of 2008; yet the drive for smaller government and less regulation has only gotten stronger. These are not promising precedents. And even if the the strategy ultimately succeeds, it may be too late to undo the damage.

Yes, it’s a risky strategy. But I’m getting desperate. I’m not sure what else there is left to try. Still, let’s be a bit cautious before actually going “all in.” Let’s begin with a “thought experiment.” Let’s imagine the conservatives have already won. What would our legal, social, and political landscape look like?

Sex

In this new national landscape, if a women is seeking an abortion, she can forget it. There will be absolutely no abortions, not even in the case of rape, incest or to protect her life.

And, in case you were hoping to avoid the need for abortions by allowing ready access to birth control, you can pretty much forget that as well. The sale of birth control pills will be strictly prohibited. In addition, there will be no way to get health insurance to pay for any sort of birth control.

If you’re gay, don’t expect to be getting married — ever. Marriage among same sex couples will be outlawed — thanks to a constitutional amendment.

Schools and Science

The teaching of evolution in biology classes in K-12 schools will be banned. Instead, in both public and private schools, students will be required to learn about intelligent design and creationism. This will be the case, despite repeated court rulings declaring that such practice amounts to the teaching of religion. The reach of creationism will spread beyond the schools; expect to see Museums of Natural History dioramas showing humans side-by-side with dinosaurs.

More generally, regarding education, parents will be given vouchers to spend on whatever school they wish, public or private. Tax support for public schools will be largely eliminated. The result will be that private schools flourish while public schools vanish from the landscape. With virtually no government oversight of the quality of private schools, don’t expect the average competence of our graduates to increase.

With public schools in decline, teachers unions will be greatly weakened. Whatever small amount of power they retain will be gutted by laws that ban any collective bargaining and eliminate any sort of job security.

At the university level, schools will have to demonstrate that their faculty do not have a “liberal bias.” If any such bias is detected, they will be required to hire conservative professors until a balance is achieved.

Human-caused global warming will be officially declared a myth. All efforts to create a greener environment will be scrapped. It will be the end of solar power initiatives and of the push for more fuel efficient cars.

As for obtaining oil, the mantra of the day will be “Drill, baby, drill.”

Unions

The situation with teachers unions is just the beginning. Eventually, all unions will be entirely dismantled. The only place left where people will be able to learn about unions will be in history books, assuming that the topic is not banned from them.

Immigration

With a nationwide expansion of Alabama’s “self-deportation” law, undocumented immigrants will be forced out of the country. For good measure, there will be no form of “amnesty” for any immigrants, no matter how long they have been in this country or what their standing in the community might be.

Racial profiling by police will be condoned. If anyone seems suspicious, even if it’s just due to their ethnic appearance, it will be okay to stop their cars and check them out.

Gun control

“Shoot first and ask questions later” will be the accepted norm for all citizens. From those on a neighborhood watch to those in a local pub, but there will be no limit to one’s “right to bear arms.” Gun control laws will be gutted to the point that assault rifles and grenade launchers will be available at Walmart. With a legal right to carry a concealed weapon anywhere, incidents of gun violence will go up — even beyond their already too-high levels. At the same time, due to laws protecting those who can make even a half-baked claim of self-defense, arrests and convictions will decline.

Health care

Regardless of what the Supreme Court may rule later this month, any remnant of “Obamacare” will be gone. We’ll return to the prior insurance-company-controlled system. As a result, health care costs will continue to spiral out-of-control. People will lose coverage when they get laid off from a job and will be unable to get coverage at all if they have a “pre-existing condition.” Somehow, this will be explained as fairer and more financially sane than any sort of universal health care.

Taxes and financial regulations

The wealth of richest 1% of the country will continue its upward spiral while the incomes and net worths of the rest of the country continues its decline. We will accelerate the deregulation of banks, corporations and any other institutions with sufficient money to successfully lobby Congress — allowing them to take completely unsound risks without almost no fear of any consequences if they lose.

Political contributions from corporations and their wealthy top executives will continue to buy election outcomes because, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and the resulting Super-PACs, these entities will be able to outspend the collective contributions of the entire rest of the country.

We will continue to cut taxes to the point that almost no local government services can be adequately supported. We will witness the decline of police departments, fire departments, social services, public transportation and other public institutions. At the national level, programs like Social Security will be privatized.

Government

The ability of the minority party to obstruct any legislation from passing will continue — at least when the Republicans are in the minority. The filibuster and similar measures will ensure that Congress remains dysfunctional.

The Supreme Court will continue its own deterioration from a neutral protector of Constitutional law into a partisan conservative institution.

Bottom Line

If you are cheering at the prospect of all of these developments, then you are hoping for a country very different from the one I would like to see. If, on the other hand, you are dismayed that this could be the future of the U.S., then you have a choice. Do nothing and let this thought experiment become reality — as it is already well on its way to doing. Or decide that “let the conservatives win” may not be the best strategy after all — and stand up and try to do something to prevent it.

Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Politics, Lying, and the Death of Facts

We are living in interesting times. We are living in a time when elected officials can make the most outlandish completely untrue statements and bear little or no repercussions. We are witnessing the death of facts in our public discourse.

A U.S Congressman can falsely claim that 80 Congressional Democrats are members of the Communist party.

A U.S. Senator can assert that over 90% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to funding abortions, when it’s actually closer to 3%. That was bad enough. The topper was when one of the senator’s staffers defended him by explaining that “his remark was not intended to be a factual statement”!

Or how about when at-the-time contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain, accused the Obama administration as being behind the Occupy Wall Street protests, but then added: “I don’t have facts to back this up.”

President Obama has often characterized by his critics as a “Socialist” — despite the fact that no actual Socialists (or anyone who is the least bit rational in assessing Obama’s positions) believe he is anywhere close to one.

The problem isn’t merely that people in authority continue to make such obviously false statements. The bigger problem is that they get away with it. By this I mean they receive little or no condemnation — other than by those of the opposing party, who are dismissed as “politically motivated.” The lying politicians don’t get booted out of office. To the contrary, their lies often improve their re-election odds, by appealing to their party’s “extreme base.”

Why do they do this? Because no matter how ridiculous the claim, a significant portion of the public winds up believing it. For example, at least in several Southern states, a majority of Republicans still believe that Obama is a Muslim. Many still doubt that he was born in the United States. And don’t even get me started on the public’s willingness to embrace the false attacks on evolution and climate change.

In today’s political landscape, “facts” are defined as something that confirms your pre-existing bias. Anything else is dismissed as “just someone’s wrong opinion.” There is no longer an agreed upon set of facts whose interpretation is debated. Each side in a debate now has their own set of “facts” — with little attention being paid to how true they are.

Mainstream media are of little help in sorting this out. They tend to fall in one of two camps. On the one hand, you have organizations such as Fox News and MSNBC that take such a unilateral and extreme view that they don’t even offer a pretense of being unbiased. On the other side, you have most of the rest of the media. They refuse to even hint that truth may reside more with one side of a controversy than another, lest they be accused of being biased.

Swiftboating

I am reminded of the “swiftboating” of John Kerry in 2004. Concerned about the political advantage of Kerry’s status as a Vietnam War hero, Republicans decided that the best defense was a good offense. So they created the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT). According to Wikipedia: “SBVT asserted that Kerry was ‘unfit to serve’ as President based upon his alleged ‘willful distortion of the conduct’ of American servicemen during that war, and his alleged ‘withholding and/or distortion of material facts’ as to his own conduct during that war.”

According to a Times survey “about one-third of viewers believed there was at least ‘some truth’ to the allegations.” The claims, in fact, were largely if not entirely untrue. Again, as noted in Wikipedia, “The first SBVT ad was contradicted by the statements of several other veterans who observed the incidents, by the Navy’s official records, and, in some instances, by the contemporaneous statements of SBVT members themselves.” ABC News’s The Note opined, “the Swift Boat ad and their primary charges about Kerry’s medals are personal, negative, extremely suspect, or false.” [See also this snopes.com page.]

The truth didn’t matter. The SBVT ads created enough doubt to swing a significant number of voters. Some believe it was sufficient to have altered the outcome of the election.

One result of all of this is that the word swiftboating became a verb, used to describe the deliberate use of a “harsh, unfair or untrue political attack” in order to discredit an opponent. In other words, a smear campaign.

Sadly, with the 2012 presidential campaign moving into high gear, we can expect to see sort of thing happening again — especially from Republicans who have been very effective at drawing from this well. I expect this season to set new records in negative attacks and false claims. Why? Because they work. And with the new super PACs, there is more money and opportunity to use these attacks than ever before. We’ve already seen this in action, as noted in today’s San Francisco Chronicle: “The super PAC supporting Romney outspent the super PACs supporting Gingrich and Santorum by 20 to 1 over that period, and much of the pro-Romney super PAC trafficked in ‘deceptive’ statements, the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center found.”

What can politicians do?

One of the most difficult decisions a political campaign faces is what to do when attacked by false statements. They have several choices, none of them ideal (that’s what make these attacks so effective).

• Ignore the attacks. Take the high road. Avoid responding to the attacks on the grounds that any response only lends credibility to the accusations. Data show that repeating a lie can increase its perceived veracity, even if you repeat a lie only to deny it. Over time, many people will recall the lie more than your denial. Even worse, your reply can alert people to an attack that they did not know about before.

This all sounds nice. But the other side is that ignoring an attack lets your opponent control the message. If all the public hears is what your opponent is saying, you lose the debate by default. If public interest in a story dies quickly, you might get away with ignoring it. Otherwise, you have to rebut the attack. And soon. The longer you wait, the more you get hurt.

• Deny the attacks. Deny the truth of the attacks. Do it often, as long as it remains a hot topic. And it isn’t enough to make a simple denial. That’s too weak. You you have to assert your denial vigorously and indignantly. You are “appalled” that such false accusations could even be asserted.

The problem here is that this lends itself to a “he said, she said” situation — where people may wind up unsure who to believe. It helps if you have clear evidence to back up your claim, but don’t get bogged down in a long detailed intellectual presentation. Keep things brief and simple. Sadly, emotional reactions often play a bigger role in these conflicts than evidence.

• Accuse the opposition. Go beyond denial. Accuse your attackers for being unconscionable liars. If possible, show how your opponents have repeatedly lied, not only in this case but in many other situations. The idea is to shift the focus from your opponents’ false claims to your opponents’ ethics, ideally putting them on the defensive.

This can be effective. But there is a risk that your “negative” ratings with the public will go up as a result, even if you take your opponents with you. You can’t spend all your time on accusations. You need to shift back to a positive message at some point.

• Attack the opposition. Fight fire with fire. Instead of responding to your opponents’ false claims, find something even worse about your opponents actions and attack them with it. Again, this can take you off the hot seat and force your opponent to defend against your attacks.

The risk here is that you may be tempted to make dubious attacks, ones that may not be entirely true. If so, you wind up stooping to your opponents’ level. Sometimes this may seem unavoidable (“it’s how hardball politics is played these days; everyone does it”). And, as I’ve said, it can be successful. However, it may lead to the public throwing up their hands and shouting “a pox on both your houses.”

In the end, a politician will likely be required to employ some combination of all of these methods. Exactly what to do will depend upon the specifics of the opponents’ attack, how much media attention it is generating, and what arrows you have in your own quiver to attack back.

What can citizens do?

For starters, don’t limit yourself to soundbites and attack ads for determining how you will vote. Assume these are often misleading at best, and untrue at worst.

Go to the web and do some checking. Two great places to start are FactCheck and PolitoFact.

Check on the record of all candidates you support. If you find that their record for honesty is poor, write them and let them know you are disappointed. Tell them that if they keep on making blatantly false statements, they will lose your support. And mean it.

I know. It’s a bit naive to think this can be very effective. In the end, most people will not be willing to change their vote based on a candidate’s honesty — especially when nearly all candidates are dishonest to some extent. A Tea Party member would never vote for a Democrat, even if he was convinced that the Republican candidate was a chronic liar and the Democratic opponent was a beacon of truth (assuming the member could ever be convinced that such was the case). But there are independents, and even some partisans, out there who might really shift their vote based on such considerations. At least I hope so. In the end, the only way to stop this assault on truth is if politicians come to believe it will not help them get elected.

Posted in Media, Politics | Comments Off on Politics, Lying, and the Death of Facts