Posts

Friday: How It Begins

I was half way through a post yesterday when a friend in the UK told me a member of Parliament had been killed by a fascist.

An assassination, I thought at that moment, unable to write another word for my post. How many times has an assassination kicked off a horrible chain of events?

I hoped and prayed as best a lapsed Catholic can that the murder of MP Jo Cox by a man shouting, “Britain First!” was not the beginning of something dreadful. Research says it’s less likely than if an autocratic figure had been killed, but who can really say with certainty?

We won’t know for some time if this was a trigger event for something else, though it did set off a cascade of stomach-turning crap. So many media outlets referred to politician Cox’s death by a political fanatic as something other than an assassination. Really? Would Cox have been targeted had she not been a pro-EU unity supporter? Would the assassin — characterized by so many euphemisms as mentally ill — have killed her had he not been rabidly anti-EU and racist, impelled by ramped-up anti-EU rhetoric in advance of the EU-Brexit referendum?

And the disparity in coverage between [lone white gunman suspected of mental illness] and [armed terrorist—labeled so because they’re not white]? Beyond disgusting. The racism is all the more obvious. The public is conditioned by media’s implicit bias to expect and accept the lone white gunman, but never the dark-skinned person bearing a weapon. The accused must have sympathized with white nationalism, irrespective of country, having bought his firearm components from U.S. neo-Nazis more than a decade ago. The description of his attack on Cox is chilling — it was a cold political execution, not just some wildly insane flailing without care for the outcome.

The world lost someone very special when Jo Cox died yesterday. Someone who lived progressive values out in the open, modeling a better way for us. Don’t kid yourself this was just a crazed man acting alone when white nationalist politicians like Nigel Farage believe “violence is the next step” if angry constituents feel they’ve lost control.

And don’t fool yourself into believing this was an isolated event occurring in a vacuum.

Today’s Friday jazz is a performance of She’s Crying for Me by the Yorkshire Jazz Band, in honor of Jo Cox’s home county.

A note on hacking stories
The breach of the DNC’s computers is one of a number of stories over the last several years following a pattern: the breach is attributed to one entity and then yet another entity, while the story itself has a rather interesting point of origin. Initial reports may say the hackers were affiliated with [nation/state X] and later reports attribute the hacking to [unaligned third party Y] — or a variation on this order — a key characteristic is the story’s immaculate birth.

Try looking for yourself for the earliest story reporting the hacking of the DNC. Who reported it and when? Who were the original sources? Did the story arise from a call to law enforcement or a police report, and a local beat reporter who gathered named eyewitnesses for quotes? Or did the story just pop out of thin air, perhaps simultaneously across multiple outlets all regurgitating the same thing at the same time?

My point: Be more skeptical. There’s an adage in reporting, drummed into journalism students’ heads: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Three examples of manipulated opinion
Speaking of being more skeptical, bias manifests itself in all manner of ways and can be easily used for good or ill.

  • U.S. government and military orgs tricked into running ‘imposter code’ (Ars Technica) — Suckers didn’t perform due diligence on packages of code hosted at developer communities before running them. Gee, I wonder if any political parties’ personnel might have done the same thing…
  • GOP-led House waffles on HR 5293 surveillance bill because Orlando (HuffPo) — Ugh. Would this vote have been different this time if a lone crazed white gunman had shot up a bar? Sadly, we can’t tell based on the bill’s approval last year because the vote took place one day before Dylan Roof’s mass shooting in a Charleston church. Nor can we tell from the bill’s 2014 approval by the House because the mass shootings the week of the vote were just plain old run-of-the-mill apolitical/non-racist with too few fatalities.
  • Send manuscripts out under a man’s name = agents and publishers notice (Jezebel) — If you’re a woman you can be a great writer and you won’t get any nibbles on your manuscript — unless you submit it under a male name. Hello, implicit bias, much? This isn’t the only example, either.

Worthwhile long read
This commentary at Tor.com looks at the movie V for Vendetta, saying it’s “more important than ever,” in spite of the adaptation’s rejection by Alan Moore, author of the graphic novel on which this film was based. The essay was published this past Tuesday; read it now in light of Jo Cox’s assassination Thursday. A single event can change perception. This line alone now means something very different to me:

It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place. But for three years I had roses, and apologized to no one.

If time permits, I may slap up a post this weekend to make up for yesterday’s writer’s block. Otherwise I’ll catch you on Monday.

GM’s New CEO: This Model Has Titanium Features

Mary Barra, CEO-General MotorsThe woman in the photo at the right has big titanium ovaries — not malleable brass or rusting iron. Do I know Mary Barra personally to attest to this fact? No. But I have a pretty damned good idea where GM’s new CEO has been, and it takes a pretty tough set of specifications to survive the road she’s traveled.

Like her I grew up in the I-75 corridor in Michigan, where much of the automotive industry’s OEM facilities and Tiers 1 through 3 suppliers could be found. Like her father, my father worked in the automotive business; if her household was like mine, there were copies of Car and Driver, Road & Track, machinist, tool-and-die, and metalforming magazines cluttering coffee tables or in dad’s man-cave. The smell of machine oil and the grit of metal chips are familiar, as are an ever-present collection of safety glasses, hearing protection, and greasy jumpsuits. Picture a garage like that in Clint Eastwood’s movie Gran Torino; I’ll lay good money her dad probably spent a lot of his free time between shifts in a home shop like that, and where she might have been found as well if he needed a hand or she needed a tool to fix something.

It was in her blood, I’m sure; I’ll bet she could taste it. I’m pretty certain this is why she went into engineering, and likely why she went to that particular private engineering school.

After working for a couple years as a high school engineering co-op student I had been accepted at the same school, but I went a different road, preferring business and then-nascent computing technology over engineering. My daughter, though, is at that school now. She could taste it, too; we have pictures of her at age nine, wearing safety glasses, proudly holding her first aluminum machined part. She’s the first person her dad asks for help when working on the cars at home.

I wish now I’d taken pictures of her the time she was so damned mad at her brother and his friend for accidentally breaking the sibling-shared PlayStation 2 console. She ripped it down, diagnosed it using internet research, fixed and reassembled it on her own in an afternoon.

Driven to identify and solve the problem — that’s what it takes to choose engineering as a career, particularly if you are a woman.

Sure, men too must be driven to pursue the same field, but they don’t face the hurdles that women faced then or even now, 30 years after General Motors’ new CEO first started college at the former General Motors Institute. Nobody ever questions a boy’s right to pursue engineering, or a man’s right to practice that discipline. Nobody ever questions the gender of a man with an engineering degree when he makes it to the pinnacle of the corporate ladder. Read more

Forbes’ Flawed Report on NPR and Sourcing by Gender

Back when bias in media was naked

Cover, Nugget magazine c. 1963 via Flickr — back when media bias was naked

Today saw a bumper crop of weak content masquerading as journalism. I’m really perturbed about one article in particular.

Forbes—the business magazine led by zillionaire libertarian CEO and editor-in-chief Steve Forbespublished an article noting that NPR’s reporting had a gender bias in its sourcing. The report was written by contributor Michael Howe, whose bio at Forbes characterizes him as the “lead shepherd of the 4th Estate Project.” The 4th Estate Project released several interesting studies, including one last June detailing the media’s overall gender bias in using women as news sources for election coverage. It was a laudable effort in concept to encourage awareness of diversity in media.

The 4th Estate Project continued to follow NPR’s coverage through the election season to watch for gender bias. In a nutshell, the bias noted across other commercial outlets in frequency of quoting males over females also appears in NPR’s coverage. Not a good thing, on the face of it.

But there are problems with this particular report in Forbes and 4th Estate Project:

1)  The magazine has an inherent gender bias of its own, not spelled out clearly by contributor Howe. With the overwhelming majority of medium-to-large corporations in this country lacking female board members and even fewer CEOs, Forbes’ own sourcing for business news is automatically biased by the current structure of this country’s businesses.

[Which begs the question: Is it at all possible that reporting on elections is similarly biased, because there are too few women in government or in politics? 4th Estate Project may have screened out statements by candidates, but did they screen out statements from past office holders, or prospective candidates who were assisting then-prospective candidates?]

2)  Forbes’ editor-in-chief has a known bias as a libertarian conservative (though he once ran for president under the GOP); his ideological bent against taxes may manifest in a bias against NPR as a publicly-funded news outlet. Howe’s piece does not disclose Forbes’ ideology or the possibility that the magazine has a similar bias; he doesn’t appear to question why Forbes magazine would be so interested in coverage of this single outlet’s continued performance up through the November election after the 4th Estate Project’s June 2012 report.

3) NPR is a competitor to Forbes; they may not operate in exactly the same market niche, but they both do reporting on business and politics. In this particular piece by Howe, Forbes questions the diversity of a single competitor, yet we can only assume that Howe and Forbes both believe their readers fully understand this relationship. Read more