Very presidential

Maybe this is how it is now, this is how presidents conduct themselves.

Omarosa tapes: There is nothing the former Trump aide can say or do that could possibly matter.
But there is reason to believe that an N-word tape wouldn’t torpedo Trump’s presidency, or even keep him from winning a second term. By this point, we shouldn’t need to hear Trump saying the N-word to become convinced that he considers black people second-class citizens. At the same time, no one who has supported him through his Obama birther fabrication, his insistence that the Central Park Five are guilty, and his defense of white supremacists as “very fine people” will turn against him because he used a racial slur.

I wonder if those Word of the Year assessments will include ‘normalised’ this year.

Dog days of summarizing
If the birtherism campaign strategy, the Mexican rapists comment, the good people on both sides argument, the attacks on NFL players, the LeBron James critique, the efforts to avoid renting apartments to African-Americans, the Central Park jogger case, the wall, the Muslim ban, the disparaging of a Mexican judge, the suggestion that all Haitian immigrants have AIDs, the “shithole countries” description, the response to Hurricane Maria, the backing of Joe Arpaio and Roy Moore, and the constant dog whistles to the alt-right haven’t swayed you, spelling out an offensive word sure isn’t gonna make the difference…

Or has ‘fake news’ already grabbed that accolade?

Trump’s ‘dirty war’ on media draws editorials in 300 US outlets
Starting with the Boston Globe itself, the editorial there, headlined Journalists Are Not The Enemy, argued that a free press had been a core American principle for more than 200 years.

The New York Times chose the headline A Free Press Needs You, calling Mr Trump’s attacks “dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy”. It published excerpts from dozens more publications beneath.

The New York Post – a pro-Trump tabloid – answered the Globe’s call by saying “Who are we to disagree?” adding: “It may be frustrating to argue that just because we print inconvenient truths doesn’t mean that we’re fake news, but being a journalist isn’t a popularity contest. All we can do is to keep reporting.” But it also said: “Will this make a difference? Not one whit”.

The Topeka Capital-Journal was another paper to join the campaign. It said of Mr Trump’s attack on the media: “It’s sinister. It’s destructive. And it must end now.” The paper was one of the few to endorse Mr Trump in 2016.

Trump’s version of a paperless office?

This shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose.

Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together
Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Makes me wonder if that Trump Kim document is worth the paper it’s written on.

Looking forward in anger

Zoe Williams at the Guardian tries to understand where all the anger is coming from these days. Does anger always have an economic basis? Is social media to blame? Can it be a force for good? There’s certainly a lot of it about.

Why are we living in an age of anger – is it because of the 50-year rage cycle?
There was the mean note left on the car of a disabled woman (“I witnessed you and your young able-bodied daughter … walk towards the precinct with no sign of disability”); the crazed dyspepsia of the woman whose driveway was blocked briefly by paramedics while they tried to save someone’s life. Last week, Highways England felt moved to launch a campaign against road rage, spurred by 3,446 recorded instances in a year of motorists driving straight through roadworks. Violent crime has not gone up – well, it has, but this is thought mainly to reflect better reporting practices – but violent fantasies are ablaze. Political discourse is drenched in rage. The things people want to do to Diane Abbott and Luciana Berger make my eyes pop out of my head.

I’m not really convinced by the theories that suggest these things are cyclical. The dates of these suggested 40 to 60 year ‘Kondratiev waves’ of high and low economic growth, that tie in to periods of stagnation, unrest and anger, feel a little forced. I’m going to continue to blame Trump. And social media.

Social media has given us a way to transmute that anger from the workplace – which often we do not have the power to change – to every other area of life. You can go on Mumsnet to get angry with other people’s lazy husbands and interfering mother-in-laws; Twitter to find comradeship in fury about politics and punctuation; Facebook for rage-offs about people who shouted at a baby on a train or left their dog in a hot car. These social forums “enable hysterical contagion”, says Balick, but that does not mean it is always unproductive. The example he uses of a groundswell of infectious anger that became a movement is the Arab spring, but you could point to petitions websites such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz or crowdfunded justice projects. Most broad, collaborative calls for change begin with a story that enrages people.

Yes, ok, fair enough.

Facts and beliefs

Have we always had this ‘post-truth’ menace in our societies? Whilst the name might be new, the concept isn’t. There have always been spurious beliefs and conspiracy theories, but they seem more prevalent now. Can’t think why.

The conspiracy theory that says Trump is a genius
From these clues, a sprawling community on message boards, YouTube videos and Twitter accounts has elaborated an enormous, ever-mutating fantasy narrative about the Trump presidency. In the QAnon reality, Trump only
pretended to collude with Russia in order to create a pretext for the hiring of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is actually working with Trump to take down an inconceivably evil and powerful network of coup-plotters and child sex traffickers that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.

Diana Popescu at Aeon explains why we can’t always expect people to agree with us and share our beliefs just because we’ve explained some ‘facts’. As ever, it’s much more complicated than that.

What we talk about when we talk about post-truth
Objective facts and sound verification procedures are not what post-truth groups deplore but, specifically, what drives their dissent. What post-truth groups do deplore are established facts and agreed-upon truths. The issue is one of trust, not verification.

And as well as providing another explanation of how we ended up here, this post from Mark Lorch, Professor of Science Communication and Chemistry, University of Hull, offers some practical advice on how we might get out of this mess.

Why people believe in conspiracy theories – and how to change their minds
The simple answer is that facts and rational arguments really aren’t very good at altering people’s beliefs. That’s because our rational brains are fitted with not-so-evolved evolutionary hard wiring. One of the reasons why conspiracy theories spring up with such regularity is due to our desire to impose structure on the world and incredible ability to recognise patterns.

[…]

To make matters worse, presenting corrective information to a group with firmly held beliefs can actually strengthen their view, despite the new information undermining it. New evidence creates inconsistencies in our beliefs and an associated emotional discomfort. But instead of modifying our belief we tend to invoke self-justification and even stronger dislike of opposing theories, which can make us more entrenched in our views. This has become known as the as the “boomerang effect” – and it is a huge problem when trying to nudge people towards better behaviours.

It seems strange to think that we can’t rely on the facts of each case to get people to bin their conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, to avoid the backfire effect, ignore the myths. Don’t even mention or acknowledge them. Just make the key points: vaccines are safe and reduce the chances of getting flu by between 50% and 60%, full stop. Don’t mention the misconceptions, as they tend to be better remembered.

Also, don’t get the opponents gander up by challenging their worldview. Instead offer explanations that chime with their preexisting beliefs. For example, conservative climate-change deniers are much more likely to shift their views if they are also presented with the pro-environment business opportunities.

What a mad world we find ourselves in.

Socialschadenfreude

I’m enjoying reading about the mess Facebook is in, with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We all like to see successful things in trouble, I guess.

Remember when the ‘fake news’ style of direct marketing first hit Facebook by storm, allowing Trump to win the presidency? This first article from 2016 explains how these highly personalised posts worked.

Cambridge Analytica and the secret agenda of a Facebook quiz
In this election, dark posts were used to try to suppress the African-American vote. According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign sent ads reminding certain selected black voters of Hillary Clinton’s infamous “super predator” line. It targeted Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with messages about the Clinton Foundation’s troubles in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Federal Election Commission rules are unclear when it comes to Facebook posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whistles loud, the already weakening power of social opprobrium is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Donald Trump, and I approved this message.”

It turns out those staggeringly large datasets were obtained in a somewhat underhand way.

How Trump consultants exploited the Facebook data of millions
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.

Surprise surprise, the company as a whole is far from ethical.

Trump’s election consultants filmed saying they use bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.

And so the powers that be are wanting answers.

Cambridge Analytica: Facebook boss summoned over data claims
In a letter to Mr Zuckerberg, Mr Collins accused Facebook of giving answers “misleading to the Committee” at a previous hearing which asked whether information had been taken without users’ consent.

He said it was “now time to hear from a senior Facebook executive with the sufficient authority to give an accurate account of this catastrophic failure of process”.

Requesting a response to the letter by 26 March, the MP added: “Given your commitment at the start of the New Year to “fixing” Facebook, I hope that this representative will be you.”

Here’s someone willing to help.

Facebook whistleblower gives evidence to MPs on Cambridge Analytica row
Sandy Parakilas, who has claimed covert harvesting was routine at the social network, told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Facebook did not do enough to prevent, identify – or act upon – data breaches

But so far nothing.

Where is Mark Zuckerberg?
That is the most prevalent question from people following Facebook’s data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the data firm Trump hired to help with his 2016 presidential campaign. Over the weekend, we learned that Cambridge Analytica collected data from some 50 million Facebook users without their consent back in 2015, a revelation that has led to a public outcry about Facebook’s data policies, a tanking stock price and fear of increased regulation.

What can we do? How should we respond to all this? #DeleteFacebook?

WhatsApp co-founder tells everyone to delete Facebook
The tweet came after a bruising five-day period for Facebook that has seen regulators swarm and its stock price plunge following concerns over data privacy in the wake of revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of user data.

Hating Facebook’s easy. Deleting everything, not so much.

You want to quit Facebook, but will you really click the button? These folks tried.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 68 percent of U.S. adults use Facebook, three quarters of them checking the platform daily. When Facebook reaches a moment of crisis — and it has had a lot of them recently — there’s a wave of users who wonder why they are on the platform in the first place. With the news late last week that Facebook had suspended the data firm Cambridge Analytica for improperly collecting data from Facebook users, this viral discussion about quitting for good has started once again.

[…]

But the idea of quitting always seems to spread further than the follow-through. Even as we learn more about what Facebook does to us, that knowledge comes into conflict with what Facebook has grown to do for us. For many, that moment of hovering over the deactivate button feels a lot like trying to leave a store that’s giving away candy.

If only we all did this earlier.

Should I delete Facebook? The Cambridge Analytica files explained
To avoid this kind of data breach being used to target you, you need to be very careful about the data permissions you give to your connected apps – but even if you do that, you’re still at risk of your friends offering your data to third parties when they give their apps certain permissions. Highly personalised adverts are probably on your feed already.

So should you delete your Facebook account? Let’s hear from Theresa Hong again. “Without Facebook”, the Trump campaigner said last year, “we wouldn’t have won.”

You have your answer.

But perhaps there’s no need to worry, because we don’t really care about any of this, after all.

The only privacy policy that matters
Do you care? We’ve gone so far down the internet highway that we rarely ask that question anymore. But it’s still pertinent. Do you care that your privacy has been, and will be, repeatedly invaded — and that anything you share (willingly or otherwise) on the internet can and will be used against you?

I think I know the answer. I don’t have access to your information. I didn’t pose as an academic to download a treasure trove of social media data. I haven’t coded a programmatic advertising platform aimed at enabling a pair of machines to automatically decide which marketing messages you’ll be more receptive to at any given moment. And yet, just by sharing this medium with you, I feel I know you well enough to know your answer.

You don’t give a shit.

Caught out by their own documents

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager currently tied up with the ongoing Russia investigation, must have skipped a few MS Office training seminars at work, as he seems to be unaware of Word’s Save As function.

How Manafort’s inability to convert a PDF file to Word helped prosecutors
“Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000,” the indictment claims. “Gates converted that .pdf into a Word document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered the Word document by adding more than $3.5 million in income.”

Then, according to the indictment, Manafort “sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the Word document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort.”

By sending these documents back and forth by email, Manafort and Gates made it easy for prosecutors to pinpoint exactly who changed the documents and when.

It reminded me of this story, linking corruption to a popular Microsoft font.

A Microsoft font may have exposed corruption in Pakistan
The Microsoft font Calibri is now a key piece of evidence in a corruption investigation surrounding Pakistan’s prime minister. Investigators noticed that documents handed over by the prime minister’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, were typed up in the font Calibri. But the documents were dated from 2006 — and Calibri wasn’t widely available at that point, making a good case that they were forged.

How Wikipedia found itself at the centre of a major corruption scandal in Pakistan
As I am part of Wikipedia’s counter-vandalism team, I have been engaged in the reverting of unverified information being added to the Calibri page by anonymous users. But as the edit war grew and the sensitivity of the issue became obvious, I had to ask an administrator to lock the page to restrict any further edits in order to avoid misleading information being spread outside of Wikipedia.

I’ve heard of ‘gutter’ politics…

Trump asked to borrow a Van Gogh, and the Guggenheim offered him a gold toilet
“We are pleased that they are interested in demonstrating their support for the arts… I am sorry, however, to inform you that we are unable to participate in this loan,” it begins. “Fortuitously, a marvellous work by the celebrated contemporary Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, is coming off view today after a year’s installation at the Guggenheim, and he would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan…. The work beautifully channels the history of 20th-century avant-garde art by referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal of 1917.”

Indeed. And speaking of Duchamp’s Fountain, here’s a great story from Brian Eno.

When Brian Eno and other artists peed in Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal
I thought, how ridiculous that this particular … pisspot gets carried around the world at—it costs about thirty or forty thousand dollars to insure it every time it travels. I thought, How absolutely stupid, the whole message of this work is, “You can take any object and put it in a gallery.” It doesn’t have to be that one, that’s losing the point completely. And this seemed to me an example of the art world once again covering itself by drawing a fence around that thing, saying, “This isn’t just any ordinary piss pot, this is THE one, the special one, the one that is worth all this money.” So I thought, somebody should piss in that thing, to sort of bring it back to where it belonged. So I decided it had to be me.

And for more Trump-inspired art, check out Edel Rodriguez’s magazine cover artworks for Der Spiegel and Time.

Truth with a small t but a capital Trump

This book about Trump seems to be less biography and more gossip column. But I guess that’s appropriate?

Fire and Fury is a perfectly postmodern White House book
If Michael Wolff is writing fiction in Fire and Fury, this is the kind of fiction he is writing. Indeed, at the very beginning of the book, in an author’s note, Wolff declares himself an unreliable narrator: “Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book,” he writes. The traditional promise of the journalist is to find the single, fundamental truth obscured by all the partial, biased accounts he elicits. But Wolff explicitly declines to make that promise; he offers not the story but a whole chorus of stories.

George Orwell’s Whitehouse fans

Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 surge after Kellyanne Conway’s ‘alternative facts’
Comparisons were made with the term “newspeak” used in the 1949 novel, which was used to signal a fictional language that aims at eliminating personal thought and also “doublethink”. In the book Orwell writes that it “means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”.

Enigmatic portraits of a strange man

In sight, yet elusive – a year of photographing Donald Trump
I know that I can never explain the day’s news the way our writers do, but what I can do is help the reader feel what it is like to be there and to make pictures that have meaning beyond the objects in the frame. My role is not to make the candidate look good or make the crowds look impressive. My job is to tell the story.