Ethan Gray On Trump’s Campaign

Twitter Thread: Ethan Gray

Donald Trump won the GOP primary and the presidency because campaigning on whiteness-first messaging still has potency in the 21st century. Plenty of people don’t want to directly engage with this fact, but this thread will be getting into it in full.

Of course, it’s not enough to grapple with what the appeal of Trump’s campaign was. We must also be cognizant of the fact that that appeal was propelled to the White House while Trump has demonstrated he’s thoroughly unfit.

What white supremacy greatly fears is a genuine meritocracy, a society where anyone, regardless of race or gender, can rise according to their talents and diligence.

For white supremacy to guard against a trajectory toward meritocracy, this requires everything of merit must be sacrificed, which brings us to a terrifying conclusion: the various ways Trump was unfit for the Presidency were features to his voters, not flaws.

I’ve tried to distance myself from blogging about politics lately, but Ethan’s observations are on-point. It’s an uncomfortable read but an important one. To those who are used to privilege, equality for others feels like oppression for themselves.

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How Trump Conquered Facebook

Wired: How Trump Conquered Facebook — Without Russian Ads

This is a fascinating, and frankly disturbing, look into how advertising on Facebook caters to our echo chambers in a way radio and television ads could never hope to.

LIKE MANY THINGS at Facebook, the ads auction is a version of something Google built first. As on Google, Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.

A canny marketer with really engaging (or outraging) content can goose their effective purchasing power at the ads auction, piggybacking on Facebook’s estimation of their clickbaitiness to win many more auctions (for the same or less money) than an unengaging competitor. That’s why, if you’ve noticed a News Feed ad that’s pulling out all the stops (via provocative stock photography or other gimcrackery) to get you to click on it, it’s partly because the advertiser is aiming to pump up their engagement levels and increase their exposure, all without paying any more money.

During the run-up to the election, the Trump and Clinton campaigns bid ruthlessly for the same online real estate in front of the same swing-state voters. But because Trump used provocative content to stoke social media buzz, and he was better able to drive likes, comments, and shares than Clinton, his bids received a boost from Facebook’s click model, effectively winning him more media for less money. In essence, Clinton was paying Manhattan prices for the square footage on your smartphone’s screen, while Trump was paying Detroit prices. Facebook users in swing states who felt Trump had taken over their news feeds may not have been hallucinating.

 

Does Website Sameness Matter?

CSS-Tricks: Website Sameness™

Myself, I’m not sure how much I care. If a website fails to do do what it sets out to do, that, I care about. Design is failing there. But if a website has a design that is a bit boring, but does just what everyone needs it to do, that’s just fine. All hail boring. Although I admit it’s particularly ironic when a design agency’s own site feels regurgitated.

My emotional state is likely more intrigued about your business model and envious of your success than eyerolly about your design.

As long as I’m playing armchair devil’s advocate, if every website was a complete and total design departure from the next, I imagine that would be worse. To have to-relearn how each new site works means not taking advantages of affordances, which make people productive out of the gate with new experiences.

I’ve certainly leaned on templates and frameworks for web design in the past. (I haven’t even created a unique WordPress template for this site.) And I certainly feel where the author is coming from. Yes, any designer wants to put their own unique stamp on a client’s site or other project, but that should not get in the way of the site’s usefulness.

If your site is useful, clean, and easy to navigate, then I can forgive it having a similar look-and-feel to other sites.

Interview with a Propaganda Book

Vox: America, Explained By a North Korean Propaganda Book

Sean Illing at Vox Media somehow obtained a book of North Korean propaganda regarding the United States and the Korean War. He uses excerpts from the book to create a fake interview with it.

Sean Illing

What does that “policy of aggression and war” look like today?

North Korea Propaganda Book

In pursuing the policy of aggression on Korea under their postwar “strategy of mass reprisal” based on the “policy of strength,” the US imperialists laid stress on their permanent occupation of South Korea while hampering Korea’s reunification, fortified South Korea as their military strategic base by extensively reinforcing the puppet armed forces, and at the same time lined up the South Korean puppets with the Japanese militarists and sped up preparations for a new war for the occupation of the whole of Korea.

Sean Illing

And what role has the North Korean government played in all this?

North Korea Propaganda Book

All these incidents which the whole world had watched with deep apprehensions could be brought under control and prevented from developing into a big war only thanks to the persistent peace policy of the Government of the DPRK.

Ever since liberation the DPRK Government has invariably held that Korea must be relieved from tension and the question of her reunification be solved peacefully, not by war. It proposed to solve the question of national reunification independently and peacefully on a democratic principle more than 150 times.

But the US imperialists doggedly cling to their policy of of aggression and war … The tense situation and the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula are an outcome of US policy.

It’s easy to pick something like this apart and demonstrate exactly where North Korean citizens are being misled. But they have no other avenue through which they can gather information. They can’t look through objective sources that will allow them to fact check the information coming to them.

We can.

However, we sometimes choose to believe propaganda over truth. We dismiss anything that disagrees with our predetermined worldview as “biased,” and then we create an echo chamber of voices that will tell us what we want to hear. We willingly create our own bubbles of propaganda. When we do that, we are no better than such a regime.

Moira Donegan On the Media Men List

The Cut: I Started the Media Men List. My name is Moira Donegan.

In the weeks after the spreadsheet was exposed, my life changed dramatically. I lost friends: some who thought I had been overzealous, others who thought I had not been zealous enough. I lost my job, too. The fear of being exposed, and of the harassment that will inevitably follow, has dominated my life since. I’ve learned that protecting women is a position that comes with few protections itself.

This escalated when I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’smagazine. In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the “feminist moment.” She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece. “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List,” the fact checker wrote. “Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?” The next day, a controversy ensued on Twitter after Roiphe’s intention to reveal my identity was made public. People who opposed the decision by Harper’s speculated about what would happen to me as a result of being identified. They feared that I would be threatened, stalked, raped, or killed. The outrage made it seem inevitable that my identity would be exposed even before the Roiphe piece ran. All of this was terrifying. I still don’t know what kind of future awaits me now that I’ve stopped hiding.

But over the past months I’ve also had many long, frank conversations with other journalists, men and women, about sexual harassment and assault in our industry. Many came to me with stories of their own abuse, some of which they had been too afraid to add to the spreadsheet, even anonymously. Others told me that they had seen their own attacker or harasser on the document and that they hadn’t put him there. That meant that what that person had done to them, he had done to other people, too. In some of these conversations, we spent hours teasing out how these men, many of whom we knew to be intelligent and capable of real kindness, could behave so crudely and cruelly toward us. And this is another toll that sexual harassment can take on women: It can make you spend hours dissecting the psychology of the kind of men who do not think about your interiority much at all.

A lot of us are angry in this moment, not just at what happened to us but at the realization of the depth and frequency of these behaviors and the ways that so many of us have been drafted, wittingly and unwittingly, into complicity. But we’re being challenged to imagine how we would prefer things to be. This feat of imagination is about not a prescriptive dictation of acceptable sexual behaviors but the desire for a kinder, more respectful, and more equitable world. There is something that’s changed: Suddenly, men have to think about women, our inner lives and experiences of their own behavior, quite a bit. That may be one step in the right direction.

Celebrity Politics

Vox: How to Deal With the Age of Celebrity Candidates

In the excitement over a potential Oprah Winfrey presidency, there is an obvious eye-rolling response: We already elected a celebrity with no political experience to the White House, and look how well that’s working out.

And yet there is a reason many are drawn to Oprah’s candidacy — and it’s a primary reason Donald Trump succeeded. In an era of nonstop politics-as-entertainment media, there’s something appealing about a celebrity candidate known for being an inspirational problem solver on television, who makes us feel like great things are possible. Like a president should.

Each in their own ways, and for very different audiences, both Trump and Winfrey play variations on what we think we want in a president — somebody who will tell us a great story, and who exudes authoritative decisiveness.

The problem here is that the actual job of being president (understanding complex policy trade-offs) is very different from the public role of playing president (reveling in broad, inspirational generalizations).

At this point, Oprah has already downplayed the thought of herself running for president multiple times, and I truly hope it stays that way. The idea of celebrity presidents is kind of appalling, but it’s easy to see how we got here. The president is, in many ways, a figurehead who has to capture the public imagination. Think of the way Ronald Reagan steamrolled through his elections or even how no-one could hold a candle to Barack Obama’s presence and charisma.

The author goes on to propose a system where a given political party not only makes presidential nominations official at party conventions, but they will also collaboratively assemble a Cabinet for their potential candidate. Then, when the general election ramps up, people are not voting for a single person; they are voting for an administration. While this may never happens, it’s an interesting take on how we move our public discourse back to issues that really matter rather than get caught up in cults of personality.

Making Apology Cinnamon Roles

The Everywhereist: I Made the Pizza Cinnamon Rolls from Mario Batali’s Sexual Misconduct Apology Letter

Last night, I made cinnamon rolls. I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon rolls, per se, but this recipe was included in Mario Batali’s sexual misconduct apology letter, and so I feel compelled to make them. Batali is not the first powerful man to request forgiveness for “inappropriate actions” towards his coworkers and employees. He is not the most high profile, and he is ostensibly not even the worst offender. But he is the only one who included a recipe.

And of course, the glaring question is why? Was his PR team drunk? Is life suddenly a really long, depressing SNL sketch? Do these cinnamon rolls somehow destroy the patriarchy? Does the icing advocate for equal pay?

I figure the only way to answer these questions is to make the damn rolls.

Brilliant.

Fitness Chains Ban Cable News

The Washington Post: Fitness Chain Bans Cable News Networks As Part of ‘Healthy Way of Life’

Life Time Fitness, a Minnesota-based gym chain, has decided to eliminate all national cable network news stations from the TV screens at its 128 fitness centers in the U.S. and Canada. The removed channels include CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The decision, which was made at the start of the new year, came after a wave of feedback from gym members over time, Life Time said in a statement on Twitter last week. It also stemmed from the chain’s “commitment to provide family oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content,” the statement read.

“It is always our goal to meet the majority of members’ expressed requests and we believe this change is consistent with the desires of overall membership as well as our healthy way of life philosophy,” the statement read.

I wish everywhere would stop running cable news on public televisions.

Cartoon Villains and Accents

The Atlantic: Why Do Cartoon Villains Speak in Foreign Accents?

For their initial study in 1998, Gidney and Dobrow had a team of coders analyze 323 animated TV characters using measures such as ethnic and gender identification, physical appearance, hero/villain status, and linguistic markers. The coders tested a random sample of 12 shows, which spanned a variety of networks, air-times, and genres. Their findings suggested that lots of kids’ shows use language to mark certain traits in a given character. All but two of the shows studied correlated dialect (a term that refers here to any particular variety of a language) with characters’ personality traits in some way.

The kicker: In many of the cases studied, villains were given foreign accents. A modern-day example is Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, the bad guy in Phineas and Ferb who speaks in a German(ish) accent and hails from the fictional European country Drusselstein. Meanwhile, the study found that most of the heroic characters in their research sample were American-sounding; only two heroes had foreign accents. Since television is a prominent source of cultural messaging for children, this correlation of foreign accents with “bad” characters could have concerning implications for the way kids are being taught to engage with diversity in the United States.

The most wicked foreign accent of all was British English, according to the study. From Scar to Aladdin’s Jafar, the study found that British is the foreign accent most commonly used for villains. German and Slavic accents are also common for villain voices. Henchmen or assistants to villains often spoke in dialects associated with low socioeconomic status, including working-class Eastern European dialects or regional American dialects such as “Italian-American gangster” (like when Claude in Captain Planet says ‘tuh-raining’ instead of ‘training.’) None of the villains in the sample studied seemed to speak Standard American English; when they did speak with an American accent, it was always in regional dialects associated with low socioeconomic status.

It’s crazy how pervasive this is. The messaging may be unintentional — voices done for comedic effect more than anything — but the result is the same. Different is bad.

Bad UI and Missile Alerts

Kottke: Bad Design in Action: the False Hawaiian Ballistic Missile Alert

The employee made a mistake but it’s not his fault and he shouldn’t be fired for it. The interface is the problem and whoever caused that to happen — the designer, the software vendor, the heads of the agency, the lawmakers who haven’t made sufficient funds available for a proper design process to occur — should face the consequences. More importantly, the necessary changes should be made to fix the problem in a way that’s holistic, resilient, long-lasting, and helps operators make good decisions rather than encouraging mistakes.

The false alarm is not a left v. right issue. It’s not about any particular administration. It might be reductive to say it’s solely a design issue, but bad design leads to errors. Leaving designers out of anything people will interact with is never a good idea.

Value good design.