Crowdsourcing Bad Information

 

FindingYourRoots

Here at Hacienda Holland,  we enjoy watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots”—where each week three celebrities, politicians and other people of note have their family trees researched by professionals and learn previously unknown and often startling facts about their ancestors. It’s a fascinating and often quite moving viewing experience.

For example, this week’s episode profiled the genealogies of Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Bill Hader (formerly of SNL.) You can watch that episode here.

Lear learned that several branches of his direct Jewish ancestors came to America fleeing horrific, genocidal pogroms in Russia. He also discovered he carries the Cohanim gene, meaning that he is likely descended from the priestly Hebrew tribe of Levi.

Hader, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stunned to discover he is a direct descendant of the 9th Century emperor Charlemagne.

FamilyTreeA few years ago I bought Mrs. H a subscription to Ancestry dot com for her birthday after she’d expressed some curiosity about her roots (she’s half Czech).

Research, however, is one of my super-powers, not hers (she has many others). As a result, I have been the one who has spent the most time online trying to fill in blanks on our respective family trees.

Originally, the Ancestry dot com site simply allowed subscribers to search record archives (births, deaths, baptisms, census records, etc.) and then start building a family tree based on the information they discovered. Eventually, the site—due to popular demand from users, no doubt—began to let members share their family trees and related research with others.

This is where it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

Oh sure, this feature was great at first. It allowed you to glom onto the hours of painstaking work some diligent, meticulous researcher had put in determining the parentage of some common ancestor. With a couple of mouse clicks you could grab all that information and watch it pop right into your own tree.

The problem is that this same feature also allows bad information to go viral, spreading through Ancestry dot com family trees like Dutch Elm disease.

And the internet’s genealogy sites are awash in bad information. Really, really bad. Why?

Because, when researching one’s genealogy, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a dead end. Human nature being what it is, many people address that frustration by attaching their family line to a branch to which it doesn’t belong.

This is doubly tempting when that branch has some cool factor. You see, everyone wants to be Bill Hader, tracing his or her lineage back to the European royalty or a famous person in history.

It only takes one person erroneously connecting their ancestor to the wrong person to lead astray thousands of others who share that same ancestor. And clearly people are easily led astray—just uncritically assuming everything presented to them is correct.

Anytime I’m researching my family lines, I’m presented with countless suggestions—based on other users’ trees—that contain one or more of the following based on the associated dates:

  • Men who became fathers when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth with they were 73 or 74 or 104 years old.
  • People who are older than their parents.
  • Couples who give two of their children the same first name.

The greatest safeguard against falling prey to these errors is the ability to do simple math (subtraction mainly) and a rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive cycle–two skills that are clearly rarer than I’d previously presumed.

growthcurveNevertheless, it’s fascinating to see how one individual’s mistake can snowball into something huge and seemingly universally accepted. Two or three people replicate that one person’s error. Then others observe that three or four people seem to all agree. Soon it seems like hundreds of people have all reached the same conclusion. It must be true!

Which reminds me . . .

Something very similar roughly seventeen centuries ago may be the reason we’ve all been taught that John, the Beloved discipled, penned the book of Revelation in the A.D. 90s when John was in his 90s.

But I’ll save that for another day.

What’s Wrong with Harris County?

harris-county

A few days ago I called it the biggest under-reported news story of 2015.

I was referring to the damning series of stunning undercover videos exposing Planned Parenthood as a house of abortion horrors and as a key supplier/source for research labs eager to obtain intact baby parts.

Since then, the story has taken an Orwellian turn. First this:

Grand jury in Texas indicts activists behind Planned Parenthood videos.

How could this be? Perhaps this can explain the inexplicable:

Planned Parenthood Board Member Works in Office of D.A. Who Indicted David Daleiden

An Open Letter to Sarah Palin

Dear Sarah,

Palin BookIt’s been almost six years since my colleague Stephen Mansfield and I researched and wrote our book about you—The Faith and Values of Sarah Palin.

We wrote it in a publishing environment in which nearly all profiles of political personalities were either hagiographies crafted to praise them to the heavens; or hit pieces hoping to make the target look like the spawn of a love connection between Josef Mengele and Caligula.

Both types of books lie in the space somewhere between PR and propaganda.

That is not the kind of book we were interested in writing. To their credit, Frontline Books allowed us to write a thoughtful, objective exploration of your faith journey and worldview from an unapologetically Christian and conservative perspective.

We weren’t out to promote you. Nor were we out to tear you down. We were neither fanboys nor haters.

In a season in which many were speculating about whether you might choose to run for the presidency in 2012, we were out to give open-minded readers the fairest, most sensitive understanding possible of what shaped you and what drives you. Or, as the title promised—your faith and values.

In researching your life, words, and actions we found much to admire, and I believe this comes through in the book. For me, three of your strengths stood out as being especially impressive and praiseworthy.

u-s-constitutionThe first was your tenacious and passionate commitment to constitutional constraints on the power of government. We described the way you consistently pointed to Alaska’s constitution as a candidate; and we cited numerous instances in which you courageously stayed true to those principles while in office.

You have always seemed to understand that fallen, fallible, corruptible, humans require iron-clad restraints of constitutional limitations when they exercise political power.

The second was your seemingly clear understanding that our nation had too many individuals and corporations gorging themselves at the government trough. In numerous speeches you’ve rightly pointed out that the welfare state fosters dependence; and that when corporations and whole industries become recipients of taxpayer money, it results in something very unhealthy for our republic.

Thirdly, we admired your unapologetic commitment to Christian values and the pro-life cause.

palin-trumpAll of which makes your recent endorsement of Donald Trump not only disappointing but baffling. And I’m not the only one struggling to reconcile your ethusiastic cheerleading for Mr. Trump with the principles you’ve articulated and lived in public over the last ten years.

In an effort to solve this mystery, numerous cynics have opined that you, after several years of declining relevance, have tossed aside your principles for an opportunity to share a very bright spotlight once again.

I’ll not try to guess your motive. I personally think presuming low motives of those with whom we disagree is a very low and nasty form of argumentation. Even so, it is one of Mr. Trump’s favorite devices—along with name calling, crass insults, and schoolyard taunts.

I will say that it is highly ironic that your joining yourself to the traveling Donald Trump circus coincides with two events that the old, principled Sarah Palin would have found worthy of cheering.

The first is Ted Cruz’s refusal to bow his knee and kiss the ring of the Corn Growers Lobby in Iowa. In the past, most conservative candidates campaigning in Iowa have felt it necessary to toss their principles aside and pander to the powerful corn grower/ethanol industry. But not Cruz. Cruz is standing on principle even though it is almost certainly damaging his prospects in strategically important Iowa. (Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is in full blown pander mode, praising ethanol subsidies left and right.)

The Sarah Palin I used to admire would have found some nice things to say about Mr. Cruz’s courage.

Secondly, only one presidential candidate was present in snow-buried Washington, D.C. at the annual March for Life event a few days ago to show solidarity with the pro-life movement.

Carly Fiorina stood before a throng of pro-life activists and sent a message out to the pro-abortion activists who show up and try to shout her down at every campaign stop:

“You can scream and throw condoms at me all day long.  You won’t silence me. You don’t scare me. I have battled breast cancer. I have buried a child. I have read the Bible. I know the value of life.”

That’s the kind of full-throated, warrior-woman battle cry that used to earn an “amen” and an “atta girl” from you. But it didn’t. It couldn’t.

It could not because you’ve hitched your wagon to the wrong horse. And I can’t help but find that sad. You’re better than this.

Respectfully,

David A. Holland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Biggest, Under-Reported News Story of 2015

Media Self-Censorship

In the 1850s and ’60s, courageous writers exposed readers to the horrors of slavery and the Abolitionist Movement was born.

In the early 1900s, Upton Sinclair pulled back the curtain and gave America a horrifying look at the meat-packing industry, triggering a public outcry that produced significant reforms.

In the same era, other journalists, who Teddy Roosevelt admiringly dubbed “muckrakers,” went undercover to expose other festering societal cancers to the light of day.

Fast-forward to 2015. As I pointed out in this blog post, journalism is largely dead.

Today the the entire news gathering, news reporting apparatus in the United States is wholly dedicated not to keeping the powerful accountable but rather keeping liberals/Progressives in power and advancing the liberal/Progressive agenda.

Some journalists now take talking points directly from the White House. Many others participate in large email listservs that allow them to shape coverage and therefore shape narratives. (See the JournoList Scandal for example)

Media bias doesn’t just manifest in the way stories are covered. It’s most insidious manifestation is in the way certain stories are ignored (see: Benghazi/Hillary/”What difference, at this point, does it make?”)

The American deaths and heroics at Benghazi, and the subsequent government cover-up, was the most underreported story of 2013. So what about this last year—2015?

That would be the explosive exposé by The Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood’s gruesome harvesting and marketing of baby parts. Over the course of six months in 2015 the courageous group released  a series of videos of clandestinely taped conversations with various Planned Parenthood officials.

The released videos included:

Planned Parenthood Uses Partial-Birth Abortions to Sell Baby Parts

Second Planned Parenthood Senior Executive Haggles Over Baby Parts Prices, Changes Abortion Methods

Planned Parenthood VP Says Fetuses May Come Out Intact, Agrees Payments Specific to the Specimen

Human Capital – Episode 2: Inside the Planned Parenthood Supply Site

Human Capital – Episode 3: Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Superior Product

Top Planned Parenthood Exec: Baby Parts Sales “A Valid Exchange,” Can Make “A Fair Amount of Income”

Planned Parenthood TX Abortion Apprentice Taught Partial-Birth Abortions to “Strive For” Intact Baby Brains

“PROFIT” – Planned Parenthood’s Illicit Moneymaking From Baby Body Parts

“HARVEST” – Planned Parenthood’s Custom Abortions for Better Baby Parts

In a fairer, more just world the content these videos would have unleashed a firestorm of media attention so ferocious that Planned Parenthood would have been fully defunded and no donor this side of Josef Mengele would have given it a penny.

Obviously, that is not the world we’re living in. The mainstream media completely ignored the first few videos. In fact, the first time most of the major news outlets even acknowledged the existence of the bombshell exposé is when Planned Parenthood issued an official response.

The truth about Benghazi could not be suppressed. Americans are finally learning the truth. Hopefully the horrifying truth about Planned Parenthood’s barbarism will not stayed buried either.

However, as I write, Planned Parenthood, with deep pockets from fat-cat donors and taxpayer dollars, is suing The Center for Medical Progress.

On Bad Luck

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

—Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

Vocal Fry, UpTalking & Stuff You Should Know

{Welcome to Cranky Blog Theater, I’m your host Geezer McCrotchety.}

sysnSo . . .

“Stuff You Should Know,” hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, is consistently one of the most widely downloaded podcasts on iTunes. I dialed up an episode while working out at the gym recently—an October episode titled “Vocal Fry and Other Speech Trends.

I didn’t make it to the three-minute mark of the presentation before my eyes were rolling so hard they almost shot out of my head. I’ll explain why in a moment.

If you’re not familiar with the “vocal fry” trend, here’s a two minute introduction to the now ubiquitous affectation among younger women:

The “Other Speech Trends” mentioned in the title of the SYSK episode included something called “uptalking.” What is “uptalking” you ask? Read the previous sentence out loud and take note of how your inflection rises at the end of the sentence. When you’re an uptalker? You pretty much end every phrase? With a question-y inflection? Even when it’s not a question?

I’m hearing it everywhere these days. In fact, I work around enough younger people that I frequently hear it coming out of my own mouth. It’s infectious.

I’ve noticed several movies and sitcoms recently where they use excessive uptalking in a character as a device to quickly show the audience that this person is un-smart, shallow and a little ridiculous. It’s an effective device.

To be fair, uptalking can actually serve a function in communication. When a speaker ends with a questioning inflection a sentence that is structurally a statement, he or she is essentially saying, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Or, “Do you follow?” But a little uptalking goes a long way.

Nevertheless, the video above is just one example of many pieces currently in print and in media where women attempt to warn other women that they are undermining their credibility and damaging their career/business prospects through these affections. For example, here’s this video from a woman coaching public speakers to avoid up talking,

And here’s militant feminist Naomi Wolf in The Guardian with a piece titled, “Young Women, Give Up the Vocal Fry and Reclaim Your Strong Female Voice.” I could provide a hundred more examples, but you get the point.

So, imagine my surprise when I encountered the following thesis from the co-hosts of “Stuff You Should Know.” It’s right there in the synopsis of the podcast episode:

You’ve heard lots of complaints about vocal fry, mostly from older white men. But it’s not exclusive to the Kardashians. Learn all about vocal fry, upspeak and other quirky speech trends in today’s episode.

That’s right. In the face of an Internet full of evidence to the contrary, Josh and Chuck are absolutely convinced it’s us “older white men” doing the bulk of the grumbling about vocal fry. This, of course, is demonstrably false. Wildly inaccurate. Embarrassingly wrong.

The criticism is coming almost exclusively from professional women valiantly trying to help younger women not sound like imbeciles.

But wait, there’s more.

Six-and-a-half minutes into the podcast, Josh and Chuck decided to double down and build something awesome on the imaginary foundation of their false premise.

They hypothesize  that the  reason we “older white men” hate hearing 20-somethings croak-talking and using “like” every  fourth word as a crutch is . . . wait for it . . .  we’re “afraid.” And super sexist, apparently. Here’s a snippet:

“So . . . I think those people [older white males]  are just . . . they’re feeling like they’re not relevant any longer. And no one wants to be a dinosaur.”

“Yes. Yes.”

“And so . . . ‘I don’t understand this language these young women are speaking . . .‘”

“Right.”

“Which is B.S. because a lot of young men and women speak that way.”

“Right.”

“It’s just called the way the younger generation speaks. And it’s not like you old man!”

“Right. So just go off to pasture and . . . chew some cud.”

/ /

“I don’t think anybody is trying make to the older, middle-aged, white man feel irrelevant . . . But I think you have nailed it on the head, though, like, like, I think it’s a form of contempt for being replaced by something new.

“Absolutely.”

(Heavy sigh.)

This, dear reader, is what had me sputtering and muttering in disbelief on the stair climber.

These two darlings of the NPR crowd asserted—earnestly—that guys like me are complaining about uptalking teens and vocal frying twenty-somethings (we’re not) solely because we resent the fact that they are (supposedly) taking over the world. (And by this I think they mean a handful of young women are selling a lot of records and cashing in on reality TV.)

That’s right. According to the SYSK guys, there’s a vast, pasty, geezer-y conspiracy to defend our shrinking patriarchal prerogatives by bewailing vocal fry.

Where to start?

Again, their entire tiresome, PC thesis is built upon a false premise—namely that it’s men doing most of the complaining about these faddish speech patterns. (They cite NPR’s Bob Garfield as their sole example of this. In fact, I suspect Bob Garfield is the sole data point for this assertion.)  But, as I’ve already pointed out, virtually all of the coaching and advising and warning against these vocal tics is coming from women.

(For example, see here, here, here, and here.)

For the noblest of reasons, professional women in the real world of jobs and paychecks (as opposed to the surreal world of reality television and the entertainment industry) are trying to help younger girls do better in this world.

Please note: This blog post isn’t an example of an “older white male” complaining about vocal fry in young ladies. No, this is an older white male complaining about the mindless identity politics and ignorance of two “younger white males” who, ironically, have a show called “Stuff You Should Know.”

Hand to God, I don’t care about vocal fry. Or uptalking. And Bob Garfield notwithstanding, I’ve never heard or read any fellow pale geezer who does.

Unless your last name is Holland and you call me “Daddy,” I sincerely don’t care how you talk or present yourself. Undermine your career prospects all you want, boys and girls. Get a neck tattoo while you’re at it. Me and my fellow dinosaurs are indifferent. Or tired. Maybe both. Where was I? Oh yeah . . .

Which brings me to the second flimsy  premise in Josh and Chuck’s searing indictment of imaginary old guy vocal fry bashers. It is their assertion that young, twenty-something females are such an emergent, runaway juggernaut of economic power that we patriarchs have been reduced to bleating in fear and rage about the way Katy Perry talks.

None of that is grounded in reality.

A Trifecta of Wrongness

The Stuff You Should Know guys misread this phenomenon in a third key way. They seem to believe this surge of interest in the silly way young folks are talking is the first instance of its kind in the history of Western Civilization.

The fact is, telling young people—male and female—that it will enhance their success prospects if they avoid talking like nincompoops is not new at all. Younger people have always tended to take on speech affectations that undermine their credibility. And individuals from the grown up world of paychecks and promotions have always pointed out that they would be well served to cut it the heck out.

Was it anti-male sexism thirty years ago when mothers suggested their sons should probably stop talking like these guys . . .

spicoli

Jeff Spicoli, of Ridgemont High. Gnarly.

BillandTed

Bill and Ted. Excellent dudes.

. . . if they hoped to ever get a decent paying job? Or were they actually saying this merely because they were afraid of our awesome emerging power in the popular culture and didn’t like “feeling like a dinosaur?”

The 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s all featured their linguistic equivalents of uptalking and vocal fry-ing. There’s a great scene in the 1947 Cary Grant movie, The Bachelor and Bobby Soxer, in which Grant encounters and mimics some of the ridiculous ways young people were talking in the Post-war period:

No, Chuck and Josh, your psychoanalysis of us “older white males” of America needs some work. And all of the above is some stuff you should know.

Deconstructing the Appeal of Donald Trump

Trump O

He’s boorish. He’s inarticulate. He’s graceless, crass and ego-maniacal. He seems to believe insults like loser, clown and scum, are adequate substitutes for a cogent policy argument.

Historically he has been more ideologically aligned with Democrats than Republicans and has had lots of nice things to say about Hillary Clinton over the years. He doesn’t seem to understand why universal healthcare is a bad idea, or to have any intellectual curiosity about conservative ideas. And . . .

Donald Trump is the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee for the White House.

Most longtime observers of the American political scene were expecting the Donald Trump fad to have passed by now. It hasn’t. He continues to outpoll all other contenders for the Republican nomination by a substantial margin.

I laid out some thoughts about Trump’s appeal in a previous post but would like to expand upon them now.

To understand the stubbornly resilient levels of support for Donald Trump, it’s necessary to view it as a braided rope with five strands. Those strands—the good, bad and ugly—are:

  1. Celebrity
  2. Novelty
  3. Immigration Frustration
  4. Politician Fatigue
  5. Strongman Appeal

Allow me to briefly unpack each of these strands.

Celebrity

apprentice

Donald Trump has been a household name since the 80s. His television shows The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice have been fixtures in living rooms for 12 years.

As I pointed out in my previous post, name ID is a huge component in political polling. Of course, you would be hard pressed to find a person in this country who hasn’t heard of Donald Trump. But it goes deeper than mere name recognition.

We live in a celebrity worshiping culture. For many people, celebrities are viewed as the demi-gods of our age—a smarter, better brand of human being. They’re not, of course. But it doesn’t change the fact that Miley Cyrus has nearly 25 million people following her on Twitter.

Novelty

For a certain segment of the culture, novelty is a big selling point. People who rarely if ever vote will turn out for the novelty candidate. Former professional wrestler Jessie “The Body” Ventura became the governor of Minnesota with only about 36% of the vote in a three-way race—in large part on the strength of novelty appeal. (See: Franken, Al)

Immigration Frustration

climbingborderfenceAs I mentioned in that previous post, Trump has tapped into a deep, powerful current of frustration among regular Americans about illegal immigration. Much of Trump’s traction derives from his tough, unapologetic, refreshingly un-PC proclamations about how illegal immigration is weakening our nation.

Following the Paris massacres by Islamic extremists, Trump gave voice to what millions of Americans were saying around water coolers. Namely that it’s madness to import, en masse, tens of thousands of refugees from Islamic nations without careful screening.

He was mocked relentlessly in the press and by the standup comics, but millions across the nation silently nodded in agreement.

Politician Fatigue

The plain-speaking, tough-talking non-politician candidate from the world of business always has appeal for a significant segment of the populace (See: Perot, Ross). Conservative voters in particular are sick to death of sending men and women who say the right things to Washington, only to see them turn into spineless compromisers the moment they start drinking the inside-the-beltway water. (See: Ryan, Paul)

Trump—undiplomatic, unnuanced, blunt, pugnacious, profane—is the anti-politician. Most office seekers weigh every word carefully, so as to avoid offending prospective donors and/or voters—most of whom are hearing of them, and from them, for the very first time.

Trump-the-billionaire, on the other hand, has nothing to lose, thrives on negative attention, and therefore says, unfiltered, whatever pops into his head. And exasperated Americans, weary of watching their great nation dismantled piece by piece by left-wing know-nothings, are eating it up.

StrongMan Appeal

chavezOf all the factors driving Trump’s appeal, this is perhaps the most troubling to me. History reveals that in times of crisis or societal disintegration, people are prone to clamor for a powerful, even brutal, figure—the strongman—with a iron will to put things back in order.

It’s not at all surprising that Trump has spoken admiringly of Vladimir Putin in recent days. Putin’s repeated reelection to the highest offices in Russia and that nation’s steady drift toward dictatorship is a classic example of the appeal of the strongman.

Putin follows a long line of democratically elected leaders who steadily morphed into tyrants while in office, including Erdoğan, Chavez, Peron, Pinochet, Mugabe and many others throughout history. Both Hitler and Mussolini were elected fair and square.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not predicting that a President Trump would be a new Hitler. I’m merely pointing out that Trump is benefiting from the kind of populist unrest that tends to get men elected who have no business leading a nation.

Trump and Social Conservatives

I’ve been mystified to see numerous evangelical leaders fawning over Trump over the last few months. Make no mistake about it, he is no friend of social conservatives. He is, however, a consummate salesman. Neither his private life nor his public statements give us any reason to believe he gets, at any level, the principles that animate us. His occasional attempts to speak the language of faith on the campaign trail have been at once comical and condescending. Naked pandering.

In a fairer world, the following nine-minutes of pure, unfiltered Donald Trump would have destroyed his candidacy—disqualifying him in the minds of all but the lowest common denominator voters.

I wish any Christian considering throwing his or her support to Trump would watch this video carefully. This rambling stream-of-consciousness was delivered at a rally back in November when Trump’s closest challenger was Ben Carson. Here Trump is mocking Carson’s testimony of being transformed from street thug to surgeon through the power of Christ, as outlined in his autobiography:

Clearly, the evangelical concept of redemption and change through faith—the core of Carson’s narrative—is utterly foreign to Trump.

Everything that makes Trump an ugly candidate and a awful prospective president is on display here in those nine minutes.

The Irony and Tragedy of the Trump Candidacy

The stakes in this election are extraordinarily high. After the eight-year catastrophe of the Obama presidency—which will leave our nation weaker and more vulnerable than at any time since the Carter years—it is vital that America gets skilled, savvy leadership with unswerving conservative principles.

The Republicans were blessed to be facing a deeply flawed, profoundly vulnerable Democrat candidate in Hillary Clinton. And they fielded one of the most attractive, qualified, conservative crop of candidates in Republican history.

Carson, Perry, Rubio, Walker, Jindal, Cruz, Fiorina are all intelligent, accomplished and fundamentally conservative. Of course, not all are rock solid on every single issue. The perfect candidate doesn’t exist.

But Trump’s entry into the race and the media’s all-consuming hate/love obsession with him has consistently sucked all the oxygen out of the room for the other candidates. Three great candidates—Perry, Walker, and Jindal—have all fallen by the wayside. Other campaigns are on fundraising life support.

And the self-funded Trump circus rolls on. He’s an expert marketer. But I’m not buying it.