Facts are more important than opinions.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez catapulted herself into the limelight by being a firebrand, a torch-carrier for Democratic Socialism (which, I’m informed, is different than “Socialism,” and is definitely different than National Socialism), and an interview in which she offered this gem:

I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.

CBS News, interview with Anderson Cooper, 2019/Jan/6

Now, let’s be straight up here: there’s more context to this quote than just the quote itself. She actually said that facts were important, and she acknowledged that she’s fuzzy on a few numbers here and there – apparently by orders of magnitude, but that’s okay.

After all: what’s the US national budget? I can manufacture a number in my head offhand that sounds vaguely right, but it turns out that I was wrong by a … few trillion as well. So never mind that she said that the Pentagon spent more than sixteen trillion more than the actual national budget as a whole – the idea is that there are really big numbers involved, and perhaps we should be thinking about that instead of fretting over whether a junior Representative knows everything right off the bat.

However, it does speak to her character that she’s willing to claim things without, like, knowing them; for example, I just tested myself in the previous paragraph, by asking myself: “What is the national budget?” and coming up with an answer… and then, you know, looking it up. I didn’t write my answer down, because that’s a truth claim, and I don’t like making truth claims without data.

Representative Ocasio-Cortez apparently has no such qualms, even when she has actual agency in the government of the United States.

Pardon me, but yikes.

Facts are wayyyyy more important than opinions, because facts give us the basis upon which to form those opinions. Facts should be able to change our opinions.

The idea that being “morally right” is more important than “precisely right” is… terrifying. How do you know if you’re morally right without reality backing you up? If reality disagrees with you, are you going to choose your morality over, like, what’s real?

That’s living in a fantasy land, where one branch of government spends more than six times what our actual government takes in every year. Where unicorns sprout elves made of gold. Where what would help one borough in one city will help every person in every village in a country that consists of more than 3.5 million square miles – projecting the needs of roughly 1.3% of a population across the remaining 98.7% of it.

I respect Representative Ocasio-Cortez’ chutzpah. I admire her fire. As a person, I’m sure she’s admirable – we need people willing to stand for moral positions, even if we disagree with them.But it’s important that morality is based on facts, absolutely and irrevocably. If the facts are wrong, point that out… with other facts. Correct the perceptions. Adjust the positions accordingly.

Don’t make up stuff to justify yourself. It’s one thing to be wrong, but another thing to stick to your guns despite your data being wrong.

In the real world, we call that “lying.” Representative Ocasio-Cortez can accuse President Trump all she likes – but unless her positions change as her knowledge of actual, precise, correct facts change, she’s lying too.

I’ve been thinking about a business idea

I’ve been thinking about creating a service offering for people writing about programming on the web: editorial services.

I’m not sure how it’d work yet, but here’s what I’m thinking as of right now:

What most authors need is someone to give their writing a once-over, a sanity check… someone who can say “I don’t know what you’re trying to say here,” or even “this isn’t clear enough to be effective.” Maybe the person reviewing it could even offer advice, like “you need to make your point earlier in the text, because most readers won’t get far enough along to benefit from what you’re saying.”

Sometimes writers need copy editing – fixes for grammar and spelling – and sometimes they need technical review – someone to actually validate that what they’re saying is even valid.

I was thinking of offering my services mostly for that first type of editorial service: someone who reads the content, and actually considers what kind of response the text creates.

That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t offer copy corrections (“You are, using too, many, commas, in, your, text”) or that I wouldn’t point out programmatic errors where I have knowledge and experience…. but the primary point would be to offer advice on flow and effective prose.

I’d have to be able to refuse some content: if someone says something factually incorrect or misleading and insists on it, well… I’m not willing to associate my name with something that lies to its audience. I’ve never been willing to do that before, and I’m not willing to do that now.

I don’t know yet how I’d negotiate with content authors, nor am I sure what pay scale would be involved.

What do you think? Would this be something you’d be interested in exploiting as a service, and if so, what kind of price point would you like to see?

Deliver what you promise when you write

I’ve gone on a number of (hopefully mild) rants about clickbait in writing: “Seven Reasons Your Wife Will Leave You!”, “Trump’s Bat-Baby!”, and so forth.

Today I read with great interest an article on CNN entitled “Why Trump wants you to be afraid of high speed trains.” It’s… an interesting article, but I came away wondering why Trump wanted me to be afraid of high speed trains.

It wasn’t actually poorly written as an article – surprising given CNN’s Trump derangement – but I kept waiting for the delivery. The main takeaway I got was that California’s failure to deliver high speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco was a political football for Trump.

The whole point of the article seemed to culminate in this line for me:

But that wasn’t the only time the President dunked on rail this week.

… oh no! The President “dunked on” rail multiple times this week! Given rail’s centrality in the “Green New Deal,” is this surprising?

I wanted to read why Trump actually wanted me to be afraid of rail. I think rail’s a great idea for the urban areas – I can think of five or six regions offhand that would benefit greatly from more civic railways (centered in a metropolis, like a subway system) and they’d benefit from being tied together by rail, too.

That’d play fantastically in the densely populated areas that voted heavily Democratic in the last Presidential election… and be pointless for the wide swaths of United States geography that voted for Trump.

Here’s a map, based on geography, from the University of Michigan:

The primary beneficiaries of a heightened (and important) rail system are some of those regions of blue: high concentrated population centers, interconnected.

All that red? Left in the cold. They still get to drive their own cars, consume their own gasoline, and provide food for all the blue areas.

So why, then, is Trump wanting us afraid of rail?

I can still think of a few reasons, some actually reasonable from his point of view.

One reason he might be want us afraid of rail is because it cements beneficiaries of rail against “his party.” (This makes little sense, realistically; the GOP is not “Trump’s party,” for one thing, and for another, those areas voted against him anyway. They weren’t his votes to preserve.)

Another reason is that he didn’t come up with the idea – except he apparently did have an infrastructure plan (as published on CNN, and cited in the article about why he’s afraid of rail!) – so the high speed rail he wants us to be afraid of was actually something he’s wanted to create. As with the prior point, this makes little sense, if any, to me.

In both of these cases Trump needs to act like he’s completely unaware of self – which isn’t a stretch, given his history – and the worst thing about all of this is that CNN expects us to be unaware, too.

As usual: stop it, CNN. You have editors; use them, please.

Newsblur; Fricassee; old friends – 14/Feb/2019

Things I’m thinking about:

RSS Feeds

I’ve started using Newsblur again. I shut off Facebook a while back for various reasons (nothing drastic, just… tired, mostly), so my news has been supplied by a fairly limited set of channels.

Newsblur fixes that. It’s not just Newsblur, of course; you can use any of a number of feed readers, but Newsblur is the one that works best for me.

I’m enjoying it so far.

With that said: if you know of any sites that are new, flashy, interesting, relevant for … well, news, visual arts, philosophy, creating music, Python or Java programming, let me know! I may already have them in my feed, but I might not, and I want to grow my list of sources if I can.

Fricassee!

I looked up what a fricassee was, because I used it as a sort of joke dish. However, my use was copied from, like, Bugs Bunny back in the 1970s; I had no idea what a fricassee actually is.

Now I do:

A dish of stewed or fried pieces of meat served in a thick white sauce.

We learn together! (Unless, of course, you already knew what a fricassee was.)

Old Friends

I have no intention of living in the past – the “good old days” were the “bad old days” too – but I miss those friends with whom I’ve lost communication.

Social networking helps in a few cases, but it’s also so…ephemeral that it doesn’t really establish the connections that made us friends in the first place.

C’est la vie – a phrase I use far too often, I think.

The Grammy Awards ignored Rock and Metal!, Gordon Ramsey, Larry Hogan on CNN

Things I’m thinking about:

The Grammies

An article in “Ultimate Classic Rock” was entitled “How the 2019 Grammy Awards Basically Ignored Rock and Metal“.

I’m… a little bit surprised, considering how rap and hip-hop (are those different?) have been ignored by the Grammy Awards ever since they became significant art forms, and rock – historically – has not especially been ignored. Sure, it’s been ridiculous sometimes – I’m not really a super-duper Metallica fan but Jethro Tull’s Crest of a Knave should never have gotten the nod over ..and Justice for All.

But the Grammies at least have had rock and metal winners, regardless of how insincere those wins might have been. So… okay, 2018’s awards were not rock- or metal- focused, let’s wait 30 years and then complain, okay?

I’m not even really a rap fan, but the lack of rap artists winning Grammy awards is ridiculous to me.

Gordon Ramsey

I’m a big fan of Gordon Ramsey (and cooking shows in general, really) despite not being able to cook worth a flip.

I like Ramsey even though I find his confrontational style unnecessary in a lot of cases – because by golly I think he knows what he’s doing and I think he means well

“A Dose of Reality” by Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland

Governor Larry Hogan, of Maryland, posted a really nice article on CNN, well worth reading: “A dose of reality for Trump, Pelosi and Schumer.”

Worth reading not only by the principals named, but by everyone. if I had any advice for the American populace, it might very well include “… everyone just calm down. Truth will be known, and God doesn’t care if your side wins.”

Blackface, Journalists not being “Journalists”, AI Title Generator – 2019/Feb/11

Things I’m thinking about lately

Blackface

This thing about blackface among Virginia political leaders is.. interesting and frustrating.

Look: blackface is problematic. At some point, the culture matters, but it’s always been about poking fun of African-American people – it’s never been good. Ever.

But now we’re seeing another witchhunt, and some of it has implications beyond what its natural purview should be.

Remember a few years ago, when a girl wore a Chinese dress and was slammed for “cultural appropriation”? We’re looking at that being the natural extension here, again.

We’re looking at something that says that a little girl who dresses up as Serena Williams – the tennis star – is crippling her future, by opening herself up for an accusation of “blackface.”

That’s not even silly. Some of the accusations going around in Virginia center around a dance contest where someone dressed up as Michael Jackson, makeup included.

That’s homage, not insult.

I’ve no interest in defending someone being racist, but we need to remember that the absolutes here are disastrous.

The Media Screwed Up – Color Me Surprised

Catlin Flanagan published “The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story” in The Atlantic. It’s brutal, vicious, and right on point. Included are these two absolute smashing quotes:

By Saturday, the story had become so hot, and the appetite for it so deep, that some news outlets felt compelled to do some actual reporting.

…and this overlong paragraph, that would be devastating to any journalist who had the guts to read it …

How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.

Journalism has been absolutely wrecked by outlets screeching for clicks instead of keeping to their purpose of informing the public. It’s what got Trump elected. It’s amplifying hatred of the other – when “the other” is the fellow who doesn’t agree with everything you say politically.

I hope journalists are paying attention.

Speaking of paying attention…

AI Article Title Generator

BJ Campbell wrote a paywalled article on Medium, called “AI Article Title Generator.” In it, he suggests a business whose sole goal is to optimize titles for clicks, with said articles only having to be tangentially related to the titles. It’s sarcastic… but right on. I’ve thought of similar things, sadly, but not enunciated them… and had I said them, I wouldn’t have said them as eloquently as BJ did.

I write terrible titles, because I’m not trying to maximize traffic through clicks. I’m trying to write information, so I try to write titles that say what the article in question is actually about.

Since I tend to write composite editorials – like this one – that means my titles tend to be really boring. C’est la vie.

Thoughts of the Day, 2019/Feb/8

Things I’m thinking lately:

Teamwork

You can’t want me to excel and then get in my way.

Well, you can, but you… shouldn’t.

Date Formats

Yes, I find I prefer year/month/day. It’s inherently sortable. It’s also really common in computing, and should be more common.

Headings

I’m trying to switch back to the headings format. It’s easier to read, but not write… but I’m trying to be okay with encouraging easier reading.

Not Twitter

Most of these “thoughts of the day” would be decent tweets, I think, but they might be too long. I’m not sure. I’m not really a Twitter person. The platform tends to de-emphasize nuance too much for my tastes.

Bad Habits

I just realized something unfortunate: when I’m in flow – that creative state where your brain is churning along at full speed on a problem – I have a habit of grazing for food. The more I achieve flow state, the more I want snacks in easy reach. For someone who’s trying to force themselves back into some semblance of decent shape, that’s not good.

Volt, considering moving away from WordPress

Ah, new things and directions….

  • Someone on IRC this morning mentioned Volt.ws, a messaging client available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux. It’s really tiny. It’s also missing a lot of functionality still, but it can connect to Slack… and it’s tiny. It still doesn’t support Slack private messages, but once it gets those (which should be in February 2019) it might be my preferred Slack client, over Slack’s own and Franz… because Slack’s client is awful on system resources and Franz is worse, despite being a better client.
  • I have been trying to figure out ways to move on from WordPress. It’s not really WordPress’ fault… I want Asciidoctor support, for one thing, and I’m rather disheartened at relying on an application written in PHP. But the alternatives require more time than I have right now, and I’m really not thinking I could personally design a good user interface if I wrote my own software. I’ve considered Jekyll and Hugo, but I’d really want to work out the comments mechanism before moving on. Plus, I am used to running software live; a static site feels odd.
  • I wonder how many programming advances have been created in an attempt to simply avoid boredom on the part of the programmer.
  • I’ve been considering trying to echo these things on Medium just to see what the differences in exposure would be.

Outrage on Social Media articles; State of the Union

Things I’m thinking about, after switching back to a list-based list of thoughts because Gutenberg headers annoy me:

  • Gutenberg headers annoy me. I’m thinking of switching back to my comfortable editing process where I’m not constantly griping about my editor. It’s a flow thing.
  • Good article from Medium, paywalled (so if you don’t have a Medium account that you pay for – it’s $5/month – you may have to open this in a private window): The Power of Not Retweeting. Both the article and the subject are recommended. It’s very easy to be outraged by something that lacks context, and the context might make all the difference in how you actually react – but by the time you get context, it’s too late, you’ve committed your reaction to history and told all your friends.
  • Another excellent Medium article, this time from the New York Times’ Medium account: This Is Your Brain Off Facebook. It’s a little ironic that the NYT published this, given how manipulative they are for their readers… but the king of manipulation is still CNN in my opinion. Those guys should be ashamed. Their editors should be doubly ashamed.
  • I did not watch the State of the Union, but having people tell me that I shouldn’t watch it as a form of protest annoyed me and tempted me to endure the farce anyway. I want our politicians to love country over party, and that’s… not what we have right now.
  • Why didn’t I want to watch the State of the Union? Lots of reasons:
    • It’s Trump. His mode of speaking annoys me greatly. His inability to stay on topic annoys me. His stupid self-propping annoys me. I used to think George W. Bush wasn’t a particularly effective speaker because he always seemed to be searching for words – and now I find that I’d far prefer a President who actually searched for the right words to one who blathers out whatever foolish crap crosses his brain at any given time.
    • Do I need another reason? Oh, yeah.
    • The endless politicization of everything, and the seeming need to turn everything into a protest. I’m all for protesting police brutality, but sometimes a football game (or a State of the Union address) is … just a football game, and the protests don’t really make a difference besides signalling.
    • Circling back: I don’t trust Trump… or his opponents. They both lie. They both choose truths based on what plays to their bases. What’s funny is that Trump told us what he’d do in his campaign… and he’s actually held to that pretty strongly, for better or for worse. That’s somewhat commendable. His political opponents are changing their long-held opinions on lots of things just so they can oppose Trump – I’ve said before that he should just start echoing their campaign positions just to force them to change stances.
    • This is a lot less relevant of a list than I thought it might be.
    • Every State of the Union I’ve ever watched has bored me! There, there’s my best reason right there.

Super Bowl, Commercials, Gutenberg Headings

Okay, I’m going to try the header format thing again, because it’s something new and different (for me) in WordPress’ Medium-style editor. But here are the things I’m thinking about:

The Super Bowl

I tried to think of a cute pun for the title, but “The Super Bah” was dumb. I came up with others, but that’s still the best of them, and it’s not any good.

The Super Bowl, Part II

You let us down, Jared. I kept thinking you were a University of Georgia graduate too (just like Todd Gurley, the stud running back who was underused during the game).

Why did I think you were a Georgia QB? Because you kinda sucked on the biggest stage football has. You killed your team, Jared. You killed your team.

The only saving grace for the Rams was that the refs rather clearly wanted the Patriots to win, with a runner being called “defenseless” after he caught the ball, to preserve a drive when the Rams’ impressive defense got a critical and impressive stop.

I enjoy defensive battles… but this was a battle of a good defense against a good offense (when New England had the ball) and a good defense against an overmatched toddler (when Los Angeles had the ball.)

I wish the refs hadn’t given the Rams the win against New Orleans.

(After rereading this section, I sound a lot angrier than I actually am – I was neutral about the game, and thought mostly that Jared Goff was outmatched, as he apparently was. I’m okay with the Patriots winning; they earned it. The Rams defense was stellar. The offense was… less than stellar.)

Best Commercial

The best commercial of the night was a local one, for Michael and Sons, an HVAC company local to the Virginia area.

It had two football players (kids, like pre-teens), with one “tackling” the other – pretty gently, it was like they told him to push the other one down – and, after the tackle, a thrown ball hits the tackler in the backside. The ref then waves “incomplete pass!” — just like the Saints/Rams refs, except with a parody.

We’re not normally Michael and Sons customers – not only was our home built with a different HVAC company, but we actually know the owner of yet another HVAC company – but dang, that commercial was so on point that we talked about switching.

Hopefully a video will show up online of that commercial (and hopefully I remember to look for it so I can link to it.)

The ASMR commercial was the other notable commercial. Apparently people were creeped out by it. I don’t know – I found it fascinating, mostly because I didn’t recognize the ASMR aspect of it until later. But it was for a … beer, I think, so maybe as a commercial it was intriguing but not all that effective, because I might switch HVAC companies but I am not drinking that beer.

Gutenberg

Now that I’ve used the heading stuff in WordPress’ editor, my first impression is that I do not like it. I’ve been trying to give this editor a spin for a while, to give it a fair shake… and while it has some nice features (pasting a URL over selected text converts it to a link!) it’s mostly annoying

Open Source Blog Software

I keep wanting to move away from WordPress, because I’ve been using it forever and I keep thinking there’s a Platonic ideal that isn’t WordPress.

However, most of them are in PHP – violating the Platonic ideal – and the ones that remain are either static site generators (Jekyll, Hugo) or node.js implementations (ghost), or things that are documented really inconsistently (typo/publify). I thought about roller, but…