It’s clear that, however they’ve come up with it, the Trump campaign has opted to completely overwhelm the media with bat-shit stories of every variety. Two Trumpkins interrupted soft-ball interviews for bullshit reasons. Little Donny burst out into holocaust song. Donald Trump and his campaign “can’t seem to get on message” about Trump’s birtherism or his redemption therefrom. But he’s making a major announcement about it, anyway.. no, he’s not. He’s just promoting his new hotel.

Journalists literally cannot keep up. The media does not know what question to ask or whether they really want to ask it. Trump puts out so much bullshit that Matt Lauer didn’t even have to do his job to get him to say more crazy shit.. and no one seems to care.

The Trump media DDoS is real and it’s a strategy. For once, the media is probably advised not to follow every story too closely. It’s as if Joseph Goebbels has decided to try his hand at Dadaism.

In the year 2015, its worth questioning documents that come to you electronically.. scanned from their original print version. Today, the Rochester Police Department released documents outlining both RPD policy with and the effective use of TASER Electronic Control Devices (colloquially: shock-the-shit-out-of-you Tasers). The header of the doc (scanned for reading here) shows a publish date of 2015. The documents inside, however, seem to have been produced some time in 2012 and cite 2011 data as current.

View this document on Scribd

In the Executive Summary section, p. 4, pains are taken to demonstrate how little the RPD uses TASERs. It notes that only 8% of all “use of force” situations used the TASER and that less than 0.4% of RPD arrests involved them. Furthermore, it notes, Rochester’s Police Department only issues 18% of it’s total police force TASERs. This puts Rochester on the low end of NYS metropolises using TASER technology, according to p. 8.

Sidenote: what the fuck, Greece?

The problem is that this data is all 4 years old and the TASER program in Rochester is only 13 years old. If there were 0% of officers using TASERs in 2003 and 18% using them in 2011, are we to assume that now 29% of officers with TASERs? Because that seems to be the rate of growth, based on the data. That same page notes (see footnote) that the “current budget” in 2012 would have increased that number to 50%, do we know if that happened?

Every other statistic bulleted in this report or impressed upon the media when they released it is called into question by this fact alone. Sure, small numbers are small. But only if they stay that way. What changes about these numbers when we change – to say nothing of double – the scale?

This report is supposed to quell concerns in the media about the effectiveness of TASER equipment, but it leaves a lot to be desired, even if we overlook the antiquity of the data.

What stands out the most is that the bullet point the RPD wants to stress – that the TASER has been 89% effective in “use of force” situations – seems like the impressive way to say that the TASER has been ineffective another 11% of the time. By what benchmark were the other 11% ineffective? What was the next step in those situations?

Helpfully, the RPD also includes (p. 31) a “Use of Force Matrix,” which appears to be part of a training document showing the desired escalation of force by police officers in the field. As you might expect, the TASER appears near the very top of this matrix. Above that scale, officers are instructed that deadly force, “Impact Instruments” and the illustrative term “Groundcuffing” may be used.

But this just raises the question: if TASERs are only effective 89% of the time, are we given to understand that the ineffective cases graduate to lethal force? The report shows several cases of TASER use, but none of them deemed ineffective, so we don’t know based on the report.

I don’t think I’m looking too deeply into numbers and certainly, these are the sorts of questions that can be reasonably asked in a reasonable press conference and dispelled with reasonable answers. But how much of that will actually happen between now and when the story’s dead?

Pew Internet Research put out an analysis of Twitter conversation and compared that to its own public opinion polling. The results of their analysis? From the headline, “Twitter Reaction to Events Often at Odds with Overall Public Opinion.”

Pew’s search and analysis parter, Crimson Hexagon, took a three-day sample of tweets which contained words or phrases relevant to a given hot-button news item and analyzed them for positive or negative terms as described in their methodology:

The data on Twitter comes from an analysis of all publicly available Tweets. The time period for each event varied, but none included more than three days worth of reaction. For each subject, multiple search terms were used to identify appropriate tweets. For example, to find messages commenting on President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Speech, Tweets were included if they appeared in the four hours following the start of his speech and used the words “state” and “union,” or “Obama,” or “SOTU.”

Unlike most human coding, CH does not measure each post as a unit, but examines the entire discussion in the aggregate. To do that, the algorithm breaks up all relevant texts into subsections. Rather than dividing each Tweet, paragraph, sentence or word, CH treats the “assertion” as the unit of measurement. If 40% of a story fits into one category, and 60% fits into another, the software will divide the text accordingly. Consequently, the results are not expressed in percent of Tweets, but rather the percent of assertions out of the entire body of stories identified by the original Boolean search terms.

But while we can argue about the efficacy of their methods (more on that later), the media seems to be willfully getting the results wrong. Check out a quick sample of the headlines:

Sample of conservative reactions by Twitterverse, at odds with the Daily Caller’s miopic understanding of reality. Source: Pew

This list even includes a majority of tech-savvy websites. The Daily Caller (ever the picture of reliable reportage) even took to interpreting the report as calling Twitter “a liberal, miopic, negative place.” This, despite the fact that the report clearly says that the Twitterverse occasionally breaks Conservative when public sentiment is Liberal. But there is a big difference between opinion on Twitter being “at odds” with general public opinion and not being a “reliable” indicator.

For a start, when 16% of Americans all share a common demographic bond – our affinity for Twitter – it should not be at all surprising that we share a common set of opinions. Neither should it be surprising that those opinions differ from a wider sample of the public.

Moreover, public opinion changes. It changes as people learn more about things and as facts present themselves. That very often takes more than three days for a lot of people. Twitter being heavily weighted to breaking news, tweeps have a tendency to be ahead of the curve.

We tweeps tend to “watch” the news unfold more or less together in real-time, so social reaction must also play its part. Twitter users have also been shown to be “influencers,” meaning we tend to voice our opinions to our friends more often than the average bear, you might say. It would be interesting to do the same sample, three days after a news break and then the following three days, to see if there is any change in the dichotomy between popular and Twitter sentiment.

But all of this presumes that Pew’s research is accurate. This is a very dicey affair, as indeed all public opinion polling is. But in this case, instead of speaking directly with tweeps, they’re using aggregation and analysis software to decide what is “positive” vs. “negative” or “conservative” vs. “liberal.” We are nowhere near a level of confidence in “Big Data” analysis of this type to consider this analysis anything other than hugely questionable.

The algorithms Crimson Hexagon uses would need to interpret tweets according to whether or not they’re really relevant to a given topic, whether the tweet was being sarcastic or some other form of humor, and whether the “negative” words are a function of genuine negativity or simple a reflection of language. Buffalo alone would be enough to give coders cold sweats, trying to interpret all that negativity.

And of course, it needs to be pointed out: Pew’s opinion polls do not reflect public sentiment any more accurately than Twitter, simply because Pew says they do. I am a big fan of Pew’s work – I cite it a lot, especially on (irony alert) Twitter. But by no means does this study reflect any kind of scientific fidelity.

Noting that the New York Times( @nytimes ) has had a respectable start to its new paywall system, I wonder if the twenty dollar subscription fee ends up being a workable model for former print media companies in other markets. And by other markets, clearly, I mean Rochester.

The NYT enjoys huge a huge national audience as well as a history of being something of a status symbol paper. You cannot think of their audience as quite reliably local as would be the case here in Rochester with the Democrat and Chronicle( @dandc ). But for the sake of scale, if you think in terms of subscribers to population, they’ve got about eight percent of the city in three months time.

Its obviously much too early to tell whether the Times will be able to keep up with those numbers once readers get charged full price. But its not too early to think about what a paywalled news media might mean.

Personally, the volume of news I read – and the variety of sources – makes the prospect of paying twenty dollars for each impossible. I’d have to cut down my reading considerably. Which would at first blush seem cut down on my reason for blogging considerably.

But then there is something intriguing about the prospect of a city full of bloggers, Tumblr accounts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages with only the D&C in common. Of a community where notoriety might come from being the first to spot a crucial detail missing from an article. It could be a very good thing for journalism in Rochester, the effect quite apart from the information doomsday that media consolidation normally brings to mind. My mind, anyway.

We shall see….

Well, its November 2nd and if you have managed to make it all day without seeing any news, this is just a reminder that yes, it’s Election Day. Time to get out there and do your civic duty.

I don’t think there’s any question that, for Democrats, this year’s civic duty is just that: a duty. Very few of us are overly enthusiastic about what the media keeps telling us will be a drubbing. Personally, while I’ve never been sanguine about Dem’s chances, I have to admit that the constant barrage of media negativity is starting to wear on my stomach.

Thing is: no one is really polling most of these individual Congressional races and really, the pundits are largely going on feeling which is to say: largely going on the group-think of the Pundit Class. It will be interesting to see what the narrative is by tomorrow morning. You can be sure that, no matter what happens, it certainly won’t be the media’s fault for over-hyping what is supposed to be a serious matter of electing leaders. If the Republicans don’t crush the Democrats across the board – if the take the House as is now all but axiomatic in the group-think, but do no better – the question will be what is wrong with the Republicans rather than what is wrong with the media’s analysis.

So here’s my advice, gleaned from careful observation of MSNBC, TalkingPointsMemo.com and CNN: the question is how big the wave will actually be, and we really need to watch the early results to get an indication of what happens next, then we’ll need to see how it unfolds from there.

Far be it from me to deprive the national news media their ability to drum up hysterical psycho-drama every waking moment of the day, but I thought that I might offer a few good reasons to cast a bit of doubt on the dire predictions of the smarmy, gossipy Washington press corps so eloquently embodied in Dana Millbank and others. And while I fully understand that I have no voice on the national level, I thought I’d give you a few good reasons to be less amazed than they will profess to be come the end of this latest election cycle:

#5: Just because your “agin” one Party does not make you “fer” another:

Its hard to believe I actually need to say this out loud, but I will: just because I’m pissed at a Democrat does not mean I will vote for a Republican. There has to be a reason to believe that the Republican will do better, which as I will address below, is dubious at best right now. As fun as the media finds it to refer to the people who watch their shows and pay their salaries as “pitchfork-wielding,” knuckle-dragging thugs, the fact is that most of us do not even own pitchforks in the first place. Those of us who do probably have better uses for them. You know, because we think for ourselves.

#4: The Republican capacity to self-immolate.

Republicans had things pretty locked up in Nevada. That is, until Sharon Angle won the nomination there. Now Reid is up by 7. That is, despite a completely upside-down approval rating for Reid in his state. With other winners like Rand Paul and the rest of the Katzenjammer Kids, we can have at least some faith in the Republicans ability to mess this up. And indeed, it is a standard trait of the non-incumbent party that they tend to play Keystone Cops until such time as they simply cannot help but be more attractive than the incumbent party.

From apologies to BP to declaring the inscrutable “Repeal and Replace” agenda for both HCR and now Fin Reg, to describing the financial crisis as an “ant,” to telling the unemployed to just “get a job,” its hard to imagine how Democrats could do a better job of painting the Republicans as out-of-touch. Worse for Republicans, the outlandishly misguided behavior is not atypical, but rather reinforces classic stereotypes of the Republican Party that have traditionally hung their chances out to dry when the issue is the economy. That makes a lot of people’s stomachs hurt when it comes time to actually vote for Republicans.

#3: The Low Turnout Myth

There is no doubt but that turnout can be expected to be lower than it was in the last election. Count on the media to point that out relentlessly, regardless of who wins what, as proof that their analysis is right. But if the last election was a record-setting election – it was – and if turnout in mid-terms is generally lower than in presidential elections – it is – then predicting that turnout will be lower is not exactly the stuff of sages. And I fully expect that the turnout, while lower than the presidential election of 2008, will likely be higher than it was in the previous mid-term election.

Because while we know that mid-terms get less attention, generally, this is not one of those general years. This is not a year when people get to just kick back and be happy with their jobs and wrap Christmas presents. Things are serious and serious-minded people will come out to vote.

Another classic canard of the national news media – one which on its face is self-negating – is that because turnout is low, mid-term elections are both dominated by Conservative voters and also an opportunity for a “protest vote.” The extent to which this concept is true is the extent to which Conservative voters “protest” Liberal and Democratic administrations and no farther. One or the other has to be true, or they’re both false.

Finally, while there’s every reason to think that some people who are angry over the current state of the economy – as distinct from Conservative voters who are just extra angry for their own reasons – will want to “protest” the current administration and Congress, they’ll have to step beyond the blogs, the comments, the FaceBook posts, the cameras, the televisions, the radios, the brave talk at the water cooler and step into that curiously quiet and disquieting space known as a voting booth and actually pull the lever. Which leads me to the next point:

#2: No plan, no vote.

Protest is one thing. But no one disputes the fact that our nation is in a precarious spot right now. This is not the time to simply throw the lever against the incumbent party and feel better about yourself. Polls are showing that Americans generally favour experience over fresh faces – a fact that works better for Dems *after* the 2008 than before it. People are paying very close attention to the news and election politics right now because they need to make what most anyone sees as a very important decision at a very risky time. And when they’re in that booth, what good reason is there to vote in a Republican?

Because the Republicans have shown no new messages, no plan and much worse, absolutely no leadership in the last year and a half. There is absolutely no reason to think that we will do anything other than return to the exact same position we were in on November of 2008 if we put the same party back into power.

#1: America digs a winner

To complain about the “obstructionist” non-incumbent party is a means of applying political pressure. To complain about an incumbent party that “won’t listen to our ideas” is just whining. That was as true for Democrats as it currently is for Republicans. In order to show that you can lead, you have to win something. Right now, Republican wins are few and far between whereas the Democrats are on fire with some of the biggest legislation ever passed in my lifetime. You don’t have to like it to see that they’re winning. And winning is a powerful thing in American politics.

Democrats were able to bring the Bush Agenda to a slow, creaking halt around 2005. And they won big in 2006. By 2008, it wasn’t just that the country was in a dire situation, but rather that Republicans seemed completely ill-equiped to provide an answer that did them in. So far, Republicans have yet to have the same types of successes with the Democratic agenda. If anything, they’ve whipped up a lot of nasty, racist, belligerent protest to the Democratic agenda that dragged the HCR debates well past their welcome… and then lost, anyway.

No plan, no wins, a nasty case of foot-in-mouth and a lot of hasty assumptions about how people will vote do not necessarily add up to a winning strategy. Plan on hearing the phrase “The Republicans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” quite a lot by December. That’s not because they really did so badly, but because pundits so completely and intentionally misjudged what is about to happen. Certainly, Democrats will loose seats. Certainly, Republicans will crow about the victories. But the needle won’t have moved appreciably in this next election.

One final point of purely meta, purely Monday Night Football-ish kind of analysis: this is not 1994 by any measure. In 1994, Democrats had controlled Congress almost consistently for twenty years, were riddled with House scandals, were completely dysfunctional and “suffering” from a perfectly good economy where Republicans could play on greed. Republicans meanwhile had a very organized team and a “Contract With America,” which for all the silliness inherent in that title, was at least a well-laidout set of policy agenda. Democrats currently have no serious scandals brewing, have not had time to become unwelcome as a ruling Party and are very well orga-…. well, bad example.

Kodak’s technology blog, A Thousand Nerds, has an interesting post about the changing nature of consumer entertainment demand and how that will affect the way content gets delivered to its audience. It may be that we finally bridge the Television / PC divide by eliminating both from the equation:

A Thousand Nerds: A Kodak blog about innovation

What does this all mean? The TV and Internet as we know it are about to undergo massive change. TV will be replaced by connected displays able to deliver a full range of multimedia output. Sitting in front of the computer clicking away will also be replaced by new ways of interacting with these connected displays as the interaction transforms from passive consumption to two-way interaction. You can also expect more changes within the industry as companies consolidate, form new strategic partnerships, and realign offerings around multimedia.

Not that PCs will go away, or televisions either. But after decades of attempts to somehow merge the two (Windows Media Center, WebTV, etc), its seemed very clear that the two do not go together. The problem is largely one of furniture, however: people sit at desks to use their PCs and lounge on couches to watch TV, neither of which providing a comfortable environment to swap roles.
Continue reading