Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Baby Kittie Pictures

Al and Lena had one previous owner (they are slightly-used cats, but they only had light wear and tear.) Keeper of the Cats finally got a hold of some of their "baby" pictures.

For me it kind of strange to see miniature versions of the cats I know and love.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More On That Pew Media Survey And Media's Failures

Following on this post about the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released its biannually media consumption survey, I've posted the answers to their questions gauging whether you had a high knowledge score of political information in the comments. A word about such a gauge. The truth is that such gauges are imperfect measures. Pew likes to use these three particular questions because they can be used consistently across time periods, so you can compare the ratios across the years and track the differences. And they are useful questions but also somewhat limited in what they are really measuring.

The point I want to raise is that it would be wrong to read that 18% percent of correctly answered questions as meaning that 72% of U.S. population is too stupid to vote.

People retain knowledge that is useful to them or that they find interesting. Part of the reason why Pew conducts a media consumption survey is really to gauge the media (not only the citizens). One of the many, many flaws in the U.S. news media system is that news is more often presented as a series of news trivia. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

Jay Rosen over at Press Think has actually been pondering the breakaway success entirely different model of news of This American Life call "The Giant Pool of Money." It explained the subprime housing market scandal.

If you don’t know “The Giant Pool of Money” you really should (here: download the podcast) because it’s probably the best work of explanatory journalism I have ever heard. I listened to it on a long car trip when everyone else was sleeping. Going in to the program, I didn’t understand the mortgage mess one bit: subprime loans were ruining Wall Street firms? And I care because they are old, respected firms?

That’s what I knew. Coming out of the program, I understood the complete scam: what happened, why it happened, and why I should care. I had a good sense of the motivations and situations of players all down the line. Civic mastery was mine over a complex story, dense with technical terms, unfolding on many fronts and different levels, with no heroes. And the villains were mostly abstractions! Typical of the program’s virtues is the title. It’s called The Giant Pool of Money because that is where the producers want your understanding to start. They insist.
One of the points that Rosen notices is that sometimes stories are so complex that without understanding why this applies to him, he tuned out the new information. Here is he is talking about subprime mortgages but you can see it applying to almost any story with complexity, Georgia, Iraq, Wall Street, candidates' health insurance plans, etc.
Wrong! For there are some stories—and the mortgage crisis is a great example—where until I grasp the whole I am unable to make sense of any part. Not only am I not a customer for news reports prior to that moment, but the very frequency of the updates alienates me from the providers of those updates because the news stream is adding daily to my feeling of being ill-informed, overwhelmed, out of the loop. I respond with indifference, even though I’ve picked up a blinking red light from the news system’s repeated placement of "subprime" items in front of me.
I think Rosen is on to something here and a commenter who emailed him explains why This American Life is even more unique than 99% of media productions -- that they have earned their audience's faith.
Let me add one point. This American Life could execute that episode only because week after week, they keep listeners engaged with excellent storytelling. You know that reaction everyone had to "subprime mortgage" stories, where they'd flip the channel or turn the radio dial whenever they came on? Well the listeners of This American Life didn't do that when they found out that week's episode would delve into the topic. The reaction wasn't, "Oh no, another one of these stories," as it would've been if they encountered the story elsewhere. It was "thank God, This American Life is going to explain this to me."
It would be impossible to turn every news outlet into This American Life, but I do think that surveys like Pew show that media consumption is not always synonymous with knowledge. But the reaction to such a survey shouldn't be "well people are just dumbasses." More often I think the issue is that its the media that is dumb.

One data point I noticed is that the media audience with the highest score for those three questions was The New Yorker/Atlantic Monthly. And still Pew found that only half its audience (48%) could correctly answer all three. Shouldn't that be more like 90% since the magazines tend to correlate with people who are very interested in currently events? That seems to me to be a huge disconnect.

One other point, last year Pew released a survey that gauged political knowledge much more deeply. They asked 26 questions, some of which were probably more timely back in April 2007, but even taking an "educated guess" if you are highly politically aware you can answer all of them correctly. You can take the test yourself and then compare how you did to everyone else in your age group, gender, education.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Colbert Report Viewers Are Slightly More Politically Knowledgeable Than Daily Show's

There are so many headlines I could have given this post, but from past experience if you put “The Daily Show” into a your blog you will get hits. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released its biannually media consumption survey. There’s a lot of interesting nuggets of data in it. (I promise I will get to the part about The Daily Show in a minute).

First off, ask yourself, without using google, can you:

  1. Can you tell me the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State?

  2. Say who is the current prime minister of Great Britain?
    a. Gordon Brown
    b. Rupert Murdoch
    c. Robert Gates
    d. John Howard

  3. Happen to know which political party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives?
If you can answer all three correctly, then you are identified by Pew as having a high knowledge score of political information. Frankly on number two I’m surprised they didn’t throw in Tony Blair as a choice.

So want to know how well the public answered those questions? Only 18% could correctly answer all three. That was the national average. Pew then breaks it down by viewers of certain shows.

You can see the full chart here but (to justify using the title on this post):
The Colbert Report and The Daily Show are notable for having relatively well-informed audiences that are younger than the national average: 34% of regular Colbert viewers answered the three political knowledge questions correctly, as did 30% of regular Daily Show viewers. Less than a quarter of either audience is older than 50 (22% Colbert, 23% Daily Show), compared with 41% of the general public.
I’ve often thought The Colbert Report is a tad more cerebral than The Daily Show. (Oh and the other late-night comics Leno/Letterman, only 20% of their audience could answer all three correctly.)

But in any case there’s a lot of other interesting data. I’m very surprised about the breakdown of audiences by gender. (Plus I’m always curious if Nielsen gets the same ratios of male verses female viewership).

There is exactly even split between men and women in reading daily newspapers, watching CNN, news magazines (like Time and Newsweek) and even the Sunday News Talk shows. Surprisingly slightly more women than men watch Fox News. (Also MSNBC, and CNBC???)

But there are a number of shows and types of shows that are majority male. Rush Limbaugh, the ratio wasn’t even close, 72% of his audience is male. Ladies favor Colbert over Stewart by four percentage points. The Daily Show audience is 66% male and The Colbert Report is 62%.

I don’t have an answer why The Daily Show skews so heavily male but perhaps their lack of female correspondents could be an answer. Also Jon can sometimes get a little frat-boyish when talking about women politicians like Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. I have also heard, through a grapevine that his writing room is way more machismo than Colbert’s. It’s not quite Saturday Night Live, but that’s kind of flavor (meaning if you’re not a white dude who fits in, you don’t fit in.) Stephen Colbert seems to run a slightly different type of room and has more women writers.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Truth, Honesty, And Online Personals (And Fuck You Dan Savage)

I read this Savage Love last week and I meant to write about it but I just didn’t. But upon realizing no one else seems to have commented I feel the need to point out, yet again, Dan Savage’s hates fat people.

So FATSO writes to Dan:

I put a profile on an online dating site some time ago when my job moved me to Florida and I didn't know anybody down here, but I soon forgot about it. Recently, a girl contacted me via that old personal ad, we exchanged pictures, and she told me she was overweight. In the pictures she didn't look that big and I chalked her comments up to female insecurity. Less than an hour ago we met for the first time and she was huge. I told her as politely as possible that I felt her pictures were misleading, that she was bigger than I expected, and that I didn't think it would work. I felt (and still feel) like total shit.

Dan, help me. Am I a bad person for this? I want to go slam my head in a car door!
Yes, FATSO, you are a total shit. Now why is that? Is it because you didn’t want to date this person. No. It’s because you acted like an ASSHOLE.

And Dan, naturally, sides with him! Because to Dan, fat people don’t deserve to exist. If you are fat, you deserve whatever treatment you get.
So long as you were polite and direct—and I'm taking your word for that, FATSO—you're not a bad person even if her feelings were hurt. There are men out there who are open to big women or into big women—the bigger the better—and she can avoid hurt feelings in the future by e-mailing accurate photos and attracting the attention of men who actually find her attractive.
So every time I meet up with someone who is uglier than their photo would have me believe, I get to tell him IN THE MOST DESVESTATINGLY RUDE WAY POSSIBLE, that they “lied” to me by showing me attractive pictures of themselves and that I don’t date ugly people. In fact I shouldn’t even bother with the meeting. I should just walk to the table and say “sorry you are uglier than advertised.” Gee wasn't there an episode of The Office where Michael pretty much did just that?

Look let’s get something straight. FATSO’s date actually said she was overweight. And FATSO doesn’t say the pictures are out of date, just that they made her look more attractive to him than the real person did. Maybe they were just headshots...that is not “misleading” him. You shouldn’t be putting up unattractive pictures on your online personal ad. A photo should make you look presentable. There is no rule of online dating that says you have to put up an unflattering picture so as not to “mislead” people as to how attractive you really are. You would think he now knows why women get so many insecurities about their weight! Especially when guys feel its totally acceptable to tell women they are too fat. Thanks ugly guy! You suck too!

And even if your picture leads someone to meet up with you, it does not give them carte blanche to be an asshole. There is no “polite” and “kind” way to tell someone they are too ugly for you. Meeting someone on a blind date isn’t permission to cruel. It’s not like FATSO’s date cheated him out of anything. But he totally hurt her for no good reason.

Washington Post Takes Another Bite At the Feminist Bookstore

I was settling down to read my Sunday dose of aggravation, also known as the Washington Post’s Outlook section. I was actually quite pleased with the selection of essays this week. There is a very poignant and frankly heart-rendering story of former Guantanamo prisoner number #261, Jumah al Dossari, who details in an understated manner, his 5 ½ years of detention and torture. It’s a Russian novel in 1,600 words. Everyone should know Jumah al Dossari’s story. Just like we should know Maher Arar’s. Or Dilawar who was 22 years old and killed by the U.S. by torture. We should know these names the same way we remember Emmett Till, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, all killed for being the wrong people in the wrong place.

But just as I’m about to figuratively pat the Outlook editor John Pomfret on the back for a good line up this week I find this column by Leonard Sax called “'Twilight' Sinks Its Teeth Into Feminism.” Oh great, here we go again. Yet another Sunday Outlook author who is selected to tell us feminism doesn’t work -- this time its because women’s genetic code tells us we love baking cookies.

Leonard Sax is interested in discussing the Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, which despite being incredibly popular, I know nothing about it. So I can’t evaluate his summarization of the series and it passive female heroine. But I don’t need to be an expert on teen fiction to get to the burning straw woman of Sax’s argument. Which is “hey you feminists, despite all your indoctrination, girls still want to read about passive victims and boys still want to watch porn and play video games. So take that!”

Here’s the key passages:

Yet on some level, it seems that children may know human nature better than grown-ups do.
We really should just make children tenured faculty until they grow up and their education ruins their unspoiled nature.
Consider: The fascination that romance holds for many girls is not a mere social construct; it derives from something deeper.
Boys however do not ever care about romance. That’s why they never understand why all those video games and Star Wars have “rescue the princess” as plot points. Or why Harry Potter had a girlfriend. And feminists truly believe that little girls shouldn’t even know what a romantic fairytale is until they’ve gone through an intensive Womyn’s Studies program in college.
In my research on youth and gender issues, I have found that despite all the indoctrination they've received to the contrary, most of the hundreds of teenage girls I have interviewed in the United States, Australia and New Zealand nevertheless believe that human nature is gendered to the core.
Because, as we’ve shown, if kids believe something, then it is demonstrable fact. Also did you know that candy makes a good lunch?
They are hungry for books that reflect that sensibility. Three decades of adults pretending that gender doesn't matter haven't created a generation of feminists who don't need men;
Feminists, when we say “we want equality” what we really mean is “you are no different from men, in fact you don’t even need men. In fact, we actually hate men.”
they have instead created a horde of girls who adore the traditional male and female roles and relationships in the "Twilight" saga.
Because no other vampire series has ever been popular, ever. And no other book is also popular amongst teens.
Likewise, ignoring gender differences hasn't created a generation of boys who muse about their feelings while they work on their scrapbooks.
Damn it! That means the feminist movement has failed! I mean if little boys aren’t playing with dolls then what else could feminists ever possibly want to achieve?
Instead, a growing number of boys in this country spend much of their free time absorbed in the masculine mayhem of video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Halo or surfing the Internet for pornography.
Yeah, I wondered why at the NOW national conference the panel on "How to Separate Men From Their Video Games and Porn" was so poorly attended. I guess every video game out there (and porno) is just more proof that our national goal of emasculation isn’t working. Why! Why must we always fight these losing battles against HUMAN NATURE instead of trying to achieve tangible successes like getting equal pay for equal work and getting access to contraception? I’m sure glad we never tried to go after sexual harassment in the workplace either, because god knows it’s just in men’s nature to be assholes and you can’t change that either.
For more than three decades, political correctness has required that educators and parents pretend that gender doesn't really matter. The results of that policy are upon us: a growing cohort of young men who spend many hours each week playing video games and looking at pornography online, while their sisters and friends dream of gentle werewolves who are content to cuddle with them and dazzling vampires who will protect them from danger. In other words, ignoring gender differences is contributing to a growing gender divide.
So starting back in 1978, little girls who were told “you can’t be anything you want to be,” really should have been told “but really all you want is to be the princess rescued by the cuddly teddy bear.” I can see now why that section I was taught in primary school called “WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ARE A BOY OR A GIRL” was invented. To beat out of me any inherent genetic ideas I had about loving teddy bears and unicorns, and Princess Leia in an iron bikini. Little girls who want to be the hero of their own fiction? Sorry, it’s just in your HUMAN NATURE to have limited fantasies. Oh and stop bothering the boys for a turn on the Nintendo Wii, you know video games are only for boys.

--crossposted at Feminist Underground

Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Cats 'n' Laptops

Yes that is Al lounging near (on) my new Dell XPS m1330. In the background you can see the product (red) screen. This post is the first one composed on my new laptop and while lounging at the delightful Baked & Wired cafe. The DC cupcakery with the best damn strawberry cupcakes ever!

Here is alternative shot of both Al & my laptop. I think it might make a good NewsCat logo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's Official: There Is No Post-Abortion Syndrome

I've been waiting for the results of this study for a while, but the American Psychological Association has just released its results which demonstrate "abortion does not in and of itself pose a threat to women's mental health."

Specifically: "The most methodologically sound research indicates that among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for nontherapeutic reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy." .... And: The prevalence of mental health problems observed among those women "was consistent with normative rates of comparable mental health problems in the general population of women in the United States."
Of course I don't think just because there's a pretty conclusive study (supported by research and data) is going to dissuade people from believing whatever their gut tells them must be true.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Two In a Row

It really is "Two in a row" day for this Friday's entry. First off, clearly I haven't written anything since last Friday Cat Blogging. Hey my new laptop is shipping. Soon instead of watching TV, I will be blogging.

Secondly, you may have seen these kitties before. Its a return appearence for both Rex and Oscar, previously featured Portland cats (now currently back in Olympia, Wa with their giant family of cats and humans).

But since it's Two In A Row Friday, I thought I would feature a bonus Friday Cat Blogging picture. Little Rex and Oscar as kittens. Enjoy!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging: Al Loves Macs

It's been a while since I posted a Friday Cat Blogging picture. That's Keeper of the Cats behind Al. Now I guess I could have submitted this to Cats Love Macs, but really, I think Al will likely love my Dell XPS M1330 (Product red) just as much. *sigh* Still another two weeks to go.