MonthJune 2012

Flawed But Indispensable Take Down of Malcolm Gladwell

SHAME Project, an organization founded by Yasha Levine and Mark Ames of The Exile, recently published a lengthy critique of writer Malcolm Gladwell. I finally read it, and recommend it even though it is a flawed piece. Highlights:

While a student at the University of Toronto, Gladwell’s admiration for Ronald Reagan led him into conservative activist circles. In 1982, while still an undergrad, he completed a 12-week training course at the National Journalism Center, a corporate-funded program created to counter the media’s alleged “anti-business bias” by molding college kids into corporate-friendly journalist-operatives and helping them infiltrate top-tier news media organizations. To quote Philip Morris, a major supporter of the National Journalism Center, its mission was to “train budding journalists in free market political and economic principles.” Over the years the National Journalism Center has produced hundreds of pro-business news media moles, including top-tier conservative talent like Ann Coulter and former Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member John Fund.

After graduating from University of Toronto in 1984, Gladwell spent a few years bouncing around the far-right fringe of the corporate media spectrum. He wrote for the American Spectator—notorious in the 1990s as the primary media organ promoting anti-Clinton conspiracy theories—as well as the Moonie-owned Insight on the News. From 1985-6, Gladwell served as assistant editor at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which was created to bridge the gap between neoconservatives and Christian fundamentalists and help the two hostile factions to come together to counter a common enemy: activists fighting for economic justice. Rick Santorum was a fellow at EPPC until June 2011, when he left to concentrate on his attempt to secure the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. […]

At the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell developed another branch of his branded Malcolm Gladwell, Inc. business: as a highly-paid corporate speaker. Indeed, Gladwell is ranked as one of the highest-paid speakers in America today, commanding anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000 for a single talk to corporations and industry groups eager to pay for his soothing wisdom. In 2007, Fast Company estimated Gladwell does “roughly 25 speaking gigs a year, his current going rate some $40,000 per appearance.”

That would translate into roughly $1 million that year in speaking fees alone—four times what he made at the New Yorker in 2005. It’s a huge amount of money, as far as speaker’s salaries go. For comparison: Mitt Romney only made $500,000 in speaking fees in 2010.

Most news organization have specific rules and guidelines about speaking fees, and some—including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post—ban their journalists from taking fees for speeches. But the issue is far from settled, and regularly comes up in debates about journalistic ethics. Jonathan Salant, former president of the Society of Professional Journalists Washington chapter, considers corporate speaking fees to be outright bribes. He’s not the only one.

In a March 2012 article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Paul Starobin wondered if speaking fees are a “dark and an indelible stain on journalism” and noted that most journalists would not talk openly about the details of their corporate speaker side-gigs on the record and that some tried to prevent their names from being mentioned at all.

Full Story: Naked Capitalism: Malcolm Gladwell Unmasked: A Look Into the Life & Work of America’s Most Successful Propagandist

(via Innovation Patterns)

There’s an excellent conversation on MetaFilter. Here’s an interesting point from Mr.Know-it-some:

I stopped reading after “the notorious National Bureau of Economic Research, an organization with ties to the tobacco industry and bankrolled by the biggest names in right-wing corporate propaganda funding.” NBER is probably the preeminent economic research organization in the United States, if not the world, whose (approximately 1000) members include left-wingers like Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. (Yes, you might argue that it leans a bit corporate, but calling it “notorious,” is simply ludicrous.)

(Though someone else on the thread points out that Paul Krugman actually did briefly work for Enron).

The thread hits all the points I would want to make about what’s good and bad about the piece. It’s clearly an example of the “hit piece” genre, but it does make good points.

Maias wrote:

What’s equally infuriating is that sometimes his arguments— and those of pharma— are correct. The case of ADHD drugs is one instance: some people are genuinely helped and their stories get drowned out in the cries of “drugging our kids” and “overmedication.” The idea that crack dealers or tobacco companies are solely responsible for addiction is genuinely problematic— it ignores the fact that people with addiction *do* tend to have underlying issues and the fact that humans have always sought consciousness alteration. Making this case does not mean you are a pharma or a tobacco shill, merely that you have read the literature and know something about drugs.

Ironically, it is exactly the type of journalism exhibited by both this piece and by Gladwell that is the problem: ignoring complexity leads to simplistic solutions (let’s just lock up the dealers! let’s ban ADHD meds! let’s prohibit cigarettes! let’s ban painkillers!) that don’t actually work.

And mediareport wrote:

There’s more than enough direct evidence of Gladwell distorting evidence and hiding conflicts of interest – and then responding by not directly responding to the criticisms – to make the critique stick and stick hard. Linking it to Gladwell’s early conservative training is an interesting approach, too.

The stuff about the pharmaceutical industry and Gladwell’s laughably wrong attempt at a defense of Enron execs seemed excellent and very much on point. That the intent of the piece was to savage Gladwell’s moronic brand is clear, but that doesn’t invalidate the accumulated information, which accomplishes the goal nicely.

(However, a few people on MeFi made the claim that S.H.A.M.E. implied that Gladwell was a white supremacist – they did not. S.H.A.M.E. wrote: “Gladwell, who is part-Jamaican, apparently didn’t mind working for a white supremacist who argued that people like Gladwell were inferior” (emphasis mine). That said, yes, mentioning Gladwell’s own work debunking the the thesis would have been charitable.

See Also:

The Tipping Point and the Long Tail debunked

Why, Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell Matters

Video: Cult of Zir – “Last Buffalo”

Disinformation Books Sold to Red Wheel Weiser

New age publisher Red Wheel Weiser, probably best known to Technoccult readers for the Weiser Books line of occult books, has agreed to acquire Disinformation Books from the Disinformation Company for an undisclosed amount. The news was first reported this week by Publishers Weekly and I’ve confirmed it with Disinfo publisher Gary Baddeley.

The deal only includes the book division, and Disinfo will continue to operate its film production, electronic publishing and website independently. “Expect more disinformation books in the future – I’ve already signed a couple since we made the Red Wheel Weiser deal,” Baddeley says.

Baddeley will continue to work for both Red Wheel Weiser and the Disinformation Company.

The Portland Food Truck Incubator

Portland is known for its food truck scene (we call ’em “carts” here though), and that culture has spread to other cities like San Francisco and New York. Now we’ve also got an “incubator,” a concept I’ve usually seen attached to tech startups, for food vendors:

Montiel is in the first class of Hacienda Community Development Corp.’s Latino Food Vendor Incubator. The class includes four would-be tamaleros, or tamale vendors, and one Colombian who makes arepas, flat corncakes that are often filled. The participants will prepare food in a shared commercial kitchen and sell it at Portland-area farmers markets this summer. Next year, they’ll learn the catering business, and the third year work on a soft launch of their own businesses. […]

“I need to know everything,” Montiel says through an interpreter. She feels a responsibility to share the cuisine she grew up with in Puebla, but before she’s ready to set out on her own she needs to expand her English fluency, figure out financing options, establish relationships with organic food providers, get comfortable with restaurant technology and learn sustainable business practices.

Oregon Live: Vendor incubator nurtures dreams of Latino entrepreneurs

The Future Doesn’t Work

Joshua Ellis wrote a follow-up to his Grim Meathook Future thing thing for Grinding:

It’s my experience that most venture capitalists and serial entrepreneur types are almost identical, personality-wise, to the street hustlers and drug dealers whose acquaintance I’ve made over the years. They may wear polo shirts instead of Fubu and spend their money on organic produce instead of custom hubcap rims, but they operate on the same principle: waking up every day figuring out new ways to get paid. Whether these ways are good for society as a whole, or even for the person who’s doing the paying, is a minor consideration next to the paycheck itself. And if you’re not a means to that end, well, fuck you. More than once, I’ve seen the exact same behavior in a Stanford-educated dot.com startup founder at a tech meetup and a smacked-out panhandler on the Las Vegas Strip: they’re all smiles and handshakes when they approach you, but as soon as they realize you’re not a potential mark with an open wallet you can watch their eyes go dead and look right through you, on to the next target.

I hate these people and wouldn’t piss on most of them if they were on fire, but that’s fine; I hate bankers and lawyers too, like every other blowhard bohemian iconoclast does, and I doubt any of them are losing any sleep over it. What bothers me is that we’ve effectively put these walking hardons in charge of building that capital-F Future, in every sector of the innovation industry, from genetically grown food to biotechnology to communications to spaceship-building.

And none of them, not a single one, is interested in any Future if they can’t sell it for a serious profit. Nor do they care if the process of selling and profiting leaves a swath of collateral damage the size of a Gulf Coast oil spill in its wake.

Grinding: Joshua Ellis revisits the Grim Meathook Future

Charlie Stross was pushing this meme recently as well:

Shorter version: a big chunk of the “accelerating change” meme actually emerges from our experience of the future shock induced by our Martian invaders — the corporatist liquidation or privatisation of human social structures not mediated by money, culminating ultimately in the experience of disaster capitalism.

Yes, there is rapid technological progress in some areas. It’s not all bad. But the beneficiaries of that particular shift (a narrow technological elite, and their masters in the shape of the 0.1%, the financial/social engineers who direct the new hive-organism aristocracy) have made a fetish out of change, ignoring (for the most part) the uncomfortable fact that “creative destruction” is an oxymoron.

Charlie Stross: Deconstructing our future

See also: Left Behind: The Singularity and the Developing World.

New Dossier: Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

I’ve posted another dossier, this one on 21st century Renaissance man Douglas Rushkoff.

Murakami Bingo

Haruki Murakami Bingo

By Gary Snider for the New York Times.

(via Jesse Walker)

There Is No Miami Zombie Apocalypse, Just Mentally Ill People With No Safety Net

Lindy West writes for Jezebel about all the gruesome stories ricocheting around social media lately, and how they marginalize the real issue: lack resources for the mentally ill.

I don’t mean that the people who latched on to this particular meme are bad people (though I would say they’re a bit thoughtless), or that it’s never appropriate to respond to unthinkable tragedy with macabre humor. But I’m not feeling particularly charitable toward wacky zombie jokes today. There’s no such thing as undead people, only dead people. And sad people. No one deserves to be publicly ridiculed for their identity — gay people, fat people, black people, poor people — but when we ridicule and marginalize mentally ill people, actual innocent people get killed.

Jezebel: There Is No Miami Zombie Apocalypse, Just Mentally Ill People With No Safety Net

See also: It’s Bigger Than “Bath Salts” and “Zombie Apocalypses” by Subhash Kateel, who writes:

-Florida is the second to worst state in the country when it comes to funding mental health services. Of the 325,000 people with persistent and severe mental illness, only 42 percent receive treatment.
-In 2010, the State Legislature cut adult community mental health funding, children’s mental health funding and adult substance abuse services by more than $18 million. This year, the state legislature tried to make Florida the worst state in the nation at funding mental health, and almost succeeded.
-Prescription drug overdoses and the prescription drug death rate are up in Florida by 61 percent and 84 percent respectively. That didn’t stop state politicians from trying to cut funding for drug treatment by 20 percent, which would have kicked 37,000 people out of services while they were trying to kick a habit.
– First responders across the state say that they are seeing mental health cases that they have never seen before, such as a Palm Beach man that was held in custody 50 times in one year under the state’s Baker Act because he was a threat to himself and others.

It’s much easier to place the blame on some weird new designer drugs (that the perpetrators might not have even been using) than it is to talk seriously about complex issues like lack of funding and access to social programs and deep rooted problems with mental health institutions.

(via Lupa)

Update: Rob Arthur notes that both mental illness and drug abuse are lower predictors for violence many other factors.

Lockpicker Makes Open Source Police Handcuff Keys with 3D Printer

dutch handcuff key made with 3D printer

From a 2009 post on the lockpick/encryption/RF site Blackbag:

German SSDeV member Ray is known all around the world for his impressive collection of handcuffs and his fun ways of opening most of them. On top of that he gives great presentations and always manages to add a lot of humor into them!

At HAR he pulled another stunt: He used a 3D printer to print handcuff keys. And not just any ordinary handcuff key … no, it’s the official handcuff key from the Dutch police!

Full Story: Blackbag: Printing police handcuff keys

What’s more, Ray released an STL file (the standard format for 3D printing and prototyping) of the key.

Ray ended up clarifying various points in the comments on Bruce Schneier’s blog.

(via Cat Vincent)

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