photography and journalism

The Garbage That is U.S. Cable News, A Collection of Images

I’ve recently commented on the quality of the written press. So it’s only fair to offer cable news the same treatment. Although I can’t possibly hope to beat the pros, here’s my attempt.

There are basically three types of fail here: 1) a mix of fraud, lies and propaganda, 2) stupid mistakes, and 3) hyping the unimportant. Let’s start with the latter. A classic type of cable news garbage is nothingness served as content:

cable tv nonsense

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images

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Nothingness is a problem and content is better. Except of course when the content is wrong. There are different kinds of error plaguing our TV screens. First you have the category of factual or numerical mistakes:

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Another CNN fail:

cnn fail

So as not to pick on one network in particular, here‘s a list of equally catastrophic Fox errors, although I suspect a number of those are cases of fraud rather than error.

Another type of mistake is in the wording. How about this for clumsy:

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And then you have the Freudian slip:

Obama Fail 3

Everyone makes mistakes, but it takes a special kind of person to make a “news” program and fill it with deliberate misrepresentations and lies:

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causes of income inequality, economics, equality

The Causes of Wealth Inequality (32): How Inheritance Not Only Perpetuates But Also Aggravates Inequality

Inherited wealth – the value of all assets (real estate + financial assets - financial liabilities) transmitted at death or through inter-vivos gifts - has become more important over time. Thomas Piketty estimates that

the annual inheritance flow was about 20%-25% of national income around 1900-1910. It then gradually fell to less than 10% in the 1920s-1930s, and to less than 5% in the 1950s. It has been rising regularly since then, with an acceleration of the trend during the past 20 years, and according to the latest data point (2008), it is now close to 15%. (source, source)

The drop between the 1920s and 1950s was caused by the Great Depression and WWII, two events that destroyed a lot of wealth.

Inheritance has always been an important cause of the persistence of wealth inequality. I guess that goes without saying. Capital is unevenly distributed in most populations, and will remain so to the extent that it can stay in the same families. It’s more interesting to look at the mechanisms through which inheritance could, under some circumstances, aggravate inequality. What are those circumstances? Here are some:

  1. Birth rates. People in developed countries have fewer children than they used to, and the children they have survive into adulthood at higher rates. As a result, those children inherit a larger part of their parents wealth. If numerous siblings no longer have to split their inheritance among themselves, the effect of inheritance on wealth inequality becomes stronger. Piketty as well has made this point in a recent talk.
  2. Higher house prices. Housing has become more expensive. This incites people to save more so as to allow their children to buy a house, which has a ripple effect across generations: the biggest savers are those who enjoyed an inheritance because if you’ve inherited a house or the money to buy one it’s easier to save than when you have to rent or pay a mortgage. And if you can save, your children will inherit. And so on.
  3. Inheritance taxes have been reduced in most countries.
  4. Slow economic growth in most developed countries means that the wealth produced in those countries is smaller compared to the wealth inherited.

Not all of these circumstances can be brought under human control. Perhaps an inheritance tax – the dreaded “death tax” – is a realistic option. I mean, if even Nozick could get behind that, you would need to be an outright fundamentalist about property rights  in order to oppose it.

For increases in the inheritance tax to happen, however, we will need to start thinking differently. When David Cameron, for instance, promised to raise the threshold for inheritance tax to £1m he did so because he believes that people who work hard, save money, and bequeath it to their offspring are somehow doing the noble thing. But while it may be noble to work hard and save, it’s far from noble to live off of an inheritance and its often huge returns. Hard work for one results in an unproductive lifestyle for its beneficiaries. If you want to promote work and productivity, by all means impose a death tax. And if you want the best for your children, it may be tempting to give them cash or other assets, but beware that this will be self-defeating beyond a certain amount.

More posts in this series are here.

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human rights violations, law, most absurd human rights violations

The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (135): Arrested For Overdue Library Book

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A Texas man … was arrested for failing to return an overdue library. … In October [2013], police were called to Enck’s Copperas Cove, Texas, apartment on an unrelated disturbance charge, but arrested Enck after finding a past warrant for an unreturned GED study guide. He was released on a $200 bond, then requested time-served. Enck, who has since returned the book, said he couldn’t bring it back initially because he was in prison. He checked it out before beginning a 3-year sentence for robbery. … 

[M]any communities faced with shrinking budgets and rising costs have ordinances calling for fines or even arrest warrants when library property isn’t returned. In Texas alone, the issue has cost libraries an estimated $18 million. (source)

When exactly did we forget that criminal punishment in general, and incarceration in particular, are about incapacitation and the protection of society? I guess we should all feel safer now, knowing this dangerous criminal is off the streets. And while this may be a rare case, over-incarceration is an endemic problem. Scores of people who are no threat whatsoever to no one are put in jail for petty crimes. Almost one in very 100 Americans is in jail.

I personally blame misguided ideas about deterrence and retribution. A fine, community service or some other “alternative” punishment doesn’t seem appropriate to people who believe punishment should fit the crime and deter future crime. Maybe if we understand that deterrence is a hopeless ideal and retribution is incoherent can we kick our prison addiction. But I won’t hold my breath.

Other posts in this series are here

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iconic images of human rights violations, photography and journalism

Iconic Images of Human Rights Violations (160): Protest in Brazil

Police fire rubber bullets at a protester during clashes in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, June 20, 2013. Demonstrations in Brazil began in response to plans to increase fares for the public transportation system but have broadened into wider protests over economic and social issues. Since then, both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have agreed to roll back prices on bus and metro tickets.

Police fire rubber bullets at a protester during clashes in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, June 20, 2013. Demonstrations in Brazil began in response to plans to increase fares for the public transportation system but have broadened into wider protests over economic and social issues. Since then, both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have agreed to roll back prices on bus and metro tickets.

(source)

More on Brazil and on protestMore iconic photos.

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annals of heartlessness

Annals of Heartlessness (58): Disability is Nature’s Vengeance For Abortion

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Meet Bob Marshall, who wants to be the next representative from Virginia … [and] is currently a member of the Virginia General Assembly. … In 2010, at an event calling for an end to state funding for Planned Parenthood, Mr. Marshall suggested that women who have abortions are more likely to face “vengeance” from “nature” in children with a greater likelihood of having developmental disabilities.

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” Mr. Marshall said. (source)

More in the annals of heartlessness.

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lies and statistics, statistics

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (47): Cherry Picking Time Series

Here’s an egregious example of cherry picking, a deliberately misleading selection of data from a larger set, resulting in a conclusion that is diametrically opposed to the one that should result from a complete analysis of the whole set:

US temperature time series cherry picking

(source)

This technique is similar to the much better known Y-axis con. Just start and end your graph at the appropriate place on the X-axis. In this case, start somewhere between 1995 and 2000, and – presto! – you’ve disproved global warming. (Usually, this technique is applied to time series data, but it can also be applied to other types of data, such as correlations. See this case, for example).

I’ve covered this particular way of lying with statistics before, here and here. And here are other posts in this series.

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human rights cartoon

Human Rights Cartoon (81): Free Speech

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(source)

It can’t possibly be true that XKCD is reading my blog. And yet I’ve had posts detailing almost every single line in this comic:

The only thing the comic gets wrong is that it suggests that only the government can violate people’s free speech rights. That’s not true. Our peers can just as effectively shut us up.

More cartoons are here.

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ethics of human rights, philosophy

The Place of Human Rights in Morality


Morality can be divided into three parts:

  1. the good thing to do
  2. the proper thing to do
  3. and the right thing to do.

1. What you do can be a good thing without it necessarily being the proper or the right thing to do. If your neighbor is ill and you’re washing your own windows, it would be very good of you to also wash his. You would be beneficent. However, it’s obviously not your moral duty to wash his windows and no one will condemn you if you don’t. 

2. A somewhat more demanding type of action is something that you should do (or ought to do, which is basically the same in English). It’s strongly advisable that you help strangers in need. It’s the proper thing to do. You should do it. If you don’t help a stranger in need when you can, you’ll be condemned for your inaction. However, helping a stranger in need is probably not a duty as it is formulated here. It’s too vague. Helping all strangers in need is impossible, and a duty requires the capacity to fulfil it. 

3. Hence a duty is more specific. It’s something you must do – not merely something you should do – and something you have the means to do. Contrary to the good and the proper, it’s compulsory and obligatory. It’s the right thing to do, and you have a duty to do it. In some cases, this duty is based on someone else’s right. You must do something because someone else’s right requires you to do it. For example, you must help the homeless stranger on the corner of your block because that person has a right to a decent standard of living; and you have a duty to pay taxes that will fund a national healthcare system because people – your neighbor but also strangers – have a right to healthcare when they can’t afford it themselves. Or, negatively, you have a duty not to invade your neighbor’s privacy while washing his windows because he has a right to privacy.

However, not all moral duties in this sense have a corresponding right. For example, you have a duty to keep your promises and respect the terms of the contracts you engage in. Like respecting human rights, keeping your promises is not merely a good thing to do or something that you should do. You must do it (unless of course there are good reasons not to; nothing I’ve said here implies that duties should be absolute). But no one has a human right to kept promises. Hence, the class of right actions is larger than the actions (or omissions) required by human rights.

So we have three types of moral actions, each more demanding than the last: the good, the proper and the right. The place of human rights is within the class of right actions. Respecting people’s rights is not merely a good thing to do because you will be condemned if you don’t. It’s also more than the proper thing to do. It’s not just something that is strongly advisable or something that you should do. It’s a duty. You must do it.

Morality is much larger than the duties imposed by human rights, even though respecting people’s rights is obviously a part of morality. Morality is about more than duties, and the duties that are moral are about more than the duties imposed by human rights. 

[This post has been slightly edited post-publication after a remark by ]
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