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Taint By Numbers

Numbers usually don’t lie, unless the math is bad. But mostly numbers tell less lies than words do.

In the early hours of November 9, 2016, we began digging a shallow grave for the science of polling. Everybody who was somebody in the polling industry around that time was dead wrong about who was going to win the presidency. Some hedged a little, but pretty much everyone got caught with their ass out.

Donald Trump, who desperately needs vindication because he’s really insecure, crowed and crowed that He beat the odds. And ever since his statistically unlikely win, he has waged a war on information and analysis whether it is in the form of numbers or words. His charisma, or whatever the hell you want to call what he exudes, will always win the day over pesky facts and figures.

Before I go further on that, I should point out that there’s history of this marginalization of information. The right wing has been pushing the bullshit line that most polling is “liberal” for a long time now. The same goes for news. They shit on unfavorable information with abandon, cooking up all kinds of lunatic paranoid scenarios instead- but aren’t ashamed at all to point wildly to the always-wrong evil media hydra when their biases are suddenly seemingly confirmed by it. For a good recent example, there’s Chris Matthews, who is considered a lying fake libtard “MSM” shill-except this time he said something they want to be true. He said after the Comey testimony that Trump/Russia died because of it (an opinion), even though Comey could not answer in an open session as to whether or not Trump/Russia was a thing. As you can see from the link, conservatives fell all over themselves getting that sentence out to its readers, context and setting be damned. The filter for right wing information is very thick, but the transmission of information favorable to the right wing that does dribble out has an incredible velocity. For a minute there Chris Matthews had more cred with you than Karl fucking Rove.

Chris went back to being a paid hack liar etc. right after that utterance, I’m sure.

Frankly, if you ask the vast majority of liberals, you’ll find that Chris Matthews holds little currency among us. It certainly isn’t the first time he’s said something really tone deaf or off base. Wake me up when Rachel Maddow, a much more agile thinker, says something like this.

OK. With that in mind, stand back. I’m gonna say something positive about Donald Trump. No, that’s not the word I’m looking for. Something that is kind of the opposite of not-nice but not nice either.

Oh, to hell with it. Here goes:

Donald Trump is a fucking idiot.

But he’s a cunning fucking idiot. He knows you, and quite well, conservatives. Donald Trump isn’t aware of a whole lot, but one thing he does know is how to get your gears grinding. And like a demagogic Rumpelstiltskin he spins your ignorance and resentments into adulation for him, which Trump is now so addicted to that he’s still throwing victory rallies after seven months and you dumb clucks keep going to them. They’re nothing but ersatz call-and-response revivals with Donald Trump playing the smiling, confident good shepherd, reliving the magic of his miracle win.

Anyway, you all thought his long shot win was the death knell for the lying pollsters and dishonest lib journalism. Trump’s win was your wish fulfillment, after talking yourself silly for decades about how you couldn’t trust anything that Rush Limbaugh hadn’t cleared. Finally, the polls and the seasoned pundits were wrong and you were right.

Well, no one is right all the time. And it’s not really a poll’s job to be “right”, anyway. It’s there to show likely outcomes based on a sampling of the population. There was always a possibility that Trump could make the electoral math work, albeit a slim one. No one denied this. Shit, Michael Moore doesn’t know fuckall about polling but he nailed the election. Yet this was your moment to gloat that the pointy-headed intellectuals blew a call. And now Trump is telling you that after Him they will never be right again.

I wouldn’t count on that, but enjoy the sunshine while it’s on your side of the street.

It is true that at least the polling industry was knocked back on its heels real fucking hard, and it’s going to take more than a few prominent examples of correct prediction and careful information collection to show that the Trump triumph was just an outlier several standard deviations away from most of the predictions and that it’s OK to trust the information gatherers are going to get it just about right. Which is realistically all you can ask of it. It will face its first high profile, post-November test in ten days here in my state of Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff appears to be beating Karen Handel in a district that Handel should win. Should be interesting.

Postscript

I would be remiss if I did not emphasize the role of the Comey Bomb on the 2016 race, which scrambled the hell out of everything. I just had my carpet cleaned yesterday, and the cleaner had no shortage of disdain for President Trump so we had a fun discussion. But he didn’t vote, because he felt the re-emergence of the email investigation right before the election was evidence to him that Clinton was crooked. How he came to feel that way is part of another essay, one that I do not have the patience or perhaps the stomach to write just yet.

OK, Let’s Stop Using This Phrase

“Fake news”.

Culture, you’ve lost your right to use these words together.

We used to call this stuff “misinformation”, “tabloid journalism”, “hoaxes”, or just “lies”. Then 2016 happened, and the old-time press started calling internet bullshit “fake news”.

They didn’t realize it, but they birthed a monster, one that attacked its parents.

Perhaps you all remember a guy named Karl Rove. He is best known for helping the  soon-to-be second biggest fucking idiot ever to claim the title President get elected, George W. Bush. One of his trade secrets was how to deflect charges of weakness in his candidate. In Rove’s political parlance, the dictum was:

“Accuse your opponent of what they are going to accuse you of.”

It’s a peculiar form of what psychologists have called projection. And it is hard to combat.

It wasn’t too long ago when the term “low-information voter” entered the lexicon, brought into use by liberals.

Rush Limbaugh, who is smarter than I give him credit for, understood the power of those words together and since conservatives usually don’t have anything original to add to a conversation, used the HELL out of it until you only heard it in right-wing circles to describe liberals.

That’s about where we are with the words “fake news”. Maybe it isn’t liberals’ fault that the concept boomeranged on them, but we started overusing it, often in internecine warfare between the newest wave of left-wing political bloggers who often employ sensationalism to steal clicks from what is now the internet establishment. I’m not gonna name names here, because I believe that calling out lefty blog sites, however misleading they are, is part of what allowed the concept of “fake news” to slip the leash and become a weapon for conservatives.

The situation right now? Well, you all know. The President-the-fuck-Elect thinks that the august and, to be sure, often fatally flawed CNN is “fake news”. Low poll numbers are now fake news.

Fake news is now defined as something you don’t want to hear about irrespective of its veracity.

Its misuse is spreading like typhoid. Bill Donohue, who is a truly repugnant religious fuckwad, wants to help spread this redefinition of “fake news”. A gay man was fired from teaching at a Catholic school because he posted about his marriage on Facebook. Nobody asked him, but Donohue, ever the moral scold, couldn’t help inserting himself into the issue. He refuses to admit that men can get married because…because…oh, screw it, I’ll let him tell you:

“I know that the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage,” says Billard, “but I don’t think my commitment to my husband [sic] has any bearing on my work in the classroom.” [Note: husbands are men and wives are women, so if Billard’s partner is his husband, that would make him his wife, and no one really believes that to be true. The Catholic League does not tolerate fake news.]

The phrase has been reduced to meaninglessness. And it’s only going to get worse-it will prove to be an impossible box to close now that the titular leader of the country thinks anything disagreeable written about him is fake. We’re going to lose this war, liberals, because they are better at projecting than we are. We need to be more careful in the future how we use shorthand like this. We need to deal in facts more than we need to glibly call out lies. There’s probably enough people listening to win the next election.

 

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