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Anatomy of a Moral Panic (idlewords.com)
491 points by maxerickson on Sept 21, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 172 comments

Ironically, the premise of this critique of journalism is as false as the Amazon story it cites. Algorithms and the Internet didn't ruin journalism, and this is not the end of the world. Journalism was corrupted by sensationalism as soon as it moved from subscriptions to ads, which in the US was in the 19th century. Remember when we discovered a colony of aliens on the moon? Yeah, that was the New York Sun way before we had electricity... Remember when Hearst started the Spanish-American war? No Internet then. Bad signals via the media is a very old problem. We should think about it, but we shouldn't think it's the Internet's fault.

Your entire comment is a straw man. The article doesn't claim the internet ruined journalism, and I don't even know where your "end of the world" comment is coming from. You're also comparing papers like the New York Sun and other tabloids, while this article is talking about respectable papers such as the New York Times.

I'll quote the relevant part of the article:

> The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, not giving them time to check or contextualize their reporting, and requiring them to race to publish follow-on articles on every topic, the clickbait economics of online media encourage carelessness and drama. This is particularly true for technical topics outside the reporter’s area of expertise.

> And reporters have no choice but to chase clicks. Because Google and Facebook have a duopoly on online advertising, the only measure of success in publishing is whether a story goes viral on social media. Authors are evaluated by how individual stories perform online, and face constant pressure to make them more arresting.

Your entire comment misses the point. What I'm saying is that most journalism was always this way. Algorithms don't exacerbate this tendency any more than daily sales did for the Sun. As a former reporter for the NYT, I can say that journalists there are subjected to many of the same pressures, if in a more limited way than reporters at Buzzfeed. And that sales always mattered at the Times, too. Reporters have always, always chased readers.

I agree that journalism (particularly mass media which followed the invention of rail transportation) has been compromised by advertising. However, I'm not quite certain that subscriptions freed newspapers from advertising since subscriptions alone cannot cover the costs of running a newspaper. Furthermore, the problem with advertising isn't just how tighly linked to newspaper sales it is, but how it can constrain what's written in newspapers for fear of having clients pull advertising from the newspaper. So subscriptions may reduce the dependence on advertising and offer more freedom to journalists, but not entirely. Also, the danger of subscriptions is that we can only pay for so many and this limitation can constrain the number of sources we can draw from. The challenges facing newspapers are complex.

A general comment: while it is important to draw attention to the perverse incentives journalism is subject to, it is also important not to fall prey to the fallacy that people must act according to perverse incentives. Nothing justifies publishing unsubstantiated nonsense. Journalists are morally bound not to do so.

The challenges facing media are complex. The subscription model encourages publications to become luxury goods, just as the pace of the Web pushes print editions to become future-focused and heavy on analysis. Subscriptions can sustain niche products, but the free content on the Internet makes that harder than it used to be.

Almost every publication is beholden to someone, and often to several entities, usually the owners. Bloomberg News treads carefully with Michael Bloomberg, and the same is true for every billionaire-owned outlet. You can't avoid it, and as long as there are enough publications, it doesn't matter. They all make up for the others' blind spots.

While it may be a fallacy that people must act according to perverse incentives, it is not a fallacy to expect that they probably will. Statistically speaking, moral bounds are not strong arguments when confronted with power and wealth. Those who decline on moral grounds are easily replaced.

All of




represent criticisms of the seriousness or competence of journalism, in various cases going back somewhere between decades and centuries. We should probably not think that there was ever a golden age in which all journalism was sober, cautious, and informed. But it also seems like the pressures facing journalism that Maciej points to are quite real.

How can we get a better historical perspective on how well different kinds of journalism have worked over time? (I guess a similar problem confronts anyone who wants to criticize -- or try to redeem -- institutions that seem to be in decline.)

Contemporary journalism indeed doesn't have a monopoly on terribleness, as you've mentioned. But this is actually the point. Because if I'm really going after the heart of this criticism, it really doesn't matter if I understand the selection function over all stories in the newsroom as an actual algorithm meant to maximize clicks or as some hazy set or rules of thumb and prejudices meant to maximize advertisement revenue. The point is that neither maximizes either the informativeness of a story nor the likelihood of it being true.

Also, I don't actually "remember" the Spanish-American war. I understand what you mean, but this is an awkward way to put it.

> that was the New York Sun

There have always been crappy tabloid publications. The new development is the fall of the respectable/professional outlets. (Some national papers are hanging on, but most smaller cities' city papers have been decimated).

Fully agree.

Reminds me of this: https://xkcd.com/1227/

To be fair, the snippets' chosen dates are from 1870s onward. Historians fuzzily date the start of the industrial revolution at around 1750. So that's about 100 years of industrialization and modernity. No wonder the art of conversation was considered dying by that point: it has been under assault from modernity for generations.

Wasn't the "baseball test" an accepted norm in journalism?

"A reporter should not be assigned to cover subject X unless he has as good an understanding of X as a baseball writer is expected to have of baseball."[1]

Shouldn't media outlets be embarrassed into retracting stories written by people who know nothing about the subject? Shouldn't the reputation of the media outlet suffer?

1 - https://www.theatlantic.com/personal/archive/2007/08/the-bas...

I'm starting to believe that there isn't such a thing as reputation when it comes to news. Or rather, that low quality news has such little impact on readership due the strategic nature of news reading (e.g. even if you might not like a certain news organization, you might still want to read it, if only to know what other people are reading) that a news organization can coast indefinitely on a readership built on it's prior reputation.

Baseball coverage once included broadcasts made by reconstructing games from telegraph reports, in some cases making up the game from whole cloth. Or, in modern parlance, "fake news".

(Story often told about Reagan, but he's not the only one. https://www.thoughtco.com/ronald-reagans-radio-career-284336... para 5-7)

Their reputations probably would suffer if anyone cared or if it wasn't ubiquitous.

There are 5 PR hacks for every reporter in America. And that counts people who are functionally equivalent to PR hacks as reporters because of their job title.

The market has spoken, and actual journalism has been deemed unnecessary. The short era of actual journalism, with journalistic ethics classes and investigative journalism and the "baseball test" was a short term market inefficiency that has been solved (the idea of this era was also always very overblown).

PR hacks are mostly Government and Corporations. They routinely dribble out acronym babble and veiled feel-good propaganda. I read a lot of foreign policy and corporate announcements, so it's pretty common to see PR spread out across the net unattributed.

Oftentimes PR firms are happy for you to print their copy - but they answer no questions and offer no insights.

So from this it follows, for instance, that a reporter assigned to cover baseball should have the same understanding as a writer writing about baseball: it is an assertion that there be a level standard of topic competence when reporters and writers are compared.

But then under what condition should a writer not be assigned to write about baseball? (Unless he or she as knowledgeable about baseball as a baseball reporter?)

It's an ilformed test. Can a writer truly understand baseball as well as a baseball player? But, isn't a baseball player bound to be heavily biased toward the consensus baseball view?

Or, take finance. If a financial journalist truly understood finance, wouldn't they be running a hedge fund instead of scraping by pumping out articles?

Most baseball writers aren't former players or coaches, and nobody expects them to be. That's the whole point of the analogy.

They're just expected to understand the rules of the game, know what the various acronyms mean, and generally be able to converse intelligently about the game. That's the standard being suggested for reporters covering other topics.

He said baseball writer, not player, unless he edited his comment between your post and mine.

I think we read the same post. I'm just saying that a writer's bias is correlated with his expertise.

There's an entire sub-industry of financial journalism which is extremely well paid. It's just that it's paid for by charging the recipients (investors) a lot, and the people involved are called "analysts" rather than journalists. It's the sort of stuff available on Bloomberg terminals.

To answer the second question, a financial journalist might not take up a hedge fund management position on the basis of the risks involved, career stability, hedonic factors, etc. besides the purely monetary gains involved. Understanding something doesn't imply that's also the optimal course of action.

Who is making strides in fixing the underlying business model problems that are driving the increasing virulence and frequency of these moral panics, and undermining the integrity and function of journalism? Or at least providing alternatives that are equally profitable yet less pernicious.

Because barring the entrance of one of these as-yet-unimagined alternatives, it seems we'll need to lean on regulation...but then we get into messiness of regulating free speech.

There was Beacon Reader, the crowdfunding journalism platform, but they shut down. [1]

Then there's Google's "Fact Check", but its reach is limited [2]

[1] https://www.poynter.org/news/beacon-reader-journalism-crowdf... [2] https://www.blog.google/products/search/fact-check-now-avail...

There is no business-model problem. Mass hysteria has existed long before Western-style free press. In late 19th century Russia, the government would spread rumors that Jews drink the blood of Christian babies and instigate pogroms. In medieval Europe, people used to burn witches. In modern Egypt, people think 9/11 was a US-government conspiracy. All of these phenomena have taken place without a capitalist free press.

To me, these examples indicate that the profit motive in journalism is actually good. It creates an incentive for publishing the truth and a disincentive to spreading lies that does not exist in other models of journalism.

Interesting point. So capitalist free press is actually a net positive here given the transparency it presumably enables (and promotes to the degree that consumers desire truthful/etc journalism)

I think part of what makes our modern situation different is that mass hysteria has a denser network on which to propagate (yes also means remedial measures also propagate faster) and is propelled via a more ruthlessly efficient propellant (expression of consumer preference in a frictionless, free-market, internet-enabled system)

But I'd argue that, generally, whenever feedback loops are tightened, systems tend to lose stability, increasing risk of very bad events.

So my point still stands, something should be done about this... I just don't know what. regulation feels kludgy, building a competing product/model that somehow encourages more pro-social outcomes, per my business model fixation in parent comment, feels nice--but likely is too naively optimistic.

So what else is there? Some old-time religion? "Don't lie and don't hate each other...". Also doesn't feel like a good route, for reasons too many to enumerate.

So what is there?

If journalism has to be market driven in a capitalist system then all there is is a culture that values education, intellectualism, distrusts all large institutions and values journalism itself.

Which, of course, is harmful to literally everyone in power and most of the people with the power to steer culture. Any system remotely like we have now is systemically opposed to good journalism.

> Who is making strides in fixing the underlying business model problems that are driving the increasing virulence and frequency of these moral panics, and undermining the integrity and function of journalism?

Nobody, because the "underlying business model problem" is that, contra their stated preference, people don't want real journalism, or at least don't want it enough to pay for it. They want easily digestible fluff that validates the opinions they already have, and if they don't get that, they'll leave an angry pseudo-profound comment about "bias" and then go somewhere else where they can get more acceptable opinions. The internet is not lacking for such places.

Facebook and Google are not blameless here, but while they are accelerating these trends by making the market more frictionless, at the end of the day they can't be blamed for the fact that people's revealed preference is for opinionated clickbait and not fact-checked serious journalism.

Generally agreed with comments here. It isn't really a business model problem, it's just that in the US, our laissez-faire, internet-enabled capitalist system is just uniquely optimized to enable this stuff at scale and at faster cycle time. (radio in 30s germany could be parallel..don't know enough)

So, we're in a tricky situation.

Given that:

1. fundamentally we are just a rabid pack of stimuli seeking animals on a ravenous, desperate hunt for our next emotionally titillating hit


2. we've decided that in our (U.S.) implementation of liberal democracy, for the most part, freedom of speech is super protected and businesses are free to peddle pretty much whatever titillation they want (as long as no harm to others, per JS Mill On Liberty, etc..) unfettered by governance

how do we ensure that the public sphere doesn't devolve into a savage, mindless flurry of pure vitriol, slander, and falsehood

in the past we've leaned on a few structures to overcome these tendencies: an aristocratic taste-maker class steeped in classical tradition; authoritarian dictate; religious institutions that appealed to moral orders beyond earthly sin

obviously these structures had deep, DEEP issues, and we've rightly moved towards casting them aside

so what's next?

how to we bake reason into our societal architecture without relying on the problematic structures of yore?

Or should we just have faith that, despite these trying times, the better instincts of humanity shall prevail and we'll lift ourselves out of the morass--perhaps brought to our senses by some charismatic, enlightened leader utilizing moral-suasion and a made-for-tv personality....or some other mechanism of mass-englightenment

I've thought about this too. I agree with you.

Another angle is that "real journalism" is fiction. Stronger than "people don't want it" is that it doesn't even exist.

Suppose Zuck, Musk, Gates, Bezos, and Bloomberg pooled their cash, with matching funds from Uncle Sam, into a blind trust to fund "real journalism." What then?

> Because barring the entrance of one of these as-yet-unimagined alternatives, it seems we'll need to lean on regulation...but then we get into messiness of regulating free speech.

OK. I'm on break, I'll make it a big longer to translate and sum up what I think has been the most underrated video of the 2016 french presidential election discussing how to «fix» political press. (reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GspZxQGRAXw ). Be warned, the proposal is pretty radical, but compare them to the radicalism of people who first proposed to separate the three branches of power. Here we are trying to make the media into a 4th one, independent as the others are.

The speaker is the director of a famous left-wing newspaper, "Le Monde Diplomatique" (not related to Le Monde). His goal is to substract the media from 2 influences: political influences exerted through public aids and funding, and market influences exerted through shareholders and advertisers.

He first proposes to separate media into two categories: entertainment and information (well information, general interests and political debates). He wants to avoid having a government agency arbitrarily sort between them so instead, he proposes 3 (radical) objective criterion to identify information media:

- non-profit. They are forbidden to give dividends to shareholders.

- non-concentration. One economic agent can not own more than one media in the "information" category (I did not know that until 1984, this was the rule in France)

- no advertisement.

Not fulfilling these criterion would lead to be classified as entertainment. 100% legal but makes one unsuitable for public aid.

Then he proposes to replace public aids by a pooling of means, financed by the state, that would provide services that all these media need: printing, distribution, office space, servers, storage, distribution, accounting services, juridic services, commercial services, subscription databases, correction, etc...

He mentions that, in France at least, most media already outsource their subscription database, to a few big private operators. Also that semi-public pooling of distribution networks is already in place to allow small publications to exist.

How does this make it independent from the state if the state is the payer? Well he propose to organize that as a «régie publique» which could be translated as "autonomous public authority" and reminds that the French healthcare is managed that way and oversees masses of money more important that the State's budget.

The key there is twofold:

- Money does not come from a tax but from a "cotisation" (contribution). It is often seen as the same by payers, but it follows a very different circuit: taxes go feed the state's budget that is then debated to fund the various public efforts. A contribution goes directly into the authority's budget and it does not need the state's approval for spending it one way or the other. It only needs state's approval to be in deficit.

- The authority is managed by representatives elected from its employees and service users as well as some representative from the newspapers' readers.

This is a very radical proposal, but so far that is the only one I saw that takes seriously the claim that the media is a branch of a similar importance than justice and that it needs to be as independent as possible from market and political influences and proposes realistic means to prevent market and politics influence as well as respecting the freedom of speech.

I love this. Not because I understand it fully - I suspect someone is going to shoot plenty of holes through this proposal - but because it's the first one I saw that actually treats the problem seriously, and seems to preserve the reason we need press while eliminating the bad incentive structures.

For the context, this proposal was made by this journal director to JL Mélenchon, the far-left candidate in the election (who got 19% of votes, i.e. not a marginal) hoping it would be included in his political program.

It is a well-thought proposal by someone who knows the press industry well. It of course has leftist bias but I suspect that while there can be political criticism, it is probably pretty solid.

I don't know how applicable it is in the US though.

For context on "far-left" - it's nothing like the far left in the US. France has an extremely well-developed set of leftists. It's the only country I ever visited where people had deep discussions about the difference between Trotskyism and Leninism when debating actual political events.

The US far left would maybe, possibly, pass as moderate left in France. Obama would be considered... center right? OK, centrist.

These ideas will not easily translate into a US political context :)

For those curious, his movement, FI, proposes also a rewriting of the constitution, Frexit, withdrawal from TTIP, sustainability as law. It's... interesting. It's a very uniquely French party.

Obama is not close to the center according to https://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2012

Clinton and trump are on https://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2016

I find the site reasonably unbiased.

I think that site is tweaked for US politics, so yes according to US politics, Obama is not centre-right. The questions include things that are political issue in the USA, but are settled (one way or another) in other countries, like "should there be public broadcasting?".

Yes that's true :-)

There are a lot of interesting intellectual discussion on the far-left here. A good amount of crackpots and conspiracy theorists too, but historically France has always been a crucible for leftist ideologies. On the other hand, there is a certain anti-technologism, a brand of eco-conservatism that seem to be less common in the US.

I use "far-left" to describe FI concisely but I am of the opinion that this is a misnomer. For me, far-left means communist and means collectivization of the means of productions. Only Force Ouvrière and the NPA propose that in France (and together they make 3%) Mélenchon is a more classic left-wing, just a bit more radical than Hollande but maybe less than Mitterand.

Yes, Obama would be considered centrist or right-wing moderate but French politics, like US politics, did shift right in the last decade. Many people compare Macron to Obama. People like me, who are pretty on the left, consider both to be center or right-center but many media put Macron on the left here.

It is muddied by the fact that he (like Obama actually) was vague enough on his campaign promises to not know who he will side with on issues that oppose employees and employers.

> These ideas will not easily translate into a US political context :)

It would be interesting to try though. Here the speaker talks to someone who does not mind leftist ideas but it would be doable to say the same things using a more libertarian mindset. After all, people like Alex Jones would probably be empowered by these too. If you have a leftist audience, focus on the independence from shareholders, if you have a right-wing audience, focus on the independence from government. If you have a conspiracy alt-right audience, wink implying that you get independence from the jews/reptilians/globalists that control the big media companies.

Semantic-field translation is a very useful exercise that the left must master :-)

I remember reading about Uber opening in France. Obviously the french taxi drivers weren't happy with it, and Uber were putting out press releases about how they "want to work together and blah blah corporate waffle".

But you can't just ignore the law like that like you can in USA, the French taxi drivers started attacking and burning Uber cars.


To be fair this was a clusterfuck. Taxi here are almost universally hated: they are rude, rare, dishonest, expensive and disorganized. Also, their scarcity in Paris was purposefully organized.

Most people also see that Uber violates important labor laws so most people did not take sided there.

The reason why taxi drivers could get away with so many violence is because the owners of the main taxi companies are VERY well connected to the political world.

Judging by the media coverage I've seen over the years, burning cars seems to simply be the standard way of protesting in France...

It's possible this is covered in the talk (as I don't speak French), but how exactly is "information" defined other than being non-commercial?

I mean, on the one hand it's certain that there are people who will happily spend their days writing conspiracy theories or lies about certain minority groups without any financial incentive to do so, and I'd rather this didn't get money from my taxes and a government stamp of approval that such garbage is actually "information". On the other hand, I don't really want a situation where it's really easy for "independent" journalists to get distribution and an income stream, but only if they write stuff the government approves of.

A guy like Alex Jones would still qualify as journalist (assuming he really is independent, I am not sure about that) and yes, crazy conspiracy theorist would get the "information" label too.

This is the double-edged sword of plurality. But consider that: if you were pro-transgender rights in the 60s there were no way to sort you from the crazies: you would have been advocating as a choice what was officially a mental disease. They still existed and in 2017 their voices seem much more acceptable.

Finding the voice of 2040's progressives comes at the cost of letting the conspiracy theorist and the lizxardmen spotters have a say too.

I'm quite happy for conspiracy theorists to be allowed to "have a say". I'm considerably less happy with the idea that people's taxes should pay to promote their work as "information" inherently more trustworthy Le Monde

And frankly, I'm far less worried about people promoting unfashionable views (who, whether trans activists or "911 truthers" tend to be pretty self-motivated anyway) and far more worried about the amount of people that want to spend their life writing generic rants about whatever has annoyed them most recently who could really use a thin veneer of credibility and government-subsidised libel lawyer...

It's not clear to me what good this does.

Say a narrow set of "information" sources follow this model and produce quality journalism. Meanwhile the vast majority of traffic continues to go to "entertainment" journalism and shoddy reports spread widely.

It is not a proposal to kill entertainment media, it is a proposal to make it easier to make informative journalism. The theory being that a plurality of information sources leads to a better informed population and that if newspapers have less to worry about satisfying shareholders or advertisers, they will do a better job.

I think that the most important point for the US situation is the non-concentration condition, preventing one person or company from owning several information media posing as different entities, masking the lack of plurality. It would prevent this kind of things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GvtNyOzGogc

Arguably this is more a solution to the situation we have in France. In the US it looks like you have people like the Koch brothers who would not mind running newspapers at a cost to promote propaganda. It would still make it more expensive as it would have to compete against people who would have little costs and privileged access to primary sources.

It does not solve all the problems of society and information though. IMO, the fact that so many Americans confuse information and entertainment is an education problem, not a media one.

> IMO, the fact that so many Americans confuse information and entertainment is an education problem, not a media one.

Then there's the Tesla vs. Top Gear case. Top Gear spewed bullshit about Tesla's car, got sued, and won, with the court saying that Top Gear is an entertainment show and has no obligation to be factually accurate. And yet, it's widely known that people treat this show as an information source, not a comedy.

And then there's British Tabloids vs. EU case. A British tabloid will write some utter and complete bullshit about some EU regulation, and then it gets picked up by countries on the continent and reprinted in the quality news sources as facts. So what's understood as entertainment by the Brits gets presented as facts elsewhere.

I think this is not an American problem, and not people problem. It's a media problem too.

The UK judges ruled that people are not supposed to base opinions on an entertainment shows.

> it's widely known that people treat this show as an information source, not a comedy.

It would have helped Tesla to be able to point out that Top Gear is not real journalism but entertainment and point at the actual reviews made by actual journalists.

> And then there's British Tabloids vs. EU case

I don't know how it happens in other countries but most of the time when a French news quote a UK tabloid it is mostly to point fingers at them and laugh.

> I think this is not an American problem, and not people problem.

Sure, it is a people problem. That US has and makes less efforts than other countries at solving. I mean, EU is not perfect, but there are not many countries where the biggest political party downright opposes teaching critical thinking skills in schools:

page 20 (12) of this document: http://archive.is/QbV60

Sorry, but I have no faith in Google as a fact checking organization.

Google isn't fact checking, it's only tagging articles (written by others) as being of 'fact checking' kind.

If you stick to quality journalism (NYT/WSJ/The New Yorker/The Economist/Bloomberg), the world of journalism is really not worse than it was in whatever golden age of the press people seem to imagine.

The idea that all media gravitate towards low-brow outrage clickbait because it sells better is quite obviously wrong. Just as there is fast food as well as organic granola, or porn as well as independent conceptual arthouse cinema, there are publications of all levels of quality. And that didn't actually change dramatically, because tabloid journalism wasn't just invented. If people were attracted only to the yellow press, it would have taken over the market long ago. Instead, journalism has been, just like history, bending towards quality (/justice).

What changed is that the barriers to entry have fallen. It used to require capital to publish, and those capable of reaching the masses had to have seen success in other walks of life, or convinced the establishment of their credentials.

Now, the internet allows the Breitbarts of the world to reach an audience as deranged as them, and that is putting some pressure on parts of the market. But that affects not so much the top end of the spectrum, but local papers and publications like the National Enquirer.

While I agree with your general point: the original post is mostly attacking lazy cut-and-paste journalism at the "quality" publishers. Channel 4 is not really junk outfit, and nor is The Independent which (according to the original post) repeated the claims, as did the New York Times.

>If you stick to quality journalism (NYT/WSJ/The New Yorker/The Economist/Bloomberg), the world of journalism is really not worse than it was in whatever golden age of the press people seem to imagine.

Only if you agree with the political stances those sources are biased towards. Perhaps it has always been that way, but something like the NYT is hardly unbiased and it bleeds through on everything from article selection to point of view, etc if you're not an American Liberal.

I personally think it is impossible to eliminate bias. Even news services that try to inject as little opinion as possible (eg wire services like AP News) have to make some choice on what they carry and how they phrase it.

All five of those sources are biased, but in different ways. It is helpful to "look outside your natural bias" sometimes, so assuming the NYT maintains its quality standard it probably is worthwhile for an American conservative to peek in that direction every now and then. (This goes vice versa, eg it is helpful for American liberals looking at more sober quality news sources with a more American-business-conservative bias like the WSJ.)

The important key here though is accuracy and sober analysis. So the fact that the NYT is "American liberal" is not a problem. The issue described in the linked article, that they did a poor job of fact-checking on a relatively sensationalist article, is a problem. The BBC also has its own bias too, but at least they showed a little big more skepticism compared to the other outlets. So props to the BBC here.

IMHO if the New York Times values its current "quality journalism" rep, they need to watch this more carefully. There are plenty of clickbait sensationalism-driven "news" outlets, and only a relative few with decent reporting reputation. "Quality journalism" is more expensive, but I feel it is also something some people actually would pay subscription money for. Few people are going to want to pay money these days for sensationalist clickbait they can get on the Internet for free.

As one who has not reloaded ammunition in a number of years, I’m going to guess that the only reason Amazon won’t sell you black powder (or gun powder) outright is due to shipping restrictions. Which means instead of buying the ingredients with a highly-trackable transaction from Amazon, your low-budget terrorist will have to resort to buying the powder pre-made, and anonymously in a cash transaction from the local gun dealer. Last I checked, they’ll sell you big cans of the stuff for cheap.

Buying powder online isn't particularly difficult. It's classified as a hazardous material when shipping, so you have to pay a flat $25 (IIRC) per shipment. There's no shortage of online stores that will sell it to you all day by the 8 lb jug.

.. in the US, or the UK? I'm fairly sure you'd need an explosives license for more than the 100g ""personal experimentation"" limit, although I'm still trying to find a good canonical rules summary.

U. S., where there are enough people that reload ammunition that I made a pretty good bit of money back in the 90s selling software for that market. So, yeah, if you want to buy a couple pounds of the stuff, it’s not terribly difficult and no one is likely to think a thing of it (last I bought gun powder was probably ten years ago; take it as the dated information it is).

EDIT: I also forgot that referring to smokeless gunpowder as just “gunpowder” is mostly a U. S. thing. But smokeless gunpowder is what I mean, in contrast to the stuff old school muzzle loaders use (black powder in the U. S.).

Alternatively, the three components for gunpowder can be bought very cheaply and nigh-untraceably from hardware stores: potassium nitrate is stump remover, sulfur is used to reduce the pH of soils for gardening, and charcoal can be made from pyrolyzing wood in your backyard.

Good article. When I saw this I thought the UK press in general is really into panicking about the internet. Didn't they prompt the Youtube "Adpocalypse"? Not saying the concerns are irrelevant, but that the call-outs and subsequent remedies have to be well-considered.

>When I saw this I thought the UK press in general is really into panicking about the internet. Didn't they prompt the Youtube "Adpocalypse"?

No, that was primarily the Wall Street Journal that started that.

the talk missing here: accountability.

reporters can screw up. like everyone else. heck in the IT security industry we have a mantra that you should not punish mistakes, because over time that makes people more prone to hide mistakes instead of disclosing.

why isn't journalism the same? in the past they would publish erratas and mea culpas.

now, they get the clicks, ad revenue, and on to the next "mistake".

> why isn't journalism the same? in the past they would publish erratas and mea culpas.

They still do. But it doesn't matter (and I don't think it ever mattered) - if you lie on the first page, and next week put an errata on the second page in small print, that correction isn't doing anything. Most people will not read it anyway, and by the time it's printed, the damage to readers' cognition is already done.

"In the past"? I see multiple corrections per week, sometimes daily. They've started documenting even minor mistakes such as misspelled names.

And mistakes that actually matter do have consequences, and not of the "don't punish" variety. See the recent firing of two CNN producers for publishing a story they later had to retract (something about some Trump associate's business dealings in Malta, I believe)

> Missing in these reports is any sense of proportion or realism.

Funnily enough I get the same sensation when reading Maciej's Twitter.

Trump is going to go to war to approve his ratings, apparently. And it seems Twitter employees have an obligation to prevent Trump from using the 'Block' button. for some reason. Also, Peter Thiel (a pet hate/obsession) runs a company that 'powers ICE deportations' and needs to be ostracized for his beliefs.

Some 'sense of proportion or realism' would be nice. That aside, great writing, as usual.

It does not take a lot of views for Amazon to link stuff together.

I have a wholesaler dealing in closeouts (end of life products) that sends out emails with new inventory. I noticed once when looking at one item, that 2-3 entirely unrelated items showed up under "Customers who viewed this item also viewed", all that had been previously offered by the same wholesaler.

I don't know how big their email list is, but it's probably in the double to low triple digits. So several dozen people, at best, viewed all of these items, and that was enough for Amazon to pick up and correlate them.

A different time, I was advertising multiple entirely unrelated products with the same associates ID. One of them ended up, similarly, on the other item's page, presumably either due to the same people viewing both ads or them correlating by associate id.

I looked at pressure cookers on Amazon and for months was getting ads for full figured bras on other websites.

The real story in this mess is not the threat that algorithms pose to Amazon shoppers, but the threat that algorithms pose to journalism. By forcing reporters to optimize every story for clicks, ...

Because newspapers never did this kind of sloppy reporting before the interweb thingy.

I think the point is not that some news outlets are doing sloppy reporting in exchange for eyeballs, but that all of them -- even those that used to be able to trade on their reputation for good reporting -- now have to chase the same eyeballs using the same tricks.

I too was perplexed by that. Moral panics are the stock-in-trade of the sensationalist press, so blaming algorithms for speeding up what was already wrong with the media is kinda ridiculous. The basic problem is that there is a lot of money to be made by telling dramatic-sounding lies to people who want their worldview corroborated. News is a pretty competitive market, so it's not very surprising that the quality of news tends towards a lowest common denominator.

I used to do rocketry about 15-20 years ago, we had some pretty stringent requirements back then for the high power stuff(G+ impulse motors).

I'm kinda surprised that the hobby hasn't been shut down completely given how hysterical some of the media can be about this stuff.

I'm pretty sure you can just buy black powder in the store for muskets. You don't even have to go through the trouble of buying all the ingredients off Amazon and mixing them.

In most States that is true. NY has restrictions in it, and I think CA does. Federal law allows up to 50 pounds of the stuff, before you need a permit. You can buy it at your local outdoor/sporting goods stores.

Yeah, I used to do rocketry also and we had to get certification and FAA clearance to launch rockets with the high power motors.

It boggles my mind that in such a connected age, getting accurate news should be such a hard problem. Never mind influencing the world - if I personally want to know what is really going on, I have no idea where to turn. Surely, surely, there must be a group out there that cares about accurate information and responsible research, to which I can subscribe? I am all for critical thinking, but having to become an expert in everything is wearying.

Is there no robust way to hold publications accountable for carelessly peddling bullshit?

I fear it will be incredibly difficult to improve the existing incentives.

This is a good question and I have given some thought on this. One quick idea would be to somehow shame publications for incorrect coverage, but doing so seems like an uphill battle. It will always be significantly easier to peddle bullshit than it is to disprove that bullshit.

Some gatekeeper like google would be needed to raise exposure by verifyability. The problem for a algorithm is to quanitfy truthfullness- it needs some feedback by the audience for that- and it needs to learn whos feedback is qualified.

Doubt that even google could build such a curating search engine.

Also, those publications almost by definition can outpublish you.

The UK has a press council.

The UK has had a succession of self-regulatory bodies which have conspicuously failed to prevent the worst criminal impulses of Fleet Street, let alone make an impact on merely poor reporting.

It's also, interestingly, had some of the most outrageously claimant-friendly libel laws in the world, which hasn't made much of a difference either (though defaming somebody rich and bloody-minded can get pretty expensive).

I don't really agree with the author's stance here. Especially since it was posted a couple of days after the inept bomb attempt on a tube train: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/20/parsons-green-two...

Yes, it's a bit sensationalist, it's the news. Have you seen the UK news scene? This won't even be in the top 5 most misleading things said or printed in the news that day.

Please also bear in mind the law on explosives precursors: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supplying-explosi...

I might be wrong about this, but I think thermite is used more often as a simple welding method. Railroad workers doing track maintainence routinely use thermite to repair damaged sections.


True, but I suspect they wouldn't be buying it on Amazon. The retail market means you need to look at hobbyist uses, not industrial.

Why would you buy that? Its just aluminium powder and iron-rust.

Minor additional point - if you're trying to create dangerous shrapnel, don't you pick something angular & sharp like crushed gravel, nails or even hex nuts, instead of nice round ball-bearings?

And now for the follow-up from Channel 4 and other media outlets: "hacker forum tries to find the best shrapnel for home-made explosives".

Would running a computer simulation for that be classified as terrorism?

They should really report on how dangerous our wild speculation is.

Quite probably, and it'd probably be cheaper too; ball bearings are kinda precision things and the processes that make things like gravel or nails probably cost less.

That said, if someone was really set on creating the opening scene of the movie Swordfish, they could make those ball bearings deadly if they got them going fast enough. A 3/8" ball bearing moving at a few hundred meters per second has enough energy to fuck up persons and property. I didn't pick those numbers completely at random -- 3/8" is about 9.5mm and common 9mm handgun rounds have velocities in the 300-400 m/s range.

Edit: I want to call attention to other replies to this comment pointing out that ball bearings can be good shrapnel for other reasons I'd not considered. Today I learned a thing.

To use anything that's less symmetrical than a sphere as shrapnel, the munition must be designed to propel the shrapnel facing exactly one specific angle, because the shrapnel will have a bigger impact profile at any other angle. Ball bearings do not require such considerations.

The chance of your nail hitting pointy side first is very low. A ball bearing, being spherical, will always deliver maximum energy to the smallest point possible.

That's literally the design of a Claymore mine:


It's the energy that matters. A famous military anti-personnel mine, the claymore, uses spherical shrapnel.

I guess that lines up with the other reply about the shrapnel being aerodynamic, something with less air resistance will have more range.

Better range/higher velocity with something more aerodynamic, maybe?

That's assuming a rational customer ;)

It looks like this is an unpublished post. It doesn't show up on the front page of idlewords.com, and isn't available as a "next" link from the previous story.

maxerickson, how did you find this post?

He subscribes to idlewords premium.


Drivers scare me more than anything I see on the news.

Wait, so will Amazon ship magnesium, iron oxide, and aluminum powder all in the same box? That sounds kinda scary to my layperson ears.

About as likely as cooking ingredients somehow turning into a caked during shipping. Even an accident involving fire isn't likely to result in any additional risk. They get mixed in certain proportions and it takes some work to get them refined enough to be ready for ignition. Additionally, ignition requires a goodly amount of heat.

I used to "do" the thermite reaction when teaching secondary chemistry.

It's actually a bugger to get the stuff to ignite.

You have to stick a length of magnesium ribbon into the mixture, and I'd usually make a little well of magnesium powder that this would feed into. Then I'd use a Bunsen burner to ignite the ribbon, as often my lighter wasn't hot enough to ignite the ribbon unless I'd sandpapered the ribbon first to remove the oxide layer.

Magnesium will only burn when heated to near its melting point of ~400 C, and thermite can only be set off at temperatures that would melt aluminum. Shipping them together is not an issue, unless the aluminum and iron oxide are freely dispersed in air.

The activation energy to get the magnesium ignited is rather high. There is little chance for them to spontaneously ignite unless the delivery truck is.gutted by a fire, and by then you have bigger problems than a kilogram of thermite.

Sounds like regexes. Now you have two problems.

It's almost like we have a moral panic about moral panics...

This is a good piece but I have one nit: it is incorrect to say "thermite [...] will not detonate."

I was shocked to discover this first hand some years ago: http://olivernash.org/2009/11/12/fun-with-thermite/index.htm...

I can still recall the echoing boom of that (copper) thermite.

Thank you for this correction. Do you know whether Al + Fe2O3 thermite as normally prepared (meaning, not ground up into nanoparticles) will detonate? I'll update the piece accordingly.

Moreover, are you sure this was a detonation (shock wave) rather than a deflagration?

Given that ocfnash's page never uses the term detonate, never discusses the difference between detonation and deflagration, and doesn't describe the experiments that would distinguish them, I'm pretty sure they were not in fact performed, and the (informal) explosion he witnessed was not a (formal) detonation.

That's not to say it isn't worth a footnote to explain that "doesn't detonate" does not mean "won't go pop and propel burning material everywhere." Even a campfire can do that, but I could understand if someone heard "doesn't detonate" and drew the wrong conclusion.

Thanks for these helpful words of clarification!

As I commented above, I was rather sloppily using the words "explosion", "detonation" to mean flash and boom.

On the two occasions on which I witnessed this event, it was stunningly powerful but I now believe most likely just a deflagration.

I am sure of nothing except that there was a sudden big flash and boom :)

From the clarifying comments below it seems likely it was a deflagration but I confess I've been using the words "explosion", "detonation" rather sloppily to mean "flash and boom" till now.

Thanks again for a marvelous article.

From a practical point of view, the only semi-common thermites that can actually explode are copper and silver. However, these thermites do not "detonate" as in the definition. They merely deflagrate extremely quickly, quickly enough to fool an observer but not in the true physical sense.

Very interesting, thanks!

I carried out two rounds of thermite "experiments", both times using oxides of iron, manganese, and copper. I witnessed two "explosions" (I now presume deflagrations) and they occurred with the copper oxide. I've occasionally wondered if that was a coincidence that it was the same metal that "exploded" both times. Mystery solved: apparently not!

I recall a high school chemistry demonstration where they made flour "explode". (From _vague_ 35 year old memories, a coffee tin with a spark plug and an assembly that blew compressed air in through the flour to distribute it in a mist...)

I'd stop short of claiming that flour "detonates" or that flour purchases are terrorist indicators...

Yep - that all seems strangely familiar...

(We must now put all bakers on terrorist no fly lists...)

Well written piece.

I stopped reading news after Trump got into office and I have no shame about it. It feels great and I don't I miss out on anything.

When people talk or ask me about politics I just say I don't know because I don't read. They make s surprised face and then continue talking and arguing about absolutely pointless topics and about the upcoming apocalypse.

I just hope someone tells me an hour beforehand. I'd pay for a service that emails me only once s month and only about topics that matter. Just a brief overview. If I want details I can study history later.

That was your lesson from this? Stick your head in the ground and pretend politics is pointless?

Ignorance of politics is a luxury afforded only to citizens of authoritarian regimes. You live in a democracy (assuming that discussion of Trump in politics means you live in the US). Politics is how society chooses to make and use government.

People pretending they are morally superior or lead better lives through ignorance never cease to amaze me.

This article talks about sensationalism in news. Sure, avoid it. Be skeptical of bold claims. But right now Trump and Republicans are talking about making gigantic changes to the nation's healthcare system. Regardless of where you sit on the fence, this absolutely matters.

Pay attention. Find less sensational news. Pay for good journalism and also look for balanced analysis.

> You live in a democracy

> People pretending they are morally superior or lead better lives through ignorance never cease to amaze me.

First of all, we don't have a direct democracy. This concept that everyone has to be 100% engaged (or even 90, or 80, or whatever subjective figure in your head that qualifies good enough is, which is another issue, your concept of being engaged enough doesn't match another) need not apply. Just enough people have to be engaged, which historically speaking has happened.

Second of all, I don't think anyone is claiming a moral high ground here, and if they are you are correct to say shame on them.

Third of all, people who place the same onus of keeping up with whatever the hell is going on in the world as some moral duty never cease to amaze me because it is so easy to flip the script on you and say you don't know enough. There is an endless amount of information out there. "News" as a concept is not even a fraction as old as the concept of government and democracy. We face information overload. How can you blame people for just wanting to live their lives? What if I never signed up for this system? Most people care more about their issues locally (which is in line with human psychology, we weren't meant for these large social networks) but people who sit here and cast stones at people who aren't keeping up with what happens with the Mueller investigation, for example, (which something happens every 2.5 seconds) is what never ceases to amaze me.

> First of all, we don't have a direct democracy.

This isn't an argument against being informed, it's a pointless debate over semantics. You and anyone reasonable understood what GP meant, they meant democracy as a "national built on foundations of democratic values, such as freedom of press, freedom of speech (to varying extents), right to assemble, etc" in contrast to "authoritarian regime where those values are not enshrined in the government legislature or cultural values".

> There is an endless amount of information out there. "News" as a concept is not even a fraction as old as the concept of government and democracy. We face information overload

The concept of modern news may not have been a invented at the same time, yet it remains a fundamental core part of many democratic-leaning nation's values.

> How can you blame people for just wanting to live their lives? What if I never signed up for this system?

You're probably free to move to an authoritarian regime if you cared to. No one chose to be born into a government system, but to claim no responsibility in a system that you've benefited from since you were born is passing the buck.

> You're probably free to move to an authoritarian regime if you cared to. No one chose to be born into a government system, but to claim no responsibility in a system that you've benefited from since you were born is passing the buck.

Ah yes, the "if you don't like it, you can go back to where you came from" argument, in different clothing of course. This is just never a good rhetorical device. What a person did or did not benefit for is up for debate -- even North Korea provides basics -- but that's not what is being argued here. If I was born into an environment I had no say in building, and I find it incompatible with my way of life (imagine being a white boy from the south on a plantation and against slavery, then shoved into the Civil war), I am, by definition now oppressed -- I am forced to be subservient to a system I had no say in building. I brought this up not to argue it but as a counter example to the person who just says "I am fine just living my life"

>Ah yes, the "if you don't like it, you can go back to where you came from" argument, in different clothing of course.

I really don't think that is a fair analogy to what he was saying. He's saying if you grow up in a particular system you can't just ride it out and claim willful ignorance.

Go back to where you came from is different, that would be saying you chose to come here and therefore why are you trying to change it.

I don't necessarily agree with either argument, but they are definitely significantly different ones.

> What a person did or did not benefit for is up for debate -- even North Korea provides basics --


> This isn't an argument against being informed, it's a pointless debate over semantics.


The post you're replying to is less a thoughtful disagreement and more mental-gymnastics made literal.

> Most people care more about their issues locally (which is in line with human psychology, we weren't meant for these large social networks) but people who sit here and cast stones at people who aren't keeping up with what happens with the Mueller investigation, for example, (which something happens every 2.5 seconds)

The actual context here is someone talking about how they pay zero attention, while mocking people who talk about "the apocalypse" or anything, really. So clearly not people worrying about their local issues.

We live in a democracy is a completely and fully accurate statement. Being pedantic that it's not a direct democracy may be accurate but doesn't invalidate the statement. A representational democracy or a republic is a democracy.

Additionally, many states have several elements of direct democracy. For instance many states have direct referendums.

As to your second point, I will concede the first person did not claim to be morally superior, but they are included in the second category included in the sentence. The individual, like many others I've met, spoken with, and who broadcast their opinions loudly, claim to lead better lives by ignoring politics nearly completely.

Voting is a fundamental responsibility of living in a democracy. Like paying taxes, serving jury duty, etc. Yes, I consider it a moral imperative to fulfill your obligations as a citizen. And part of your obligations of voting should be for the voter to try to be informed on the matters they are voting on.

I don't need people to be policy wonks, but I do need people to know what the person they are voting for plans to do. Instead we have a situation where a sizable percentage of people are confused about whether Obamacare and the ACA are the same thing. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/upshot/one-third-dont-kno...)

How can I blame people for just wanting to live their lives? Easy. When they either vote for something abhorrent without knowing or don't show up to vote against something abhorrent because they're just wanting to live their lives. Especially when either group then complains about the something abhorrent.

My problem isn't with people who are ignorant, it's with those who put a high value on ignorance. Yes, we have limited time. Yes, we have limited attention. But reading a few headlines and articles once a week isn't going break anyone. Oh, and if someone has new bit of information about something you don't know and wants to talk about, don't claim they should avoid reading news.

Since this is hackernews, I think we can move the discussion from politics to something like programming. I don't expect a programmer to know everything about all of the latest frameworks, but I do expect them to be familiar with current trends in programming and have spent at least a little time evaluating the impact of those trends and events to their work. Imagine hiring a full-stack developer who doesn't even know about React nor that it has some potentially troubling patent-litigation language in the license?

>But reading a few headlines and articles once a week isn't going break anyone.

Mightn't this be a worst of both worlds scenario? If you totally ignore politics and abstain then you have a neutral impact. If you only "read a few headlines" as you suggest, and base your actions off those then you're highly susceptible to fake news and easy manipulation (while having a false sense of satisfaction for "participating").

What follows is that, only those who steep themselves in the minutia of each issue should have strong opinions, which actually seems about right.

Also remember that the common pattern of journalism today is to lie in the headline and then correct the lie in the article itself.

Which means that if you only skim headlines, you're learning bullshit.

I'd argue that we're more an oligarchy than a democracy. Yea we technically allow for a democracy but the reality is that someone with good ideas and no money is going to lose vs someone with bad ideas but a lot of money.

Especially with our first past the post voting system and the two parties ignoring the plebs whenever they decide on a candidate, ala the DNC pushing Hilary over Bernie. Trump getting picked when the Republican establishment didny want was probably the most democratic part of the previous election, but it wouldn't have happened if he was not independently wealthy

You can pay attention to politics, you can do politics without necessarily following obsessively every little happenstance of things. Once you know some politician is a racist crook, you don't need a reminder every day. You especially don't need a remind from people who will give the same amount of space to the president's crooked necktie or and to the healthcare reform. What you mostly need is coordination to fight his politics, which is not what the media give you.

The american media were bad before Trump, and they have remained bad as far as I can tell. They completely fail to disentangle the serious from the merely ridiculous.

>The american media were bad before Trump, and they have remained bad as far as I can tell. They completely fail to disentangle the serious from the merely ridiculous.

The issue here is, you paint too broad a brush saying this.

I don't want this to seem like I am aiming this at you necessarily, because I am more just piggy backing a comment to write about rather than aiming this at you so take the rest of the comment with that in mind.. but..

You can follow particular journalists that have a high reputation, and disregard ones that have a bad reputation without disavowing all journalists and the media in general.

Similarly, you can treat bias in journalism the same way you treat a review - you know what journalists see things particular ways and therefore view their slant on things as a bent on an already established world view. Some journalists are so unbiased that you can almost ignore this. Some journalists are so biased you can use them as the canary in the coal mine for how a segment of a population is likely to view the issue etc etc.

There are majority mediocre people in every profession, media is an industry that has picked up a huge proportion of hacks and automated articles in the past 10 years, instead of viewing it as an overall industry - look for the good ones and the interesting ones, not just "all media bad".

> The american media ... bad

This is too easy an answer to serious problems. It is similar to saying 'all American developers are bad', because a lot of my software is buggy. It depends on the developer and on the news source. Some news sources are exceptional, though like all human endeavors they are always far from ideal. Some are far better than others; to lump in the National Enquirer with the New York Times is to "completely fail to disentangle the serious from the merely ridiculous."

I don't think the OP's granularity preference of "monthly" for current-affairs consumption deserves such an strong rebuke. I have limited interest in the toxic modern ouroboros of the so-called "news cycle" and the hysterical yelping of politicians of any colour. I don't believe I have a civic obligation to follow the tedious, self-serving minutiae of political horse-trading. My time and energy are allocated to making things, and real-time news is a productivity-destroying distraction.

But I still like to be informed. A monthly summary of goings-on in the world, written specifically according to my general (but not immediate) interests, why, yes, that'd be something I'd pay for as well.

So this isn't "ignorance of politics": when the next election comes around, then I'll make my assessment based on what I've read, and play my part in choosing the next government.

In the meantime, I've got work to do.

99% of political news has no significant impact on my life (and actually focusing on it makes me less happy). You can significantly reduce the amount of news you get while still getting the few things that really matter. I've found personally there's about one news story every other week that I think is important to know

Though I pay attention to politics like you and unlike the OP I have become skeptical in journalism to truly inform anyone.

I've migrated to books primarily for my information and this was before Trump was a serious political contender.

I live in eastern-Europe and your bipartisan politics leak here too.

If I was an American, I would read politics even less since you already know who to vote for, you pretty much have 2 choices. It's a bit more complex here.

Pay for good journalism

Where? He that is without sin among them, let him cash the first check.

I’ve checked out too. The S/N ratio is way past what my filters can handle. I either need algorithmic filtering or noise attenuation.

The fact is we’re all part of an intersubjective reality. It’s impossible for me to determine what is fake news and anyone who claims they can is fooling themselves or has primary sources.

This is what I'm finding too. I'm suffering from what I suppose one could call "issue fatigue" (or perhaps "drama fatigue").

This characterization is not pejorative[0], it's just that inarguably real and serious events (hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters, whether natural or man-made) are presented with as much gravitas (or excitement) as merely scandalous (or, more likely, scandalized) news.

One gets so tired of perceiving this, one could be forgiven for throwing one's hands up in disgust and sheltering from the torrential wordpour.

[0] A favored phrase from, IIRC, the original K&R 'C' book.

Off topic but have you read Homo Deus?


Great so have I! Intersubjective is what clued me in. The whole idea of Intersubjective reality cleared up a lot of misgivings I had about civilizations/societies.

Same here. It also makes people who are adamant about any position related to fake news (what it is, who is making it, whether it's good or bad, etc...) sound like a barking dog.

Democracy is to power what pornography is to sex.

Do you really think that participating in scuttlebutt about the reality show of presidential politics has anything to do with governance?

The first step is to turn off the noise and take direct action to help the people around you.

You are 100% right on the money.

I am not morally superior to you, and I don't even know that such a thing exists because it makes no sense.

I do however have a heightened sense of empathy and awareness of the things going on around me, which means I'm not well suited to caring or paying too much attention to global or even national-level politics, because it would literally make me physically ill.

So I might be superior to you when it comes to caring about local politics, whereas you might be superior to me when it comes to caring about broader scope politics.

A good service that mails you once a month about things that matter is a subscription to a proper news magazine like _The Atlantic_ or _The Economist_.

_The Week_ is quite good (US or UK). They have people read many of the things you don't have time to (including _The Economist_ :) ) and pull highlights from them across a broad range of topics.

The Atlantic is not a newspaper but propaganda for their selected political elite.

Try NHK World News[1]. It follows a reasonably-paced daily news cycle and has some distance on domestic issues in the western world.

[1] https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/

There's a few slow journalism outlets like Delayed Gratification https://www.slow-journalism.com

I also don't watch any news. I listen to the 5 minute local radio news channel on my way to work, since this covers local news I should know. Once in a while if I have time I read journals like Oxford's Foreign Policy Analysis.

I used to pick up local community papers but they jumped on the moral panic bandwagon too and they're filled with international political hit jobs and talking points now instead of anything local.

Thank you so very much, this is exactly what I was looking for, but couldn't find. it was worth to write my comment because you replied with this link :)

I stopped years ago, and unfortunately have let myself be dragged back into it recently. I wouldn't advocate being so disconnected that you don't know the major things going on in the world. What I've found by not paying close attention to the news is that the important stuff still finds its way to you. Instead, perhaps we'd all benefit if we didn't keep our hands on the pulse of the news, so to speak. Stepping back from the day-to-day, he said/she said, tit-for-tat, inside-baseball everyday news cycle is what I'm getting at. The news, by and large, is bad news. It can be a constant reminder of our powerlessness as individuals. It can be a barrage of situations we can't change, but feel some anxiety over. What about the news is actionable? We can grab an umbrella.

I'd rather view the news as a troubled friend who is always mired in drama. While I respect its role in my life and the importance to society, news delivers too much drama to be invited around every evening, let alone all day long.

> month and only about topics that matter

What topics matter? The ethnic cleaning of Rohingya muslims? The latest javascript framework? Your local city elections? Trump's legal gaffs? The earthquake in Mexico?

Basically every subset "topics that matter" is available, yet there are arguments like this one, bemoaning the fact that "topics that matter" is somehow an unfilled void.

Don't shift your unwillingness to become an informed citizen on the media.

The ones that affect me directly.

If you truly think that the repeal of ACA won't affect you directly, I suppose there's nothing anyone can do to convince you that the news does matter.

Please explain. I honestly have no idea how repeal of ACA will affect me.

It's a little difficult to explain without actually knowing about you. And it's true that if you're not American/don't now or ever intend to live in the US, it probably doesn't affect you.

I live in California. I am happy to share some more info.

Edit: I am fine with answers that talk about average Americans. I just want to understand the issue and hear different perspectives.

Generally, it redistributes funding in a way that will disproportionally affect California, resulting in less funding. It results in less funding increases overall over the next few years. It also allows some measure of price discrimination against pre-existing conditions.

It seems to be better thought out than the previous iteration, which is a low bar. Personally I don't think that a focus on health care is a good idea for either party at the moment, but Republican success in repealing the ACA seems likely to be a Pyrrhic victory at best. However, it's far from a certain thing at the moment, and the actions of two or three Senators could change the picture entirely.

Edit: my first response is all too detailed. The broad effect will be that employers aren't encouraged to provide health insurance, and people trying to buy coverage individually may be completely unable to do so because the combination of "no individual mandate" and "no denial for pre-existing conditions" will lead to insurance companies dying and/or premiums being raised astronomically. Or they'll bring back rejections for pre-existing conditions and then if you ever get sick you'll be actually refused insurance after that.

---my original answer:

Here's one example: If the current bill passes, every health insurance plan that offers coverage for elective abortions will stop being eligible for subsidies on December 31. Every plan in California is required to include this coverage, so effectively all subsidies for individually purchased plans in California will end this year. Another: most federal funding to Planned Parenthood will be banned, leading to the closure of almost all their facilities. About 1 million Californians visited Planned Parenthood last year, perhaps you or your partner were among them (more likely if you are lower income). Or perhaps you weren't, but any medical care you needed was better because your doctor wasn't also trying to meet the needs of all those people who did use Planned Parenthood.

Some links which cover these in more detail: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-tax-credits-abort..., https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/03/05/if-feds-strip-planned-p..., http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/09/graham-cassid...

What about when the politics bleeds into important areas of peoples everyday life, such as their health care?

I think people should probably be aware of something like not being able to afford coverage because of a pre-existing condition before that protection is taken away.

I don’t get this. You want the news media to give in-depth, accurate and insightful articles about complex issues and topics but you want it summarised into a several paragraph summary once a month.

And you complain about the news media now...

I ignore my memory monitoring tools for the same reason. It feels great not worrying about all the processes about to OOM. Id pay for a service to email me once a month to tell me if my site is down. If I care I can just sift through the logs later.

What you are saying is that you are leaving your part for someone else to do; thanks.

If you were involved you would know that the number one reason that bad things - and many are obviously bad - happen is that so many people don't pay attention. They let the sharks and con artists run rampant over them, use them like suckers, and of course they complain later.

> What you are saying is that you are leaving your part for someone else to do; thanks.

Please don't post acerbic personal swipes to HN. They violate the site guidelines: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

Sure, but I see plenty of it on HN, especially far-right trolling. Is that so common that it's just normalized and overlooked? For example:


EDIT: Or maybe mods just can't realistically every comment.

We definitely don't see every comment. Though I did reply in that thread.

The way to get us to see the comments is to flag them. To flag a comment, click on its timestamp to go to its page, then click 'flag' at the top. Alternatively, email hn@ycombinator.com in egregious cases.

Interesting how >80% of the commenters are defending panics, or attacking the website or author itself instead of actually debating the findings.

What's to debate? There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why product grouping was observed, and that explanation is far more plausible than imagining terrorists are ordering supplies from Amazon. Something something Occam. All we're left with is what you've observed.

Or did I completely miss the point you're trying to make?

> Interesting how >80% of the commenters are defending panics

That's false.

I see 2 claims:

  1. The suggested materials are not for building bombs.
  2. No one would be radicalized to build bombs by following shopping recommendations.

Since uncharacteristically, he did not provide very good support to any of the above claims, I feel free to opt-in with my own made-up opinion:

  [1] is False. The materials ARE for building bombs. The "bearing balls" ARE what author says they are not (using an extremely unconvincing argument), and Mr idlewords is mistaken wrt how much data is used to build recommendations engines.
  [2] is True

The article did provide reasonable support for claim 1. Thousands or tens of thousands of people would have to buy the combination for it to be recommended, and aspiring terrorists don't usually purchase their terrorism supplies in a manner that makes it trivially easy to identify them (since Amazon knows who its customers are).

The article also provided a far more plausible explanation for the recommendation than people building bombs.

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