THE PERILS OF SKILL-FREE LIVING: Androids gone wild!

TUESDAY, JULY 11, 2017

Part 2—Westworld v. David Leonhardt:
Back in 1973, Michael Crichton scored his first job as a feature film director.

He wrote and drected Westworld, a fascinating feature film better known as "androids gone wild."

In this case, it was Yul (Yul Brynner), not HAL, who began causing trouble for us alleged humans. The leading authority on the film recalls the way they were:
In the then-future year of 1983, a high-tech, highly realistic adult amusement park called Delos features three themed "worlds"—Westworld (the American Old West), Medieval World (medieval Europe), and Roman World (the ancient Roman city of Pompeii). The resort's three "worlds" are populated with lifelike androids that are practically indistinguishable from human beings, each programmed in character for their assigned historical environment. For $1000 per day, guests may indulge in any adventure with the android population of the park, including sexual encounters and even a fight to the death.

[...]

The technicians running Delos notice problems beginning to spread like an infection among the androids....When one of the supervising computer scientists scoffs at the "analogy of an infectious disease," he is told by the chief supervisor, "We aren't dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they've been designed by other computers. We don't know exactly how they work."
Say what? Guests were allowed to indulge in sexual encounters with the androids?

You betcha! One key point becomes clear in the feature film Westworld. Once androids become fully life-like and sufficiently cheap, a substantial percentage of human "dating" will come to a screeching halt.

At any rate, visitors to the Westworld park found themselves surrounded by surprisingly lifelike androids. Down through the years, we've often reported the same odd feeling as we've read the puzzling work produced by our mainstream press.

Is it possible that our upper-end journos are a collection of misfiring androids? Might this explain the skill-free living which is commonly on display within our upper-end press?

Consider a recent example. Last evening, who could have watched the first hour of Anderson Cooper's CNN show without getting the sneaking suspicion that a gang of androids were misfiring, sometimes badly, right there on our TV machine?

The pundits' performance was marked by the apparent lack of any analytical skill. And yet, this type of performance has become fairly routine during these, the skill-free years.

Cooper's panel misfired at will. For a second example, consider David Leonhardt's effort in the June 25 New York Times.

Could Leonhardt be some type of misfiring android? We ask for an obvious reason.

Leonhardt prepped at Horace Man. He then moved on to Yale, where he served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

He graduated in 1994. Not long after, troubling signs began to appear.

According to the leading authority,
he won a Peter Lisagor Award in 1998 for Exemplary Journalism in the Business Journalism category—"for a Business Week story he wrote about problems at McDonald's."

It's hard to imagine winning a prize for a "story" about problems at your favorite fast food restaurant. But that's what Leonhardt seems to have done.

Soon after, Leonhardt arrived at the Times. He won a Pulitzer in 2011, after being branded, for years, as one of the actual smart ones. It's that branding which gives us pause.

On his better days, Leonhardt is capable of work which seems to be vaguely upper-end human. Today, for example, he offers this column about Medicaid spending in the small state of Rhode Island.

Aside from his usual silly remarks about what sorts of practices count as "conservative," the column is well worth discussing. Though that of course will never happen within our skill- and discussion-free world.

On his better days, Leonhardt can seem to function in a recognizable human manner. Then too, he's capable of offering work like this.

We link you to Leonhardt's puzzling work from the June 25 Times, more specifically from the back page of the Sunday Review. It's very, very hard to believe that Leonhardt's "story" that day reflected adult human origins.

Leonhardt shared a byline with Stuart Thompson, a youngish "graphics director" for the Times. (He graduated from a Canadian university in 2010.) Presumably, Thompson designed the many graphics featured in the report.

Presumably, the text of the report was written by Leonhardt. He misfired in such a way as to raise our long-standing question about the human or non-human status of those in our upper-end press corps.

In fairness, Leonhardt's "story" was an eyeball grabber this day. Beneath a giant, exciting headline, this summary appeared:
LEONHARDT (6/23/17): Trump's Lies

Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump’s lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office.
These weren't just lies, they were outright lies! Leonhardt had catalogued nearly every one Trump has told since the day he took office!

Nearly every outright lie? Already, the analysts were rattling the chains with which we keep them at their study carrels.

In little tiny very small print, Leonhardt proceeded to list a vast array of outright lies. Below, you see the second such item. Our question is blindingly obvious:

How do we know this was a "lie" at all, let alone an outright lie?
JAN. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine—and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.)
Regarded as a statement of fact, Trump's statement would seem to have been false, wrong and even inaccurate.

But how do we know it was a "lie," let alone an outright lie? How do we know that Donald J. Trump didn't believe the particulars found within this inaccurate remark?

Leonhardt didn't seem to know or care. Infected androids are like that.

Is Yale's David Leonhardt human? It's very, very hard to believe that a human being who went to Yale would be able to compose a passage as puzzling, and as bereft of basic skill, as what you see below.

Yet this is how the actual text of Leonhardt's report began. Skill-free living of this type has helped create our current disintegrating political world:
LEONHARDT (6/25/17): All the President’s Lies

President Trump’s political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama's birthplace). His lack of truthfulness has also become central to the Russia investigation, with James Comey, the former director of the F.B.I., testifying under oath about Trump's “lies, plain and simple.”

There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president—of either party—has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.

We have set a conservative standard here, leaving out many dubious statements (like the claim that his travel ban is “similar” to Obama administration policy). Some people may still take issue with this standard, arguing that the president wasn't speaking literally. But we believe his long pattern of using untruths to serve his purposes, as a businessman and politician, means that his statements are not simply careless errors.

We are using the word “lie” deliberately.
Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump's part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.
Does Leonhardt know what a "lie" is? Assuming Leonhardt is human at all, it's very hard to be sure.

In paragraph 4, it seems to be clear Leonhardt understands that a falsehood isn't a "lie" unless it's told deliberately. He seems to know that an "honest mistake" doesn't qualify as a "lie."

(In paragraph 5, he seems to throw it all away. We'll show you that below.)

In paragraph 2, Leonhardt makes a statement with which we'd be inclined to agree. He overdramatizes his claim, but we would be inclined to agree with this scaled-down version:

"There is no precedent for an American president to tell so many untruths."

Indeed, no American president has ever told so many deeply peculiar untruths! That doesn't explain why Leonhardt feels comfortable listing his large catalog of falsehoods as a list of (deliberate) "lies."

Note the weirdness of some of the functioning here. At one point, Leonhardt claps himself on the back for not counting "dubious statements" as lies. Would an upper-end human intellectual make so silly a move?

In paragraph 4, Leonhardt says it's silly to think that Trump is making honest mistakes. Note how strange that is!

Isn't it possible that Trump is making some "honest mistakes"—even some tremendously stupid honest mistakes—while telling some (deliberate) "lies?" On its face, this seems like an obvious possibility. Leonhardt never quite puzzles it out.

At certain points, the apparent android tries to fashion the types a of distinction a functioning human might make. Consider this passage again, where Leonhardt defines his "conservative standard" for calling a statement a lie:
LEONHARDT: We have set a conservative standard here, leaving out many dubious statements (like the claim that his travel ban is “similar” to Obama administration policy). Some people may still take issue with this standard, arguing that the president wasn't speaking literally. But we believe his long pattern of using untruths to serve his purposes, as a businessman and politician, means that his statements are not simply careless errors.
"Some people may still take issue with this standard, arguing that the president wasn't speaking literally?" Possible android, please!

Such a claim would make little sense unless it was applied to some specific statement by Trump. Leonhardt doesn't seem to grasp this point.

Once again, it doesn't seem to occur to Leonhardt that Trump may not have been speaking literally in some of his apparent misstatements. To Leonhardt, there can't be some "careless errors" mixed in with some non-literal statements and some "outright lies." To a unit which may be infected, it has to be all or none!

With a bit of revulsion, we'll note Leonhardt's early suggestion that, if Comey the God referred to lies by Trump, the obvious greatness of Comey the God must be slavishly honored. This unit is unwilling to say that Comey's good faith is open to question in recent years too. But then, this is the way these units have functioned over the past twenty-five years as they've honored the Powells, the Starrs and the Ryans as truth-telling great moral gods.

We'll mention one other problem here. Leonhardt doesn't consider the possibility that Trump's most peculiar misstatements may be the work of a man who is mentally ill. Consider one of Trump's most peculiar claims, as debunked by Leonhardt:
JAN. 25 “Now, the audience was the biggest ever. But this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes. This crowd was massive.” (Official aerial photos show Obama's 2009 inauguration was much more heavily attended.)
Can we talk? By January 25, the reference to "the audience" was probably a reference to the world-wide viewing audience, which actually was the largest ever (as far as we know).

That said, Trump did seem to push the claim that his physical, in-person crowd was also the biggest ever. This claim seemed to be blatantly false, but it kept getting angrily pushed by Trump's embattled spokespersons.

Did it ever occur to Leonhardt that some of these peculiar claims may be the crackpot ravings of someone who "isn't well?"

We don't normally accuse the mentally ill of "lying" when they make wildly inaccurate statements. But apparently, the answer is no. This possibility with respect to Trump doesn't seem to have entered Leonhardt's apparent head. He keeps it very, very simple. Very simple and dumb.

Is Leonhardt man or machine? We've asked such questions many times over the past twenty-five years as journalists have stuck to mandated establishment scripts about a wide array of deeply important matters.

At present, mainstream journalists are in love with the claim that Trump is the world's biggest liar. They have tended to shrink from the possibility that he may also be mentally ill.

Leonhardt sticks to these company lines as he lists Trump's "outright lies." That said, does he even know what a "lie" is? Does this man-or-machine understand this well-known human term?

By paragraph 5, he seems to be thoroughly breaking down. Weirdly, here's what he wrote:
LEONHARDT (continuing directly from above): The list above uses the conservative standard of demonstrably false statements. By that standard, Trump told a public lie on at least 20 of his first 40 days as president. But based on a broader standard—one that includes his many misleading statements (like exaggerating military spending in the Middle East)—Trump achieved something remarkable: He said something untrue, in public, every day for the first 40 days of his presidency. The streak didn’t end until March 1.
Weirdly, Leonhardt seems to say, in that first, barely literate sentence, that a statement qualifies as a "lie" if it's "demonstrably false." He seems to say that this is a "conservative standard" for defining the term "lie."

Crackers! The fact that a statement is "demonstrably false" doesn't qualify it as a lie! Such statements are made in good faith every day. Any human would understand that. It almost seems that this possible android may not.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at Masha Gessen as she engages in similar reasoning during a public lecture. For today, we'll offer a tiny thought:

When we see people like Leonhardt function this way, we get a very distinctive feeling. We get the feeling that they have exactly one skill—the skill of adhering to script.

He prepped at Mann, then went to Yale. Today, it's far from clear that he knows how to define or apply the well-known human term "lie."

He does know how to stick to script. In these years of skill-free living, that seems to be our upper-end press corps' one observable skill.

This is the best modern androids can do. To us, this makes them seem less than human. Dating procedures are safe.

Tomorrow: We'd say she embarrassed herself

14 comments:

  1. You're right -- people who know better should try harder and do better. I guess I'm happy to see the skill-free approach acting to "our" benefit on this point, but in the long run this type of incompetence is not in our favor.

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  2. It is self defeating to grant the opposition plausible deniability.

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    Replies
    1. It is also self-defeating to ignore the obvious.

      Delete
  3. Bill Nye, science guy, says philosophy sucks.

    https://qz.com/627989/why-are-so-many-smart-people-such-idiots-about-philosophy/

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  4. We can argue about what Trump believes in regards to this or that; whether he's delusional or willfully ignorant. But there's a topic where Trump had made proof-positive statements and was never made to answer for them. He claimed that he was sending investigators to look into Obama's birth certificate. He claimed that they were finding very interesting things. He plainly lied. He had never sent anyone and he would not be able to demonstrate that he had. That should have been front and center during the 2016 campaign.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, Ilya, Trump told many flat-out lies during the campaign. Consider the horrible things he said about Cruz's family. My impression is that Trump views words as weapons or as capital. He uses the words that will help achieve the goal he's seeking.

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    2. [CP Pierce]
      "Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina famously said that, if a senator murdered Cruz on the chamber floor, nobody would come forward as a witness."

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    3. Cruz's unwillingness to "go along to get along" with the Senate old boys club is one reason he was my favorite candidate.

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    4. Trump insinuated some things about Cruz's father, but it didn't rise the level of birtherism.

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    5. Cruz is hated and for good reason. Trump's unwillingness to go along to get along (except with the Russians and the Saudis) is why you troll so hard for him, right?

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  5. Trump's exaggeration of his own importance qualifies as a lie because it is motivated by ego protection. He has a purpose in saying this incorrect stuff -- it is to reassure himself of his own importance.

    Somerby seems to argue that it doesn't count as a lie if the speaker believes it. Trump manifestly does not believe in his own goodness at heart. We know this because he is working overtime to maintain the façade of his own consequence, greatness, importance. Only a person who know that the opposite is true works that hard at preserving an image. Trump knows, therefore he is telling a lie.

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    Replies
    1. Somerby consistently confuses a basis for opinion with a legal burden of proof. Also, according to his constricted definition, there would be no such thing as circumstantial evidence.

      Delete

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