From the Food Babe to Dr. Oz, these four are the media’s biggest fear-mongers and snake-oil peddlers.



4 of the Biggest Quacks Plaguing America with False Claims About Science

Photo Credit: indiamos/Flickr

It may be easy to draw a caricature of a “quack” as a cross between the ShamWow pitchman and an alchemist, but they’re really not so easy to spot. Modern-day quacks often cherry-pick science and use what suits them as semantic backdrop to fool unsuspecting consumers. Quacks may dazzle people with fanciful research studies or scare them with intimidating warnings before trying to peddle products that make unreasonable promises. And those who use these alternative, unproven products may forego treatments that would be more likely to help them.

In short, quackery is dangerous. It promotes fear, devalues legitimate science and can destroy lives. Here are the four biggest quacks giving dubious health advice in the media and some samples of their detrimental advice.

1. Dr. (of Osteopathy) Joseph Mercola. Mercola is not a strict medical doctor, but an osteopath who practiced in suburban Chicago (according to Chicago magazine, he gave up his practice in 2006 to focus on Internet marketing). Mercola has also written several books on health that have become bestsellers.

Mercola operates one of the Internet’s largest and most trafficked health and consumer information sites. With an estimated 15.5 million unique monthly visitors, Merola.com dwarfs even ConsumerReports.org and HealthCentral.com. The site vigorously promotes and sells dietary supplements, many of which bear Dr. Mercola’s name.

A typical article on Mercola’s site touts the wonders of yet another miracle cure or supplement. Some recent articles include “13 Amazing Health Benefits of Himalayan Crystal Salt” and “Your Flu Shot Contains a Dangerous Neurotoxin.” His site has also touted Vitamin D as “The Silver Bullet for Cancer.”

Many of Mercola’s musings clash — sometimes bitterly — with conventional medical wisdom. Mercola advises against immunization, water fluoridation, mammography, and the routine administration of vitamin K shots for newborns.

The medical community says Mercola is dangerous, and that he steers patients away from proven medical treatments in favor of unproven therapies and supplements.

“The information he’s putting out to the public is extremely misleading and potentially very dangerous,” says Dr. Stephen Barrett, who runs the medical watchdog site Quackwatch.org. “He exaggerates the risks and potential dangers of legitimate science-based medical care, and he promotes a lot of unsubstantiated ideas and sells [certain] products with claims that are misleading.”

Mercola has been the subject of a number of Food and Drug Administration warning letters about his activities, including marketing products as providing “exceptional countermeasures” against cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses. He also has marketed coconut oil to treat heart disease, Crohn’s disease, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Mercola.com also sold an infrared camera to be used as a cancer screening tool.

Some of Dr. Mercola’s wildest claims include:

  • HIV may not be the cause of AIDS. Mercola believes that the manifestations of AIDS (including opportunistic infections and death) could result from “psychological stress” brought on by the belief that HIV is harmful. Mercola.com has also featured positive presentations of the claims of AIDS truthers who deny the existence of AIDS or the role HIV has in the disease.

  • Mercola has said that microwave ovens emit dangerous radiation and that microwaving food alters its chemistry.

  • Commercial sunscreens increase the likelihood of skin cancer, instead of protecting from it. Of course, he sells his own natural sunscreens on his website.

2. The “Health Ranger,” Mike Adams. Adams runs a website called Natural News that is dedicated to supporting alternative medicine techniques and various conspiracy theories about chemtrails, the link between vaccinations and autism, and the dangers of fluoridated drinking water. Dr. Mercola is a frequent guest blogger on his site.

Natural News, which gets an estimated 7 million unique visitors a month, primarily promotes alternative medicine, raw foods, and holistic nutrition. Adams claims he began the site after curing himself of Type II diabetes by using natural remedies.

Adams seems to revel in going against the grain. He likes to tell readers on his website that if they just exercise, eat the right foods and take the right supplements (he markets supplements on his site) infectious disease cannot harm them. Like Mercola, he is an AIDS denialist, and claims flu vaccines are totally ineffective.

Dr. David Gorski of the Science-Based Medicine website calls Natural News “a one-stop shop, a repository if you will, of virtually every quackery known to humankind, all slathered with a heaping, helping of unrelenting hostility to science-based medicine and science in general.”

Adams also considers himself a scientific researcher, but some of his claims are dubious. He has even bought himself a mass spectrometer which he uses to test various products for toxicity. He recently used this device to show that a flu vaccine containing thiomersal registered 51 parts per million of mercury. But that’s not the news in his findings: Adams went on to insist that his critics must be brain-damaged (or perhaps brainwashed) by mercury:

The only people who argue with this are those who are already mercury poisoned and thus incapable of rational thought. Mercury damages brain function, you see, which is exactly what causes some people to be tricked into thinking vaccines are safe and effective.

Science-Based Medicine blogger Dr. Steven Novella describes Adams’ site as “a crank alt-med site that promotes every sort of medical nonsense imaginable. If it is unscientific, antiscientific, conspiracy-mongering, or downright silly, Mike Adams appears to be all for it —whatever sells the ‘natural’ products he hawks on his site.”

What makes Adams unique is that he likes to mix far-right vitriol and conspiracy theories with his alternative medicine advice. He has come out as a climate-change denialist, 9/11 Truther, and a Birther.

Here’s some more quackery from Adams and Natural News:

3. The “Food Babe,” Vani Hari. She doesn’t have a degree in nutrition, chemistry or medicine, and her work background is as a management consultant. Yet without any serious credentials, Hari—the “Food Babe”—bills herself as a voice of consumer protection on the Internet. In just a few years, she’s assembled an army of followers who have joined her on her quest to get hard-to-pronounce ingredients banned from foods.

Hari’s acolytes see her as a muckraking reporter, saving us from nefarious chemicals, GMOs and unappetizing ingredients like beaver anus, yoga mat and fish bladder. The public and the media love her; a “food safety” campaign by the Food Babe can get thousands of signatures, countless media mentions and guest appearances on television shows such as Dr. Oz and The Doctors.

But Hari is really more of a fear-mongerer and conspiracy theorist than a safe-food advocate. Her campaigns are born of misinformation and anxiety. Recently, she published a petition on her website demanding that the top beer companies come clean about the ingredients in their beer. Citing a long list of creepy, chemical-sounding ingredients that are allowed in beer, she implied that the industry was flying under the radar and obscuring the additives it puts in its products.​ It turned out that the beer companies were actually using very few of the ingredients on her list, and some were only used in the production process and were not part of the finished product. When we looked further into it, we found that many of the nefarious ingredients and techniques she described were either misrepresented or entirely misunderstood by her.​

However, at Hari’s request, the top two breweries in the U.S. acquiesced and listed their ingredients on their websites, and none of the ingredients would come as a real shock to beer drinkers. Still, Hari continued to insist that GMO corn and other bad ingredients were integral ingredients in beer.

In response to critics who say Hari is not qualified to make hard judgments on food ingredients, Hari says, “I don’t think you need to have those degrees to be intellectually honest, to be able to research, to be able to present ideas.”

Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon who writes for the website Science-Based Medicine takes offense to Hari’s food campaigns:

“Her strategy is very transparent, but unfortunately it’s also very effective,” wrote Gorski. “Name a bunch of chemicals and count on the chemical illiteracy of your audience to result in fear at hearing their very names.”​

Gorski says since companies live and die by public perception, it’s far easier to “give a blackmailer like Hari what she wants than to try to resist or to counter her propaganda by educating the public.”​

Some of Vani Hari’s more specious ideas about food are:

  • Microwaves kill food and remove its nutrients. Also, microwaves change the chemical properties of water. She persists with this theory although it has been persistently debunked by science.

  • Water, when exposed to the words “Hitler” and “Satan” changes its physical properties.

  • Flu shots contain “a bunch of toxic chemicals and additives that lead to several types of Cancers and Alzheimer [sic] disease over time.” Actually, flu shots are made up mostly of proteins and preservatives that give no indication of being harmful, despite plenty of medical research.

Hari has not provided any scientific evidence to back her claims as of yet.

4. Dr. Mehmet Oz. What do Vani Hari, Dr. Joseph Mercola and Mike Adams have in common? They’re all guest experts appearing on the Dr. Oz Show.

Dr. Oz is a media darling and cardiothoracic surgeon who first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. In 2009, Oprah produced Oz’s namesake show focusing on medical issues and personal health.

But before we label Oz a quack, it’s only fair that we also should note he’s a professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University, directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, has authored more than 400 medical research papers and holds several patents.

But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you probably know Dr. Oz has been exposed as a daytime-television snake oil peddler, while being shamed during testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee last month.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, the chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, took Oz to task over false claims he’s made for over-the-counter weight loss cures. For example, Oz proclaims that worthless supplements such as green coffee beans have “miracle” properties.

The Missouri senator made it clear that she thinks Oz abuses his great influence. Products he endorses on his show are almost guaranteed to fly off the shelves.

“People want to believe they can take an itty-bitty pill to push fat out of their body,” McCaskill chided the celebrity doctor. “I know you know how much power you have.”

Oz acknowledged to the subcommittee that while there’s no such thing as a “miracle” supplement, and many he touts wouldn’t pass scientific muster, he insisted he was comfortable recommending them to his fans.

“My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience,” Oz says. ”And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look and I do look everywhere, including alternative healing traditions, for any evidence that might be supportive to them.”

As McCaskill then pointed out, Oz was giving people false hope. Isn’t that what quacks do?

Oz often uses his show as a soapbox for the likes of Hari, Mercola and Adams. And when they’re guests on his show, they’re handled with kid gloves. Oz even describes Adams as an “activist researcher,” a “whistleblower” and a “food safety activist.” Viewers then open their wallets to Adams, who is there to promote his website. A similar scenario plays out when Mercola, a frequent guest, joins Oz. Hari, for her part, does not market miracle products on her site. She does, however, seem to make money from affiliate advertising.

Oz’s great sin is that he uses his show to promote all types of modern shamanism. Critics find it mystifying that he, a medical doctor, would host and promote people on his show who are anathema to science. It’s Oz’s instant access to millions and his medical degrees and peer-reviewed research papers that have given him credibility, but critics say he loses all of it when he promotes guests who explicitly reject the tenets of reason. So, can Oz still be considered a serious scientist?

Unlike the other three quacks mentioned in this article, Oz is more a ringmaster than a snake-oil salesman. However, he’s not without his list of dubious stances:

  • In November 2012, Dr. Oz invited Julie Hamilton, a representative of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, who claimed that she could heal homosexuality with gay reparative therapy. Although the show did include guests who condemned reparative therapy, Dr. Oz never weighed in on the subject, and the audience was led to believe that there were valid arguments on both sides of this issue.

  • His proclamation on Oprah that resveratrol is an effective anti-aging supplement sparked a resveratrol marketing craze. Numerous fly-by-night online peddlers used his name and likeness (along with the likenesses of age-defying actresses Jennifer Aniston and Marisa Tomei) to peddle the so-called miracle supplement. But it’s anyone’s guess what was in those pills.

  • Oz has invited a medium on his show who told selected audience members that she was communicating with their lost loved ones.

  • Oz once invited a faith healer, Issam Nemeh, to “heal” sick audience members on his show. On his website, Oz bragged about the “Oz Effect”: “Dr. Nemeh has received an overwhelming response from the viewers of the Dr. Oz show. Medical office appointments with Dr. Nemeh are already filled for the next four months.”

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on Facebook.

 

 

The rise of data and the death of politics

Tech pioneers in the US are advocating a new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’. But if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?

US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Government by social network? US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On 24 August 1965 Gloria Placente, a 34-year-old resident of Queens, New York, was driving to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Clad in shorts and sunglasses, the housewife was looking forward to quiet time at the beach. But the moment she crossed the Willis Avenue bridge in her Chevrolet Corvair, Placente was surrounded by a dozen patrolmen. There were also 125 reporters, eager to witness the launch of New York police department’s Operation Corral – an acronym for Computer Oriented Retrieval of Auto Larcenists.

Fifteen months earlier, Placente had driven through a red light and neglected to answer the summons, an offence that Corral was going to punish with a heavy dose of techno-Kafkaesque. It worked as follows: a police car stationed at one end of the bridge radioed the licence plates of oncoming cars to a teletypist miles away, who fed them to a Univac 490 computer, an expensive $500,000 toy ($3.5m in today’s dollars) on loan from the Sperry Rand Corporation. The computer checked the numbers against a database of 110,000 cars that were either stolen or belonged to known offenders. In case of a match the teletypist would alert a second patrol car at the bridge’s other exit. It took, on average, just seven seconds.

Compared with the impressive police gear of today – automatic number plate recognition, CCTV cameras, GPS trackers – Operation Corral looks quaint. And the possibilities for control will only expand. European officials have considered requiring all cars entering the European market to feature a built-in mechanism that allows the police to stop vehicles remotely. Speaking earlier this year, Jim Farley, a senior Ford executive, acknowledged that “we know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That last bit didn’t sound very reassuring and Farley retracted his remarks.

As both cars and roads get “smart,” they promise nearly perfect, real-time law enforcement. Instead of waiting for drivers to break the law, authorities can simply prevent the crime. Thus, a 50-mile stretch of the A14 between Felixstowe and Rugby is to be equipped with numerous sensors that would monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom envisions that such smart roads connected to a centrally controlled traffic system could automatically impose variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic but also direct the cars “along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even [manage] their speed”.

Other gadgets – from smartphones to smart glasses – promise even more security and safety. In April, Apple patented technology that deploys sensors inside the smartphone to analyse if the car is moving and if the person using the phone is driving; if both conditions are met, it simply blocks the phone’s texting feature. Intel and Ford are working on Project Mobil – a face recognition system that, should it fail to recognise the face of the driver, would not only prevent the car being started but also send the picture to the car’s owner (bad news for teenagers).

The car is emblematic of transformations in many other domains, from smart environments for “ambient assisted living” where carpets and walls detect that someone has fallen, to various masterplans for the smart city, where municipal services dispatch resources only to those areas that need them. Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google’s latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

This “smartification” of everyday life follows a familiar pattern: there’s primary data – a list of what’s in your smart fridge and your bin – and metadata – a log of how often you open either of these things or when they communicate with one another. Both produce interesting insights: cue smart mattresses – one recent model promises to track respiration and heart rates and how much you move during the night – and smart utensils that provide nutritional advice.

In addition to making our lives more efficient, this smart world also presents us with an exciting political choice. If so much of our everyday behaviour is already captured, analysed and nudged, why stick with unempirical approaches to regulation? Why rely on laws when one has sensors and feedback mechanisms? If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

O’Reilly presents such technologies as novel and unique – we are living through a digital revolution after all – but the principle behind “algorithmic regulation” would be familiar to the founders of cybernetics – a discipline that, even in its name (it means “the science of governance”) hints at its great regulatory ambitions. This principle, which allows the system to maintain its stability by constantly learning and adapting itself to the changing circumstances, is what the British psychiatrist Ross Ashby, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics, called “ultrastability”.

To illustrate it, Ashby designed the homeostat. This clever device consisted of four interconnected RAF bomb control units – mysterious looking black boxes with lots of knobs and switches – that were sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If one unit stopped working properly – say, because of an unexpected external disturbance – the other three would rewire and regroup themselves, compensating for its malfunction and keeping the system’s overall output stable.

Ashby’s homeostat achieved “ultrastability” by always monitoring its internal state and cleverly redeploying its spare resources.

Like the spam filter, it didn’t have to specify all the possible disturbances – only the conditions for how and when it must be updated and redesigned. This is no trivial departure from how the usual technical systems, with their rigid, if-then rules, operate: suddenly, there’s no need to develop procedures for governing every contingency, for – or so one hopes – algorithms and real-time, immediate feedback can do a better job than inflexible rules out of touch with reality.

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance. They urged citizens to accept that instability is part of the game, that its root causes are neither traceable nor reparable, that the threat can only be pre-empted by out-innovating and out-surveilling the enemy with better communications.

Speaking in Athens last November, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discussed an epochal transformation in the idea of government, “whereby the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects is inverted, so that, instead of governing the causes – a difficult and expensive undertaking – governments simply try to govern the effects”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Governments’ current favourite pyschologist, Daniel Kahneman. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer
For Agamben, this shift is emblematic of modernity. It also explains why the liberalisation of the economy can co-exist with the growing proliferation of control – by means of soap dispensers and remotely managed cars – into everyday life. “If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.” Algorithmic regulation is an enactment of this political programme in technological form.The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

Airbnb's homepage.

Airbnb: part of the reputation-driven economy.
Such initiatives aim to reprogramme the state and make it feedback-friendly, crowding out other means of doing politics. For all those tracking apps, algorithms and sensors to work, databases need interoperability – which is what such pseudo-humanitarian organisations, with their ardent belief in open data, demand. And when the government is too slow to move at Silicon Valley’s speed, they simply move inside the government. Thus, Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and a protege of O’Reilly, became the deputy chief technology officer of the US government – while pursuing a one-year “innovation fellowship” from the White House.Cash-strapped governments welcome such colonisation by technologists – especially if it helps to identify and clean up datasets that can be profitably sold to companies who need such data for advertising purposes. Recent clashes over the sale of student and health data in the UK are just a precursor of battles to come: after all state assets have been privatised, data is the next target. For O’Reilly, open data is “a key enabler of the measurement revolution”.This “measurement revolution” seeks to quantify the efficiency of various social programmes, as if the rationale behind the social nets that some of them provide was to achieve perfection of delivery. The actual rationale, of course, was to enable a fulfilling life by suppressing certain anxieties, so that citizens can pursue their life projects relatively undisturbed. This vision did spawn a vast bureaucratic apparatus and the critics of the welfare state from the left – most prominently Michel Foucault – were right to question its disciplining inclinations. Nonetheless, neither perfection nor efficiency were the “desired outcome” of this system. Thus, to compare the welfare state with the algorithmic state on those grounds is misleading.

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

Under this vision, we will all code (for America!) in the morning, drive Uber cars in the afternoon, and rent out our kitchens as restaurants – courtesy of Airbnb – in the evening. As O’Reilly writes of Uber and similar companies, “these services ask every passenger to rate their driver (and drivers to rate their passenger). Drivers who provide poor service are eliminated. Reputation does a better job of ensuring a superb customer experience than any amount of government regulation.”

The state behind the “sharing economy” does not wither away; it might be needed to ensure that the reputation accumulated on Uber, Airbnb and other platforms of the “sharing economy” is fully liquid and transferable, creating a world where our every social interaction is recorded and assessed, erasing whatever differences exist between social domains. Someone, somewhere will eventually rate you as a passenger, a house guest, a student, a patient, a customer. Whether this ranking infrastructure will be decentralised, provided by a giant like Google or rest with the state is not yet clear but the overarching objective is: to make reputation into a feedback-friendly social net that could protect the truly responsible citizens from the vicissitudes of deregulation.

Admiring the reputation models of Uber and Airbnb, O’Reilly wants governments to be “adopting them where there are no demonstrable ill effects”. But what counts as an “ill effect” and how to demonstrate it is a key question that belongs to the how of politics that algorithmic regulation wants to suppress. It’s easy to demonstrate “ill effects” if the goal of regulation is efficiency but what if it is something else? Surely, there are some benefits – fewer visits to the psychoanalyst, perhaps – in not having your every social interaction ranked?

The imperative to evaluate and demonstrate “results” and “effects” already presupposes that the goal of policy is the optimisation of efficiency. However, as long as democracy is irreducible to a formula, its composite values will always lose this battle: they are much harder to quantify.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

With so much data, the government’s favourite argument in fighting terror – if only the citizens knew as much as we do, they too would impose all these legal exceptions – easily extends to other domains, from health to climate change. Consider a recent academic paper that used Google search data to study obesity patterns in the US, finding significant correlation between search keywords and body mass index levels. “Results suggest great promise of the idea of obesity monitoring through real-time Google Trends data”, note the authors, which would be “particularly attractive for government health institutions and private businesses such as insurance companies.”

If Google senses a flu epidemic somewhere, it’s hard to challenge its hunch – we simply lack the infrastructure to process so much data at this scale. Google can be proven wrong after the fact – as has recently been the case with its flu trends data, which was shown to overestimate the number of infections, possibly because of its failure to account for the intense media coverage of flu – but so is the case with most terrorist alerts. It’s the immediate, real-time nature of computer systems that makes them perfect allies of an infinitely expanding and pre-emption‑obsessed state.

Perhaps, the case of Gloria Placente and her failed trip to the beach was not just a historical oddity but an early omen of how real-time computing, combined with ubiquitous communication technologies, would transform the state. One of the few people to have heeded that omen was a little-known American advertising executive called Robert MacBride, who pushed the logic behind Operation Corral to its ultimate conclusions in his unjustly neglected 1967 book, The Automated State.

At the time, America was debating the merits of establishing a national data centre to aggregate various national statistics and make it available to government agencies. MacBride attacked his contemporaries’ inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of “a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire”, modern computer systems would produce “a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity” that can “discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do”.

“Whether one bowls on a Sunday or visits a library instead is [of] no consequence since no one checks those things,” he wrote. Not so when computer systems can aggregate data from different domains and spot correlations. “Our individual behaviour in buying and selling an automobile, a house, or a security, in paying our debts and acquiring new ones, and in earning money and being paid, will be noted meticulously and studied exhaustively,” warned MacBride. Thus, a citizen will soon discover that “his choice of magazine subscriptions… can be found to indicate accurately the probability of his maintaining his property or his interest in the education of his children.” This sounds eerily similar to the recent case of a hapless father who found that his daughter was pregnant from a coupon that Target, a retailer, sent to their house. Target’s hunch was based on its analysis of products – for example, unscented lotion – usually bought by other pregnant women.

For MacBride the conclusion was obvious. “Political rights won’t be violated but will resemble those of a small stockholder in a giant enterprise,” he wrote. “The mark of sophistication and savoir-faire in this future will be the grace and flexibility with which one accepts one’s role and makes the most of what it offers.” In other words, since we are all entrepreneurs first – and citizens second, we might as well make the most of it.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

To his credit, MacBride understood all of this in 1967. “Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques,” he warned, “it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of.” MacBride’s fear is O’Reilly’s master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the “lean startup” approach of Silicon Valley, which is “using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market”. It’s this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

 

THE BULLSHIT MACHINE

Here’s a tiny confession. I’m bored.

Yes; I know. I’m a sinner. Go ahead. Burn me at the stake of your puritanical Calvinism; the righteously, thoroughly, well, boring idea that boredom itself is a moral defect; that a restless mind is the Devil’s sweatshop.

There’s nothing more boring than that; and I’ll return to that very idea at the end of this essay; which I hope is the beginning.

What am I bored of? Everything. Blogs books music art business ideas politics tweets movies science math technology…but more than that: the spirit of the age; the atmosphere of the time; the tendency of the now; the disposition of the here.

Sorry; but it’s true. It’s boring me numb and dumb.

A culture that prizes narcissism above individualism. A politics that places “tolerance” above acceptance. A spirit that encourages cynicism over reverence. A public sphere that places irony over sincerity. A technosophy that elevates “data” over understanding. A society that puts “opportunity” before decency. An economy that…you know. Works us harder to make us poorer at “jobs” we hate where we make stuff that sucks every last bit of passion from our souls to sell to everyone else who’s working harder to get poorer at “jobs” they hate where they make stuff that sucks every last bit of passion from their souls.

To be bored isn’t to be indifferent. It is to be fatigued. Because one is exhausted. And that is precisely where—and only where—the values above lead us. To exhaustion; with the ceaseless, endless, meaningless work of maintaining the fiction. Of pretending that who we truly want to be is what everyone believes everyone else wants to be. Liked, not loved; “attractive”, not beautiful; clever, not wise; snarky, not happy; advantaged, not prosperous.

It exhausts us; literally; this game of parasitically craving everyone’s cravings. It makes us adversaries not of one another; but of ourselves. Until there is nothing left. Not of us as we are; but of the people we might have been. The values above shrink and reduce and diminish our potential; as individuals, as people, societies. And so I have grown fatigued by them.

Ah, you say. But when hasn’t humanity always suffered all the above? Please. Let’s not mince ideas. Unless you think the middle class didn’t actually thrive once; unless you think that the gentleman that’s made forty seven Saw flicks (so far) is this generation’s Alfred Hitchcock; unless you believe that this era has a John Lennon; unless you think that Jeff Koons is Picasso…perhaps you see my point.

I’m bored, in short, of what I’d call a cycle of perpetual bullshit. A bullshit machine. The bullshit machine turns life into waste.

The bullshit machine looks something like this. Narcissism about who you are leads to cynicism about who you could be leads to mediocrity in what you do…leads to narcissism about who you are. Narcissism leads to cynicism leads to mediocrity…leads to narcissism.

Let me simplify that tiny model of the stalemate the human heart can reach with life.

The bullshit machine is the work we do only to live lives we don’t want, need, love, or deserve.

Everything’s work now. Relationships; hobbies; exercise. Even love. Gruelling; tedious; unrelenting; formulaic; passionless; calculated; repetitive; predictable; analysed; mined; timed; performed.

Work is bullshit. You know it, I know it; mankind has always known it. Sure; you have to work at what you want to accomplish. But that’s not the point. It is the flash of genius; the glimmer of intuition; the afterglow of achievement; the savoring of experience; the incandescence of meaning; all these make life worthwhile, pregnant, impossible, aching with purpose. These are the ends. Work is merely the means.

Our lives are confused like that. They are means without ends; model homes; acts which we perform, but do not fully experience.

Remember when I mentioned puritanical Calvinism? The idea that being bored is itself a sign of a lack of virtue—and that is, itself, the most boring idea in the world?

That’s the battery that powers the bullshit machine. We’re not allowed to admit it: that we’re bored. We’ve always got to be doing something. Always always always. Tapping, clicking, meeting, partying, exercising, networking, “friending”. Work hard, play hard, live hard. Improve. Gain. Benefit. Realize.

Hold on. Let me turn on crotchety Grandpa mode. Click.

Remember when cafes used to be full of people…thinking? Now I defy you to find one not full of people Tinder—Twitter—Facebook—App-of-the-nanosecond-ing; furiously. Like true believers hunched over the glow of a spiritualized Eden they can never truly enter; which is precisely why they’re mesmerized by it. The chance at a perfect life; full of pleasure; the perfect partner, relationship, audience, job, secret, home, career; it’s a tap away. It’s something like a slot-machine of the human soul, this culture we’re building. The jackpot’s just another coin away…forever. Who wouldn’t be seduced by that?

Winners of a million followers, fans, friends, lovers, dollars…after all, a billion people tweeting, updating, flicking, swiping, tapping into the void a thousand times a minute can’t be wrong. Can they?

And therein is the paradox of the bullshit machine. We do more than humans have ever done before. But we are not accomplishing much; and we are, it seems to me, becoming even less than that.

The more we do, the more passive we seem to become. Compliant. Complaisant. As if we are merely going through the motions.

Why? We are something like apparitions today; juggling a multiplicity of selves through the noise; the “you” you are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Tinder…wherever…at your day job, your night job, your hobby, your primary relationship, your friend-with-benefits, your incredibly astonishing range of extracurricular activities. But this hyperfragmentation of self gives rise to a kind of schizophrenia; conflicts, dissocations, tensions, dislocations, anxieties, paranoias, delusions. Our social wombs do not give birth to our true selves; the selves explosive with capability, possibility, wonder.

Tap tap tap. And yet. We are barely there, at all; in our own lives; in the moments which we will one day look back on and ask ourselves…what were we thinking wasting our lives on things that didn’t matter at all?

The answer, of course, is that we weren’t thinking. Or feeling. We don’t have time to think anymore. Thinking is a superluxury. Feeling is an even bigger superluxury. In an era where decent food, water, education, and healthcare are luxuries; thinking and feeling are activities to costly for society to allow. They are a drag on “growth”; a burden on “productivity”; they slow down the furious acceleration of the bullshit machine.

And so. Here we are. Going through the motions. The bullshit machine says the small is the great; the absence is the presence; the vicious is the noble; the lie is the truth. We believe it; and, greedily, it feeds on our belief. The more we feed it, the more insatiable it becomes. Until, at last, we are exhausted. By pretending to want the lives we think we should; instead of daring to live the lives we know we could.

Fuck it. Just admit it. You’re probably just as bored as I am.

Good for you.

Welcome to the world beyond the Bullshit Machine.

Facebook Wants To Listen In On What You’re Doing

Kashmir Hill

Forbes Staff

Facebook had two big announcements this week that show the company’s wildly divergent takes on the nature of privacy. One announcement is that the company is encouraging new users to initially share only with their “friends” rather than with the general public, the previous default. And for existing users, the company plans to break out the old “privacy dinosaur” to do a “ check-up” to remind people of how they’re sharing. Facebook employees say that using an extinct creature as a symbol for privacy isn’t subtle messaging, but simply an icon to which their users respond well. Meanwhile, Facebook’s second announcement indicated just how comfortable they think their users are in sharing every little thing happening in their lives. Facebook is rolling outa new feature for its smartphone app that can turn on users’ microphones and listen to what’s happening around them to identify songs playing or television being watched. The pay-off for users in allowing Facebook to eavesdrop is that the social giant will be able to add a little tag to their status update that says they’re watching an episode of Games of Thrones as they sound off on their happiness (or despair) about the rise in background sex on TV these days.

Facebook's animal of choice to represent privacy is an extinct one

“The aim was to remove every last bit of friction from the way we reference bits of pop culture on the social network,” writes Ryan Tate of Wired. Depending on how you feel about informational privacy and/or your friends’ taste in pop culture, that statement is either exhilarating or terrifying.

The feature is an optional one, something the company emphasizes in its announcement. The tech giant does seem well-aware that in these days of Snowden surveillance revelations, people might not be too keen for Facebook to take control of their smartphone’s mic and start listening in on them by default. It’s only rolling out the feature in the U.S. and a product PR person emphasized repeatedly that no recording is being stored, only “code.” “We’re not recording audio or sound and sending it to Facebook or its servers,” says Facebook spokesperson Momo Zhou. “We turn the audio it hears into a code — code that is not reversible into audio — and then we match it against a database of code.”

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If a Facebooker opts in, the feature is only activated when he or she is composing an update. When the smartphone’s listening in — something it can only do through the iOS and Android apps, not through Facebook on a browser — tiny blue bars will appear to announce the mic has been activated. Facebook says the microphone will not otherwise be collecting data. When it’s listening, it tells you it is “matching,” rather than how I might put it, “eavesdropping on your entertainment of choice.”

It reminds me of GPS-tagging an update, but with cultural context rather than location deets. While you decide whether to add the match to a given Facebook update, Facebook gets information about what you were listening to or watching regardless, though it won’t be associated with your profile. “If you don’t choose to post and the feature detects a match, we don’t store match information except in an anonymized form that is not associated with you,” says Zhou. Depending on how many people turn the feature on, it will be a nice store of information about what Facebook users are watching and listening to, even in anonymized form.

Sure, we’re used to features like this thanks to existing apps that will recognize a song for us. But usually when you activate those apps, you’re explicitly doing so to find out the name of a song. Facebook is hoping to make that process a background activity to composing a status update — a frictionless share that just happens, the real-world version of linking your Spotify account to your social media account allowing playlists to leak through. Facebook spent a yearhoning its audio sampling and developing a catalog of content — millions of songs and 160 television stations — to match against. It’s obvious that it wants to displace Twitter TWTR +10.69% as the go-to place for real-time commenting on sporting events, awards shows, and other communal television watching. “With TV shows, we’ll actually know the exact season and episode number you’re watching,” says Zhou. “We built that to prevent spoilers.”

So the question now is whether people are willing to give Facebook eavesdropping powers in exchange for a little Shazam.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/05/22/facebook-wants-to-listen-in-on-what-youre-doing/

Your Princess Is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds

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Arthur Chu

Nerdy guys aren’t guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick as long as we work hard. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by getting the girl.

I was going to write about The Big Bang Theory—why, as a nerdy viewer, I sometimes like it and sometimes have a problem with it, why I think there’s a backlash against it. Then some maniac shot up a sorority house in Santa Barbara and posted a manifesto proclaiming he did it for revenge against women for denying him sex. And the weekend just generally went to hell.

So now my plans have changed. With apologies to The Big Bang Theory fans,this is all I want to say about The Big Bang Theory: When the pilot aired, it was 2007 and “nerd culture” and “geek chic” were on everyone’s lips, and yet still the basic premise of “the sitcom for nerds” was, once again, awkward but lovable nerd has huge unreciprocated crush on hot non-nerdy popular girl (and also has an annoying roommate).

This annoys me. This is a problem.

Because, let’s be honest, this device is old. We have seen it over and over again. Steve Urkel. Screech. Skippy on Family Ties. Niles on Frasier.

We (male) nerds grow up force-fed this script. Lusting after women “out of our league” was what we did. And those unattainable hot girls would always inevitably reject us because they didn’t understand our intellectual interest in science fiction and comic books and would instead date asshole jocks. This was inevitable, and our only hope was to be unyieldingly persistent until we “earned” a chance with these women by “being there” for them until they saw the error of their ways. (The thought of just looking for women who shared our interests was a foreign one, since it took a while for the media to decide female geeks existed.The Big Bang Theory didn’t add Amy and Bernadette to its main cast until Season 4, in 2010.)

This is, to put it mildly, a problematic attitude to grow up with. Fixating on a woman from afar and then refusing to give up when she acts like she’s not interested is, generally, something that ends badly for everyone involved. But it’s a narrative that nerds and nerd media kept repeating.

I’m not breaking new ground by saying this. It’s been said very well over and overand over again.

And I’m not condemning guys who get frustrated, or who have unrequited crushes. And I’m not condemning any of these shows or movies.

And yet…

Before I went on Jeopardy!, I had auditioned for TBS’s King of the Nerds, a reality show commissioned in 2012 after TBS got syndication rights to, yes, The Big Bang Theory. I like the show and I still wish I’d been on it. (Both “kings” they’ve crowned, by the way, have so far been women, so maybe they should retitle it “Monarch of the Nerds” or, since the final win comes down to a vote, “President of the Nerds.” Just a nerdy thought.)

But a lot of things about the show did give me pause. One of them was that it was hosted by Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong—Lewis and Booger fromRevenge of the Nerds. I don’t have anything against those guys personally. Nor am I going to issue a blanket condemnation of Revenge of the Nerds, a film I’m still, basically, a fan of.

But look. One of the major plot points of Revenge of the Nerds is Lewis putting on a Darth Vader mask, pretending to be his jock nemesis Stan, and then having sex with Stan’s girlfriend. Initially shocked when she finds out his true identity, she’s so taken by his sexual prowess—“All jocks think about is sports. All nerds think about is sex.”—that the two of them become an item.

Classic nerd fantasy, right? Immensely attractive to the young male audience who saw it. And a stock trope, the “bed trick,” that many of the nerds watching probably knew dates back to the legend of King Arthur.

It’s also, you know, rape.

I’ve had this argument about whether it was “technically” rape with fans of the movie in the past, but leaving aside the legal technicalities, why don’t you ask the women you know who are in committed relationships how they’d feel about guys concocting elaborate ruses to have sex with them without their knowledge to “earn a chance” with them? Or how it feels to be chased by a real-life Steve Urkel, being harassed, accosted, ambushed in public places, have your boyfriend “challenged” and having all rejection met with a cheerful “I’m wearing you down!”?

I know people who’ve been through that. And because life is not, in fact, a sitcom, it’s not the kind of thing that elicits a bemused eye roll followed by raucous laughter from the studio audience. It’s the kind of thing that induces pain, and fear.

When our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

And that’s still mild compared to some of the disturbing shit I consumed in my adolescence. Jake handing off his falling-down-drunk date to Anthony Michael Hall’s Geek in Sixteen Candlessaying, “Be my guest” (which is, yes, more offensive to me than Long Duk Dong). The nerd-libertarian gospels of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and how their Übermensch protagonists prove their masculinity by having sex with their love interests without asking first—and win their hearts in the process. Comics…just, comics. (Too much to go into there but the fact that Red Sonja was once thought a “feminist icon” speaks volumes. Oh, and there’s that whole drama with Ms. Marvel for those of you who really want to get freaked out today.)

But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?

Do they buy into the “pickup artist” snake oil—started by nerdy guys, for nerdy guys—filled with techniques to manipulate, pressure and in some cases outrightassault women to get what they want? Or when that doesn’t work, and they spend hours a day on sites bitching about how it doesn’t work like Elliot Rodger’s hangout “PUAHate.com,” sometimes, do they buy some handguns, leave a manifesto on the Internet and then drive off to a sorority house to murder as many women as they can?

No, I’m not saying most frustrated nerdy guys are rapists or potential rapists. I’m certainly not saying they’re all potential mass murderers. I’m not saying that most lonely men who put women up on pedestals will turn on them with hostility and rage once they get frustrated enough.

But I have known nerdy male stalkers, and, yes, nerdy male rapists. I’ve known situations where I knew something was going on but didn’t say anything—because I didn’t want to stick my neck out, because some vile part of me thought that this kind of thing was “normal,” because, in other words, I was a coward and I had the privilege of ignoring the problem.

I’ve heard and seen the stories that those of you who followed the #YesAllWomenhashtag on Twitter have seen—women getting groped at cons, women getting vicious insults flung at them online, women getting stalked by creeps in college and told they should be “flattered.” I’ve heard Elliot Rodger’s voice before. I was expecting his manifesto to be incomprehensible madness—hoping for it to be—but it wasn’t. It’s a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.

I’ve heard it from acquaintances, I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve heard it come out of my own mouth, in moments of anger and weakness.

It’s the same motivation that makes a guy in college stalk a girl, leave her unsolicited gifts and finally when she tells him to quit it makes him leave an angry post about her “shallowness” and “cruelty” on Facebook. It’s the same motivation that makes guys rant about “fake cosplay girls” at cons and how much he hates them for their vain, “teasing” ways. The one that makes a guy suffering career or personal problems turn on his wife because it’s her job to “support” him by patching up all the holes in his life. The one that makes a wealthy entrepreneur hit his girlfriend 117 times, on camera, for her infidelity, and then after getting off with a misdemeanor charge still put up a blog post casting himself as the victim.

And now that motivation has led to six people dead and thirteen more injured, in broad daylight, with the killer leaving a 140-page rant and several YouTube videos describing exactly why he did it. No he-said-she-said, no muffled sounds through the dorm ceiling, no “Maybe he has other issues.” The fruits of our culture’s ingrained misogyny laid bare for all to see.

And yet. When this story broke, the initial mainstream coverage only talked about “mental illness,” not misogyny, a line that people are now fervently exhorting us to stick to even after the manifesto’s contents were revealed. Yet another high-profile tech CEO resignation ensued when the co-founder of Rap Genius decided Rodger’s manifesto was a hilarious joke.

People found one of the girls Rodger was obsessed with and began questioning if her “bullying” may have somehow triggered his rage. And, worst of all, he has fan pages on Facebook that still haven’t been taken down, filled with angry frustrated men singing his praises and seriously suggesting that the onus is on women to offer sex to men to keep them from going on rampages.

So, a question, to my fellow male nerds:

What the fuck is wrong with us?

How much longer are we going to be in denial that there’s a thing called “rape culture” and we ought to do something about it?

No, not the straw man that all men are constantly plotting rape, but that we live in an entitlement culture where guys think they need to be having sex with girls in order to be happy and fulfilled. That in a culture that constantly celebrates the narrative of guys trying hard, overcoming challenges, concocting clever ruses and automatically getting a woman thrown at them as a prize as a result, there will always be some guy who crosses the line into committing a violent crime to get what he “deserves,” or get vengeance for being denied it.

To paraphrase the great John Oliver, listen up, fellow self-pitying nerd boys—we are not the victims here. We are not the underdogs. We are not the ones who have our ownership over our bodies and our emotions stepped on constantly by other people’s entitlement. We’re not the ones where one out of six of us will have someone violently attempt to take control of our bodies in our lifetimes.

We are not Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds, we are not Steve Urkel from Family Matters, we are not Preston Myers from Can’t Hardly Wait, we are not Seth Rogen in every movie Seth Rogen has ever been in, we are not fucking Mario racing to the castle to beat Bowser because we know there’s a princess in there waiting for us.

We are not the lovable nerdy protagonist who’s lovable because he’s the protagonist. We’re not guaranteed to get laid by the hot chick of our dreams as long as we work hard enough at it. There isn’t a team of writers or a studio audience pulling for us to triumph by “getting the girl” in the end. And when our clever ruses and schemes to “get girls” fail, it’s not because the girls are too stupid or too bitchy or too shallow to play by those unwritten rules we’ve absorbed.

It’s because other people’s bodies and other people’s love are not something that can be taken nor even something that can be earned—they can be given freely, by choice, or not.

We need to get that. Really, really grok that, if our half of the species ever going to be worth a damn. Not getting that means that there will always be some percent of us who will be rapists, and abusers, and killers. And it means that the rest of us will always, on some fundamental level, be stupid and wrong when it comes to trying to understand the women we claim to love.

What did Elliot Rodger need? He didn’t need to get laid. None of us nerdy frustrated guys need to get laid. When I was an asshole with rants full of self-pity and entitlement, getting laid would not have helped me.

He needed to grow up.

We all do.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/27/your-princess-is-in-another-castle-misogyny-entitlement-and-nerds.html

Paul Krugman on how European welfare states defy conservative dogma

The New York Times columnist says that many European economies are proving right-wing economics wrong

Paul Krugman on how European welfare states defy conservative dogma
Paul Krugman (Credit: Reuters/Anton Golubev)

In his latest column for the New York Times, celebrated economist and highly influential liberal pundit Paul Krugman argues that, despite all the trouble born from austerity and the euro, many economies in Europe are doing better at job creation than the United States, contradicting right-wing economic dogma in the process.

“Europe’s financial and macroeconomic woes have overshadowed its remarkable, unheralded longer-term success in an area in which it used to lag: job creation,” Krugman writes. “What? You haven’t heard about that? Well, that’s not too surprising,” he continues.

“European economies, France in particular, get very bad press in America,” Krugman explains, blaming America’s obsession with “reverse Robin-Hoodism”(aka trickle-down policies) for the disconnect. “But on the core issue of providing jobs for people who really should be working,” Krugman writes, “old Europe is beating us hands down despite social benefits and regulations that, according to free-market ideologues, should be hugely job-destroying.”

The lesson, Krugman argues, is that “macroeconomics … isn’t a morality play” and that we cannot assume that right-wing economic dogma about sacrifice and responsibility and handouts is a real prescription for how to design a widely prosperous and growing economy. When it comes to economics, Krugman claims, ours is not a world where “virtue is always rewarded and vice always punished.”

More from Krugman:



On the contrary, severe financial crises and depressions can happen to economies that are fundamentally very strong, like the United States in 1929. The policy mistakes that created the euro crisis — mainly creating a unified currency without the kind of banking and fiscal union that a single currency demands — basically had nothing to do with the welfare state, one way or another.

The truth is that European-style welfare states have proved more resilient, more successful at job creation, than is allowed for in America’s prevailing economic philosophy.

Elias IsquithElias Isquith is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith, and email him at eisquith@salon.com.

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/27/paul_krugman_on_how_european_welfare_states_defy_conservative_dogma/?source=newsletter

Facebook makes another creepy information power grab

There are good reasons why we don’t want Mark Zuckerberg keeping tabs on every TV show we watch or song we hear

Facebook makes another creepy information power grab
Mark Zuckerberg (Credit: AP/Ben Margot)

Here’s a conundrum. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Facebook is incorporating in its mobile app the ability to recognize what songs or TV shows you are listening to or watching. The new functionality includes capabilities that I have long appreciated and even celebrated in other apps. But when Facebook does it, I am swamped with dismay.

Users who begin a post after turning on the feature will notice a tiny audio equalizer with undulating blue bars, indicating the app has detected sound and is attempting to match it to a song or television show. Once the app finds a match, users will see the title of the song and a thumbnail, such as an album cover or a photo of a talk-show host. By tapping on the show or song, users can post it to their news feeds and let other users know what Facebook has already figured out – what they’re seeing and hearing.

In essence, Facebook is adding nothing more than what Shazam has been doing for years. And I love Shazam — the first time I saw its music-matching abilities demonstrated I considered it the next best thing to magic. And yet, my gut reaction to the Facebook announcement is negative. I don’t want this. It’s creepy.

There are at least two reasons for my discomfort. The first is the mismatch between what I use Facebook for, and what Facebook uses me for. The second is my fundamental lack of trust in Facebook as a responsible guardian of my personal information.

I use Facebook to connect to friends and family (and to a lesser extent, to communicate my journalism work to followers). But Facebook uses me to generate advertising revenue. The Wall Street Journal reports that even if you do not choose to share with your friends the fact that you are bingeing on “Archer” at 3 in the morning or listening to Katy Perry in the middle of the work day, “Facebook will hold onto the data in anonymous form, keeping tabs on how many users watched particular shows.” This will make Facebook a Nielsen-like player in the entertainment ratings game, and generate more data for effective ad targeting.

Shazam, of course, is engaged in the same advertising and information-gathering game. But Shazam is much, much less well informed about all my other activities than Facebook is. Facebook already knows too much.



The second factor gets to something that I’ve written about repeatedly. Facebook’s history gives us little reason to trust Facebook. Facebook’s record on privacy is particularly worrisome.

The Wall Street Journal reports that users can switch off the feature. Great. But will it be enabled by default? And if I turn it off, when Facebook releases the next version of its app, will the function remain turned off? Or will my efforts to prevent Facebook from listening to my Spotify playlists be similar to Facebook’s Top Stories/Most Recent ridiculousness, in which I am constantly forced to remind Facebook how I want my News Feed organized. And if I do opt to share my entertainment consumption habits, how widely will that information be disseminated?

If there’s been one dominant technological narrative of the past couple of years, it’s that the public in general has become much more aware of and alarmed by just how much information governments and private corporations are gathering about our daily activities. What was once gee whiz — hey, I can wave my phone at the car radio and find out what song I’m hearing! — is now ominous — hey, Facebook is monitoring everything I listen to and watch, all the time!

What was once cool is now creepy.

Contributions to House Members Lobbying against Net Neutrality from Cable Interests

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) pictured in foreground
 
The FCC voted 3-2 on Thursday to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking, initiating a public comment period on several approaches to “protecting and promoting the open internet,” including reclassifying the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act.
 
The 28 representatives signing letters to the FCC against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility, a position allied with the cable industry, have received, on average, $26,832 from the cable industry, 2.3 times more money than the average for all members of the House of Representatives, $11,651.

Republicans signing the letters against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility have received, on average,$59,812 from the cable industry5 times more than the average for all members of the House$11,651.

Democrats signing the letters against Title II reclassification of the internet as a public utility have received, on average, $13,640 from the cable industry, 1.2 times more times more than the average for all members of the House,$11,651.

Letter signer Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has received more money from the cable industry than any other member of the House of Representatives: $109,250 over the last two years. Walden is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which has jurisdiction over the FCC.

Top Five Recipients (Letter Signers) of Contributions from Cable Interests:

  • Greg Walden (R-Ore) has recieved $109,250
  • Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has received $80,800
  • John Boehner (R-Ohio) has received $75,450
  • Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has received $65,000
  • John Barrow (D-Ga.) has received $60,500

Twenty-nine members of Congress own stock in Comcastmaking Comcast the 25th most held stock among members of Congress. Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) owns more Comcast stock than any other member.

Methodology: MapLight analysis of campaign contributions to members of Congress from PACs and employees of organizations in the cable and satellite TV production and distribution industry, from January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2013. Data source: OpenSecrets.org Personal Financial Disclosure data sourceMapLight analysis of United States Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics: http://www.pfd.senate.gov/index.cfm/searchSelect/ and U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Clerk: http://clerk.house.gov/public_disc/financial.aspx

Background:

Letters from members of the House of Representatives to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler:

Letter 1: Signed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Vice Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) expressed “grave concern” over a proposal supported by net neutrality advocates to reclassify the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act, “Such unwarranted and overreaching government intrusion into the broadband marketplace will harm consumers, halt job creation, curtail investment, stifle innovation, and set America down a dangerous path of micromanaging the Internet.”

Letter 2: Led by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) and signed by John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), George Butterfield (D-N.C.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), William Owens (D-N.Y.), Loretta Sanchez (D-Ca.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Lacey Clay (D-Mo.), Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), Scott Peters (D-Ca.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and David Scott (D-Ga.), “While we still have further to go to ensure that the benefits of broadband reach all Americans, we are concerned that opening the door to subjecting broadband service to a wide array of regulatory burdens and restrictions, including imposing Title II, might halt this progress.”

Letter 3: Signed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), “As we continue to ask the world to keep their hands off the Internet and to allow people to freely engage with each other, we should lead by example and reject calls to return to a bygone model of network regulation.”

Comcast, America’s largest cable internet provider, agrees with the four Republicans. In a recent FCC filing, Comcast said, “Title II would spark massive instability, create investor and marketplace uncertainty, derail planned investments, and slow broadband adoption.”

Image source: House GOP Leader/Flickr

About MapLight: MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics. If our work has been helpful to you, please consider supporting us.

Shocker: Cable TV prices went up four times the rate of inflation

cable-tvF6C2C8DE2055

Even communities with multiple competitors weren’t spared.

“Basic cable service prices increased by 6.5 percent [to $22.63] for the 12 months ending January 1, 2013. Expanded basic cable prices increased by 5.1 percent [to $64.41] for those 12 months, and at a compound average annual rate of 6.1 percent over the 18-year period from 1995-2013,” the FCC said.

The basic cable increase was four times the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the 12-month period, and substantially above inflation for the 1995-2013 measurement.

“These price increases compare to a 1.6 percent increase in general inflation as measured by the CPI (All Items) for the same one-year period,” the FCC wrote. “The CPI’s compound average annual rate of growth over the 18-year period was 2.4 percent.”

“Expanded basic cable” service is the price of a basic package plus “the most subscribed cable programming service tier excluding taxes, fees, and equipment charges.”

Additionally, “equipment prices for basic and expanded basic services increased by 4.4 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively, for the 12 months ending January 1, 2013,” the report stated.

“Cable operators” for the purposes of this report include both coaxial cable and fiber services such as Verizon FiOS. The FCC didn’t list prices by company, but broke out measurements of communities that have competition vs. communities without competition.

Communities with competitors didn’t fare any better.

“Over the 12 months ending January 1, 2013, the average price of expanded basic service increased by 4.6 percent, to $63.03, for those operators serving communities for which no effective competition finding was made as of January 1, 2013,” the FCC said. “For the effective competition communities, the average price of expanded basic increased by 5.8 percent, to $66.14.”

“DBS” is direct broadcast satellite.
FCC

Technically, a community isn’t considered to be competitive unless the incumbent operator has successfully petitioned the FCC for a finding of effective competition. Getting this finding relieves the company of price regulation, which helps explain why customers don’t necessarily pay less when they have choices. Additionally, cities and towns “that are exempt from rate regulation provide a greater number of video channels, on average, than the responding cable systems subject to local rate regulation,” the FCC said.

A community can be deemed competitive if the incumbent has fewer than 30 percent of households as subscribers, or if a second operator offers service to at least half of the community and has 15 percent of households as subscribers. The competition can come from a second cable operator or another service such as satellite.

“We surveyed operators serving 486 out of the 24,238 communities without a finding of competition and 314 out of the 9,417 communities granted an effective competition finding pursuant to the statute,” the report said.

The rising cost of sports programming and other content has probably helped push up prices. Because of bundling, consumers can’t simply choose the channels they want. As we recently reported, US homes on average receive 189.1 cable TV channels and only watch 17.5 of them.

http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/05/shocker-cable-tv-prices-went-up-four-times-the-rate-of-inflation/

The tenth anniversary of “Frasier” proves the limits of Internet nostalgia

“Mean Girls” and “Friends” recently inspired countless retrospectives. But why did the social web forget “Frasier”?

The tenth anniversary of "Frasier" proves the limits of Internet nostalgia
Kelsey Grammer in “Frasier”

One might be forgiven for thinking it was 2004 again on the Internet in recent months, with both the theatrical release of “Mean Girls” and the finale of “Friends” coming in for lavish and over-the-top treatments across the web. But a week after “Friends” ended, its weirdly underheralded network neighbor “Frasier” did; the ten-year anniversary of the “Frasier” series finale is tonight, not that you’ve read about it anywhere. Why have the intervening ten years been so unkind to “Frasier,” a show that was, at its peak, hugely popular?

After all, “Frasier” has more Emmy Awards than any series other than “Saturday Night Live” (which has the advantage of decades on the air); it was a consistently highly-rated series that was widely-known enough that Frasier’s dad’s dog ended up on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. How did “Frasier,” which is still on-air in syndication, lose its frisson as an object of conversation? Why isn’t it a trending topic today?

Part of this may have to do with the show’s format. “Friends,” comforting though it may be, was radically different from most shows that had come before — rather than focusing on a workplace or a family, “Friends” featured a cast of interconnected pals who had no real reason to see one another daily. Nothing Rachel, Joey and the gang ever did seemed like drudgery. It was a vision of aimlessness that held an obvious appeal to young kids watching TV, the same young kids who, ten years later, are exactly the right age to be junior entertainment writers for websites or junior employees at desk jobs surfing the web all day.

By contrast, “Frasier” was a workplace show and a family show; it was basically a series entirely about obligations. Frasier Crane, like his brother Niles, is an aesthete who’d like to focus entirely on going to the opera and buying objets d’art, but must degrade himself by appearing on a cheesy commercial radio station in order to pay the bills. He’s a bachelor — the somewhat sleazy-sounding word fits — who’d love to go on dates with all of Seattle’s most eligible ladies, but must play roommate to his ailing father and his father’s much-hated dog. Even at its very best, “Frasier” was a series defined by the indignities visited upon pompous Frasier, whether at a dinner party or during a night at the symphony. It was, or could often be, very funny, but Frasier’s antics could also be a lot to take.



The sort of anniversary that can easily be celebrated on the social web tends to come with minimal baggage. “Friends” is a breezily fun show to watch; “Mean Girls” is a well-made but uncomplicated teen comedy. “Frasier” was, for a comedy, fairly difficult viewing — and, too, a series that completely decompensated by its end. Maybe if it had ended after five to seven seasons it’d be remembered as one of TV’s smaller-scale gems. But to celebrate the finale of “Frasier” is to celebrate a series that, by the time it wrapped up, had totally lost control of its plot.

“Frasier” never had the oddity of a “Friends” or a “Seinfeld,” where characters could be entertaining with their spiky, unique chemistry. The ways the characters interact — father-son, brothers, boss-employee — are well-done, but familiar to the point that one doesn’t need to be nostalgic for them. They show up on TV season after season. Why would anyone miss something that at its very best is well-executed television and at its worst was boring television? “Frasier” was so generally competent that its best moments blur together, while its worst were mildly annoying or boring. One remembers particular storylines or jokes from “Friends”; one remembers a general “Frasier” mien of highbrow humor and frustrated aristocrats without any specifics.

It is easy to see why certain anniversaries, in particular, have been so widely remarked-upon: “Mean Girls” was a movie that directly appealed to people who are the right age now to be junior entertainment writers at websites, while “Friends” was, more or less, the last wildly successful network sitcom (probably) ever. The end of “Friends” ten years ago was a chance for reminiscence about one of the very few things in our culture that everyone experienced together and basically had positive feelings about. “Frasier” proves that the sort of entertainment for which the public feels most nostalgic makes the unusual seem comforting, so that the memories go down easy. “Frasier” did perhaps a harder thing — taking the forms of traditional family sitcoms and larding them with highbrow references and baroque character traits. It’s an admirable feat, but clearly not designed to go viral.

 

Daniel D’Addario is a staff reporter for Salon’s entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

http://www.salon.com/2014/05/13/the_tenth_anniversary_of_frasier_proves_the_limits_of_internet_nostalgia/?source=newsletter