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Above: Lake Geneva, Switzerland. At Montreux.

Fodderize v.t. 1. To break down individual components; to make fungible; to disregard difference; to render one easily substituted for another 2. To impose sub-quality goods or services upon, with little recourse 3. To cap role choices, hinder access to resources regardless of merit, and so avoid competition 4. To manage perception by propaganda-spin techniques, while concealing dispositive facts 5. To manipulate, lure, exploit, deceive

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Opinions and Culture Wars. How to discern fact-based, or agenda. Teach propaganda defense.

Analyze types of opinions, and their bases.  How to discern what the opinionator has relied upon. Is that reliable, fact-driven, or to promote agenda.

A. Types of Opinions

1. Manipulative opinions. 

These taint because they are  
  • covert, not identified except by carefully tinted words in news
  • anchored only in carefully selected facts, the rest are handily omitted
  • designed to shape beliefs before the facts are in
 
In the old dust-up between the Cambridge MA police and the professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr, who was caught in 2011 trying to get into his own home while black,, compare the news provided by the online services:  Bing seems to be dominated by sources of the AP, Associated Press, and The Tribune newspaper coroporation folks. By way of update in 2013, is that still so?  
 
The issue is raised as to AP because of the justice department obtaining records of AP's news collection practices, see http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/05/13/justice-department-associated-press-telephone-records/2156521/ 
 
This update is not about merits of the seeking;  it looks back at what the nation already knew about AP, and Tribune, and from the Gates matter. 
 
Back to the focus: manipulative opinions.
 
Spot the manipulative opinions in that case in police reports.  Are police reports fact-based, or to support the actions of the police?  Question it where the policeman himself is involved in a later investigation, and where facts may be reported and misreported in order to justify what the policeman did, and why he made the decisions he did. 
 
Be especially careful of those reports when there was no back-up policeman or other person there to corroborate either side. Reports are made after the fact, when there is time to carefully shape it.
Even if the opinion is overt, stated as what conclusions the policeman or other reporter drew, the failure to enumerate all the facts tells you they are being selective, in the interest of persuasion. Know your news source and the context before absorbing an opinion in any of its forms.

2. Transparent, Fact-Based Opinions:

These foster useful discussion when when they are overt, stated to be a opinion, even stated to be based on limited facts as available (no selectivity, just fewer available), and state all the facts known to the opinionator, so that a hearer can assess the connection. Opinions are useful where they shape an issue for a larger stage, rather than let significant issues 'go'. Truth is a defense to what is said. Immoderation in choice of a word is appropriate when needed to make a strong point.

3. Propaganda Opinions Substituting for News.

News adds to a fact base concerning an event or phenomenon. News informs. What someone thinks or believes about something is not news. That is opinion, and adds nothing to the fact base of an event. Facts include the who, what, where, when, why, how. Opinion churning, repeating and comparing opinions, presenting opinions, is not news at all. It is propaganda, depending on whose opinion is highlighted and why. Propaganda for a viewpoint. Is this laziness? Lazily done? Yes. All opinion is intended to persuade; but the measured, fact-based approach costs more money because it requires going out and finding out information. You can't just lead a panel. That is cheap, literally. And, opinions themselves, in the absence of a solidly presented fact base, fosters the emotion-laden selective-fact approach leads to propaganda. Watch the agenda. Watch the mob. Where to mobs come from. Not from fact, but from opinion.

4. Ersatz Opinions by Polls.

Here goes another industry down the tubes. Opinions by telephone polls (that is, most all of them that are reported in media) are highly suspect because they only reach people
a) with landlines,
b) who also answer their phones instead of letting messages accumulate, or
c) who eagerly pick up when a pollster calls, and
d) who do not question the way questions are worded. Answer the question anyway. Who cares.
Who are those people, anyway who answer phone polls? People with nothing else to do? The ones with all the time, who make up the polls. Disregard, largely. Why don't the polls pre-poll for demographics -- that sometimes happens, but in a limited way. Who is answering - as to race, ethnicity, voting history (if any), party, occupation, time at home, computer use, educational level, and does anybody think they would get accurate information any more than the polls themselves get? Why do I think only aging whites answer phones for polls? Is that so? Pre-polling also puts too much information out there. Who will do that voluntarily with all the scams going on?

5. Zombie Opinions.

The living dead. These are opinions that take on a life of their own after a story is over, nobody bothers to put all (yes, all) the facts out in one place, so the opinions can and do continue to unfold.
B. Opinions on the Battlefields of the Mind
Look at The Cambridge police Sgt. Crowley arrest of Professor Gates, and the dropping of the charges before President Obama outlined what he understood and gave his opinion. That all happened after the case was closed. No ongoing investigation.But agenda-ed reports give it more life than the original story. Is that warranted? Examine the process of opinion-offering. Some functional, some not.

Overbattle, by the main characters; and underbattle, by others, making other points. Be conscious. The undercurrent. Easy as 1-2-3?


B. The Gates Matter.  The culture/legal war exemplified in Cambridge MA 2011.

Watch the surrounding opinions, as an under-battle. Facts even though the case was dismissed continue to emerge or clarify, and with their treatment, and as they change, another matter takes center stage. This is a particular issue about regular people, media, politics and government - the Opinion Exchange. This seems more significant overall: the role of opinion in evolving cases.

POTUS. 

The President of the United States. One charged with looking out for national policy. Was POTUS properly prudent in using one immoderate word in connection with his understood and stated facts. Was it tied to those facts, and stated so. Yes, say we, and POTUS was properly Spockish in using it. The tone and body language remained as restrained as ever. The word itself had impact. Note that the police were parties here, in what happened; so examine their accounts of what happened along with the accounts of others. Opportunities for self-serving reporting on both sides, prof and cop.

Police. 

But some say no. Police always right. Look at their service, their risks. So: President Barack Obama and Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley. Examine how we might examine our opinions. See FN 1 as to Gates.


.

C.  The Role of Opinions in Any Warfare.

Is this Professor Gates situation of a citizen and the police a war?

In a sense, yes. Someone is on someone else's turf, the original justification has melted away, and tempers are flaring. Values wars, race animus wars, presumption wars, authority vs. people wars, all conflicts, all recurrent in cultures. He /she who manages to sell a preliminary opinion as the Final Say, wins, so long as the facts do not radically change; and so long as the people are so sold emotionally that they do not care about factual error.

a. Remedy if a problem is to be solved.  

Is it time to set up Opinion Alerts, lest people get so revved up or entertained that they fail as citizens to go further to get the facts, or even realize that the facts are not in yet. Opinions become the issue, not the legal grounds of the case. For those who do not edit online, as we do, life is tough. Follow us again, if you can stand it.

We need to look at measuring opinions, especially the preliminary opinions that so many may buy just because of the perceived authority or persuasiveness of the speaker, so we can defend, and use wisely, each in its turn.

b. Opinions with Facts and Disclaimers Based on Situation

Compare to opinions that frame an issue in a larger setting, and offering a plausible alternative.  As to the Gates matter, see and hear: President Obama at http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=obama+gates+arrest&hl=en&emb=0&aq=f#/ 

At issue: legal issues, of course, as to any police action.

When a President speaks, apply criteria to your views. What did you consider. Was the context off the cuff, or official. We think yes, that his opinion was important in framing the issue as more than just local, and in offering a possible alternative to whatever may appear in a police report, written by the police who were parties to the actual "crime" for which a person was incarcerated.

Tools.

Pull these criteria out any time there is an opinion out there. Is the opinion worth its salt? To what does it contribute as to scope of issue, and treatment; and to whatdegree should you pay attention? Analyze: Is the individual opinion:
  • timed before all the facts are in and laid out; and so
  • preliminary according to its own text statement; acknowledging that facts are still emerging;
  • supported in that text by a statement of the facts as they are understood so far; and
  • supported by a statement of fact in neutral terms and correct as far as it goes, with the conclusion, from those limited facts, allowed to be personal when separated out as the opinion of the good-bad-ugly parts of the case;
  • motivated (this is always hard) by a public service intention a) to frame the issue, in order to show its significance on a larger stage so it does not get "lost", as in a national policy and cultural climate matter involved, and not just a local kerfuffle; or b) lay a marker for later decision-making: this is what we have now, so we are going to go in this direction now, dot dot dot.
  • open-ended, so that changes information will be met with bona fide reconsiderations of the opinion, and the investigation itself left open in all directions
Yes. Okay on all fronts. Mr. President, you were in bounds and overall useful here.

c. Opinions Without Stated Facts or Disclaimers, Regardless of Situation

Same question as above, but tools phrased differently. If you are watching a media talk show, or reading a newspaper, Lou Dobbs is going on in the next cubby, or Rachel Maddow. Or any politician or person perhaps with an interest in persuasion, and not just information. Some of the above are indeed interested in getting out content and information, but that is for you to decide.

Is the individual opinion
  • timed before all the facts are investigated and laid out
  • couched as though it could serve as a final pronouncement on the significance of what happened, despite an ongoing investigation'
  • unsupported in its text by a statement of the facts relied upon; or the facts relied upon are so incomplete or phrased in such a slanted way as to be misleading, or so untrue as to be fraudulent;
  • motivated by a self-service intention: a) to persuade according to one's own interest in profit or power as to the end result, even before the facts are in, and b) not "inform" in a neutral way so that hearers can form their own opinions depending on later facts
  • closed. The speaker speaks with such authority, repetition and volume, that the viewpoint is absorbed and conclusive.
  • given en masse. A panel. Selected "experts". Is this opinion a cheap substitute for content and information by lazy or agenda-ed media, and the propaganda opportunity that opining offers to an unwary public. Sometimes the presentation affects the perception. Sometimes? Always? The loud panelist vs. the more timid, who may be more factual?
Media talking heads, panels, journalism in newspapers (except the New York Times and perhaps others - we did see a seemingly comprehensive fact statement there) that did not lay out all the facts, opinion-churners, revvers-up, no. Bad job. Bad. Got the emotions going, few if any acknowledged that facts could change the opinion, and focused on persuasion on an ideology, not information.

d. So: Our conclusions.

1. Get your own facts first.
2. See if the ones you find gibe with the facts given (or not) by the opinionator.

We think the police had rightly come to investigate a possible burglary at the home of Henry Louis Gates Jr. That matter did not then pan out; but their choices in how they implemented the investigation, in time, place and manner of conducting the investigation of who the resident was, created the real issue. It was the time place and manner decisions in implementing the investigation that triggered angry outbursts against the humiliating and, the resident believed, racial-animus methods, and led to his being dragged from his residence and jailed.

So the police arrested, booked, and jailed the resident for opposing their bullying, intrusive, humiliating (he felt) methods. By that time there was no danger, the original issue had passed. Everybody had an opinion. Some, those that are fact-based, frame the issue as significant, or set the stage for further orderly legwork, and identify themselves as preliminary and subject to change, have merit. Others, disseminated to further other personal or political agendas apart from unrolling a case, do not.

Preliminary opinions can be useful; or devastating. When useful, they help offset the nearly insurmountable advantage that the police have in those situations: the police write the report on which justice relies as a start. People tend to believe it. Early opinions on all sides help offset that, especially where a policeman himself is a party. Gratuitous assertions of power create backwash. How to rein in dysfunctional, damaging, gratuitous force, verbal and physical, in a diverse culture. So: was the force used here gratuitous.
    • Stupidly done? The investigation itself was not stupid. Of course. But how the police carried it out, in ways seen as personally violating and overpowering, with humiliation overtones, was. Time place and manner choices triggered, in a person who had been culturally and racially sensitized, the outbursts.When danger is gone, bring out the PR. The word was used immoderately, but the concept was apt. Even if that word about stupid has now been softened by a lead opinionator himself, it does indeed apply to the implementation choices made by the police. The time, place and manner decisions. Behavior's choices. Discretion within the mandates. More important than the act is the time, place, and manner chosen.
    The investigation was made more complex here because, we understand now. that the resident was a renter whose identification did not include the rental address.

    e. Teachable moments. Education.

    One: Tell renters to carry an envelope that had been mailed to them there, as proof of residence- a simple matter, that satisfies the driver's license people as to residence. We are not sure any more if the Professor was a homeowner or a renter, and that would make a difference in the case. If he is a homeowner, then the dispatcher would have identified him. If he is a renter, then that would not be on public record.

    Two: Tell police to stay outside of people's houses and even off their porches after then are finished investigating. Avoid the opinion wars. Was the Professor on his own porch, with noone else around, or in his house when he was arrested? Is this a "public" disturbance when only the peace of the officers is disturbed?

    It makes a difference to the wars.

    f. Think of duly in your analysis.

    Duly-formed preliminary opinions by officials, including a president, that include statements of the early facts as understood both ways so far, are useful and appropriate. Preliminary conclusions may and can and should be drawn for certain purposes. Making a preliminary conclusion based on fact is not precipitous, or un-presidential, or in-appropriate.

    Unduly-formed opinions, however, by anyone else, or by rogue officials, that present and are disseminated as conclusive of the ultimate issue, are dysfunctional.


    Opinions that are agenda-driven, selective as to fact base. Propaganda

    • Unduly processed preliminary opinions.
    g. Sink the Floater Opinions. Every time they float by.

    A floater opinion is one that is offered by regular people and officials and news reporters and talking heads and other pushers. Its direction depends on the wind.

    These unduly formed opinions are conclusory in presentation, views that sound immovable and absolute, without laying out the specific facts on which the opinion relies, and without laying out what facts were gathered and known, or why prominent issues are not relied upon.

    Floater opinions are like the dead, given by the dead. Is that so? Conclusory views given prematurely and in absolute terms are cages. They rev up but have no life, do not change, take in no new information. Those who foster floaters just give the bald opinion. The great unanchored boat. Let 'er rip. Repeat. Add volume and visuals. Say whatever. Just keep it up, and enough people will absorb it and hop on board.

    Floater opinions are cannoned out - more metaphors - by people with agendas, and the agenda is not finding out "truth". The agenda for the Floater is persuasion: propaganda for the cause the benefits the cannoneer. And it works.

    Application.

    Discern slant. All credibility hinges on the magic of "duly". The key to sound procedures. But persuasion can take over anyway, and that is why we need to educate ourselves on how manipulation by limited information works. "Duly" describes proper procedure; the order of things. Who does what and when, to preserve as much information as possible. Duly means done as required at the particular stage involved, at the expected time, by the person supposed to do it. This can be early in case, or later. The timing depends on the intent.

    How to assess individual credibility, motivations, and presumptions. if the "duly" produces reliable information about who, what, why, when, where, how; we can move on to assess how this should affect Life. If duly done, fine.

    If not, not. Knot.

    Duly. Duly is the tool for untying the Gordion knot. A Gordion knot is a public tangle at high stakes: where the one to make it untie can be kinged. It was Alexander the Great who succeeded in ancient Gordium, with his bold stroke.

    The concept of "Duly". Was it applied. Is it being applied. If knot, we won't get beyond it to learn something, or resolve issues. Our culture has identified a number of bold strokes - bold as in boldface this time- to get us through our cultural conundrums. What are our choices among them, and who lies in wait with deep pitfalls to catch us on our way.

    Waiting to form any opinion at all until all the facts are in is wonderful. But that is the dream world. In the real world, there are voiced conclusions frequently, not just opinions, but formal decisions prematurely made, by those duly agenda-ed. Only then comes a quasi-investigation, in order to support the conclusion.
    The trigger event, glommed in various states of spin, is accordingly cannoned out, so that public opinion that is calcified without fact can again rule the day; and even fog what happens next about the "crime scene." Neutral investigation and report, a tool of justice, becomes a weapon for other agendas.
    .



    So: So far, we think that the President was right in offering a preliminary opinion based on the facts he stated, because this is not a mere local issue, but has national policy ramifications - what degree of force and obtrusiveness is to be tolerated by law enforcement when doing their jobs affects directly the perception of racial profiling.

    The President was also right then to hold back on direct involvement. It took the use of an immoderate word to make the point that the police are not always right, especially to some communities among us, but it was tempered by the context and clear statements of the facts he relied upon. It is indeed stupid to sack your training and push too hard when you don't have to. And then not show your badge to the one so angered?

    The media was not right in taking conclusory sides, however. Or in its partial quotations from the statements made.

    Is it appropriate for officials to assess and comment upon the action as it unfolds, to frame the issue, and establish foundations for next steps in the investigation and later final conclusions. Yes.

    Is it appropriate to choose carefully the time, place and manner of getting a point across? Yes. See this roadside speed warning. It works. And you laugh as you go by and stop and take a picture. No hard feelings. The benign approach can work. Try it. The President was right to criticize the heavy hand when lesser means were available - like just leaving.



     ....................................................................................................................
    FN 1 
    FN 1. The Gates matter.  Background.

    We can probably agree a) that there was a clear right for the police to investigate whether Professor Gates was rightfully in the house, after a break-and-enter report was called in; and, after all the versions of facts that we have, and b) that both sides, in their choices of how to behave once it was clear that he was rightfully there, were woeful in some respects. So, this is a time-place-manner problem, and not whether the original action was justified. The police, as the ones in and with power, however, had the greater responsibility to be wise in their use of it.

    Facts, then unroll. And roll on.

    Facts are the observables. The things people said they saw, and heard. But emoticons have already taken over for many of us. Who cares about facts when core values have been revved up by the revvers. And the values get revved up by opinions disseminated, especially before facts are in. So we focus on that.

    Enter, Opinion. How do those affect how facts are perceived, are phrased.

    We can thank dissemination of Opinion for the emoticon dominance. Opinion: a tool for shaping the proper scope of an issue, or a tool for manipulating it. Opinion here makes this case is bigger than its own incident facts. So many opinions circulated immediately, some with merit, as fact-based, even if stated to be limited facts; some without merit as emotion-based. Each influenced the result still resulting.

    The churning of preliminary opinion gives rise to enough material to support a year's course in any of the following: American History, Sociology, Criminology, Public Relations, Political Machinations, Abuse of Everything In Order to Make a Buck, Good Intentions, Media Manipulation Churning Opinions Instead of Offering Content and Information, and personality journalism take-overs.


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