Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 2 Number 10, Oct. 2003
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Some More Postscripts
This month's e-Zine is rather short, both because I spent last
week writing an article on the 2003 SIGGRAPH conference (see
below), and also because we spent the early part of this week
evacuated from our home while the largest fire in California
history burned to within a quarter mile of it.
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/031029easternfronts.gif )
(We live just above the first "E" in "SANTEE" on the map.)
After seeing the unforgettable sight of a wall of flame coming
over the ridge towards my neighborhood, I resolved to do something
I've been planning for several years: digitally scanning all
of my photo albums, burning them onto CDs, and sending copies
to all of my relatives, as both a sharing of memories and
an off-site backup. I urge you to do the same.
Postscript to Vol. 1 Num. 5: "War of the Worldviews: Manipulating
In a previous postscript I mentioned that I'd read "Bias: A CBS
Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News" (2003) by Bernard
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060520841/hip-20 )
I also promised to read and review the rebuttal book that came out
shortly afterwards, "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and
the News" (2003) by Eric Alterman.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465001769/hip-20 )
Well, I don't think I can do it. I wasn't able to finish the book
because it annoyed me too much. Alterman clearly labeled his
book as a critique of Goldberg's "Bias," even putting the word
"bias" in his own title in capital letters and italics to drive
home the point, but then had almost nothing to say about it.
He called it "self-refuting" which I didn't get at all. Goldberg
makes some very specific allegations about news media, and CBS
in particular, actively lying to support a political agenda.
Alterman doesn't address this at all. He seems to think that
pointing out that Goldberg had an personal vendetta against
Dan Rather (well, duh!) was enough to refute him. (And I thought
Aristotle discredited the "ad hominem" fallacy 2,300 years ago.)
He also calls the book "badly written and shoddily constructed,"
which I'll grant, but so what? The question is, is it true?
Instead, he spends six chapters complaining about conservative
opinions -- labeled as opinions -- appearing in the media.
(In "Bias" Goldberg made the point that when liberals have a voice
in TV news and in newspapers, they are called "experts," while
conservatives are called "right wing.") He especially concentrates
on media outside of the primary sources most American's depend on
for news: books, fringe magazines, web sites, and of course talk
radio. Then finally, in chapter seven, he admits that TV news
and newspapers DO have a liberal bias! As Homer Simpson likes
to say, "Doh!"
One problem is that it's hard to define bias when you can't agree
on where the center is. Alterman mentions several times in passing,
quite casually, that he sees it as a mandate of government to
redistribute wealth until differences in income become slim,
without any awareness that this might be a controversial position.
In assessing the impact of conservative books, Alterman says:
It is a painfully ironic fact that in a society as culturally
debased as ours, books can have a significant political and
ideological impact precisely because they are rarely read.
I found it a "painfully ironic fact" that the same can be said
of his book. It looks like it was designed to be weighed, not read.
I can imagine frantic activists drafting him to produce it so
they can claim that "Bias" had been refuted. Alterman begins his
book with this quote:
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and
disregards the rest...
-- Paul Simon, "The Boxer"
More painful irony if you ask me.
I did learn a few things from my partial reading,
like the newsmaking influence of right-wing think tanks,
which have few counterparts on the left, and how some
financial news networks have tolerated blatant conflict of
interest in their sources, but overall I found it to be a
bunch of whiney BS. You see, I do believe the news has
a conservative bias, in addition to a liberal bias.
(I don't think they cancel out. If you believe there
are other points of view besides "left" and "right" this
makes sense. My current theory is that media owners and
upper management tend to be conservative while front-line
reporters tend to be liberal, and both groups influence
the news in their own way.) I am still searching for a book
that honestly addresses bias in the news. Any suggestions?
I will give partial credit to "Political Fictions" (2001) by
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0375718907/hip-20 )
It's focus is not on media bias, but it touches on it.
I was hoping this book would look at the 2000 election as
well as terror coverage, but being published on 9/11/01 (!)
and apparently going to press around September 2000, these
stories didn't quite make the cut. No matter. Didion is such a
fabulous writer, and brutally honest, including about her
own biases (she is admittedly left liberal, a Jerry Brown
supporter, and considers Bill Clinton right wing), that she
is a joy to read. I did learn an interesting factoid as well:
that Linda Tripp was working on the Whitewater investigation
with Kenneth Starr before Monica Lewinski was transferred to
sit next to her at the Pentagon. Things that make you go
"Hmmmm." The big news is that this wasn't reported in the news.
Meanwhile, I have nearly finished Bjorn Lomborg's "The Skeptical
Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World" (1998),
which also touches on media bias. It will be the subject of a
future issue of this e-Zine.
Postscript to Vol. 1 Num. 5: "What Ever Happened to Cybernetics?"
I have received this request for assistance:
Dear Mr. Scrivener
I would like to do a post graduate course that applies cybernetic
and systems theory principles to the fields of sociology and
economy. Can you recommend a good course I could do through
distance education (correspondence or internet based tuition)?
Thank you for your time.
Please email your ideas to me ( mailto:email@example.com ) and I
will forward them to Ms. Bothma as well as summarize them here.
I also received this interesting email, which the author
has agreed to let me share with you:
I've been teaching an introductory course in General Systems
Theory for the last twenty years at McDaniel College (Maryland,
USA). I came across your site today - it's an impressive list
of resources. I don't know if you are still interested in
feedback, but here goes.
I might suggest a few possible additions to your resources list:
1. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (Boston
Studies in the Philosophy of Science, V. 42), Humberto R.
Maturana, Francisco J. Varela
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/9027710155/hip-20 )
They coined the word "autopoiesis" to describe self-referential,
living systems. Probably goes under "Biology."
2. Social Systems (Writing Science), Niklas Luhmann, John Bednarz
(Translator), Dirk Baecker (Translator), Eva M. Knodt
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0804726256/hip-20 )
This is a brilliant (and I don't use the term loosely)
theoretical extension of general systems theory that includes
autopoiesis and an number of other ideas that have come along
since Weinberg's book. I've used Weinberg for years, and still
use it when it's in print, but I suspect that Luhmann is the
future. _Social Systems_ is translated from the German and
difficult - I've used it with undergraduate students, but we
have to go very, very slowly.
There are a number of good systems related websites. I didn't
notice these in your list, but I might just have missed them, so
please forgive me if I repeat:
1. Principia Cybernetica Web
( pespmc1.vub.ac.be/ )
Excellent resource, cogent articles and definitions.
2. Whole Systems
( www.worldtrans.org/whole.html )
Large site with links to many subtopics.
( memex.org/meme.html )
Archive of the online magazine - 1995-1998.
( sodaplay.com/constructor/how/start.htm )
Build animated systems from soda straws - weird, but effective.
Postscript to Vol. 2 Num. 6: "Report from the 2002 International
SIGGRAPH Conference and Exhibition on Graphics and Interactive
Techniques, San Antonio ~ or ~ Steers, Beers and the Nth Dimension"
As mentioned previously, I once again attended the SIGGRAPH
conference this year, and wrote an article about it. You
can find a copy here:
Postscript to Vol. 2 Num. 9: "Do Nothing, Oscillate, or Blow Up: An
Exploration of the Laplace Transform"
To my chagrin, after I distributed last month's e-Zine I discovered
an error in the math. Actually, there are four equations that are
wrong, but they all follow from one mistake. I guess it's a testament
to how unpopular math is that nobody looked closely enough to find
the errors (or at least they didn't tell me). Rather than correct
them now, I'm going to wait one more month and have a contest:
the first person to correctly identify them will get a copy of
either Bateson's "Steps to an Ecology of Mind"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226039056/hip-20 )
or "Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity" (your choice).
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1572734345/hip-20 )
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Copyright 2003 by Alan B. Scrivener