======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 2 Number 10, Oct. 2003 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================

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 Visual Myths" In a previous postscript I mentioned that I'd read "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News" (2003) by Bernard Goldberg. ( 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 Joan Didion. ( 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. Nelie Bothma Please email your ideas to me ( mailto:abs@well.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: Hi - 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: Books 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. Web Sites 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. 3. meme ( memex.org/meme.html ) Archive of the online magazine - 1995-1998. 4. sodaconstructor ( sodaplay.com/constructor/how/start.htm ) Build animated systems from soda straws - weird, but effective. Richard Dillman mailto:rdillman@ticopa.com hfcl.ticopa.com/.
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: www.well.com/~abs/SDSG/SG2003/sg2003.html
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 ) ======================================================================== newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ ======================================================================== Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener, by sending email to abs@well.com with the subject line "opt in" -- you can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================== Copyright 2003 by Alan B. Scrivener