Biorhythms, Not Algorithms!

In Better Shoppers, Demand Side Vs. Supply Side on December 3, 2011 at 2:25 am

The monstrous hydra, or virtue invulnerable

Weren’t  “Quants” responsible for crashing  the global economy in 2008, partially thanks to some incomprehensible algorithm—one that, although designed by humans, seemed more like a ten-headed hydra, multiplying the mortgage mess that unleashed algorithmic fear into every bank account, public and private, in the world?

According to Wikipedia, In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm Listeni/ˈælɡərɪðəm/ is an effective method expressed as a finite list[1] of well-defined instructions[2] for calculating a function.[3]

And according to The New York Times, such finite list of well-defined instructions boils down to their Trusted Commenters.  (TC just might become the penultimate PC!)  According to a reader response, a Sasha Koren of the Times flatly states, “Commenters selected to be invited to the program are chosen by algorithm based on comment history.”

Did they rely on a panel of humans, taken from both inside the Times’ corporate regime, and outside– loyal readers and commenters, some of whom have  years’ long relationships with the paper–to have a lively debate about the pros and cons of a new commenting system, let alone a 2-tiered one among a highly engaged, highly politicized and opinionated group of readers, some of whom take this Democratic ideals stuff a titch more seriously than our wildly stratified society suggests others do?

No.  That would only make sense to people who might have less optimism about the ability of computers to let us know what we really want, after that minor detail of the   world economy crash in 2008.   Obviously, no one who designed the algorithm seemed to know or care what a tizzy some people have been in, year after year, over the outright shredding of our Constitution–They haven’t noticed that some of us see that regime changes are not abating the whole sale of our rights to the highest bidders who have purchased our government to procure their rights at our expense.

No, it seems painfully clear that neither Jill Abramson, nor any people who make the decisions that matter at the Times, EVER read our comments.   I am certain we got our answer with the 900 screeching reader comments of horror about the new format, and the lack of substantive response from anyone.  The 1% are absolutely immune to us, even if all their algorithms kill us 99% to the point that they have no business because we are all dead.

Every stupid decision by our elected officials that keeps people unemployed means there is one less derivative to derive, one less service to sell, including a subscription to the NYTimes.  But in a typical conservative “it’s all supply side, not demand side” economic view, the Times shoots itself in the foot by moving to a comment format that gives them a lucrative contract with Facebook and Twitter–at the expense of losing its unique readership, who are so anti-Facebok and anti-Twitter to the point of possibly vindicating the existence of that elusive anti-matter the physicists are always searching for.  The Times thinks the supply of advertising hits from Facebook and Twitter is going to more than offset the loss of demand from loyal users.   And the users, I believe, declared that, liberal and conservative, they were The 99% to prove such supply-side economics wrong–you can’t supply advertising to an audience that doesn’t exist because they’ve left.

Yet, every real truth teller has the curse of being accurate, but never being believed–the world’s most authentic Cassandra being Paul Krugman—and I can only believe he, too, read those 900 comments about the new system and just exploded his eyeballs out at how the Times is, yet again, committing suicide.   The loss of Bob Herbert,  Frank Rich,  the paywall, and now this.   The new audience The Times may attract is not necessarily going to worry as much about whether we have any vestige of Democracy left in this shop-a-holic horror show of pollution, sprawl and Oligarchy—and that may be exactly whom the Times is trying to woo–an audience who worries less about the problems of the world and are BETTER SHOPPERS.

Turns out the Times couldn’t data-mine our comments as well with the old system.  But linking your family/personal info on Facebook to your innermost political thoughts?  I can just see the Amazon offerings now–the Anti-Liberal Whoopee Cushion for frustrated Conservatives who need to squash something to prove Government is always the problem, never the solution.    And, just in time for Christmas:   The Job Creator’s Field Guide to the 99%,  to  illuminate to the 1% all the shapes and stripes and forms of misery we come in, and what habitats, such as OWS protests, bridges, tops of trees (stragglers of OWS in LA lingered there after the camp was busted by police) we may be spotted at.

Never mind that the Times will  thus be indistinguishable from every other paper out there, which have been merged, blended, folded, sold, and spit out as frat-boy playgrounds (see the downfall of the Tribune story, well chronicled in The Times….).   They were the last eensy teensy conscience and speck of hope that this wholly market -saturated consumer mania “society” had any place where the willing could converge to re-define Democracy, or at least idealism, among the faithful, among those not eaten alive by cynicism.  Some of the comments on Sardonicky expressed such lament best, especially an anonymous one.

Given that we do not know how the internet will be transformed, or transmogrified, in 2 or 50 years, given all sorts of regime changes, and even, possibly, the utter annihilation of any vestige of Democracy, I still think it’s not a bad idea to use a pseudonym on the internet.   There are just too many variables for anyone to really know, or safely predict.  Even as people Facebook themselves away, and future generations may not even know what a book was.  But losing the amiable, friendly, democratic and non-commercial commenting platform at the Times surely seems ominous for losing one of the few spots where Democracy might have re-grown from the ashes….

  1. Have you considered commenting on Mother Jones articles? http://motherjones.com/

    I’ve written over 300 comments on NY Times Op-Eds since September 2010. Not one of my comments deviates in the slightest from the NY Times’ Readers’ Reviews Posting Policy http://tinyurl.com/7kgyb5k

    Nonetheless, even comments that were submitted within 15 minutes of the Op-Ed’s publication, routinely were published so far down that few, if any, would read them–effectively, censoring my opinions. Other commenters routinely are published within the first 25 comments. Something is amiss here. I wrote the NY Times 6 times about this and didn’t receive even one reply.

    Maybe I’ll comment from time to time on NY Times Op-Eds–have yet to submit anything since the new comment system started–but the motivation to do so has been undermined. I prefer to spend my time writing in publications that don’t censor relevant opinions.

    • Hi Steve,
      Part of the issue with getting in the top 25 comments used to be that few people know about the RSS feed. You have to register for the RSS feed (that little orange symbol) that sends the article straight to your inbox, sometimes hours before “publication” on the actual webpage of the Times. Other times, the RSS is down, but they’ll bury the publication of the op-ed on the columnists’ home page, and you could get your comment in early that way. Now all bets are off with this new system–not sure if any of that applies anymore. I doubt I’ll read comments much anymore, because I can’t easily find familiar names in the comment streams with the new system.
      The key is to find out how to be as provocative as possible and still get published–Karen, Marie Burns, and Walter Rhett (and formerly Kate Madison) have nailed that art, to the appreciation of a wide audience. Why the Times would want to lose some of their beloved contributors while retaining others is sadly obtuse.

      Also regarding censorship, Roland Barthes has some consoling ideas when he notes how language itself opens a beehive of paradox regarding conceptions of power–I quote at length from his lecture entitled _October_, from MIT Press, Spring, 1979, below:

      To teach or even to speak outside the limits of institutional sanction is certainly not to be rightfully and totally uncorrupted by power; power (the libido dominandi) is there, hidden in any discourse, even when uttered in a place outside the bounds of power….

      Language is legislation, speech is its code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is a classification, and that all classifications are oppressive: ordo means both distribution and commination. Jakobson has shown that a speech-system is defined less by what it permits us to say than by what it compels us to say. …

      But language—the performance of a language system–is neither reactionary nor progressive; it is quite simply fascist; for fascism does not prevent speech, it compels speech.
      Once uttered, even in the subject’s deepest privacy, speech enters the service of power. In speech, inevitably, two categories appear: the authority of assertion, the gregariousness of repetition. …

      In speech, then, servility and power are inescapably intermingled. If we call freedom not only the capacity to escape power but also and especially the capacity to subjugate no one, then freedom can exist only outside language. Unfortunately, human language has no exterior: there is no exit. ….but for us, who are neither knights of faith nor supermen, the only remaining alternative is, if I may say so, to cheat with speech, to cheat speech. This salutary trickery, this evasion, this grand imposture which allows us to understand speech outside the bounds of power, in the splendor of a permanent revolution of language, I for one call literature.

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