Facts Matter..?

December 12, 2017


I like to flatter myself that I am an independent thinker, i.e, I think for myself.  One of the problems with that tendency is that I sometimes find myself in disagreement with people with whom I agree most of the time.  This slogan, in the button above, is one of those instances.  I dislike it intensely.

The first reason I dislike it is that everyone knows that facts matter – even Trumpy and Roy Moore.  Even Kelly Anne Conway, she of “alternative facts” fame.  The disagreement is over what is, and what is not a fact, and how important some facts are compared to others.  Science and history have their methods for resolving these questions, techniques in which our present administration is uninterested because they pose inconvenient questions, but the importance of facts is not really at issue.

One of the unpleasant aspects of being a dissenter is that you are opened up to condemnation when you disagree with the prevailing view, what Flaubert called “received wisdom.”  I may agree with my friends 95% of the time, but when that 5% comes up, out comes the “Facts Matter” button!

The other reason I don’t like this slogan is that it presumes that the speaker has all the facts, i.e. THE FACTS.  Much of the time, these days, the slogan is deployed regarding Trumpy’s lying and misstatements about politics,  history, economics…well just about anything, and the newspapers, e.g. the NYTimes, are held up as proof that he is wrong.  Well, I like the NYTimes and read it daily, but memory is short.  About fifteen years ago, it was telling us breathless stories about the vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction hidden in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, remember him?  There were no WMDs.  I knew it then, and so did lots of other people.  The paper did apologize, years later, but why assume that they have the facts simply because they happen to be in the right all the time about Trumpy?

It’s a lot of work to cross check sources, read up on issues, track the positions of people to see if they lie about their past statements, and so on, but hey, you want a democracy, that’s what you have to do.  You want knowledge, you have to work for it. Relying on Breitbart or the NYTimes as the oracle of The Truth is the lazy way to ignorance, though of the two, naturally you’ll do better, most of the time, with the NYTimes.  That’s based on my personal research.  🙂

And just FYI, the NYTimes still maintains the same low standards of journalism they displayed in their coverage of the WMDs in Iraq when they “report” on climate science.  Facts matter, but you’ll look long and hard for them in their coverage.  Just sayin’.  🙂



Hot Type Eulogy

August 14, 2011

The leviathan at the top here is a linotype machine that produces a line of set type in hot lead.  Yes, the operators punch in the letters on the keyboard, and the type is cast as they go from molten metal.  This supplanted hand-set moveable type that had been around since Gutenberg, and it was the state-of-the-art in large printing operations for one hundred years.  On July 2, 1978, the last ‘hot type’ edition of the New York Times, which had the biggest ‘fleet’ of  linotypes in the newspaper world, was set in lead, and the paper went digital.  Farewell to etaoin shrdlu is a wonderful short film that captures that evening and takes us through the entire process of composing the pages of the newspaper as it was done then, and shows how, the morning after, it continued to be done, digitally.

I have always found linotypes fascinating:  they look for all the world like Rube Goldberg fantasies, but they work!  And the idea of casting lines of type from molten lead on the fly seems somehow bizarre – how could such a process survive in the modern world?  Well, it couldn’t.  As several people remark, the linotype took the automation of mechanical printing about as far as it could go, far enough to last 100 years, but it had to end.  Composing fourteen lines a minute can’t stack up in the Age of Information when computers can do it at 1000 lines per minute.

Of course, in 1978, the computer systems were used to produce printed columns of type which were still pasted up into complete pages.  Like much else in the film’s tour of the brave new world of digital printing, this is gone too, and now pages are composed completely digitally, the way so many of us lay out throwaway pamphlets in Pagemaker, or whatever software is cheapest today.

Here’s the opening view in the film:  the title refers to the first two columns of keys on the keyboard that an operator would hit to denote a line with an error, or something like that – I didn’t quite get it.

A close up of the lead set type of the front page of the New York Times.

Molten lead, ready to be cast into type at the press of a key.  That’s why they call it hot type!

Hearst & Herriman

May 18, 2011

If we know much about William Randolph Hearst, the king of yellow journalism, it’s likely to be what we’ve gleaned third or fourth-hand from the film, Citizen Kane.  Orson Welles plays Kane, trying to plumb the depths of the soul of this egotistical, ruthless, dictatorial, vulgar, fabulously rich and ambitious man.  Hearst/Kane was not known for his cultural sophistication – Xanadu/San Simeon is a monument to aquisitive vulgarity – but, then again…

The picture at the head of this post shows Hearst visiting the Grand Canyon with George Herriman (hatted) the creator of Krazy Kat.  This comic strip was beloved by intellectuals, the Algonquin Round Table set, for instance, praised by George Seldes, one of the first highbrow critics to champion popular art forms, and is today revered, rightly!, as one of the great artistic creations of pop culture in the 2oth century.  (A few earlier posts on the strip, here.)

Hearst was friends with Herriman, and loved his work.  In fact, as the popularity of the strip waned in the 1930’s  in the face of more story-based comics, e.g. Li’l Abner by Al Capp, Hearst remained adamant in his support.  Many editors wrote him asking that he drop the comic from their syndicated papers, but he refused.