Bing just reminds me of Chandler Bing

The Imperial War Museum in London is great.  You can stick your head in the cabins of refurbished tanks and wonder how six men could ever fit in there, let alone steer the things, aim guns and operate communications equipment.  You can read about the hard process of designing big canons, building them with your people left on the home front, lugging them to battle, all in the hope that your field commanders will find them fit for that enemy at that place.  On the top floor, the Holocaust exhibition is unfailingly thorough in forcing you to confront certain emotions and questions.


To an incredible extent, our beliefs about the world around us are determined by informational media.  Consider:

|+|  The rumor that the DJIA plunge on Thursday came as a result of a trader accidentally typing in “B” instead of “M” in operating a trade (selling billions of shares instead of millions), setting off a cascade of events as various algorithms reacted to the price change.  Even CNBC reports this, because it’s good for circulation I guess.  I mean, you can check the trading volume of [PG] and [ACN] for May 6 and verify that billions of trades were not actually made.

For that matter, do any traders actually use an interface where they can type in “B” for billions and so on?  A few commenters from the industry said no — if this simple fact was never subject to a fact check, then isn’t the keystroke theory completely unfounded speculation?  Where did this rumor come from?  It just draws attention away from what we should be doing, which is investigating how and why such a sharp swing of the index came about.

|+|  Does journalistic language affect our perceptions of and opinions about news events?  In commenting on the acquisition of Business Week magazine by Bloomberg L. C., Stanley Bing discusses a style guide which Bloomberg mandates its journalists to follow.  Among other things, “The Bloomberg Way” does not allow the use of “but”, and discourages the use of “however”, “although”, and “despite”.

Quoting Bing:

Now, think about that for a minute.  What does that eliminate from the way you communicate a story?  What is the function of “but”? Of “however”?  And likewise, of “although” and “despite”?  They are all ways of moderating a fact or a point of view.  You say, “I like cheese.”  And then, because there are times when cheese is not appropriate, you add, “But never on Tuesdays.”  You say, “The traders at Goldman continued to sell packages of sub-prime mortgages.”  And then, because it seems germane to the point you are making, you add, “despite all indications that the market was tanking at that time.”

But it is true that removing from journalists the tools to make sentences complex, to stuff more ideas in there than you really want, might just be good journalistic practice.  No sentence will contain forking ideas.  Unit by unit, the writer advances the narrative with clarity.  Readers probably prefer it.  Then again, that’s no argument for neutrality if you think that readers just prefer to receive their opinions from the media rather than form their own from scratch.

Too cynical?

|+|  Reading the headlines in British newspapers from 1933–1942 is depressing.  The earlier ones are completely ignorant of the Nazi threat.  Chronologically they grow cognizant, and eventually the facts on hand can’t be mistaken for anything other than a mandate for war.


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