Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Spiral of Silence

The Spiral of Silence is a concept proposed by political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann.  She was a pioneer of public opinion polling and market research in Germany, and she proposed the Spiral of Silence concept in the mid-seventies.  Essentially it concerns the effect of peer pressure in groups.  Her thesis is that when we find ourselves in a group – perhaps otherwise compatible – where we hold a view not shared by most of the group, we feel reticent to express our conflicting view.  Just how we know our view is the minority one is not obvious, but I imagine we have all had this experience in some context or other.  The spiral effect begins when someone firmly proclaims the majority view and receives support confirming the leaning of the group.  As support for that view is mustered, we find it harder and harder to oppose it presumably out of fear of ridicule, rejection, or isolation.  Eventually the opposing viewpoint is not put forward at all.

Elisabeth may have had some experience of this.  Before the war she worked briefly for the Nazi newspaper Das Reich; certainly the Nazis knew all about silencing dissenting views.  An extreme version of the Spiral may have been one of the reasons that ordinary decent Germans largely did not speak out against the atrocities.
One thing is clear: the Spiral of Silence is not good for a democracy where robust debate should lead to informed decisions.  A huge step in the right direction was the advent and popularization of the internet. 

Now information could be instantly in the hands of the people and they could make their views public.  One only has to think of the Arab Spring as a case in point.  Here were people expressing views way off the status quo, supposedly majority, view.  Why else does China close down blog sites (including this one), and even youtube, on sensitive occasions such as the anniversary of Tiananmen Square?  In particular, social media sites are seen as fora where alternatives views can be expressed in a relatively unthreatening environment.

Well, maybe not.  Yesterday a New York Times article entitled How Social Media Silences Debate covered an interesting report from the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University – Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’.  To quote the NYT: “Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, has the effect of tamping down diversity of opinion and stifling debate about public affairs. It makes people less likely to voice opinions, particularly when they think their views differ from those of their friends…”  In other words, the Spiral affects groups on the internet too. 

I don’t suppose the conclusion is really very surprising when one thinks about it.  After all, social media are about generating online groups of friends, often with common interests and connections.  It seems reasonable that people would be just as concerned about the reactions of these virtual friends to their contrary views as they would be in other social groups.  Social media bullying and the like are well documented, and if anything easier for the perpetrators because they can hide behind some level of anonymity.  The report suggests that this is indeed the case.  More startling was the outcome that people who use social media regularly (multiple times a day) are actually more reluctant to express their views in the “real” world.

“The Internet, it seems, is contributing to the polarization of America, as people surround themselves with people who think like them and hesitate to say anything different.  Internet companies magnify the effect, by tweaking their algorithms to show us more content from people who are similar to us,” was the NYT interpretation.

The authors, however, don’t go quite that far in their claims.  Their research was based on a reasonable sample of people (around 1800) interviewed about their social interactions around the topic of the Snowden disclosures.  This particular topic was chosen because the US is pretty divided on the issue so it is by no means obvious what the majority view would be in any particular group. (44% think it harms the public interest and 49% think it serves the public interest. Presumably the other 7% asked, ‘Who’s Edward Snowden?’)

This is hardly the religion-or-politics type of issue to be kept off the dinner table. Fully 86% of the respondents were willing to discuss the topic in a face to face gathering, yet less than half that number would be willing to do so on social media. Essentially none of the minority uncomfortable with the topic in group discussion would be willing to express a view on Facebook or Twitter.

Encouragingly, people were more likely to speak out in person or on a forum if they felt they knew a considerable amount about the subject, had a strong opinion, or high interest.  Nevertheless, the bottom line is that debate is no more encouraged by the internet – at least in the social media context – than in personal meetings.  Also the debates that did take place seem to have been rather low on content: only 15% of the respondents said they’d learned anything about the topic on Facebook whereas 58% had received information from broadcast media.

I could make a few comments about these outcomes in the context of my own views on social media, but I don’t think I will.  I think most of my friends would disagree with me...

Michael - Thursday

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Difficult times for le President

Difficult times for le President. Poor Francois Hollande - yesterday on the 70th anniversary of Paris' Liberation he was up in rainy Brittany, his glasses getting wet and laying damp wreaths on Resistant hero's memorials. In Paris he was having Manuel Vals, his appointed Minister of Interior of only a few months, dissolve his Socialist government (to exclude Socialist dissidents of his party who disapprove of his austerity program). This is the second time he's dissolved the government in his two years of office.
 Poor Francois has approval ratings of %17. He's not even seeing Julie Gayet his actress girlfriend anymore. What's le President to do with a %10 unemployment rate in France. He's even in trouble with pal Frau Angela Merkel - who has rejected French and Italian appeals to soften the Eurozone deficit targets which they have failed to meet. Sad since they've been such good friends up to now.
 However Frau Merkel has said 'nein' to the appeal and gone off hiking on the Campostela pilgrimage trail to Spain with other EU leaders. Why hasn't Francois been invited?
Here's a last of the summer vacation suggestion for le President :

Load that rucksack, grab that hiking stick and join her. It's not rainy in the south, it's a great workout, it's historical and you'll see some of your own country.
 Don't forget good hiking boots.
Try to remember that she likes sports and gets to go into the team locker room at the World Cup
 She networks all the time.
 She balances her budget and then some.
 She likes beer.
 She does selfies - she's a fun gal.

Maybe le President could have fun working a little of the Francois magic that worked on his girlfriends - Segolène, Valèrie and Julie. Maybe sharing a hiking experience with Angela would help soften her on the Eurozone, get you a tan, and a good workout.
 Cara - Tuesday

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kenya 2012: The Trip So Far in Photos

Here is what I can tell you today.  I promise you will hear more about this trip than you likely care to, but take a look at these:


A Visti to Karen Blixen's house

" the foot of the gong hills."

Lucy, my guide, and a portrait of Karen
Karen's house, now a museum.


Me, on my way to breakfast, looking very happy because...
....this is what I have just seen from the walkway.

At a delicious lunch under a baobab tree..

An ancient problem is investigated through social research.  A poll is taken:
"Which did you eat first, the chicken or the egg," he is asking. It ended in a tie!
Annamaria - Monday

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Blogger: Gigi Pandian--"Sharing the Road in India: Making Way for the Elephants, Goats, Monkeys, Camels..."

Every other Sunday is our day for Guest Author Postings by mystery writers who base their stories in non-US settings.  We think it a great way of introducing our readership to new experiences and places.  We’re pleased to have with us today a writer I (Jeff) had the fun of meeting at this year's Left Coast Crime when I moderated a panel titled, Mystery Far Afield. So it's with great pleasure I introduce you to USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian who writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series and the forthcoming Accidental Alchemist mysteries. Her debut novel, ARTIFACT, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut by Suspense Magazine. The follow-up, PIRATE VISHNU, is now available. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her anthropologist parents, giving her good fodder for her novels set in countries ranging from Scotland to India.

Welcome, Gigi!

Earlier this month, I read an article about how New Delhi is currently being overrun by rhesus monkeys. I’m lucky that I’ve never had my glasses stolen by a monkey while visiting the Indian capital, but reading about the thieving monkeys got me thinking about my various animal encounters in India—most of which have happened while traveling on modern highways.

On my last trip to India, I flew into the south Indian city of Bangalore, where my father and I were visiting family. We took an autorickshaw through the city streets, and one of the first things I saw is pictured in the image below: a goat riding inside an autorickshaw!

I should admit that the goat hadn’t hailed the three-wheeled taxi on his own. When my own taxi passed the goat, I was able to see that the animal was sitting next to his owner. (Or, as my father would say after his childhood in India caring for his family’s goats, it’s debatable which one is the owner...)

A more frequent sight than an animal sitting on a taxi seat is a larger animal serving as transportation, such as the elephant being ridden or a camel pulling a cart of goods.  

I live in urban California, a place where nobody would put up with being slowed down by animals on the road. But in India, a country far more populous and crowded, people make it work.

One of my favorite things about visiting different countries is seeing not only the famous sights, but ways of life that are so normal for millions of people while at the same time being so foreign to me.

It was on the highway in between Kanyakumari and Kochi, along the coast of southwest India, that my latest mystery novel came together. I’d already written a draft of Pirate Vishnu shortly before my last trip to India. The book is set half in San Francisco and half in south India, and I wrote it while living outside of San Francisco. Because India is an impossible country to forget, it was easy to use my memories to draft the book. However, once I stepped off the plane into the humid air and got onto the highway, I was overloaded with sensory details that made my head spin—and filled in key details for the book.

I had a great time getting slowed down on the road, because it enabled me to take in more of the country. To be fair, it’s not that Indians love being delayed by animals. Especially the animals who cross the road whenever they feel like it. 

I was glad that our driver kept this figurine of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, on his dashboard!

Guest Blogger Gigi Pandian––Sunday

Saturday, August 23, 2014

With Apologies to Shakespeare and Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 2).

Is this a blank page which I see before me,
The blog thought toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To writing as to sight? Or art thou but
A blogpost of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the late-night pressèd brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I write.
Thou deceived me the way that I was going,
With such inspiration I was to use.
Mine blog is made the fool o' th' other ones done,
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
And on thy screen and laptop gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no blog here.
It is the bloody press to write which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one half-world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
Pale god Poe’s offerings, and withered murder,
Alarmed by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With deadline’s ravishing strides, towards some design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my words, which way they speak, for fear
my very stories prate of my runamuck,
And take the present offer from the time,
Which now sits on me. Whiles I write, MIE lives.
Words to the heat of reads too bold breath gives.


Friday, August 22, 2014

If you anchor in Anchorage, do you catch up in Ketchikan?

Here's a question?
If Capetown has 20, Glasgow has 49. Reykjavik 31 and New York 35. Beijing 22 and Paris 25. Poor Jeff out in Mykonos gets only 6.
Ok, so I am talking about rainfall (average in inches per year ) so maybe we should not feel so sorry for Jeff and spare a thought for those hardy but sodden folks who live in Ketchikan, Alaska. A massive 160 inches of rain per year.
It is the rainfall capital of the world.
This week here is a soggy flaneur of Ketchikan. Next week I will tell you the story of the famous murders that took place here, because as we know......murder is everywhere!!!

Famous statue on the pier to those frontiersmen who made the town as it is today. 

Beautiful detail . The statue is called the Rock.

And very welcoming it was. This was about 10.30 AM. light drizzle only.

The pavements are slightly grooved to let the rain drain away

The very famous Dolly's house, a place for working ladies...

The guide to Creek Street. It says 'where fish and fisherman come up the creek to spawn!'

Famous Chilli cafe. Couldn't work out if chilli was a euphemism. Either way, the ladies of Creek Street were hot stuff!

Transport is amphibian.

Diamonds are forever and a girls best friend. And a huge industry here.

We saw this chair sitting on a hill above the creek. Nobody was about.
This type of scene is what gets a crime writers brain whirring.
It's about 12 noon now, rain getting a bit serious.

The stairs up the creek, note non slip matting on the wooden stairs

Rain getting heavy now. Even in our hillwalking gear, we were soaked.

View across the bay.

Creek street

Chatting to a local. He was waiting for his dinner, in the dry.

The famous Creek Street
Water everywhere. Houses on stilts

Dolly's home to world's oldest profession.

Totems and mist.
Deadly quiet.
Just the sound of the rain.

Oh greased lightening, burning up the quarter mile...

The view from the top!
Note the cruise boats lined up. The biggest industry in Alaska is Government. The second biggest
is now tourism. They have it well managed and very controlled. All of Alaska is a rainforest and they work hard to preserve it and it's natural, wild beauty. There was no sense, to quote Charlie Brown, of us 'getting jam on it.' 
Long may that last.
Today it is 22 degrees in Ketchikan. 15 in Glasgow. Raining in both.

Caro Ramsay 22nd Aug 2014