Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Marx Materializes at the Border

September 2nd, 2015 - 3:44 am

Can unbelievers summon up the devil? Before answering the question, let’s digress.

For many years, the Third World has functioned as the sump of toxic Western ideas. Ideas too dangerous for any sane person to actually try were boldly exported there. Years ago, a Bavarian friend remarked that the most destructive German export of all time was Karl Marx; far more catastrophic in effect than that perennial rival for ideological malpractice, Adolf Hitler.

There’s something to this. Marx’s disciples like Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, and the Kim family have between them killed many more people than perished at the hands of Adolf. Yet after each catastrophe, the intellectuals would go back to the drawing board and try again with the highest hopes, since the inhabitants of Africa, Asia, and South America seemed perpetually ready to be sacrificed on the altar of “scientific” socialism.

One of the characteristics of Leftism is that it always works best for the “masses.” The Vanguard are somehow always exempted from its strictures, as they have important work to do. Individuals who sincerely decry “carbon footprints” see nothing wrong in flying by private jet to denounce the use of fossil fuels. The bigger the private jet, the more credible the environmentalist.

Marxism is full of schemes that are beautiful at a distance, but only at a distance. Four years ago the Daily Mail noted how Chinese industrial areas were poisoned in the process of producing “clean” wind turbines for the First World:

On the outskirts of one of China’s most polluted cities, an old farmer stares despairingly out across an immense lake of bubbling toxic waste covered in black dust. He remembers it as fields of wheat and corn.

Vast fortunes are being amassed here in Inner Mongolia; the region has more than 90 per cent of the world’s legal reserves of rare earth metals, and specifically neodymium, the element needed to make the magnets in the most striking of green energy producers, wind turbines.

The reality is that, as Britain flaunts its environmental credentials by speckling its coastlines and unspoiled moors and mountains with thousands of wind turbines, it is contributing to a vast man-made lake of poison in northern China. This is the deadly and sinister side of the massively profitable rare-earths industry that the “green” companies profiting from the demand for wind turbines would prefer you knew nothing about.

Vast fields of waste were generated so a delighted environmentalist could watch a windmill go round and round.  Regrettable, but it was the spectacle that mattered, like those electric cars charged from power plants burning coal.  You saw the car and forgot the coal.

Somewhat better known than rare-earth pollution is the irony of ship-breaking industries. The West sends old ships to be recycled to the Third World mud flats, where swarms of impoverished laborers take them apart with hacksaw and cutting torch:

Ship breaking allows the materials from the ship, especially steel, to be recycled and made into new products. This lowers the demand for mined iron ore and reduces energy use in the steel-making process. Equipment on board the vessel can also be reused. While ship breaking is, in theory, sustainable, there are concerns about the use of poorer countries without stringent environmental legislation. It is also considered one of the world’s most dangerous industries and very labour-intensive.

In 2012, roughly 1,250 ocean ships were broken down, and their average age is 26 years. In 2013, Asia made up 92% of the tonnage of vessels demolished, out of a world total of 29,052,000 tonnes. India, Bangladesh, China, and Pakistan have the highest market share and are global centres of ship breaking, with Alang being the largest boat “graveyard” in the world.

Some Pedro, Kwame, or Abdul ultimately picks up the pieces. But we don’t see him and he never says nothing unless he’s dancing at some cultural festival. “Guantanamera! Umgowa! Umgowa!” From countries destroyed by coca production to support cool drug habits, to populations decimated by malaria because of the Western phobia for DDT, to countries doomed to live under hideous but fashionable totalitarianisms in order to keep alive the adolescent student fantasy of some upper-class drone, the Marxist feast needs low-paid waiters to clean up after its dreams.

The poster-couple for this kind of vicarious idealism are probably Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers, who were as close to American aristocracy as it was possible to get.

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The Politics of Symbolism

September 1st, 2015 - 5:39 am

American society became either Confucian or anti-Confucian last week, depending on your point of view. The ancient Chinese sage put great store on the use of the right name. Called the Rectification of Names, his doctrine asserted that “social disorder can stem from the failure to call things by their proper names, and his solution to this was the rectification of names.” Names, said Confucius, had to convey the truth.

If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. … Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.

Modern politicians appear to believe the opposite: social disorder can result from telling the truth. Better the lie.  In consequence the American Left has spent the last two weeks renaming things. The University of Tennessee, at which Glenn (Instapundit) Reynolds teaches, has prescribed a slew of pronouns designed to replace the traditional sexist ones.   “The University of Tennessee has told its staff and students to stop calling each other ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’ and ‘her’ – and to start referring to one another with terms like ‘xe’, ‘zir’ and ‘xyr’ instead.”  They are to be used instead of the old forms, which are now believed to cause offense.

The Knoxville branch of the public university, which has 27,400 students, sent a memo round to its members filled with unusual new parts of speech to avoid referring to anybody’s gender.

According to a gay rights official at the university, the new language regime will make the university ‘welcoming and inclusive’ and stop people feeling ‘marginalized’.

This followed an attempt last week to ban the term “anchor baby” from the vocabulary of civil discourse. Josh Barro of the New York Times says “candidates have come under criticism because of the term’s dehumanizing implication of instrumentality, in either sense of its use: that immigrants have babies to serve as “anchors” that ward off deportation and make it easier to get citizenship for themselves in the future, unlike Americans, who have babies for all the normal reasons.” Jorge Ramos, in his exchange with Donald Trump, objected to the word “illegal alien” as well.

“When you call U.S. citizens anchor babies, is that not spreading hate?” Ramos continued. “When you call 11 million people in this country illegals–and no human being is illegal–isn’t that spreading hate?”

The last few days have seen another headline emerge around the subject of names. President Obama decided to officially rename the peak formerly known as Mt. McKinley as Denali. Jim Acosta of CNN reports that the president traveled to Alaska to engage in some potent symbolism.

To hear the White House describe Alaska, the state has become the canary in the climate change coal mine, complete with raging wildfires, accelerating ice melt in the arctic, vanishing glaciers and whole villages forced to relocate away from rising seas.

President Barack Obama will carry that urgent message to Alaska this week in the hopes his long journey away from his busy agenda in Washington will begin to change the national conversation on global warming.

His first step while he’s there: officially renaming the country’s tallest mountain from Mt. McKinley to Denali, an historic nod to the region’s native population, which the White House says is under threat from the already-present threat of climate change.

Names it turns out, are pretty important. If employed in a sufficiently forceful manner, names can replace the objects they name. Nearly 25 centuries after Confucius, the British writer George Orwell advanced his own ideas about the importance of names. In his theory of Newspeak, Orwell argued that by controlling the notation of a logical system or the words in a language, one could make certain concepts literally inexpressible with the given symbol set.  By manipulating the symbol table, you could make things unquestionable and dissent unthinkable.


No Ordinary Time

August 30th, 2015 - 6:06 am

The news spotlight is on the US electoral drama.  Everything outside the circle of media brilliance is momentarily in shadow, most especially Obama administration’s governance record.  They persist in a singular state of invisibility.  Scandals, domestic crises, foreign conflicts — none have been resolved.  It is just that the newspapers don’t talk about them any more.   Matthew Continetti of the National Review thinks that the normally raucous anti-war groups, even Obama himself, have fallen deliberately silent.

The anniversary of the U.S. war against the Islamic State passed with little notice. It was August 7 of last year that President Obama authorized the first airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, a campaign he expanded a month later to include targets in Syria. So far this month, the president has delivered remarks on the Voting Rights Act, his deal with Iran, the budget, clean energy, and Hurricane Katrina. ISIS? Not a peep.

Obama’s quiet because the war is not going well … One of our most gifted generals predicts the conflict will last “10 to 20 years.” And now comes news that the Pentagon is investigating whether intelligence assessments of ISIS have been manipulated for political reasons. “Analysts,” reports the Daily Beast, “have been pushed to portray the group as weaker than the analysts believe it actually is.” This sort of dishonesty helps no one — except a president whose primary concern is leaving office with his reputation for ending wars intact, and the military brass who wish to remain in his good graces.

The War — if one can call it that — exists without being acknowledged.   China, South America, Russia, the border, inhabit the same limbo.   These, like massive shadowy cliffs,  have faded into an out of focus background under shallow depth of field coverage of the media lens.  All we see sharply are the tiny, minutely defined candidates under a harsh glare. Occasionally actual events intrude in the form of attention-grabbing tragedies that have inexplicably multiplied.

We shudder at the sight of drowned Syrian children washing up on Libyan beaches; shake our heads at asphyxiated truckloads abandoned by people smugglers who took the money and ran; wonder at what the meltdown in China might portend.  But we shudder without much understanding; these tragedies seem to have a kind of meteoric quality, arriving from parts unknown and vanishing to the same distant parts of the media solar system.


That Old Time Religion

August 27th, 2015 - 6:21 pm

Howard Fineman, writing in the Huffington Post described the Democratic Party he was hoping would be born.  He characterized the struggles within the party over its future direction in the following way:

If Biden is to have a chance, he’ll have to somehow reach out to minority voters, who so far seem cool to or even estranged from Sanders and Clinton.

He’d also have to somehow reach out to a new version of the party that is out there waiting to be born. It is a yet-to-be-defined mashup of Black Lives Matter; pro-immigration activism; non-European cultural consciousness; tolerance of all religions, lifestyles and genders; genuine urgency about the fate of the planet; confidence in technology, social media and the sharing economy; and skepticism about America’s right, power and duty to lead the world.

Yet in the wake of worldwide trends it may be reasonable to ask whether Fineman hasn’t got his compass exactly upside down. Suppose his poles are reversed and his vision of the Democratic Party hoping to be born is actually the one waiting to die. How would that change the calculus?

The actual world of 2015 is the image negative of Fineman’s dream.  Rather than being a place where migration is rare and persecuted, it is a world with altogether too much immigration, much of it involuntary,  consists of people fleeing in fear from non-European consciousness. It is a time of people running from an intolerance of all religions save one which believes nearly all lifestyles and some genders should be persecuted, that has produced almost no technology  yet which cleverly uses that invented by others, like social media for their evil purposes.  This is the world which actually obtains.

In other words the empirical earth is full of people fleeing from all that Fineman’s vision holds dear towards everything it abjures.  Most of today’s world isn’t fleeing from Europe and America. It is fleeing toward Europe or America bringing often with them all the intolerances left over from the Old Country.  As the New York Times special on the global refugee crisis explains, there are more displaced persons on the road today than any time since World War 2.

They come from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Forth they stream from Bangladesh and the Muslim parts of Burma. They sail past Indonesia and Malaysia toward the hell-hole of Australia. A huge number are making their way overland through Macedonia and Serbia and are even now burrowing under the frontier wire of Hungary. On they come in boats from Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria, pausing only to catch their breath in Greece, Italy and France before going onward to the Promised Land. Not Israel in this case but Great Britain and Germany.

They come from everywhere, even in Europe masses of people have fled the fighting in Ukraine, half a million from Donetsk alone.  They are swarming everywhere.  The director of Human Rights Watch asks, ‘why does nobody care’ not just about the masses of refugees themselves the carnage they are fleeing from?  After all, the West cared enough once so what changed in the interim?

Last Sunday’s bombing by the Syrian government of a busy marketplace in the town of Douma, killing at least 112 of its own citizens, was one of deadliest attacks in an ever-more devastating conflict. The four strikes came during the busy midday period, as if to maximize destruction. Once again, we were confronted with haunting images of rooms filled with the bodies of the victims, many of them children, being prepared for burial.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, a similarly brutal bombing of a marketplace during the Bosnian war changed the course of that conflict. On August 28, 1995, during its siege of the city of Sarajevo, forces of the breakaway Republika Srpska fired five mortar shells into the Markale market, killing 43 and wounding 75.

What changed in the interval was Western confidence in the normativeness of its values and its ability to intervene in global events. The political delegitimization of Operation Iraqi Freedom added to the disappointment in the Arab Spring has pretty much soured the West on anything except watching the tragedy passively unfold. The “skepticism about America’s right, power and duty to lead the world”, the logical consequence of ‘no more Vietnams’, ‘no more Iraqs’  is no mas, period.


The Alinsky Man

August 25th, 2015 - 5:55 pm

Watch Jorge Ramos of Univision getting tossed out of a Trump press conference by security after trying to pressure the Donald into answering him in the video below this post.  Instead of responding to Ramos, Trump lets security show him the door.  Afterward Trump allows that he has no problem letting Ramos back in, and the Washington Post reports the subsequent conversation between the two men.

After Ramos was allowed back in, a showdown over immigration ensued. “Good to have you back,” said Trump to Ramos. The two talked about building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, about Trump’s plan to deport undocumented immigrants and then bring back “the good ones” and about gangs. “I want these people — the good people — I want them to come back,” said Trump. The problem is bad management, he continued, telling Ramos that he’s not “used to good management, ’cause you’re always talking about government…Government is incompetent.”

The real news was not in the words exchanged, but in the picture of Jorge Ramos being escorted out. It was not even borne by that picture, but embedded the emotional calculus of the act. Everyone who thinks Obama was an Alinsky disciple should watch Trump in action. He understands the Alinsky principle that public events are not about bandying words. They are about creating opportunities for transgressing certain emotional boundaries. It’s about “empowering the powerless”.

Ironic as it may sound, there’s a widespread impression that mainstream Americans are not supposed to answer back when men like Ramos take the stage.  It’s verboten. Not too long ago a public figure would have been terrified to confront Jorge Ramos. There’s  was no real intellectual content to Trump’s performance at the press conference. What there is a dangerous, but powerful spectacle of “wow. He’s telling Univision off! Wow!”

It’s William Tell knocking Gessler’s Hat off the pole. It’s the Injuns throwing Tea into Boston Harbor. It’s Donald Trump facing off a sacred cow. It’s dynamite. Other people, especially Ted Cruz, may be better at words than Donald Trump. But it’s not about words. Trumps words don’t actually mean as much as the fact that he’s saying them to the ruling elite’s face.


Wanted: Rubes

August 24th, 2015 - 5:36 pm

The headlines of the hour pertain to what journalists are calling The Great Fall of China.  Following the devaluation of the China’s currency, evidence of a slowdown and the flight of capital, global stock markets fell in what is now being called ‘Black Monday‘.

The US Dow Jones index crashed more than 1000 points within minutes of opening before stabilising to trade around five per cent lower on Monday. It’s an unprecedented move for the Dow which has never lost more than 800 points in a single day.
Stockmarkets in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain also plummeted after China’s Shanghai Composite Index lost 8.5 per cent on Monday – the largest margin in eight years.

The UK’s FTSE 100 index lost more than $85 billion in the first three hours of trading while markets in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Australia all closed more than more than 4 per cent down.

The massive sell off, dubbed the “Great Fall of China” is being stoked by fears China has lost control of the situation and doesn’t have the means to fix it.

The global sell-off made a mockery of Jack Lew’s assurance, made at a talk in the Brookings Institute, that China’s markets weren’t linked to the rest of the world.

Jack Lew, speaking at the Brookings Institution in July, confidently assured that Americans were immune from weakening markets in China.

“I will say that China’s markets still are pretty much separated from world markets,” the secretary of Treasury, said. “They’re, obviously, moving towards being more integrated, but right now they’re not.”

Chico Harlan, writing in the Washington Post, says Lew was actually right. Beijing’s stock exchanges are not linked to the world. The problem is that they’re not linked to reality either. However China’s economy is linked to the global engine. What actually happened is that China’s stock market began as a Potemkin project to assure the world of  Beijing’s strength.  Chinese investors knew the government would be propping up a mere facade; that the worse China’s economy got, the more the Communist Party would paint the facade. Harlan writes:

Let’s take a moment to state clearly that the stock market and the “real economy,” particularly in China, don’t always dance together. Until 2013, China’s major indexes were among the poorest-performing — which made almost as little sense as what happened next.

Starting about a year ago (yes, amid the slowdown), equities boomed. The Shanghai Composite Index more than doubled, and much of China was in a stock-buying frenzy, most of them mom-and-pop investors rather than major money managers. Shares looked like one of the few good investments in the country, particularly with the real estate market cooling. In a sign of how weird it got, there was even an explosion in margin lending — where individuals borrowed money against the value of their portfolios. Chinese bought stocks with virtually no mind of how the companies were actually performing. On the Shenzhen stock market, the average company had a price-to-earnings ratio of nearly 70:1; in other words, companies were valued way way way beyond their (scant) earnings. (On the Dow, by comparison, that ratio is about 16:1).

What drove this frenzy, in part, was the assumption that a slumping economy would actually help stock prices — by prompting the government to unleash a massive stimulus.

“Whenever bad news came out from the Chinese economy, very frequently the Chinese stock market would rally,” said Patrick Chovanec, a chief strategist at Silvercrest Asset Management. “There was this perverse expectation — fiscal stimulus, lending stimulus. You know, good news equals bad news.

“People were telling themselves stories, just like in the dotcom bubble. ‘The government will put more money into the economy, especially as it is going down.’”

The China markets were to use the American term, “too big to fail” — and when  they collapsed the fall was a proxy indicator not of itself but of the underlying competence of China’s management.  The crisis shattered the illusion of the status quo, which was inconvenient for everybody.  Fergus Ryan, writing in the Guardian, quotes sources that regret that capitalism isn’t being more cooperative with government. “China’s leaders look powerless against destructive market forces. The longstanding perception created by Communist rulers that they are always ultimately in charge takes a battering from feral capitalism,” his article leads. It’s a phrase we often hear: feral capitalism.  What happens when it meets Feral Communism?  The score so far: markets 1: politburo 0.


Altered State

August 21st, 2015 - 8:55 pm

French officials have praised the coolness of off-duty US Marines who jumped a terrorist preparing to attack a passenger train.  Their actions prevented what might have been a massacre.  The incident brought to mind an email I received from a Marine officer in 2008, then recently returned from a stint commanding an infantry company in Anbar, expressing regret he not been in Mumbai at the time of the terror attacks (his civilian employment had set him to traveling) because he felt he might have “done something”.

He devoted the next email paragraphs analyzing the movements of the Mumbai terrorist attackers, pointing out their similarity to the buddy-pair tactics his own men had practiced, with a matter-of-factness and eagerness to be there that some people might find disturbingly unnatural.

Because it is unnatural.

There are probably hundreds of videos on YouTube showing Marines — and other infantry — advancing toward the sound of gunfire in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.  The thing to realize is it is genuinely perverse behavior.  The natural inclination of a normal civilian is to flee from gunfire and seek shelter wherever they may find it.

Most of us should go through life thinking about that sandwich in the rail dining car or the meeting we are scheduled to attend in Paris.  When war suddenly erupts from the train toilet, the normal man even if he has some means of defense will forget to use it in the confusion of the moment. In France the news articles report a number of passengers on the train slightly injured themselves in their effort to set off alarms or escape past closed glass doors.  There is nothing cowardly in this.  That is what 99.99% of the world will do in a similar situation.

Given time many civilians will overcome the initial shock and switch mental gears, as was the case with United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001. They started off as passengers and in consequence the attackers could count on the element of surprise to gain the few minutes needed to complete their plan. In the case of UA Flight 93 it took almost half an hour for the passengers to make the shift.

The passenger revolt on Flight 93 began at 09:57, after the passengers took a vote amongst themselves about whether to act. By this time, Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon and Flights 11 and 175 had struck the World Trade Center towers. As the revolt began and the hijackers started maneuvering the plane around violently, the plane went off of its Washington, D.C. course. The hijackers in the cockpit became aware of the revolt at 09:57:55, exclaiming, “Is there something? A fight?”

But that half-hour was enough.


The Last Atheist

August 21st, 2015 - 5:43 am

A man named Alexander Bard may be typical of the new believers. The Guardian explains: “It is two years since Alexander Bard founded a new religion called Syntheism in which he claimed that the ‘the internet is God’”.  He got the idea at Burning Man.

If Saint Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus, Bard had his “while spending the night lying next to a beautiful naked actress at Burning Man  …  digital natives under 25 now see “the online world as the real world and the real world as a reflection of the online world,” says Bard.

It’s easy to see why Bard should think that.  The Internet nearly has three of the traditional attributes of divinity: omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Although the Internet isn’t omnipotent yet, it is already quite powerful, and not inconceivably on its way to full potency.  Actual omnipresence is further along; probably only a few decades away.  Soon enough everyone will be surrounded by the Internet of Things (IOT).  Household appliances, self-driving cars, sensors embedded in every item — including our bodies — will talk to each other and report on us.  There will be nowhere to hide. Every square inch of the planet will be covered by drone hot spots in the sky owned by Google or Facebook, the better to knit things together.

Omniscience has already arrived, as the subscribers to the Ashley Madison website have discovered to their cost.  Thirty-three million users of the partner-swapping website have had their names, email addresses, fantasies and in some cases nude photographs published online for anyone to search. “Hackers have released the details of 33 million Ashley Madison profiles. Are you tempted to search for your partner’s details?” asks the Guardian.

Whether you search today or in a thousand years the most horrifying, despair inducing thing about the Ashley Madison event is that the nude picture never ever fades away.  To paraphrase Hebrews 4:13 “nothing in all creation is hidden from the Internet’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of them to whom we must give account.” Jared Fogle, the former pitchman from the Subway sandwich chain, actually thought he could keep a secret of his interest in underage girls from cellphone tower logs, website records, text message archives, hotel surveillance cameras, etc, etc.  He was wrong.


How Systems Get Tired

August 19th, 2015 - 2:42 am

One of the arguments for the impossibility of an event is lack of previous failure. “It never failed before and thus can never fail ever”.  The Washington Post’s editorial board invokes a variant of this logic to refute Donald Trump’s border policy, arguing there are so many illegal immigrants it is too expensive to deport them all, leaving no alternative but to accept more.  Besides, America is still standing so what can be the harm in admitting more? The same argument is used to justify other policies.  For example the Fed can continue to print trillions because it always has.

The contrary view is embodied in Stein’s Law, named after the economist Herbert Stein, who said ”if something cannot go on forever, it will stop”.  Following Stein’s Law, neither unbridled illegal immigration nor money printing can continue indefinitely.  Each of these projects has used up a margin and will eventually  reach a point where something unprecedented — something which has never happened before —  occurs.

Social engineers are members of the first school of thought and are typically surprised by unprecedented events viewing them as perverse.  For example the Washington Post notes the shock of rising and virulent xenophobia in Germany, something heretofore thought to be extinct since the end of the Second World War.  ”Germany unnerved by scores of xenophobic attacks against refugees.”  The past should continue indefinitely.  Failure can be due only to wreckers.

By contrast, physical engineers — unlike their social counterparts — are not the slightest bit surprised when structures which have stood for a long time suddenly collapse. The phenomenon is known as materials fatigue.  Precedent is not only not a defense against failure, but is often its cause. When the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed in 2007 some members of the public asked, “how can a bridge which has been standing since 1967 suddenly collapse?”  The answer of course, is the bridge failed because it has been standing since 1967 and the cumulative damage caused by repetitive stress finally did it in.

However, social engineers have no concept of fatigue. They do not understand that “damage is cumulative. Materials do not recover when rested.” Instead they believe in the principle of “acceptance” or legitimization where not only does material recover when rested, it recovers even when it is not rested.  For example, president Obama, fresh from his campaign to legitimize gay marriage announced the appointment of the first openly transgender White House staff member.

Load should follow load to build “momentum”. The fact that a structure has survived a hit it was never designed for only proves to social engineers that it can survive even more impositions.  There is no concept in social engineering of an endurance limit.  On the contrary, social engineering is based on the belief that human beings are almost infinitely malleable.


Good Spiel

August 17th, 2015 - 11:50 pm

If journalism is a faithful mirror of the world then humanity is in trouble.  Most of its coverage consists principally of bad news, to such an extent that there seems to be no other. The BBC’s Tom Stafford explained that it’s not the industry’s fault.  It covers the dark side because it’s what audiences want to see.  Journalists just give people what they want: humanity at its bomb throwing, head-chopping and conniving worst.

In that view the front page is a mirror of mankind. It is a selfie of our sad existence on earth. As proof he cites a study by two researchers at McGill University.

Trussler and Soroka invited participants from their university to come to the lab for “a study of eye tracking”. The volunteers were first asked to select some stories about politics to read from a news website so that a camera could make some baseline eye-tracking measures. It was important, they were told, that they actually read the articles, so the right measurements could be prepared, but it didn’t matter what they read. …

The results of the experiment, as well as the stories that were read most, were somewhat depressing. Participants often chose stories with a negative tone – corruption, set-backs, hypocrisy and so on – rather than neutral or positive stories. People who were more interested in current affairs and politics were particularly likely to choose the bad news.
And yet when asked, these people said they preferred good news. On average, they said that the media was too focussed on negative stories. ..

The researchers present their experiment as solid evidence of a so called “negativity bias”, psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news.

There’s no question that many people are fascinated by sordid scenes. The attraction of programs like Bait Car or Cops may lie in the endless spectacle of human wreckage caught in the act of committing genuinely stupid crimes, often under the influence of drugs or alcohol which they invariably make worse by “fighting the poh-lice”.  The sight of these ugly, mean and often disgusting people Trussler and Soroka explain, makes us feel good since by comparison most of us are ‘better’.  It’s schadenfreude pure and simple.

But the McGill University study doesn’t explain where the good news went.  Like Dark Matter, good news must exist, even if it is invisible, simply because it must logically be there. The world after all, keeps turning.  Something must be doing it — besides Space Aliens. Good news does in fact exist and in massive quantities too, ironically hiding in the last place we would look, in those sections regarded as lesser, like the business announcements, entertainment, sports and the advertisements.