The First 2020 Presidential Debate

Denisa, Tomas, Daniela, and I watched the entirety of last night’s train wreck of a “debate.” I purposefully watched it on PBS, tuning in for none of the pre-debate commentary on any news stations, and turning it off soon after it was over. I didn’t want banners on the bottom of the screen highlighting different parts of the debate. I didn’t want analysis or spin. I just wanted to watch what happened and then make my mind up on my own, thank you very much.

The whole thing left me deeply unsettled and discouraged, though I’m not one who will lay the blame for that at the feet of both Trump and Biden. Yes, Biden did dip into petty name calling and exasperation, and the two of them often reminded me of some of the longer car trips I’ve been on, with the kids in the back seat goading each other. Except one of those children was doing the typical routine of elbowing their sibling in the ribs, and the other one had brought a knife and was repeatedly stabbing their sibling in the back. Treating both kids as equally naughty just doesn’t cut it in that case.

It was clear from the very beginning that Trump wasn’t there to actually debate anything. He was there to throw haymakers, one after the other. To repeatedly shout at Biden in an effort to get Biden to self destruct. I’m not honestly sure how you’re supposed to debate anyone under those circumstances, though Biden made an attempt now and then. (His strongest parts of the debate came when he ignored Trump completely and just spoke to the voters. Probably should have done more of that all night long, though I’ll be the first to admit handling a bully acting like Trump is trying in private, let alone on national television.) Several people suggested the debates would have gone much better if they’d been handled over Zoom, with the moderator having the power over the mute button. That would have helped a great deal.

Looking over the commentary online this morning, you have the typical spin doctors trying to say who won and who lost, and (surprise!) it always turns out that the party they root for ended up winning. I don’t see anything that happened last night as a win for anyone. If you wanted to tune in to see two people debate real issues and talk about what they would do to address them, you were no doubt very disappointed. I do have a few isolated comments:

  • When asked to publicly state that he doesn’t support white nationalists and supremacists, Trump ended up doing the opposite, telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” He was asked to tell them to “stand down.” There’s a big difference in that single preposition, and if you think it was a slip of the tongue, then all you have to do is look at the Twitter accounts of those Proud Boys to see how excited they are by the President telling them to “stand by.” It’s true that Trump did publicly condemn violence by neo-Nazis . . . one time, back in 2017, after one of them ran over a protester with their car. Trying to say that one time was enough and that it doesn’t need to be restated, in light of all the hate attacks happening right now, is pitiful. This wasn’t a trick question. This was as easy as it gets. All he had to do was say, “Yes. I find their tactics deplorable. It disgusts me that people who espouse that kind of hatred claim they’re my biggest supporters.” Something to that affect. Instead, he told them to “stand by,” because someone had to stand up to the radical left, which he said was a much bigger problem than the radical right.
  • It was interesting watching Trump trying to paint Biden as this huge tool of the radical left, citing Kamala Harris as the person who’s going to be really pulling the strings. I have no doubt this plays well with Trump’s base, but speaking as someone who’s friends with some people who are quite liberal to say the least, they view Biden as anything but. They’re disappointed he’s as middle of the road as he is, and they view Harris as more of the same. Better, but hardly pushing for the sorts of change they’d like to see. Trump kept trying to get Biden to say things that would make him “lose the radical left”: disavow the Green New Deal, say he’s against defunding the police, etc. And when Biden went ahead and said that without hesitating, Trump seemed to think he’d scored big points by forcing that. Methinks Trump’s been listening to conservative pundits too much. Don’t get me wrong: the liberal people I know are far from crazy about Biden, but they’re also under no illusions of what Trump holds for them. I know of maybe two or three people who, right after the primaries, were so disappointed they said they didn’t want to vote at all. I haven’t heard that rhetoric lately. And yet Trump seems to think if he just makes Biden disavow some of the extremes, then a good chunk of people just won’t vote for him. Instead, Trump simply illustrated how far to the right he himself is, and how centrist Biden is in comparison. I don’t think that’s a good approach to attracting undecideds. Just a hunch . . .
  • There are so many things that deserve to be debated beyond sound bites. I went into the debate worrying that would be all I got: surface level sound bites that played to the bases and did nothing else to really advance anything. I got so much less than that from Trump. Biden provided more or less what I expected. Eloquent? No. He had a couple of reasonable-ish arguments, but nothing that would have really stood out if his opponent had been a halfway decent human being. But Trump wasn’t a halfway decent human being. He threw out so many accusations and boasts, it was hard to keep track. I couldn’t know the truth of all of them off the top of my head, but in the issues I’ve followed closely (the economy, COVID, taxes, and the like), there were enough blatant lies in there that made me unlikely to believe anything else he said.
  • His insistence of fraudulent ballots and rigged elections, and his refusal to say he’ll abide by the outcome of the election, does nothing to soothe my fears. If this election is close (in Biden’s favor), I really worry where this will lead. We already have had citizens shooting citizens, and Trump is only fanning those fears higher. I have to believe enough good people in the country exist, even in politics, who will not allow this nation to devolve into a civil war over nothing more than tenuous claims of voter fraud that can’t be backed up in any meaningful way. Trump is losing in the polls, and he’s facing the fact he might lose in November. If his tax returns are what the Times said they are, then that loss might well ruin him. That would go a long way toward explaining the sense of desperation coming from him right now.

Will I watch a second or third debate? Not if they’re like that. There’s no reason to be reminded of just what sort of a caliber of person we have in office right now. I know some of you out there are still planning on voting for him. I’ve said my piece, so I won’t say more on the subject. I read one article on Fox News this morning crowing about what an excellent, commanding performance Trump had last night.

I suppose if you say anything with confidence, and say it loud enough, you might be able to convince some people about anything. Trump seemed to think that was possible last night, but to me, his approach came across as much more con than confidence. There’s a saying commonly attributed to Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Trump’s decided to put that saying to the test this election, it seems. We’ll see in November how that pans out for him.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: The Social Dilemma

I’d been hearing about the Social Dilemma the last while, and I finally took some time to watch it myself. It’s focused on the (mostly harmful) effect social media is having on us as a society. While I don’t think it’s a perfect film by any stretch, it does raise some very valid concerns I’ve already had for quite some time, and I think it’s an important movie for people to watch, if only to be aware of the sort of influence social media (and other technologies) can have on our lives and our societies.

The premise is quite straightforward: platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest make money by selling ads to their users. On the surface, that doesn’t seem very disturbing at all. After all, we’ve had ads sold to us on television for decades, and that hasn’t destroyed society, right? (Unless you count the fact that I can still remember the jingle for AlkaSeltzer thirty plus years after I heard it on TV.)

Then again, Facebook touts its ability to sell targeted ads, ensuring marketers can reach just the right audience. But still, I remember growing up (back in ye olde days when I actually watched normal television) that the ads I’d see on TV on Saturday morning would be different than the ones I’d see watching Murder She Wrote in the evening with the fam. (For some reason, there were far fewer ads for Transformers. Likely because adults didn’t appreciate the finer things in life.) So there have been targeted ads for quite some time. Why worry about Facebook all of a sudden?

The trouble arises in the way technology is able to profile us these days. So much of what we do is done online, and a ton of it is on social media platforms. Facebook can tell how long you look at a post, whether you click on an article, what interests you, what disinterests you. Technology is able to tell things about you that you might not have told to anyone else. (Famously. Target sent a “so you’re expecting” coupon book to a teenaged girl living at home with her parents. It’s algorithms had analyzed people’s shopping searches to recognize when someone was expecting, and it sent out ads to those people. And yes, the girl was expecting, but no, her parents didn’t know about it, and yes, this caused problems.)

Even more troubling (and something the documentary doesn’t go into) is the fact that tech companies can begin to build profiles of you even if you don’t extensively use their platforms. Even dabbling is enough. Why? Because they’re able to track patterns across huge populations. In an easy-to-understand example, if a high percentage of people who like a certain musician tend to be liberal, or who watch a TV show tend to be conservative, and then you mark down that you like that musician or TV show, then the platform begins to make certain assumptions about you. It gets to be like Sherlock Holmes, taking seemingly random tidbits of information to deduce you’re a fifty year old grandmother of seven living in Arkansas, with a penchant for action movies and a history of flatulence. All because you said you liked a certain TV show.

And that’s not even taking into account Google and its massive, massive databanks about you. What you search for when no one knows you’re searching. Google probably knows you better than almost anyone else.

Pair this knowledge about its users with the ability to sell ads to those users, and you get a dangerous combination. An unregulated combination. We recognized it’s not right to use cartoon characters to market cigarettes to children, so we made laws against it back in the day. Well, Congress is about as able to keep up with tech trends as an untrained cocker spaniel, and targeted ads online are pretty wild west right now. Yes, you’re supposed to be 14 to have a Facebook account, but even targeting ads to 14 year olds can get into icky territory.

The simple fact is that ads influence people. Anyone who says they don’t needs to explain why companies are willing to spend billions of dollars on them. And Facebook can see precisely what sort of an effect its ads has on its users. It can see which ones make a difference.

Let’s go straight to the more disturbing areas. Ads make a difference. Political ads can make people want to vote a certain way (or discourage then from voting at all). Russia has been using Facebook and other social media platforms to sow discord in American society, to great effect. If a company has the power within its grasp to sway an election one way or another (not just in America, but anywhere it has a presence), should that be something that’s enabled? Should there be some restrictions on how that power is used?

But it’s not all outside agents, and it’s not all about elections. One of the points of the film that stands out is that social media can get people to believe crazy things. The go-to example is always flat-earthers, which seems like such a blatant instance of people denying long proved facts, but not all flat-earthers are crazy or stupid. A significant chunk of them are just people who are bad at evaluating sources. As I wrote about conspiracy theories before, it’s really hard to get out of one once you’re in one, because they’re self-confirming. Any efforts to dissuade your belief can also just cement it further. If social media can propagate things like flat earth theories, then why in the world wouldn’t it be effective growing belief in everything from Pizzagate to Qanon?

The film takes a heavier hand with this than I would have liked, and I worry that can tune some people off of its message, but the core of the message is still there, and this is one of the best ways I’ve seen of getting that message across.

The question then comes up, “What now?” If you believe all of this is happening, then what should you do about it? Time to throw away all your smart phones and social media accounts? Speaking as a person who’s known about this for a while, and yet is still a tech junkie, here are some recommendations I have if you’ve seen the movie and want to adjust your life somewhat (without going into full hermit mode):

  • Do not get your news from social media. Period. Let me restate that one more time for emphasis. Do not get your news from social media. Sometimes that news will be an ad. Often it will be something shared by a friend (or a bot) and not fact checked. If the news is something that really sets you off (for good or bad), then go to one of your trusted news sites and look it up there, or at least confirm the story. I go to several news pages each day to see what’s happening. I visit the actual sites, or if there’s an RSS feed, I check the updates on Feedly. Anything that’s just funneling information your way should be suspect. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but you should treat it like a piece of candy you found on the ground. It might make you think you’d like to eat that little sweet, but maybe go to the store and buy a fresh piece instead.
  • Set boundaries on your social media use. A time limit would be nice. They are designed to soak up as much time as you will give them. The good news is that they’re generally also designed to put the most interesting things first. Read the first few stories and posts, and then move on with your life. If you find yourself constantly wanting to check the latest news, then you might have a problem. Boundaries are good.
  • Curate your feed. Again, this isn’t to say you should just unfriend anyone who disagrees with you, but I do think you’ll save a lot of stress by slimming things down. I friend just about anyone who wants to friend me. (Or at the least, I don’t refuse the request, and I let them follow me.) But to make it into my actual feed takes more work. Instead, I typically “friend and unfollow.” If you’re not someone I haven’t seen and interacted with in real life more than a day or two here and there, then why do I need to know what you’re up to? Unfollowed. Likewise, I will unfollow anyone whose posts just make me constantly think less of them. I don’t want bad interactions on Facebook to make me start disliking people in real life. Then again, as long as the person is posting some things that are worth it, I’m willing to tolerate a fair bit. I have some friends who are rabid Trump fans, believe it or not. And they’re not hidden, despite them linking to Fox News stories semi-regularly.
  • Curate what you share with others. Don’t just post something without looking into it first and confirming it’s accurate. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Talk to your kids about social media, and make sure they’re aware of what it does (and shouldn’t do). I tend to think the vast majority of the country is just on Facebook or Twitter or the like and not really thinking about how it all works. It’s like electricity to them. Flick a switch, and it turns on. What technology should you be cautious around? Anything that’s free, basically. If they don’t make money from your wallet, they’re making money from you in other ways, whether by selling your data to others or selling access to you.

Anyway. Just a few thoughts. Do check the movie out, and try to look past its weaknesses. The thought behind it is very valuable. 7/10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Glasses, Fogging, and the Latest Technology

I wrote a few weeks ago about the need I had for some sort of better face mask. My current ones were all making my glasses fog non-stop. Many of you chimed in with suggestions, and I’m happy to say that I think I’ve got that problem covered for the most part at this point. (For the record, I really like the ones I bought at the Gap, and the ones I got at Starks online. (Though the Starks ones are a smidge small for my face.)

However, the thing that’s helped me the most isn’t just having a better face mask. It’s wearing it properly. For my glasses to remain fog-free, it’s usually best if I tuck the top of the mask up underneath my glasses. That lets all that hot air somehow skip my glasses, eliminating the whole fog process.

The problem is that when I do that, my glasses have a tendency to fall off my face at the drop of a hat. If I lean forward. Move my head. Bump them with my hands. My glasses were falling off left and right. It’s all fun and games until you’re trying to go to the bathroom without having your glasses fall in the toilet. Just keeping it real here, folks.

So what have I done? I’ve turned to the power of modern technology! Ear hooks are my new friend. They’re little rubber hooks that slip on the end of your glasses frames, hooking around your ears when you wear them. Yes, they look dorky, but you can’t really see they’re on your glasses when your glasses are on your face. And they hook your glasses securely to your face, so it doesn’t matter what the day may bring. Those glasses are going nowhere.

I know this might seem like a small thing to you. For me, it’s been a real help. (Especially as it gets colder. I have no idea what my glasses are going to do with fogging when it’s 20 below outside. The good news(?) is that thanks to my country’s response to the pandemic, it looks like I’ll get to find out! ‘Merica!!!

Anyway. If you too are finding your glasses unwilling to stay on your masked face, I’m passing this info on in the hopes that it will help you. Good luck!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Sickness in the Time of COVID

I woke up this morning feeling . . . not 100%. Some congestion, tired, and achy. Under normal circumstances, I would have definitely gone to work, however. I mean, I’m probably at like 85%, and it feels wrong somehow to stay home when I’m feeling mostly okay.

But my campus has this handy app you’re supposed to check in with each day. Up until now, I’ve always been able to say I was symptom free, though I wondered what would happen if I were to have any symptoms. Now I know. “Not cleared for campus,” is what came up, and then the app told me to email my supervisor and let them know.

So I’m working from home today. It would have been more inconvenient if I had things I had to do in person today, but I just have 6 hours of Zoom meetings, which I know all too well can be done from home as easily as from my office.

For the foreseeable future at least, I think this needs to be the new norm. America has a tendency (from what I’ve seen) to encourage people to work even if they’re sick. To tough it out. I know it’s my default position much of the time. But maybe some good things that could come out of this pandemic would be the recognition that

  • wearing a mask when you’re sick is a good thing that protects other people
  • coming to work sick is a bad thing that makes everyone else less productive
  • you can do a lot of your work at home, and so that minimizes how often you “need” to be at work sick

Just a thought . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Puppy McPupperpants Song

There are many, many things I want to say today. It feels like that pretty much every day now. But I don’t see the use, and so instead, I’m going to share with you the Puppy McPupperpants song I made up. Honestly, the melody has to be from some song I heard somewhere at some point, but I don’t know what it’s from, and I’m not going to sing it for you, so you’re just going to have to imagine what it is. Sort of like a song in Winnie-the-Pooh.

I like making up song lyrics. I like it even more when I can remember what the song lyrics were that I made up. And since I’m sitting with Ferris a fair bit at this point, I have plenty of time to make up song lyrics. We’ve been calling him Puppy McPupperpants when he’s actually behaving, and so this is the song he gets from me when he’s sitting in my lap and not trying to gnaw off my hands.

PUPPY McPUPPERPANTS

Puppy McPupperpants

Lives in the south of France.

Puppy McPupperpupperpants! (Puppy pupperpa-ants)

Puppy McPupperpants

Just give him half a chance.

Puppy McPupperpants!

(Second verse)

Puppy McPupperpants

That dog can really dance!

Puppy McPupperpupperpants! (Puppy pupperpa-ants)

Puppy McPupperpants

I liked him at first glance.

Puppy McPupperpants!

From there, you can the song veers off into unknown territory, in which I explore the true breadth of the words that can rhyme with “pants.” Here are some potentials:

  • “Goes on some Twitter rants.”
  • “Digs up his mother’s plants.”
  • “Puts me into a trance.”
  • “Master of world finance.”

If you’ve got a phrase that ends with a “pants” rhyme and has six syllables, you too can add a verse to the Puppy McPupperpants song! Give it a try!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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