Category: current events

Why I Skipped Watching the State of the Union

Last year I debated watching the State of the Union, a speech I’ve usually watched for most of the last decade, regardless of who’s in the Oval Office. This year I didn’t even think twice. Instead of watching, I was in bed before 10pm, reading a book and going to sleep.

Last year I wasn’t quite sure what a Trump State of the Union would be like. This year, I didn’t need to perch on the edge of my seat to wonder. I’ve seen enough of the man to know what to expect, and so instead of watching it, I read the transcript this morning. (It goes so much faster when you don’t have to listen to the interminable applause that goes on during that event. I’ve never liked that.)

Back when I taught Freshman composition, I would go over speeches with students, looking for the different uses of pathos (appeal to emotion), ethos (appeal to credibility), and logos (appeal to logic). The State of the Union was always an easy target to use as an example, and Trump’s speech last night was no exception. He had WWII veterans kids with cancer present to tug on the heart strings. He had a slew of data that he used to appear logical. And of course he has his persona, which demands that he be listened to because he is Trump. Some of that is because he’s the President now. Some of that is because people watched him fire people on The Apprentice for years.

But when I was teaching students, I didn’t just show the how to spot the different arguments. I wanted them to see how those arguments are sometimes used to manipulate an audience.

In the middle of a speech where you’re being applauded left and right, it’s easy to accept the facts you give as true, even if they’re not, for example. Trump’s often had a trouble with the truth, and he’s built his entire platform around a longing for yesteryear. “Make America Great Again” is nothing if not an appeal to emotion.

He’s not alone in the way he’s done this. Other Presidents did the same thing. Politicians pretty much across the board. But what particularly rankles me about Trump is his insistence that he doesn’t do it. That he always tells the truth, even when he’s lying that instant. He’s had problems with truth from his inauguration on, and I see no need to sit and listen to an inveterate liar be applauded for an hour and a half.

I’d much rather sleep. And so I did.

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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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

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Don’t Jump to Conclusions: Mob Mentality on the Internet

It feels like we get a new story to be upset about every day. Some of them are local, some of them are national, and some are even international. And while I’m certainly not trying to say these stories are all fabrications, I know much of how the internet works these days (monetarily speaking) is focused around eyeballs. If you can get people to click through to your article, you get money. Take a stroll through established news sites and you’ll see this immediately.

Right this instant, CNN is running the following stories on its front page: “5 Ways to Understand Cory Booker’s Presidential Chances.” “She Ate 501 Wings in 30 Minutes.” “Drought Woes? This Tech Can Literally Make It Rain.” Fox News has more of the same: “Here’s Who Really SHOULD Run for President.” “What Patriots Star Did for Bullied Girl QB Will Make You Smile.” I could go on, but we’ve all seen how click-baity things have become. These are sites that at least some people in the country consider reputable, non-“Weekly World News” sources of information. And they’re all designed to get people to click through so they can sell more ads.

And to be truly successful (to prompt other people to share the stories and encourage them to go viral), nothing’s quite as effective as outrage. Write a story and slant it in a way to provoke an immediate response of anger, and you’ll quickly enflame a group of people who have lots of like-minded friends who’ll want to share that story onward. All sorts of eyeballs just waiting to be mined. This happens on both ends of the political spectrum, and it happens daily.

I’m not going to list specific stories here, because to me, it’s not about the stories. Some of the stories are accurate and justified. Some of the stories are biased smear pieces designed to do nothing more than enrage. What I’d like to focus on is how we respond to any story we come across. Speaking as an information professional, I’d like to suggest a couple of things we should do when we’re presented with a story that just makes our blood boil:

  • Take a step back and look at the story with a critical eye. Are both sides of the story portrayed? Why or why not? Could there be more to the story than you’re aware of? Do you really have all the facts? When I come across an account of a story, I like to discuss the concept at the core of it, rather than the specifics of that individual case. If I don’t know the details of an incident, I don’t feel qualified to speak to those details publicly. I’ve read a single article about the story? That doesn’t make me an expert, though I definitely feel free to talk about the concepts that article may bring up.
  • Try to get more information. Look for the other side of the story presented elsewhere. Search out unbiased sources that aren’t clamoring to be shared on social media. Inform yourself about what’s going on.
  • Avoid falling for any immediate “call to action” sort of things. Often these stories are presented in a very clear cut right/wrong sort of scenario. The right decision is so painfully obvious, it’s shocking that anyone in the world would have made a different decision. In these cases, it can be very tempting to call for consequences as quickly as possible. “That person did WHAT? They should be fired.” This sort of flash-mob, viral justice mentality does no one any favors, and often ends up doing far more harm than good.

I’m always careful to acknowledge when I don’t know the whole story. I’ll discuss the principles behind a story without calling for actual outcomes for the specific story in question. Why? Because my experience leads me to believe clear cut right/wrong cases are few and far between, but it’s quite simple to portray something in that light. An author gets to select what details to include and what to exclude, and through that process, the reader can be fairly easily manipulated.

I’m not saying I never fall for the technique, and there are probably instances where I should have spoken out more strongly than I did, but I believe on the whole, my approach has served me well. We can call for more understanding and civility in the world and around us without making specific “Off with their head!” accusations in stories where we know only what a single writer has told us.

The trick is we *want* to be upset. We *want* to rush in to the victim’s aid, especially when it’s *so clear* who the victim is. That’s a good trait to have, and I wish we’d see it more in the here and now instances where witnesses watch events unfold first hand. That’s the time to speak up. To call people to account. You’ve got far more facts than a person sitting in front of his computer reading about the story a week or two later can ever have, and you have a far better chance of actually doing some good. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you can say things like, “I hope I misheard you,” or “I might not have the whole story, but it really seems like . . .”

There have been a number of stories I’ve seen circulating online the last few weeks. These are the thoughts they’ve kicked up with me. Thanks for listening.

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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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. 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.

Any Which Way You Slice It, A Wall is a Bad Idea

I read President Trump’s remarks on immigration and the need for a border wall this morning, and I have to say I just don’t see the validity of the argument he’s making. It’s not that I think the examples he used aren’t impactful. You’d have to be heartless not to care about the people involved in this debate. The immigrants who want to come to the country, the people he listed who had been murdered or brutalized.

But his interpretation of those events and those people ends up in such a wildly different place than the logic leads me. This was his big chance to persuade the nation that what we need now more than anything else is a giant wall on our southern border. A wall that will cost us billions of dollars.

I think sometimes that “billions of dollars” line gets tossed around a little too easily. As if this is somehow an insignificant amount of money. In 2018, the federal budget was $4.4 trillion. Its expected intake from taxes and revenues? $3.4 trillion. So right off, we’re $1 trillion in the hole. But $5 billion is just less than a tenth of a percent of what we’re planning on taking in. Chump change, right? So why don’t we just spend it?

But remember, this is the same administration looking to cut other areas of the federal budget. $6 billion in education. $6.8 billion from Housing and Urban Development. $2.1 billion from the EPA. I would like to see a balanced budget, but the bottom line for me is where will the money do the most good?

I don’t want people murdered in this country. I assume almost all Americans share that opinion (except, I suppose, the people going around murdering other people). I also would like immigrants to come legally. My wife is a legal immigrant. I’ve been through the process and seen it first hand. It’s a real pain. I’d love to see it made more straightforward and simple. (A great area for a budget cut would be all the red tape we had to go through to get her passport. Just saying.)

But will a giant wall on the border of Mexico do anything to stop the murders, the drugs, and the illegal immigration? The very idea just doesn’t pass the sniff test. We are a huge nation. Stopping up one border will only shift the focus to a different border. And at the end of the day, we’ll be sitting there with a big wall that does no good.

I’m disappointed that Trump continues to demonize immigrants to try and justify his nonsensical proposals. He makes it seem as if there’s a flood of criminals massed at that border. As if everyone who wants to come into this country just can’t wait to rape and pillage. Maybe he’s thinking of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyworld, I don’t know.

My experience has been that people are afraid of things they don’t know. When you get to personally know immigrants, you stop being afraid of them. I’ve been around many for decades. They are hard working, dedicated people, and they’re no different than you or me. Are there bad people among them? Sure. Just like there are bad Americans.

But for a populist like Trump to retain power, there needs to be an enemy. Someone to blame. And immigrants are often the easiest ones to paint a target on.

If he wants to solve the murders, there must be some better way to spend billions of dollars than a giant steel wall. I don’t care who supported it or wanted what when where or why. Enough with the wall. There are more important matters to debate than a molehill our President has decided to wage war over.

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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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. 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.



A Bad Step Forward for Fake News

The Trump presidency got off on a bizarre foot the day after he was sworn in, back when he had his press secretary swear up and down that Trump’s inauguration was the most attended inauguration ever, despite the fact that photographic evidence clearly disproved that claim. I couldn’t believe someone would just look at the proof against the argument and then dispute it as “fake news,” but that’s what happened.

That’s been a trend Trump has followed since then. His supporters don’t seem to mind. They tend to dismiss anything that disagrees with their views as “media bias” and “hit jobs.” Not that this is anything particularly new. Right wing pundits have been poking at the “lame stream media” for years now. But Trump really dialed that up to eleven, basically saying something was black when it was white, and not caring if anyone disputed him, confident that his supporters just wouldn’t mind.

The next step was to start accusing media of doing the things the Trump campaign has been doing. Of lying, or at least doctoring the truth. Essentially, the approach was to first have the media make a big hullabaloo about “fake news” to the point that it really enters the common lexicon, and then to use that same argument and all the furor around it as a weapon against the media itself.

This all took a very negative step forward with the recent events around the CNN reporter being banned from the White House. If you haven’t heard about it, he was essentially asking Trump a series of hard questions in an press briefing. Trump didn’t like it, so he asked for someone to come take the reporter’s microphone away. The reporter didn’t back down. It’s all on tape. The aide that tried to take the mic was a female intern.

Trump has since used the “we need to stand up for women” argument to justify why they revoked the reporter’s credentials to visit the White House. They don’t tolerate reporters “placing [their] hands on a young woman just trying to do her job.” And to prove their point, they highlighted a video of the event.

Except the video they highlighted was doctored, a fact multiple experts are now coming forward to prove.

I have no doubt the Trump administration will deny it. “Fake news.” But I also don’t doubt they’ll start to use this same argument (“videos can be doctored”) against anything that comes out against them. It’s part of the pattern they’re following, and I’m not sure what we can do to stop it. (This is especially important as video doctoring becomes more and more sophisticated. Right now it’s relatively easy to tell what’s been done to a video, but in an age where video cameras are ubiquitous on cell phones, we’ve been relying on that video evidence more and more for “proof.” But when that proof suddenly is debatable . . . )

It’s a very discouraging development in my mind. I wish this weren’t the world we live in, but I don’t know what to do to fight back against it. I would like to see both sides of the political spectrum reject it, but I think slowly but surely, the argument will worm its way into our debates.

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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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. 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.

A Follow-up Kavanaugh Post: On His Testimony

Not that I love revisiting topics, but I wrote yesterday’s blog before Kavanaugh himself had testified. There was so much there for me to respond to, I decided I had to circle back to this again today.

First off, I want to say that his prepared remarks seemed very strong to me. He was angry, clearly. But my first thought was that it was a justified response. His good name was called into question, he swears he didn’t do this act, he’s got a slew of people who say he was a swell guy back then. Could this just be a case where Ford mixed something up in her memories? That happens, right? After those opening remarks, I was no longer sure of anything.

But he kept talking. And as the questions progressed, something else rose to the surface.

First off, when he was asked the same types of questions from Mitchell, he gave much worse answers. Check this one out about his drinking habits (the full transcript is here):

MITCHELL: Dr. Ford has described you as being intoxicated at a party. Did you consume alcohol during your high school years?

KAVANAUGH: Yes, we drank beer. My friends and I, the boys and girls. Yes, we drank beer. I liked beer. Still like beer. We drank beer. The drinking age, as I noted, was 18, so the seniors were legal, senior year in high school, people were legal to drink, and we — yeah, we drank beer, and I said sometimes — sometimes probably had too many beers, and sometimes other people had too many beers.

MITCHELL: What do you…

KAVANAUGH: We drank beer. We liked beer.

MITCHELL: What do you consider to be too many beers?

KAVANAUGH: I don’t know. You know, we — whatever the chart says, a blood-alcohol chart.

MITCHELL: When you talked to Fox News the other night, you said that there were times in high school when people might have had too many beers on occasion. Does that include you?

KAVANAUGH: Sure.

MITCHELL: OK. Have you ever passed out from drinking?

KAVANAUGH: I — passed out would be — no, but I’ve gone to sleep, but — but I’ve never blacked out. That’s the — that’s the — the allegation, and that — that — that’s wrong.

He’s being asked simple questions. He’s giving huge long responses. This does not strike me as him being truthful, especially when coupled with the things he personally had written about his drinking habits, and the things his friends had written, both in books and in their yearbook. Without casting any judgments on what did or didn’t happen at the party with Ford, I think it was quite clear Kavanaugh was a heavy drinker in high school and college. Here’s another example from the transcript:

LEAHY: Now, you’ve talked about your yearbook. In your yearbook, you talked about drinking and sexual exploits, did you not?

KAVANAUGH: Senator, let me — let me take a step back and explain high school. I was number one in the class…

LEAHY: And I — and I thought (ph)…

KAVANAUGH: … freshman — no, no, no, no, no.

LEAHY: I thought we were in the Senate (ph)…

KAVANAUGH: You’ve got this all — I’m going to — I’m going to talk about my high school…

LEAHY: … the (ph) whole (ph) question (ph).

I thought we were in the Senate (ph) filibuster (ph).

KAVANAUGH: … no, no.

GRASSLEY: Let him answer.

KAVANAUGH: I’m going to talk about my high school record, if you’re going to sit here and mock me.

GRASSLEY: We — we were — I think we were all very fair to Dr. Ford. Shouldn’t we be just as fair to Judge Kavanaugh?

(CROSSTALK)

KAVANAUGH: I busted my butt in academics. I always tried to do the best I could. As I recall, I finished one in the class, first in — you know, freshman and junior year, right at the top with Steve (ph) Clark (ph) and Eddie (ph) (inaudible), we were always kind of in the mix.

I — I played sports. I was captain of the varsity basketball team. I was wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. I ran track in the spring of ’82 to try to get faster. I did my service projects at the school, which involved going to the soup kitchen downtown — let me finish — and going to tutor intellectually disabled kids at the Rockville Library.

With the church — and, yes, we got together with our friends.

LEAHY: Does this reflect what you are? Does this yearbook reflect your…

KAVANAUGH: I…

LEAHY: … focus on academics and your respect for women? That’s easy. Yes or no. You don’t have to filibuster the answer. Does it reflect your focus on academics…

(CROSSTALK)

KAVANAUGH: I already said the yearbook — in my opening statement. The yearbook, obviously…

GRASSLEY: Judge? Just wait a minute. He’s asked the question. I’ll give you time to answer it.

KAVANAUGH: The — the yearbook, as I said in my opening statement, was something where the students and editors made a decision to treat some of it as farce and some of as exaggeration, some of it celebrating things that don’t reflect the things that were really the central part of our school.

Yes, we went to parties, though. Yes, of course, we went to parties and the yearbook page describes that and kind of makes fun of it. And as a — you know, if we want to sit here and talk about whether a Supreme Court nomination should be based on a high school yearbook page, I think that’s taken us to a new level of absurdity.

Again, this was not the sort of answer you give if you have a simple, truthful answer. Before he’d even been asked the question (which I assume would have been “Did your yearbook accurately describe your behavior in high school”), he was instead deflecting to what a great guy he was in high school. How hard he studied. How he went to church. But of course, you can do a lot of great things in high school and also drink a lot. Get drunk to the point of blacking out.

I believe Kavanaugh believes he didn’t sexually assault Ford. Or at least, I believe he could believe that. Why? Because I also believe that if he did assault her, it might be something he could easily forget. After all, he was quite intoxicated at the time (if her story is true), and it was nothing more than a blip on his schedule. Harmful actions we take to other people can and do affect them much longer than they affect us.

I think back on some of the hurtful things that happened to me in middle school and high school. How I was made fun of because of my weight or my last name. I think about conversations I’ve had with Denisa about her time growing up. How casual remarks and criticisms people said to her still affect her to this day. If we were to go back and confront the people who had harmed our psyches, I would honestly be very surprised if they remembered what they had done or said.

It was no big deal to them.

(Likewise, I’m sure there are things I did and said when I was in middle school, high school, college, and later on that have hurt other people deeply. There are some things I’m aware of. Some I’m no doubt not and wouldn’t remember if you asked me.)

Note: The Republicans seemed to figure this out. They could see that Mitchell’s questions were making Kavanaugh look bad in comparison, so they stopped having her ask those questions.

Did the sexual assault happen? I’m not sure. It was a long time ago. I know Ford believes it did. I know Kavanaugh strongly denies it, and seems to believe that denial. I personally would like to see a deeper investigation. It doesn’t have to play out on a public stage, but I’d think Senators would want to hear from other witnesses. Have them testify under oath. It’s much easier to write a statement and sign your name to it than it is to actually get up there and answer questions.

But another thing that was clear was that this entire thing has been politicized to death. You’ve got grandstanding on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t know that anything real can come of this. (Though if he’s confirmed, he’s publicly stated he believes this all to be one big hack job by the Democrats against him. How can he be an impartial judge at this point? How can he effectively serve on the Supreme Court if he believes all this? He might have been able to be impartial before this, but this process has ruined his suitability. Which might be a tragedy, and might not be. Hard to say without knowing the truth.)

In the end, I believe there are plenty of other, untarnished judges out there who could serve on the Supreme Court. I would like Senators to either investigate this incident more fully, or to withdraw his nomination and put someone new up for the seat. But I believe they won’t do that, as they’re too concerned that it will take too long, and they’ll lose their shot to have a conservative judge on the Supreme Court.

I’m still just depressed.

And I’m still taking notes for when November comes. Especially when it comes to how Senator Collins, my own Senator, votes.

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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 been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. 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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