Tuesday, November 29, 2016

You Say Post-truth, I Say Truthiness

The year of post-truth, but I have to say that I agree with Stephen Colbert when he says he's says "'Post-Truth' Is Just A Rip-Off Of 'Truthiness'".
Almost everything that we encounter online is being presented to us by for-profit algorithms, and by us, post by post, tweet by tweet.
Ugh. I was just beginning to like twitter...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Glenn Beck?

I mean, what the hell is going on in this world?

He is "sorry about all that". What? I guess I want to trust that this is a person who has done serious damage to civil discourse is now actually recognising his mistake.

But then this interview last week with Scott Simon -- and the whole emphasis on Benghazi being a "game-changing moment" for people on the right -- seems silly. He suggests this made conservatives just as shocked after the 2012 election as liberals feel shocked today.

But why was it a game-changer? Perhaps because of the way media used it to sledge hammer away at credibility of the administration and Clinton. One can argue for years, literally, about this, but The Economist summed it up pretty well and as far as I know, that newspaper isn't a tool of any particular party. It highlights that there were mistakes, but nothing to validate the use of the tragedy as a political sledge hammer, Fox News. This gets at why I still don't believe Beck. If he can compare the post-election shocks without addressing Trump's on-going abuse of the findings around Benghazi, he still doesn't really understand my main problem with Trump (and Beck's previous life on Fox). From The Economist article:
Undaunted [by the final report findings], on June 23rd Mr Trump told NBC that Mr Stevens “was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.” His interviewer, Lester Holt, pushed back, noting that there is no evidence that she was sleeping. “Excuse me, wait, it went on for a long period of time and she was asleep at the wheel, whether she was sleeping or not, who knows if she was sleeping,” Mr Trump replied. Mr Holt looked unimpressed. But Mr Trump does not care what media fact-checkers think. He has anger to stoke, and for that, crying “Benghazi” will continue to do very well.
That's the problem. Facts don't matter and Beck doesn't seem to take full responsibility for his role in that slide into a fact-free world.

That said, his voice in the NYT piece is one I tend to agree with these days, which is something I never thought I'd say.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Equal Opportunity Versus Equal Outcome?

We really need to get more disciplined with name-calling.

@09:56 in this thoughtful podcast -- What Kind of Conservative is Trump? -- there is a discussion about whether Republicans care about inequality, linked to David Remnick's essential reading from his interview with Obama in the New Yorker. The response by Matt Lewis paints a common and incorrect version two concepts. In the "menu of values", he describes a choice between equal opportunity (I assume he means his ideology) or equal outcome (I assume he means the other ideology).

I associate equal outcome with Soviet-style socialism, not the more common concept of an equal playing field.

This is relevant given a huge hang up in this election over Bernie Sanders being a "socialist" and the lingering association with Obama as something similar, as though the only concept of that word is a striving for equal outcome. I don't know any politicians who support the idea of equal outcome. No, Mr. Lewis (@11:52) I don't think a discussion of "fairness" would cause liberals to say that fairness "means everybody gets the same amount".

Yes, that's a small example, but one that really gets under my skin. And this is a New Yorker podcast! Let me not even mention what I hear come out of the mouths of other media outlets.

Here's another example from This American Life, an episode called Red State, Blue State that explored why it was so hard for opposing sides to talk to one another in the 2012 election between Obama and Romney. It feels quaint to hear it today.

The journalist, Lisa, is asking Ron about why he has a falling out with his friend, Frank, when he found out that Frank was voting for Obama.
Lisa Pollak: Frank recalls you calling him a Socialist. 
Ron Sexton: Absolutely. And I did, and I still believe it. When Frank takes umbrage at the fact that I called him a Socialist, what he doesn't understand or doesn't accept is that he is in love with a Socialist. This man that's in the White House is the most brilliant president we've ever had for Frank Mills and others like some of his friends. And Lisa, it offends me to hear that while we're going down the tubes. 
Lisa Pollak: He says his feelings were hurt. Why not just agree to disagree and put those differences aside? Why is that hard?
Ron Sexton: I would lay it on this-- the stakes are too high to consider it simply as agree to disagree. I don't agree to disagree. Frank needs to change his opinion because his view on the conduct of this society will kill it.
We have to tone it down.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning About Steve Bannon

I am not going to comment, but I encourage everyone to learn about Steve Bannon. Don't just read an article and don't just pick up the sound bites. Listen to and read longer pieces.

Here is the profile of Bannon from Bloomberg Politics in October.

Here is an interview with that author on Fresh Air.

For some post-election consideration, listen to the NPR weekly political podcast. Commentary with David Folkenflik on Bannon starts at 18:45.

From Russia, With Love And Conspiracy

Masha Gessen is reminding me why I was so interested in the Cold War in the first place. Two worlds believing different realities. Much to explore in her writings. For the moment, I want to capture a comment she made in this piece on The New Politics of Conspiracy.
Perhaps more than any previous election in history, this year’s contest has been dominated by charges of lying and mistruths on both sides, from the primaries to the general election. Our allegiance to a fact-based reality has been constantly challenged. But conspiracy theories work on a different level than mere lies. They lodge themselves in the mind by showing that something could be true without proving that it is true. They are therefore impossible to disprove: they cannot be fact-checked because their central tenets are conjectures rather than facts. Debates spawned by conspiracy theories become fruitless arguments about beliefs, and merely by having them, we gradually elevate these theories from assertion to assumption.
While he doesn't use the word "conspiracy", this piece, The Right Way to Resist Trump, by US-based Italian economist, Luigi Zingales, also makes very good sense to me. I wish he'd written this three months ago.

The focus on conspiracy, as Gessen argued, demands a fight with added conspiracy. I think this is where he'd like to keep our attention. Treating Trump and his allies like normal people and holding them to account for their unacceptable views are where we need to put our energies.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Resuscitating My Values

I think Tuesday was one of the worst days of my adult life. I assume many consider that a silly exaggeration. All I can say is that the negative wave of emotion overwhelmed me in a way that I never expected. Justified or not, it was anxiety about the future and the world that my children will inhabit.

I've been thinking a lot about how much the world would have been different had it never come to pass, but it's here and somehow, we have to keep going. All the values linked to the top 11 reasons I didn't vote for him are now in question. The question I have to ask myself is how I work to maintain my values when it seems the US electorate doesn't have the same priorities.

I want to re-start by going back to the quote I used to start this blog. It seems even more appropriate today than ever.
The main reason for the terrible cruelty between men today, apart from the absence of religion, is still the refined complexity of life which shields people from the consequences of their action. However cruel Attila, Genghis Khan and their followers may have been, the act of killing people personally, face to face, must have been unpleasant to them, and the consequences of the murder still more unpleasant: the wailing relatives and the presence of the corpses. And thus their cruelty was restrained. Nowadays we kill people through such a complex process of communication, and the consequences of our cruelty are so carefully removed and concealed from us, that there is no restraint on the bestiality of the action. The cruelty of some people towards others will continue to increase until it has reached unprecedented dimensions.
Now, let's get serious about the US President being advised by www.breitbart.com

Gwen Ifill

The passing of Gwen Ifill is blow and unexpected at a time when I think journalism is under attack. Her words on journalism in this 2014 commencement speech are worthy of reflection amid the current chaos.

"A flat spot on her head from trying to break down walls... "

She will be a very missed voice of calm in my life. Here is a beautiful tribute from her colleagues at PBS. I hope we can use her example and dedication to hearing others as a reminder in the days and months ahead.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Post-Truth Anxiety

I still clearly remember that civics lesson where we debated the idea of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre, and how that was linked to other aspects of free speech. I've been thinking about that a lot recently.

No matter what we vote in the US election, or in any other country for that matter, I hope people can agree with This American Life (essential listening here) and The Economist in their framing of "post-truth" as a factor in global politics. As Ira Glass explained in relation to some of Trump's lies:
[Trump's] lies are perplexing in their nakedness. Like, he knows lots of us know these are lies, but we're in some kind of new kind of universe where that is normal and that is OK and we will just accept that.
I won't accept that and hope everyone considers the weight of what comes next after Tuesday's election. The lack of trust in each other and in the media is the issue of this election. It is also what I blame for the fundamental lack of any discussion on policy or issues. Saying this election is about immigration (a wall versus open borders?) or the second amendment ("she's going to take away your second amendment rights", as if that has anything to do with reasonable gun regulation) or any other dumbed down issue from the debates -- it's silly. Nobody actually discusses data, they discuss feelings and instincts. That's alarming for anyone who cares about rationale debate.

It's pretty clear I blame one side more than the other for this, but both sides share guilt. And this fire will burn the whole house down. This was also in my mind when I thanked journalists a few days ago, so I was somewhat heartened to see this story come up yesterday on Fox's Bret Baier for his use of inflammatory language related to the "inditement" of Clinton. Maybe there is a sobering among the more activist news reporting? But then I looked more closely and watched his actual efforts to "clarify" what he said. In that clip you realise how far we have to go. His word soup epitomises what's wrong -- how on earth can any normal person weed through his "clarification" to see his point? He used irresponsible language that was false and unjustified. And his apology does nothing to douse the flames, only to admit he shouldn't have yelled "Fire!"...yet, but he's going to sit there waiting to yell it again any second. And so should everyone who watches him.