Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Mailbox is in the Ditch

Last week I received a call at work from Jennifer stating that the mail box had been knocked over. She said the box itself was fine but that the 4x4 wooden post was "split."  I didn't know exactly what that meant so I cancelled an upcoming appointment at work and drove home to check things out.  

The post snapped off in a diagonal fashion about one-third of the way up.  It was sitting next to my neighbor's mailbox which was also clipped off only his was about two-thirds of the way up.  How this happened I could not tell.  There were no skid or tread marks.  No dents or marks on the actual posts themselves other than the breaks.  The only piece missing was my neighbor's mailbox door.  

It took more than a casual force to cause such damage, maybe a piece of farm equipment swiped them as it came through. Regardless of the cause, I had to either get a new post or repair the old one.  I picked up the mailbox and saw that it would fit back together is I could find something to securely fuse the two sections of the broken post.  

So, I rushed back to town to see what Home Depot had to assist me.  I was disoriented looking for pre-drilled metal plates of some sort.  A guy in the plumbing section offered to help me (even though it was outside his departmet).  We rummaged through a smorgasbord of plates until I found two 15-inch heavy-duty ones exactly 4 inches wide.  A perfect fit for my post.

"I don't know if you are going to want to buy those," the Home Depot guy told me, still sorting through the disarrayed collection of pieces.  "How much are these?" I inquired.  They were about $8 each (the other items in the assortment were $2-$3).  I thought, what an incredible bargain! This was exactly what I had in my mind as I was driving back to town.  But, I figured the guy was used to people nickel and diming him a lot.  "Ouch," I emphatically replied.  "Oh well, I still need two of them."

As insurance that I had what I needed, I bought a couple of smaller, thinner plates as well, along with a box of screws. Since Jennifer was on business, as I drove home I planned how I was going to manage to prop up the mailbox, make sure it fit snugly and properly, while drilling the screws.  It sure would be easier if someone could hold it in place while I had two free hands to bolt it together like an orthopedist operating on a broken arm or leg.

Then a wave of good karma happened upon the situation. Literally as I was topping the hill before my driveway I saw my neighbor (who was not home when I was there earlier) rounding his house with his electric drill in hand.  I pulled into the drive in perfect timing with him arriving at the scene of the debacle.  

"Somebody's been messing with us," I smiled to him as I got out of my truck.  He ranted about how fast people drive through here and how reckless some people are and how we weren't raised to cause such damage and not at least try to contact the owners to accept responsibility for the accident (if it was an accident).  He also said that whoever did had to have mess up their vehicle, even though neither of us saw any indication of how the breaks actually occurred.  I couldn't disagree with anything he said.  But his tone changed when I delighted him about the plates I had just picked up at Home Depot.

Working together, it took us all of about 15 minutes to fix both mailboxes.  The heavier metal plates mended my 4x4 perfectly solid and steady.  The smaller plates did the trick to stabilize his mailbox.  It is amazing how fast you can accomplish things when you have the right help and the right tools all line up at precisely the right time.  If life were always so easy.  

We looked everywhere for his missing door flap but only could a couple of small chunks of it scattered across my driveway.  Afterwards we stood and talked for a good long time.  He offered to pay me for the plates and screws but I wouldn't hear of it. "That's what neighbors are for," I offered. And that took him on a tangent about how country people have come together through the years all around us and helped each other.  There was more than a little nostalgia in his voice as he lamented about the fast-paced, impersonal carelessness of the world.

I shared with him that this was only the second time since 1993 that I have a problem like this.  The last time my mailbox was on the opposite side of my driveway and had been taken out by the garbage truck.  The company promptly bought me another one and I moved it to where it sits today in order to stay away from the garbage pick-up.  I still have no idea whether this was some sort of bad high school prank or the accident of extra wide farm equipment or what...but I am glad the damage was not any worse than it was.  

Fortune smiled upon me when I returned from town at precisely the moment my neighbor was ready to fix his mailbox.  It was a good visit to catch up with him; we haven't really talked other than to say "hello" since before Christmas. He's right. Stuff like this is what neighbors are for.  And the world has gone crazy, even if all we had to show for it in this case was a couple of mailboxes somewhat mysteriously chopped in the ditch.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trump, the EPA, and Your Toxic Future

As I pointed out previously, the first Industrial Revolution almost occurred in China several hundred years before it happened in Europe. There were various reasons why this did not occur, not the least of which was an invasion by Genghis Khan. But before that happened, the Chinese city of Kaifeng became the largest urban area on the planet.  It housed more than one million residents.  It was the global hub for science and development and a fledgling iron works industry.  

Remembering Kaifeng is useful today because it seems many among us have forgotten a simple, undeniable historic fact. Wherever unregulated human beings prosper economically it is always at the expense of the environment to the degree that it poses a threat to human life itself.  The region around Kaifeng was heavily forested but within a few decades the landscape became completely denuded.  Vital wood and other materials had to transported from many miles away.  The industry suffered but so did those living in the industrial waste and environmental devastation - the worst in history up to that time.

Also as I have posted here, here, and here, China remains one of the world's worst polluters today. Millions of Chinese citizens dies every year from breathing toxic air and drinking toxic water. Conditions are just as bad in India, if not worse. The singular thread connecting these two rapidly growing world economies is that neither country has had any regulatory oversight on the environment. The fact is that in modern times the "Socialist world" has become the worst polluter on Earth thanks to a hands-off approach to pollution and environmental healthy.

In essence, this is what human beings do to their environment every time.  There are few if any historic examples of how economic development and free enterprise factor in the environmental impact.  Instead, profitability and productivity are the holy grail of economic prosperity.  Left free and unencumbered, human beings will fill their pockets with money and neglect the environmental consequences until the environment becomes unhealthy, causing disease and death. 

Even with the EPA, America remains one of the worst polluters on the planet.  Our country's great industrial revolution was the source of incredible wealth and opportunity but, predictably in the view of history, it was also the source of unmitigated toxic pollution.

President Trump does not believe in history.  He does not learn from the past. He (and most of his sorry supporters) believes that the EPA is equivalent to the IRS and should be abolished.  His choice to head the department believes such a drastic act is justified (although it really doesn't look like outright elimination of the agency is not likely to happen). How does he think this country will look ten years after this ill-conceived decision? Are we Americans more enlightened now than we were 50 years ago where the environment is concerned?  Without the EPA, Lake Erie died in the late 1960's.  There are countless facts about pre-EPA American disasters.  Love Canal, New York, Picher, Oklahoma, Libby, Montana, Louisville, Kentucky, these are the places of America's environmental heritage.

Just today Trump and his ilk decided that the Clean Water Rule which protects the drinking water for 117 million Americans (not to mention crops and wildlife) should be "dismantled".  This is a major blow to the EPA's ability to protect the environment.  Let's get the facts straight here President Trumpet.  It was precisely the horrific, unregulated conditions of drinking water in this country due to dumping by individuals and industry that lead to the Rule to begin with.  Trump calls the Rule a "disaster" which, of course, utter bullshit (and a waaaaaaay overused term by the Donald).  Precisely the opposite is the historical, factual case. The disaster existed into the early 1970's when this Rule came into effect and led to today's situation, which is some of the cleanest water in the world.

Without the EPA, or even with a severely restricted EPA, this country will revert back to how it was before the EPA (see this sobering story in that radical left-wing publication, Popular Science).  We know what this nation is like without adequate environmental protection.  We know what human being have always done to the environment.  Our individual liberty cannot be trusted where the air, water, and soil are concerned.  As I said in a previous post, "Liberty means nothing if you can't breathe the air." 

As these photos show, we need a strong EPA now more than ever.  Otherwise, "those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."

Illegal dumping on the Hudson River, 1973

Burning batteries in Texas, 1972

Cleveland, Ohio, 1973

Cuyahoga River Cleveland, 1953

George Washington Bridge, 1973

Illegal Dumping, Hudson River, 1973

Los Angeles, 1973

Louisville and the Ohio River, 1972

Sewage Dumping in the Potomac River, 1973

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Unhinged: The 2020 Campaign Begins

Just before Donald Trump's inauguration (which happened just 33 days ago - seems a lot longer than that doesn't it?), I was having lunch with several of my work colleagues all of whom voted for Trump in last fall's election. They were talking about how pleased they were at how Trump was going to "shake things up" in Washington.  As I finished my meal I predicted that Trump would become highly adversarial toward the media and that this would ultimately lead to fewer press conferences, more mass rallies, and more direct communication by Trump through twitter.

This past Friday and Saturday featured a great example of what I thought might be coming.  After an unusually combative press conference, Trump rushed down to Florida where his supporters formed a line a mile long waiting to applaud and voice support for the president.  The event was billed not as an "official" presidential visit, but rather as a "campaign" affair.  The 2020 campaign officially began in Florida as Trump has discovered, to no one's surprise really, he is more comfortable campaigning for president than he is at actually serving in the office. 

While his overall approval rating has been declining, Trump remains solidly competent and effective in the eyes of his voter base.  The fact that the White House is in turmoil has not affected his core supporters.  In fact, they are actually pleased with the chaos Trump is either causing by design or stumbling through due to ineptitude - as indicated by my work colleagues (I suspect highly typical of Trumpkins everywhere). 

Despite an impressive pace of executive orders and half-baked policy announcements (the immigration thing, the healthcare thing, the protectionist thing, etc.), Trump has accomplished absolutely nothing so far other than to look either puzzling or stupid (or both) to most of American and the rest of the world.  The president is on the receiving end push-backs from every aspect of the alleged "swamp" that a plurality of voters sent him to DC to "drain" as well as a strong grass-roots movement intending to disrupt him and impact the 2018 mid-term elections.  

Amidst all this Trump held a radical news conference last Friday where he spewed 77-minutes of hubris at the media and the American public. He denied the White House was in turmoil.  He whined that he "inherited this mess."   It was a moment without precedent in American political history. You can read a transcript of the entire performance here.  Things were so ridiculous that Trump's choice for National Security Advisor decided he didn't want the job after witnessing the incredulous news conference.   Even Fox News called Trump out on the way the president portrayed the media. 

Recent events have shown President Trump is a disgrace to the office of the presidency.  Republican Senator John McCain has pondered the apparent inability for the administration to separate truth from lies where the facts of governing are concerned.  McCain also rightly declared Trump's attitude toward the free press as the way "dictator's get started."  Further, McCain frets of the apparent inability of the Trump administration to "separate truth from lies." 

Senior officials say they have never seen such chaos within an incoming administration. Much of what Trump belches in his public appearances is simply untrue.  The president seems to have no concept of what facts actually are.  Actually, that is probably not true.  Trump knows the facts but chooses to spin his own reality with "alternative facts." 

This is an absurd situation.  We are at a point where not only are we polarized in terms of our political perspectives but we can no longer even agree upon such basic things as what is and what is not a fact.  This renders authentic debate and dialog of opposing political views (the heart of our democracy) impossible, as soon no one will be able to agree upon the basis for validity, let alone the conclusions to be logically drawn from a reasonable exchange of perspectives upon vetted and substantiated facts.

Take the "mess" Trump supposed inherited.  This is classic bullshit. Trump, faltering at the polls and rudderless at something as basic as putting together a political team, chooses to attack one of the few institutions less popular than himself - the American media.  So, he invents a "mess" that is separate from his lack of leadership and governing ability. What exactly is this vague "mess"?

Trump inherited a slowly growing economy with low unemployment.  His predecessor, Barack Obama inherited a full-blown financial crisis and skyrocketing unemployment. On the other hand, Obama clearly left Trump with a foreign policy mess.  But Trump doesn't seem to care about that specifically as he is only making America's foreign standing messier.  So, I'm unclear as to what the "mess" is exactly. Obamacare?  Seems the mess lies in attempting to dismantle it rather than anything the unfortunate policy actually caused.  Mexican immigration?  Trump's wall idea is more of a mess than that - including the fact that Trump has disrupted relations with Mexico, one of America's best trading partners.

The comparisons between Trump and Hitler are mostly overblown.  The United States is weak but it is not the Weimar Republic that spawned Hitler. Trump is an authoritarian narcissist but he's not a genocidal maniac. No, Trump is unique.  I don't see him as evil so much as someone incompetent and unqualified who prefers to surround himself with people even less competent and qualified. 

However, Trump's intentionally adversarial conduct toward the free press and his emerging preference for mass rallies is rather Hitleresque. Trump's outrageous, unstable, and arrogant behavior has led to the resignation of long-time National Security Council member Edward Price. This weakens the Council further after the ridiculous appointment of the utterly unqualified (he's just a banker/film maker, nothing more) Steve Bannon. (To be fair, and to possibly reflect the sheer weigh of opposition to Trump's nonsense, it was announced today that the White House might be walking back a bit on the Bannon thing. So maybe there is some small hope for all the resistance to Trump after all.)

This has merits comparison with Hitler's initial rise to power. When he took office in 1933 the Nazi's control only 3 of 11 cabinet posts.  His opponents thought this was sufficient to keep him in check. But these three positions effectively gave the Nazi's control of the police which led to the various crack-downs that further elevated Nazi power.  Putting people like Bannon on the Council and losing people like Price and Harward does not bode well for the Council's future

Federal law enforcement and the intelligence community are somewhat insulated from the National Security Council.  So, there is no immediate danger of a Hitler-like control of the police by Trump.  But, like the Reichstag fire episode, one wonders what the affect might be should a major terrorist attack hit this country at this time.

Such an attack could legitimize the full-blown violation of privacy that security state advocates seek and lead to a radicalization of the "war of terror" that was unthinkable under more stable leadership by Presidents Bush and Obama. The possibilities are truly chilling.

But, let's not get overly speculative when there is so much to factually critique about Trump's first two months in office. So far, ill-conceived executive orders, adversarial relations with the free press and the intelligence community, stacking the Security Council, and actively campaigning to solidify his voting base are all the accomplishments of this administration.  Nothing else has happened yet. But we are early in the game and a lot can change over the next few months.  

I told many of my friends who, as opposed to my work colleagues, were depressed with Trump's improbable election that I just didn't think he would be able to do all those silly things he promised on the campaign trail. So far, he seems to be pissing off everyone who can actually make policy happen. Maybe Trump will end up being all bluster with no substance. Or maybe it could be as bad as everyone fears.  Stay tuned.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Donald the Demented Disruptor

I have a theory for how Donald Trump became president.  My theory makes the assumption that everyone is looking in the wrong place for explanations.  Everyone seems to think that since this was a political event then the answer must be political or economic or demographic in some way. This is partially correct. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if Hillary had gotten out the vote in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Detroit she would have likely beaten Donald.  But, my contention is that the disruption of human life, so prevalent due to the advances of digital technology, governmental micromanagement, corporate power and commodification, globalization, among other reasons has deeply affected the American voter.

Disruption is understated in the political narrative but it cannot be emphasized enough.  The forces affecting the daily lives of Americans have frustrated the hell out of most people.  Frustration leads to a lack of clarity where politics is concerned. Voters don't care about the political consequences of their vote so much as they simply want to cause disruption themselves.  Donald Trump was not elected for any political reason.  He was elected because voters desire to create disruption as a form of revenge. To that extent, the 2016 election makes perfect sense.

This is not a Left versus Right phenomenon - though, of course, the Right has benefited from it. The Left, being progressive, is viewed as more of the cause of frustration. Progressivism is inherently pro-digital, pro-globalization, pro-government, pro-media, and pro-academia - all the things voters associate with the disruption of their lives.  The Right, being more conservative by design, is either neutral or opposed to these forces.  The corporate power component of frustration is viewed as more of a digital/global phenomena than as a contributing factor by the Right.

Progressives are seen as the primary enablers of disruption. Many articles on disruption take the slant that it is largely a positive phenomenon.  But it is not seen that way by most people at all.  Most people don't want to be re-trained for future jobs, they don't want to deal with the invasive technological change of private lives, they don't want the responsibility that comes with enabling technology and sophisticated governmental and corporate systems that result from this disruptive effect.

One example of this massive, understated, force of disruption comes from a recent book by Tom Friedman. 'The central argument of Friedman’s book is that technology (due to “Moore’s Law” — whereby computing power has been doubling every two years for the last fifty years), globalization (the “Market”), and climate change (“Mother Nature”) have all collided and now constitute the “age of acceleration.” These three accelerations “are impacting one another” and, at the same time, are “transforming almost every aspect of modern life.”

'Friedman believes that the collision occurred roughly ten years ago, 2007, with technological advancements in computing power (processing chips, software, storage chips, networking, and sensors) that formed a new platform. This platform “suffused a new set of capabilities to connect, collaborate and create throughout every aspect of life, commerce, and government.” These capabilities are smarter, faster, smaller, cheaper, and more efficient. It is not coincidental, therefore, that that year saw the advent of the first iPhone, symbolic of this massive transformation.
The challenge posed by these exponential rates of change is our ability to absorb and adapt to them. “Many of us,” Friedman writes, “cannot keep pace anymore.” Eric Teller, head of Google’s X research and development lab, said, “[T]hat is causing us cultural angst.” And Teller warns that “our societal structures are failing to keep pace with the rate of change.”'

The nuts and bolts of the disruptive effects upon human behavior are well known. 'I study disruptive technology, specifically innovative technology that gains so much momentum that it disrupts markets and ultimately businesses. In the past several years, disruptive technology has become so pervasive that I’ve had to further focus my work on studying only disruptive technologies that are impacting customer and employee behavior, expectations and values and affecting customer and employee experiences. I can hardly keep up with today let alone consider the potential disruption that looms ahead in every sector imaginable including new areas that will emerge and displace laggard perspectives, models and processes.'

According to the Huffington Post, American culture is clearly afflicted with disruption. 'If you were about to celebrate the end of the Great Recession and the decline in the unemployment rate, please re-cork the Champagne. The American economy — much like the economies of other developed nations — is entering a period of major upheaval in which many middle-class jobs will be lost. The digital revolution is increasingly allowing computers and machines, made smarter through software, to replace many of the better-paying jobs, namely those that require skills and are associated with the middle class.'

The Financial Times also substantiates this. 'So why all the fuss about tech companies and competition? Technological change is naturally disruptive. We saw widespread industry restructuring throughout much of the 20th century and we can expect the same to happen in the 21st. Incumbents are understandably worried about being disrupted or even displaced and this anxiety boils over into demands that regulators “do something”. Unfortunately, this often means restricting competition rather than enhancing it.

'“The best of all monopoly profits,” the Nobel laureate John Hicks once said, “is a quiet life.” But life can never be quiet in the high tech industries as long as technologies continue to advance, innovation continues to thrive and consumers continue to have so much choice.'

The accelerated pace of disruption is a possible source of societal discontent partly because there's no end to it in sight. This creates a sense of helplessness and rage that feeds the more radical instincts of the voters. 'Whether you are a fan of the digital revolution, or think of it as unavoidable evil, there is no denying that it has changed our lives forever. It has changed the culture and social fabric of our existence in more profound ways than we realize. The most amazing thing is that all of these changes have taken place in the last 15-20 years! The even more chilling fact is that we are not done yet.'

The Economist notes that part of the crisis lies in the emergent relationship between technological progress and unemployment.  'Yet some now fear that a new era of automation enabled by ever more powerful and capable computers could work out differently. They start from the observation that, across the rich world, all is far from well in the world of work. The essence of what they see as a work crisis is that in rich countries the wages of the typical worker, adjusted for cost of living, are stagnant. In America the real wage has hardly budged over the past four decades. Even in places like Britain and Germany, where employment is touching new highs, wages have been flat for a decade. Recent research suggests that this is because substituting capital for labour through automation is increasingly attractive; as a result owners of capital have captured ever more of the world’s income since the 1980s, while the share going to labour has fallen.'

With disruption really only beginning, with it becoming the norm, with the frustrations of the voters rising because of the complexity and uncertainty of our postmodern "Great Disruption", there is a paradoxical relationship between discontent and individual ability to impact disruption. 'My goal is to give you a sense of the pace of change. We haven’t seen one percent of the rate of change that we going to see within the next ten years. It used to be that a thousand years ago, the only people who could change a nation or a region of the world were the Kings and Queens. One hundred years ago it was the industrialists, the robber barons, that could make the change. Today it’s anyone…'

Clearly, Donald was the candidate of disruption. Jeff Reifman writes: 'Both Bernie Sanders and Trump exceeded early expectations because of their outsider status and their appearance as disruptors of the status quo. Sanders used his authentic regard for equality and social justice to address these issues, whereas Trump promises to tear everything apart and restructure it without specifics.

'Who can’t empathize with his intention? The status quo is broken for all of us. Even when money in politics fails to win elections, gerrymandering and the Supreme Court keep us on course toward an increasingly indebted country with failing infrastructure controlled by the wealthy and corporations for their own benefit. Frankly, there’s not much of a democracy left here.'

Hence, the emergence of Donald Trump.  The perfect candidate of disruption; the opportunity for disgruntled voters to give every contributing influence of disruption some payback. 'The emergence of Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has sent shockwaves through the GOP. It has also unleashed a vitriolic response from many who passionately oppose his more inflammatory statements. Trump’s success is rooted in his ability to disrupt the established order within the GOP. His followers, fueled by anger and distrust of the prevailing political orthodoxy, have drawn their strength from conservative news sources, obscure websites and the blogging fraternity for views and opinions that reinforce rather than challenge established assumptions. The convergence of the power of new media on a political system dominated by extremes has formed a nexus within the present political cycle.

'Technological disruptions have served as important milestones for human progress across centuries. In the 19th century, opposition to newly developed technology in the English textile industry led to the machine-smashing Luddite movement. The movement would not last. New technology not only transformed the textile industry but also spurred the creation of a new economic order. Two centuries later, we are again experiencing disruptions of historic proportions. We are also observing the emergence of a new 21st-century economic order. The speed of innovation and its transformative impact on our everyday experiences is near complete, for good or bad. Disruption has always yielded champions and victims. What is not clear this time is who will win.'

This is causing great consternation, particularly on the Left. But, as the Sydney Morning Herald points out, 'Trump is governing almost exactly how he said he would during a campaign that he won. No one should be surprised.'

We got what we voted for America.  The voters are to blame for this mess.  A plurality voted for a man with serious mental issues and personality disorders over a wide field of other candidates throughout the primaries and in the general election.  Now, we all will learn.  Maybe a significant portion of American voters are a sick as Trump.  Regardless, just because a candidate is anti-everything doesn't make that candidate viable. If you voted for Trump, you voted for counter-disruption...and an unstable man.  God only knows what you are going to get in the end.  Trump serves no one but his delusional self. There has never been a better example of why informed voting, rather than voting based on your personal frustrations, matters.  

Read about this Trump presidency so far in my new flipzine, Trumpocalypse Now.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fake the Nation

The favorability rating for the news media in America is at an all-time low.  Americans don't trust the reporting of the free press.  Those who proclaim themselves Republicans are the primary driver of this trend.  The so-called "liberal media" (ignoring the fact that there is clearly a powerful, competitive "conservative media") has never been more under attack.  

Such skepticism is generally a health thing, in my opinion.   All media should be scrutinized and evaluated based upon a cross-checking of facts and a verification of any seemingly outlandish claims. But, when the media is ignored completely, not verified, not confirmed then we have a problem.  In our case we have the problem of people just simply making shit up because it sounds better to their preconceived (and largely unconfirmed) notions.

"Fake news" abounds in America today.  It crosses the political landscape to include both the Left and the Right. Buzzfeed supplies 50 examples of fake news from 2016 on FaceBook (FakeBook?) alone. But, Buzzfeed itself was probably guilty of fake news when it published the story about President-elect Trump's scandalous "Golden Shower" connection.

Other assorted examples:

And so on.  For both political factions, Left and Right,  it has become preferable to emulate the Joseph Goebbels style of (propaganda) press coverage.  This is a blow for the First Amendment far worse than any government regulation or corporate power play.  Free Speech is only as valuable as it is informed.  There is no constitutional right to make shit up and present it as fact.  That, my dear readers, is not Free Speech - that is intentionally misleading pseudo-speak.  Free Speech is inherently legitimate, even between contradictory speech acts.   It isn't "free expression" if it is an intent to lie.
Rather, Free Speech is an intent to enter into debate with conflicting views and to allow the force of factual argument to carry the day.  This is a cornerstone of American democracy. When voters rely upon fake news to validate their preconceptions out of a desire to be "right" rather than a desire to be "informed", then all of American democracy is in crisis. Free Speech cannot be distinguished from fake speech, the press is no longer allowed to inform the electorate or to legitimately hold authority accountable as part of our cultural "checks and balances", and people invent their reality thereby pushing public policy beyond the perils of partisan rancor and political gridlock into something far worse - policy based upon how people feel regardless of the facts

So we will soon be under the direction of a Fake President.  All politicians put spin on the truth and position the facts to their favor.  Most America politicians have historically stopped short of outright fabrication of facts.  Until recently. Donald Trump is a champion of fake news.  Even conservative media sources questioned the "stunning" phony accusations Trump made about "massive voter fraud" in the 2016 election.   Even when he wasn't personally orchestrating  fake news, Trump benefited from Right-wing fakers.

There is no shortage of Left or Right voters who prefer to believe their own opinions rather than to investigate, inform themselves, and obtain what has traditionally be termed "received wisdom." This is perhaps the most terrifying threat to free speech.

The New York Times reports on what researchers found when they intentionally parodied fake news. A significant swath of the American people (possibly around 15%), enough to sway an election, bought in to it.  The Times summarizes: "It may be less that false information from dubious news sources is shaping their view of the world. Rather, some people (about 8 percent of the adult population, if we take the survey data at face value) are willing to believe anything that sounds plausible and fits their preconceptions about the heroes and villains in politics.

"It suggests that the most straightforwardly fraudulent forms of fake news are a small part of what is shaping how people understand the world. People’s hunger for information that suits their prejudices is powerful, and in the digital media age, a pile of it emerges to satisfy that demand."

It seems to me that the rise of media distrust and the rise of fake news are symptoms reflecting in tandem the same societal disease.  We are sick to the extent we allow fake news to validate our lives. We are inauthentic to the extent that we act in ways that was demonstrably false.  It turns out that America is fundamentally in trouble not because we are no longer ""great" nor because we have a legitimacy crisis in government, equality, privacy, freedom, corporate greed, etc. America is in crisis because the American people are increasingly invested in lies.  This supposedly Christian nation has allowed lying in the public sphere to have unprecedented powers of persuasion and inspiration.  

Though fake news is nothing new to America (we can find examples of it all the way back to the election of 1800) 2016 might well represent the year fake news consistently replaced legitimate news in the minds of the American public.  If 2016 is any indication, large swaths of the voting public are going to vote based upon preconceived prejudices without the benefit of either discourse between candidates to become better informed or the news media to "vet" the positions of candidates based upon reality.

Our democracy has plenty of troubles from the "evil powers" of the government or the "inequality" of corporate greed.  But nothing threatens it more than the American voters themselves.  By discounting factual reporting and meaningful debate in favor of fake news we have elected a fake president who clearly invents his own reality and we have thereby chosen to manifest our political freedom into a fake nation. We get the government we deserve and frankly, we deserve to be lied to, it is what makes so many of us politically happy.

Late Note: The Fakers seem to be running wild in the early days of the Trump administration. Kellyanne Conway, who did a brilliant job of getting Trump elected, claims that the administration is dealing with "alternative facts" - one of the finest examples of outlandish bullshit I've heard in a long time.  Meanwhile, Trump's press secretary's claim that Trump's mediocre Presidential Inauguration had "the largest crowd ever to witness an inauguration" is further proof that this administration is simply going to make shit up as they go along.  Most of this is petty stuff really, but it unfortunately is indicative of a behavioral pattern of lying. Trump is well on his way to becoming our (fake) great nation's Faker-in-chief

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Loose Ends for 2016

Work, family and other projects took precedent over blogging in 2016.  I plan to concentrate more on my Nietzsche blog in the coming weeks.  I have worked on it for 8 years and am finally close to completing the philosophical biography portion of it.  This blog will take a back seat to that one for the time being, although I do have a few topics I still want to post here.

2016 was the year my Flipboard editing sort of took off.  As of this post I have a modest 2,186 followers as of this post, up from my humble beginnings back in 2014.  My number of magazines proliferated this past year, though news, art, space, and sex remain the topics of primary interest.  I added a number of specialty magazines this year including additional archives on art and hot pix.  SeXtEcH focuses on the diverse world of sex augmentation and technology - everything from virtual reality to toys to sex robots, which is an emerging topic.  My personal opinion is that virtual reality and robotics will both develop far faster in service to the sex/porn industry than in any other application.  Eros focuses specifically on the philosophical and practical implications of the sensual and the erotic.  Ape Sh!t was added to cover news regarding our cousins in evolution, who have some remarkably sophisticated, almost human-like, behavioral and cultural traits.  My Flipboard experience is a fun and informative pastime which attracts more of my attention these days than blogging. Checkout my Flipboard profile page for an overview of my 33 magazines.

Particular events I failed to blog about or news events that are on my mind as we prepare to enter 2017:

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  Even though I am a staunch Atlanta Braves fan, I have always rooted for the Cubs in a general sense.  It was great to watch them win their first championship since 1908 (the longest stretch without a championship in professional sports). The exciting series went seven games with the final game being one of the most watched in baseball history.

I have followed the Cassini space probe with interest since watching its launch on the internet back in 1997.  I have blogged about my interest in Cassini before.  It continues to fill me with awe but it is now close to the end of its serviceable life. What an incredible journey!

Neil Young, my favorite musical artist, produced two recordings in 2016, both of rather mediocre quality.  I reviewed Earth previously.  Peace Trail came out earlier this month.  I chose not to review it.  It is a stripped-down flavor of Neil, featuring him mostly on guitar with just a drummer and a bass player accompanying him - quite the opposite from the beefed-up studio effects and heavily overdubbed Earth. Suffice it to say that Peace Trail and Show Me are two decent tracks, the rest is just sort of OK.  But, at 71, Neil is an inspiration to me. He is still doing things his way, whether his fans like it or not. Keep on rockin' (in the free world) Neil! 

Artificial Intelligence has never been more in the news.  This New York Times article provides an excellent overview of where AI is and where it is likely to take us in a few short years from now. This is going to affect our lives in more ways than most people realize.  Recently, for example, the world's largest hedge fund announced it would begin to replace managers with AI next year.  All in all, 2016 was "the year AI came of age."  This is an exciting moment to be alive, despite some anxiety by some about the potentially world-shaking implications of this technology. 

Another excellent New York Times op-ed piece covered the trendy and almost kitsch societal effects of the "let's be in the moment" or "let's be mindful" craze.  Mindfulness has some advantages but as a life purpose it has some limitations that go ignored because the practice is so fashionable and more people value "peace of mind" over actual world conditions (or absurdly contend that improving the world begins with discovering your peace of mind, which is, of course, another example of subtle-arrogance).  This article demonstrates, as Nietzsche himself advised, the truth is not necessarily peaceful or pleasant and that which overrides the truth in the name of personal contentment might not in every case be a good thing after all.

As an example of how little mindfulness impacts the actual world, I have blogged about the horrendous air pollution in China for years (see here and here).  But at the end of 2016 the situation has gotten even worse, showing what happens when human industrial production is allowed a free hand to produce goods without an environmental regulation whatsoever. Given the opportunity, human beings with decimate their natural resources to the point it threatens human life itself. History is littered with such examples.  The latest situation in China (and India is just as bad if not worse) is being termed the "airpocalypse" and affects almost a half billion human beings with smog so thick it resembles a perpetual fog.

Another example of world conditions decoupled from contentment of spirit is the fact that large swaths of the planet's animal species are going extinct for various reasons. The plight of giraffes, cheetahs, elephants, and gorillas have made the news most recently.  Altogether, as much as 2/3 of wildlife on the planet could be gone in the next few years. Much of this has to do with global warming, which is a "myth" to the likes of Donald Trump.  I suppose all these species are just dying of their own volition.  Here is an article on several animals already extinct thanks largely to the "enlightened" hand of humankind.  CNN provides a great overview of this reality in a special presentation called Vanishing.

Which brings us to the pathetic state of politics in America. The US Presidential election was perhaps the biggest bummer of 2016 in this country.  US voters decided that in misogynistic, xenophobic, paranoid billionaire was the best choice to lead our country.  The malaise following the election, where Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin but won the electoral vote (which is all that constitutionally matters), is widespread among the liberal elites, academia, and the mass media, among others.  Personally, I understand what a downer all this is.  Trump has always acted like a fool in public and will continue to do so as president, possibly to the point of alienating his own party.  In the meantime, he will attempt, in the name of fear and profit, to dismantle much that is positive in our country.  

But, the incessant whining of the left wing establishment about all this grates on my nerves. There is a solution to all this, people.  Vote the idiot out in four years.  Whining only shows how childish you are and how badly you misunderstand the very real conservative and radically right wing political forces that have always been a major part of America.  The Left's "America Ideal" never really existed except on paper, as Trump will now proceed to demonstrate. The "real" America is a competition of validity claims and, for now, the Right controls the agenda as the anti-establishment, anti-academic, and anti-media force of reckoning.

One of the major breakthroughs for the Right is just to make shit up.  "Fake news" is the polite way to put it.  The phenomena is so pervasive in our culture that The Oxford Dictionary made "post-truth" its word of the year.  But Trump demonstrated a neurotic tendency throughout the campaign to play on the vast fears and boundless ignorance of the American public.  While the Left, being naturally inclined toward academic research, a free, investigative press, and the specialization of knowledge, seeks to discover facts and to debate the interpretation of facts, the Right seeks to dumb-down every equation and to grasp at incomplete and inaccurate details in order to create truth out of fake "facts."  

Trump was caught doing this on several occasions. Most recently for accusing the America political system to be "rigged" (presumably against him, turns out with Russian hacking it was rigged to some degree in his favor), that there was massive voter fraud, etc.  This article in the The New Yorker details the pathetic legacy Trump drags into the oval office.  It is time to be skeptical of this self-perceived demigod.  Be very skeptical.  Only "fake people" deal in fake news - but right now they are the ones in power.  So, we literally have the most absurd government in American history; policy based upon fake and fraudulent ideas as accepted by tens of millions of ignorant American voters. Welcome to our new fake democracy.

Comparisons of Trump and Hitler are mostly overblown. Outright fascism is simply not going to happen in America - at least in the next four years. For all our faults, America is still above that.  But, Trump's need to perpetuate his own truth (propaganda) and to hold mass rallies instead of press conferences is absolutely Hitleresque.  This is an ominous cloud hanging over our country.    

But perhaps we deserve it.  More than anything, the pervasive nature of stupidity and pettiness among the American public as a whole was made crystal clear in 2016.  Nothing proves the point better than America's true Christmas holiday tradition - fighting and being arrested while holiday shopping. This combines our festering greed for material gratification with our underlying anger as a society. Greed, anger, and the subsequent frustration of the great cancer of America consumerism is perhaps the greatest threat to civil liberties and, indeed, a meaningful life in general.  

I have little respect for the average American.  Each one is incapable of "greatness" in any sense - so how can this country ever be? Most of us are callous, selfish, rude, afraid, mediocre, and increasingly violent.  We have no one to blame other than ourselves for our situation going into 2017. The American people are not helpless victims, they are the ignorant perpetrators. This is why I consider the greatest need for America and the world in the new year to be a discovery of who we are as individuals and as societies.  We are clearly sick as a collective people.  Diagnosis and a return to health will not be found in behavior that is more of the same (violence, consumerism, our insidious fetish of  'busyness'). Of course, I am no longer idealistic enough to think it will be otherwise.  But, at the very least, I am going to redefine myself in 2017. 

This article in Christian Science Monitor sums of the year pretty accurately: "Some years are bigger than others. Their numerals evoke phase shifts in the world, lurches into new forms of political and cultural order. Think of 1968 and its explosion of youth unrest, 1989 and the collapse of the wall between East and West, or 2001 and the rise of Islamist terrorism."

The article details the disruptive effects (for the establishment) that forces like Donald Trump, Brexit, "populist nationalism," globalization, digitization of the economy, technology, and automation are creating in the world today.  It interests me that no group or individual really "controls" any of this.  All of this soup of disruption seems to be happening more or less beyond the control of human society or culture.  This is the functional power of karma - which is unique characteristic of modernity.  I hope to blog more on the topic of Function in the coming year.