Our Current Situation: Don’t Panic

Wednesdays are for all the political stuff that’s been on my radar the last week. So much! There’s not a single clear spot on my radar screen. It’s all one eerie pulsing green glow. For the non-political weekly updates see the Sunday Spectacle.

EDITORIAL: My state of permanent freakout has been supplanted by an ongoing grim determination. Adjusting the national (global?) balance to something more sane may take awhile. There are lots of calls to take action, or to do something practical, but fewer examples of exactly what that means. Here are a few possibilities to get us started.

Progressive values can only be upheld if there are progressive legislators to advocate for those values. Run for Something is an organization devoted to recruiting and supporting “diverse progressives under the age of 35 to run for down-ballot races in order to build a bench for the future.” Check out their strategic plan. They started this year. Their focus is Virginia, and (tentatively) North Carolina, but they provide a good model for other communities to use. Not sure what to run for? Run for Office will tell you which offices you’re eligible for based on your address. Not sure what to do when you get there? State Innovation Exchange provides model progressive legislation you can use in your campaign, or, once elected, to push through into law.

If you can’t (or don’t want) to run, support those who do. Follow your local office-holders through Twitter or Google News Alerts and reward them when they do something good. Ideally with money, but even a phone call or letter can make a difference for your city, county, and state leaders.

The Nation posted a list of progressive movements worth checking out.

AZTLAN RISING: Even before The Donald jokingly joked he’d send the US military across our southern border I had a paranoid fantasy that one of his many legacies would be losing a war with Mexico.

In this feverish delusion the US is at war with Iran and military engagement is metastasizing across the Mid-East. Something, probably something trivial, sparks a border skirmish along the US-Mexico border. Maybe The Donald gives orders to pursue a bad hombre across the border and the Mexican military objects. Maybe he sends some CBP agents out to get a few late-night burritos. In a hilarious-but-deadly screw-up the US agents are captured. Tensions escalate. Before you know it the US is fighting on two fronts. In a fit of nationalist pride the narco gangs of Mexico form their own militias and launch a series of attacks inside the US border. Mexico claims it is time to re-take the portion of its nation the US took during the last US/Mexico war. War is declared.

The nations of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean all side with Mexico. Too many resources are are being used in the conflagration of the Middle East and Mexico takes Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California. Trump tries to declare martial law, but is removed from office by Pence. Pence concedes to Mexico so he can keep his eyes on the prize – immanentizing the eschaton. The west coast states secede, followed by the Confederacy states. By the time Pence leaves office, and Trump starts his prison sentence, the US has been balkanized and remains that way for the rest of the 21st century.


TWITTER TIP: I read the conservative press. I want to know if there are broad concerns about Our Current Situation, or if the freak-out is purely liberal and Democrat. I want to know how the Trump supporters and those Trump-adjacent are interpreting events. One technique I’ve found useful is creating list in Twitter and then adding people to the list without following them. So, they don’t appear in my timeline, but I can dip into the list and get a sense of the conservative mindset. C-SPAN has a list for the House of Representatives which is also interesting.


LOCAL ACTION: A few events locally. My FL representative, Janet Cruz, led a walk-out when her Republican counterparts brought in bona fide racist to speak about immigration.

Also local, the Indivisible movement is taking root in Tampa.


SO CHILDISH: Here are some people making fun of Steve Bannon’s looks. If you want more you can Google Steve Bannon Looks Like, or search it on Twitter.


PUSSYHAT: An interview with Jayna Zweiman, co-creator of the pussyhat.

“…what we noticed is that a lot of these knitting stores across the country work as these really beautiful little community hubs, and so in thinking about these hubs and these really wonderful spaces where it’s predominantly women, these are already active participants.”


DON’T PANIC: It’s a firehose and an avalanche and torrential and a tsunami and an overwhelming spectacle of lies bullshit halftruth misdirection obfuscation belligerence and reality distortion, but don’t panic. The reserves of love and patience and science and fact and evidence and cogent arguments and good people and deep compassion and human resilience are mightier and deeper than the venal sociopathy currently washing over us.


OR…, PANIC: We are living in a cyberpunk dystopia.

Read the whole thing here.

I Made This Pitch in December

In the middle of December I suggested to Rosie O’Donnell and SNL —

Lo, these months later, those with higher profiles are cheerleading the same cause. And it’s gaining some traction.

UPDATE: It seems a lot of the tweeters want her to portray Bannon. I don’t think that’s as funny, but it’s the idea that’s catching all the attention.

Simple Answers to Stupid Questions

I think I might start a regular series. I hope this will save everyone a lot of time.

Q: If Donald Trump Is So Upset About Iraq WMD Lies, Why Would He Want to Hire John Bolton? (asked at The Intercept)

A: Trump lied about being upset about Iraq WMD lies.

That’s today’s installment of Simple Answers to Stupid Questions.

Weasel Words

A key strategy for identifying ‘fake’ or misleading ‘news’ is to look for weasel words. I put fake and news into quotation marks because weasel word writing is common in the most prestigious news sources, especially in the op-ed columns.

Wikipedia has a good list of weasel phrases to watch out for.

“A growing body of evidence…”[13] (Where is the raw data for your review?)
“People say…” (Which people? How do they know?)
“It has been claimed that…” (By whom, where, when?)
“Critics claim…” (Which critics?)
“Clearly…” (As if the premise is undeniably true)
“It stands to reason that…” (Again, as if the premise is undeniably true—see “Clearly” above)
“Questions have been raised…” (Implies a fatal flaw has been discovered)
“I heard that…” (Who told you? Is the source reliable?)
“There is evidence that…” (What evidence? Is the source reliable?)
“Experience shows that…” (Whose experience? What was the experience? How does it demonstrate this?)
“the person may have…” (And the person may not have.)
“It has been mentioned that…” (Who are these mentioners? Can they be trusted?)
“Popular wisdom has it that…” (Is popular wisdom a test of truth?)
“Commonsense has it/insists that…” (The common sense of whom? Who says so? See “Popular wisdom” above, and “It is known that” below)
“It is known that…” (By whom and by what method is it known?)
“It is recommended that…” (Who is recommending it? Upon what authority?)
“Officially known as…” (By whom, where, when, and who says so?)
“It turns out that…” (How does it turn out?[e 1])
“It was noted that…” (By whom, why, when?)
“Nobody else’s product is better than ours.” (What is the evidence of this?)
“Our product is regarded as…” (Regarded by whom?)
“Award-winning” (What type of award, when was it given and by whom?)
“A recent study at a leading university…” (How recent is your study? At what university?)
“(The phenomenon) came to be seen as…” (by whom?)
“Up to sixty percent…” (so, 59%? 50%? 10%?)
“More than seventy percent…” (How many more? 70.01%? 80%? 90%?)
“The vast majority…” (75%? 85% 99%? How many?)

When writing, be specific. When reading, look for writers who use specific language and avoid generalizations and vague pronouncements.

Bush-Era Assault on Reason

I feel like I’ve seen this show once before.

Twitter was breathless with astonished outrage that Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes could say something as audacious as “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” (You can read her clarification here.)

I think it’s pretty easy to see that as an inarticulate moment, but we saw something more substantive in 2004 when Karl Rove told Ron Suskind:

“The aide [Rove] said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Al Gore was so distraught after the 2000 election that one of the first things he did was teach a journalism class (Covering National Affairs in the Information Age.)

Then he launched Current TV (a progressive news network and TV channel).

Then he wrote The Assault on Reason.

“Our systematic exposure to fear and other arousal stimuli on television can be exploited by the clever public relations specialist, advertiser, or politician. Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, argues that there are three techniques that together make up “fearmongering”: repetition, making the irregular seem regular, and misdirection. By using these narrative tools, anyone with a loud platform can ratchet up public anxieties and fears, distorting public discourse and reason.”

Gore argues that TV is the problem and the Internet is the solution, but much of what he did after the 2000 election was a Cassandra-like prophecy for the events of early November 2016.

It feels weird to see so many of the same concerns, critiques, and anxieties weave their way through the post-election conversations, seemingly without recognition that we’ve had these conversations before. I suppose we’ve been able to spot the problems for years, but have yet to find the solutions.

It’s probably time to visit my local library and check out the following titles:

The Reunited States of America : how we can bridge the partisan divide by Mark Gerzon

Polarized : making sense of a divided America by James E Campbell

Social psychology of political polarization by Piercarlo Valdesolo & Jesse Graham


The phantom of a polarized America : myths and truths of an ideological divide by Manabu Saeki

They may not be full of solutions, but it’s a place to start.

Headlines are part of our news problem

No one has time to read every article. We read synopses, abstracts, tweets, and headlines to get the gist of what’s happening. To save time and space we take a pernicious short-cut. We say Republicans when we mean many or some Republicans. We say ‘the left’ when we mean many, most, or some on the left. We say women when we mean some-but-not-all women.

This is the fallacy of composition.

Description: Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. This is the opposite of the fallacy of division.

Logical Form:

A is part of B
A has property X
Therefore, B has property X.

Until we can be more specific and accurate with our civic language we will never cross the communication divide. If I want to get a better understanding of conservative arguments, I reject them immediately when they that something is true of ‘the left’ or liberals, that I do not believe.

Civic communication, on a broad scale, will improve if we, and the headline writers of the world, follow the simple maxim — Be Specific.