Of Blogs Present: Balderdash and the Moon

Hillsborough River Chronicle ended up being a little too generic for my tastes, so with the new year, I’m working with a new title: Balderdash and the Moon.

Fortunately, dear reader, there is only one of you, so I’m trusting the title changes won’t be too disconcerting.

One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more in tune with the moon. And, almost everything in this blog can easily be categorized as sheer balderdash, hence the title.

More Poetry! Destruction by Joanne Kyger

Destruction by Joanne Kyger

First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through
a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through
the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then
he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.

He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans
fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up Norwegian crackers
stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper,
paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes.

He rips the Green Tara
poster from the wall. Tries the Coleman Mustard. Spills
the ink, tracks in the flour. Goes up stairs and takes
a shit. Rips open the water bed, eats the incense and
drinks the perfume. Knocks over the Japanese tansu
and the Persian miniature of a man on horseback watching
a woman bathing.

Knocks Shelter, Whole Earth Catalogue,
Planet Drum, Northern Mists, Truck Tracks, and
Women’s Sports into the oozing water bed mess.

He goes
down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going
for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off.
Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash
of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium
and aspirin.

More Joanne Kyger here.

Making Space

It’s the end of 2016 and for me that means it is time to de-clutter. There’s a lot of work to be done in 2017, so I’m spending the end of 2016 removing all the stuff that’s obsolete.

I’m cleaning my desk, clearing bookshelves, deleting bookmarks, weeding twitter feeds and RSS feeds. I’m paying attention to what I actually use every day vs. what I think I might use someday maybe.

If I don’t use is, or haven’t used it for all of 2016, it’s time for it to go away.

If I use it every day, I’ll consider upgrading. Or, maybe I need more than one (or need it in more than one room).

For information consumption I’m dialing back the amount of politics I consume, and increasing the amount of art I surround myself with. I don’t need more news I need more poetry.

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.

The Flu…

… or is it a cold? (Update: it’s a flu.)

It started in a relatively benign manner. Tuesday morning I awoke with a slightly sore throat and a minor headache. I suspected I was infected by the same bug that struck JB on Sunday. But, as far as bugs went, this one didn’t seem so bad.

I went to work and shortly after lunch was telling a co-worker that I wasn’t feeling so hot. “Go home,” she suggested. “There’s not a lot going on here. You do look a little wan.”

I realized she was right. My work is very cyclical and we’re entering the slow part of the year. I’m rarely ill and so have sufficient sick leave. I shouldn’t be hanging around taking the chance of infecting my colleagues. I should go.

And so I left. That afternoon was pretty sweet. A free afternoon off work, and, while my throat was sore and the mild headache persisted, I wasn’t so sick I couldn’t have stayed at work. And, if I had had classes or meetings, or a pressing deadline I probably would have.

“I guess it’s not affecting me as badly as JB,” I thought. By Tuesday she was deep in the bowels of flu hell.

Wednesday the soreness in my throat was sharper, the headache a little stronger. Still, I could read, and I worked a little on my story. I napped. Low energy, didn’t feel great, but not bad. I felt confident that the next day I would be on the mend.

And then Thursday struck. What had been a minor sore throat turned into blistering pain. No amount of ibuprofen would kill the splitting headache. What had been a minor fever that would sneak up and then flee, came on strong and persisted. I ping-ponged between hot and sweaty and chilled and shivering. That night I couldn’t sleep. Someone was extinguishing their cigar on the back of my throat. Each cough felt like a serrated knife dragged across the blistering sore. I tried to breathe shallowly to reduce the chance of coughing. My body, however, wanted to belch, which triggered coughing. Sometimes the tears were just one of the symptoms of the flu, other times they were a response to the unrelenting pain.

Did I mention the farting. Early on in this process I noted my level of gas skyrocketed. Really amazing, tremendous farts that went on forever. And then another within moments. Where does all that gas come from? I don’t know, but I imagine it is the waste product of the invading army. My defense mechanisms were waging an all-out war to save my life, and the corpses of the enemy were vaporized into great clouds that had to be expelled. The enemy was mighty and multitudinous.

Friday I lost the ability to speak above a whisper, but I didn’t want to speak anyway because it might trigger a cough. The headache was intense and persistent. No amount of ibuprofen dulled it. There was no more reading. Even watching TV was too much to bear. I did my best to nap, but mostly I lay on the couch and suffered.

Now it is Saturday. The dark night of flu misery has passed. The throat is still sore, but nothing like it was. The head still hurts, but now ibuprofen seems to have some effect. The coughing is productive, no longer dry and painful. There is no more farting, but my left nostril will not stop dripping. In fact, dripping is too picayune for what it is doing. It is constantly streaming without stop, like a faucet turned on. I must hydrate myself or at this rate I will be a dried out husk by midnight.

I am optimistic that the worst is behind me. My weekend will be given to rest, relaxation, and re-hydration. And by early next week I will return to my preferred life of not having the flu all the fucking time.

UPDATE: Sunday turned out to be a profound day of snot. It made me feel like King Duncan, except with snot instead of blood.

“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much snot in him.”

Monday off to work, because Good Lord! how much work can I seriously miss? Quite a bit, it turns out. After a couple of hours I’m off to the clinic to get a z-pak and some prednisone. Monday is also the end of one week with the flu.

Week two of flu life begins on Tuesday and I manage to make myself human enough to do a half day at work.

Wednesday, I should be improving, right? That’s the way the trajectory is supposed to move. Incremental improvement everyday until back to my rip-roaring best. Except this morning I awake at 5am feeling like some renegade MMA fighter has slipped into my bedroom and kicked me in the right side of my head. My ear and sinus feel walloped. Nonetheless, I persist. It takes me about 75 minutes to assemble myself into something vaguely human and I trundle to work. Only to trundle home after about an hour, because my coughing is loud and persistent and disturbing all those trying to study.

Ah, well. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. At least the blinding headaches have stopped and I can now read while I recuperate.

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.

Examples
“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.

Why don’t we have colorful streets?

Why are all of our streets concrete gray or tarmac black or, occasionally, brick red?

I’d like to drive down streets that are rich saffron orange, or the kind of blue you only see in the middle of the Caribbean in the heart of a tropical winter. I want peach streets and viridian streets and pale pink streets with celery edges.

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

and

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.