Our Current Situation: The Power of the Powerless

REINVENTING THE NEWS: It’s no secret there are substantial problems with news, ‘the media’, journalism, etc. The right criticizes and mocks MSM (mainstream media) while the left criticizes and mocks ‘corporate media.’ The Venn diagram overlap here is large. Yet, our news structure continues because of the misbegotten notion that if they are pissing off everyone, they must be doing something right.

It’s time for a reinvention.

Let me recommend James Tyner’s “Dear news media: Create news for people who have never read a newspaper” as a good place to start.

“For young people who are just trying to learn about the world around them — people who were previously uneducated about Medicaid or who owns which conglomerates or the history of elections — it’s important to provide information that is as complete as possible. And more importantly, it’s important to show diverse perspectives that are unlike those they already hold.”

My dream news media combines C-Span (for primary source civic information), Wikipedia (for background and context and history), Vox (for explanations of unfamiliar topics, preferably something a little more neutral that accurately explains the various positions held by the different players), dedicated journalists (to doggedly investigate), and smart pundits to offer their perspective on how this fits the bigger picture.

I’d also like a pair of pundits, clearly marked ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ that attempt to make their opponents’ argument in a way the opponent agrees is a fair interpretation.

I’d also like some follow-up. How did the story end up?

The newspaper was once ephemeral, tomorrow’s fish wrap. This had a profound, and in many ways, negative impact on news/journalism/reporting. Online news is persistent and should do a better job of providing civic information and education that’s of value to everyone.

More student suggestions can be found here.

POWERFUL: I’ve been reading Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless,” and it’s well worth reading as a reminder of what life is like under a totalitarian government, and the power the people have to resist.

“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”


PRAGMATIST DEMOCRACY: In my parallel news universe pundits interview Christopher Ansell so I have a better understanding of what he means by ‘pragmatist democracy.’

“Drawing inspiration from the philosophy of Pragmatism, this book argues for a new “problem-solving democracy,” where public agencies build consent for public policy by engaging the public in active problem-solving. More so than legislatures, public agencies serve as linchpins between popular sovereignty and on-the-ground governance. For pubic agencies to play a different role in democracy, we must re-imagine how they function as organizations and interact with the public.”


MONEY MONEY MONEY: Tom Perez is now chair of the DNC and there’s a lot of work to do. The Republican Governor Association is out-raising the Democrats, and have already started raising money for Virginia’s governor race.


BARBARA JORDAN: “We are a party of innovation. We do not reject our traditions, but we are willing to adapt to changing circumstances, when change we must. We are willing to suffer the discomfort of change in order to achieve a better future. We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of America can one day be finally closed. We believe that.” — 1976 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address


GOVERNOR TO SENATOR: You’ve probably seen this tale of Trump’s dinner (and his childish taste for overdone steak covered with ketchup) but what I found intriguing was the presence of Governor Rick Scott. Scott will be term-limited in 2018 and Trump wants him to run against democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson’s not a flashy Dem, but he’s a good soldier and a reliable vote. I doubt there’s anyone in Florida who could beat him in a primary, but I’m not certain he wins against Scott.


THIGH-HIGH POLITICS: Lauren Duca continues her consciousness-raising at Teen Vogue with a regular column titled Thigh-High Politics. In this edition she points us to the handy Resistance Calendar by Michael Moore. There looks to be about 35 organizing/protest events today across the nation.


MISINFOCON: Excellent wrap-up from MisInfoCon.

Find out more about MisInfoCon here.

“At MisinfoCon, a summit this past weekend hosted by the First Draft Coalition, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, and Hacks/Hackers, the focus was on an immediate and executable range of actions: checklists, educational campaigns, tech solutions, community engagement projects, diversity efforts, and improving business models.”


AGAINST EMPATHY: Understanding is important. Empathy? Not so much.

“I want to make a case for the value of conscious, deliberative reasoning in everyday life, arguing that we should strive to use our heads rather than our hearts.”


OUT OF TIME: That’s it for this week. It’s already a long week, and it’s only Wednesday.

Sunday Spectacle: What Caught My Attention Last Week

I’ll see if I can make this a weekly feature.


STORY: The biggest thing for me this week was posting “The Conscience Switch” on Thursday. Check it out and let me know what you think. (And share the link if you like it!)

The seed for this story came as I lay in a hypnagogic state, partially napping before attending a Friday happy hour. It is an attempt at the Troutian/Vonnegutian morality tale. I read biographies of both Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell to add some verisimilitude. Bell really did make raspberry vinegar, and it’s completely possible they could have crossed paths in Colorado during the time indicated.

“All morning he watched reports of soldiers abandoning their posts, drone operators walking away from their consoles, billionaires donating substantial sums to charity, pundits recanting their hate speech, criminals turning themselves into the police, high-level politicians resigning their positions, priests and rabbis and pastors and imams admitting they didn’t believe in God. Every moment, someone was clearing their conscience.”


TROLLS & COURAGE: Lauren Duca, editor at Teen Vogue, is a complete badass. Unfortunately, that comes with a steep price. In her essay “To Trolls, With Love” she reflects on the desire to kick against the pricks, and to withdraw because of the avalanche of hateful abuse. If you read it, or follow her, send her some love and solidarity. @laurenduca

“I’m a warrior goddess, who can weather the worst of the misogynistic treasure trove, calling out explicit sexism, and slicing open stealthier versions, usually with a witty aside about your poor use of grammar. (Do they not teach contractions anymore, or… ?) I’m also human. I don’t know if this means I’m a “triggered snowflake,” but I’m not embarrassed that mean things make me feel bad. Burying pain under a too-thick layer of irreverence can only dull the feeling for so long. I can take it, and I will continue to take it, in part because a presence online is part of my job. That doesn’t mean it’s OK.”


PHOTO MANIPULATION: This Is Colossal points to these great photo manipulations by Antoine Geiger.

Antoine Geiger photography


MOON: There is now more confidence in the age of the moon. It’s about four-and-one-half billion years old.


FAIRY TALES: Mari Ness starts a new column about fairy tales over at Tor.com with a look at the woman who coined the term, Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, aka Madame d’Aulnoy.

“Along with others, Madame d’Aulnoy took distinct advantage of these possibilities, using her tales to comment obliquely on court life in Versailles and (as far as we can tell) her own experiences, specifically focusing on the intrigues and dangers of court life.”


OUR CREEPY PRESENT: Ambrosia is back in the news. Creepiest pseudo-science ever.

“Just off a winding highway along the Pacific coast in Monterey, California, is a private clinic where people can pay $8,000 to have their veins pumped with blood plasma from teenagers and young adults.”

I first heard about Ambrosia last August when Vanity Fair linked them to Peter Thiel.

“Given Thiel’s obsession with warding off death, it comes as no surprise that the Silicon Valley billionaire is interested in at least one radical way of doing it: injecting himself with a young person’s blood. On Monday, Jeff Bercovici of Inc. magazine published part of a year-old interview with Thiel, in which the venture-capitalist explains that he’s interested in parabiosis, which includes the practice of getting transfusions of blood from a younger person, as a means of improving health and potentially reversing aging.”


JOKES: I made up a joke! — Sign in my post office says they will start accepting the ruble as a form of payment on January 20.


SPIRITS: It’s not really absurdly complete, but there’s some interesting information about how environment and barrels affect the taste of whiskey. An Absurdly Complete Guide to Understanding Whiskey


POETRY: @Limericking tweeted the following —


ART: This underwater exhibit by Jason deCaires Taylor came through one of my feeds this week. I first saw these images a couple of years ago, but am completely enamored with the concept. They iinspired one of the stories I’ll be posting later this year.

Jason deCaires Taylor exhibit


WORDS: Carrie Frye at Black Cardigan asked her readers for their favorite words of 2016. Here’s what I sent her:


Abderitic is a neologism coined by Immanuel Kant in his essay “Is the human race constantly progressing?

He argues there are three potential futures for humanity.

“The human race exists either in continual retrogression toward wickedness, or in perpetual progression toward improvement in its moral destination, or in eternal stagnation in its present stage of moral worth among creatures.”

“The first we can call moral terrorism, and the second eudaemonism …, but the third we can term abderitism because, since a true stagnation in matters of morality is not possible, a perpetually changing upward tendency and an equally frequent and profound relapse (an eternal oscillation, as it were) amounts to nothing more than if the subject had remained in the same place, standing still.” — David D.

David D. also pointed to gynepunk, as his “new to me” word and “microbenevolence” as one he coined himself this year.


STATE OF THE WORLD: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky on the State of the World 2017.

Back again for another twenty-first century edition of the WELL
State of the World! Who’s gonna collapse first: us pundits, or
“the World”?

On the face of it, this is the worst condition the SOTW’s world has
ever yet been found in. I do hesitate to bluntly state that,
because whenever you tell Americans a harsh truth nowadays, instead
of pragmatically taking some hands-on action to cash in (as was once
their wont) nowadays they tend to empty a bottle of Oxycontin and
float out on a paisley tide of weltschmertz.

I don’t intend to mince a lot of words here, as that is not our
tradition, but I would start by strongly urging you prize your
existence in 2017. Life is precious and shouid be valued, for it’s
easy not to have it. Besides, despair is an act of intellectual
arrogance. Despair implies that you’ve got it all figured out,
while the only sure thing about 2017 is a forthcoming boatload of
unheard-of surprises.

Although everybody expressed shock and surprise at world events
during 2016, I saw little evidence that anybody actually changed
their mind much yet. Scarcely anybody broke a filter-bubble;
positions simply hardened all around.

You’d think that having your 2015 weltanschaaung reduced to 2016’s
gonzo cartoon-status would cause everybody to undergo some healthy
reassessment of ground-state reality. But, no. Nowadays, that
sends confirmation-bias into overdrive.


EDITORIAL: I’m as confounded as anyone over what to do next or how to deal with what looks to be a weird and disturbing near future. But, if I was compelled to offer a little advice, here’s something I did in 2016 that is working for me.

Around spring or summer of 2016 I took a closer look at what I was reading. I sort of assumed I did a reasonable job of reading women and people of color, but when I took a closer look at the authors I unthinkingly gravitated toward I realized they were almost always white males. White males that typically shared my lefty/inclusive sensibilities, but white and male nonetheless. I decided to make a conscious effort to read more women and people of color. Instead of picking up Charlie Stross I picked up Nalo Hopkinson. Instead of reading China Mieville I read Carmen Maria Machado. I looked at my twitter feed and culled out a lot of white males I didn’t know and started paying attention to anyone who wasn’t a white, able, and male. I deliberately added diversity to my information diet.

It’s not much, I know, but it is something. I want to be a better listener, and to be a better question-asker. I want more knowledge about the world that isn’t my world.

It isn’t always easy. Those authors, my ‘favorite’ authors, are a comfort zone. It’s a cocoon I’m familiar with. In this new environment I find myself confronted with critiques I don’t fully understand. It takes time and effort to dig deeper and figure what those critiques mean instead of dismissing them and moving on to my next bon-bon of entertainment. Inside my own head I have to tell myself to shut up and listen. When I don’t understand something someone who doesn’t look like me is saying, I force myself to slow down and and take the criticism seriously. I read and research and think.

And, it’s working. Not quickly. Not completely. But I’m better now that I was this time last year. I still don’t have any answers, but I think I understand the questions, concerns, and critiques better than I did.

This year I’ll continue to do the same, and maybe be a little better for it.


ZORRO: And to conclude – Here’s Zorro!