Media Milquetoasts   (2017Aug24)

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Thursday, August 24, 2017                                               4:29 PM

Media Milquetoasts   (2017Aug24)

As we know, Trump has a fetish for “I know you are, but what am I?” During the campaign, Trump echoed every accusation HRC made against him: unfit, corrupt, collaborator with Russians, using charity for personal gain, etc. Every time Hillary described an aspect of Trump, he found some paper-thin rationale to throw the accusation right back in her face.

The media, instead of reporting on his fetish for “I know you are, but what am I?”, decided to run every statement he made, as if he had as much reason to say it as she did, even though he had never said anything about any of these things, until someone with a sharp mind had thought them up.

Then, after those countless PR ‘gimme’s, they had to report some facts about Trump lying. Then he, of course, called them liars and ‘fake news’—and, instead of filing a slander lawsuit against him, the media reported on his ‘fake news’ statements, as if he had as much reason to say it as they had, even though he had never said anything about any of these things, while the media had been playing for his side.

Today I felt the assholery peaking at maximum—Trump isn’t just mirroring his critics anymore—his latest psycho-reversal: explaining stupid to smart people. He and his cronies are following up his recent word-salad public statements with commentary about how it all makes a sly kind of sense, if you look at it from Trump’s point of view. Sorry, BLOTUS—‘five dimensional chess’ is just a buzzword, meaning: you’ve crawled so far up your own ass that you can’t back out.

Yet, still, the media hops onboard with the agenda-setter-in-chief—never mind the real actions and consequences happening behind the scenes of this apocalyptic presidency—let’s just keep re-tweeting him and his friends. Sure, that sounds about right…yeah, sure. Besides, real journalism has that pesky ‘work’ element to it—eh?

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If It Ain’t Broke   (2016Nov23)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016                                              5:06 PM

20161115xd-nancyhd_s_pottery-2Like me, you may have wondered at times how to fix people, how to make society better—that sort of thing. The answer is that you don’t—or rather, you can’t. Imagine a world where everybody is kind and caring and generous. Now forget that—because people are kind and caring and generous, at certain times (if at all—some of them) but that is not our constant state. That’s not how humans work. Being kind and caring and generous is part of what we are, but it is only a part, and it is not permanent—it is an intermittent thing that we do when we are not being something else, something less angelic.

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Think of all the time we spend without eating—most of our time, right? But it would be silly to say, “Why can’t people ‘not eat’ all the time?” We don’t spend most of our time eating, but we still must eat. The same with sleeping—eventually, we need to sleep. There are a bunch of other things we have to fit into our time—less basic things, but still important—pay bills, gas the car, go to the bathroom, even. Many parts of our lives have little or nothing to do with our character—they’re just included in the deal, the ‘parts and maintenance’ of living our lives.

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Whatever list of things you collect as basic parts of living your life, if that list becomes too big and life becomes too precarious, the opportunities to find gaps in that life which allow you to display your character will dwindle. Living in poverty can create a treadmill so exhausting that poor people can find no time at all to look up from their grind and ponder the good and bad of things. Conversely, the wealthy often contrive to make themselves very ‘busy’ to create the pretense that they’re in the same situation. Either way, you end up with a lot of people who either can’t care or won’t care about all the causes and charities and politics and ethics.

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So I say—don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t try to turn people into angels right off—start out by trying to make a world where people don’t go hungry or naked, where their education is easily available—a world that isn’t just crouching there, ready to eat us alive. Then, maybe, start worrying about people being good. You can’t throw someone’s ass into a wood-chipper, and then lecture them on ethics.

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And another thing—stop worrying about how intelligent people are. If everyone around you seems to be acting like an idiot—enjoy it—you’re of above-average intelligence. If you weren’t, someone else would be watching you act like an idiot—and maybe they are. How can you know? Human intelligence is a range of values—that’s just the way it is. Being on the high end may be frustrating, but it beats the alternative.

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I’m grateful for all the education I’ve received in my lifetime—but I don’t assume that those without it are uneducated by choice. Education is something your community and your family provide—without that infrastructure, some people never get a good education—and that isn’t up to them. Also, if a whole area is weak on public education, even the best intentions have a hard time ‘injecting’ education into a neighborhood where it’s never properly existed before.

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Thus, while I am always eager to badger some poor bastard for being willfully blind or proudly ignorant, I accept that people will be quick or slow, learned or not—and shouldn’t be judged on that, either way. It’s no different from judging people by their physique or coordination—we all have our places on the various scales of ability, mental or physical. These are not the measure of a person’s character.

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I take all of the above as contextual—a given. Even so, when I complain that someone is being ‘stupid’, and I’m assuming that you, dear reader, understand all that—I’m really only saying they’re being mentally stubborn or arrogant—but I still worry that someone might think that I despise people who aren’t real smart. And that would go against what I really believe. So I try to avoid it—but I get angry enough to use the word sometimes—I should find a better word.

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The difficulty lies in the difference between political correctness and the hard truth—yes there are people who lack intelligence or education through no failing of their own—but then, there are people who could and should know better than they pretend. These people hide within that ‘range of values’—they dare you to prove that they’re knowingly embracing an ignorance. They glory in their willful blindness, as if having the right to our own opinions gives them the right to ignore truth, and to go on hating something out of pure spitefulness—these people need a good kick in the ass.

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Regardless, there are limits to how broad a range of understanding we can allow for—clever people are busy day and night, trying to think up new stuff to make life better. They invent cars and computers, medicines and space stations—but as they proceed, life becomes more complicated. Now that we have enough industry and energy-use to threaten the atmospheric environment, for instance, we have to be smart enough to see the threat coming before it’s too late. If we create complicated problems, we can’t rely on a handful of clever people to keep a lid on all the trouble.

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The recent election of a simpleton is a perfect example—being the head of the United States puts him at the center of a web of complex interactions. Someone as ignorant as Trump could cause a variety of disasters, just by virtue of what he doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. And he was elected by mostly uneducated people—most of whom chose him out of desperation, without thinking through how dangerous he is.

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So we are living a demonstration of my point—this country’s development by clever people has built up a house of cards—and if the majority of us are careless enough, the whole thing will collapse at the first bump of the table. It doesn’t matter what we invent, achieve, or figure out a plan for—once it is in the hands of people who don’t understand it, they will misuse it, or break it, or let it go to waste.

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American democracy can survive a range of values of intelligence—but there has to be a minimum average of intelligence commensurate with the complexity of our nation’s functioning. You can’t build a nuclear arsenal—and then hand it to a baby. That’s trouble waiting to happen. Maybe it’s time for the clever people to ask themselves, “If I am clever enough to use this, will it be safe to assume that everyone else will use this, and not abuse it?” Maybe it’s time we design society to fit the least-common-denominator of carelessness and obliviousness—I bet those same class-clown types would quickly start to complain that they’re not as stupid as we seem to think they are.

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It’s human nature—expect people to be on-the-ball, and they’ll act like they’ve just been hit on the head—but if we expect people to be dull, they’ll bust a gut to prove how on-the-ball they really are. The electorate just recently so much as insisted that they be allowed to roll in the mud of ignorance—I say, let’em. Once they sampled the leadership of someone who isn’t just pretending he’s a moron, they’ll wise up surprisingly.

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It is far past the time when we can continue to conflate humanity with reason. Reason is unnatural—humanity is far more influenced by feelings than by reason—our judgements are emotional, not rational. Democracy sounds like a good idea—but it tends to give us what we want, not what we need. The biggest failing of democracy, it seems, is that there are no wrong answers in an election, just a consensus. It’s like taking an opinion poll of reality—it tells us what we feel, but it doesn’t tell us if we’re right to feel that way.

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Still, I support the supremacy of feeling over reason—I support the will of the majority—not because I admire these ideas, but because they are the only fair way to go about organizing ourselves. Even within that paradigm, we find ourselves surrounded by unfairness and violence—but without those principles, it just gets worse. Government by fiat and firepower—a proven cancer on any hope of economic development, or personal security.

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So, here I am, at the far side of a long life of reading and learning, having found that people (including myself) are both far more and far less than we believe ourselves to be. Cynicism and nihilism plague me—I’ve gathered enough knowledge to learn that knowledge is itself a relative term, without the rock-sure permanence the word implies. And when I consider the dysfunction in the world around me, and feel that urge to ‘change the world’—or even merely ‘improve my neighborhood’—I must ask myself if I’m really the proper person to do that? Would I want everyone else to end up like me? I don’t think so.

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Changing society is little different from raising kids. When two kids are arguing, my impulse is to break it up and bring peace to the situation—but kids grow up better if they learn to work things out—so my impulse may be the worst thing I could do. Or it may be the correct choice. I’m not the sort of nurturing person who could easily discern which is which. And if I’m unsure of myself while supervising two children at play, I should perhaps think twice before I decide I’m going to change society. Is society perfect? No. Is it useful for me to think in terms of changing the system? Maybe it would be better if I confined myself to helping out a single person, in a single moment, as I go along—of thinking as much about the people around me as I do of myself.

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But then, I might get tired of helping person after person with the same problem—I might decide that they are all being victimized by the same flaw in the system. At that point, I might consider becoming an activist for change, because I would have a specific issue that I knew about and understood. That makes plenty of sense. But for me to just speculate on broad changes to our whole society, based on whatever tweaked my beard that day, would be the height of arrogance—especially if I’m doing so from the remove of my office, basing my opinions on what the TV says, rather than mixing with actual people.

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And this is something that goes for TV and media, in a broader sense. We watch these programs and reports—and we absorb the idea that the universe being presented is the complete reality. The globe is reduced to a chessboard, the players become whatever labels the media puts on certain groups—and it is presented to us as a contest, where enjoying the contest is as much the point as who wins or loses. You don’t see kids in Aleppo watching CNN—and if they did, they’d be horrified by their commodification as info-tainment, their lives and the lives (and deaths) of everyone they know concentrated down to a brief segment-subject.

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You want to know the World? You can’t. Okay? The world is too big. So you can watch the world news, if you enjoy it, but don’t kid yourself—you’re watching a show. You don’t know nothing. (Hey, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded—I mean, I don’t know nothing, either—I’m just making a point.) When I think about it—my neighborhood is never on the news. Does that mean nothing happens here? Does that mean we aren’t important? No, it just means that we don’t bleed enough to make it onto the show.

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So Sad

It’s sad, really. My PC does my spellchecking, but it is limited in its vocabulary, which requires me to check the spellchecker, not to mention the almost worthless grammar-checker. I didn’t study copyediting so that I could argue with a ‘user-friendly’ (read ‘dumbed-down’) grammar-checker. I have enough writing problems without heckling from my word-processor. Just ‘add’ the words to my PC’s ‘dictionary’, you say? Screw that—there’s no good mechanism for ensuring continuity of one’s own dictionary—and if they think they can glean new data from user input, I have no agreement in hand from MS giving me fair value for both my inconvenience and my input. Either way, MS Word is a fixer-upper, off-the-shelf app—just like it was twenty years ago. Like McDonalds, it satisfies the un-involved writer—for a serious writer, it’s about fifty-fifty, half convenience, half pain in the ass.

Rich people are manipulating the US Government to bail out their collapsed pyramid scheme called ‘investment and banking’. It is clearer than ever that these two industries should be kept separated, but the rich people are clamoring for a return to pro forma ‘regulation’, wherein these investors’ only rule is ‘don’t be left holding the bag’. The rich people also want to be given a pass on paying taxes—why should the government tax the wealthy when this country is full of helpless, hardworking, regular folk who can’t push back when they don’t like the deal?

The rich make me sad. They are so unconnected to reality that they fear poverty more than they appreciate their wealth. They’re not having as much fun as they hoped to while sailing their yachts and flying their private jets—but there’s one thing they’re dead sure of—they never want to find themselves on the street, among the 99%.

There are copyright-caretaker businesses that slap a ‘copyright-infringed’ on any recording of my piano-playing YouTube-uploads that aren’t my own, original works. Not just on my Beatles-song covers, or my Beach Boys covers, which I would expect, I suppose—no, they slap a ‘copyright-infringed’ on my classical piano performances, as well. Now, if their charge were that I was mauling these composers’ works with my horrendous recitals, they’d have an argument. In fact, I mostly post those types of things to demonstrate to anyone out there, who thinks they haven’t the right to post their perhaps-sub-par classical performances, that it is indeed not nearly as bad as that-guy-that’s-on-YouTube-already—my own personal ‘musical-empowerment’ project to any young, timid music-lovers across the globe.


Can you imagine the chutzpah of these cretins who charge me with copyright-infringement for posting Bach’s, Chopin’s, or Tchaikovsky’s piano works? Unbelievable! Just because their legal-watchdog agreements have one, single recording artist’s recording of the same Bach piece; they slap an ‘Invalid’ on my upload. Not only does YouTube condone this process, but they warn users like myself that, if I challenge any copyright accusation and fail, that they will cancel my account and remove my ‘YouTube channel’ from the internet. In more personal terms, this would be the total erasure of 900+ musical video uploads that I have placed on YouTube in good faith that they will not erase all my four years of work without a good reason.

Indeed, I have challenged all of my classical-music related accusations—and the good news is—YouTube will see reason when I point out that even Tchaikovsky’s compositions are well over a century old, not to mention Bach’s works being three times as old as that. Still, I feel insulted that the anti-infringement policies of YouTube favor the grasping law-clerks and place the onus of proof upon the accused. It makes me sad.

There are lots of things in this world that make me incredibly sad. The ones that sting me the worst are the situations in which stupidity has won the day, and money becomes the only real law. I used to feel that way about Big Tobacco, until someone finally nailed their asses to the wall. But nowadays it’s just as bad in the ‘war on drugs’—there are over one million prison convicts guilty of no violence other than growing, using, or having intent to sell some controlled substance. If that prison population could make me say that it’s much harder to buy drugs these days, maybe then it would make sense.

But, as it is, the law simply infringes on our rights to do things others may disapprove of (even though they will not be affected in any harmful way) and it doesn’t change the fact that drugs are grown, distributed, bought, sold, and used without interruption, every day, since Nancy Reagan announced the ‘just say no’ program—and did so for centuries before the issue became a ‘crisis’. Saddest of all, she’s right—people who are afraid of drugs, or see them as a danger, should say ‘no’—but those of us who are a bit lax about drug use because it is no more dangerous than alcohol or driving with a cell phone, should be given the personal freedom to look after our own health and choices, to say ‘yes’ where no victim is present and no violence is done.

In a larger sense, the poorly-named Patriot Act is a parallel notion on a wider scale—just because some powerful people have decided we all need protection from terrorists more than we need to keep our civil liberties and our privacy—we shouldn’t be asked to endure pat-downs every time we use mass transportation (or walk down the sidewalk—a brand-new totalitarianism just introduced in NYC). We are asked to suspend the rule of law whenever law enforcement gets nervous, suspend habeas corpus for suspects of terrorism—not for proof of terrorism, just suspicion. If our civil rights and our liberty are so non-essential in the age of terrorism, why did we bother enshrining them in our constitution, anyhow? It’s sad, how the cowardly have a monopoly on policy.

It makes me sad because I grew up during the Cold War—people forget what that was like. Let me tell you what it was like. It was just like the Republican and Democratic Parties of today, but with an ocean between them, and their leaders in possession of nuclear weapons. We were constantly arguing that our USA was superior to their USSR in every way. We allowed religions of all kinds—this was proof of our liberty-loving ways compared to the enforced atheism of the Soviets. We put big-shots in jail—even Nixon was driven from the Presidency by a caste-less, classless, populist nation. In the USSR, anyone who bad-mouthed Stalin got sent to the prison camps—and millions who didn’t do anything along with them. Our educational system was the Mecca for all foreigners with prowess in the sciences—no other nation innovated and invented like the good ol’USA. The Soviets taught their children political theory instead of science—and got nervous about giving anyone a chance to spend time in the free world, for fear they might not come back.

But now the big-shots control the media here—they don’t get exposed like they used to, when the fourth estate was a truly separate part of the media. And now, we do what the dastardly Commies used to do—arrest people without charges, without legal representation, and torture them during interrogation. That was one of the most awful things we dissed the Soviets about—their lack of respect for the individual. They are gone, but their methods live on. It makes me sad to see all those once-external evils now cropping up in our own neighborhoods. The Cold War is over, but I don’t know for sure whether the American people won that fight, or if the super-wealthy defeated both sides without anyone noticing.