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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Rational Self-Defence

A Legacy

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) My regular readers probably know that I am, to all intents and purposes, a single father of a seven-year-old boy. As such, I spend virtually my entire waking life trying to make sure that my son has a safe and happy childhood. Under our unique circumstances, that proposition is even more challenging than it is for most parents. For one thing, I am 60 and JJ is 7; as well, I am fighting a 128cancer that keeps popping up in unexpected places; JJ also has a classic case of ADHD and is being assessed for placement on the autism spectrum; JJ is of a visible minority and as such is bully bait; our financial situation is precarious as a result of my having had to withdraw from the world of full employment for several years. and because of the over $250,000.00 I spent (mostly on bribes) to acquire the paperwork necessary to get him out of Indonesia and to confirm his status as my son. Nevertheless, my main concern every single day is that I am providing JJ with a good role model and a safe and happy life.

            All that having been said, I am starting to develop a counterintuitive hypothesis: that a happy childhood can have a negative impact on one’s adult life.

mental-health            Having offered that hypothesis, it’s only fair to state at the outset that I cannot claim to have had a particularly happy childhood. My mother was, for most of my childhood, an undiagnosed and untreated manic depressive, and my father, being a narcissist, was a  a control freak. I loved them both very much and acknowledge that they both heroically struggled with their mental illnesses, and that they did the very best they could as parents. I was their sole caregiver in their final years and watched them both succumb to Alzheimer’s; I was there when they each breathed their last. I learned during that stressful period just how tough their own lives had been. Nevertheless, my childhood was not exactly idyllic.

My soon-to-be ex-wife, Yolanda, on the other hand, had a very happy childhood. Her parents are extraordinarily kind people and devoted parents. She has two brothers and a sister who all love one another and consider each other to be their best friends. She was tropical-villagebrought up in a village in a tropical paradise where childhood activities included swimming in the Indian Ocean, a pristine beach being just a short walk from their home, playing in the clove and nutmeg orchards, coaxing monkeys to eat from their hands, and visiting extended family and neighbours who populated the village. Moreover, the Indonesian child rearing paradigm is extremely attentive to the desires and autonomy of children; their wishes and desires are taken into consideration in every decision that might have an impact on them.

But here’s the thing. Adults with memories of nothing but happy times and positive relationships when they were growing up seem to have no reason to question what they accepted as truth when they were children. For those people, lessons learned in lessonschildhood are eternal truths. What their parents did or said while bringing them up is rarely contested, as there is rarely a sense that they may have been less than perfect.

On the other hand, I have said many times, only half jokingly, that my surest guideline for parenting is to ask myself what my parents would have done in a similar situation, then do the exact opposite. Because, even from a very early age, I was aware that my parents were simply wrong about many things, I was never tempted to believe that simply because they asserted or believed something, it must be true. The result of that was that I was always sceptical when I was asked to accept something simply upon someone’s authority. I learned early on to look for evidence in support of claims. I learned to recognise that an expert’s opinion on a matter within his field is evidence but an uninformed and unsupported opinion is just that. I went so far as to major in and then to do graduate work in philosophy because it is founded upon critical thinking and rational analysis of propositions.

I contrast that with those people who had perfect childhoods and would never think of old-wives-talesrejecting their parents’ wisdom. Yolanda, for example, is convinced that the worst thing you can do if you have the flu or even a cold is to drink any cold or iced drink. Her parents taught her that and other Indonesian old wives’ tales as fact when she was a child. Why they did, or where that idea came from is a mystery to me, but it is unquestionably true to her. I often self-prescribe ice cold lemonade when I have a flu; my thinking is that I need liquids, the cold will keep my temperature down, and the vitamin C can’t hurt. Yolanda’s mum tells me that cold would be a shock to the afflicted throat. And that’s the end of it.

There are countless examples of other more or less harmless beliefs that Yolanda and her siblings accept unquestioningly; from their marvellously kind and decent parents, for instance, they learned that eating beer-and-duriandurian (my favourite fruit in the world) with beer is sure to kill you. Having consumed the two in great quantities on many occasions, I’m happy to report that it’s all bullshit. The problem is that some of the well-meant but utterly false notions that children pick up from their parents are not entirely harmless. And the inclination to accept those notions isn’t balanced by any inclination to apply critical thinking to them.

In Indonesia, everyone has a religion; 90% of the people are Muslims and the majority of the rest are Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus. If an Indonesian were to ask you what your religion is, answering that religious_map_of_indonesiayou have none would make no sense. It would be like telling them you have no name, or that you were not born anywhere; one’s religion is a defining characteristic of every person. Consequently, people from wonderful childhoods generally accept their parents’ religion completely uncritically. And that acceptance of the religious beliefs of good parents is not only an Indonesian phenomenon; most people here in the West who claim to have a religion, have the religion of their parents. And among those who share their parents’ religion and feel comfortable enough with it not to spend a lot of time agonising over their faith, my observation is that most will cop to having had great childhoods and to having great respect for their parents.

There are lots of things I would like my son to accept unquestioningly. I’d like him to believe, for one-raceexample, that violence is wrong, that being kind to others should be at the very foundation of his character, that there is only one race, the human race, and all members should be accorded the same respect, that knowledge, understanding, and curiosity are preferable to ignorance and intellectual complacency. However, most of all, I want him to learn to apply critical thinking skills to anything he is asked to accept as dogma.

It seems to me that the things I want him to weave into the fabric of his personality, the decency, kindness, and tolerance, are more attitudes than factual propositions; they can be modelled rather than taught. I therefore have the responsibility of living my life with those ideals in mind, and I must be in a position to articulate them without hypocrisy if their suitability as values ever needs to be discussed. But critical thinking can be taught.

conspiracy-theoristsI need to teach JJ to respect people even if he can’t accept their beliefs. He doesn’t need to respect erroneous claims of fact, but he has to understand that people have a right to be wrong. I also need to ensure that, if people try to proselytise some crackpot notion like young earth creationism, or a denial of anthropogenic climate change, or chemtrails, or Barrack Obama’s Kenyan citizenship, he has the critical skills to see through the bullshit. He needs to know that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, not just extraordinary conviction.

In short, I’m hoping that I can give JJ both a happy childhood and the intellectual ammunition even to dispute my claims when I am in error. And crucially, I want my son to have the intellectual firepower trump-fibscombined with the strength of character to survive in a post-truth world in the event that Donald Trump’s message of evil and hatred prevails this November. Since Donald Trump announced his intention of running for the presidency, truth, facts, reason, and human decency have been under assault; everyone is going to need the skills of intellectual self-defence. Being able to separate the truth from hyperbolic fact-free statements will be more important than it has ever been. I will not have the person I love the most in the world succumb to the coarsening and dumbing down that Trump spearheads.

ENDITEM…

Lyin’, and Soundbites, and Memes…Oh My

Attention spans and politics

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) It’s no secret that attention spans are getting shorter. Arguably, that’s the fault of the Internet providing nearly instant response times, and keeping text content small while graphic and video content dominate on most sites. When I first started writing analysis and opinion pieces many years ago, the average column was about 1500 words and contained no visual content other than a headshot at the top, over the byline. Today, most of my editors are looking for columns of half that length, with 800 words the standard maximum.

attention-span

            I’ve had editors argue that the pay for shorter columns ought therefore to be about half of what they’d pay for twice the number of words. Truly professional editors, editors who started out as writers, see the fallacy in that argument. Winston Churchill, when he was earning his living as a political writer after he withdrew from political life, was once asked to write a specific piece of critical analysis for the London Times on short notice. He told the editor that he could get them 4000 words by the next day’s deadline. The editor responded that he would be happy with 2000 words, to which Churchill replied that he didn’t have enough time to write it that short. Churchill was acutely aware that cramming that much insight into a smaller piece was a far more difficult challenge than covering the same territory with enough room to express himself freely; condensing his thoughts and maintaining the same quality of analysis was a much tougher proposition.

            If a good writer takes a certain number of words to make and justify a point and then edits his

Winston Churchill...5th June 1941: Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) pins his flag into his lapel after he had bought one in aid of Red Cross Day in London. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

own writing, eliminating any UEUE[1], any further cutting by an editor necessarily takes something away from the point and its supporting argument. And it’s safe to say that Churchill, the winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize for literature, was a good writer. Ideally, in commentary and analysis in periodicals, a writer will produce a piece that expresses a single main point and argue for it in the minimum number of words she or he feels covers the idea thoroughly. If the editorial constraints are too strict, the piece will be too short, and will spark rebuttals from readers who wish to dispute the points raised but insufficiently supported. If the piece is too long for a daily, it should perhaps be submitted to a weekly, or, if still too long, a monthly. If no periodical can accommodate its length, clearly the writer should be thinking in terms of a book.

            When I first started this site, I used to post 800 word pieces, sometimes with a graphic or two. That was because I had developed the habit of writing pieces on opinion pages of daily print media, for attentionwhom 800 words had become the standard. But over the years, I have discovered that 1300 to 1700 words is a far more comfortable size with which to get my point across. And now I add 5 or 6 graphics to each post because my research shows that, on the ‘net, people who are just clicking through, are put off by seeing blocks of text that aren’t broken up by visual content, and are likely to “bounce” as SEO experts express it.

            Having said all that, what is revolutionary about the current state of political reporting and commentary is that even the briefest analysis is beyond the attention span of the majority of people who aren’t either in politics, or in the media, or simply obsessed with the current US presidential election. A little over a year ago, the alt. right, after endorsing Donald Trump, claimed that they would win this election by memes. And of course the Trump campaign has taken on board as their CEO, the former head of alt. right news source, Breitbart, Stephen Bannon. And since Bannon took over, the campaign’s reliance on clickbait, memes, prepared soundbites, provocative tweets, and a refusal to take questions or engage in dialogue at press “conferences”, has contributed to Trump’s resurgence in the polls.

            Today, even the 800-word standard is too much for the demographic that gravitates to Trump. It is too much for them actually to read and understand facts in news reporting; it is completely beyond their grasp to understand thoughtful analysis. Memes are their preferred bite-sized nuggets of wisdom.memes For that demographic, memes are ideal. They say something briefly; they usually say it as though their opinion is an established fact; and the more offensive and confrontational they are, the more they are shared and circulated. Memes can’t be argued against because the person who posts them doesn’t necessarily take responsibility for them, and, like Trump, when called on it, they can claim to have been joking.

            The left doesn’t seem to be restricted to the same extent as the right is to those tiny thoughts expressed in photo shopped visuals and often misspelled one and two syllable words; the right wing, however, seems to employ them to the exclusion of more thorough analysis. Certainly, the left employs memes and tweets, but there is almost no thoughtful analysis of politics from a right wing viewpoint available online. In print, there is the Wall Street Journal, but even that bastion of conservative journalism has abandoned Trump and the alt. right. Right leaning blogs and news outlets tend to be hyperbolic in their condemnation and ad hominem pickard-facepalmattacks on the left; they tend to state opinions as fact, they support the wildest conspiracy theories without any critical analysis. In short, The National Enquirer is the standard of journalism to which they seem to aspire.

            There used to be intelligent if misguided think pieces in sensible right wing periodicals. Besides the WSJ, there was the National Review and other conservative outlets. The right wing, however, has moved so far into fascist territory that even William Buckley’s pseudo-intellectual conservative platform finds itself uncomfortably close to the centre.

            And this is the new face of journalism. On one side you have twfoxnewseets, memes, soundbites, slogans, catchphrases, and low rent sewer attack journalism. This is the Trump universe. There is not one single responsible and professional news outlet, in print, in broadcast, or in electronic format that supports Trump unreservedly. Even the worst excuse for television news, Fox News, can’t bring themselves to get fully behind their own creature; Trump has made the right wing echo chamber hesitate before fully committing to his political psychosis.

            The Trump ascendancy has destroyed civil political discourse, it has eliminated human decency in political campaigning, and perhaps worst of all, it has reduced journalism to the lowest ebb in its venerable and proud history. What Trump will do to international relations and world politics in the unthinkable event of his election is too horrible to contemplate rationally.

[1] UEUE is a word I invented to mean “extraneous and unnecessary additions to that which is essential”. Its genesis is the spelling of the word “queue”, in which the letters UEUE add nothing that isn’t said simply by “Q”.

ENDITEM….

Left is Left and Right is Right…

And never the twain shall meet…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Republicans are all upset and feeling betrayed because 92-year-old former

US President George W. Bush (C) stands with President-elect Barack Obama (2nd L), former President George H.W. Bush (L), former President Bill Clinton (2nd R) and former President Jimmy Carter (R) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 7, 2009. Bush, acting on a suggestion by Obama, invited the former Presidents and President-elect for lunch, the first time since 1981 that all living presidents have been together at the White House. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Hell, no. Never Trump!

president Bush the Elder has made it clear that he cannot support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Actually, none of the Bushes intend to support Trump. In fact, no living former president will endorse him, and a good number of them and their families have made it clear that they intend to vote for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. True to form, the Trump campaign has responded to that news by launching Twitter attacks on the turncoat Republicans and calling the reluctance of their fellow GOP members to endorse bigotry, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, paranoia, compulsive lying, ignorance, and hate speech “a slap in the face”.

            Leaving aside for a moment the observation that the Republican nominee richly deserves a slap in bush-hillarythe face and more, the Trump campaign’s reaction tells us a great deal about the state of polarisation in American society. Trump interprets anything short of adulation and unconditional approval to be treachery and betrayal. When he hears of any prominent figure who has publicly disagreed with him or even failed to praise him with sufficient fervour, his reaction is to tweet an insult, usually dismissing his critic as a loser, or a lightweight, or a failure, or as unintelligent. Then he will tweet several more attacks,trumptwitter now incorporating a new nickname, typically projecting one of his character flaws on his new enemy; “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyn’” Ted”, “Little Marco”, or the like. Not for a moment does it occur to him that someone may not support him because of a fundamental disagreement with one or more of his policies; in Trump’s universe, it’s always personal.

            Of course he has good reason to reject the notion of a policy-based lack of support; he hasn’t articulated a single policy that he hasn’t walked back, flip-flopped on, said he was only joking about, or flat out lied about advocating. It’s pretty hard to support a policy that is as elusive and vague as some of his are; or as utterly unfeasible constitutionally, financially, or logistically as the rest are. It is hardly reversalssurprising that many people are attracted to Hillary’s proposed policies simply because they are laid out in detail and are available for scrutiny, for discussion, and for clarification if needed.

            For Trump, these are tedious irrelevancies. For Trump, policy, platforms, and plans are all tedious irrelevancies. All that matters to him is blind loyalty. He is unabashedly striving to create and enlarge a cult of personality. And, like all narcissistic demagogues, to Trump, you are either blindly and devotedly on his side, or you are an enemy to be crushed and destroyed.

            The man claims to be a uniter of people, and the only one who can rescue the nation from his imaginary precipice of humiliation and defeat at the hands of foreigners who laugh at the country’s weakness; that weakness, of course, being the result of the failure of Barack Obama’s leadership. He claims to be dedicated to restoring the country’s greatness. To make that claim resonate, his entire campaign is based upon manufacturing an image of the United States as being downtrodden among the community of nations, of having slid into a cesspool of uncontrolled violence and swamped by parasitical and criminal illegal immigrants bent on imposing Sharia law on good, upstanding bible bashers. Thanks to foreign-looking people, the economy is in the toilet and people have no hope of escaping their misery. The country, in politics-of-fearTrump’s dystopian fiction, is little more than a battleground in which the white, Christian, hard-working, poorly-educated, salt-of-the-earth, “real Americans” are fighting a rearguard action against violent, atheistic yellow, brown, and black thugs. Christians, in this fantasy, are a persecuted group suffering discrimination that is far worse than any other group has endured, including African Americans under slavery. The inner cities, he has claimed with a straight face, are more dangerous than Afghanistan. For Trump to position himself as a saviour, it is necessary for there to be something from which to save the people; hence the hellish depiction of contemporary America.

            The right wing, especially the “alt right” represented by Donald Trump, is desperate to embrace the absurd and factually inaccurate vision of America because to do so confers upon them the right, even the obligation, as the only patriotic Americans to speak and even to act upon their latent racial and cultural animosity. Trump’s hardcore base needs his doom and gloom rhetoric because it is the only thing that legitimises the cold, dark, hatred at the centre of their damaged souls.

            The fact that Obama has done everything the Republicans have promised over the years but failed to deliver is simply brushed aside in a wave of denial. The economy was turned around under a Democratic White House. Obama presided over the longest unbroken streak of job creation in history. More people were raised from poverty last year than at any other time; more people are now covered by health insurance, the Dow Jones has risen past the point it was at before the bubble burst; the balance of trade is beginning to reverse itself, Bush’s deficit has been reduced by half a trillion dollars. By every measure, including crime statistics, the United States is in better shape than when George W. Bush left office; the Obama presidency is an unadulterated success. Nevertheless, none of that makes anydenial-1 difference to Trump’s people, because they need to believe in Trump’s nightmare to justify voting for the most overtly racist candidate since George Wallace, and the most self-evidently unqualified candidate in US history. And as long as they get to express their fundamental hatred, they’ll deny the truth and ignore the facts; they’ll even believe a narrative that, deep down, they know to be unadulterated bullshit.

            On the left, however, there is another dynamic at play. By and large, left leaning voters tend to be persuaded by things that mean little or nothing to the right wing. Things like voting records, histories of public service, knowledge and understanding of the constitution, foreign policy, economics, history, and proven diplomatic chops. They will never vote for Trump; but that doesn’t mean they are committed to Hillary Clinton. For whatever reason, many will lodge protest votes, write-in votes, or simply abstain. Nothing will sway a Trump voter but Hillary is held by traditional Democratic voters to a higher standard. She is actually expected to speak and act like a president; Republicans are satisfied with voting for a blustering ignoramus.

            For that reason, when a Republican defects and expresses support for Hillary, the Trumpies go batshit-crazybatshit crazy; they can’t understand how one of their own has abandoned their race-baiting and nonsensical worldviews for policy and a promise of good governance. This election comes down to just a few things: how many Republicans will decide to leave the dark side and vote responsibly; how many centre and left of centre voters will actually come out and vote against the evil represented by Trump. If, as Trump seems to believe, there is a significant block of closeted Trump voters, poll respondents who are embarrassed to voice their position, and at the same time a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats to support Hillary, we may well be looking at a Trump victory and the very real cataclysmic results of his ascension to the most powerful office in the world.

ENDITEM…

 

 

 

The Psychological Perspective

Cognitive Dissonance

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) It’s an accepted scientific observation, that has been repeated many times and has never been falsified by any reputable study that, in general, people who hold right wing views are brainsconsiderably less intelligent than those who identify as liberal or progressive.  That comes as no surprise to any liberal or progressive, although making that statement has been known to strike some right leaning conservatives as provocative for some reason. Go figure.

Evidence of this observable tendency is to be found in abundance at rallies for the Republican presidential candidate. Simple observation inclines one to suspect that many of Trump’s most fervent supporters are engaged in deliberate acts of self-parody as they labour strenuously to perpetuate the stereotype of being ignorant, bigoted, violent, and profoundly stupid rednecks. But a closer look, and any attempt to engage one of them in conversation quickly reveals that theirs is no act. They are for real. Their right wing views include racism, religious fundamentalism, climate change denial, and rejection of evolution. A significant percentage also adhere to flatly idiotic theories including birtherism, faked moon landings, the 9/11 inside job theory, and the notions that vaccinations cause autism and that Donald Trump is a suitable presidential candidate.

believersThat the real knuckle dragging mouth-breathers and inbred hillbillies subscribe to those views is not a particular surprise. We have always known that those people exist, it’s just that up until recently, most had the laudable instinct to remain hidden from public view and only to share their cretinous views with one another. Trump has legitimised their moronic ideas and given them permission and a platform from which to shout them out to a bemused and somewhat bewildered normal world. No, the real surprise is the Trump-supporting demographic that doesn’t get all the press: the people that believe themselves not to be racist or xenophobic, but support him because they claim seriously that he would be a better president than his opponent.

Among that group, we can disregard the Republican politicians like Paul Ryan, who are simply party hacks for whom their positions within the party take precedence over the nation, or who are, like Chris Christie,

katrina

Katrina (hand me a spoon) Pierson

nothing more than sleazy opportunists who are rolling the dice on a Trump victory and hoping for some of the scraps that would fall from his table. We can’t assume that their views are held out of stupidity, since it is impossible to say what their views really are, beyond expediency and personal ambition. Ditto with their surrogates and party spokespersons; guns for hire who would cheerfully eat a plate of Trump’s turds on CNN for the right paycheque.

The ones that cause real head scratching are the rest. The ones who have bought into the hate propaganda that paints Hillary Clinton as everything from a serial killer to a man with AIDS in drag, and intend to vote for Trump because they genuinely hold that he is the lesser of two evils.

One of the indicators of lower intelligence or mental instability is a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance. Those with higher intelligence and healthy psyches instinctively seek to resolve paradoxes and align theircalvin thinking and behaviour with the information available. For anyone at this point in September 2016 to argue that Donald Trump isn’t a racist, or that he is refreshingly honest, or that he is a uniter of people, requires at least one of three things: 1) That he or she is willfully and woefully ignorant and simply has been living under a rock for the last year, or 2) They are simply liars and don’t care if you know it, or 3) They are capable of tolerating cognitive dissonance of breathtaking dimensions.

It is no longer possible, if it ever was, to separate the man from his baggage. One cannot support Trump and dismiss his racism, his constant and habitual lying, and his unparalleled record of reversing himself, of claiming statements were only sarcasm and then that they weren’t, while insisting that one is not a racist or that one values the truth. The vile and hateful facets of Trump’s character cannot be isolated from one’s decision that he ought to be the president of the United States of America. The level of cognitive dissonance required to hold both that Trump would be a good president and, at the same time, that he is what he has unrelentingly demonstrated himself to be, is beyond the capability of a mentally healthy human being. Lewis Black said it succinctly: If you vote for Trump you’re going to hell.

The human mind is hard wired to resist cognitive dissonance; where it exists, tension builds and inclines cognitive-dissonancea healthy person to seek to resolve the paradox. An unhealthy mind (or a stupid person) can tolerate the dissonance with less stress because they have no problem with holding contradictory beliefs. (There are those who can, for example, believe in the literal truth of every word of the bible despite the glaringly contradictory stories in Genesis 1 and John1: 1-13.) But healthy and intelligent people use their higher faculties to resolve paradoxes, not to accommodate them. It is this drive that motivates physicists to delve deeper and deeper into higher mathematics and theoretical physics in an effort to resolve the apparent paradoxes that crop up in the quantum realm. It was that drive that led Einstein to say ironically that god doesn’t play dice with the universe.

From a standpoint of rationality, following the logic of an argument to a paradoxical conclusion demonstrates the fallacy of the argument; a conclusion that entails a logical absurdity is a flawed argument. A paradoxical conclusion means you have to go back and question the premises and try to detect fallacious argumentation. But the conclusion cannot stand. To look at the painfully obvious facts about Trump and still conclude that he should be elected to the most powerful office in the world is to arrive at an absurd and paradoxical conclusion. It cannot stand in a healthy and reasonably intelligent mind.

It is clear that one can support Trump if one is a supporter of his most salient traits: his disdain and contempt for the truth, for facts, and for pretty much everyone but himself. But if one rejects racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, fundamental dishonesty, ignorance, and hatred, one has to reject Donald Trump, the personification of those things. The cognitive dissonance of rejecting those things and accepting Trump is simply too great to accept.

ENDITEM…

A Free Press…

is a right; reading it critically is a duty…

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) One thing that we have learned from the bizarre 2016 United States presidential elections is that the media is simply no longer equipped to perform its function as an impartial, objective reporter, and analyst of important events. And in the only thing I have ever or am ever likely to agree with Donald Trump, the media have done an execrable job covering this election thus far.

There are two salient reasons the coverage of the candidates and their campaigns has been so dismal; the first one is an endemic problem with US media and has existed for a long time: news has to be profitable.

Walter Cronkite reporting breaking news: the Kennedy assassination.

Walter Cronkite reporting breaking news: the Kennedy assassination.

At one time, within my lifetime, the news departments of TV networks were expected to be a net expense; nobody expected them to be profit centres. News desks were occupied by actual journalists and anchors had proven their journalistic chops before they became talking heads. Walter Cronkite, before he became the most trusted man in the country anchoring CBS Evening News, had been a print journalist who had done everything from sports reporting to flying on B17 bomber missions over Europe during WWII.

The “Big Three”, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings anchored their respective networks’ evening news from the ‘eighties through to the 2000s, all having started and subsequently retired within

At that point it was a question. Later, it became obvious: profits.

At that point it was a question. Later, it became obvious: profits.

a year of one another. All three were highly respected actual journalists with training, experience, and talent. But it was toward the second decade of their reign as the trusted triumvirate of television journalism that television journalism began to die. Palpably and incrementally, news began to be replaced by entertainment.

Whereas I can remember a time when network news broadcasts were uninterrupted by commercials, the network executives started to ask themselves why, in an hour that attracted among the most viewers of their entire lineup, they had no revenue-generating ad spots. They argued with their news department journalists that the additional revenue from selling advertising in between news stories would offset the cost of new overseas bureaus, newer and better technology, and higher salaries. Seduced, but in reality not having much choice, the network news departments capitulated and, almost instantly, became seen as profit centres rather than the pro-bono public services they had always been.

All kinds of things changed, from the network studios in New York, all down the line to the regional affiliates. The news departments tenaciously, and increasingly desperately, tried to maintain their journalistic integrity. First, and most obviously, the anchors themselves, and all the other on-air talent began to be selected primarily for their telegenic qualities; journalism experience was unimportant, it

NEW YORK - JULY 7:  Actor Will Ferrell aka Ron Burgundy participates in Q&A after a special screening of the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" at the Museum of Television and Radio July 7, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

was rationalised, for someone simply to read from a teleprompter. Anchors now were expected to fit neatly into a marketer’s bland, blow-dried conception of a trustworthy television newsman; Ron Burgundy and Ted Baxter were born. And if the public was to believe that the weather reporters were actually meteorologists, one would have to believe that among the pre-requisites for meteorology courses were big tits and a propensity for wearing tight dresses and five inch spikes.

But it wasn’t just the on-air personalities that morphed from journalists into vapid eye candy. Now that the news had started to generate revenue, the suits upstairs couldn’t leave it alone; having found money in a hitherto untapped source, their new mission was to maximise the take. So, in a shameless scramble for ratings, the news weathergirlitself changed. The affiliates and the networks demeaned themselves by running with stories that had no real significance or impact on viewers’ lives but had shock value. If it bleeds, it leads, became the mantra. Any story with violence or carnage was guaranteed a few minutes, while less viscerally appealing real news was barely mentioned. And, of course, anything that could be strip mined for prurience will be covered. If a school board decided to stop teaching cursive writing and concentrate on keyboard skills instead, that would be a story that is of some importance and relevance to a large number of viewers. If, on the same day, a local mall was holding a lingerie fashion show, there wouldn’t even be a discussion as to where to send the camera crew.

With television journalism at such a low ebb, it is no surprise that coverage of the elections this year is so inept. But there is a second element that contributes to the appallingly unprofessional media coverage.

In the absence of any serious coverage by the major networks, alternative media have sprung up like mushrooms after an autumn rain. Given that anyone can have access to the Internet and potentially reach an audience even greater than any of the networks could twenty years ago, anyone with a WiFi hate-pressconnection can report and comment on the news. There is no tradition of responsible reporting or providing balance or fairness to what is posted on the ‘Net. It’s the wild west out here in the cyberworld. There are some highly partisan but nevertheless reliable outlets run by actual journalists but there are also hate-spewing, attack sites. And they form the majority.

As a consequence, the television news media find themselves trying very hard to appear like seasoned, professional journalists. They strive for an appearance of neutrality and an absence of bias. Unfortunately, they are still playing by rules and conventions that prevailed at a time when the behaviour of a candidate like Donald Trump would have been unthinkable. Virtually every one of the mainstream news media have fallen into the trap of treating Trump as though he is a serious candidate.

The press, in an effort to demonstrate their even-handedness, press Hillary Clinton on the tired, and long since laid to rest email story. Despite having been investigated for years by 9 different panels and agencies, from rabidly partisan Congressional panels to the FBI, and exonerated each time, Matt Lauer

Matt Lauer: Journalist

Matt Lauer: Journalist

shamed real journalists by wasting her time and ours, apparently thinking he’d turn up something everybody else missed. He then compounded his incompetence by letting Donald Trump slide when he repeated lie after fact-checked lie.

Trump throws around racial, sexual, and ethnic epithets with abandon; he has made prejudice and bigotry the principal pillar of his candidacy. But when Hillary accurately refers to half of his followers as “a basket of deplorables”, she is vilified for being divisive. And the press, to demonstrate their absence of bias, reports the two candidates’ remarks as though they are somehow comparable in their offensiveness. They deliberately create false equivalencies, because to apply the same rules of comportment to both candidates would result in such breathtakingly lopsided reporting, with Trump taking the worst of it, that it might seem as though he was being persecuted when, in fact, he would only be experiencing the same level of scrutiny and reportage any candidate should expect.

But given the lack of journalistic experience or training, one can expect little more from the mainstream media. The non-mainstream media is even worse, of course, but the heavily right-leaning press is largely a self caricature and no one expects high quality journalism.fox-news At least when one watches Fox News, one knows that what is being broadcast is straightforward Republican Party talking points and right wing dogma.

So, where should people, who want to know the facts and who expect journalists to have some integrity, turn for their news? There is no single source of news that can be relied upon for clear, unvarnished, fact based journalism. There are even very few news analysis and commentary sources that can be relied upon to tell the truth, even as they criticise a candidate or party. All that can be done is to read as many different sources as possible. Nevertheless, I provide the following tips for deciding whether a news outlet is worth following.

Your suspicions of unprofessionalism ought to be raised if:

  1. The copy in the reports or columns is in need of proofreading. Typos can occasionally be missed in the best publications, but if a piece is riddled with misspellings or grammar and usage blunders, the writer and/or editor are not professional.
  2. In place of rational argumentation, the writer relies on distortions of a person’s name to make a point. Expressions like “Killary” or “Obammy” are a tipoff that you’re reading something from someone who has all kinds of attitude but no knowledge of journalism or even argumentation.
  3. You are repeatedly fooled by clickbait headlines. How many times do you have to click on a header that says something like, “Trump surrogate reduces interviewer to incoherence” only to find that an interviewer stumbled over a word and nothing much else happened?
  4. A purported news story is structured so that you have to read to the very end of several thousand words to find the salient fact that induced you to read the piece. A professional news writer will have made a habit of writing in the pyramid style: the lede (journalism jargon) will contain the Who, What, Where, and When of the piece, and the Why will be filled in as you read the next sentences. If any of those Ws are only to be found deep in the content, the writer is not a journalist.

Try using those notions as hermeneutics and I’m sure that you’ll find yourself less outraged at the garbage that you have to sort through to get to some approximation of the truth. You’ll never get all the way there, but by discriminating among the multitude of choices available, you’ll have a better basis for judgment. And if the 2016 US presidential election is in desperate need of anything, it’s just that: judgment.

ENDITEM…

 

The Bulletproof Candidate

Why Even Kryptonite Wouldn’t Work

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Rational people everywhere are bewildered by the 2016 presidential election. It’s astonishing that the occupancy of the White House for the next four years is being contested by two bewilderedpeople who are, each for their own reasons, detested by a majority of the people in the country they are seeking to lead. It’s hard to understand how a campaign, that should be about weighing and comparing the track records of governance and legislative successes and failures of the candidates, so rarely even touches on substantive issues. It is mired instead in re-litigating phony scandals that have been investigated ad nauseum and laid to rest countless times on the one hand, and, on the other, fact checking and exposing an endless series of lies that keep being repeated, also ad nauseum. But despite all the mud that’s being slung and the apparently bottomless pit of sleaze in which Donald Trump insists on wallowing, the most astonishingly incomprehensible aspect of this clown show is that Donald Trump continues to be a viable candidate with a narrow, but still substantial, path to victory.

            Pundits, professional political operatives, seasoned pollsters, and the public at large are constantly expressing their bafflement that the Republican candidate is able to commit every sin against politics, social interaction, and human decency imaginable and still manage to put up a respectable showing in the polls. Trump has offended every minority group in the nation from African Americans, Muslims, and Latinos, to veterans, the disabled, and women. Those groups, in aggregate, form a large majority of the population of the United States, and yet Trump continues to be a threat to win the presidency.

            Donald Trump has lied with such frequency and regularity that it is literally the case that, if he trump shootsmakes a statement of fact that is actually true, it becomes a news story. Donald Trump has done and said so many idiotic things that would have disqualified any other human being as a legitimate candidate, that I doubt if anyone would be astonished if he decided to prove his assertion that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. Short of actually doing that, he has managed to prove that his followers cannot be swayed by any normal means of persuasion.

            Take cheap shots at a war hero? They love it. Blow kisses at the Russian dictator? No problem. Claim that his business acumen qualifies him for the presidency, despite it being public knowledge that he has failed more often than he has succeeded? Irrelevant. Call his opponent crooked while he is under indictment for fraud and RICO conspiracy and under investigation for bribing a state governor? Chants of “Lock her up!” Nothing can dissuade his fans.

flip flop            He can vacillate, flip flop, and babble incoherently on matters of policy. He can double down and reaffirm his commitment to promises that everyone knows are the purest unfeasible fantasy and still command their loyalty. And rational people can only shake their heads in confusion, and wonder what on earth it would take for him to lose that vast wellspring of support he delights in whipping into a homicidal frenzy at his rallies.

            It is apparent that all the lists of people he has defrauded, contractors he has stiffed, employees he has exploited and refused to pay, bribes he has paid, and taxes he has evaded will have a zero net effect on his unthinking and vocal followers. They simply don’t care. And they don’t care despite the obvious fact that they would explode with righteous indignation if his opponent had committed even one of his countless outrages.

            Here’s why they don’t care: they don’t love him for his policies, his track record, or even his politics. They love him for his attitude.attitude

            That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Trump has always been insulated from the opinions of others or any real consequences of his words or actions by his inherited wealth. He used the vast fortune he inherited to raise himself to media prominence by pushing the envelope of public tolerance by giving interviews in which he said things that were right on the borderline of acceptability. He cultivated a reputation as an enfant terrible while he stickhandled one high profile business disaster after another; masterfully manipulating the media, he burnished his persona as a brash playboy, and created the myth of his Midas touch and enormous personal fortune. His acolytes eat that up. They like it when he goes on Howard Stern’s shock radio show and uses language and expresses misogynistic and racist sentiments that were even offensive back in the 50’s before people fully recognised their trump-women-360x220inherent ugliness. They think it’s cool that he impersonates an employee and gives himself a standing ovation for his infidelities. They hero worship his braggadocio with reference to his wives and mistresses, whom he refers to as “beautiful young piece(s) of ass”. And Trump himself has never felt any negative feedback for his adolescent attitudes. It was there, but he never felt it because, as a textbook narcissist, he only hears what supports his pathologically inflated self-image.

            Donald Trump has always been a racist. Or at least he has long been a practitioner of racial discrimination. It’s entirely possible that his discriminatory housing practices were the result of greed; he might have believed that refusing to rent to African Americans was simply a business decision to increase the profitability of his New York housing developments. If so, that is arguably even more contemptible than simple anti-black prejudice. In any case, when he tapped into a rich vein of racial hatred among his base, he kept hitting the race-baiting button to get his fix of adulation.

            It was, of course, inevitable that his committed base of followers would have a discernible streakwall and trump of race-based animosity; he announced his candidacy with a speech in which he characterised Mexicans as rapists, murderers, and drug dealers. Reacting instantly to the positive response sparked by his bigotry and offensive language, he spent the next year and more ramping up the racist rhetoric and expanding the cast of targets of his vitriol. Before he charged to the front of the pack of the GOP primary candidates, he had expressed his contempt for pretty much every identifiable minority group in the country, and his angry and marginalised hardcore followers were ecstatic to hear him voice the hatred that they had all been suppressing since their kindergarten teachers had taught them how to behave in civilised society.

            And that’s why he can’t do anything that would disqualify him, or even lose the vocal support of his base. They don’t care about his policies; he has none. They don’t care that the wall that formed the lynchpin of his candidacy is utter nonsense; they only care that they heard someone they wish they were (or were married to) give them permission to express their frustration as violent hostility to visible minorities they can now feel good about persecuting. A ban on Muslims entering the country? Whatever. Just let us hate them openly and treat them with discriminatory contempt.

            The bottom line is that Trump cannot alienate his followers as long as he keeps the heat up on his rhetoric of hatred and contempt for his opponent, for the incumbent president, and for everyone who is not white, male, and poorly educated. He has no plans, he has no foreign policy, he has no domestic policy. He hasn’t any knowledge or even interest in any of the subjects with which a president should be thoroughly conversant. What he has is attitude. And that’s not about to change. And neither will the loyalty of those for whom attitude is everything in this election.

ENDITEM…

A Moral Choice

It’s One or the Other

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) As the US presidential election approaches, and the summer of Trump turns into the autumn of everyone’s discontent, political pundits and our audiences have much to reflect upon. It is widely acknowledged that this year’s election cycle has been profoundly unusual if not entirely choices-unique. Thanks to the ego of a deeply disturbed narcissist with too much access to money, the world has been subjected to a disgraceful display: the celebration of the very worst in human nature, and ugliness, that ought to be suppressed, elevated to become the new normal. Nevertheless, in a desperate search for a silver lining, one thing comes to mind. In the United States, the choice between Democratic and Republican candidates is now quite simple.

            What progressives, liberals, and left leaning people in general have long suspected turns out to be true. There is a demonstrable moral difference between the polarised political left and right; the intransigent right wing has demonstrated its complete dearth of moral principles. If basic human morality with or without reference to any mainstream religion is part of a voter’s character, that person simply cannot vote for a Republican candidate.

            The right has always championed toughness, and has wrapped itself in self-righteous proclamations of its own clear-eyed realism. Austerity measures are the right’s go-to solution for any austerity-measureseconomic downturn. Cutting social programmes and throwing the most vulnerable members of society under the bus is considered ‘tough love” and defended as necessary, as fair, and as encouragement to the slothful to get up off their asses and contribute. The right routinely votes down anti-discrimination legislation as intruding on religious or economic freedoms. The right has traditionally led the country into wars and then, with equally falsely justified fervor, cut veteran’s benefits. School lunch programs, food stamps, health care, Planned Parenthood are all left wing initiatives and all are constantly under siege by the party that claims fiscal responsibility as part of their DNA.

            And, of course, it’s all a crock of shit. Imposing austerity measures at a time when interest rates infrastructure investmentare virtually zero, the economy is sluggish, and when the country is in desperate need of vast public works investment, are like a medieval surgeon bleeding a patient to treat anemia. An enormous injection of cheap capital would put billions of dollars into circulation, provide countless well-paying jobs, and, not incidentally, restore the crumbling infrastructure of the United States. The investment, according to economic analysts, would be repaid within two years of its inception and would continue to pay dividends for decades.

            The economic warriors who are quick to whip out their broadaxes when they see a programme that benefits the poor or the marginalized, see nothing whatever wrong with giving tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to wildly profitable corporations who pay their employees starvation wages, forcing corporate welfarethem to apply for food stamps – which are on the chopping block because the right considers such programmes to be coddling the lazy. Bottom line? The taxpayers are subsidising corporate CEOs and their billion dollar payoffs as well as their payroll. If a company’s employees need government support to live on their paycheques, the taxpayers are covering that company’s costs of doing business, and their employees are being blamed. Republican lawmakers argue that the people shouldn’t have to support underemployed citizens; they seem to have no problem asking those same taxpayers to pay for billion dollar wages and bonuses for contributors to Republican election campaigns.

            For decades now, the Republicans have been able to lie with barefaced unabashed aplomb and wmdnever be held accountable. George W. Bush’s war was justified by a simple policy of lying. There were no weapons of mass destruction despite the administration’s assurances that they would be found immediately upon invading. There were none, and they knew it. That kind of lie, which led to the deaths of countless innocent civilians and thousands of US soldiers, is the worst kind of lie. It wasn’t fudging, or exaggerating, or shading the truth; it was a flat out, straight in-your-face made up fact. The people were deliberately deceived to gain their support for Bush and Cheney’s mercantile interests and there has never been a reckoning.

            And on the subject of barefaced statements that are precisely the opposite of factual reality, the Republican party, as noted above, somehow manages to perpetuate the myth that they are the party of fiscal responsibility while the Democrats are all about “tax and spend”. Since back when the Reagan fiscal conservativesadministration tanked the economy by the imposition of the fatuous and self evidently ridiculous “trickle down” theory of enriching the rich, Democratic administrations have consistently and successfully attacked the budget deficit and the national debt, only to see the next Republican president piss it away. Bush the Younger inherited a balanced budget and more than two hundred billion dollars in surplus from Bill Clinton. He managed to run up several trillion dollars in debt after spending the surplus in record time. But, don’t fret, Haliburton did very well out of the war, and Bush got to wear a cool flight suit when he declared “Mission accomplished” a decade and more before the US pulled out. But that deficit is the windmill that the Republican legislators pretend to tilt at out of fiscal responsibility.

            All the foregoing and a great deal more can be laid at the Republican’s doorstep, and their mendacity and hypocrisy is obvious to anyone who watches anything other than Fox News. (Here’s a little true fact that you won’t hear from anyone in the GOP: amid the handwringing and discriminatory legislation proposed by the party of “family values”, in the storm of freaking out over the possibility of a transgender citizen using a washroom that corresponds to one’s current gender identity, the truth is that, statistically, you or your children are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted or harassed by a Republican senator than a transsexual person in a public washroom.) And as far as morality is concerned, let’s not forget the voter suppression methods employed by the GOP against minorities; let’s remember also the gerrymandering that Republican states have openly engaged in. Space and time simply don’t allow for an exhaustive list of the moral lapses that are central to Republican politics.

            But having said all that, until 2015, there was still a slim possibility that someone of decent moral character could rationalise supporting a Republican candidate. Somehow, with a healthy dose of sophistry, one could conceivably argue that a vote for the Republican candidate was not a moral abdication. But that is no longer the case.

            Donald Trump has made his entire pitch based on the most repugnant and morally reprehensible ryan racistpolicies and promises. He is an unashamed bigot of the very worst stripe. He encourages hatred and he deliberately instigates violence. Independent fact checkers have measured him as lying in 80% of the statements of fact he includes in his speeches. The very worst aspects of humanity are his calling card. These characteristics are not incidental to his appeal; they are the very basis and the raison d’etre of his candidacy. Apart from his hateful and rather malleable pledges to round up and deport 11,000,000 residents, to build his wall and make Mexico pay for it, to deny entry to an entire religion and to register and monitor those already here, he simply has no policies. He has slogans, he leads chants, but he has no domestic or foreign policy; an attitude is not policy. All he has is the hatred that he feeds off.

            And that means that if one supports Trump, one supports racism and hatred. One cannot support Trump in any way and justify one’s morality. If you vote for Trump, you vote for racism and bigotry. Not to put to fine a point on it, but if you support Trump, you are a racist.Dark side

            If you are not a racist, if you have any inclination to see yourself as a moral and decent human being you can’t vote for Donald Trump. There is no more avoiding the fact that to vote for the Republican nominee in 2016 is to choose evil. Welcome to the dark side.

ENDITEM…

The World According to Trump

Looking to a Grim Future

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The 2016 United States presidential election is different from any previous presidential political race. Few of the elements that make this election unique are, in and of themselves, completely new to US politics; taken together, though, they add up to an unprecedented political campaign.

            There have been candidates before Donald Trump who ran on an “America First” platform; indeed, the America First Committee formed in 1940 was a powerful pressure america firstgroup whose avowed purpose was to keep the US out of World War 2. Naturally, the group attracted Nazi supporters, including Hitler admirer Charles Lindbergh; The Trump campaign’s use of the slogan is a dogwhistle call to neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other race baiting groups. But Trump’s overt racism and in-your-face hatred of minorities was also foreshadowed by George Wallace’s segregationist presidential bid.

            The vitriolic hate speech that forms the backbone of Trump’s rallies is different only in degree from some earlier campaigns. That Trump regularly and unabashedly calls his opponents criminals, bigots, and traitors, that Trump leads his acolytes in chants of “lock her up!”, that Trump routinely encourages violence against peaceful protesters, are all behaviours that are simply quantum leaps more extreme than previous campaign outrages.

            Even Trump’s success in creating a political atmosphere in which his policies are utterly incomprehensible, his statements contradict themselves daily, and in which he is free to lie, to mislead, and to make and double down on outrageous and entirely false and easily disproven accusations, is merely taking old unethical political tactics to their extreme. Candidates have accused one another of a variety of unsavoury actions in previous campaigns, but it took the Trump candidacy before we would see the Barack-Obama-Hillary-Clinton-ISISRepublican nominee stating flatly that the incumbent president and the current Democratic nominee and former secretary of state were literally co-founders of ISIS. Not in any metaphorical or figurative sense or anything, Trump assured us; but literally and factually, actual founders of the radical Islamic terrorist organisation.

            Donald Trump with his “political outsider” pretense is degrading not only the way politics is done in the US, but he is debasing the entire social atmosphere of the nation, and to a lesser extent, the world. In the year that Trump has dominated the media with his ludicrous campaign, the culture of the United States has been demonstrably coarsened and human decency, trump-effecttolerance, courtesy, and critical thinking have receded to the point that they are all treated as the laughable conceits of the cowardly and the pretentious. The emergence of ignorance, hatred, and violent confrontation as virtues can be credited to the account of Donald Trump.

            On this Labour Day, as I am busy gathering my seven-year-old boy’s back-to-school stuff in preparation for Grade Two tomorrow, I am naturally inclined to look toward the future that he is going to face both this year, and over the course of his life. With two more months to go until we can be certain that the Donald Trump infection has been finally eradicated, that future is somewhat uncertain. But I know one thing for sure; the world in which JJ will grow to adulthood is darker, uglier, and more dangerous than it was, even eighteen months ago.

            When I was his age, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments Joan_Baez_Bob_Dylanover the perceived chaos in the world as a result of the baby boom bubble coming into its own. Youth culture was emerging and the previous generation was afraid, was offended, but mostly was bewildered. The zeitgeist was indeed chaotic in the early Sixties. My generation was stretching its wings and flexing its muscles; we knew we wanted change although we weren’t sure what we wanted to change into. But whatever ideas we had about what the world ought to look like, we took it for granted that with cooperation, with dedication, and byhippy3 bringing our energy and commitment to bear, we could make it happen. We had great dreams and endless supplies of hope.

            Before that energy dissipated and our generation scattered and then succumbed to the “me” generation that followed, we managed to accomplish things that today would be considered hopeless tasks. By applying our will and energy, we managed to get civil rights legislation passed in the US, legal segregation was ended, Roe V. Wade made abortion legal, a Catholic president was elected, the Peace Corps was founded, we put humans on the moon, feminism became second nature to most people, environmental issues were raised and became part of the world’s discussion, we managed to turn the world against the Vietnam conflict and forced a president to pull American troops out, and far from least, we held a president’s feet to the fire and forced his resignation for having done politics in the traditional, unaccountable way.

Bookends

Time it was

And what a time it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

Simon and Garfunkel

simon and garfunkel

            But I look around now and I see what my son is going to face and I worry for his future. My son is a remarkable person. Although he can be exhausting because of his ADHD, I’m convinced that I learn as much from him as he does from me. He’s wicked smart; in some things, like places he’s been and people he’s met, his memory is eidetic; he has an autism-related difficulty with language acquisition, preferring to use words in a way that make sense to him, rather than employ the socially agreed-upon syntax. But mostly I am struck daily by his very un-autistic sense of empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others. He is always the first one to run and hug another child who is sad or afraid. He cries when he hears something sad, he is more likely to give his lunch or his toys to someone who needs or wants them, than to monopolise or hoard them as most kids his age do. But he is of a visible minority, being brown skinned; he has speech issues; he is hypersensitive both physically and emotionally; he is very vulnerable.

            He will almost certainly be the target of bullying as he grows up and goes to school. The world that he is now inhabiting is far more likely to treat him cruelly or harshly than it was when I was young, and he is far less equipped than I was to cope with those sharp corners and elbows. The world that Donald Trump exemplifies and encourages, is full of intolerance and hatred. It is a world where walking all overBleakFutureAhead_B our weaker fellow humans is encouraged and admired, where kindness and decency are disdained as weakness or cowardice. It is a world without genuine confidence in the future, or any real hope for improvement as the result of our actions. Idealism, that sense of right and wrong and the value of working to make the world better, simply isn’t a big part of the world at the moment. And it makes me want to weep for him. Since I became a father late in life – I’m sixty and he’s seven – I am increasingly aware that I won’t be around to cushion the slings and arrows of everyday fortune when he is an adult.

            Largely for that reason, I have chosen to spend his critical early elementary school years in a small village in rural Vancouver Island, where we know all our neighbours, where there is a community of artists, hippies, free thinkers, and back to the land people, as well as environmentalists, vegans, and traditional farmers. A place where we often keep our doors unlocked, where neighbours take care of one another and their children feel free to knock on one’s door if frightened, or tired or lost.

            But eventually, when he is better able to accept that not everyone in this world is prepared for a _donald-trump-insanelittle boy who will spontaneously hug a stranger in a queue at the general store because he likes her voice, he will have to take his place in the hate-filled, and intolerant world that we are creating by accepting Donald Trump and his ilk. By letting his viciousness, his narcissism, his pathological inability to distinguish fact from fiction, and his bigotry to slide without instant, unanimous and vocal condemnation, we are normalising it and allowing it to become part of the new world order.

            Where we stand right now, should Trump manage to get himself elected, the world will be a nightmarish dystopia, and one for which it is impossible to prepare because of Trump’s instability and refusal to prepare in any way for the position he wants. But even if, as seems likely, he is trounced and sent packing, his legacy will live on. The world is a palpably worse place for his having occupied so much of our attention. And before the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, the world that my son should be looking forward to being a part of is going to be unpleasant, inhospitable, and a bleak, cold place. For that I can never forgive Donald Trump and his supporters.

ENDITEM….

Licence to Hate

The Rise and Fall and Rebirth of Political Correctness

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The first time I heard the phrase “political correctness” was some time back in the 70s, and it was used by my then agent to criticise a publisher’s rejection letter. She had submitted a manuscript of a mystery/thriller I had written, in which one of my more unsavoury characters, a debt collection agency owner, was named Lenny Stein. She faxed me a copy (faxes were new and high tech back then) of the rejection letter, as it was actually a personal note and not a form letter. The publisher, rejection-letter-socialin his rejection of one of the few substantial pieces of fiction I have ever written, was positive, if not actually effusive about my novel. He recommended a number of changes if I were to submit it elsewhere and explained frankly why he was turning it down and not asking me to resubmit it to him. He was offended, he explained, by my rampant antisemitism. That Lenny Stein was clearly intended to be an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector, was pure bigotry and intolerable to him.

Ironically, the character was actually deliberately based on an unscrupulous Jewish bill collector with a similar name. The character and his real life counterpart were similar, even in their physical descriptions, right down tpreppy waspo the perpetual dusting of dandruff on the shoulders of their cheap suits. (I wanted him to recognise himself despite the disclaimer). Nevertheless, the publisher was right; the character was clichéd and worked much better when I changed him to a very WASPish Upper Canada College preppy type, slumming in the debt recovery business. But it was my agent who was furious. She said in a very sarcastic tone that the submission had only been rejected as it was insufficiently “politically correct”.

The expression, “political correctness”, as a neologism of the latter half of the 20th Century became part of our everyday lexicon as a reaction to an historical period in which civil rights and racial, ethnic, and gender equality were finally becoming a reality against strong social pushback. By the late 60’s some of the most offensive epithets, slurs which had been commonly deployed in casual middle class discourse, had been suppressed and were recognised as trace hatehe hurtful expressions they always were. But ordinary people no longer felt free to use words like nigger, kike, spic, or broad any more. Civilised and courteous people eschewed language that was likely to offend; the now sidelined derogatory labels were only employed by die-hard bigots, and were used specifically because of their verboten nature when offense was the aim.

But like many other benign and even beneficial notions, the societal pressure to avoid giving offense became an exercise in playing gotcha! People began militantly dissecting the language of others in an attempt to find an expression, word, or phrase that carried the possibility of offending someone or some group. People without the tiniest bigoted bone in their bodies found themselves accused of being insensitive or even of willfully offending when they used a word they had no idea could be interpreted as racist. Someone who had routinely used the word “gypsy” metaphorically, or even simply to describe the people known for their caravans,colourful head scarfs, and fortune tellers, would find himself accused of unforgiveable racism. “Gypsy” was no longer politically correct; the proper descriptive term was now “Romany” people. My suspicion is that not a single Romany person had ever objected to being called a gypsy. As I recall, being a young boy in France in the late 50’s and early 60’s who loved to play with the children of the Romany people when they camped in the fields behind our house, they called themselves “gypsies” or its equivalent in the various languages they spoke.

There is no question that the PC impulse got out of hand, with people demanding the right to go politically correct fightingthrough life in a racially and culturally diverse society without ever being offended. At the height of the PC zeitgeist, I wrote emphatically against the restrictive nature of society’s impulse to stifle others’ freedom of expression. I remember moderating a discussion in which John Cleese (at the time still best known as a Python) very firmly held that he had the right to offend; that offending people was his job and was the job of all social critics and relevant comedians and always had been. I remember agreeing wholeheartedly with him. Political correctness, toward the end of the last century, found itself being disparaged and mocked.

People, while still trying to express themselves in ways that didn’t cause needless pain to others, began to refuse to tie themselves into knots simply to be politically correct. Referring to short people as being altitudinally challenged became the kind of joke critics of PC were making. The pendulum had swung far enough that simply referring to someone as being politically correct was the equivalent of saying they were unimaginative and feckless; that they were prissy prudes; simply put, they had a stick up their ass. clint_eastwood__by_cameron1395-d5spzncIn the current US election cycle, no less an icon than Clint Eastwood called those who reject Donald Trump’s in-your-face race baiting, “pussies” and urged us to “get over it”.

Arch liberal Bill Maher, called his ground-breaking political commentary/comedy show “Politically Incorrect” in an effort to re-humanise the parameters of permissible discussion. (As an aside, he was handed his walking papers for being, wait for it….politically incorrect when he said on his show that, to be realistic, one couldn’t honestly describe the suicide terrorists of 9/11 as being “cowards”. He was right, of course, but the PC police wanted his ass, and they got it.) So now it was the conservatives who were demanding political correctness while the progressives and liberals were rejecting it as stultifying and unreasonably restrictive.

The phrase was never employed in an approving manner; it has always carried some connotation of reflecting a sheep-like mindset, a knee-jerk deference to popular social trendiness. Until fairly recently it had seemed as though political correctness had completed its life cycle and was soon to be consigned to the dust bin of anachronistic language. In the last few years, however, the phrase has come roaring back into the vocabulary. The radicalised right wing has suddenly discovered that no one has had much respect for political correctness for years; that to describe someone as being politically correct is to suggest that their freedom of expression has been stolen from them, and that to abjure political correctness is to demonstrate courage and independence of thought.

Trump and PC           With Donald Trump leading the charge, the right, particularly the alt right, has embraced the disdain for PC and employs its rejection as protective colouration for the most appallingly vile public discourse the United States, and the world, has seen since the pre-civil rights era. They have discovered that all they have to do is preface a statement with the assertion that they refuse to be politically correct, and then they have somehow given themselves permission to speak hatred, racism, sexism, or any sort of disgusting bigotry. Where, not very long ago, even the worst example of a redneck racist hillbilly would have thought twice before using the word “nigger” in public, today, people are openly using it as a taunt and a verbal assault.

By implicitly claiming that the only reason people don’t use that and similar repugnant epithets is that they are slaves to PC; they seek to perpetuate the fiction that everyone has their kind of crude bigotry and intolerance bubbling just below the surface. They want everyone to think that only people of courage and honesty, that is people like them, have the integrity to reject political correctness and state the obvious.

So repulsive and so offensive is the licence they give themselves to speak hatred, that sometime soon, we will start to see a reaction to their hatred of and their disdain for political correctness. I believegood-manners- that PC will be reborn. It will have a different name, or no name at all, but the use of society’s surfeit of PC as an excuse to engage in hate speech and vicious, open bigotry will not continue to be acceptable in normal society. The idea of moderating one’s language in an effort to avoid unnecessary hurt will make a comeback as a reaction against the debasement of public discourse that is a direct result of Donald Trump’s emergence on the political landscape.

I just watched a video some Hillary Clinton hater posted on Facebook. Within the first 30 seconds of the ham-fisted clip, the narrator casually refers to Mrs. Clinton as, “that cunt.” By and large, in the comments, even those who don’t support her or her politics reacted negatively to that kind of offensive speech disguised as merely being politically incorrect. The coarsening of the public forums and the negative reaction to it from more enlightened souls is not a matter of political correctness or its rejection. That kind of political attack is simply too vulgar, to gratuitously hurtful, and too personally insulting to be taken seriously or accepted as anything more than ignorant logorrhea.free speech

Assuming, as we must, that Trump will be soundly defeated and Hillary Clinton will be the next US president, it seems likely that society will generally begin to reject the Trump style of rhetoric. There will be a period during which there will be incessant Trump style attacks on the president, but Trump himself will eventually get bored and leave, and his minions will disperse without him as a rallying point. In time it will once again become unacceptable to use racial or ethnic or sexual epithets; their casual employment in conversation will not much longer be seen as honest and brave. People who read, people who are able to think critically, people who have educated themselves will see through the smokescreen; decency, courtesy, and respect in all our dealings will once again be seen as virtues. All we have to do is send Trump and his knuckle dragging, mouth breathing band of bigots back down to the minors.

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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Post-democratic Society

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) A somewhat schizophrenic attitude toward the concept and practice of democracy in America is becoming more noticeable in this, the summer of Trump. In the most bizarre presidential election campaign in living memory, the fundamental assumption of US politics and civil society – that the nation is essentially a democratic one – is up for discussion. We see one group of US citizens espousing the view that the United States is the most democratic and free nation that has ever existed, and that this aspect of American exceptionalism needs to be defended from interlopers. But average votercuriously, that same group also seems to hold that the country is riddled with corruption, that its political leaders are bought and paid for, and that what’s needed is a shakeup that would involve drastically curtailing the very freedoms that they insist make America exceptional. If asserting both positions simultaneously isn’t schizophrenic, at the very least it involves tolerating a high degree of cognitive dissonance.

However, the conflicting perspectives held by any rational citizen of a western industrialised country tend to gloss over even deeper problems with some fundamental assumptions. In play today is the assertion that (taking the United States as the most graphic example) we are now living in a post-democratic historical period. And if one were to look at it realistically rather than emotionally, democracy, as an ideal form of government, in which the people are sovereign and in which the elected legislators represent the desires, interests, and viewpoints of the citizenry, simply does not exist now, if it ever did.

winston-churchill-democrasy            The United States cannot truly be described any more as having a democratic system of government. The people of the country are accustomed to and have come to accept the reality that their congressmen and senators are far more responsive to those who finance their political careers than they are to their constituents. There is scarcely any outrage or public outcry when Congress grants billions of dollars in government subsidies to the big oil companies who have financed their campaigns; the fact that those companies are the most profitable enterprises in the history of mankind and don’t need any social assistance to thrive makes absolutely no difference to anyone. And the very same lawmakers can sanctimoniously point to having voted to cut funding for the most desperate and vulnerable of their constituents, and pat themselves on the back for their exercise of “fiscal responsibility”.chuck heston NRA

When you have party leadership that vets every initiative by checking with their lobbyists before bringing them to the floor for discussion; where the National Rifle Association has de facto veto power over any gun-related proposed legislation, democracy is not at work. When special interest groups with enough financial support can create “think tanks” to draft legislation that favours themselves, and then see their tame representatives and senators table those proposed laws without changing a comma, we are not dealing with a democratic process. When a blind eye is turned to gerrymandering, to deliberately created electoral inequalities, to state level disregard for federal laws, we are not looking at democracy.

We have to accept thCongressional BJat, in the United States, congress and the courts are not genuinely accessible or answerable to the average citizen. Laws are made by corporate interests. Well heeled anti-democratic special interests like the extreme religious right can determine a politician’s career path.  Legislators spend at least 50% of their time in office raising money from wealthy private donors and corporate interests to whom they owe their allegiance and who can threaten to withdraw support if they’re not satisfied with their purchase. The last tenuous shreds of democracy have been lost when one considers that the two big parties’ nominees for the presidency are among the most despised people in the country.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump can find millions of supporters when his campaign, on the one hand, can be based on the notion that the country has gone to hell, and that it is a laughing stock in the community of nations; while on the other hand he is selling the snake oil that the country is so wonderful that the drawbridge needs to be raised and all hands prepared to repel boarders. He can repeat, day after day, that the country has become a third world cesspool and still garner applause when he condemns an athlete for failing to show proper respect for the national anthem. Trump claims that he is defending freedom by demanding that the athlete in question be punished for exercising that very freedom.

In a world where people are encouraged to come to important decisions viscerally, where they are bought and paid for congresstaught that reason, logic, and knowledge are east coast liberal conceits, and that their own ignorance supported by intense feelings is superior to another’s facts and researched information, the mechanisms of representative democracy cannot work. The failure of democracy and the decline of expertise, education, and factual knowledge are inextricably entwined; each contributes to the other and results in an inevitable vicious cycle. The rise of demagoguery, as well as the belief in magical thinking and the increase in divisiveness are the other side of the same coin. The increase in ignorance is reflected in the decreasing respect for rational and prayer-350empirical thinking; and ignorance is always accompanied by its dark companions: fear and hatred. But democracy, particularly representative democracy, requires leadership that embraces reason and arms itself with knowledge and compassion. As things stand at the moment, reason is eschewed for gut instinct, knowledge is rejected in favour of opinion, and compassion is dismissed as weakness and seen as being taken advantage of. Democracy cannot and does not work under these conditions.

When some of the greatest intellects of the Enlightenment collaborated and drew up the Constitution of the United States, they did not design a two-party system of government; that was something that emerged spontaneously as the infant democracy found its footings. They didn’t mention parties at all in the document they produced. And when a country is as polarised, when groups are uncompromising and determined not to give an inch, but rather, inclined to harden their positions, a two party system doesn’t work. There is only a binary choice at the polls, and neither option is likely to be fully satisfying to the vast majority of voters. A multiparty system, like in a parliamentary democracy would work better because it would force compromise, it would require coalitions and working with opponents to achieve anything.

But the founding fathers believed that their constitution would be even more democratic, because therush_822 people themselves, more than any party, would be the drivers of the nation’s destiny. Because of the intricate system of checks and balances built into the constitution, they believed that the people would always be sovereign and their will would be expressed through the election of representatives in congress, and in their choice of president, who would express his understanding of their will through his judicial appointments. Nevertheless, in the Federalist Papers, Publius, (the pseudonym of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) was clear that a rational and thoughtful population was critical to making the system work:

 “It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. (Federalist 1)

At this point in US history, and in much of the rest of the developed world, accident and force are making a comeback as the deciding factors in political decision making. Thlincoln on revolutione Federalists were not completely convinced that democracy was a good idea; their concern was that bad, or unfair polices would be enacted by a majority and trample the rights of the minority. The Federalists were deeply concerned that democracy would be little more than mob rule. They accordingly built in those checks and balances. But mostly, their justification for opting for democracy was that they had confidence that the people of America could live up to their ideal of conducting politics with reflection, human decency, and informed thought.

In the era of Trump, that optimism is demonstrably unfounded. Mob rule is taking over and democracy is clearly failing. Can it be rescued and revived? Ask me again on the morning of November 9, 2016.

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