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    • Chaos demon strikes again
      It was the first meeting Trump had with Pelosi since the impeachment began, and today House Republicans broke ranks to join Dems in a vote against his Syria withdrawal. He basically threw a tantrum and yelled at Pelosi, who has raised five kids and knows to ignore them. So the Dems walked out of the … Continue reading Chaos demon strikes again
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      I find it interesting that  many centrists are angered and surprised. They though these, arguably the most progressive members of the House caucus, would endorse Warren. Certainly by recent standards Warren is progressive and left leaning, but she’s weak sauce compared to Sanders. But centrists thought because she was a woman, AOC, Tlaib and Omar […]
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Proudly Defying Consensus Reality Since 2008

cjsnmttLong time readers know that I started this blog in response to the ridiculous, over-the-top, pre-accomplishments hagiography of Barack Obama during the primaries in 2008. The man could do no wrong. Don’t even get me started, I’ve written War and Peace over that primary season. And what did we learn from his eight years in the White House? We learned that the media and Obama’s fan base will do almost anything to obscure his flaws. That was fatal for us because if we weren’t allowed to be critical, we couldn’t correct when he was on the wrong track or hold him accountable for poor policy making.

For that early assessment of the media and his mysterious well-heeled fanbase propping him up in 2008, many of us were labeled “racists”. I hope that the left has learned a painful lesson from the last election about throwing that word around. Yes, there are racists. Real racism exists but it isn’t all about Barack Obama, who is a class based aspirational president and not John Lewis. But there many voters who were sick to death of having their perceptions invalidated by that cynical accusation. Unfortunately, some of them did not know when they were being played. We’re still trying to figure out what separated the casual Trump supporter from the lefty voter who simply didn’t like Obama but had no problem voting for Hillary. The Nate Silvers of the world who crunch their models can point to surface causes but I think the answer is buried in how labile we are to pressures to conform and adapt to consensus reality. We may need to find new descriptors for that model.

The purpose of this blog is to defy consensus reality. Commenters here feel safe to say what they think is really going on. The way we do this is by avoiding mental short cuts and slogans and buzz words. If you have a problem with out of control capitalism, calling a politician a “corporatist” is not going to cut it here. You need to say exactly what you mean, think it through, choose your words to convey their intent clearly.

Choosing carefully where we get our news and touchpoint with actual reality will also make a difference. Here are my tips for finding reality based news. Do with them what you will:

1.) Avoid any news source that provokes an immediate emotional response, especially if that response is fear or anger. People who are provoked to anger or fear do not make good decisions. It is difficult to reason with someone who is enraged. Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you tried to have a reasonable conversation with someone in a rage state.

2.) Avoid television news. This means ALL television and cable news programs. The combination of audio with visual cues is very powerful. It doesn’t matter which network you choose. Some are worse than others but they all do it. Just don’t watch it. Give it a week and you won’t miss it. Get to know your family again, take up the guitar, go for a walk. Make the TV a special thing where you binge watch Outlander and oogle Jamie Fraser in a kilt.

3.) If you need to get a quick news fix, try radio. Again, some radio is better than others. NPR used to be my go to. Now, I can hear the narratives built into the scripts. So, be careful with this. Again, if you find yourself becoming fearful or angry, stop listening.

4.) Find reliable sources in print journalism. Even this is getting increasingly difficult to do. There are some sources that are more reliable than others. I read a wide variety of sources like the NYTimes, Washington Post, ProPublica, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Conversation, The Guardian. If it seems like my choices are left leaning, that’s because truth does seem to have a strong liberal bias. That being said, the NYTimes and Washington Post have been lax with their standards in the last decade or so. I wouldn’t necessarily call either paper “left”. But occasionally, you can find articles that are less biased and better investigated. Also, read foreign news sources, like Der Spiegel for an outsider’s perspective. Google translate is amazing.

5.) Try alternate sources for news. I like podcasts. In 2016, we saw a bumper crop of good podcasts, some more analytical than others. Among my favorites, The Weeds from Vox, Five Thirty Eight from Nate Silver and his data modelers, and my current favorite, TrumpCast with Jacob Weisberg from Slate.

6.) Apply the Cindy Lu Who test. If you see a green imp in a Santa suit stealing your Christmas Tree and he tells you a story about taking it back to his workshop to fix a broken light, ask yourself why he couldn’t have come by during the day when your parents were awake. In general, the simplest explanation is the most likely. Conspiracies are rare. Most people are motivated by simple things like greed, revenge, arrogance. (I’m looking at you Rudy Giuliani) Those deadly sins can lead them to do a number of unethical things. But if your favorite news reader starts spewing an improbable scenario, and if that scenario makes you mad before you can figure out if it’s true or not, apply the Cindy Lu Who test and start asking questions.

7.) Read non-fiction. Read history, science, paleobotany, it doesn’t much matter. Find a well reviewed non-fiction book and learn from it. It’s especially good for learning to analyze and that can be applied to the here and now. Some of my favorite non-fiction include, A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, anything by Michael Lewis, In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larsen, SPQR- A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard.

Lastly, check out this diagram of where news sources fall on the left-right, reliable-unreliable spectrum. If you are confused and distrustful about what and who to believe, stick to the top layer in the middle. Even the Wall Street Journal, as crazy as its opinion pages are, has a very good news bureau and high quality reporting.

7xhauxf

We’re about to be bombarded by a high volume of issues and controversies all at once. We will be disoriented. We may have a hard time keeping track of what is going on. Many people who have studied authoritarian regimes say that citizens quickly learn to accept the unacceptable so you are encouraged to write down what your beliefs and principles are right now and check them periodically to see if you are slipping.

Hold hands, stick together, look out for one another.

SWAK!

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Seasonal Madness

749bbb18bed0542466f3da4ce4c8a8bbI don’t know about you but I have a lot on my plate right now.

I’m speed learning a whole new field and my new company encourages us to take our computers home with us just in case we need to catch up on stuff. To that end, I worked on setting up a dedicated home office in a spare bedroom. It’s necessary if I’m going to be doing as much work from home as I anticipate. I have stuff left over from 4 years of income instability that has piled up that needs somewhat immediate attention. There is a collaboration that needs attention as well. Plus, some recent unfortunate events in my family have kept me very busy on top of all of that. Don’t have a Christmas tree yet and haven’t done any shopping. Today, I had put aside for buying a much needed pair of boots. Nah-gah-happen. Will get the tree though even if it kills me.

So, how has your holiday season gone so far?

{{sigh}}

In the meantime, if you want the technical and scientific background to the climate agreements hammered out in Paris from real scientists who can write, check out The Conversation, the US pilot edition.

And here’s a blast from the past and particularly relevant this week, to me at least. It’s the story about the Sparrow in the Mead Hall:

The Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) tells the story of King Edwin of Northumberland who wanted to marry a Christian princess. She said she would accept Edwin’s offer if he agreed to hear the Gospel from Paulinus, a Christian missionary. Edwin was willing to hear the preaching but he called together a meeting of his council of elders, which included his pagan high priest, Coifi. Paulinus presented the gospel to him, and one of the chief advisors replied with this observation:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the swift flight of a sparrow through the mead-hall where you sit at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes, while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all.”

Oh, that clever Bede. Paulinus was the one who brought the gospel but it was Edwin’s heathen advisor’s words that we remember from this story. There are a couple addendem I wanted to add to this story. The first is that King Edwin did not immediately convert to Christianity. He took his time and thought about it. It took him several years after he heard the pitch before he bought it.

The second is that Edwin’s advisor presented his argument as a conditional. “*If* this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right we should follow it.”

Some of us yearn for certainty. We want to know for sure what comes next. And that is comforting to us.

Some of us are not convinced that there is anything we can be certain about when it comes to what follows our flight through the mead hall but we are not afraid.

As Tolkien says, “Despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”