Friday, December 07, 2018

Have Differing Levels of National Pride & Shame Caused the Partisan Bubbles?

During some weekend, I stayed up until 4 in the morning digging a deep Google. I wanted to know “What do the American people want” then moved onto “What makes up American culture?”

Some arguments I’ve been having with a dude on social media inspired the inquiry. He consistently argued that policymakers should be conservative, especially with money, because they don’t know what the PEOPLE want. I had pointed out that Congressional staffers don’t really understand the American people and they're understaffed so maybe they should get more staff to figure out what the PEOPLE want. He kept arguing the conservative argument that money shouldn't be spent, and I pointed out that he was using circular reasoning. After all, how else will Congress know what people want without investing in the means to study the PEOPLE?

All that arguing had gotten me thinking and wondering about my first search string. That only yielded write ups of polls that addressed single issues. I wanted something a lot more general.

That's why I expanded the theme to culture. Results from that search came out too broad and general. Somewhat enlightening. Find the articles I posted to the social media group here. None of it provides any sense of urgency for posting here.

Then I stumbled onto the idea of “National identity”. Not bad progress from my search strings over the weekend. I couldn't find anything useful then, either. After all, Trump has made comments about how he feels that the American national identity gets changed by foreign influence and immigration. I got results but nothing concrete enough to explain what the American National Identity is except for that of the usual privilege: Judeo-Christian Greco-Roman cis-gendered hetero white. Nothing exciting or constructive.

I asked Google why social conservatives felt disrespected. It didn't come down to international respect (other than feeling that non-citizens need to “respect American sovereignity and law” by entering the country with the proper documents. . . But if that were the case, Trump would follow the rule of law, hire more judges, and not try all these crazy schemes to discourage immigration, but no).

Otherwise conservatives said they didn't want to be exposed to non-privileged or be talked down to by elitist liberals. That argument doesn't make sense to me either. If you deny respect, you show respect, and conservatives are the first to show disrespect. If it’s about a hierarchy with them at the top, that’s not looking for sincere respect. That's looking for dominance.

I may have found the answer to what conservatives want: National Pride. Podcast The Indicator episode ”Space Economics” brought up National Pride as one benefit of NASA’s success in the space race.

A web search brought a lot of consistent polls since the beginning of the decade that consistently showed that

  • Americans have had quite a bit of pride in their country
  • Republicans have scored higher in pride than Democrats
  • Even with Obama in office, Republicans still scored a good amount higher in pride than Democrats
All fine and good, but numbers can only tell you so much. A couple more searches focused on the above trends turned a couple interesting results:
These results don’t surprise me. They hadn’t boiled up to my attention in the past, but reality seems to fit the numbers on this one. All in all, conservatives tend to show more pathos about America while liberals can have a more measured, critical viewpoint. Stronger sentiments might even think conservative, bathos, and liberals, ashamed.

Conservatives fly the flag. They want to protect and strengthen the borders. Soldiers and police have their support, even if wars hasve stretched on forever and crime seems to increase (though facts and trends show that crime has generally gone down though murder rates get complicated. Conservatives remain pretty stubborn about “traditional” values that America, barring the blips of social progressivism in the ‘60s and the Obama years (some blips previously, too, but the ‘60s and Obama really push some issues forward that America didn't even consider before).

Politicians, bankers, bureaucrats, and other groups might get a share of scorn from conservatives. Conservatives have some good narratives about the corruptness inherent in positions such as those. Anyone can easily comb through American history to find such narratives, both real and made up like a conspiracy. You can probably just focus on electoral politics just before and during Andrew Jackson to see a bunch of narratives that fit into this zeitgeist.

Still conservatives carry on with their national pride, expressing it as much as they can, almost like the status or results of the country don’t matter. Whether out of power and not advancing their causes or in power and advancing their causes, conservatives have the compulsion to show their national pride. Have they made that national pride one if their causes?

Take a look at Colin Kaepernick and football players bowing during the anthem in protest of the treatment of black people by the police. Trump and conservatives use it as an opportunity to argue that supporting police and veterans during the anthem is ALL IMPORTANT (even though Trump offends the military is so many other ways. . .remember when he was speaking with veterans about Agent Orange and Full Metal Jacket or when he made a political attack on the Khan’s who participated at the Democratic National Convention?). To conservatives,having pride in the United States, no matter what, is more important than trying to make the nation better, trying to realize a reality that we can all be proud of.

The Kaepernick issue illustrates one reason why liberals may not feel the national pride that conservatives do. Making things worse, liberals can easily put the fault for their lack of national pride in the laps of conservatives, including how much importance that conservatives put into having national pride and supporting the nation, no matter what. I think this article, "Trump is making Americans see the U.S. the way the rest of the world already did", illustrates perfectly why many progressives and liberals don't feel much national pride better than any list of factors that I could list. Then add to that article: slavery, Native American genocide and land grabbing, and persecuting of other non-white people through just over two centuries of the existence of the United States.

In a way, progressives and liberals that criticize the conservatives and neo-liberals feel like the melancholy person who sees reality for what it is. Conservatives, on the other hand, have delusions of grandeur for the country, perceiving the rituals and traditions of the United States reflecting back that them the heritage that brought us here, the heritage that makes them proud. Conservatives find their heritage in the symbols of the United States:
  • The Flag
  • The Constitution
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • The 2nd Amendment
  • Our industry
  • Our agriculture
  • Our national monuments and parks
  • The wealth that has gone to the rich
  • The innovations
  • The first to reach the moon
  • Winning the Revolutionary War
  • A perceived relationship with God
  • Our institutions
  • The 1st Amendment
  • The Fourth of July
  • Sports and athletics
  • Helping to win the two World Wars
  • Helping Europe come back from the brink of the World Wars
  • The military might of the United States
  • The strength
  • Faith in the might of the country
  • The Pledge of Allegiance (though I'm entertained that a socialist wrote the original version
Honestly, I can't think of much else (anyone want to add more in the comments?).

But the United States has a second heritage that motivates progressives and liberals:
  • Liberty of conscience introduced by the likes of Roger Williams
  • The crusade against slavery
  • Social justice for marginalized people, from Native Americans to Blacks to Jewish people to Asian people to LGBTQ
  • The Revolutionary War
  • The Civil War
  • LIterature
  • Science
  • The great wide open and up high spaces
  • The Progressive Era
  • The Statue of Liberty and the poem at the bottom, The New Collossus
  • The Civil Rights movement
  • Womens' Rights movement
  • #MeToo
  • Same-sex Marriage
  • Liberal Arts educations
  • Innovation
I've exhausted my mind of other liberal/progressive things that I can recall. If anyone else has some good ideas, please add them to the comment section.

The Right in the United States focuses on a jingoistic exceptionalist image of strength so that we can impose our will onto the world. The Left wants to believe in a nurturing, pluralistic country/world that wants to get along, learn, discover, and grow while supporting each other. The Right wants to flex might and be imposing while the Left wants to welcome the outside in and develop peace on Earth.

As one of the articles I linked to, I want to propose that the Left should bring up more things that have happened, dreamed up, or can be thought about in the United States. Many people, especially non-white non-straight non-Christian non-male people have a lot to complain about. I don't think people who fit this category should feel the need to be grateful for living in the United States, for having a job, or anything like that. Some people do have a lot to be resentful about, I can understand that.

The United States does have elements to it for the Left to feel national pride about, though. Even though the United States still hasn't realized freedom and liberty for all, it has provided an inspiration to do so and to fight for human rights in the rest of the world (even though American Exceptionalism and American imperialism has tainted that image and ideas). I think the Left could do some soul searching of the United States to find more about it to be prideful over and to make us feel more comfortable about flying the American flag and displaying other symbols of the United States without feeling jingoistic or hokey. Admittedly, I would feel that way if I put the flag on display somewhere I work or live.

Does the differing levels of national pride and reason for pride in the Right and Left divide the two political sentiments? Has the pride on one side and shame on the other side caused partisan (media) bubbles to develop? Has the Right stopped seeing people on the Left as American because of the shame about America that the Left feels while Left can see images of how great American can be? Can the Left see the Right as anything more than jingoistic, scared people, even hateful people moping in victim culture?

What would happen if instead of asking ourselves, "What can we do to win, to defeat the other side?" or even "What can we do to defend ourselves, to get the other side to respect us as people?", we asked ourselves, "What can we do to make this country somewhere and something to be proud of? How can we come together to become a nation and create a state that provides inspiration rather than embarrassment? Who can work with or who can I reach out to to make this nation a better place rather than argue with to make it into the image of me and my own?" What could happen?

The articles I found during the late night Google deep dive exploring what Americans want or what is American culture:

Return to Body

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Sunday, December 02, 2018

Is The Left Dividing into Two Again and the Right Encouraging It?

Has the divide in the Left between the socialists and the pluralists risen again since the the midterm election? And has the Right been taking advantage of this rift to split them, especially in attempt to make them unattractive to the Center?

Social media provided me an initial glimpse with an out of proportion reaction to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and me:

Other than beng a reaction against Ocasio-Cortez, raising the topic of socialism gives an incongruous impression. What does socialism have to do with the border? Also, the statement about socialism leading to mass murder comes off as specious and misunderstanding that differences exist between the Democratic Socialism that we see in Europe today and Cult of Personality Communism of Lenin/Stalin, Mao, the Kim family, and various other instances in the past. Socialism and Communism don't equate to totalitatarianism, dictatorship and mass murder.

This incongruousness sent me to the Internet try finding an explanation to this kind of reaction. I think I glimpsed a whole bunch of other remarks like this about socialism on social medias over the last few weeks. Articles like these resulted from the searching:
Apparently I've been behind on seeing attempts at the Rightist rhetoric against Obama by the Right that tried to paint Obama as some evil socialist that threatened America.

Last night I walked into a gathering of friends that were obviously talking about politics from how the conversation ended. The one black guy among a bunch of white guys said, "Yeah, I get what you're saying, but I'm a black guy and I'm scared of the Right."

The conversation ended there, but as someone who puts Pluralism first and am experimentally supportive of more socialist schemes, I was confused. Not by the black friend, but by all the other friends in the room. I believe they are anti-Trump and that they appreciate the balance that the new House will bring. . .but I don't know, it's confusing to me. Once politics regress to the mean, how much people with privilege have the willingness to entertain a path that could lead to more control y a political party willing to support a fatuous demagogue, voter suppression, confirming the nominations of judges willing to all drastic change and disrespect of people, confirmation the nominations of cabinet members and department heads looking to destroy their departments, engage in corrupt spending of money, mangle facts and ignore scientific data, and willing to allow the destruction of human civilization, violation of human rights, and destruction of the Affordable Care Act with a million more little cuts?

Why would anyone be OK with enabling this destruction and disrespect?

I wracked my brain. Considering my friend based his argument to vote liberal on a social issue, that left another major issue that could scare people tending to the Center: the economic/socialist platform that has become associated with the Democrats through the Democratic Socialist wing. This article does an interesting job riling up the fears of Democratic Socialism: Democratic Socialism Threatens Minorities. I don't agree with this guy's argument, but it does illustrate the attempt to divide the socialism and pluralism sides of the Left.

Remember Steve Bannon saying "The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats"? Did Bannon plan to divide the Left between pluralism and economic issues, or did he think that the Democrats would turn off the American public by talking about pluralism issues while his side tried to push for an economic plan?

Articles exist out there about how "identity politics" leads to people adopting group identities and destroying equal-rights individualism, of which this nation is based on. I found them randomly before, but I took hours to find this one: It Is Time to Debate-And End-Identity Politics at The Heritage Foundation. Interestingly enough, this article makes a connection between racial activism in the past with Marxism, which feels like a deep dive.

The Right, in its desire to hurt the Left, and the Center Left, in attempts to appeal to the Center, have taken some multi-pronged attacks. The Right has both united the pluralism/socialism stances into a unitary threat AND has also pegged them as separate menaces. Uniting the stances scares their supporters and those in the center inclined to triggering. Pegging them as separate menaces divides the Left, setting the Left to argue with itself over which issues will supposedly win elections and the hearts of the American people. The Right divides and conquers the Left while scaring the Center and their own Right the both pluralism and socialism are threats.

If the Right is pulling these rhetorical flourishes that divides the Left, how can the Left do better to realize what Ocasio-Cortez once said that economic justice and social justice aren't separate things? And once the Left can unite these issues and unite itself under multiple causes for justice, how can it demonstrate and convince the People that the Left will be able to address the issues that the nation faces?

I don't have any clear answers. This essay focused more about raising questions. My next essay might have something to add to the issues to connect with the People, though: National Pride.

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Podcast Listened to Today: BBC's The Real Story - "Is Fake News a Threat to Democracy?"

If you haven't gathered from past entries or my social media presence, I listen to a lot of podcasts. Since I walk a lot, bike a lot, and do a lot of chores while healthy (without my current fractured heel), I can do a lot of podcast listening. At one point, I figured out that I had averaged something like four hours of podcast listening a day over a period of one year. I figure if I'm going to spend a lot of time with my brain unoccupied (except for maybe unproductive rumination and occasional useful thought), I might as well use that time to expose myself to new information and opinions.

In the last week or so, I resolved to post a blog entry instead of a social media post when I find myself typing up two, three, or more paragraphs. This resolution has provided a bit more output than in the past. Hopefully this additional output doesn't just come from my fractured heel. I wouldn't be surprised if the output has come from my participation in the Make Me Smart-affiliated Facebook group. Discussion gets interesting there, so I find myself typing up a storm in that forum then figuring out I might as well just post to the blog!

Today I found myself listening to the BBC podcast, The Real Story that was released last week. The Real Story comes out weekly. The BBC gathers together a panel, comes up with a topic, then the panel has a conversation about the topic. A moderator asks some questions, helping to guide the conversation. The show generally varies in quality, depending on the panelists. It provides some perspective of viewpoints over in Europe and also provides some good challenges to my own information bubble. Maybe it can for you, too.

Last week's episode, "Is Fake News a Threat to Democracy?", provides an interesting supplement to my essay yesterday about data-free social media requiring stiff competition. I don't provide a review or much in depth commentary on the conversation. Instead, I provide something of an outline based on some commentary in the beginning then list a bunch of questions that the podcast discusses and some of the panelists profess to answer.

My commentary and questions might provide some useful thoughts and routes of inquiry, but you'll likely find the episode a worthwhile listen. Click on the graphic below to access the podcast:

My outline:
  1. Categorizing 'Fake News' as 'Misinformation' vs 'Disinformation'

  2. The difference/similarities between the present and USSR's disinformation campaigns in the '80s (I hadn't realized that USSR tried to pin the creation of AIDS onto the US!)

  3. The long time window USSR/Russia had/has for these campaigns. The striking thing to me is how the long-term social design strategies seem to originate in both Marx-influenced societies (while criticizing capitalism/bourgeosie for the ideological culture control) AND in political viewpoints/intelligence organizations that had at one time seeked to fight such disinformation (then adopted such long-term conspiracy arguments against their domestic political adversaries)

  4. Psychological, emotional, & social performative aspects of sharing information on social media & how that’s manipulated

  5. Role of Whatsapp closed groups outside of the United States

  6. What to really watch out for, especially in the future as technology gets better: Deep Fake Video

  7. Can social media be regulated to prevent mis/disinformation? Should social media be regulated? Could regulation of Facebook have prevented the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar? Can we agree on how to regulate?

  8. Have we created a human networked information/knowledge structure? How has such a structure framed our perceptions of reality? Has humanity lost the “rational actor” characteristic as we’ve entered the post-truth age? What role does journalism have to play?

  9. How much do state actors play? How much do non-state actors play?

  10. How long will it take to resolve the post-truth age? Do we have that long (especially considering how much climate change is embedded in disinformation)?

  11. Are open or closed societies better equipped to address fake news and post truth? How? Where do governments using propaganda/disinformation target it?

  12. Selective truth vs crude fakeness/disinformation. Selective truth more dangerous? What happens when people’s fears and worries from crash, 9/11, then financial crash and other worldwide craziness are layered upon by post truth & disinformation?

  13. Some thoughts on how to address fake news & post-truth, as individuals, societies, and groups. Should librarians be funded from national security budgets (and encouraging librarians to keep doing what they’re doing)?

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Clarification of My Quote on Make Me Smart Podcast: Free Social Media Needs Stiff Competition

Some cool news: The Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly podcast (MMS) quoted me in episode "91: How do you get out of your echo chamber?". Is you want to go straight to where Molly reads my quote, click here.

The frustrating part of the said news: my quote was not put in the right context. I won't say the quote was read out of context, just not in the context in which I said it. And honestly, the incorrect context lies in my court.

I consider myself a fan of the MMS podcast. On my list of podcasts in the order that I download them, I have MMS at number 6. Previously I had it at 4 and 5 at different times. I now have two other podcasts that make my podcast listing more efficient earlier on my list. I don't write this essay to trash or criticize MMS, especially since I play a part in fogging up the context. I simply want to clarify the context of my quote and to prop up the theme of the podcast: "Because none of us is as smart as all of us."

MMS didn't quote me as an expert, a specialist, or anything like that. They quoted me as a participant in a Facebook forum named after MMS but started by a fan, not as an official group of the podcast. Since then, it has become loosely (or somewhat closely) affiliated with the podcast. I find the group provides a welcome respite from the general social media, news, and blogosphere.

I say the above as the resident cranky moderate. Socially, I'm a pluralist Leftist. Economically, I have a penchant for Left-leaning economics on the basis of fairness. I also acknowledge that sometimes financial intermediary schemes like insurance, universal healthcare, pensions, social security, disability insurance, welfare, and other schemes can feel unfair to the privilieged with inherent advantage (healthy, high income, high assets, etc), but their loss is worth it for the massive lifting of burden for those under duress, even when the burdened can never be rid of their duress.

However, I do not see capitalism as something inherently wrong nor created with some long-term design to mold the future. At most, I see the current results of capitalism and social control as results reached by short-term politicking, Machiavillainian maneuvering, realpoliticking, and the common human fragility of social group dynamics that have remained with us since before we became human and before we established civilization. The evils that humans have stratified in society have come from our wiring for dominance hierarchy, not some higher level of thought that crafts society much further than today, tomorrow, or beyond the interests of gaining and maintaining power in our current state of society.

The evils of dominance hierarchy no longer surprises me, even as the atrocities from it disgust me and motivate me to fight it. If you've followed the Lextopia long enough, you have become familiar with my surprise at our ability to overcome our urges for powermongering in our dominance hierarchy. It surprises me, I don't understand how some of us humans have reached the point where we aim for such empathic goals rather than settle for becoming part of the dominance hierarchy. I like to think I am someone who believes in real justice while I push for more fairness and empathy in our society and world. Yet I still have yet to understand how I and others have reached this point of aiming for justice.

So I'm that kind of Leftist moderate in a forum that the vocal members of the group seem to have a division between right-leaning Libertarians and capitalism is inherently evil Leftists. Mind you, one of the themes of MMS is a questioning whether capitalism is inherently immoral or amoral, or whether it can also encourage moral behavior. Lately in my stubborn moderation, I may have created my own little media bubble in the forum.

A few of the big discussions in the group and on MMS itself have been discussions that we have all probably engaged in since 2016:

  • Our media bubbles
  • The role that social media, especially Facebook, has played in elections
  • What can we do to defend against the media bubbles and become better educated, independent thinking media consumers and civic participants
MMS, it's "parent" network, Marketplace (a part of American Public Media), and elsewhere in the media, intelligentsia, and hopefully the watercooler spheres have done a fair amount of discussion about whether Facebook is a technology company or a media company.

For a good while, I fell on the side of Facebook is a technology company. I generally thought of Facebook as a social media website. We signed onto Facebook via a web browser. If we signed into Facebook by an app on our phones, our service provider, for the most part, treated it like any other app or web browser without any more or less privileges than any other app. Even the aspects of the Facebook app that accessed parts of our phones that we didn't expect and things like that, I consider that a separate conversation from the technology vs media company debate.

The way I saw Facebook in regards to this question: Facebook doesn't generate the content, so it doesn't have any editorial say in creating content. Facebook might show some editorial judgment when it comes to deeming whether content is pornographic or some other level of inappropriateness, up to a point. I hadn't seen Facebook judge what content could be or not be shown based on any political or subject-matter bias other than appropriateness to a "general audience". Yes, the Facebook algorithms made for an annoying determination of what would show on our timelines based on the supposed habits of ourselves, our friends, and friends of friends (if we didn't adjust some settings manually). Even then, though, our behavior determines the results of those algorithms, not Facebook direct influence.

Throughout my education that I can remember in the '90s, both high school and college, and also through autodidactic reading of my own, I learned that we need to watch, listen, and read our media with our criticial facilities. We need to know
  • The bias of the author and the content provider
  • Our own biases and susceptibility to bias
  • The layout of biases in the world's patchwork of biases
  • How to filter through all these biases to determine truth, whether we like the truth or not
Since this whole discussion about the power that social media has over the population, I've wondered about how much teaching critical reading has degraded in our society. I also had to remind myself that I came from the Northeast coast of the United States. I grew up in a fairly upper middle class town in the ex-urbs of Boston that had its fair share of abolitionist meetings and socialist gatherings in the mid-1800's. As early as 5th grade, I had history teachers explaining to my classes that history books and primary resources were mostly written by old white men. I've had a fairly privileged education. I had to acknowledge that maybe this lack of critical reading skills had less to do with our time in history and more that our national educational standards have a pretty low bar (coming from geographical bias).

Then I saw a retweet of this article: "How Duterte Used Facebook to Fuel the Philippine Drug War". Take the time to read this article, which illustrates pretty clearly how Duterte, his supporters, and his campaign manipulated Facebook to distribute authoritarian thinking in the Philippines. I bet the same thing occurred in Myanmar and their complacency about the Rohingya genocide that occurred in 2017. This article will show you how people can manipulate Facebook and other social media vehicles into dangerous propaganda machines.

The way that critical media consumption by individuals can be short circuited comes down how Facebook has provided data-free use of its app and internal browser to people using wireless Internet outside of the United States. Some mobile services providers in the United States provide similar services for music apps, video apps, Youtube, Netflix, etc. etc. I believe. I don't remember seeing these kind of deals advertised in the United States over the last year or so. I remember, however, these types of deals being offered for awhile, especially when 4G first became popular.

Maybe it doesn't sound like a big deal to some. Free entertainment through social media, free music, free movies, and the such for people have an account or subscription to some service that provides an app automatically downloaded on your phone at purchase time. The big problem occurs, however, when Facebook or some social media becomes the only way someone can access the World-Wide Web through the app's internal browser. No other browser will work on that phone, just the app internal browser. Facebook's internal browser doesn't allow you to manually type in a web address. It only allows you to access web sites that Facebook has a link to on a Facebook stream or that is linked to through a chain of websites that has a original link on a Facebook stream. You can't do your own manual Google search or anything unless someone links to Google on Facebook.

Per that Buzzfeed article, Duterte and his supporters abused this feature of Facebook. I'm sure the same goes for the Myanmar genocides and other governments and movements based on controlling the information in our brains. I have to wonder how much of this feature plays into the 2016 POTUS Election in the United States. Did this free data use of social media contribute to the Arab Spring (I'm currently ruminating on the Arab Spring because a book that I just finished reading valorized the Arab Spring without acknowledging the backlash afterward, which makes me think the book was published before the backlash)?

About eleven weeks ago on the MMS Facebook group, someone posted this article/essay: "The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan's Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking". The article/essay does provide some good tips and references a book that I have checked out of the library and queued up for reading at some point in the near future.

They posted these tips after the Buzzfeed article about Duterte abusing Facebook, so I felt obligated to link to the Duterte article and type the following:
I would have agreed with you then I read this article last night about how Duterte pretty much used Facebook in the Philippines in a Trumpian/Putinesque along with supporters because FB pretty much is one of the only ways that Filipinx can access the Internet. Scary stuff.

Then there's Myanmar ethnic cleansing using FB to grow the cleansing.

Yes, critical reading is important, but apparently so is having multiple affordable avenues to access the Internet, enough I guess is an argument for viable competition?
Please excuse some of the unintelligibility of my typing. I had typed it up on my cell phone while at a diner waiting for dinner.

MMS likes to play voice memos from fans of the show. Imagine my surprise when about two weeks ago, one of the producers replied to the thread, asking me to record a voice memo that focused on the last paragraph. I cleaned up the language while drafting a script then recorded a voice memo. Later that night, I drafted another, longer script then re-recorded the voice memo. In the clean up, I tried to include a clause or sentence that made my intention clear that my comment had to do with political propaganda that comes through free media resources.

Which now, upon the reflection of this essay, makes clear why the MMS crew associated my comments with government censorship and government control over media. I appreciate MMS thinking that my comment had to do with government censorship and government control, but I did not make this comment within that context.

I had made this comment in the context of an economic and financial milieu that doesn't allow citizens the availibility of a media either
  • Free of bias
  • A variety of bias that encourages people to question their sources in a productive fashion
Instead, when the only reasonable access to media is one in which an individual citizen can't direct themselves (say through a general Google search or freedom to purchase whatever magazine or paper they want) and vulnerable to skillful manipulation by political interests, especially those with an authoritarian bent, other easy options for accessing the Internet and content must be provided. At the very least, technology companies that don't want to be media companies must
  • Use algorithms that also provide opposing biases as a default
  • Mobile service providers need to provide similar contracts for data-free apps to other online services of the same like and kind but with different algorithms (Twitter in comparison to Facebook, Pandora in comparison to Spotify, etc.). There needs to be a competition of data-free apps
  • Provide a data-free web browser that allows the user to manually enter web addresses rather than restrict use to links from the parent app or chains of links that originate in the parent app
I take the blame on the context issues of my quote. Navigating social media on cell phones doesn't lend itself to clear expression of complex topics, even considering just potential mistypes from a digital keyboard and mistakes from just trying to rush through something. I have sent a text to my boss meant for my wife once or twice. Thankfully, I never sent anything sensitive, but these mistakes have taught me to be careful about texting and set up a manual safe guard or two so that if I send a text to the wrong person, it's a friend, not my boss. If such mistakes can happen with just texts, imagine how dangerous it can get on social media.

Nonetheless, I wanted to
  • Take this opportunity to clarify the quote of me
  • Promote the episode of MMS that is my premiere to a large media platform
  • Thank MMS for this platform and opportunity to clarify my thoughts
  • Let more people know MMS is a cool, fun, and informative podcast and that they should listen to (frankly, even just fellow Chicago residents might find the interview of Rahm Emmanuel from last year interesting)
How cool is that?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Ruminating on Honor, Dignity, Anger, and Process Addiction

I don't agree with this essay, "Sovereignty at Stake" or particularly think it has all the facts straight. Nonetheless, I think the last paragraph clearly states one side of the argument on immigration: conservatives value respect and honor for their perception of America and the American people. They care much less about the dignity of asylum seekers and even the dignity of human beings. As they like to spout: "America First".

I don't really know what to think about this whole issue. It feels steeped in "honor culture" that lashes out at being disrespected, whereas I'm apparently from "dignity culture". I try to value the humanity in each person, though they may poke at me and get on my nerves. At the worst, if they get at me enough, I'll try to get away or seek an uncomfortable but tolerable peace.

If anything, I will get angry about someone tearing down another person's dignity, but not so much mine. Maybe I'll get angry about someone tearing down the dignity of reason, logic, facts, and such. I feel that their ignoring reality disrespects both existence and me.

After the Mercy Hospital shooting last night, the violence in society, and the general partisanship these days, I want to understand how honor culture and dignity culture work. I think my curiosity comes from experiencing some amount of social rejection in my life. How have I avoided lashing out in severe violence when going through such things (admittedly, I've cut down trees and yelled in woods when angry). Maybe by understanding myself and others, this knowledge and understanding can benefit the world.

But my latest ruminating research has led me to the concepts of "honor" and "dignity". It's also interesting how a couple sociologists have seemed to add a third prong: "victimhood culture" to explain how they see "identity politics" (which I see dignity people trying to address through empathy and cohesion while honor folks seem to ridicule and attack it for being disrespectful & having unfair advantage).

I'm just ruminating here, getting some thoughts out. This afternoon after drafting this entry, I stumbled about the Internet and now have gotten hooked on the concept of "anger addiction". I'm wondering if I can delve deeper into "anger addiction" to reach a satisfying argument that people really want harmony and peace, not the exhiliration and euphoria/dysphoria that anger creates. At the very least, I'd like to make an argument that I believe which states that the high from anger just costs way too much, making it an unworthy state to pursue.

I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives. Do you have a good argument with evidence of how anger creates a subjectively negative experience, so negative that it doesn't make the high anger worth it?

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Sunday, November 11, 2018

We Need Deeper Understandings of Human Nature to Stop Cycles of Anger, Hurt, Bigotry, and Partisanship

(Hmmmm. . .maybe this whole turn a social media thread/rumination into a blog entry might yield too much.)

I currently have Episode 89: You voting in 2016 vs you voting in 2018 of the Make Me Smart podcast on queue with some of it partially listened to. As of the point I've reached, the hosts, Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood, are revisiting their interview with George Lakoff from Episode 12: This is Your Brain on Trump. This re-visit feels like a coincidence because I'm looking into some of Lakoff's work for my bachelors project.

I've taken out three to four of his books from the library and looked more into his thought on the Internet, (though I haven't yet started the books). In what I've seen and heard from him so far, though, I'm a little disappointed.

Then again, I've been disappointed a little, in general, with thought in positions of pluralism and the importance of thinking independently, openly, and empathetically, though I support these causes 100%. To be frank, I also feel disappointed by most positions out there in the present day, Far Leftist, liberal, conservative, or Far Rightist.

I have problems with assumption of correctness without building up a basis for the correctness. Even the Rawlsian "Veil of Ignorance" argument for coming up with equal rights blindly without knowing your position in the world still feels somewhat shallow. Even then, I'm sure after the veil has been pulled away, people with unfair advantage will try to push for more advantage. Some type of logical fallacy must exist regarding the veil.

The Invisibilia podcast even had an interesting episode about the UN trying to inculcate pluralistim into Somalian culture. A study of one of these initiatives confirmed that art and performance could push people into these positive directions and what factors do so. Nonetheless, the study couldn't determine the why's and reasons for why people are susceptible to such manipulation.

So this phenomena leads me to a flipside of questions: if these tools can be used for good without understanding them, couldn't the phenomena be used in a similar fashion for evil? Shouldn't we work harder to understand these underlying causes and sources? Shouldn't we understand what human factors lead us to be manipulated, lead us to adopt Lakoff's Strict Father or Indulgent Mother models?

Sometimes it feels like Lakoff, many academics, and all of us in our politics, depend on the elegance and coherence of arguments and narratives to convince people. If people simply don't accept the argument, then we dismiss as ignorant or as adopting the wrong side of the argument. In the case of Lakoff's models, they have adopted the "Strict Father" (since Lakoff demonizes those who do).

Now, I'm coming from a difficult position. I believe in

  • Pluralism
  • Fairness
  • Empathy
  • Open mindedness
  • Ppenness to experience and
  • Against true systemic unfair advantages/privilege and will fight tooth and nail to protect them
At the same time, to fight tooth and nail, I want to have good back up to the causes I'm fighting for. I want an understanding of human nature, tendency, instinct, and inborn causes that bring about these reactions in people. I'll fight without good back up, but I still want the back up.

Hopefully, through this understanding, I can show the other side their incorrectness and that they're hurting themselves by not standing down. Their persistance to continue in their ways of hate and pain hurts them. Even take the standoff of terrorism and civilization. I don't like to go back to pinning down the rise of cycles of hate, anger, and violence down to some historical point. After all, it's possible to go even further back to reach another historical point to show the injustice of that original historical point. It's called a cycle for a reason.

Rather, though, investigating the human reactions to these historical points that reverbate further and further back in time and investigating how those historical points have fired up human instinct to start cycles that cause so much damage and hate can help show us
  • The positives and negatives of actions taken
  • How they can be self destructive to
    • The self
    • The community
    • Civilization
    • Earth
If we understand where we have come from, we can break out of our cycles.

I am a Unitarian Universalist, not a Christian, so I tend to appreciate texts and ideas from multiple different heritages in all of human history. Some text from Paul's letter to the Romans has always stuck me since I had read it:
[. . .] But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. [. . .]
I cut a bunch from the quote. I'm not so into the divine and theological interpretation of the text, even though that's the origin of it. Rather, if you replace "God" with "understanding", "human nature", or "reality" (which, obviously, Christians will argue is blasphemous), I believe the text better fits my approach.

I like to think that if we can figure out a good interpretation of the original causes of human behavior, we may not need the laws created by politicians. These lawas were created at a time when one partisan side had the power vs when another side was out of power. For instance, I'm coming to appreciate a constant between all sides of conflict in humanity: we all have an instinct for "fairness".

Yet we have different interpretations of what fairness means because of our position in the disagreement. If we can figure out some basic premises of how the human instinct of "fairness" works, including how different individuals and groups interpret the application of fairness, we can have a better idea of how to extrapolate and reason out how to act without needing to remember rote legislated laws.

And if there's an existing cycle of conflict, maybe we can figure out how to get out of the cycle in a way that satisfies all sides. Getting out might even require one or all sides to feel and accept guilt, but to do so in a way that they accept their part in contributing to the cycle of anger, hate, bigotry hurt, and even violence.

In the current atmosphere of politics in the United States, I urge our politicians to behave civilly and engage in a due process that respects impact and unveiling undue advantage. I also urge our politicians to figure out better ways to get a better tab on their consituents, electorate, and the facts, considering
Since Congress, especially the Republican establishment (whatever that means these days), can't seem to get it through their heads that they have lost touch with the country, you won't find me telling everyday people to be civil. The United States government is supposed to be "government of the people, by the people, for the people" (interestingly, our heritage has gotten that from John Wyckliffe). If politicians won't do the work to find out what the people think and feel, then the people of America need to make sure we let the politicians know how we think and feel (even if that means to happen in public, in an elevator in governmental buildings, in restaurants, in town halls, etc.).

Nonetheless, whether one group or another should act civilly or not, we should all seek to
  • Understand the nature of the phenomena behind us
  • Figure out why we and others behave the way that they do
  • See how our current trends are destroying us, even though we believe it's saving us
If we continue with this partisan cycle, we're going to do destroy ourselves and the world. On the other hand, if we can understand our human nature, we can hopefully break out of this cycle and figure out how to prevent such cycles in the future (including preventing genocide).

Who's with me on this one?

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Measured Hope Gained from the 2018 Midterms, but We Still Need to Work!

I need to do a better job of recognizing that a Twitter thread would be better as a blog entry (like I'm doing now).

As reminded by an episode of FiveThirtyEight Politics, 2016 was the first US Presidential Election after the 2013 SCOTUS judgment on Shelby County v Holder, which struck down Sections and 5 and 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which allowed for Federal oversight of certain state's elections and the criteria to determine which jurisdictions require oversight. The Act aimed to reduce racial discrimination in voting.

When it comes to election history since 2013, the 2014 midterms and 2016 POTUS Election further confirms the animus that remains in the United States against racially marginalized people. Take away oversight, then blatant voter suppression along with racists, anti-semits, and Islamaphobes become more brazen.

Despite the momentum from the above setbacks, the activism to fight voter suppression, the activism for special elections in 2017, and the 2018 midterm elections have been heartening. Even I hoped this past Tuesday night that the Democrats might maintain or even gain a couple seats in the Senate. Some of those contests still have some work to go through to resolve, but the Republicans will still hold the Senate, which sucks to me.

Nonetheless, the chance of Democrats getting the majority in the Senate had remained small ever since the Midterm campaign started. The Republicans had 3 seats open for contest. The Democrats had 22 seats with 3 to 4 of them being Red State Democrats. The numbers just weren't there for the Democrats, and Nate Silver's projection that the Democrats had a 1 in 5 chance of gaining control of the Senate sounded reasonable. 2020 will give us an interesting Senate year, though, because the number of party affiliation seats up for grabs will just about flip, making the numbers more in the favor of the Democrats.

The gains for the Democrats in the House and gubernatorial races, however, provide me hope. Before the 2018 Elections, Republicans had 34 governor seats while the Democrats had 16. At this point in the Election calculations, Republicans have 26, Democrats have 23, and two states, Florida and Georgia, still need work to figure out their final results. If you don't know the significance of governors on a national level, they play a large part in negotiating on the state level the division of the state into electoral districts (which contributes to the electoral makeup of choosing the delegates who make up the Electoral College). Governors can also make some major decisions for the state, like whether to accept expanded Medicaid funds from the Affordable Care Act to, in Florida before November 6, deciding whether or not felons can get their voting rights back.

In the House, the Democrats had 195 seats and now have 226, the Republicans had 229 and now have 198 seats, with 11 TBD. Even if the Republicans get all 11 of those currently undetermined seats, the Democrats still maintain a good amount of control in the House, as they get to seat the Speaker of the House, determine who gets the majority of seats in committees, who gets to head those committees, and have a majority of the votes.

I'm also gratified by the bunches of firsts that came from the 2018 Midterm Elections:

  • Two Native Americans will be the first Native Americans in Congress
  • Two Muslim Women will be the first Muslim Women in Congress
  • Massachusetts and Connecticut will send black women to Congress
  • Arizona will send their first women to the Senate
  • Colorado will have its first gay governor
  • Florida and Georgia are still determining whether they will have their first black governors
All this feels gratifying after receiving this Tweet from who I believe is some type of social conservative arguing with me:

The Democratic party doesn't act as a great stand in for a society for inclusiveness, diversity, and pluralism. After all, the Economic Progressives probably would rather sweep those issues under the rug, seeing them as a distraction that gets in the way of their Economic agenda that "serves all the people" (which, arguably, I likely agree with the economic agenda, but such an agenda means squat to me if one person, let alone the many now, have to face prejudice, bigotry, and marginalization for simply being who they are and wants to contribute to the betterment of society in a way that encourages acceptance and community). The focus on the economy agenda definitely frustrates me because that's what the Southern Democrats argued during the 1800's to retain the loyalty of white yeoman farmers and other white people in the economy. The Democratic party also has plenty of middling to conservative members who feel loyalty to the Democratic Party because of the aid it provided for bettering their labor conditions but not necessarily to the betterment of relations between the different communites of the United States.

For the most part, though, the Republican party has chosen to align itself with a social conservative program of bigotry, destruction of the climate, and dysregulation of the banks and big business. Third parties have little to no influence in national elections at this time. I won't even get into the possibility of third parties draining votes from other parties. Arguably, people who vote third party may not have voted to begin with. In some sense, I feel that third parties should get some recognition for getting non-voters to vote. I may not vote with these people or agree with their overall philosophy in voting in US Elections, but I appreciate their participation and vote.

Since the Republican party has decided to take a path of destruction, bigotry, and domination, however, siding with the Democratic party provides the most viable available choice at this time (which I argued on Facebook back in 2015 and 2016 when people supposedly didn't take Trump seriously). I make this claim despite the Democrat party's current big tent includes some people who believe and argue things that I wouldn't normally agree with. Even though most states will allow anyone to register as a Republican, the party structure and personnel have decided to go all in with a restrictive definition of what it means to be Republican, that people that don't fit the social conservative criteria have no place in the Republican party and, to the Republican, no place in the United States.

The Republicans choose both such a restrictive identity of people who can participate and an identity so reprehensible since it focuses so much on hate, on anti-science and anti-climate, and on greed. The Democrats, on the other hand, maintain a big tent approach. The Democrats frame their platform around
  • The people in it
  • Aiming the tent at their perception of the American people,
  • On some level, also including diversity and pluralism under the big tent because
    • An ostensible valuing of the dignity of human beings
    • That momentum of history that we need to keep pushing values for the dignity of human beings (and all living creatures, if I had full control over the platform)
Obviously, some in the Democratic party screw up in this platform. Part of me wishes that the Democratic could be broken up in the future to provide a system that might more proportionally represent the views of the American population.

Nonetheless, with the intolerant socially conservative Republicans in power, purity politics become a luxury that can threaten the United States. With the Republican party as an existential threat to the United States and its soul, the Democratic party remains a hope to keep this fight in politics and off the battlefield (which is ironic considering the last all out war battle field that occurred in the United States came about largely because the Southern Democrats wanted to secede so they could continue to enslave black people).

With all the above in consideration, the results of the 2018 Midterm Elections gives me hope. To start, these elections reached a 50-year high for midterm elections, reaching 47% turnout or more than 110 million voters made their voice heard. That turnout reaches almost Presidential Election level. The 2016 had a turnout of 58.1% or 138 million voters, though 2016 probably had one of the lowest voter turnouts in a long time. Not a surprise considering 2016 had two of the most hated Presidential candidates ever.

These turnout numbers give me hope and pride. I still don't think these numbers go far enough, though (skip to 8:51 for the relevant part that leads me to this conclusion and disheartens me).

We need our young people to vote. They have their future on the line. The Millennials right now have the power to determine their present and future waiting for them. I don't blame them for for their lack of participation, though. Us older people have to do more to help them understand that
  • Their vote counts
  • They have a lot of power when they vote
  • They deserve to be inspired to vote
We can only complain so much, blame the victim so much, and keep getting minimal results. These young people might not be victims, per se, except for maybe global extinction because of climate change. Nonetheless, when young people don't vote, they abdicate their own power and ability to mold their government, their society, and their future. We need to get our young people inspired, get them to care, and get them to believe in the power that they have in their hands. Let's get these young people empowered!

And alas, we still have a lot of work to do for preventing voter suppression and turnout suppression, both of which I blame on our politicians.

The results of the 2018 Midterm Elections have also turned the balance back to the mean. We've given power back to the Democrats in the House, in the States, and we've set up for redistricting in 2020. Theoretically, some kind of balance will be returned to the voters for the makeup of the House and the Electoral College.

I acknowledge that these results or the actions from these results will not create strict balance. In one state, power will go toward the Republicans while power will go to Democrats in another state. This result creates more of a macro-level return to balance than a micro-level. One side of the scale will gain more power in some areas while the other side will gain power in other geographical areas. On the individual level, some voters will become more significant while others will become less significant.

On some level, we all wish politicians would stop gerrymandering and all our individual votes could actually have more weight than the weight given to it by particular politicians in power at a certain time. Then again, in a decade in which the Repulicans gerrymandered a large part of the country to their advantage and killed the ability of various populations to vote by a million little cuts, we the people have fought back to bring some kind of balance to the geography of the country.

Hopefully this regression to the mean has more to do with ideals, however, not just a social phenomenon that is simply a trait of human nature. If that were true, would that make Donald Trump just part of that phenomenon? We had a black man with dignity become the President of the United States, then we put a boorish racist white guy tearing apart the social and political norms of the United States.

I've also seen in discussions these days about how people balanced their own votes in 2016 and possibly earlier to try encouraging the checks and balances in our governments rather than allow the checks and balances to occur naturally as we all have different ideals and sentiments.

I hope the tumultuous time that we've had since 2016 and which I expect in the next few years (if not longer) shows us that we
  • Need to get involved
  • Need to participate
  • Need to keep our guards up
  • Need to act out Gandhi's phrase that Obama says a lot, "We must be the change we want to see in the world"
  • Need to value ideals like pluralism, acceptance, and our instinct of fairness in a way that brings true justice to the world, not just impacts the world to the benefit of rich, straight, Christian, cis-gendered, white human males
If we're not careful, we could end up seesawing between boor to dignity to boor to bore, a chaotic flopping back and forth without consistency other than constant changing back and forth between liberty and pluralism to bigotry and demagoguery. Let's decide to do the best that we can be as a country of kind and fair human beings then lets push to make it reality.

Thus the results of the 2018 Midterm Elections give me hope that the future can turn out better than the hate and destruction that the United States and that the world has steered itself toward. A dominant group of people have done a lot to grab onto power in the United States and to try keeping their grubby hands on that power, or at least in the hands of those in the group that these powermongers identify with. Nonetheless, a collection of us have gathered together and pushed back against that creeping evil bigotry and disdain for life in the last couple years with the culmination of these elections. We can't relent in this fight for
  • Life
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Pluralism
  • True fairness
I'm one to talk. I've been fatigued with all this crap since August after an a relaxing and joyful vacation away from most of this BS. Right now, I've had a fractured heel and have had to take it easy. Once I get healed up and 2019 gets into gear, though, I want to get revved up and jump into the fray to making the country and the world a better place. I'd like you to join the fight, too. Are you willing and able?

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Sunday, October 07, 2018

My Parable of The Golden Grasses of California & The Regionalism of the US

I (and many of you readers) live in this huge country, the United States. It has a lot of different regions from forest, plains (great ones), swampy areas, mountainous areas, even desert! In many ways, I feel kind of spoiled, like I'm somewhat taking it for granted, and wish I had so much more free leisure time to explore and discover this vast land.

Almost two months ago, I took a trip to California that challenged my expectations of the land, which also led to challenging me about the variety and diversity of people and cultures in this country. This experience came after hearing many political commentators on podcasts discuss this regional diversity around the country and how it influences elections and sentiment about our politicians. Trying to understand this surprise-to-me landscape in California has angled me to try getting a better appreciation of the differences of landscape and people around this country.

Before going deeper into this topic, I want to present a short collage of video compiled during a car drive to one of our destinations:

For those who have difficulty seeing, the videos mostly show a view of Californian landscape passing by as the wife and I drive on state highways going through some amount of elevation. This landscape has A LOT of yellow grass that I estimate comes up almost to the thighs or hips. Almost as a contradiction, the video also shows some deciduous trees with green leaves (somewhat spread out on the branches), close and in the distance, sometimes isolated and sometimes in a bunch. A lot of the grass looks expansive and goes far into the distance, while some of it is clumped together in something of a small clearing among a copse of trees.

The yellow grass really shocked me. I had never before visited Oakhurst or gone to Yosemite National Park, but back in March 2003, the wife and I had visited Sacramento and Davis with a day trip to San Francisco then back to Sacramento. The Sacramento Valley and the foot hills then looked green, full of life, and moist. It didn't stand out to me as an anything especially amazing to me, despite how far all that green stretched. We still lived around Boston in 2003, and I grew up in a mix of rural and urban Massachusetts that had a lot of green and rolling hills. The vastness and magnification of the landscape gave me pause, but just making things bigger didn't impress me.

The endless yellow grass this time threw me for a loop, though. It started in the plane even before we landed. Cruising and pulling down to the airport, I could only see road, water bodies, and yellow. I saw so much of it, I thought it was sand, wasteland or desert. We had banked around San Jose, which is close to San Francisco but still a good distance away. Maybe the desert of southern California transitioned to green northern California somewhere between San Jose and San Francisco. Maybe the present drought caused it or maybe the area had A LOT of beaches.

After landing, getting our rental car, and heading east out of San Jose and past San Francisco, I figured out that I hadn't seen desert from the plane. I had seen vast yellow, dry, rolling grasslands. The drive from the two San's to Oakhurst took somewhere between 4-6 drowsy hours (I hadn't slept much the night before) through yellow grasses as far as my eyes could see, over foot hills and into the distance once we got out of the foot hills. Imagine being in an endless vast desert, but instead of desolate sand with nothing else, I saw endless grass. What a shock after seeing that general area all green 15 years ago and thinking about all the produce that comes from California.

The yellow grass put me off, but something about the experience unsettled me: I didn't know if the yellow grass was normal and routine or an abnormal result of dry weather and a drought. The weather in San Francisco doesn't follow the normal course of seasons that I'm used to. Last time the wife and I had visited San Francisco a few years ago, our hosts commented how October provided one of the best times to visit San Francisco because the dampness, the cold, and the fog would fall back. The summer doesn't provide a good time to visit San Francisco because it gets cold and foggy then.

Temperature margins between all the places we visited this time freaked me out a little, too. Between Oakhurst, San Jose, and San Francisco, we faced a range of twenty degrees Fahrenheit, something like 80 degrees in Oakhurst, 70 degrees in San Jose, and 60 degrees in San Francisco.

Even the range of temperatures don't seem to vary so much in and around Chicago when comparing the shore of Lake Michigan to more inland areas. The definition of inland around the Chicago area of Lake Michigan might give a more drastic impression than the temperature differences in California. In California, the distance for changing temperatures seem to occur in the 10's of miles while in Chicago, the differential in temperature seems to occur within half a mile to a mile. It's not so drastic, maybe just three to five degrees but I believe it levels off at somewhere between seven and ten degrees, rather than the twenty degree range in California for a similar traveling time. Then again, I usually travel north from Chicago and a lot of the time on the road can involve a lot of waiting in traffic, A LOT OF WAITING.

The lead up to this trip and encountering this landscape created some cognitive dissonance. We had been hearing about the rise of massive fires daily as we grew closer to the beginning of our trip, and some of the fires had died down enough that our trip wouldn't be dangerous. Yosemite Park first let visitors back into its gates on the day that we visited. While driving into the valley, I looked across the river and saw spots of fire (including one long line going up a hill) that I believe that the authorities had planned to just let burn out because they had it under control.

On the Daily Zeitgeist podcast, based in California, they brought up the massive fires quite bit and also brought up the fact that California was going through an abnormal drought, which contributed to the fires going out of control. I expected to find California more desolate, more dead, but yet not desert. The gold grass went against my expectation, though. Maybe I didn't expect desert, but I think I expected dead grass all along the ground like hay or something. This in between state of the golden grass caused me to do a double take.

How many people do what I do when I do an intellectual or factual double take? How many other people go to Wikipedia or graze the Internet for information? I don't remember the figure, but I remember that I read that Californians or San Franciscans used a huge, almost unfathomable, amount of water just flushing the toilets (which I guess from looking at Wikipedia tonight or a quick Google search, San Francisco is trying to put into place some major water use standards). Other than being gobsmacked about the huge amount of water used to flush toilets and being reminded that humans need to do stuff about preserving water and minimizing our footprint on the Earth, I got the idea that some organizations and individuals were working on the problem. Hopefully they'll address the problem with enough time, but the water felt like a universal human issue, just with some details different here and there.

(Whatever happens, though, stay away from our Lakes!)

Looking into the golden grass that felt off (though somewhat drearily comforting by the end of the rural trip) yielded an interesting result. The golden grass didn't inspire a unique reaction in me. Apparently a lot of tourists feel off put by the golden grass during the dry season. Further investigation digs up people who have California pride about the golden grass. They hate the reactions of non-Californians to the golden grass. To these Californians, the wet and dry seasons are a natural cycle, the grasses going from green to gold is a natural cycle. These "patriotic" Californians see it as completely normal and part of nature, and they feel intruded upon by non-Californians coming into their state and trying to tell them how things should be.

Reading more and experiencing the gold grass, I came to appreciate it as a natural part of California with its own beauty that fits the area. It felt foreign, but the United States is a big place. For the most part, I haven't seen much of it. I've lived just a little over half my life in the northeast, mostly around Massachusetts with most of my traveling being to New Hampshire, Vermont, maybe Rhode Island or New York, and Quebec (as a kid, I also traveled a few times in Maine and once to British Columbia and Prince Edward Island). A little under the other half of my life, I've lived in Chicago and mostly traveled around Lake Michigan and a little into the interior of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and almost to Iowa.

I've done a little traveling to Florida, the Carolinas, and from DC to Blacksburg, VA but most of my East Coast travel has been along the Northeast Megalopolis from DC to Boston. Otherwise, my US travel has included mostly pleasant touristy locations: the Northern California Megalopolis, Los Angeles, Tucson, and not really much else other than highways between Chicago and Boston.

This listing off of places I've lived and visited comes down to something simple: I really haven't experienced much United States of America. Add to that: I haven't visited that many places that have challenged my assumptions. If I did visit such places, I generally passed through town, not really even exposing myself to people in town or the culture of it.

Suffice to say, the Sacramento Valley/Northern California megalopolis genuinely challenged my sensibilities of the United States of America by exposing me to its golden grass. Even just the exposure to

  • Hearing people talk about the fires as both a routine and outlier event
  • Trying to reach a Sequoia valley in a mid-size sedan then having to turn around after dealing with roads that got thinner and thinner while winding around a mountainside, roads no longer being paved, then seeing a steep incline with a lot of holes in the road, which caused us to turn around (after we did further research later, we learned that we could have walked the rest of he way, but we decided not to go back because even remembering the drive frayed our nerves)
made my ruminating mind that always asks questions (in a good curious way) dive deeper and deeper into questions. I grew to appreciate bigger cars when I earlier felt big cars had become about protecting the drivers from the outside world or some type of display of conspicuous consumption. All the while even in the Midwest and Northeast where I've lived most of my life, trucks and cars with four wheel drive have their places for regular drivers when it snows a ton.

Even just thinking about fire as a routine event boggles the mind. However, living on the northeast coast, knowing that despite hurricanes being rare, they can reach the Boston area and cause some damage. I remember living at the time of Hurricane Gloria. The only time I ran into the basement because of possible tornadoes occurred while I lived in Massachusetts. Still, tornadoes are more likely to occur in the Midwest, though I've never had a serious tornado scare (though I did see the sky turn a sickly green color).

Then temperature and snow. I've ridden my bike in temperatures in as low as -5 or -7 Fahrenheit along Lake Michigan on the way to work with plenty of snow on the ground. Did I mention that sometimes the wind chill at those times could get as low as -20 Fahrenheit (I don't think I've ridden in temperatures lower than that) during the polar vortex of 2014? I think I even walked to bus stop, all bundled up, when the wind chill had gotten all the way down to -50!

I remember talking to a friend at a party who had traveled down to New Orleans or some other location after a hurricane to help rebuild. While down there, the friend asked a hurricane survivor why they continued living in that area, considering all the hurricanes. The survivor brought up the cold of the Midwest, especially during times of extreme cold like in the polar vortex of 2014. My friend and I had reached the conclusion that every geographical area of the United States has it's own variation on natural obstacles that humans have to deal with routinely and sometimes in extreme situations.

That discussion about extreme weather, my experience with extreme weather, and my recent experience in California has impressed upon me how human ingenuity for dealing with the environment and how that coping can mold culture and personality. This article does an interesting job to highlight how the neoliberal practice of extracting natural resources from rural areas to disproportionately benefit urban areas also provides some perspective on how the economy, business practices, and regulations can can affect cultures and personalities (even though the big "oil savior" of shale fracking is generally yielding losses and requiring a lot of borrowing to stay in business).

All these revelations have an abstract tinge and haven't made any concrete landing. The different regions of the United States are all very different and develop different types of culture and people. Even within those areas, many different types of people come into existence and develop. The United States has to come to terms with this status.

I think this revelation has led me to something more of a chilled pessimism combined with hope for a better tomorrow when it comes to nationwide politics these days. I still have some anger, but I don't feel so confident in the direction of that anger, though I feel like I know what's right and what's wrong. I don't think different regions allows for some form of moral relativism. Some people will have no compunction about hurting or marginalizing others because The Other is different or because The Other has gotten in their way.

I believe in a minimum behavior and morality, and many in the United States, aren't meeting that minimum. Nonetheless, I don't have a full picture of how to resolve the matter of many in this nation not meeting the minimum yet having the power to empower and embolden the negative status quo or to continue behavior even worse than the status quo. I say this from a platform of white male privilege, and I wish I had a better understanding and way to correct this issue, but I don't. Especially after the last couple months of confirming a Supreme Court justice in such a way that undermines the confidence of the American People in the institution of the Supreme Court, thus undermining the American People's confidence in the US government.

I want everyone who can to get out there and vote, even if they can only submit a provisional ballot. The lack of confidence that can stop us from voting creates a positive feedback loop. By citizens not exercising their right and privilege to vote, we give away our nation, our state, our government to people who want to just gather together power to further undermine our confidence in the government and institutions so that they can just gather more power. Through our confidence in the heart of our system, through our confidence in our people power, we can help to rebuild a nation, a state, the institutions, and even a world in which we can be proud of and rise far above the minimum to build a truly just country and world. We can all fully realize ourselves by fully interrelating with each other in ways to learn and teach each other something better and something real.

All the signals out there for what our government will look like after November 6 conflict with each other and won't resolve themselves until after the General Election. Since I last heard Nate Silver talk about the Democrat's chance of winning back the government, he had it at Dems have a 75% chance of winning the House and 33% chance of the Dems winning the Senate. Frankly, all the talking about impeaching Trump and Kavanaugh likely will get no where because the Democrats simply won't have the numbers. Maybe the House will be able to start the process, but the Senate wouldn't be able to complete it.

The Resistance needs to continue resisting and working to change people's minds. Nonetheless, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings have shown how still divided this country is and has even emboldened the Right, possibly to the levels of the "Blue Wave". Turnout will matter big and getting independents to come out and participate. The Democrats have historically been bad at coming out for mid-term elections. Everyone needs to come out to vote for the national, the state, and the local elections.

Local and state elections matter just as much, if not more than the national elections. Those officials have a lot more to do with our everyday lives and making lasting changes. On top of that, those positions can be stepping stones for good candidates to step up and up toward the national level to help determine the big, sensational values to protect and mold the spirit of our nation. Starting now, our votes on the state level now start affecting the district maps getting drawn in 2020-2021. Our votes can help determine how much our states get gerrymandered for the House and the Electoral College. Our voting now and always will play a big part in affecting our lives, our futures, justice, and the spirit and fabric of our nation.

I really really hope a lot of people get out the vote and cast their votes for justice. Maybe the just vote won't be a "pure" vote in the vein of purity politics, but we can determine the future of justice by choosing a realistic good candidate. As bad as it may sound, a good candidate is better than the shit show we have running our nation at the moment. I know electioneering against something isn't nearly as good, powerful, and motivating as electioneering for a positive vision for the future. Sometimes, though, it requires voting and fighting against something negative and horrible to start the turn around to a better, kinder future.

Despite all my motivating words, I still fear for the worst. After the election of 2016, I don't feel like I can truly trust polls and the overconfidence of the people on my side. That overconfidence can stop us from going out to vote. There are arguments that our individual votes mean nothing, and logically, it makes some sense. A lot of people haven't gone out to vote because they felt both big parties made a trashfire of a system and couldn't bring themselves to vote for either party. Regarding the first argument: your vote matters because the Left-Right divide is close enough that a few hundred votes here and there could make a big difference.

As for the second argument, the two parties and the system trashfire has come about because people like Manafort have been successful in destroying our confidence in system. We can only get confidence again in the system if we make it a system to be confident in it, and we all have to participate in making it better, through voting, through donating to parties, candidates, and nonprofits, through volunteering, and engaging civically in society.

So you hold our futures in your hands. Please go out and vote. Please help make this country and the world a better, kinder place.

I have a final correction and ending story that I feel discredits my feeling that everyone is as different as I had come to believe and also attacks the facade of our low-confidence government and system. As things turn out, the golden grasses of California is an invasive species. In one sense, it feels disheartening because the natural fauna that was suited to the local environment (the native plants had a lot more resistance to fire) has died out and likely can't be revived to its past glory, especially in our lifetime.

The golden grasses in California feel like a parable for our passionate partisan divides. People who grew up in California feel strongly about the nativeness of the golden grass. They argue with people outside the region about the naturalness of the golden grass. History has buried the truth of the golden grass's invasiveness, though, much like how the divisions of partisanship has come from the lies of ignorance, essentialism, and history. Like learning about the true native fauna of California, the truth of
  • the divisions
  • the justice
  • humanity
  • kindness
  • climate
  • systems
can be found and acted upon to make a better world. To do that, though, we have to exercise kindness, humbleness, and desire to
  • learn
  • teach
  • empathize
  • connect
with each other. Exercising all those characters will help us get to a better place for all.

I believe we can do it. I believe you can do it. Now you just have to believe and execute that belief. If you haven't done anything to embolden justice in the world, start with voting on November 6. If you've already voted and done other things, keep on doing it.

Over and above that, though, we all need to humble ourselves, learn kindness and caring, and work really damn hard to learn and work to make the world better. Don't forget to vote on November 6, though, because you can do that while doing all that other great stuff, too.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Not Must to Say Except for Some MastoTwittervism

The title above just about says it all. Enjoy the MastoTwittervism!

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