Monday, January 23, 2017

Response to Gaslighting America

(See: Just Above Sunset: Gaslighting America)

“Alternative facts”? Really!

Okay, here’s an example of what might be called an “alternative fact”:
"Two plus two equals one hundred and fifty three.”
Which is about as true as anything else we’ve heard from the Trump administration in its first three days. In fact, just within the first half-hour of his presidency, up through the end of his incredibly goofy speech, Donald Trump had already earned a place as one of the worst presidents in America’s history. 

Admittedly, the Trump people said they wanted to change things when they came to Washington, and sure enough, one of the things they changed was, they did away with the tradition of trust there used to be that whatever the White House told us could be assumed to be true, at least until further investigation proved otherwise. 

I must confess, every time I see that superfluous Kellyanne Conway flash that used-car salesman smile of hers, and hear her condescendingly utter something like, “I really think everybody needs to take a step back, and take a very deep breath, and think about what their words are”, I want to climb inside the TV set and punch her in the mouth. In fact, I really think she, herself, "needs to take a step back, and take a very deep breath," and to just keep on going until she explodes.

That might take care of the news media’s dilemma on what to do whenever this brainless pop tart offers herself up as a guest. With her “alternative facts” bullshit and whatnot, she always offers up plenty of provocative entertainment and diversionary distraction, but don’t we already get more than enough of that from her boss? As far as I can tell, she adds nothing useful to the public discourse, and could be safely ignored by the talking head shows, if they’re willing to try. If she accidentally announces something important, I’m sure the administration will find a way of getting it to us.

Like Kevin Drum, I don’t want to be too critical of Chuck Todd’s questioning of Conway on Sunday, but I do think it would be better if he hadn’t spent so much time trying to pin her down on whether sending Sean Spicer out to nitpick on the size of the inauguration audience wasn't a waste of precious time, instead of focusing on the more important issue of whether this administration will continue to barrage the public with these so-called “alternative facts” — which is what most intelligent people often refer to as falsehoods, and maybe even, depending on the circumstances, outright lies!

But maybe we could quickly settle this by boning up on the terminology in the dictionary — which is not as easy as it sounds: 
true: in accordance with facts or reality 
false: not according with truth or fact; incorrect 
lie: an intentionally false statement; used with reference to a situation involving deception or founded on a mistaken impression 
fact: a thing that is indisputably the case; 
• (usu. facts) a piece of information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article; 
• (chiefly Law) the truth about events as opposed to interpretation
But who’s “reality”? And who’s “facts”? One problem with dictionary definitions is they make it all sound so “relativistic”, despite Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous reminder that "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

Or else, for a slightly deeper dive, maybe we should look up “truth” in Wikipedia:
Many human activities depend upon the concept, where [truth’s] nature as a concept is assumed rather than being a subject of discussion; these include most (but not all) of the sciences, law, journalism, and everyday life. 
Some philosophers view the concept of truth as basic, and unable to be explained in any terms that are more easily understood than the concept of truth itself. Commonly, truth is viewed as the correspondence of language or thought to an independent reality, in what is sometimes called the correspondence theory of truth.
I think a corollary to all that is, quite simply, "Hey, you can’t make this stuff up!" Believe it or not, there are many opportunistic relativists among us who believe you can make stuff up and call it truth, simply because it suits them. Many of those people are called “conservatives". 

But one last thing that occurs to me, after seeing this and hearing about other columns lately that allude to Donald Trump's “Gaslighting of America”:

Given the habit of Donald Trump and his mini-me surrogates to turn any criticism back on his accusers — and also, given the fact that, once they get wind of it, all this recent “Gaslighting” talk will probably start giving them ideas — we all need to keep a sharp eye out for them starting to accuse the press itself of trying to “Gaslight America”, by us "falsely claiming" that he and his people don’t tell the truth!

And as I said before, you can’t make this stuff up, although I’m sure that won’t prevent them from trying.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Response to Paranoid and Vindictive Men

(See: Just Above Sunset: Paranoid and Vindictive Men)

Let me get this straight:

On Friday, Donald Trump is going into a meeting with the top leadership of American “intelligence” (in quotes, as he writes it), with whom he is having a public dispute in which he has publicly declared himself on the side of our nation’s foes, and is also apparently threatening to (or maybe "just dropping hints that he may”), according to the Wall Street Journal, “restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency”, that agency being the CIA?

In other words, if he doesn’t like the hand they deal him, he’ll reshuffle the deck more to his liking?

If true, this is indeed scary, partly because hints of this approach to governance (and he’s not even governing yet!) have not seemed to elicit the widespread panic it richly deserves, but also because it suggests we have need for a constitutional amendment to instruct us on how to deal with a leader who either (1) is pulling a “Nixon”, pretending to be crazy as a ploy to keep our nation's “enemies” off-balance, or (2) is pulling a “Nixon” in the sense of not just pretending to be crazy, but of actually being crazy.

Either way, we’d have a serious problem that we need to somehow deal with. The planet has already experienced, just within the past century, a nutcase national leader who’s way of dealing with his world was to try to scare everyone in it to the point of distraction, apparently not anticipating that they all might just kick the crap out of him — which, of course, they did.

How should we deal with that eventuality if it happens here?

Maybe we need some constitutional safeguard, in which a standing committee, including members of both houses of congress from both parties, plus all the sitting Justices of the Supreme Court, would meet and decide whether the president-elect — or even the president! — is or isn't a dangerous crazy-ass psycho, and should be forced to be analyzed by psychological professionals to determine whether or not his being president is a mortal threat to the country, and whether or not he is to be removed, and maybe even detained, until a new election can be held.

(And by “new election”, I mean a popular vote election, of course, with none of your “electoral college” funny business. If we get to set this up from scratch, there’s no reason that we can't do this right this time.)

Yeah, I know the real dangers in us setting up something like that — it’s easy to imagine some person or party misusing it someday — but as Donald Trump may soon prove to us, there might also be dangers in not doing it. Do we really want to take a chance that some minority of voters accidentally decides to hand over the country to, for example, someone working for our enemies?

Sounds a lot like that 1964 movie, Seven Days in May, "an American political thriller motion picture about a military-political cabal's planned take-over of the United States government in reaction to the president's negotiation of a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union” — but with the twist in this version being that, this time, the generals would be right!

The bad news, of course, is I think that there’s essentially no chance of ever getting that passed, or at least not until after Trump is no longer in office, and that just might be too late.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Response to What Trump Knows

(See: Just Above Sunset: What Trump Knows)

I must admit, I do have a few problems with any analysis of cyber hacking that says some kid in his basement can’t have hacked the DNC.

After all, the original so-called “Guccifer” — who hacked Colin Powell, George Tenet, Richard Armitage, John Negroponte, "Senator Lisa Murkowski; a senior UN official; members of the Rockefeller family; former FBI and Secret Service agents, as well as the brother of Barbara Bush, CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz, ... former Miss Maine Patricia Legere”, among others, and was eventually arrested for hacking the emails of former Bill Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal — was not a foreign power, he was just some unemployed taxi driver in Romania who believed the world is run by the Illuminati, and did it all with "no fancy equipment, only a clunky NEC desktop and a Samsung cellphone, and no special skills beyond what he had picked up on the web.”

That being said, I wouldn’t trust Donald Trump to know any more about that than he knows about anything else he pretends to know about, but doesn't.

(I should also point out that most of us writing computer code back in the day — you, Alan, doing much more sophisticated systems work in Microsoft, and me, on my Apple II+ at CNN, writing a program that instantly computes the costs of renting one hour of an AT&T video landline between any two points in the United States — for example, Grand Junction and Cincinnati — hadn’t a clue about what it was that made the underlying DOS — and, in my case, "Apple DOS” — work its magic in the background. I myself gave up programing in HTML when Microsoft stopped letting me do it myself, without it automatically changing all my raw ASCII into something I hadn’t intended. But enough of all the nerdy stuff, except that it’s hard to believe someone like Trump, who has has never owned a computer and probably couldn’t tell you what “HTML” even stands for, actually knows “a lot about hacking”, as he claims.)

So what big secret does Trump know that we’ll find out on Tuesday (or Wednesday)?:
“I don’t care what they say, no computer is safe,” he added. “I have a boy who’s 10 years old; he can do anything with a computer. You want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier.”
Maybe he’ll announce that his ten-year-old son, Barron, did the hacking of the DNC?

Or maybe he’ll announce that, since launching a missile relies on computers, he’ll be modifying American defenses to have all our bombs delivered by bicycle couriers?

And along the same lines of what Trump knows about anything, if Trump keeps insisting the CIA was “wrong” about all those "weapons of mass destruction”, he needs to update himself on what actually caused that “disaster” back then. What the CIA probably got wrong was not standing up to George Bush's and Dick Cheney's “stovepiping” of intelligence analysis data, allowing them to manipulate the unexamined raw intelligence for their own political purposes, making it look like Iraq was working on programs it wasn’t working on, simply to support their agenda. (Maybe before this week's announcement, Trump can read Seymour Hersh’s excellent 2003 New Yorker piece on how it all happened.) 

If Trump doesn’t understand the past history of his own country, one can only imagine how he’s going to really screw up its future. 

And this brings us back to the question of whether our present situation is a failure of democracy, or a failure of our republican form of government, and the answer is clearly the latter, since if we were really a democracy, than the president-elect would be the one that got the most votes. In other words, this may be what happens when you have a klutzy electoral system that allows an uninformed minority to put one of its own in charge of what is arguably the most powerful nation on the planet.

So Happy F'ing New Year, and God Help Us, Every One!