Category Archives: Random Reflections

Asking for answers

I read a post from A Lot from Lydia this morning. It got me thinking, yet again, about how media decides what we should know about in depth and, as a consequence, what we should ignore. I spent a rare few hours with a television yesterday and you’d never have known many of the things, all verifiable, that Lydia mentions. Why is that?

The newscasters seemed more interested in shouting one sided one liners.

I have been pondering how more moderate people have been pushed aside, on both the left and right. The word “conservative” these days seems to be what anarchists call themselves. How can we get our questions answered?

This morning, after the front page of the Seattle Times above the fold was about

  • Our former mayor’s pension,
  • How to identify gifted kids
  • Amazon’s profits

While all of these are news,  they are not, in my view, front page material. Mayor and kids are local news and Amazon is for the business section. I realize that I am unusual in that I rarely see TV news (we don’t own a television), so they probably expect people to know more than I do.

However, I decided to try something, and I’m encouraging you all to do it also: I sent a note to the editor requesting a couple of in depth articles:

Dear Sir,
I rely on the newspaper for my news and like the way it takes a less sensationalized approach to reporting that allows me to understand issues.
There are two topics I’d really like to see discussed in depth:
1) The Russian Sanctions that were not imposed. Here are some questions I’d like to see answered:
  • -Why they were called for by congress?
  • -What exactly they were supposed to be?
  • -What is the impact on both our economy and Russia’s?
  • -What was the rationale for not imposing them (in depth with both pros and cons)?
  • -What is the legal situation of a president not acting on a law passed by congress?

2) The Tax law passed right before Christmas. I’d like to have a table showing all of the parts and how they will impact individuals, businesses and the finances of the nation. Even though the law was passed some time ago I’ve never felt like I fully understood all that was in it. The background for this is that I read recently that they will have to raise the debt limit earlier than anticipated due to unexpected impact from the new law.

Respectfully yours,

Do you think if enough people request the media to provide less sensationalist content it might make a difference?

What else can one do?

I’m Puzzled.

Random Reflection-What is real?

There was a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper that gave me that “wow”, flabbergasted feeling. I’m trying not to be silenced by that feeling. Lately it occurred to me that these flabbergasting things are really stifling communication by reasonable people. The people who are hard over one way or another have a standard set of lines to go to, relevant or not.

The article: Paying to be Popular: social media’s black market. Since anyone reading this is at least a little involved in social media it’s worth a read. Fake followers for fake news (I am talking about real fake news, not the kind of “fake news” that means someone in power doesn’t like it even though it’s true). People who are “influencers” are buying followers so they appear to be more influential than they are. This causes their postings to bubble to the top in the algorithms that decided who should see what.

There was a scary article, in a scary special report called the Future of War, in this week’s Economist as well: My truth against yours: The power of fake news and undue influence.

It is a war…on us.

Here is the last paragraph from the Economist article:

In the future, “fake news” put together with the aid of artificial intelligence will be so realistic that even the best resources and most professional news organization will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the real and the made-up sort. Official web-sites and social-media accounts will become increasingly vulnerable to hackers, who may be able not only to provoke stock market crashes and riots but even contrive crises between countries that may induce them to go to war with each other.

The two articles are talking about some similar points. In the Times article some people have had their social media identities borrowed by these outfits that provide fake followers. The article was primarily about marketers manipulating the system. In the Economist they show how this was used during the last presidential campaign to manipulate outcomes.

This brought to mind something from a couple of years ago: I was chaperoning my niece and some friends at an over-night at my dad’s house. They made popcorn, watched a movie then started to do those Facebook surveys. The ones like “What kind of princess are you?”  I was struck at how much data about the personalities of these young people Facebook was obtaining through these surveys. Enough to figure out exactly how to manipulate the people who fill them out, not just by interests based on what they post, but by creating and choosing ads that will trigger them to react.  It felt evil. The kids were just doing the surveys for fun.

I think we need to ask some serious questions of ourselves about what the purpose and scope of social media should be…or if it should exist at all.

It feels like the system has evolved to stifle and manipulate us. Is there any way to hit the reset button and turn it back into a fun way to connect with family and friends? Or maybe I was naive to think that was ever the point.

Random Reflections on Power #2

I have been studying Chinese first thing in the morning, before I get up for a while now, before my head is full of other things. This morning’s challenge was trying to make heads and tails of the difference between buy (买, mai–pronounced “my”– with a third tone) and sell (卖, mai with a fourth tone) as an almost tone deaf person. I had a bit of a headache when I arose and started reading the paper. It seemed full of Trumpery, which is often fairly bizarre. Today it seemed weirder than usual, and I don’t think it was due to my headache.

Article in today’s Seattle Times.

The article itself was, frankly, neither news nor of particular interest: The First Family, as is traditional, borrows art from museums. Most first families make modest choices based on their individual tastes. The current one wanted a Van Gogh. In this case the requested art was old and frail and scheduled to be shown elsewhere, so the answer was “no”. Simple enough. The offer in the headline was a museum curator’s idea of making a point, perhaps inspired by Saturday Night Live. It’s funny…or at least it makes you laugh as a first response.

She was exercising her limited power. The offer was within her rights; it was also a bit tacky.

More importantly, it takes people’s attention away from the more serious actions of the day. Why talk about this today when it happened a while ago?

Other news today was things like: People on DACA are being used as hostages for the passage of ill conceived immigration and security measures. More examples of a president who has repeatedly tried to obstruct justice, both by abuse of power and by creating stories. Trade wars and devaluing the dollar.

Mention of all these were also in the paper, but the front page spread was about how Amazon’s workplace is a fancy green house. I understand this being on the first page of the local section. A more appropriate use of the column space on both the front page and this “Golden Toilet” article would have been to provide detailed information about the long term effects of the immigration and trade policies. We still haven’t seen a good description of everything that was in the tax bill passed last month.

I like to laugh as well as the next person, but it is not a good idea to let articles like this take our eyes away from the serious news of the day. Let Saturday Night Live take this one. We need to start asking newspapers to cover news.

Chinese for business is 买卖, (the second mai in this case takes the neutral, a.k.a. fifth, tone).  They won’t stop giving us the 买卖 until we stop responding favorably to it.

About me…and thank you.

Not long before Christmas I got a “congratulations your blog is three years old” email from WordPress. I was busy and it didn’t really register at the time. But recently I realized that my “about” page is 3 years old and should be updated. Among other things I use a different camera now.

It is easy to decide you need to update something, but, at least for me, much harder to  figure out what to say. An awful lot has changed since I started this blog. I am very much the same person, and interested in the same things, but the time of life I am in is shifting. Another thing that is shifting is that I feel more competent.

I have really grown through being exposed to the many voices in the WordPress community and also from trying to respond to the challenges prompts people post. Cee’s Compose Yourself course was a real boost to my skills, and I have read many other excellent articles and seen a lot of wonderful pictures that have helped me learn. Seeing how other people respond and think has helped me to find my own voice.

I’m still trying to figure out what to say on an “about” page but I do know that I want to say “Thank you!” to all of the bloggers on WordPress. This has been, and continues to be a rewarding experience.

Random Reflection on Power

What, after all, is liberty?

I have been feeling very powerless lately. So have others. There have been several posts about liberty lately, as it was a prompt for the “just jot it” challenge within the past few days.

In spite of our connected world there is no way for a regular sort to get the ears of people in power. Extremists organize marches, burn things, and run people over with cars. They fill social media with pithy knee-jerk phrases, memes and trolls. More moderate sorts can’t get a word in edgewise; we’re too polite, waiting for people who never stop talking to shut up and listen, then think before responding to complex, nuanced discussions.

Since people like me can’t get any message through to those in power the dominant voices are those of extremist nut jobs and special interests, some of them hostile foreign powers. I sometimes think that the divisiveness we are being told so much about is a result of reasonable people being cut out of the communication loop. Maybe if there was a way for moderates to get some serious press we’d find that things aren’t so polarized. But that wouldn’t make for good copy, just good living and good government. Sex scandals, wars and other conflicts sell and “that’s what it’s all about!” (welcome to the Hokey Pokey world).

It isn’t supposed to be this way. Our forefathers (mostly not mothers, although there were some pretty strong ones and they may have had more influence than we think) didn’t intend for our government to end up this way: with DC lobbyists, big corporations and the KKK having more input and influence than tax paying citizens.

“Taxation without representation” was the rallying battle cry of the revolution. It wasn’t that the leaders then didn’t see the need to provide for “the common defense and promote the general welfare”; those are front and center as the goals for the constitution.  They saw the need for things like roads, schools, and military, but that need wasn’t being met by a far away government making decisions based on what was best for the United Kingdom using the colonies primarily as a source of resources for the good life back home, or by a loosey-goosey every body do whatever they wanted to confederation.

Liberty, as seen generally at that time, was really about having a say, freedom of speech and religion were very important. In the old country libel meant you were saying something the lord of the manor or bishop didn’t like, even if it was the truth, a key difference in the United States is that it isn’t libel if it is true!!!! Accountability and individual responsibility was important also, the reason why we have tort laws. People were not to be trod on, they had rights.

Having a government that was looking out for the people being governed, not people far away, was key to having both the needed provisions for common life and liberty. It wasn’t so much the my-way-or-the-highway attitude you see today. It was recognized that balance was necessary. The checks and balances system was created. It was intended to slow things down and make debate over major changes necessary so that a simple majority couldn’t roll over everyone else leaving 49% of people dissatisfied. Ideas had to be good enough to stand up to scrutiny.

Of course those times were somewhat different: the population was much lower, as was the number of states, so there were fewer voices to balance. There was less ethnic, racial and cultural diversity as well. However, there were a lot of the same types of tension we are seeing today. Examples include: agriculture versus industrial economies in different states, densely populated areas versus sparsely populated ones, different religious traditions in different areas (in those days it was mostly different Christian sects, but they were quite different in both values and lifestyle. Some of the worst violence ever has been between different groups calling themselves Christians.).

So back to “liberty”. How about the people who are affected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (a.k.a., DACA)? How free are they?

In this morning’s paper David Brooks was dissing the Democratic Party pretty badly. Normally I find a lot of points of wisdom and commonality in his op-ed pieces (he writes for the New York Times and a few days later the pieces show up in the Seattle Times, which is where I see them). Today I was disturbed because he was all about politics. I was perturbed a bit for a few reasons, but the one that bugged me most was this: what the Democrats did Friday was exercise one of the checks and balances built into the constitution. I think it is an important tool, all-be-it one that should be used with surgical precision.

However, given the complete lack of trustworthiness and responsible behavior demonstrated by the Republicans in congress, and the fact that 689,000 people are basically being held hostage to that dishonest irresponsibility, this was a case where one can argue reasonably that surgical precision was warranted.

We disagree with the use for the purpose, and, for what it is worth, I agree with Mr. Brooks that there’s a very good chance the Democrats botched it. In my view, however, the thing they did wrong was cave too soon for too little. They played too nice.

The deal they should have made: A one week spending bill with an up/down roll call vote on DACA exactly as it existed one year ago scheduled for Friday at 9 am in both houses simultaneously.

No wheeling and dealing with people’s lives. If the administration wants added border stuff they can figure out how to do it rationally (say within the 2018 budget that should have already been passed, and which should have been a higher priority than a tax bill nobody fully understands that guts the financial stability of our nation) without holding a bunch of innocent people hostage. That Republicans are stooping to this makes me think they don’t have a rational plan, it’s all just extremist hot air, and hostage taking is all they know.


Sound of Silence

Normally my posts are photographs, however, more than one of the posts for the Daily Post Photo Challenge this week included the song “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. That got me thinking about social media.

When I heard the words “people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening” my mind was filled with an image of a room full of people looking at their cell phones. Last Sunday’s newspaper mentioned “phubbing” which is snubbing the person you are with by paying attention to your cell phone instead of them.

It has existed way longer than the current smart phone craze. People answering the phone in the middle of a conversation has gone on since phones were invented. When calls were rare and most people only made them for something important that made some sense. Now most calls are telemarketers and more than three quarters of the bleeps and buzzes mean someone posted a twit or shared a cute cat video (Don’t get me wrong: I like cute cats, although my own Empress is more elegant than cute).

I never developed the habit of talking for a long time on the phone. When I was a kid we had a party line and we weren’t allowed to just chit chat. By the time I was a teen we had a private line, but we moved to a place where I didn’t know anyone to talk to when I was 14. In those days the long distance phone rates were high so I couldn’t talk to my old friends, we wrote letters and sent them in the mail. I still have some of them. Communication was more special, it took more effort and you could save it. Even though one can save email will we? when the next technology comes out will you convert? I doubt I will. I don’t even download most of my email anymore.

The other part of the song that made me think about the internet was “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence”. What are Twitter and Facebook? Seems like they might be today’s subway walls and tenement halls.

I ask this because we have had hostile foreign powers controlling what people see as “the words of the prophets”. But those walls are also covered with cute cat videos and memes.

I was never the Facebook-iest person, but wound up silenced earlier this year. It is a venue for people to talk about their trip to Hawaii, their child’s beautiful wedding, cute pet stuff, etc. A place to share the good life.

Social media isn’t the place for you when what is going on in your life is an elderly relative falling, having to confront that person about not being able to go back into an apartment, clearing out the apartment and dealing with the angst and depression that go with it, and the semi-infinite challenges of government paperwork so that person doesn’t wind up on the street. It’s not that my life isn’t good, but it’s complicated, and intricate, nuanced communication is not what Facebook is about.

It is also a venue for outrage. The Russian, and other, trolls are doing a lot with this. I’m as outraged as any, perhaps more than many who are more vocal, but social media isn’t the place for this, no discussion, no resolution. Cute memes are just that, they might, briefly, relieve feelings but are not wisdom or balanced discourse. You might say that in some ways they are just another form of silence.

Alas: I have no answers, just questions. But it doesn’t matter, looking back I’ll be able to say “my words like silent raindrops fell, and echoed in the wells of silence.”

I know I should wordsmith this post more, but I don’t want to be tardy with this post. It was mostly inspired by the “Silence” daily post photo prompt but this isn’t a photograph. My response to the photo prompt is A Pall Hung Over Us.