… from arguably our greatest fictional President.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
… from arguably our greatest fictional President.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Attached is a link to an article in The Atlantic relating to former Vice President Joe Biden. I submit that it’s something you might wish to review if you haven’t already seen it. I hope that its publication doesn’t ironically put more pressure on Mr. Biden in upcoming debates.
If asked to recommend to anyone of high school or greater age only one book I’ve read in retirement, the choice would be easy: The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr (not that long; a bit over 200 pages). I consider it a horror story, perfect for the Halloween season; Mr. Carr addresses “What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.” I would submit that it is yet scarier today than when published in 2010; given another decade’s passage, and even taking into account my readily-apparent Luddite tendencies, the book is arguably a description of what the Internet has done to the brains of many of our people. Delving too deeply into Mr. Carr’s text may dissuade a reader of this note from reading the book; thus, only a few snippets:
“What we’re trading away in return for the riches of the Net – and only a curmudgeon would refuse to see the riches – is what [Online Media Blogger Scott] Karp calls ‘our old linear thought process.’ Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts – the faster, the better.”
“I began to notice that the Net was exerting a much stronger and broader influence over me … It was then that I began worrying about my inability to pay attention to one thing for more than a couple of minutes … Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check e-mail, click links, do some Googling.”
“[T]he Net seizes our attention only to scatter it. We focus intensively on the medium itself, on the flickering screen, but we’re distracted by the medium’s rapid-fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli….If the slow progression of words across printed pages dampened our craving to be inundated by mental stimulation, the Net indulges it.”
“In reading online, Maryanne Wolf says, we sacrifice the facility that makes deep reading possible. We revert to being ‘mere decoders of information.’ Our ability to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction remains largely disengaged.”
“[Researcher Erping Zhu] found that [online readers’] comprehension declined as the number of links increased. Readers were forced to devote more and more of their … brain power to evaluating the links … That left … fewer cognitive resources to devote to understanding what they were reading.”
The following passage, well into the book, particularly resonated with me:
“In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman [said], ‘I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self – evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.” As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” [we risk turning into] “pancake people – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”’”
Mr. Carr does describe manners in which we as a people can safeguard against the dangers he trumpets; there is an extensive discussion of the brain’s neuroplasticity – i.e., the brain’s ability to re-form itself in response to new challenges. He acknowledges that “tuning out is not an option many of us would consider,” but offers that if the Web has addicted us with easy fixes of alluring data snippets, making a conscious and concerted effort to focus without distraction for longer periods on complex material can remake our brains in the same manner as one can strengthen muscles through physical training (my analogy, not his). He describes the reactions of Joseph Weizenbaum of MIT, who created groundbreaking programs in the 1960s, and then came to be alarmed by the manner in which even those who knew better came to perceive his creations:
“Weizenbaum had come to believe [that the] … great danger we face as we become more intimately involved with our computers … is that we’ll begin to lose our humanness, to sacrifice the very qualities that separate us from machines. The only way to avoid that fate, Weizenbaum wrote, is to have the self-awareness and the courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities and intellectual pursuits, particularly ‘tasks that demand wisdom.’”
In the mid-90’s an executive in the cradle of Silicon Valley told me that what he loved about the Internet was the “Knowledge” it made available. I came to have the highest regard for him as we worked together; but if I saw him today, I’d gently suggest that the Internet has certainly proven to be an efficient purveyor of Information … but it remains up to us to maintain the mental diligence and discipline to develop the connections that yield Knowledge.
Please don’t download The Shallows – buy a hard copy ;).
Every American that values truth has lost a perhaps indispensable resource. This afternoon, Shepard Smith of Fox News announced that he was leaving the network as of today. Perhaps because of my 40 years as a lawyer, I place the highest credibility upon those willing to speak the truth when the truth is contrary to their own interest. I accordingly considered Mr. Smith’s candid refutations of the endless baseless and/or absurd claims of President Trump and his satellites the most vital on cable news specifically because they were issued from Fox News – which, aside from Chris Wallace and (until today) Mr. Smith (my apologies to any other lone Fox purveyors of truth of whom I’m unaware) – generates its revenues by serving propaganda for Mr. Trump to an audience intent on lapping it up. Mr. Trump has been a vehement critic of Mr. Smith, and indulges in well-publicized fits about any Fox News presentation that is contrary to the fantasy world in which he seeks to live with his followers.
It is no surprise to the readers of these pages that I am generally in agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Morning Joe panel and the rest of the MSNBC lineup (although I’m occasionally surprised that they don’t asphyxiate themselves on their own hyperventilation); I enjoy the relish with which the majority of the CNN talking heads pursue the President’s falsehoods and inanities (although I wonder how they avoid drowning in their own antagonism); but I’m always acutely aware that no matter how sincerely these MSNBC and CNN commentators hold their views, they’re on those networks’ air because their employers’ business models in part involve inciting antipathy toward Mr. Trump and his cohort. What made Mr. Smith different was the fact he was speaking to an audience that generally mostly strongly disagreed with the truth he offered.
I cling to the hope that Mr. Smith’s departure was indeed his own decision; absent contrary indications, I take him at his word that it was. I am troubled by the fact that he leaves very shortly after Attorney General William Barr, according to a New York Times account, traveled to New York to meet with Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch. I can think of no legitimate responsibility of an Attorney General of the United States that requires him/her to meet with a media mogul.
A link to a video of Mr. Smith’s final sign-off is set forth below. Those that didn’t have a chance to regularly see his broadcasts missed something special. I shall miss him a lot.
What I’ve found most intriguing about the most recent Democratic debate is the post-debate analysis: how visceral and individual our respective reactions are. In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, argues that our moral judgements are governed primarily by our emotions (he prefers the term, “intuitions”), that our powers of strategic reasoning are ancillary, and that we primarily employ our reasoning to rationalize our intuitions’ sentiments. His arguments are seemingly relevant to the way we assess candidates.
Since the debate ended, I’ve heard Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski comment upon how “presidential” U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren looked; although I believe that Sen. Warren had a good night, I don’t think she looks at all presidential. Yamiche Alcindor, the African American female PBS White House Correspondent of whom we, devoted PBS NewsHour watchers, have become quite fond, has indicated that she believes U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris had a strong performance; I thought Sen. Harris had some clever shots, but did nothing special. (Before I get railed upon for being sexist or racist, I would submit that we all have a tendency to appreciate that with which we identify – there was never a candidate that my father, otherwise a vehement rock-ribbed Republican, ever supported as passionately as Democrat John F. Kennedy, an Irish Catholic.)
Although U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Ms. Harris, and former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke were all fairly good, I will join the chorus opining that since each of the frontrunners at least held their own, the three-hour marathon won’t materially alter the polls. Sens. Klobuchar and Booker have nowhere to go; to me Mr. Buttigieg’s weakness is that while he, like Presidents Kennedy and Barack Obama, is more cerebral than emotive, he lacks those worthies’ capacity to stir passions; Ms. Harris’ best moments again appeared planned and scripted, leaving one again concerned as to how she would handle President Trump, the master of the unexpected; and Mr. O’Rourke was impressive, but his aggressive positions on gun control (with which I completely agree) seemingly foreclose any meaningful chance to win a Texas U.S. Senate seat after his campaign inevitably folds.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has apparently decided that he wants to get into the lottery business.
U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, clearly physically under the weather, was a little too predictable and curmudgeonly, but if he loses support, it will probably go to one of the other frontrunners.
Whether motivated to withhold attacks on Mr. Biden by a Democratic team spirit or a desire to start softening her somewhat feisty image in preparation for the general election campaign, Ms. Warren maintained a positive demeanor throughout the evening. She fostered the tone that all of the Democratic candidates want what’s best for this country. Nothing occurred that would dampen the prospect of a Biden-Warren ticket (a notion that finds favor with a number of readers of these pages). She stands to be the primary beneficiary if Mr. Sanders loses supporters. She was the most responsible for making it a good night for the Democratic campaign against Mr. Trump.
Being mindful of my own predilections ;), I thought Mr. Biden had a very strong night. He was significantly more energized than in either of the first two debates. While staying above the belt, he took Ms. Warren to task for the cost of her Medicare-for-All plan right at the outset (before we, tiring at the length of this spectacle, found our minds wandering). While he got muddled a couple of times during the evening, he exhibited flashes demonstrating his foreign policy knowledge and experience: “I confronted [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro”; that Afghanistan “cannot be put together” since it is “three different countries [referring to the Pakistani-controlled east and presumably the areas respectively under the influence of the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Ghani government].” His closing, in which he talked about overcoming the deaths of his first wife, daughter, and more recently, one of his sons, was the single most authentic and effective answer of the night.
I’ve saved to the end of this note my reference to former HUD Director Julian Castro’s tawdry attacks on Mr. Biden. Taken together with my consideration of Mr. Haidt’s hypothesis that our intuitions generally govern our reasoning powers, the reactions to Mr. Castro’s salvos have given me a different perspective on how Mr. Biden might fare in any debate with Mr. Trump. When Mr. Castro pointedly and repeatedly (and incorrectly) challenged Mr. Biden’s memory, his ageist implication was sufficiently naked that the audience audibly recoiled and TLOML – no particular fan of Mr. Biden, and one (unlike her spouse) not given to vocalization during these kinds of events — spontaneously emitted an epithet about Mr. Castro that was decidedly … well, let’s just say … uncomplimentary 😉 . It brought to mind Mr. Biden’s strongest suit: We like him. Even if we have concerns that he may not still possess all of the faculties he once had … we like him. And furthermore, that in the past, we liked Franklin Roosevelt although he was patrician, we liked Harry Truman although he was common, we liked Dwight Eisenhower although (before his reelection) he was evidently physically frail, we liked Ronald Reagan although he was a bit diminished, we liked Bill Clinton although he was smarmy, and we liked Barack Obama although he was out of touch with working people.
When in the first debate, U.S. CA Rep. Eric Swalwell overtly attacked Mr. Biden because of his age, the immediate reaction was: That’s the kind of shot Trump would take. When despite disclaimers Ms. Harris implied in the first debate that Mr. Biden was a racist by raising Mr. Biden’s decades-old comments on busing, the reaction after the dust settled was: That was unfair. When Mr. Castro clumsily raised Mr. Biden’s age, the thought flashed: That’s Trump. Mr. Swalwell’s candidacy is gone. Mr. Castro’s candidacy is effectively dead. Ms. Harris’ candidacy hasn’t recovered.
So I would pose this about Mr. Biden’s ability to stand up against Mr. Trump in a debate: if Mr. Biden handles himself as well as he did in the last two debates, and Mr. Trump can’t resist attacking him in Trumpian fashion, the President will be playing into the Democrat’s hands. Drawing upon Mr. Haidt’s premises, enough of us may rationalize away Mr. Biden’s wobbles to enable him to win the debates and the presidency … because we like him.
A member of our extended family recently sent out an account describing a cross-country cycling trip he just completed with a friend. I was so taken with his note that I got his permission to reprint parts of it here:
“The trip took us 54 days, a total of about 322 hours of riding. This journey has taught me a lot about the country that I live in … The natural beauty that can be found everywhere is astonishing, whether it is the rolling hills of Montana, the lush mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire … or … the widespread expanses of cornfield …. And the people living there will let you know about how special their little corner of the world is.
Looking back, I was initially most nervous to venture into small rural towns on a bicycle as the outsider, desperate to find a place to eat and sleep. I would have no idea where to get food, go to the bathroom, or pitch a tent. However, it was in these small communities where I felt most welcomed. Countless times, people there pointed us in the right direction, gave us encouragement, and more often than not opened their homes, churches, or city facilities to us asking nothing in return. It was in these towns where I realized how important human interaction was on this trip …. In reality, it was the larger cities that were the most stressful … people interacting with us skeptically. Cities had all of the essential materials for me to thrive while traveling, but were missing the most important aspect of the trip, understanding and compassion. We live in a fast paced world. This trip has allowed me to slow down and appreciate everything and everybody that this country has to offer, even those who don’t see eye to eye with myself or others. I think that by slowing down and living simply encourages conversations and empathy when interacting with others of different backgrounds and stories than our own.”
I know that our family member would agree that he and his friend might have faced a greater level of distrust during parts of their journey had they been brown or black, rather than white; that said, their experience and his wonderful note underscored again for me that the vast majority of our people, even if possessed of divergent experiences, different apprehensions, and conflicting views, sincerely mean well. To say more would detract from the power of an account that speaks so eloquently for itself.
We recently returned from a week in a part of Wisconsin dotted with small communities in which a blizzard of American flags fly and a wide assortment of flag-related apparel and paraphernalia manifest. Two observations, that of lesser import first.
4 U.S.C. 6 provides, in part, as follows:
(c) … The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed.
4 U.S.C. 8 provides, in part, as follows:
(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as … merchandise …
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery …
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling …
(i) The flag … should not be … printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard …
How many times each day do we as a people violate the letter or spirit of federal law in the name of patriotism? Does a citizen show greater respect for our nation by wearing a flag shirt that is vulnerable to an errant mustard drip? While such is clearly harmless, a separate personal pique: How badly is our flag desecrated when it is prominently displayed in the lapel of a politician (of either party) engaging in self-aggrandizement, spewing self-serving lies, and/or inciting discord?
I have more understanding of the actions of those that burn the flag or kneel during the national anthem to call attention to an injustice in our country that they sincerely believe needs correcting. I would offer that these actions, whether or not one agrees with them, are made in the exercise of one of the rights that the flag stands for: the freedom of expression.
The larger concern: It occurred to me that when I see our flag flying in front of a house, or see one of our people wearing or using flag-themed apparel or paraphernalia, my visceral reaction is: that’s a Trump supporter. This is obviously an over-generalization; there are unquestionably veterans and others among us proudly displaying the flag that don’t support the President … but I would submit that my inclination is accurate much more often than not.
I fear that the flag either has become or is being made into a partisan symbol – perhaps for some, the trademark of a culturally-homogeneous America. While it is human nature to find comfort among those that are like us, I truly believe that when asked to consider, the vast majority of Mr. Trump’s supporters appreciate that the flag belongs to all Americans that love this country – even those with whom they vehemently disagree. I’m troubled by the notion that possibly not all of them do.