All posts by Richmond Shreve

Seeking Truth?

We all should be seeking truth, but we don’t. Truth is frequently disturbing, and we go into self-deception. Instead of seeking the truth, we seek out others who bolster our self-deception. Today, Sr. Eileen White, who coordinates the panel of From a Faith Perspective writers I serve with, published an excellent Christian perspective on self-deception about January 6th coverage.

If you or someone you know refuses to watch the hearings and avoids the news summaries, this brief article gives a gentle nudge toward seeking the truth.

From-a-Faith-Perspective-White-220710

Sr. White urges us to question our beliefs. What’s real and true can stand scrutiny. Lies and deception can’t. Receiving information and seeing things that are discordant with our beliefs takes strength. Discernment takes work. Being cynical and saying, “what is truth?” is a dodge that perpetuates self-deception.

Saved 20 Million Lives!

The Economist reports that the Vaccines for Covid-19 probably saved more than twenty million lives worldwide. That’s quite wonderful.

But I’m prompted to wonder how many more might have been saved if there had not been so much doubt and fear generated by the anti-vax people. The right to express one’s own opinion carries responsibility for the consequences of others trusting that opinion and relying upon it to make a life or death decision. It’s a moral obligation, and maybe it should carry consequences for the purveyors of fear. It looks to me like many of the anti-vax leaders are in it for the attention and money it gets them.

Covid-19 still kills about 400 a day in the US despite vaccines. Vaccinated people with other health issues can still become gravely ill, and unvaccinated people are still something like ten times as likely to have a bad outcome from infection. If you are old or frail you need to continue precautions even though most people are lowering their guard.

Integrity

“I spent 40 years as a litigator and trial lawyer. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the investigation and presentation by the Committee. It is telling a multi-layered, complicated story in an understandable, accessible manner. That is no mean feat. The Committee has achieved that result through discipline and hard work. Kudos to the Committee,” says Robert B. Hubbel in his blog remarks about the January 6th Committee.

“Once again, as it did last Thursday, the committee relied entirely on senior Republican officials and on members of Trump’s own inner circle to tell the story of how Trump tried to overthrow our government. This undercuts accusations that the committee is engaging in a ‘partisan witch hunt.’ Notably, the committee itself is measured, polite, and serious, demonstrating to viewers what hearings used to be before they became ways to produce sound bites for right-wing media,” says Heather Cox Richardson.

Everything about the presentation of the findings speaks of an intention to present their findings with clarity and with fact-based credibility. The assertions about Donald Trump and his enablers are direct and bold, and they are backed by live and recorded testimony by people with direct knowledge of the facts.

It’s telling that Fox is not doing live coverage and that Trump’s social media channel is blocking users who post about the hearings. What is being revealed can’t be dismissed as political theater, or a witch hunt when so much of the sworn testimony is by GOP operatives who are reporting what they saw and did.

Great Quote

“It is a story of the greatest political crime ever attempted by an American President.”

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D Md.) is a determined methodical fact-finder, a man of integrity, and a member of the January 6th Committee. He’s not a grandstander. He’s not charismatic. He is respected by his colleagues for sincerity and hard work. The quote is not hyperbole. I’m confident the committee will make the case that supports his statement.

Much of the for-profit media is framing the January 6th hearings as a political contest between Dems and the GOP. Regrettably, it may be in their self-interest to avoid framing for what it really is: a criminal indictment where the general public is the grand jury. Based upon the evidence presented, Americans and the world will decide whether Trump and his supporters are guilty of attempting a political coup.

The committee seeks to reveal a pattern of facts and circumstances that lead to the conclusion that Donald Trump and his followers attempted to seize power using a series of ploys culminating in an elaborate and violent ruse aimed at derailing the 2020 Presidential Election. As justification for what was to follow, they began with the “Big Lie” that the election was stolen. But that was propaganda to cover a very real and determined effort to steal the election by GOP operatives.

My Republican friends want to dismiss the proceedings without examining the evidence. They see it as political gamesmanship. They liken these hearings to the Benghazi hearings, which yielded much rhetoric but no crimes or causes for congressional action. This in itself is a tacit admission that their party’s motivation was political and not a sincere attempt to uncover wrongdoing or inform future legislation.

We can understand the commercial media’s reluctance to frame their reporting as Raskin does: the story of a crime by Trump and the GOP. They earn revenue in proportion to the audience they deliver to advertisers. Telling 40% of their audience that they are being led by an authoritarian crook, even though evidence is forthcoming, will drive away people whose attention they need.

So we get why they frame it as a political game, a contest, a sparring match. It’s in their economic best interest. But that does not serve America and journalistic integrity.

Democracy, government by consent of those governed, is hard-won and hard to sustain. We are witnessing an ongoing brash attempt to subvert Democracy by the leader of the GOP. Trump is an unabashedly authoritarian and vengeful leader, who rules his party by fear and whose excesses are tolerated because of his extremist followers — it is a classic cult of personality.

Other GOP efforts to subvert democracy include:

  • Widespread partisan gerrymandering so that representation does not reflect the will of the majority of voters. (e.g.: Operation Red Map)
  • Partisan judge appointments so that the courts favor the aims of the GOP.
  • Vote suppression measures designed to make it inconvenient and difficult for urban (often Democratic) voters to vote (hours, locations, adequate numbers of voting stations, etc.)
  • Disenfranchisement measures. Unnecessarily rigorous voter ID requirements, intimidating registration processes, etc. “Suppression efforts range from the seemingly unobstructive, like strict voter ID laws and cuts to early voting, to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. These measures disproportionately impact people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities,” according to the ACLU.
  • Disinformation. Political “dirty tricks” aimed at biasing perception against the opposition candidate. Roger Stone has characterized himself as an expert in this. Lee Atwater is credited with the phrase, “perception is reality,” in creating negative memes for opposing candidates. Other Republican political operatives Paul Manifort, New Gingrich, and Carl Rove also practice the craft of manipulating public opinion for personal gain. Kellyanne Conway famously referred to “alternate facts” when defending false statements of the Trump Whitehouse. (The alternative to a fact is, by definition, a falsehood-not factual.)

Democrats can’t claim to be totally innocent of using any of these tactics, but the scale and gravity of their offenses in trivial by comparison. Usually, when we hear examples cited it is done in an attempt to distract attention from the pervasive reliance the GOP currently places on these corrupt measures.

Trump’s attempt to derail the legitimate transfer of power is only surprising in its boldness and violence. The failure of the GOP to support accountability and corrective measures reveals the extreme lack of honor and utter contempt for the rule of law that pervades the GOP’s lust for the power to govern as a minority party.

Automation and Good Jobs

If you search back to 2015, seven years ago, you will find a post that notes the introduction of a new line of tabletop robotic arms, a development that I then anticipated heralded a new era of manufacturing. Previously the auto industry and the electronics industries were the only large-scale users of robotics. This week I saw this:

Robots

In 2021, there were 16,755 orders for industrial robots in the North American automotive sector and 22,953 orders for industrial robots from everywhere else, several thousand more than any other year on record. The $1.6 billion in orders was up 22 percent year over year. Demand is only rising: In the first quarter of 2022, orders for workplace robots were up 40 percent compared to the same quarter of 2021. The automobile business was responsible for 71 percent of robot orders in 2016, but the rest of the industrial economy has caught on to the appeal of robots, and now that share is down to 42 percent last year.

Bob Tita, The Wall Street Journal via NumLock

Assembly lines with people are vanishing. Factories that employed hundreds now employ a few engineers and technicians. Those skilled jobs require education and the ability to understand new technology. The people who do them are far more autonomous than yesterday’s factory workers. They are not trained on the job to operate a workstation, they are educated to program the machine to perform each new operation perfectly. In electronics, they program the computer that in turn programs the assembly line robots.

An electronics hobbyist today can design his new gadget using SPICE, an electronic drafting program that will simulate how it will perform in a virtual prototype. He or she can experimentally change or “tweak” component values until the design is optimized without ever buying a component or soldering. Once satisfied, the simulator will design a printed circuit board, finding the most efficient placement of parts and routing of connecting wires. That design, containing all the necessary manufacturing drawings and specifications, is a small computer file–one that can be emailed to vendors for quotes. In a matter of days, UPS will deliver an elegantly crafted, fully assembled device that will probably work without further tinkering. The only human that touched it was the hobbyist when he opened the package.

As if that weren’t remarkable enough, the moment has already arrived where humans are not capable of working with the tiny electronic components. The newest and smallest component parts do not lend themselves to hand assembly. Only a robotic system has the precision. Only a laboratory process can solder the connections. Soon enough the very expression “hand assembled” will seem dated.

Consider the printing press. Ben Franklin assembled individual characters taken from a type case, locked them into a frame, applied ink, and imprinted individual pages one at a time. Today, type cases are used to decorate walls and hold bric-a-brac. Print media are disappearing. You are reading this from an image on a screen. Ink and paper are not necessary or desirable for most communications like this humble essay. And there are computers now that can write better essays than this on any topic you choose, in any style you prefer, with or without footnotes.

Don’t look over your shoulder. Something out there wants your job.

Weaponized Media

https://newslit.org/combating-disinformation-about-the-war-in-ukraine

Politicians, foreign agents, con artists, and grifters are using media as weapons. It behooves all of us to learn how to recognize and combat information crafted to confuse and deceive us. There has been a rapid proliferation of interest and learned attention to the threats posed to society and the remedies available. The first line of defense is to inform ourselves and our friends.

Here are some contemporary resources:

Carlo-Cippola

What Drives People to Self-deceive?

It seems to me that people deceive themselves when they need to do so to reduce the dissonance between two incompatible perceptions. It takes cognitive energy to hold incompatible beliefs.

Consider this discussion of “Replacement Theory” as the primary motivation that prompted people to participate in the January 6th insurrection.

The fear that white privilege may be replaced by minority privilege could cause otherwise rational people to fear the progressives’ embrace of racial justice, economic equity, gender equity, and “woke” thinking in general. Political opportunists have been fueling such fears.

Solidarity

We are discovering that our economic interdependence can be a powerful deterrent to rogue behavior by leaders like Putin. Listen to historian Yuval Harari (Sapiens) as he analyzes the Ukraine situation.

Solidarity in Europe is not, by any means the whole picture. Here is a more pragmatic, or perhaps cynical view from Ian Bremmer, who heads an international consulting organization that advises heads of industry on international politics.

Not Credible

I am struck at how the news of Ukraine is being distorted in the Russian media in an effort to keep the Russian in the street from knowing of the atrocities being committed against Ukraine. Why should I be surprised? Russia has been fraught with propaganda for most of my life.

It is a way of life in authoritarian countries to publicly parrot and defend the party line and keep one’s personal assessment of the truth strictly private. “I have an opinion, but I don’t agree with it.” is a Russian joke that plays upon the state-enforced duplicity.

In China, it is also unsafe to be candid in criticism of the ruling party. As one Chinese national put it, “One never knows when the wind will change.” It may be OK to express dissent today, but your words once uttered may return later to haunt you.

While we find such fears foreign to us in America, legislators in Florida and Texas are actively working to suppress all sorts of views and information. Yes, it can happen here. With that in mind, read the following:

We are only as good as the information we get. Only as grounded, as enlightened, as capable of forming rational opinions about our political leaders and making intelligent decisions about our lives. If we’re fed lies, we’re lost. If we subsist on fiction, we dwell in a fantasyland. [Read more …]

Frank Bruni, NYT

Invisible Networks

Our modern world is interconnected by many largely invisible networks that we take for granted. No nation and no individual person can prosper without them. They are the physical manifestation of a simple truth: humans do best in collaboration with others.

The American myth of the Lone Ranger, aloof, independent and powerful is indeed a fiction. Putin is discovering that his authority is not absolute, and that his country is dependent on the goodwill of other nations.

Followers of Ayn Rand’s individualist philosophy might learn from this. Individual enterprise stands on the shoulders of networks of producers, educators, scholars, and ordinary working people who populate the social networks that prosper us all.

It’s all about community.

2/28/2022

To the point, this interview illustrates how even Putin and his supporters are deeply dependent on the financial networks of the rest of the world.

Back to Normal – Not

Our savvy about contagion has been heightened by our experience with Covid-19. Most of us now do the things that make the risk of increased social contact acceptable. We wear masks in high risk situations, we avoid some activities, we keep our resistance up with vaccine boosters.

Here’s a straight from the shoulder discourse that captures what I believe to be a sensible position to adopt.

Thanks to Doug Muder’s Weekly Sift for this link.