Monday, January 28, 2019

Old Folks Communicate

I’m not sure how the comedians do it, covering the malenfant’s daily doings. I guess he writes the script himself and they just laugh with the audience. Still, I find it really difficult to write too frequently about his latest idiocy, whatever it is.  The Wall thing, for example. It is my understanding that “The Wall” was dreamed up by one of his PR henchmen as a way to keep him from drifting off topic, the general topic being border security. “The Wall” was a mnemonic device used to trigger the emotions he wanted from the crowd of adoring slaves he calls his supporters.  It keeps them hating.  

So, that’s what’s been going on for the past month plus.  Oh, and a lot of people got hurt in the process, but that’s par for the course in TrumpWorld. He hurts people on the way to further enriching himself. It’s called The Art of the Deal, and he’s the chief finagler on The Deal.

But in the other world, the one in which ordinary folks occupy themselves with things other than screwing their neighbor, I am wondering what to think about that thing called social media, Facebook especially. Yeah, yeah, I know that Zuckerberg & Co. spend a lot of their time trying to sell us to his financiers, you know, the ad people who want to capture us. But there is another side to all social media. I know that Facebook is really social media for old people. But, as it turns out, that’s a good thing, not a bad one. Let me give you an example.  I’m really old, and one of the characteristics of old people is that they stop communicating. I think actually what happens is that non-old people basically stop communicating with them (us).  In the old days, when people actually took pen to hand and wrote things called letters, people would communicate periodically with friends and family.  Oh, they used the telephone also, but letters was a main medium for communication.  When I was at Stanford, lo those many decades ago, Carol (my now wifey of 63 years) and I used to actually write letters daily to one another—yes, daily. See, that sounds extreme, until you think about Facebook and the other social media. President Stupidhead writes Tweets at 4 o’clock in the morning, every morning, and then tweets all day long. See, he thinks he’s writing to someone, everyone. Actually, he’s writing to himself and his committed slaves. In those golden oldie days, we used to write, sometimes daily, to close friends or family, never to “the world”.  And many (most??) folks sign on to Facebook, or the other social media accounts, on a daily basis, and generally write something to nobody in particular.

But then, something happened. I’m guessing the something is the personal computer. Sometime in the mid-1980’s, people started getting these things called personal computers.  And almost immediately, communications media began popping up. Remember Compuserve? No? See, I told you I was old.  I began using Compuserve, as soon as it became available.  It was a precursor to Facebook, or to e-mail, or both.  You could send personal messages, or sign onto message boards.  And that began to spell the end of “letters”. Initially, it was not the case that everyone owned a PC. But slowly, the world changed and the PC (and I include here that Apple thingie—remember the Lisa??) became a standard home appliance.

No, my mom never owned one, nor did my wife’s mom. They were perhaps the last of the letter-writing generation, whereas I was/am the leading edge of “leaving the letter to join the PC world” generation. Our children and grandchildren don’t really know about letters. Actually, our grandkids don’t really know about/do e-mail. E-Mail, that’s so passé grandpa. Still, e-mail, or social media, we continue to communicate.

But then I have to take account of something that likely would not have happened as readily in the dark days of letter writing.  I have become “friends” on Facebook with a wide variety of people, who, in days gone by, I would have lost entirely. For example, I have a “friend” on Facebook, who I last saw in Jaipur India, when he was very young, maybe pre-teen, or just becoming a teen. He was the son of good Australian friends who were working and living in India at the same time we were. We met them through other friends, and then we visited them with some frequency, sometimes in Delhi, and sometimes in Jaipur.  And then we left India to return to the United States, and they left India to return to Australia. Now, you may not have noticed, but Australia and the United States are really far apart, a 13 hour flight when it is non-stop and you begin in Los Angeles.  So, under normal circumstances, we would likely have lost contact over the past 50 years.  But, because we are old, we wrote a few letters and then we established contact on social media. In this case, I did a search on Facebook and found this young man was present. And so, we became “friends”. And we communicate virtually daily. And I am amazed and thrilled virtually daily.

And so it is with dozens of people we have known over the past 70-80 years, but no longer see. We continue to “meet up” with them on social media. And it is an amazing experience for me.  We have now folks in Australia, Europe, Asia, and all parts of the US with whom we communicate on a regular basis.  And it is not that we might not have been able to do this via the old form, i.e., letters. It is, however, that we would likely have long ago lost contact as people moved and neglected to tell us. See, people still actually move about, and we are not equally good about telling our old friends.

And so I celebrate this newfangled communications system—the social media of our new world, with all its attendant risks. It remains a vital means of maintaining a circle of friends, even if you get really, really old.

So, there.

And now I guess I will have to return to President Stupidhead (dumkopf??). We have to make sure he is not going to destroy the globe today at least.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Why it Matters That Trump Lies

Listening to all the yapping about the Trump address and the subsequent meeting, in which he walked (stormed?) out because Nancy said she would not give him his wall even if he (Trump) agreed to reopen the government. But it seems to me that much of the commentary misses a main point here, about Trump’s lying.

We know, factually that Trump lies almost every time he opens his mouth (not much of an exaggeration).  Now, why is that important? Well, first, it seems useful to observe that, because of his narcissism and his abysmal ignorance, he mainly seems neither to know nor care whether he is lying. He says things because they will draw applause. I guess he learned that by acting in The Apprentice. So, he lies, or not, it matters little, to get what he wants, which is roars of approving applause.  Now, when he is speaking to a broader audience, as in his address to the Nation, that approach surely works, at least with his base. And note, please, that his base cares as little about factual accuracy as he does.  He speaks to their hatreds or fears, and that is what they want. So they roar approval.  And he really does not care a fig about the ”fact-checkers” and their insistence on demonstrating his factual inaccuracies, aka lies.  They have zero effect on him.  Because he isn’t speaking to them. He is speaking to his base, folks who already approve anything he says, even before he says it. No, the “fact-checkers” only speak to us, those who still insist on facts. And we are as much their willing audience as the Trumpies are his.  So, we have two distinct sets of communications going on, neither of which ever intersect.

But then we have a different communications process, called “meetings”. Following Trump’s address to the Nation, he met with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and a few others, to discuss the Wall and the budget and reopening Government.  In that meeting, he asked Pelosi a simple question: If I decide to reopen the government, will you approve funding for the Wall? She said No, and he then walked out of the room.  He says the meeting was a complete waste of time, because he was not going to get his way (the Wall) regardless of what he did or said.  And apparently, that is likely the case. The democratic leadership, such as it is, seems unlikely to yield on the Wall. And it isn’t even that they don’t want border security. It is just that they think it is a broader issue than the Wall, and he doesn’t want to discuss in those broader terms.  And this is where his constant lies and his ignorance come into play.

In a “meeting” intended to discuss a problem, or some issue, one makes progress by having someone lay out the basic principles of the issue. If it is a problem, then someone must first define the problem.  Then someone must define what is known of the root causes of the problem. For example:

1. America experiences X thousand incidents annually of border-related problems
2.  America’s Borders are not secure
a.       X thousand miles of land borders have no barriers

b.      Y thousand miles of sea borders have no functional barriers
c.       Border staffing cannot cover the entire border
d.      Non-personnel technology is inadequate to cover open border area

3.       X thousand migrants are estimated to cross illegally into the US annually through the open areas
4.       Y thousand incidents of damage to property or persons resident in the US are caused each year

In other words, to discuss something as complex as border security, one needs to break down the problem. You first state some factually verifiable statement of the overall problem. And the problem statement should define the harm done to the US by that problem. Then you divide that main problem into its main causes, with accompanying data on each main cause. Then for each sub-problem, you define likely solutions (and typically there might be several possible solutions for each type of problem).  And it is highly useful to attach to each problem, and to each solution a cost factor. What is the cost to America of the problem (and the cost might be monetary, or it might be in some other category)?  Then you examine the potential solutions to each of the problems, and define both their likely effects on the problem, and the likely costs of implementing the solutions. And the costs might be one-time capital costs, and/or annual maintenance costs.

This kind of analysis is the standard approach in science and in engineering a solution to perceived problems. Sometimes, it might be the case that the solution is much more expensive than the problem. In that case, you need to hold a discussion of why you might entertain such a solution.
One observes this type of problem-solution routinely in scientific ventures (how to place a man on the moon, for example). In geopolitical terms, we can see rough approximations of such thinking in deciding how to counter geo-political threats (say Hitler’s advancing threats to all of Europe, for example). But in the case of our border security issue, we have seen no evidence of this, or any other kind of analytic process.  Instead, we observe, simple statements of a problem, accompanied by factually inaccurate (made up out of whole cloth in some cases) statements of the main/sub problem set.

Mainly, from some statements made regarding “the Wall”, it would seem that “the Wall” was invented as a rhetorical device to keep Trump on target in speaking of the broad subject of border security (which is likely more complex than Trump can grasp). By constantly speaking of “the Wall” he is given a rhetorical device that draws applause from a committed group. But the device was not ever intended to be a serious issue for technical discussions of potential solutions to whatever the perceived problem might be. It was simply a way to keep Trump from drifting off topic.

And here is where his lying comes into play. If he doesn’t actually know anything, and he says whatever might draw applause from his MAGAHeads, he will in fact get nowhere in advancing a plausible scenario for a strategic approach to Border Security. As soon as he begins tossing out his “facts” and they are known to be false, he basically brings the discussion to a halt. They cannot proceed, because they are unable to agree on the problem being addressed. And if one cannot agree on the problem statement, then it is impossible to proceed to the solution stage. 

And since Trump doesn’t actually know anything about the actual problem, it is not possible to hold strategic discussions about any large topic.  And it isn’t only this border security issue. One cannot reasonably hold a strategic discussion with Trump on virtually any topic, because he doesn’t understand almost any nationally or globally important subject, and he will simply resort to his only approach—spitting out “pseudo-facts” intended for applause. But the other people in the room know his pseudo-facts are not a reasonable definition of the issue, and so he himself causes the discussion to come to a close.

Therein lies the core of our national problem with Trump. We should not really care about how he yells at his crowd of adoring MAGAHeads, because none of that matters. But what does matter is his inability to actually hold substantive discussions with knowledgeable officials aimed at defining problems and agreeing on plausible solutions.  On that, he is as useless as the proverbial “teats on a boar”. And there America is our problem.