Antisocial media

I used to enjoy social media. It has been a great way to publicize my writing and to connect with old friends. I have made several new friends, the majority of whom are other writers. Just like your job, we do not all think the same, the difference is we are eloquent when we disagree, and we tend to use verifiable facts in our arguments. We also rarely misspell insults. I’m not “spoiled,” this is how it should be.

Over the last few weeks there has been a change. Those of us dedicated to accuracy have been run over by a mob of semi-literate terrorists. In the interest of maintaining my spectacular blood pressure of 110/80, I have abandoned social media. I remain disturbed, I cannot organize my thoughts through all the static.

The storm has been brewing for some time. Civil discourse was a precious commodity, shared almost sacredly among writers, although thoroughly unexpected when interacting with the masses. In public comment columns it is disturbingly normal to see retorts such as  “your stupid,” and “goggle it” (when a person is too lazy to provide references and demands you do it for him, while misspelling the name of the most popular search engine). Insults and attacks are on the rise (US representative Maxine Waters recently called for mob action), and much like when I was a child and heard Archie Bunker use words which I did not understand outside of the fact they got a reaction, the actual words used as insults are meaningless. “Racist” and “NAZI” have both been used so excessively they mean nothing (sad because actual racists and NAZIs actually exist and now can fade into the background), and rather than become more accurately descriptive, the insults have just gotten more vile (vile people use vile words. . .), now “motherfucker” has become the go to response for the inarticulate.

If it were only the language it would not bother me nearly as much as it does, it is the lack of reasoning that chills me. The above example of “goggle (sic) it “, represents an expectation to be believed without question. Skepticism, perversely, is both embraced and rejected, fitting for a schizophrenic society. Doubting news sources became a political pursuit some time ago, giving birth to fact checking websites, which almost immediately were identified as biased themselves. The first news source to be vilified via political leaning was Fox news, or as it’s detractors prefer “faux news.” I’m guessing the poet who created that name pronounces the two words the same way. Fox faced the spurious charge of being the only biased news source, allowing the following corollary; if everything Fox broadcasts is false (because it is a conservative viewpoint), everything else is true. In a world defined by virtue signalling, skepticism about beliefs that are unpopular is good, while skepticism about beliefs that are popular is bad, with “popular” becoming the new definition of “true.” Believing everything is either good or bad results in binary thought processes; a world of black and white contains no grey. Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment could not have been created by a binary mind, in fact, not many works of art or even engineering could exist without the ability to see in between the extremes.

I can understand Fox news being dismissed by a partisan mind, the partisan mind has no interest in accuracy. That goes for anyone, conservatives dismiss liberal news sources, liberals dismiss conservative sources. It has gone beyond that. Recently I saw several people dispute a memo from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the frenzy of crying children which the main stream media considered “reporting” on the story of families being separated at the border (full disclosure, I have never been separated from my family at the border in scores of crossings, call it “citizen privilege”), DHS released a paper on what was actually taking place. You know, the people actually involved in separating families, arguably the best possible source of information. I watched several keyboard brown shirts dismiss that information as inaccurate, some citing a story in the New York Times (NYT) without a link to the actual story, which they claimed quoted a memo from the Attorney General. One possible story in the NYT which appears to be the one referenced does not actually contain the “proof” it is claimed to contain, which might be why it was not provided as a link.

I understand there are people who trust the New York Times more than the Department of Homeland Security. There is a remarkable number of people who believe the Earth is flat, they just don’t get as much support from the media. The NYT has a Wikipedia page dedicated to their retractions, while DHS has never found the need to issue retractions. The media, after a long process of building trust that includes Murrow, Brinkley, and Cronkite, has squandered their reputation with talking heads whose interests are ratings rather than accuracy. Print media has lowered itself to the point that USA Today, once a joke among journalists, is scolding AP and Time over their standards.

Retractions may appear to indicate integrity, but they do not. The recently “corrected” story in Time about children separated from families cannot be unread, the cover cannot be unseen. That information remains out there, and despite the notice stating it was “corrected” (for people who show no regard for language, they’re awfully careful about the words used to describe their activities), I have seen people produce retracted stories as evidence, twisting their interpretation of the retraction into meaning the story is true.

The internet has produced a breed of “citizen journalists” with no concept of journalistic integrity. Crowd sourcing the news only creates static, as the loudest voices push their point of view. It is the theatre of bullies.

 

 

I most likely will return to social media. I was silenced, but as I considered the words of Elie Wiesel, I realized I must speak. There are plenty of voices out there, the majority of which are misinformed, ill informed, or just flat out lying. I had left my inner warrior behind, but I cannot be silent as my country is torn apart.

Death and Taxes

This is the eighth chapter of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

We pick up with the first amendment of the twentieth century, the sixteenth to the constitution.

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Perfect for today, wouldn’t you say? During the War of 1812, the first public proposal for an income taxwas made by the secretary of the treasury, but it was never implemented until one hundred years later, on the eve of the first world war. We tried income tax during the civil war, first a flat tax then a graduated tax, and those expired in 1872.

The sixteenth amendment came into being thanks to an attempt to tax income illegally. In 1894, an amendment was attached to the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act that attempted to impose a federal tax of two percent on incomes over $4,000 (equal to $109,000 today). Prior to this, federal funding was through indirect taxes apportioned among the states. In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.(1895), the U.S. Supreme Court declared certain taxes on incomes — such as those on property under the 1894 Act — to be unconstitutionally unapportioned direct taxes.

Enter Justice John Marshall Harlan, who in his dissenting opinion in Pollock wrote “it practically decides that, without an amendment of the Constitution — two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of the States concurring — such property and incomes can never be made to contribute to the support of the national government.” Lacking a word processor, he was unable to further emphasize this rather obvious instruction to amend the constitution.

After another fourteen years of bouncing ideas of who to tax, the sixteenth amendment passed congress in 1909., and took four years to be ratified by three fourths of the states (thirty six required at the time). Four states, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia, rejected the amendment, and two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, never even considered the amendment.

I think this was an interesting time in American social history. During the years in which the sixteenth amendment was being ratified, the seventeenth amendment, changing the election of senators from by state legislature to popular vote, was introduced and passed congress. It was ratified only months after the sixteenth amendment.

Both of these amendments remove responsibility (and some might say control)  from the state legislatures and gives that responsibility to the individual.

The seventeenth amendment reads as follows;

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”

State legislatures, which had been (and in some ways still are) local centers of power (and the requisite corruption that is chained to power), were no longer as directly tied to federal funding or the election of senators. Senators are supposed to represent the state and its interests, with Members of the House representing the individuals of the state. With these two amendments America took the first steps away from being a union of states and towards being a unified republic. There are positive and negative aspects to this change of direction, and as with all things, those aspects are affected by the the climate presented by society.

In 1912, there were four popular political parties, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, and Socialist represented in the presidential election, and over 239 political parties in existence. Today we recognize two popular parties, treating other points of view as “fringe elements”. With a population of eligible voters in excess of two hundred and thirty million, how can we rationalize a “digital” or “binary” choice? I believe this is the influence of technology on society. We have moved from the “analog” spectrum of multiple points of view to the digital view of “yes/no”, “good/bad”, “black/white”. Add to that basic ego-centrism and you end up with a growing Fascist movement.

We are still growing, and will hit many bumps along the road, but the all or nothing positions that are becoming increasingly popular in every aspect of society have their roots in these attempts to spread political power. The founding fathers were either prescient or lucky in designing a republic which balanced democracy between the masses and the elite, we should keep these missteps in mind as we consider further changes.

 

 

I saw it on TV

And so it was. Every night a grandfatherly gentleman told us the monsters would stay under our beds for another night. He was the most trusted man in America for a large portion of the late twentieth century. History hasn’t judged him as kindly, for which we may thank Walter and his contemporaries. He was human, he was flawed, and he upheld most of the standards of the golden age of journalism.

As a nation, we turned from the newspaper to the television. When Walter said “And that’s the way it is”, we believed that we didn’t need to know anything more. There was no need to look any deeper. Today’s “joke”, “they can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true”, began as “they can’t put anything on television that isn’t true”. Only it wasn’t a joke back then, we believed it. Believing that what we saw on television had to be true is what made some people believe that the internet (a television) had the same standards.

An unexpected blow to the newspaper industry was recycling, as unread newspapers stacked up people realized there was no point in subscribing. With the decay of actual investigative reporting, “real” journalism became a thing of the past. “News” has been replaced by “Infotainment”, which has quickly been replaced by pure entertainment. So where is the news?

We have, unfortunately, regressed to word of mouth. Making things worse, we’re not all political analysts, for Christ’s sake we’re not all terribly bright, so discovering valid information and knowing what it means has become increasingly difficult. Being able to do something with that information is next to impossible.

I’m not big on the concept of conspiracies. If I was, there’s enough stuff out there to put me in a rubber room. Everyone with an opinion can publish a blog (you’re reading one now), a website with a unique domain name can be had for ten dollars a year, There are a lot of voices out there, who either don’t know what they’re talking about, or worse, they do and they’re lying to you. I include in this the media outlets who give sixty seconds of airtime to a laughing baby, but don’t get around to mentioning riots in Brazil. Omission is a class of lying in and of itself.

These are some of the reasons why credible sources use links, to take you to source material so you can determine accuracy yourself. I’ve always linked pertinent sources, but I’ve become aware that links are not very visible on this blog, so from this post forward I will underline any links to make them more noticeable.

I could tell there were alternate views of the situation in Egypt, the early days of democracy are bound to be difficult. To me, it seemed obvious that a democratically elected president being deposed by the military satisfied the criteria for “Military Coup“, despite the fact that a number of Egyptian contacts were calling it a “democratic process” or “anti-terrorism protests“, and our own government won’t call it a coup.

A few weeks ago, some outlets were reporting protests in Brazil. I have friends in Brazil (who I will in no way identify), so I asked what was going on. I can’t go into depth of the explanation without possibly revealing the source, but there is much more than a “protest against bus fares“. There are economic issues similar to those in America, and political unrest similar to Syria. Nonetheless, the civilian population was taking measures to ensure peaceful protests, including ostracizing trouble makers, and befriending the police.

No large gathering escapes the attention of hooligans, and things have gotten out of hand at times. You might have heard about it, unless you live in Brazil. According to my source, the only media news about the protests refers to the traffic jams. Not even that a protest caused the traffic jam, just that there is a traffic jam.

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My “meme” friends are into revolution, and conspiracies. According to my source, Brazil is experiencing neither, but these conflicts in reality give the meme folks some credibility. And this is where we run into a problem.

As our traditional media becomes less trustworthy, one way of verifying sources is “Have they been right before?”. I’m giving this one to the wanna be revolutionaries, with a reminder that there are other ways to verify a source. Consider what your source has to gain (in this case, supporting “revolutions” emboldens the timid). When people try to get you to back them in a fight, make sure they plan to be in front.

The other part of verification is the believability of the information itself. A secret UFO base under the Washington Monument is going to draw immediate furrowed brows, but let’s use the Egyptian example.

Was there a coup? Yes. Was it facilitated by the military? Yes. Why does the American government say it wasn’t a military coup? Because they’ve been providing equipment to the Egyptian military, and don’t want to be seen as “puppet masters”. But what about the word on the street? Since we have nothing more reliable than social media, we need to recognize that what we are hearing is opinions. The “people of Egypt” took to the street and demanded change. But who are the people of Egypt? In order to be a candidate in the election, one had to be of Egyptian parentage. Not just a citizen, but at very least a second generation citizen, without dual citizenship, and not married to a non-Egyptian. To vote, one only needed a national identity card. That ruled out about half the population. Democracy has many definitions, and the half that wasn’t eligible to vote can make a demonstration look like it expresses the will of “the people”. We face a similar dilemma in America, where were we to allow non citizens to vote we could settle the “National Language” question, we would be required to speak Spanish.

So the real question in Egypt is the legitimacy of the elections, and to determine that, we need to know who the legitimate voters are. My best source of information in the Middle East is Lebanese, and he ran from country to country making bad decisions on where the next revolution would be. I haven’t heard from him in a bit, so I suspect he made a tragically poor decision. All we have is the voice of social media. A demonstration in which sixteen people are killed would tend to get a lot of press if it happened in, say, Memphis, and I doubt it would be characterized as a “peaceful demonstration”, but to understand that aspect requires an “Arab mind”. Here’s one view into that mind.

It’s complicated. Too complicated for the evening news, more suited to a number of books, in tandem with some understanding of the culture of the applicable society. Contrary to the beliefs of many American politicians, understanding world affairs requires understanding the world.

Next question. Is there a “conspiracy” preventing you from understanding what is happening in the world, and if so, why?