Scaffolding on the Tower of Babel

Fake News and Media Bias are bogus concepts. It’s about Confirmation Bias and that is a great evolutionary tool — we just need to understand how it works and how to use it. Overcoming bias requires more ways for us to communicate about more things.

Conservatives and Liberals are both right. Civilizations and cultures are fundamentally incompatible — “Whites” and “Non-Whites”, Muslims and Judeo-Christians, China and the USA, Immigrants and Natives. But they are only incompatible in static form — in a fixed geography, time, and environment. And there is no static form.

Put another way: no two objects occupy the same space at the same time. But they are never the same object from one moment or place to the next. It’s not about whether they *can* — it’s that they *don’t*.

The “emergence” issue is that (A) People from different groups, experiences, backgrounds, etc. *can* establish a foundation of common interests and common principles, but (B) Their differences make it hard to communicate efficiently about these things, which means © There is continuing disruptive friction.

Hack the narrative, folks.

Time for a Narrative Hackathon

Last year I felt that something like a nationwide “Public Testimonies about the Others Who Hurt Them” was coming.

It hasn’t happened on a grassroots level, so instead it is coming from Washington DC — straight from the swamp to your drinking water, so to speak.

On the one side is President @RealDonaldTrump’s “Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE.”

On the other side is the “Saved by American Immigrants National Taskforce” or “SAINT”, proposed by Rep. Jared Polis.

I think there is a better way to do this. The D.C. approach will dramatize the pain already packaged in political agenda — basically just providing ammo to every opportunist and sociopath hunting prey in the political and personal environment.

This isn’t just about pain even though pain definitely matters — the pain people feel and the pain people feel played a *huge* role in the election choice between Sanders, Clinton and Trump.

But what is constructive about sharing pain is what *story* we fit the pain into. That’s how we fight the evils inside us and in our society: what makes you feel pain and what makes others feel pain.

One approach I really like is inspired by the Remembering the Ones We Lost movement in South Sudan. People post (anonymously or not) the names of those killed by the ongoing civil war or its consequences (hunger, disease, etc.) This website and the surrounding movement has accomplished what millions of foreign intervention has not — catalyzed a powerful non-partisan peace movement. That movement has created space for a real national identity to fight the deadly “tribe against tribe” idea that has killed so many over the past 50+ years.

Well if it works in South Sudan, you can be *damn* sure that something like it will work in the USA. Our “tribe against tribe” takes a different form but it kills and maims just the same, and with the same consequences: lives lost and wealth destroyed.

Another thing I want to experiment with is a “Narrative Hackathon”: a collaborative contest to rewrite the current narrative, the current paradigm (as the excellent Donella Meadows points out, this is one of the most powerful leverage points:

In some ways this is what is already happening organically with Social Media, and the rest with Nature (environmental changes moving us and our wealth around the globe, a very physical feedback mechanism). That’s why we have a confluence of some very populist presidencies alongside some very dramatic increases in demographic change and communications technology — more friction, more reactions, and more ways to describe both.

But I think we can do it in a Contest/Hackathon format as well. Get the right participants from a diverse range of backgrounds and political alignments, give them the right incentive (cash? prestige?), give it the right sponsors and structure…and bam.

Or we can just let the “best worst choice” factory up in Washington D.C. keep doing what it’s doing.

Overreaching for Impeaching

We need to keep their impeachment expectations low, fun as it is read in tea leaves this GOP’s intrapersonal dialogue (Russia Hawks vs Solidarity vs What Happened to My Party).

  1. Does anyone really see a strong and cause-effect link between the leaking of Clinton’s emails (the only direct Russian interference, right?) and (a) the low overall voter turnout, (b) the deliberate DNC sabotage of the Sanders campaign (the email hack only made it public), or © the appeal of key Trump Campaign platforms like repealing “Obamacare”, the Mexico/USA wall, and ethnically targeted deportations?
  2. Putting too much hope in impeachment means even *more* of a burnout/stressor when it doesn’t come about…and that should be more of a concern in the long term, when you look at the buoying public appeal of a military-intel coup.

And the “Treason matters more than sexual indiscretion” argument gets snagged on reality — the GOP and DNC leadership’s takeaway from Special Counsel investigations (Clinton, Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2, Obama) was that these investigations are dangerous double-edged swords, so they turned those blades into nerf foam.


Arts and Craps

President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration are planning to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of a broader effort to substantially slash government spending, according to a report.

“The evidence suggests that citizens were strongly expected to attend: by Aristotle’s time, a fund had been established to help poorer Athenians pay to attend the theatrical and civic festivals.”
Source: New York Review of Books

When today’s American conservatives say they want to want to cut government funding for the arts, they are cutting their ties with the very Western/Hellenic tradition they claim to defend. Public theater was subsidized by the ancient Athenians — who Conservative Thought considers the inventors of America’s democratic tradition and the inspiration to the Founding Fathers. In fact, attention to art and attendance of theater was culturally *mandatory* for all citizens.

So when you look at that history, and then look at the miniscule percentage of government treasury that actually goes to the arts, and then look at the increasingly positive growth of the U.S. entertainment industry (in which government arts subsidies play a crucial supporting role) and the growth of the global entertainment industry in general, and then look at the essential role of art in shaping the “narrative” of what it means to be American, there is no real case against public funding for the arts…

…Unless you want to appeal to raw emotion and confusion.

Demonizing Trump Demonizing the Media

Feeling pedantic so I got to jump on this antihistorical “Demonizing the press is how dictatorships start” meme going around (currently popularized by Senator John “Am I Criticizing the Right Thing? I Have Compromised my Values so Many Times I Don’t Know Anymore.” McCain).

Dictatorships don’t just “start”. They coincide with very dictator-friendly conditions — usually a history of strongly centralized authority over the press, finance, security, business regulations, movement across borders, etc. along with a culture of obedience (and sometimes even affection) for a Ruler. They coincide with conditions of significant anti-foreigner/anti-minority feelings among a mostly homogenous population, usually based in recent history of conflict and grievance…and not “they took our jobs” grievances but “they took our territory” grievances. Jews in Germany for example were .75% of the population (~505k people out of a total population of 67m).

Remember this was some of the founding logic behind the American experiment: use geography and a constitution to break out of the old context/pattern of Feudal/Monarchical Europe.

So when Hitler, Stalin et al. do “start” their dictatorships, that doesn’t begin with demonizing the press as an institution. They amplify the xenophobic anti-liberal popular sentiments that already exist in the press and use that to take over or shut down the smaller, more politically progressive press institutions. Dictators aren’t known for their original ideas, but for being a kind of Thug Celebrity that rallies and popularizes and organizes bad ideas and their adherents into a powerful movement. Hitler, that Poster Child for Evil, got a lot of his ideas from the free press of the era (for example, the popular sentiments of Austrian mayor Karl Lueger).

Now as to the “demonization” of the press in the USA…that is a question of degree once you look outside the Red Cloud of Rage most of us get when viewing the @RealDonaldTrump Administration.

The “new press” displacing/reforming the “old press” is a recurring pattern in the USA, not a little bit tied to who is literate enough to read them, how much time they have to read, and how enfranchised they are to act on what they read. Start with the competing maelstrom of pamphlets in the American Revolution, enter the Muckrakers, and then the explosion of alternative online media in our recent years.

If the “traditional press” was doing such a fantastic job, then why the popularity of Huffington Post, Radio Free America, Wikipedia, the Daily Show/Colbert Report, the Daily Kos, Mother Jones, etc.? Because most existing media is usually catering to/captured by established interests. That’s what happened during Vietnam, during the Civil Rights Era, and during the Bush ’43 Administrations. Folks seem surprised that “alternative media” isn’t just a tool for progressives and the Left.

Anyone remember the interaction between the Occupy Movement and the mainstream press? And how many of us today pull our news from our preferred online sources, or even our preferred online *summaries* of other online sources? Anyone paying attention to the role of sites of 4chan and Reddit in the online vanguard of @RealDonaldTrump’s pre- and post-presidential propaganda?

None of this is to defend President @RealDonaldTrump. This is to add a little clarity to the phenomena of dictatorship and anti-press press in the USA.

Because you can’t out-lie a liar. I get the value of narratives and stories, but that doesn’t work when you start talking about history — especially not researchable history.

Clarity matters, especially if you want to hit President @RealDonaldTrump where it counts: in his patterns. Specifically, the patterns of thought and power that he emerged from into the highest political office in the USA: a false paradigm perverted by age/income/gender/ethnic biases; misguided distributions of rights, wealth, information, and trust; unjust exclusion from markets of ideas and goods; and other crap.


Russia and @RealDonaldTrump: Tsar You Joking?

Given @RealDonaldTrump’s charismatic manipulation of the masses and his storied relationship with Russia, can we call him the Moscow Mule (that’s a Foundation reference).


Anyway. Now that the loveable Grump Muppet Sen. Sanders is channelling his inner Nancy Grace (he’s just asking questions, amiright?), my guess is this @RealDonaldTrump-Russia story is going to be something like when the Reagan Campaign maybe colluded a smidge with the Iranian government to delay the release of American hostages¹…allegations and reasonable conjecture, but no solid “conclusion”.

The main things muddying the water here:

– Most news and intel agencies (as single entities) seem to dislike @RDT, so it’s hard to even pretend objectivity (if Hillary’s campaign had done this, there would likely be a counter-narrative of “this is just serious diplomacy”)

– Russian intel agencies are good at hiding and getting away with things

– A GOP Congress faces the prospect of investigating a (pseudo) GOP president, and probably says “Nah.”

– This kind of situation is murky by nature and not without precedent as de facto “ok”: see also backchannel talks with Iran, Cuba, China, etc.²

– Trump’s actual *known* business relations with Russia are sad. A flopped Miss Universe pageant, a failed vodka (how do you fail with vodka in Russia?), a failed Trump Tower…these are not the same as say, former German PM Shroeder’s sitting on the board of Russian energy giant Gazprom³.

So as with everything @RealDonaldTrump, the potential scandal/drama might more with his team and not the man itself. (This is a U.S. Presidential tradition if not a hallmark of top-level leadership, where your team does the dirty work). The name that stands out isn’t the scapegoated Flynn (whose public evisceration is totally disproportionate to his actual transgression of being a trusting idiot tripped up by his own ambition) but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who by virtue of being a Big Name at Exxon Mobil is the @RealDonaldTrump Administration’s closest link to Russian national interests — oil and gas.

But here’s the thing about Russia and its energy industry and sanctions. Geography and history have not kind to Russia, and its oil/gas industry is what keeps Russia from collapsing (even as it sustains a dangerous system of autocracy and oligarchy). One of the ways the USA “won” the Cold War was to use economic leverage points to punch the USSR repeatedly in the nuts. So while the Obama Administration instituted sanctions against Russia, the Obama Administration’s intent would *never* have been to force Russia to collapse with sanctions.

Oil/gas aside, there are plenty of non-@RealDonaldTrump and Tillerson reasons that a 2017 U.S. President would have dealings with Russia on its agenda. Carrot and stick. There is no substantive Syria policy without Russia. There is no substantive climate change policy without Russia (world’s 5th largest source of CO2 emissions). There is no substantive U.S.-Europe policy without Russia. There is no nuclear proliferation policy without Russia. And there is damn sure no U.S.-China policy without Russia.

Sen. Sanders mentions concern about American allies trusting the @RealDonaldTrump Administration with intelligence. That is a curious statement, not just given the history of Russian/USSR intelligence operations in Europe from the 1900’s on (hint, everybody has had at least one morning waking up in bed with the Russian Bear). U.S. allies, especially European governments, are very familiar with this awkward relationship with Moscow. Russia is Mr. Burns to Europe’s Springfield, with a dash of Sauron for a perpetual threat of doom and domination. That’s why European heads of state regularly have to talk about normalizing and improving ties with Russia, finding ways of trading and dealing with Russia, even while considering Russia a threat and a rival.

So, nothing is simple here. You can call it “determinism” if you want, and there is no doubt that the @RealDonaldTrump Administration is shaping U.S.-Russia policy according to its own definition of interests. But dealing with Putin’s Russia does *not* mean the U.S. Presidency is compromised.

The U.S.-Russia connection I find most troubling is the cultural engagement between White Supremacists/Nationalists in Russia and the USA, who do have quite a lot in common. That is similar, but not the same as, why and Alex Jones can shake one fist at the UN/Illuminati/One World Government while bumping the other fist with the most blatant Putin-directed media. The enemy of his enemy is his friend.

Meanwhile, this @RealDonaldTrump-Russia story will mostly be political theater and showboating, elbow jabs, plenty of news agencies digging into a juicy unprovable scandal, and a nice fat punching bag for vocal opponents of the @RealDonaldTrump administration.

But an actual, provable case for treason or impeachment? I’m not sure.





A Problem with the Women’s March…

Went to the Women’s March on Austin last Saturday. Energetic turnout and sunny skies but something really bothered me, and it involves the sign this kid is holding: “Want Small Government and Low Taxes? Move to Somalia.”

“Because…” the Sign says with a wink, “You know how Somalia is a terrible place where no one would want to live. The thought of going there should scare people.”

Why do people still think that the “Move to Somalia” sign is ok at an event that is supposed to be *against* harmful stereotypes and *for our mutual rights* to life, liberty, and happiness? Would the sign holder feel as justified if his sign said, “If you want low rent and cheap drugs, move to the Ghetto”?

Kid, are you really protesting against President Trump’s stereotyping of women, Muslims, Hispanics, Latinos, etc. with a cliched joke about how miserable Africa is? (By the way, check sites like Everyday Africa to see the kid’s dreaded Somalia)

This ties into the In Group (rather than Out Group) controlling the narrative of Opposition and Dissent, i.e. who determines the language and terms of “who deserves what rights in what form”. It is part of the North Dakota Pipeline Protest phenomenon too — where are the thousands of Standing Rock “allies” on the subject of Native American land rights in general, that convoluted system that denies people any form of real property ownership because of a decades-old belief that they were not “competent” enough to handle their own affairs?

It is a part of the Protest culture that I am uncomfortable with. It is the same discomfort I have with the “safety pin” movement following Nov. 8th and the tense relationship between movements like Black Lives Matter and “allies”.

Is it significant that the most popular Austin political gathering since Nov. 8 was formulated as a “Women’s March” rather than a “Human Rights March” or a “Black Lives Matter March”? Is it significant that while there were around 50k people at the Women’s March, there was far less of a turnout at the Nov. 19, 2016 unveiling of the Texas African American History Monument?

50 thousand people showed up at the Texas capitol this past Saturday. I was there. It was a popular event — but so was the Hillary Clinton campaign. The “Women’s Marches” across the country may even have had mostly the same demographics and participants as the Hillary Campaign.

Does this “Women’s March” movement have the same weaknesses and handicaps? Is it going to achieve the same outcome?

As was the question with Hillary Clinton, whose interests do movements like the Women’s March represent? What kind of change do they really want, relative to their own position (what would they have to give up or spend, to benefit someone vulnerable and in need)?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I think there is still a disconnect between the IN Group and OUT Group, and that affects the crucial transition from Protest to Movement to Action.

The Moscow City Shuffle — Overthinking the Shifting American Right/Left Positions Towards Putin and…

This is an interesting piece from Debka File (Debka is a somewhat Israel-Aligned Intelligence Analysis website). Would love to get ya’ll’s thoughts on this. (Article Link:

Growing up with books like “Political Pilgrims” (, there is quite a shift from the Cold War days with the Popular Left’s turn against Russia/Moscow — not just being against Putin, but indiscrimintely using “Russia” and “Moscow”.

Likewise from what little I ever learned about KGB “Dezinformatsiya” and even more contemporary information about the extent of Russian intelligence operations in the USA, it is surprising to see how quick people are to leap to the conclusion that they have out-sleuthed a generations-old spy culture that was dogfighting the British Empire back when the USA was in World Power diapers.

The shift among the American Right is harder to read. The neoconservatives still seem to look at Russia as if the Cold War never ended, and in plenty of ways I think they are right. But maybe it is the break with the Bush/Rice era that the vigilance against Russia is seen as outdated or ignorant or maybe just unpopular.

And how odd to see the Left praising the efficiency and principles of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies! How glad they are to see the CIA, NSA, et al. weighing in on domestic politics now.

I am uncomfortable with the New Right (or “Alt Right” as Huffington Post et al. label them) pundits seem to cheer Putin. I worry about their grounding in history, and perhaps being this Russia’s new wave of fellow travelers in the USA.

I wonder how much of these shifts are intentional and how much are unintended “drifts”. I can imagine that many of the U.S. Elite now see China as the Long Term Enemy with Radical Islam as the Short Term Enemy, with Russia as an ally in both fights.

Pres-elect Trump says he is taking back the Winston Churchill bust that the Obama Administration ineptly rejected. Maybe the Trump Team is resuming Churchhill’s complicated relationship with the Russia of Stalin’s USSR?

Perhaps they see Putin’s victories in George and Ukraine as signs that it is better to work with him than to beat him, especially when working against “The Real Enemies”. Then maybe they see the precedent of recent decades — Putin/Medvedev playing the role of “Beneficent Dictator” for USA logistics and military operations in Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria etc. — as a sign that Russia is easier to work with when you give in.

How successful will these be?

For one thing, the Chinese threat isn’t really “China” but the Recidivist/New Chinese Right (the new generation of Political Military Elite who grew up believing their own rhetoric of Superiority over the USA, as well as real Chinese successes in technology and economic growth).

In that context, how will the -Stans see a U.S. lean/deference towards Russia, and will this incline them more towards a China that is already building out more and more infrastructure and investment?

What effect will this have on NATO? And when European governments like Germany’s come to another moment of Restructuring their Relationship with Russia (they still get a lot of natural gas from Russia, increasingly trade more with Russia, and have at least one ex-PM who works for the European-side of a Russian oil/gas company), will they lean more towards Russia/Putin? And in what way will this stir the forces straining the capacity of the European Union?

We could play the Counterfactual/Alternate Future game all day (and I’d love to, if anyone wants to posit anything in the Comment section).

Also, I wonder what roles the Israeli Government factions and Israeli Lobbies in America are playing in this shift.

Is there some hubris on the American side? Probably. And maybe the Trump Admin and New Right think that they can play Putin.

But I imagine it could more easily work the other way around.

What do you all think?

Privilege of Pain v.s. Privilege of Power

An Idea that keeps bouncing around my head these days: there is a collision between the Privilege of Power (the “Haves”) and the Privilege of Pain (the “Have Nots”). Different ways of protesting, speaking, behaving, etc.

Both sides use their privilege to gain advantage, protect their interests, the right the wrongs carried out against them, and maybe even to get revenge. Both sides have “justification” for their privilege — it is something they inherited, something they won, something they earned. Both privileges dictate their own language and story. And I put “justification” in quotes because these privileges seem to follow a law that goes beyond an official legal code, something closer to the Code of Hammurabi (eye for an eye) or the Code of Victor Hugo (ok to steal bread when you’re poor).

Borrowed from

It’s one thing when these Privileges stay in their box, when they have their own jurisdictions that don’t overlap, or when they overlap but they compromise. Isn’t that the “contract” between government and the governed? Isn’t that the bargain we strike with the Leviathan? Isn’t that what Law and Order is about?

The boxes rarely stay closed these days and the balance is more uneasy. Asymmetric warfare, civil movements, the rainbow revolutions (Green, Orange, etc.).

Maybe there is an awareness that these privileges have more cost than benefit, awareness that too much power or pain can take us over. I would like to think we are learning.

One Thing After Another

Midday Reflection: These days it feels like everything is “too political” or there’s too much to worry about, but I wonder if every generation of Americans has a global/local crisis to come to terms with. Our parents lived through the threat of nuclear annihilation, our grandparents lived through WWII, their parents lived through WWI, their parents and parents’ parents went through the Civil War and its aftermath, etc.

In all these crises, there were accompanying economic and social changes. New distributions of wealth and power. Refugees, migrants, settlers: vulnerable peoples. The “in group” and “out group” dynamics kept changing, becoming more complex. The outcome is never without terrible cost, and yet it’s always been something to build off of.

What is our crisis today? What is our story? Who are “we”, who are are comrades and who are our enemies?

Are we in an accelerated and intensified variation of the same old pattern? Is the New again shattering through the Old?

[Historically, I’d be interested in the contemporary narratives of these crises, i.e. how people understood what was happening to them and to others, what was their “just cause” for fighting (violently and non-violently)]