Wednesday, August 01, 2018

A RETURN TO PROFESSIONALISM

"We don't get to pick who wins, detective. Even if that means no one does."
--Special Agent David Rossi, Criminal Minds

Last time I posted, it was a lament at the collapse of professionalism across our culture, especially in the newsroom.  We've gone from grizzled professionals to hippie dippie space cadets with an agenda and as a result not just the quality of the product, but people's trust in the product of news has plummeted.

While its fun to mock annoying people and its easy to criticize, what can be done about this?  What is the solution?  What would professionalism look like, and be like?  How can the news media earn back any level of respect and trustworthiness?

NO GOLDEN AGE
The first thing to remember is that there never was a golden age of journalistic professionalism and accuracy.  They've always been misleading, lazy, incompetent, sloppy, and ignorant with occasional outstanding exceptions.  The biggest thing that's changed in the news is not so much the people involved, but the transparency and ease of fact checking.

50 years ago, you got the newspaper and had TV and radio news and that was it.  It took a special access to Nexis/Lexis database to dig into stories, and hours in microfiche at the library or local newspaper's "morgue" to find the story elsewhere or dig into the past to find consistency or support for the story.  Reporters were just as likely to mess things up or spin it, people just had no way to fact check them.  

That said, things have gotten significantly worse.  Where before a reporter might get things wrong or have a slant, today they actively push a specific agenda in their storytelling (there are a host of devices used, as covered in bias in my older bit on reporting), and suppress information that is problematic to their agenda.  Where before most strong opinion statements were excised from reporting and restricted to the op/ed page, now its showing up in news articles.  When President Trump was elected, even prestigious newspapers literally stated that they were going to abandon any pretense of objectivity and specifically oppose the man.

CLEANING HOUSE
The first hurdle is to get journalism to move back to its proper, necessary, and original purpose.  The reason that the 1st amendment specifically protects the press, and the reason the news media is called the "fourth estate" in the USA (fourth after congress, presidency, and supreme court) is very significant.  It refers to the need for a Democratic Republic to have an informed public in order to vote and choose proper representatives.  Ignorant and ill-informed people make worse choices than they would if well-informed.

The purpose of the news media is to accurately, and usefully, inform.  That means not only does their job require them to be factual and complete, but cover useful, valuable, and noteworthy events.  In no place does this job ever require or even find value in manipulating people's opinions, pushing an agenda, assisting an agenda, or silencing another agenda.

The problem with most journalism today is that they are specifically taught and personally inclined to think of their job not as information but as changing the world, making the world a better place, or fighting evil.  They are literally taught in Journalism School that they are not just reporting news to inform, but reporting news to shape a better future, that they have a moral responsibility to do so.

That has to change for anything positive to come out of the news.  Journalists need to learn to report the facts, and back away.  And the only way for that to begin to happen is to clean up J-school and expectations of young would-be journalists.  Start them out with the right perspective and goals, and you will weed out the ones who think its a religious calling or political platform.

KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Part of the need for fact-based reporting is the need for reporters to understand the difference between fact an opinion.  This is a challenging lesson for a lot of younger people, since they've been largely raised to think that there is no actual absolute truth, that truth is a narrative and you make your own truth up.  They have to understand that there actually is such a thing as an objective fact, and to recognize that as opposed to what they feel, think, believe, or wish to be true.

Anything that isn't the facts and information in a story needs to be relegated to the opinion pages or one's social media feed.  This includes things such as playing "hide the party" and burying the lede.  Hide the Party is when you don't mention a scandal-plagued politician's party until deep into the article (if ever) when they are a Democrat, where you list the party affiliation early and often if it is Republican.  

Bury the lede is when you conceal the main point of the story in the headline or early paragraphs on the assumption that most people only read those parts and will miss the key story.  Why do this?  So you can technically have covered a topic (say, Benghazi) while misleading readers on the story.

Knowing that there is actual fact and truth, and distinguishing between that and opinion is a skill not being taught in school, let alone J-School, and not taught while learning while on the job.  I say this because I can see that these reporters literally do not seem to understand the distinction from their social media commentary and writing in news stories.  They honestly think that their spin on something is the facts.

NO POLLS
By sticking to "just the facts, ma'am" reporting will be forced away from certain kinds of news stories.  For example, in the last year and a half we've been assaulted by a deluge of rumors printed as news.  A nameless White House contact claims they head something, and the reporter third hand prints that as news.  Its not news.  Its rumor, its unsubstantiated hearsay, and its almost always utterly wrong and humiliating for the news organization.  After reading this stuff the fiftieth time, even the densest partisan starts to suspect they might not be able to trust the news.

Another form of non-news printed as facts is the poll.  Journalists love polls.  Pundits love polls.  News junkies love polls.  And as I have written about dozens of times in the past, polls are almost all trash, and even where they are useful are not news.  It is not news that you asked a group of people something and they all said "x."  That is simply a collection of opinions.  It means nothing.

I get it, people want to know the future, and love to read astrology tea leaves tarot cards opinion polling.  They want that druid to look at the entrails of the goat and see the future.  They want to know what they do not and cannot know, in advance, for some sense of comfort and peace.  But that is not news, its simply someone's or some group of people's opinions.  And opinions are not news.

Further, despite claims by pollsters and statisticians, they are not even scientific: too much depends on how, where, and to whom you poll, not to mention that claiming a question asked of a thousand people somehow rationally represents the ideas of over three hundred million.

Even when polls are not massaged through careful choice of who is polled and when or how the questions are asked, such as asking more Democrats than Republicans, or calling at a time of day you can reliably avoid opinions you don't want to hear from, its still not reliably scientific.

And the worst kind of poll reporting is when a news organization has an opinion or idea that they want to print as a story, but don't have the actual story to run.  So they do a poll on this topic, then report on the poll; they aren't reporting the news they are creating the "news" and that's not their job.

EVEN HANDED
Another key thing for journalists to re-learn and carry out is that they have to be hard-hitting, ruthless, and agnostic in their determination to report the facts.  Who is hurt or helped, what agenda is driven, how people respond to the facts, none of that matters.  What matters is the truth and accuracy.  This means that reporters have to ignore the party of the person they are writing about or what "narrative" is being carried out and just hit the facts.

Whether the subject of a news story or investigation is of party x or party y, whether they are conservative or libertarian or leftist or whatever, the news reporter needs to attack the story from the same perspective: facts, truth, completion; what I can support and substantiate.  Writing a story about a homosexual black lesbian in a wheelchair should not be any different job than an old white industrialist laying off workers.  Stick to the facts; do your job.

Informing the public means giving them the information they need to decide for themselves, and all the information they need to decide for themselves.  News reporters are not, as failed Seattle Times reporter stated "the deciders."  They are the voices of the facts, not the ones who pick and shape it.

Further, personalities and ego are not part of the job.  Nobody wants to know who is reporting the news.  They want the facts.  This is not a job for people who want the limelight.  Its a job for people who want their work to shine.  Its not "the news by Jim Acosta" its just the news.

ANTAGONISTIC
Additionally, the critical job of the reporter in order to fulfill their task as the fourth estate is to be the one who goes after those in power.  They have a duty to dig into corruption, incompetence, illegality, and failure from those in power, no matter who they are.  The press is only a fourth estate -- a check against the other three -- if they take their role seriously as being that check.  

The press needs to be the voice of justice against those in power who try to be above justice.  The press needs to give voters the information they require to properly vote and choose candidates.  If it will not do so, or worse, only does so with certain types of those in power, they are better being entirely gone than continuing to betray their very reason for existence.

FINAL KEYS
The main key is consistency.  I don't care if the press goes after president Trump and ties to find fault in him if they do so with President Obama as well.  Adulating and cheering one while despising the other is a complete failure of professionalism.  It is an abdication of their role as the fourth estate.  The journalist who only goes after one party, no matter what party, is a disaster and a total failure of a journalist.  They are betraying the people and their very profession.

That means no pictures of one politician with a halo and their opponent scowling and looking angry.  It means no news stories condemning the number of vacations taken by one and admiring the other for knowing how to relax and take time off to recharge.  It means no news stories focusing on one politician's stupid gaffes and none on the other's.

No reporter can avoid bias, but what they can do is have rigorous, ruthless professionals in positions of authority in the job.  Editors should be without mercy or personal attachment with reporters, tearing down everything that does not belong and building up what does.  Reporters need to both be encouraged to do what is right and crushed for doing what is wrong.

The only way this can happen, of course, is if people are so disgusted by the incompetence, sloth, ignorance, credulity, bias, and overall lack of professionalism in news reporting that they abandon it to the point of bankruptcy and ruin in the industry.  From the ashes, a new breed can arise that is honest, hard-working, focused on the job, and professional.

Lacking that?  I just see things getting worse and worse, with people dividing more viciously into sides and bubbling themselves with their favored news sources to the exclusion of everything that might help them know the facts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

THE END OF PROFESSIONALISM

"Never grow up, that's me!"
--Peter Pan

Its not so big a thing any more but there was a time when the free independent newspaper was significant in every college town and city.  Back before the Simpsons was a cartoon short on The Tracy Ullman Show, Matt Groenig was known for a quirky, depressing cartoon called Life In Hell that ran in these underground/alternative newspapers, along with other regulars such as Politenessman.

These newspapers were run by hippies and neo-hippies who were usually in college or dropouts from college that worked on various newsletters and such and would generally contain the latest hard left cant, stories on the glories of hemp, and extensive, seedy classifieds in the back that paid for the operation.  

This is where you'd read about how we should only have free trade coffee and when the next drum circle in the park was going to be.  They'd cover all the most recent leftist academic concepts, calling for things like universal basic income, free health care, and basically everything the left is pushing for now, while labeling anyone who disagrees with them as fascist.  Often they were pretty low key about it all, not as strident and angry as today.

You could generally tell who would write for this: white guys with dreadlocks, girls with oddly colored and cut hair, old hippies, etc.  They had a sort of predictable look and patchoulli aura, but the papers were good for a read while eating at the local bistro or getting some coffee.  Stacks were outside the record store and the head shop, and nearby any restaurant or coffee shop downtown that catered to college students.

These were the people that weren't professional enough, that weren't skilled enough and who didn't have the focus and talent to work on a real newspaper.  They were the people who could not simply write the news, they had to give their perspective.  The people who thought just covering events was too boring or beneath them.  The people who had an agenda rather than a job to do.

That was then.  Today, these people are running major newspapers.  Don't think so?  Check this out:


Oh, and this:

These are people who worked for or are working for the New York Times.  This is the single most prestigious and respected newspaper in the United States.  30 years ago, these people wouldn't have been allowed through the front door, let alone given a job -- still less made an editor.  Now they're running the place.

That's why the mainstream, established newspapers today read and sound like the old free "alternative" papers of the past.  Because all those old newsmen and women, all the hard core journalists, those grizzled editors, they're all gone.  They've been replaced by the alternative paper people.  So you get the same quality and tone and content of the old alternative papers.  The same outrageous blatant bias, the same lack of fact checking and hysteria, the same ridiculous outlook.

I mean, look at the content the New York Times is putting out these days:


This is exactly the kind of trash you'd get in those old papers.  I don't so much mean the lame concept (although that's pretty much beneath contempt) but the awful art and ridiculous tone.  Put aside the hypocrisy of someone who constantly yells about homophobia using homosexuality as an insult and attack.  Just look at the quality here.  This is middle school level thought and work.

Again, this is the New York Times, the "old gray lady" of news, the single most prestigious news organization in the United States.  This is how far it has sunk, and its not alone in the nation.

And this effect is not just the news media.  When's the last time you went into a bank and saw anyone working there who looked like a banker?  A doctor who seemed professional and like a doctor?  A professor who seemed learned and discerning?  Pastors who seem dignified and reverential?  This lack of professionalism is nearly gone around us.  I don't simply mean casual dress, I mean someone who puts out a front and an aura of professionalism and mature dignity.

The need to turn everything casual is acceptable to some level, I don't think everyone has to wear a suit and tie.  But there's a point at which casual becomes just sloppy, then becomes contempt for customers and surrounding people.  If you cannot give a sense of competence and adulthood, its difficult to trust you with anything weighty or meaningful.

Its another topic, but the entire cultural idea of growing up as a trap and that "adulting" is something you do when you have to, then get back to being Peter Pan as soon as possible is incredibly corrosive to culture and our future.  Its related to the candy and num nums approach to life.  But this goes beyond never wanting to grow up, its more a rebellion against ever having to get out of bed or comb your hair.  Its the early teen rebellion against taking showers and wearing clean clothes, its simply a tantrum against having to do anything for anyone except yourself.

Monday, June 25, 2018

THE TURNING OF THE AGE

"In government as well as in trade a new era came to the colonies in 1763."
--Albert Bushnell Hart

Through history there are periods of political change which, in retrospect, are easy to identify and study.  Times that things shifted to a different paradigm, a different structure and model of doing things.  You can see sometimes to a very small time period when it takes place.  In the mid-1800s for example, Europe suddenly began to shift away from monarchies to representative democracies, usually with a figurehead monarch.

At the time its not possible to see how this will turn out, and usually the people living then could not even see the shift, only the turmoil and chaos that results.  The game Civilization allows you to change your civilization to another style of government when you have learned that form.  Tyranny to Monarchy, or to Republic.  Doing so results in years, sometimes decades of chaos and upheaval.  All your production ceases, there's civil unrest, etc.  That's not far off from the truth.

I wonder now, if we're not in one of those transitions.  Things look pretty chaotic now, and people are talking about a civil war in the USA.  Things seem irredeemably divided, and getting worse.  There are murderous attacks on political opponents: a congressman shot in a softball game.  A church shot up.  A Senator attacked while mowing his lawn.  Police shot by a sniper.  Violence in the streets, with cars burned and shops attacked.  People in political rallies being beaten by opponents.

This kind of chaos results when society is in turmoil, and particularly when the power structure in place is threatened by a new movement.  The last time it was in the late 1960s when the left started to seriously challenge the establishment right.  Bombs, shootings, kidnappings, highjackings and so on were happening as part of that turmoil.

Now, we're seeing the establishment left being challenged seriously.  And the fighting is getting to the same level of fever pitch (with the same side as before being the most violent).  Yet what is going on overall?  Its not so much right vs left, as it is people who really just want to be left alone sick and tired of the crap.  This isn't really a political battle at all in the same stark lines as before, its more a cultural battle of people who want to run your life vs people who want to run their own.

Mind you, that's largely how the left portrayed the fight in the 60s, but really in the end it came down to "we have the perfect utopian answer and you're in the way, old man."  They sold it as free love and peace and tolerance, but as we can clearly see, that was just a front: they wanted themselves tolerated, not anyone else.  They wanted themselves to be left in peace, but not for you to.

A NEW PARADIGM?
In any case, the shift is moving today in a different kind of direction, less a shift between political factions than a shift between entire systems and political structures.  The old system, since the late 1700s, has been political parties who gather to offer up candidates and run things as a coalition.  In America its basically two parties, and in other nations its a parliamentary system that's still just two parties, but there are more little parties who can, if they manage to build a group together, can for a short time challenge one of the main two parties.

In time, political parties start to, as H.L. Mencken said, believe their own lies.  They start to be about less the people they allegedly represent and more the party its self as a body and an organization.  The pressure becomes not about electing but preserving and increasing power of the party not its goals or the people it allegedly represents.  And when that happens, both parties tend to drift toward the same sort of place, a corrupt center left where its about what keeps you in office and makes you rich and powerful.

Today though, with the internet, its a matter of some debate whether political parties really even need to exist at all.  Can we have a more direct system, where candidates just reach out to the public directly without going through a party structure?  Are we getting to where the funding and politicking, the campaigning is more direct to the voters and less through an organization?

If so, that would destroy both the Republican and Democratic Party, to which I say "good riddence."  Neither party cares about or is remotely interested in the country or its people, the voters, or even pretending to represent them.  I'll give just two of many examples of the problem with the parties as they exist right now.

When the Tea Party movement arose in 2008, the Republican Party that it largely supported actively worked to destroy them, to the point of asking the Democrat president to attack the Tea Party movement through the IRS.  There was a concerted effort by the GOP to destroy the Tea Party movement.  Why?  Not because it was an enemy to their stated politics and platform, but because the Tea Party Movement was a threat to the Republican Party's power and mey.

Then in 2016, the Democratic Party had two major candidates for president: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Both were pretty hard left, but one was favored by the Democratic Party machine, so much so that they blatantly and deliberately cheated repeatedly in primary elections to make sure that she won -- with the system so heavily rigged that even in elections that she lost, Hillary Clinton got more delegates for the convention.

In both cases a challenge to the party machine was destroyed not for being opposed to what the party claims to stand for, but for being a threat to their power and structure.  The party its self is its primary concern, not the people it allegedly represents.  There's too much money and power in the party system and leadership to give up.  This inevitably corrupts, if not legally, the morally and in terms of honor and honesty.

What if it became the system where candidates used crowdfunding and structures of that kind to pay for campaigns?  And what if they reached out to voters, not by the usual structures or through the party system, but directly to their constituents through the internet and public appearances?  

I think that President Trump may be the first of this new structure, possibly.  Self-funded, largely campaigned not through the usual old system but through the media and social media.  He reached voters less through advertising and political party systems than through simply reaching voters where they live.  

Now I'm not pretending President Trump is a man like Abraham Lincoln, but I do find a parallel in this: Lincoln was the first president from the new Republican Party.

HOW TO BUILD THIS
To make this work there has to be three things in place.

First there has to be a non partisan and non-censoring social media platform in place which is popular and widely used.  Twitter was that platform when Trump ran for office in 2016, but has since become significantly less so largely in response to Trump's success.  Twitter was pretty apolitical and let people say what they wanted to a large degree until it became clear that this was allowing their political foes to succeed, which they were not willing to allow.

Second, there needs to be an apolitical, non partisan, and most importantly free crowdfunding platform which allows candidates to raise money for their campaign without paying a fee to the platform.  Sites such as GoFundMe have in the past decided they didn't like someone (such as a pizza shop raising money to fight lawsuits and state government leaning on them), and disallowed the campaign.  That cannot be a part of any platform a political candidate used to raise money with.

Third, there has to be a general shift away from political parties by the voters.  People need to get away from the idea that this is the way it always has been and thus must always be.  People have to abandon party concepts entirely and vote based on principles, politics, and platform irregardless of party affiliation -- or without it entirely.

Fourth, the bodies of power such as congress have to move away from the strictly two party concept into a more shifting, changing system of coalitions not based on permanent power structures, but based on specific bills and policies.  Instead of having a majority and minority power, there'd simply be representatives.  Instead of party line votes, there'd be blocks that formed for one bill then reformed for another, consisting of different members.  Senator Yoont may want to cut taxes, but is opposed to welfare reform.  Senator Floont may want to increase the EPA's budget, but is opposed to cuts in the military, and so on.

THE VIEW FROM HERE
I can't see the future any better than anyone else.  And I'm in the middle of the change, which means I'm no more able to read what is happening than you are.  But I get a sense that there is a major change taking place, that the political parties as they exist right now aren't likely to much longer, and I get the feeling that this is where things are headed.

The important thing to keep in mind is that when big shifts of this kind happen they are almost never what the last big shift was or in a way that is expected at the time.  As human beings we tend to try to put everything into a context of what we are most familiar with, particularly what we've experienced in the past.  But that's not always how it goes, and almost never with major events.  Too often we're fixated on the last big evil to see the next one.  And too often we're so busy trying to fit what we see happening into the boxes we're comfortable with like a kid hammering shapes through a toy.  But that star-shaped block won't fit through the circle-shaped hole.

All this talk about a new civil war and the unrest of the 70s may be missing the point entirely, and I think is.  Preparing for and pushing for what we think is happening when something else entirely is would be a pretty major mistake.

Oh, and I'm not saying what comes next is necessarily going to be better.  I doubt it will be.  I think we're moving into a stage where we're not in a constitutional republic any longer.  I just believe we do not know what it is going to be like and trying to predict by making things fit it into old patterns will not work.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

DEPRESSION SURVIVAL KIT: Frugality

"Cable, who would be dumb enough to pay extra to watch TV shows??"

Its almost an alien concept today, but it used to be very common in the United States where a family would have one earner and have many kids.  They'd have a middle class life, with dad working at the factory or rail yard or grocery or whatever, mom staying home, and 4+ kids.  

Today people look at that and are baffled, uncomprehending.  How is this even possible??  When they ponder it, they decide that the dollar doesn't buy as much as it used to, people just aren't making enough money so they can't afford kids and both have to work.

Now, inflation has taken a bite out of our money and for the last ten years or more, earning has been pretty flat, without really keeping up with inflation.  Because the economy hasn't been solid and inflation worse than the official, carefully massaged numbers we get from the US federal government our dollar doesn't go as far as it once did.

But even in economic downturns and bad times families still made it.  How was this possible, have things changed so its impossible today?  Well I'm not going to argue this is the way things must be done, nor will I argue that it is necessarily possible.  What I'm going to do here is show the differences in spending habits and lifestyle that we have now compared to back then and its up to you to come to your own conclusions.

THE NEW EXPENSES
The first big issue is that people have expenses today they never had in the past.  Just 20 years ago, a cell phone was more or less a luxury, something the rich had. Now its almost considered a necessity, not a luxury, but a minimum quality of life requirement.  Each cell phone costs hundreds of dollars individually (less as a big package) and each month, those phones all cost money to charge and pay for their "data" and phone packages.

That's a couple hundred dollars extra a month that Ma and Pa Barker didn't have even in the 1990s.  Add to that the cost of TV and internet, and the price goes up even more.  Even if you don't have cable TV (as increasingly, families do not these days) that is being replaced by Hulu and Amazon Prime and Netflix and a score of other alternatives.  And none of them are free.

And on top of that are additional subscriptions.  Paying for that World of Warcraft account is just 15 a month but that's an expense that nobody had in the 90s either.  Those console games are a pretty major cost just to buy the consoles, then each game, and any Downloadable content, and with them any subscriptions and you're looking at thousands of dollars a year.  And that's just games, it doesn't include services like Spottify and other expenses for entertainment.  None of this stuff existed in the past.  They were costs that Ma and Pa Barker never even considered, let alone had the option of.

HARD CHOICES
And even things like snacks have gone up.  That "coffee" milkshake you get every morning and at lunch is ten bucks or more a day.  Even just a coffee is almost $2 at one of these places.  Dad the steel worker would get a 25 cent coffee at the diner and head to work.  Free refills.  Instead of a lunch pail with a thermos of soup and a sandwich for $1.50, he gets takeout or picks up something at the drive thru, for $10.

In this sense, the dollar doesn't reach as far.  But that's not because of inflation or cheap bosses, its because we're choosing the more expensive option for our dollar.  Shopping carefully for the best deal on the best materials can make a cumulative difference that might surprise you.

When Joey and Jilly get ready for school, its time for a whole new outfit.  New backpack.  New supplies.  That's hundreds of dollars a year for each kid to hook them up for the new school year.  But back in the day, Joey got his older brother Jack's hand-me-downs and wore the same sneakers to school he had the year before.  Styles changed a bit slower back then, so the transition was less of an issue, plus people were less concerned about wearing hand-me-downs as well.

When it came time to eat, Ma Barker would make a meal from flour, eggs, meat, veggies out of the garden (or canned the fall before), and basic supplies -- baked "from scratch."  Now cooking at home is about buying a special blue ribbon box deal that is delivered to your door for $25+ a meal.  You assemble it like a Lego kit and put it on the counter to be eaten in front of the computer/TV/console game.  Or get takeout for even more.

All of this is small enough in and of its self, but adds up to thousands a year.  Combine that with things like vacations to Disneyland, two cars (and the insurance, gas, and maintenance for them), redecorating the house to match what Martha Stewart or that Instagram picture showed, and it really piles up.  Now you really do have to have two earners, and there's no way to get by with so many kids.

A CHANGE OF LIFESTYLE
And it goes beyond purchases.  When something goes wrong with your house or your car, when your clothes begin to wear out or tear, in the past, they'd be patched up or repaired at home.  Calling an expert is very expensive, so people learned to be experts to fix what they could.  Obviously not everything was possible to handle alone, but a surprising amount of stuff was.  And yeah, while you can fix a lot on your car, a lot more now needs special equipment and a computer.  But its still feasible to some degree.

Dad could fix pretty much anything, mom could sew up pretty much anything.  Mom and dad has first aid skills and could fix a bump or a scratch, a cut or a bruise with a kiss, some bandages, and zinc oxide or rubbing alcohol, not a trip to the doctor.  Its the can-do, self-fixing attitude that helped keep costs down.  Just keeping the house clean and kept up can save a lot of money in doctor bills.

Yes I know that popular culture and entertainment strongly discourages trying to do anything yourself and mocks any attempt by dad to fix something.  But it honestly is possible to learn and to do.  It used to be passed down generation to generation by parents and grandparents.  And family was always nearby to help with tips, too.

Family is a big part of this that's largely missing today.  Even if we're close in a relationship, we're often miles away.  I have family living in Kansas, California, Louisiana, all over the nation, even in Denmark.  We can get along great, but its not like they can drop by to watch the kids in an emergency.  Having close by family and friends, a support network like church, lodge, etc makes a big difference as well.

There's a book out called The Millionaire Next Door that examines the lifestyle of modest millionaires.  They have the cash, but don't spend it conspicuously.  They live a middle class lifestyle and have lots for emergencies or special things.  Living frugally gives them all the things they need, and leaves them the money for the extras they might want, on occasion.  Its a lifestyle choice, its a conscious decision to life lower than your means that can teach us quite a bit.

Does all this add up to being able to do what they used to?  Can you have a one-earner household and several kids today without slouching into poverty and loss?  You decide, I can't run the numbers for your house or your plans or your life.  What kind of house you can get for a certain amount of money varies pretty widely based on where you buy it, for example.

DOING WITHOUT TO HAVE MORE
But does this mean a poorer, emptier lifestyle?  Not necessarily.  Your kids can get by without playing Fortnite and you can make it without the latest Assassin's Creed.  You can take a vacation somewhere closer and less expensive.  You don't need that new dress, shoes, handbag, tie, set of kicks.  You can enjoy playing with toys that are repeatable and more creative such as Tinker Toys, clay, and Spirograph.  There's no "I beat that game" with these, they're open ended as your creativity.  Books are cheap used and can be passed around.  Its surprising how much entertainment is available for not very much cost at all.  Its like the old joke of getting the cat a toy and he loves the box it came in.

Its decisions like that which made it possible for parents to have one at home and more kids in the past; the choice to do with less in order to have more family.  Almost none of what we take for granted -- such as the laptop I'm typing on or whatever device you're reading this on -- we don't really need, its just really nice to have them.

And I'm not trying to argue we ought not have this stuff or that its wasteful.  I'm just presenting the case that we can do without if we need to, depending on what our priorities are.   And that's how they did it back then; they were frugal.  They did with less in order to gain a different more.

This is part of the Depression Era Survival Kit series.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Exciting fantasy and suspense for your reading pleasure!

Snowberry's Veil: A Fantasy adventure of a King's Ranger separated from a caravan of settlers he was escorting, trying to survive so he can get back to the woman he loves.

Old Habits: A thief hunting for the gems he stole, then were taken from him travels to a new land where he becomes tangled in a dark plot in a castle, in over his head and out of his depth.

Life Unworthy: A werewolf loose in World War 2 Poland, fighting Nazis and the monster within him.

Friday, June 08, 2018

THE BLACK DOG

"I had a black dog, his name was depression"
-Matthew Johnstone

Anthony Bourdain killed himself today.  His death has left many people shocked and hurt, and certainly has left his 11-year-old daughter without a father, and his girlfriend Asia Argento without a lover.
As a man who has walked with the black dog before, and come very, very close to ending it all several times, I can assure you I understand where the urge comes from.  There comes times when nothing at all matters and you cannot see a way out or a way forward.  Where you look at your life and see only the wrong, the bad, the mistaken, the stupid, the hurtful, the failure, the misery, and any look forward sees only more of the same.  I know that dark place very well.

I know that there are people out there feeling that right now.  Maybe its you.  You read things like this blog not because of any hunger for information or knowledge, not out of a thought that maybe it will be useful some day, but out of some dull grinding pattern of habit or the tiny glimmering distant hope that perhaps it will give you a reason to even look at yourself in the mirror.

I'm not going to tell you any empty platitudes about how you have so much to live for, or what you bring to the world.  I'm not going to tell you everything will be better some day or good news is just around the corner.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.  I'm realistic enough to know that sometimes things are just hard and it doesn't let up.

No, I'll just say this: suicide is the most cowardly, selfish thing anyone on earth can do.  Nobody understands this better than someone who had someone close to them kill themselves.  I got a suicide note from a friend online.  She'd killed herself, and apparently I was the only person she thought had been decent to her.  It hit me like a shovel in the chest.

Suicide is about yourself, and it is an attempt to ignore everyone else and what it will do. You tell yourself lies about how they won't care or are better off without you.  But its hateful lies whispered in your ear.

Don't retreat.  Don't back down.  You are a hero every day you stay in the fight.  You are a conquerer every day you fight the black dog down.  You are triumphant every night you finished the fight and go to sleep.  You're that warrior on the bridge, holding off an army.  All your doubts and fears and sorrows and miseries and regrets, all the terrors of the future and anxieties are allied against you, and every day you fight them off you win, and win, and win.

Never, ever give up that fight.  Keep on being the hero.  Keep on battling them back.  Keep that sword in your hand and step out there every day for that battle.  Because as long as you keep fighting you have a reason to keep going.  The battle its self is your purpose, when there is nothing else.

Its wrong to kill unjustly, and make no mistake you kill a human being when you suicide.  You wouldn't kill someone else that way.  Don't do it to yourself.  Don't back down.  Don't give up.  Don't ever stop fighting.

And while you fight... there are things out there you can do.  Weapons you can arm yourself with.  New pieces of armor.  A shield.  Find those around you who are there to help.  Reach out to those who can make a difference: a loved one, a pastor, a counselor.  Sometimes its chemical, its something that broke inside you like breaking an arm, something that can be helped with proper care.

But you can't reach that armor if you give up.  You cannot arm yourself with that new sword if you give in.  Never
Ever
Stop 
Fighting.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A NEW WORD

After over 12 years of blogging, I finally changed the look of WATN.  I liked the old format and it seemed useful for off-PC users, fitting tablets and phones better, but the main picture at the top of the earth lights failed to load finally.

So, I took the opportunity to make some changes.  I still have some work to do on the site and it changed the way the text formats, so old posts are not quite as clean and easy to read, but I think it looks nice enough. 

You'll notice on the sidebar that it has a favorites section.  I am trying that out to see how it works; these aren't actually the most-shared and most-read blog entries I've written.  As far as I can tell its just "most clicks" which includes spiders and bots spamming my site with ad comments and crawling across the webpage looking for stuff.

Also I have a twitter feed widget up, not sure if I'll keep that or not, but its something to help people connect with me on other platforms.  Eventually I want to get more stuff put into place and I'm still fiddling with how the layout looks, but at least its a change.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

THE NEW LOYALTY ECONOMY

"Melts in your mouth, not in your hands."

Marketing and advertising experts like to analyze how ads have changed over time, how various movements and epochs in advertising took place.   It is my opinion that we're entered a new era of advertising but most companies and ad businesses haven't caught up yet.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ADS
Originally, the first ads were very crude and direct.  An image, a sample.  They relied on basic senses such as smell (wow that food smells good) and other local influences.  Word of mouth would let this spread a bit further over an area, but it was very local.

In time, advertising began to reach out further, through posted notes on public areas, mailings, and such.  In 1704, the first newspaper ad was published, reaching everyone who bought that paper, even if they weren't in the same city.  Newspapers would travel with migrants, and were passed between people on the frontier just to have something to read, and if necessary insulate walls with, light fires with, or use for toilet paper.  A New York ad could reach a cowboy in Texas and a miner in California.

By 1835, billboards showed up in big cities, allowing an ad to stay in sight and be visible for long distances as people passed it.  Advertising was still passive at this point; they were relying on people coming across their product or ad, reaching people as they would come within range.
In 1920, advertising became more aggressive.  Instead of waiting for people to come to an ad, they began sending advertising out over the air on radio shows, primarily soap operas (which got their name by the soap ads).  Companies began to sponsor a radio show: you'd have one business paying for advertising on that show, and that's the only ads you'd get.  Fatima Cigarettes on Dragnet.  Canada Dry on Jack Benny's show.

This allowed companies to directly target potential customers rather than hoping they'd contact someone by putting their advertising out for all to see.  Shows had advertisers based on their audience, trying to reach an audience based on the content of the show.  When television advertising appeared in 1940, this was even more directed -- but now instead of a single advertiser, there would be multiple companies competing to reach viewers.
By 1960, advertising was becoming scientific.  Focus group studies and market research began, trying to find the ideal way to reach and target their audience.  Who was buying these products?  What kinds of things did they like?  What sort of ads were most effective?  By studying this kind of thing, companies found out how to best spend their money and hone in on their buyers.

THE CHANGING APPROACH
Yet there's more to this than a simple history of techniques.  Advertising first started out primarily informative: you can get this here.  Then it became descriptive: this is what my product is like.  In the descriptions, "pitches" developed, explaining why this product is superior and desirable -- even if they had to lie to get there.  That snake oil salesman was just telling you how great his bottle of goo is, at the risk of a few lies and exaggerations.

Ads shifted from merely information about a product to being more about enjoyment.  It wasn't enough to simply tell people Coca Cola was refreshing and tasty, they had to show wonderful people being happy drinking coke.  Products promoted a happier existence simply by using this product.

From there, lifestyle ads began to be produced.  In these ads, a business tried not to sell their product by its merits so much as to sell their product by associating it with something people wanted to be part of.  Instead of Coca Cola being tasty and making you happy, now Coke was something young and hip people liked: you were cool by association.  The Marlboro Man was not about great tobacco and flavor, they stopped even mentioning any of that.  Now the product was an image, a symbol of being cool, independent, rugged, and masculine.  Advertisers tried to associate the product in peoples' minds with a certain lifestyle or image in addition to or rather than sell the product its self.

So now, instead of an ad on how dependable, safe, fuel efficient, or fast a car is, there are beautifully shot scenes of cars sliding over wet pavement, driving along roads, parked by partying college students, etc.  How good is the car?  Who cares, you'll be like this if you drive it!

The internet had a huge impact on advertising, though.  With search engines and later social media sites feeding advertisers data on who looks for or talks about what, and demographics on those people, advertisers could more specifically target their ads.  Now instead of looking at general groups they could pick 20-something hispanic college graduates who like pizza and computer games.  Ads could be shown only to those groups and people, with multiple different types of ads for different folks.  When you log onto your site, you get a suite of ads targeting you based on what you do when and why.

Yet there was a problem here: people were finding it easier and easier to avoid ads.  With ad blocking software, ad-less streaming services, digital video recording, and other tools, people were able to consume content without even seeing ads.  And what's worse, when they saw ads, they were not likely to even pay attention to them.  If an ad runs, they're usually fast forwarded, or muted while someone looks at their phone instead.

So advertisers responded by trying to make advertising interesting and memorable.  Instead of being informative or associating with a lifestyle, ads started to become little skits, little stories.  They were surprising, ironic, visually stunning, bizarre, shocking, and even confusing.  The idea was that if you could get people to pay attention and talk about the ads, then they'd be noticed, and take effect.  So Burger King runs a series of odd and slightly creepy ads about a guy wearing a plastic mask showing up in the morning in uncomfortable places.  You get ads with punchlines that people remember "she sounds hideous!"  You get ads with little goofy skits and memorably strange characters like a gecko or reenactments of odd insurance events.  In many ads it isn't even clear what they are advertising, and the product sometimes never even appears.

How well these work is a matter of some doubt.  The "Breakfast with the King" campaign won tons of awards and lots of people talking about it... but BK dropped the campaign because it not only cost a lot but was not increasing sales.  It was "viral" in the internet sense, but not effective.  It was great for the ad company, winning awards and making lots of money... but not so much for Burger King.

And to complicate matters, several traditional and valuable platforms for reaching customers are dying out or no longer in use.  Radio advertising is not nearly as valuable as it was in the golden age of the wireless.  Television advertising is not useful as it once was when people don't watch TV as much -- and when they do, often are watching content without ads (Netflix, etc).  Newspaper circulation numbers have plummeted from their zenith in the early 2000s, and classified sections are virtually worthless with the rise of alternatives such as Craigslist.  And as I said above, its trivial to block out and ignore computer advertising.

And to make matters worse, viral ads get people talking and enjoying the entertainment (or at least puzzling over it) but how well do they work to sell products?  Here's a quiz to help consider this.  What product or business are these familiar ads promoting?  (answers at bottom)
  1. The Most Interesting Man in the World
  2. Wife thinks husband is talking to another woman, he's wearing khakis
  3. Sketches convince women they are more beautiful than they think
  4. Handsome black man rides a unicorn and surfs waterfalls
  5. Blendtec Will It Blend?
  6. Pop Starlets in the arena as gladiators
  7. You turn into someone else when you're hungry
  8. Where's the beef??

Monday, May 14, 2018

DESENSITIZING

"We are literally turning umbrage into an industry."
--Lionel Shriver

One of the hazards of modern writing is a sector of the public who is ready to find fault and discomfort in nearly anything they encounter.  This oversensitivity and zeal to run to social media and decry what one finds objectionable.  An author can run into this movement to their discomfort, particularly in certain genres.

There is such a thing as the "Sensitivity Reader" being used at big publishing houses, and you can hire one or more personally as an independent writer. What they do is go through your book to see if there are any of a certain sort of stereotypes, biases, or what they consider to be "problematic language."

This has the advantage of giving your work a seal of approval that is likely to avoid most of the social media outrage machine, and prevent people from complaining to your publisher (or you) about certain elements of your book.  However, there are many disadvantages.

I would warn authors to be cautious having a "Sensitivity Reader" edit their book for the basic reason that conflict and uncomfortable characters and situations are what make for drama and engaging storytelling. If you sanitize everything out of the book that certain groups may find objectionable, you're likely to defang your story and may even ruin your plot.

Its important to remember that an author has a story to tell and uses characters, situations, language, and events to move that story along, entertain, inform, and interest readers.  Having someone pore though your manuscript to remove all the objectionable bits is very likely to ruin the story.

Mark Twain's books include racist terms and peoples.  Should that be removed for being objectionable to minorities?  JK Rowling's Harry Potter stories have very unpleasant people doing mean things, should those be removed for triggering those who have experienced similar events?

There’s a thin line between combing through manuscripts for anything potentially objectionable to particular subgroups and overt political censorship. Is it any longer acceptable for characters to be bigoted? Can a character in your novel vote for Brexit? And if all the characters speak with the same courtesy, and voice the same standard left-of-centre views, contemporary fiction can’t hope to contribute to the understanding of a world that elects Donald Trump.

Fiction won’t help younger readers to make sense of their real lives, if in books Muslim men never groom white girls or become radicalised through the internet, transsexuals never regret transitioning or conclude they’re actually gay, women are always confident and empowered, and the terminally ill are always brave (or whatever they’re supposed to be; ask the experts). These days, with all hell breaking loose in Europe and the US, the left’s sensitivity run amok seems to be coexisting in a bubbled‑off alternative universe.
Sensitivity Readers are expensive, one quoted in the Guardian piece about them quit while making $100 an hour to go through books.  Another reference states that it cost $250 for a single book examination.  
Further, based on the article, they can be difficult to work with.  The retired reader complains:
“I quit doing them because they were exhausting and sometimes authors wanted to argue with me,” she says. “They weren’t open to the feedback. They weren’t trying to understand the feedback. They were insisting on the rightness of what they were writing.”
Now, that's not the voice of a skilled, engaging editor, that's the voice of a tyrant.  And to be honest, anyone who reads other people's writings in order to find things the consider objectionable is not very likely to be flexible and understanding.  They aren't typically the sort of person who is there to engage in a discussion or consider what other people think, only to impose their viewpoint.

And it is important to understand that these readers only come from a specific and particular viewpoint.  They are not going to worry about how poorly white men are portrayed or what insults are directed at Christians.  They won't care if a conservative nationalist is treated in a story.  They will not object to the depiction of southerners as ignorant incestuous bigots.

So the end result is that an expensive Sensitivity Reader is likely to just slant your book in a manner that is objectionable to another group of people, rather than clear up any objections.  And that's not a big win for authors at all.

Friday, April 13, 2018

WRITE GIRLS

"We need more children’s books with female main characters"
--Chelsea Clinton

Recently a piece of news reached me through the Ace of Spades HQ blog and it made me chuckle.  It seems a Cleveland Ohio book store decided to highlight all the books by female authors (that they were aware of) by turning the books by men backward.  See, that way you can't see their titles or author, just pages.

They did it for a few weeks for "Women's History Month" according to the article at the Cleveland Scene, as a way of "silencing the male voice."  One publishing house raved:
This articulates the display’s effect admirably in terms of speaking and silence, but the visual effect—a clear picture of the gender disparity in the canon—is what’s stunning.
But are there so few female authors out there?  Are women in  disparity in publishing and literature?
As a published author with 8 books under my keyboard, I've got some experience in the publishing and literature business.  I have self-published them all, for a variety of reasons I've gone into elsewhere.  There was a time when I tried very hard to pitch my book to agents.  My theory was, self publish the first one and establish that I have readers and the ability to do it, and use that as a springboard into what at the time I thought was the "mainstream."

I noticed something while pouring through the lists of thousands of literary agents.  There was a consistent theme, a repeated fact that stood out very noticeably after a short time.

Literary agents are mostly women.  By a fairly large margin.  In fact, it became surprising to find a man who was an agent.  After a while it was kind of an amusing game, picking through the list like looking for a four leaf clover.  This is a pretty well established and known fact, one examined in this Quora article.
I was going to question whether there really are, since in general people tend to seriously overestimate the percentage of women in any mixed group, but then I checked the AAR membership list and saw that 37 of the first 50 names are indeed female.
The author claims this is some cruel trick by the publishing business to keep women down because of the "glass ceiling" of course. But if you examine publishing, you find the same phenomenon in place.  Most editors and people who work at publishing houses are also women.  That article about the bookstore above?  No men work at the shop.  In fact, women's voices are very well represented in publishing overall.

Publisher's Weekly ran an article about this phenomenon entitled Where The Boys Are Not.  They said comfortably that everybody knows that women dominate publishing:
It’s no secret that lots of women work in publishing. But just how many more women work in publishing than men? In PW’s recent Salary Survey (Aug. 2) one statistic stuck out: 85% of publishing employees with less than three years of experience are women.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

THE DEAL THAT WAS ART

"What we can't establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent"
--Former FBI Director Comey

Right now, special prosecutor Meuller wants to interview President Trump about Russian collusion and whatever else he can come up with, as part of an investigation.  So I have some suggestions (courtesy Sheryl Atkisson on Twitter) for how he should set up this interview.  Here are the rules:
  1. Prior to the interview, lead official meets privately on a plane at the airport with Trump's wife.
  2. An exoneration letter is drafted in advance.
  3. Immunity is given to top Trump aides (and they’re allowed to sit in on interview)
  4. The interview isn’t recorded.
  5. Lead official (Mueller) doesn’t attend.
  6. Interviewer's family and boss has received large donations from Trump political friends.
  7. Main interviewer has expressed disdain for Trump’s opponents, such as discussing an “insurance plan” with higher-ups to undermine them.
  8. As long as they believe Trump didn't intend any harm, he's let off the hook for any violations.
These are the terms Trump should do the interview under.  What's that you say, that sounds unjust, rigged, even ridiculous?  There's no possibility of justice under these conditions?  That reads to you like some kind of ridiculous piece of fiction, that no prosecutor or law enforcement official would ever agree to?
That's what Comey set up for the Hillary Clinton email server and espionage law violations interview.  That's how the investigation was handled for her.  These exact, precise conditions are how her "interrogation" was agreed upon and carried out.
All that Sheryl did is say Trump should get the same deal as Hillary Clinton.
As long as there have been rich and powerful, the rich and powerful have gotten away with more than you or I could possibly consider.  The difference here is that the American system and philosophy of equality under law should be the last place on earth it should take place.
Yet what McCabe, for instance did in lying three separate times to federal officers and leaking materials to the press, we'd be in federal prison for doing.  He's still free with his pension.
And the more people come to see this happen and realize its taking place, the less likely people are to continue following and obeying the law.  If people can get away with rigging the system and breaking the law without consequence, that simply undermines any trust and faith in the law across the entire society.
You probably stopped at a stop sign or light today.  What makes people keep doing that, even when nobody is watching?  Honoring the law, trusting that its good for us, and obeying a system we agreed upon.  What happens when that honor, that obedience, and that trust is undermined far enough?
There cannot be anyone "too big" or "too important" to prosecute and punish. In fact, there's a good argument for the idea that the more powerful, public, and wealthy you are, the more the law should come down upon them for violating it. Doing so publicly and severely proves to the nation that there is no one above the law, and hence we all are treated fairly and equally. Failing to do so proves the opposite, and leads to chaos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

THE MORAL CONFUSION OF MONICA LEWINSKY

"I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky"
--President Bill Clinton

For those of you too young to remember, Monica Lewinsky was one of a long line of women which president Clinton had affairs with, sexually harassed, and allegedly even raped over the course of his life and career.  She was a young woman working as an intern, and a big star-struck fan of the president, and infamously she wore a special blue dress to a session with the president in the oval office which ended up being front page news involving oral sex and DNA.
Monica Lewinsky became kind of a cultural touchpoint involving the presidency and that blue dress emblematic of Clinton's time in office.  She sort of disappeared from the public after a while, and some despised her for her part in harming Clinton's legacy and leading to his impeachment for perjory.
Indeed, the events surrounding Lewinsky killed a growing movement at the time trying to define sexual harassment as "anything a woman at any point decides she didn't care for" in the broadest possible terms.  Even a consensual relationship initiated by the woman was being argued as being sexual harassment if the man was in any position of authority.
Then the news came out that the darling of the left, the icon of progressivism, President Clinton, was having an affair with an unpaid White House intern, and suddenly the talk about all that disappeared.
Until recently.  A few months ago, Monica Lewinsky admitted that she was having second thoughts about the events, events which she previously was completely comfortable with.  Why?
Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair magazine about how she had "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" following the affair, and went on to write:
"I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)"

"Now, at 44, I'm beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern. I'm beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot. (Although power imbalances—and the ability to abuse them—do exist even when the sex has been consensual.)"
This is all, of course, in the context of the "Me Too" movement, about sexual harassment, molestation, and rape by figures in government, entertainment, sports, and media.  This has largely died down, probably because it did not have the desired effect of toppling the president, but still it has had the impact of making many on the left admit that yes, President Clinton was a scumbag who abused his power and probably left a long line of abused women in his wake.
The Confusion
But Look at what Ms Lewinsky says here.  Why was this a bad act, why was it wrong for President Clinton to do this?  Because of the "power differentials" rendering consent "moot."  Her entire moral calculus is based on relative power, the oppressor/oppressed template of the modern left.  At no point does she even begin to mention any culpability on her own part.  At no point does she talk about how it was adultery and damaging to the relationship of marriage. At no point does she mention this being bad for the country in terms of moral corrosion.
Her whole argument is not that this was sinful, wrong, adulterous, or improper behavior, only that President Clinton was a bad guy for being so powerful and she so minor in the grand scheme of things.  Even though she was a willing and eager partner, she still suggests it was abusive, non consensual behavior.
So she's blameless in this, and its not wrong to commit adultery, there's nothing innately immoral in what they did.  Its just a power differential problem.  Why this bizarre approach?
The Reason
Well partly because to admit otherwise admits an overarching absolute standard for moral behavior.  If you admit that its sinful and wrong to commit adultery, that's an admission that marriage is a special state that should be protected and further that there is a moral code that we are supposed to follow, one that is outside our personal whims and ever-changing cultural ideas.  And that's a bag of responsibility and moral significance that the left really does not want to even consider possible, let alone admit to.
But there's another reason for this strange approach.  It is the desire of the left to portray men as predatory monsters, dangerous, awful creatures who need to emasculate themselves in order to function in their utopian cultural dreams.  Its men who do all bad stuff, or lead people to do bad stuff, and hence men need to change, being the nexus and source of all terrible things.  A man being in power is by its self an abuse, no matter how willing a woman is to go along.
And this scheme extends its self further, condemning any man in any position who sleeps with any woman at any time.  He's the oppressor, even if she was willing and happy.  Consider President Donald Trump who is accused of over a decade ago of having an affair with a woman subordinate to him.  She came to him seeking work on a show, they claim.  He's one of the #MeToo types that abuses women!  He's another Harvey Weinstein!  He's a monster!
She was certainly willing (being a prostitute, nude model, and porn star), but because of the "power differential" well, it was wrong, it was as bad as Bill Clinton and we all know what happened to him, right?  Right?  They impeached him for having sex!  Those prudish Republicans!  And now they elected another Bill!  Hypocrites!  Impeach this one, too!
Never mind that it was consensual.  Never mind that it was twelve years ago.  Never mind that he wasn't the president of the United States with an intern.  Never mind that there is no evidence or hint of anything since then.  Never mind that Bill Clinton did it in the oval office while on the job.  Never mind that he was impeached for the federal felony of perjuring himself in testimony before a grand jury and lying to a federal officer.
Its all about leverage to try to get rid of President Trump.  And that's the end of it all.  Monica Lewinsky continues to be a used tool of the left, manipulated into this ridiculous article which admits that the entire Democratic Party, leftist America, entertainment community, and news media were all completely, in full knowledge, deliberately wrong about Clinton for decades.  She had to word it in a way that ignores every sense of morality and justice so that they can lever this into yet another wearying attack on the president.
And its not working, so far at least.  The story interests people but they largely are indifferent to yet more news that President Trump used to be a philandering scumbag.  Everyone already knew he was a serial adulterer in the past.  This isn't news.
But sadly, Monica's confusion about morality isn't restricted to her or this article.  Its just an example of the sad, bizarre pretzels people can spin themselves into while trying to avoid the obvious truth and build their ideology on sand.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

CRAFTING THE MYTH

For your assistance, a generic mythical woke child event so you can craft your own myth on social media:


Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE: President Trump

"Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people."
-Proverbs 14:34

President Donald Trump is the 45th president that the US has had in its 242 year history.  He was elected last year by a broad margin of electoral votes and by the official count lost by a few million popular votes, largely from California.
Trump has always been a controversial figure, even from back when he was just the son of a New York real estate mogul.  Over the years he was publicly prominent, seen with beautiful women, at trendy and stylish establishments, associating with celebrities, and even becoming one himself.  Donald Trump was involved with the failed football league USFL, and has successfully produced and run several television shows in addition to his real estate efforts.
It is difficult to mention his name these days without controversy erupting. Some are incredibly insulting and offended by the very name of Trump, others gleeful and celebratory.  Few are undecided or neutral on the man.
PROBLEMS
Most of the worst criticisms brought up by the president's enemies are simply political viciousness brought to the forefront by loud, influential voices: racist, Nazi, Russian puppet, etc.  Those aren't worth addressing.  But he has his flaws which are important to consider.
From a Christian perspective, there are many problems with President Trump as a person.  He is crude, using foul language and questionable turns of speech.  He has a history of serial adultery and sleeping with various women.  He lies almost continually, contradicting himself sometimes in the same paragraph.  He's bombastic, extreme, and boastful.  He's viciously vindictive against his enemies or those that annoy him, and can be very rash in his statements that sometimes he has to roll back or try to explain away.
For Christians, these are not very positive personality traits.  Coarse, profane, and libertine are not traits that Christians would prefer their president hold.  We want a moral, upright, responsible leader that shows dignity, honor, and expresses Christian virtues of peace, humility, love, and reverence toward God.
President Bush, for example, at his best exemplified this kind of leader.  President Clinton at his worst did not.  So we have a president now that is distasteful in his personal behavior and not the sort we'd ideally wish to see in office.
The primary reason for this is that while we get a president that is downstream from culture -- that is, we elect men that reflect our culture, rather than create it -- presidents are cultural leaders when in office and they shape the way our culture perceives things and responds.
President Clinton's attitude and behavior concerning sex had a huge impact on how sex is perceived in the USA.  Before him, sexual scandals would instantly end a presidential candidacy.  After him, its a minor speedbump and oral sex is often treated as not really sex.
So a lying crude speaking former philanderer will have he effect of coarsening culture and damaging especially younger people.  If the president does it how can you say its wrong for me to do so?
POSITIVES
On the other hand, there is much to be glad about with President Trump.  He has taken direct and strict action to limit abortion -- one of his first acts was (like President Bush before him) to end the "Mexico City" policy of public funding used to pay for foreign abortions overseas at military bases.  The nomination of Supreme Court Justice Niel Gorsuch was a big positive for Christians as he is an advocate of the protections for religion and opposes most hard-left extremist social ideas.
Although blocked by an activist judge in Hawaii, President Trump's immigration policy was one of preferential treatment to Christian refugees fleeing persecution in the middle east.  President Trump has ended the Obama White House's virtual war on organizations who had religious objections to ACA ("Obamacare") pro-abortion requirements.
Most importantly, his wife's religious nature and change from her earlier modeling days to a stronger Christian seems to have influenced him significantly.  More broadly, President Trump is the first president that the US has had who seems to understand and be very willing to fight the culture war, personally and strongly.  For example, he reimposed the military "transgender" ban, seeking to prevent normalization of this behavior.  He was once pro-abortion but has at least publicly reversed that position very strongly, and has acted on this position.
THE CYRUS EFFECT
I don't know if President Trump is a Christian or not.  If he is, he's not a very active one - he rarely goes to church and seems largely unfamiliar with the Bible.  That doesn't mean he is not saved, it just means he's not being very diligent in his walk with God, if he is saved.  I cannot know the man's heart, but his testimony, his statements of faith, do not contradict the Bible or Christianity as, say, President Obama's did.
The first principle of Christianity is that we are all sinners saved by the doing and dying of Jesus Christ put to our account through the Holy Spirit by God the Father.  I am no less a sinner than President Trump; indeed I shudder to think what my life might have looked like in his place, with all that wealth, power, and access to willing beautiful women.  I cannot condemn his sins because of the "log in my own eye" and thanks be to God, we are saved not by our perfect lives and piety but Christ alone.
President Trump has changed.  He's still bombastic and crude and vindictive and profane, but he has stepped away from his former life of sexual promiscuity, from all accounts and information we have.  All accusations, statements, and claims end about a decade ago or longer.  And if there's one thing we should celebrate and encourage, its for people who were once deep in sin to step away and live apart from that sin, not condemn and attack someone for it.
President Clinton was smoother and slicker than President Trump, but he was actively engaging in sexual misconduct, adultery, and even sexual harassment while in the Oval office as president.  This is a key difference: the distaste and rejection of President Clinton's behavior in office was because he was still at it, without shame or any sign of repentance or even inclination to change.
That said, President Trump is still a fairly regretful person in his speech.  He says things and speaks in a way that we ought not, and he should repent of and turn away from, just as we all should the sins we commit in our lives each day.
However, a president is largely important based on what he does in office, not what he says.  Speech, particularly in today's culture, is very ephemeral and fading.  But actions count.  And where it counts, President Trump is on target doing what he ought to in his job.
As Stephen Mansfield puts it in his book Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him:
Americans should want someone who can distill their faith into a political philosophy. I don’t need the President to pray like I pray… I do want to know that this person is committed to religious liberty.
It is the president's job to execute policy and defend the US Constitution, not be a religious leader.  I have long been tired of endless presidential candidates who claim to be Christian just to get elected, when most of them probably were not.  Every single US president has claimed to be a Christian, even ones who were definitely not such as Thomas Jefferson and Barack Hussein Obama.  
As a president, Donald J Trump is actually doing what needs to be done, and carrying out policy that protects and defends Christians in America and around the world.  In his job, he is doing what needs to be done, not doing what ought not be done, and working on policy that is ethically and materially beneficial for the nation.
One cannot help but think of the emperor Cyrus, king of kings in Persia, who was objectively a terrible human being and a reprobate.  But in his job as emperor, he did very well for the Persian people, and more importantly was directly and materially beneficial to the people of God, helping them rebuild their home and the temple of Jehovah in Jerusalem.
Cyrus was a man used by God for His people, and I believe that President Trump is a man being used by God to help His people as well.  He was not a good man, by Biblical standards, but Cyrus was a man who did good for God's people, who brought change and benefit to them despite his flaws.
I utterly and specifically reject the ridiculous, unBiblical, and even blasphemous notion that President Trump is specially chosen by God as an agent of His will or some figure of holiness. Donald Trump is not some special righteous figure who will save us all.  I believe the nation is beyond saving, at least by a political figure.  God may have mercy on us some day, despite our national sins.
That said, all presidents are chosen by God generally, and placed over us as part of His will.  Even the ones we don't like.  Jesus Christ made that very clear when he stated that even Pontius Pilate was put into power by God. And God has chosen President Trump for His purposes, and so far the man has been carrying out a policy and government platform which is very consistent with Christian wishes and needs.
As with all presidents in the past, we should be praying for Donald Trump.  He needs our prayers not just to do the right thing and carry out God's will, but that he repent of his sins, turn away from the wrong in his life, live a better, more Godly public existence, and cease his crudeness and antics.  He needs our prayers just as President Obama before him and whomever God puts into office after him.  And what he does right, we should support and applaud, while what he does wrong we should be willing to condemn and call for him to do better, as always.
*This is part of the Christian Response series.