WAKING UP

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It hasn’t been this interesting in a long time.

Women on the march – women silenced in the senate – reading letters and legal opinions on Facebook instead of looking at pictures of cats and cute babies – lawyers offering free services at airports. Has there ever been a time since Watergate when people are so interested in the evening news?

Of course, our Canadian Prime Minister got bumped from almost any mention in the New York times on the day of his Washigton visit this week. We Canadians can calm down and see how little we really matter in the scheme of things.   Of course our Canadian newspapers and media presented an alternate universe with its front page headlines, commentaries and photos.  But switch to the New York Times and PBS and we know more about Nordstrom’s merchandising policy that what will happen to the North American Free Trade Agreement.  The Israeli Prime Minister is likely to get the same not-with-it reception from the US Twittterer-in-Chief.

The groups that are totally forgotten these days are all those hurting Americans who saw their way of life disappearing and eroding without knowing what was happening.  Disruptive elements in societies used to happen slowly.  It took the mediaeval church a while to discover the disruptive power of the printing press that allowed people to form their own opinions when they could start to read things on their own.  We have come full circle when anything we read is now segmented in terms of interests, education, geography, politics and culture. I wonder to what extent all of us have been in a trance.

Some of us have felt victimized by disruptive change.  When that happens, it is common to look for a savior who will deliver us from all the pain.  It’s an even better solution if our world is primarily reality TV – where losers are much more prevalent than winners and seem like our kind of people.  We can let somebody else figure it out. But when that doesn’t happen, we become disillusioned but eventually we wake up –  it can take a long time though.  Often all it brings is more disillusionment and more pain.

Others of us have been totally distracted by our own concerns – maybe the best gym, the best recipe – and suddenly woken up to find ourselves in a different place.  What happened?  What do we do now?  Everyone from the press to ordinary citizens reacts with hysteria.  It’s only after a month of what might be now seen as a farce rather than a tragedy that we are starting to respond.  We haven’t been victimized.  We just haven’t been paying attention to things that matter.

Responding rather than reacting is now on the agenda and it always takes time. Reflection is not something most of us do too often.  Usually coming out the other side does mean lowering both the tone of voice and the temperature.  But it doesn’t allow us to avoid paying attention.  At least we’re doing that now.

PERSISTENCE

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It’s interesting that women can be silenced but men can be allowed to go on reading the same thing.  But it’s also a reminder that we have to continue to be activists no matter what our gender.  I was glad to see the suggestion in a recent New York Times that this is an analog process as well as a digital one and there were a few reminders for any of us no matter what country we live in

  • Educate ourselves by reading legislative documents – not just people’s commentaries on them
  • Know who our political representatives are at municipal, state or provincial and national levels. Visit their websites and read their newsletters.
  • When we have strong views on issues, let politicians know.  Visit their office, phone them. Individual letters make much more impact than polls and questionnaires. Ringing phones have more momentum than tweets.
  • Join advocacy groups that work on things we care about and support their advocacy efforts
  • Let companies know when we question their political support – give them positive as well as negative feedback
  • Most of all – when we know that information is questionable when we hear friends utter it, respond – but gently rather than stridently.  By saying, I notice. . . . ,  I wonder . . . . we allow both ourselves and others their integrity.  We’re going to have to keep that in mind when we inhabit divided states.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

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How do we cope with a Tweeting leader?  Should tweeting be subject to censorship when it spreads lies or hatred  by anybody – no matter who?  Are social platforms really publishers even though they think they are not?  What power does an ordinary citizen have? If I protest, do I deserve a backlash from people who voted for the leader – even though they think they had a numerical majority when most reliable sources say they didn’t –  but they believe the lie because a certain leader tells them so.  Now when the press is called the opposition party, I really wish Marshall McLuhan were around to help us straighten out the time worn phrase that the media is the message.

Social media have been professing themselves as merely the conduit of free speech for quite a while.  Perhaps it feels different lately.  Faith in letting people say anything they like seems to be wavering among tech leaders – especially when it affects their own employees as it did last weekend.  We all need to pay attention, reframe and rethink responsibility in a digital age.

CREATIVE DISSENT

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Much of what I have seen in response to the leader of our neighbor to the south has the same angry and dark tone that he himself uses.  What humor does is to use the same tactic  by simply shifting the context. Ms. Conway’s phrase  “Alternative Facts” deserves  exactly this kind of reply.  What she is trying to do is to erode the meaning of the word, fact  – which is extremely dangerous.  It is illustrated by the reaction of many of the leader’s supporters, who simply respond – I don’t care.  But if we stop caring, who are we?

One simply hopes that someone who accepts alternative facts can see the reality pictured here rather than putting all their aspirational eggs in one questionable basket.

Another more lighthearted response comes from a Dutch talk show.

The beauty of both these approaches – rather than angry rants – is that they’re fun and help us get on with our lives and doing whatever good we can in our small corners – and whatever the leader next door thinks of them – he’ll be less able to end his Tweet with “sad”.

DISCONNECT

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Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, Lovely spam, wonderful spam   – Trump, Trump Trump Trump . . . . . . . .

Where are rhe Pythons when we need them?

My morning paper, The Globe and Mail, created the world of the day in its Saturday edition. Today’s editorial suggests we “Keep calm and carry on”.  So how does its content this morning help us do that?  I decided that it would be fun to put some headlines into a word cloud generator.  The result is what you see above and the answer is “Not so much”

I restricted my Word Cloud to two sections of the newspaper –  “News” and the one called “Focus”, which includes commentary and the weekly editorial. I didn’t have the energy to cut and paste the copy of the articles under these headlines or we would see the word Trump push every other word out of the cloud.

Yes, I know that an inauguration is news through I didn’t see it on TV.  I don’t generally watch the swearing in of Canadian poliiticians on TV either though I did attend a real-life one the fall and it was moving and made me glad to be a Canadian.

But if the fourth estate wants us to keep calm and carry on here in Canada, is it effective to be as obsessed with one person as it seems to be?  I don’t need Canadians to be happy about an inauguration.  But I don’t need reporters and columnists to encourage me to be as angry or afraid as they are either.  I also don’t need them to share their disillusionment or wishful thinking that a new head of government in the country next door would suddenly become presidential.

I did feel as though I were being spammed this morning.  Reality TV has created this person and the press seem taken in by it more than anyone else.  The values that this genre inspires are mixed. I hardly ever watch it though it is a favorite of my young grandsons – unlike their father who used to like shows like Barney Miller or Get Smart at the same age.  Sometimes the Reality TV participants in their endless competitions show courage and ingenuity but more often display winner-take-all and to hell with anybody else.  If we are expected to keep calm and carry on, we need a press that focuses more on facts and less on the personal fears, obsessions and anxieties of its writers.

 

LEGACIES

What would you like to leave behind at the end of your life? Last Saturday I attended the funeral of a friend who was a pediatric surgeon at a local hospital for many years.  His children gave stro…

Source: LEGACIES

FAKE NEWS AND POST TRUTH

 

image1The press is fond of buzzwords and buzzfeeds. In a Twitter age, fast is quicker than deep. Like millions I have a personal Twitter account but my idea of its use is so 1990s. I make it a place to post a link a longer piece of writing that I hope contains some substance.  But I am clearly not part of the Twitteratti.

The idea of a president whose chief method of communication is Tweets ought to be so bizarre that we should burst out laughing and go away.  But the press – which should be at the head of the line on this exit – has turned these ramblings into news and has become its main conduit for those of us who have not become a certain leader’s Twitter “followers”.

In the game of “follow the leader”, there are options.  I remember my mother trying to persuade my son who was four years old at the time to eat something he didn’t like.  She cited several people she thought he would be impressed by saying. Mr. X eats broccoli.  Mrs. Y. eats broccoli.  His response was “I’m not playing”.  We do have choices here.

It’s a problem.  How do you stop bullying or exposure to lies?  You can walk away and ignore it, which many of us seem to be doing – saying we simply want to get on with our own life and focus on whatever grabs us – food, fitness, fun perhaps.  We can blame change.  What happened to the role of religion, or the strength of the family, or the economy before the rise of technology caused the loss of manufacturing?  Or we can invent new buzzwords and think we’re done.

Fake news – as Tabitha Southey notes in this morning’s Globe and Mail needs clarification

  • It’s not sloppy news that lacks validation by thorough research of reliable sources
  • It’s not news we would rather not hear or that we don’t like
  • It’s not news that contains simple mistakes that are improperly fact checked and can be corrected. While someone’s name is misspelled, the person named is rightly upset, but this can be set right.

What Southey goes on to identify is the use of stories that are totally false.  An example is a reprint from a newspaper that doesn’t exist, a location that does not exist, a headline and a story that is totally false.  It’s fake in every way.  These are the pieces currently attributed to Russian Intelligence.  If other publications or social media platforms present them or reprint them, what they are spreading is lies.  As I said in the previous post, the news creates reality for us by choosing what we will see.

The news I read every day is something I care deeply about.  I want its sources to be reliable and valid.  That doesn’t mean I like or agree with everything I read. But I want every reporter or commentator to aim for the truth.  Let’s get real.   What fake news contains is lies.  When public figures or the press dismiss lies as fake news or post truth and suggest we’ve dealt with it, they are saying that lies and truth are interchangeable. What is truth?  Does it matter?

I watched the press conference of the incoming president this week.   The bunch of reporters waving their hands to try to get attention reminded me of a primary classroom. Where was the West Wing’s Allison Janney when we needed her?  It was every man and woman for himself/herself to try to get the scoop.

But do the press have any sense of corporation social responsibility when one of their number is not chosen to ask a question – that might be valid – but openly bullied.  Remember the strategy of S.I. Hayakawa who cut the wires in a student protest to change the dynamic. Whether he was right or wrong, it was an immediate response.  Suppose the reporters with one accord had simply stood up and quietly left the room? Now that would have been a story.  What such an action requires of course is a united commitment to finding the truth –  that treating others in ways that one would want to be treated matters – and standing together as the fourth estate matters for us all.