Thoughts

There are days when my focus is sharp, I’m on a story like a dog with a bone.  Then there are days when my mind bounces furiously from topic-to-topic and I cannot seem to concentrate on any one for more than 47 seconds at a time.  Then, there are days like today when I am introspective, have some thought that isn’t particularly apropos of anything, but it stays in my mind, begging to be let out.  Thus, I share with you today, two of the thoughts that are meandering through the crevices of my mind.


An incumbent president should not be spending massive amounts of time campaigning for the next election, especially when that election is nearly two years away.  First of all, a sitting president has a full-time, all-encompassing job to do … it is what he was elected for, what he gets paid for, and what We the People expect him to be doing:  running the country.  Second, and perhaps even more importantly, if … IF he is doing that job properly, he has no need to be on the campaign trail, for his record will serve as his campaign.

In the case of the current officeholder, he has been on the campaign trail virtually since before he took office on January 20, 2017.  He officially filed his campaign with the Federal Election Commission on the day of his inauguration and began spending on his re-election campaign weeks before even taking office.  Could explain why he never had time for all those pesky transition meetings that were scheduled to help him learn his new job.  In December 2016, the month before his inauguration, he held nine campaign 2020 rallies!  He held approximately 64 rallies in 2017-2018, and has held an average of one per month this year.

Now, it seems to me that if he were doing a great job, as he claims, he wouldn’t need to go out and rile the masses with rhetoric, for his performance in office, the results of his hard work, would convince people to vote for him.  One earns respect, and he is in a position that he has every opportunity to earn the respect of the nation, but instead he chooses to do a poor job and rely on campaign rallies to help him keep that job.  Hopefully, the voters of this nation are astute enough to see that he can somewhat talk the talk, but after two-and-a-half years, hasn’t yet learned to walk the walk.

There is some evidence that voters are waking up, for in eleven battleground states (seven of which Trump won in 2016), Trump faces a net approval rating that’s in the negative. Several of those states have net disapprovals that are in the double-digits.  In Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — three states that helped propel Trump to victory three years ago — Trump’s net approval ratings were -13, -7, and -12, respectively.

In business, the best strategy for keeping your job is to do a good job, rather than pandering to the bosses.  Trump claims to know a lot about business, but that is a lesson he has failed to learn.


In one corner of my kitchen, we have a three-tier metal rack on which we keep canned foods, among other things.  Yesterday, I was looking for a can of ancho chilies in adobo sauce, a small can buried somewhere among the cans of corn, tomatoes, and green beans, and as I searched, I found myself thinking about labels … how happy I was that all these cans had labels to tell me what was inside.  (Yes, I have strange thought processes.)  Labels, like almost anything else, can be useful if used properly.  What if, though, every can had a label that just read “Vegetable”?  Confusing, yes?  Surely corn, peas, green beans and the like are vegetables, but beyond that, they have differences that are important.

People are much the same … no, Joe, I’m not saying people are vegetables, though some might as well be.  There are times we have no choice but to label a person.  If I am witness to a hit-and-run accident, it might be necessary for me to describe the driver of the car by saying it was a white female with blonde hair.  That is not to say, however, that all hit-and-run drivers are white blonde women!  And that is what we do when we refer to republicans or democrats or journalists or immigrants as “the enemy”.  Sure, most republicans have some things in common, but they also have individual beliefs that may or may not fit in the label as we perceive it.  Christians, presumably, all believe in a higher being, but beyond that, there are vast differences in their set of beliefs.  Most Christians I know, for example, are not homophobic and have friends within the LGBT community.  Yet there are those, like Franklin Graham, who give the impression that all Christians are anti-LGBT when he says that Christians are “offended” by the rainbow-adorned gay pride flag.

Most of us are able to laugh off the labels people assign to us, for we know there is much more depth to us than the colour of our skin, our religion or lack of, our hair & eye colour, or level of education.  But, when we crucify people based on any of those traits alone, we automatically give ourselves a label:  bigot.  A bigot is defined as a person who is intolerant to those who are different or hold different opinions.  It takes many forms from racism to Islamophobia to misogyny, but the one thing they have in common is that they are self-limiting and cruel.

I could offer a thousand examples, but you all know what I’m talking about.  It’s when we hear people in power say, “all democrats believe in socialism”, or “all republicans are against abortion”.  Or when the head of government says that all Hispanics are gang members and rapists, all Muslims are terrorists, all women are sex objects.  We need to try harder to remember that the members of every group are unique individuals.  If we praise or criticize, we should do so based on actions alone, not on characteristics.  Criticize the group that sets out to burn a synagogue or burn a cross on someone’s yard, but criticize them for their actions, not for the colour of their skin or their religion.


Okay, I’m done thinking for today.  Yes, I know that was rather a rambling bit of monologue, but sometimes I just need to clear the detritus from my brain.  Thanks for listening!

Something to Ponder …

In this day where everyone seems to have to wear a label – democrat, republican, moderate, liberal, conservative, neo-conservative, snowflake – David Brooks is hard to pin down.  He has been dubbed a moderate, a centrist, a conservative, and a moderate conservative.  He has even been called “one of those Republicans who want to ‘engage with’ the liberal agenda” {gasp!!!}, “not a real conservative” or “squishy”.  To me, labels can mean whatever one wants them to mean at the moment, or nothing at all.

David Brooks is a Canadian-born American who is currently a columnist for the New York Times and commentator on PBS NewsHour.  Along with The Washington Post’s George Will and a couple of others, he is among the conservative writers who gets my attention, commands my respect, whether I agree with him or not.

Mr. Brooks’ column of March 11th  is, I think, worth reading and giving some serious thought to.  This particular piece is neither right nor left, conservative nor liberal, but it is, rather, a statement of our ‘techno-society’, for lack of a better term.  Give it a glance, then give it some thought.  Are we walking straight into the mouth of the giant alligator?  Your thoughts?


If Stalin Had a Smartphone

Suddenly technology has a centralizing effect.

David-BrooksBy David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

I feel bad for Joseph Stalin. He dreamed of creating a totalitarian society where every individual’s behavior could be predicted and controlled. But he was born a century too early. He lived before the technology that would have made being a dictator so much easier!

In the first place, he’d have much better surveillance equipment. These days most interactions are through a computer, so there is always an electronic record of what went on.

The internet of things means that our refrigerators, watches, glasses, phones and security cameras will soon be recording every move we make. In 2017, Levi Strauss made an interactive denim jacket, with sensors to detect and transmit each gesture, even as minimal as the lifting of a finger. Soon prosecutors will be able to subpoena our driverless cars and retrieve a record of every place they took us.

And this is not even to mention the facial recognition technology the Chinese are using to keep track of their own citizens. In Beijing, facial recognition is used in apartment buildings to prevent renters from subletting their apartments.

One Chinese firm, Yitu, installed a system that keeps a record of employees’ movements as they walk to the break room or rest room. It records them with blue dotted lines on a monitor. That would be so helpful for your thoroughly modern dictator.

In the second place, thanks to artificial intelligence, Uncle Joe would have much better tools for predicting how his subjects are about to behave. As Shoshana Zuboff wrote in her book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” when you are using Google, you are not Google’s customer. You are Google’s raw material. Google records everything you do; then it develops models that predict your behavior and then it sells those models to advertisers, which are its actual customers.

Thanks to this business model, some of the best minds in the world have spent tens of billions of dollars improving tools that predict personal consumption. This technology, too, has got to come in handy for any modern-day Stalin.

Third, thanks to big data, today’s Stalin would be able to build a massive Social Credit System to score and rank citizens, like the systems the Chinese are now using. Governments, banks and online dating sites gather data on, well, everybody. Do you pay your debts? How many hours do you spend playing video games? Do you jaywalk?

If your score is too low, you can get put on a blacklist. You may not be able to visit a museum. You may not be able to fly on a plane, check into a hotel, visit the mall or graduate from high school. Your daughter gets rejected by her favorite university.

Back in Stalin’s day, social discipline was so drastic. You had to stage a show trial (so expensive!), send somebody to the gulag or organize a purge. Now your tyranny can be small, subtle and omnipresent. It’s like the broken windows theory of despotism. By punishing the small deviations, you prevent the big ones from ever happening.

Fourth, you don’t have to go through all the trouble of staging a revolution. You just seduce people into a Faustian bargain. You offer to distract them for eight hours a day with animal videos and relatable memes, and they surrender their privacy to you and give you access to their brains.

As online life expands, neighborhood life and social trust decline. As the social fabric decays, social isolation rises and online viciousness and swindling accumulate, you tell people that the state has to step in to restore trust. By a series of small ratcheted steps, you’ve been given permission to completely regulate their online life.

This, too, is essentially what is happening in China.

As George Orwell and Aldous Huxley understood, if you want to be a good totalitarian, it isn’t enough to control behavior. To have total power you have to be able to control people’s minds. With modern information technology, the state can shape the intimate information pond in which we swim.

I don’t want to pretend that everything will be easy for the Stalin of the 21st century. Modern technology makes it easier to control people, but it also creates a mind-set in which people get much angrier about being controlled.

When people have a smartphone in their hand, they feel that they should have a voice, that they should be broadcasting, that they should have agency and dignity. When they discover they are caught in an information web that is subtly dominating them, they react. When they realize that ersatz information webs can’t really create the closeness and community they crave, they react.

Angry movements and mobs arise spontaneously. What you get is a system of elite domination interrupted by populist riots.

Human history is a series of struggles for power. Every few generations, just for fun, the gods give us a new set of equipment that radically alters the game. We thought the new tools would democratize power, but they seem to have centralized it. It’s springtime for dictators.