If you're not subscribed to the JKWD Podcast, I suggest you try our most recent episode. In fact, here it is:
Kelvin and I have been doing our podcast for about 10 months or os — JKWD stands for "Josh and Kelvin World Domination" — and normally we have a fairly standard routine.
We'll get on a call about 10:30 a.m. on a Friday, talk about our week and whatever else for an hour and a half, then figure out what we're going to do for a podcast, go refill our coffees, and then record the podcast.
This time, we had to reschedule, and neither of us was really at full speed when we started speaking. We got into our routine as we always do, and 45 minutes or so into our typical ongoing babble, we both realized without saying anything that we were actually recording the podcast.
I am of the opinion, generally, that unscripted podcasts are best, but since we often tackle a specific subject, we tend to at least outline and have a pre-discussion.
Kelvin and I are very different people. We often mention that we're of different generations, of different races and faiths, with different upbringings.
We're into very different things, and we have very different approaches to almost everything.
A little bit ago, Kelvin said we should read The Power of Now and discuss it on the podcast. So, I read it. Much of it wasn't meant for me. No harm, no foul. But that doesn't mean I had to like it.
We hadn't planned to discuss the book yet, but I had been reading The Antidote, which is subtitled Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking. Burkeman interviewed Tolle for a chapter, and it gave me some new insight, so I wanted to talk about it.
Kelvin and I often mention that the discussions we have before we record the podcast would be fun to eavesdrop on, and we recognized that this was so far the most glowing example of that.
It's unscripted, entirely raw (even Kelvin cusses a bit, and we had to bleep out names that we said because we weren't planning on it being a podcast), and more importantly, we have an active disagreement.
Not an argument, mind you, but a disagreement. We were civil to each other throughout, and we simply moved on to another topic when we were done with that subject.
I think there are a lot of people in political power who could learn a thing or two from it.
I want to start with some thoughts on Obamacare, and the reason I want to do that is so you don't think I'm a cheerleader.
The Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") is not perfect. It's barely even good. It did a couple of good things, like making sure anybody who wanted health care could get it, and made sure that if you had a preexisting condition, you could get a policy.
It's also way too expensive for most of us in the middle class (I say most of us, because I think some people who think they're paying too much would be paying way more on the open market, if they could get insurance at all). It's harder to figure out what's going to be covered under my plan — I can pick a doctor in my network, but it takes a lot of work to figure out which tests (if any) are carried out by labs in my network.
The deductible plans under Obamacare are ludicrous. Ten years ago, insurance cost me about $160 a month. If I went to the doctor, I paid $10 and insurance covered the rest. If I went to the eye doctor, I paid $20 and insurance covered the rest. If I got glasses, insurance covered roughly the cost of basic lenses and I was responsible for the frames and any lens upgrade I might want.
Now, it costs about three times as much for insurance (granted I'm older and I have a second person on my insurance and there's been inflation). But the kicker is, the first $5,000 of in-network care comes out of my pocket, outside of one physical. The insurance company negotiates down the cost of care, but doesn't kick in anything except a physical until I've spent over $10,000 (the cost of insurance plus the deductible).
Obamacare, in other words, is not amazing. But it's what we have, so that's where we have to start from.
Here's the thing: In all the years since we've known Obamacare isn't amazing, nobody's bothered to start writing something amazing.
If anybody had been doing one iota of real work on health care over the last seven years, we would have had some idea of the basics of a new plan that could have helped us move forward.
There are plenty of career politicians in both houses of Congress — people who would certainly have been around to reap the benefits of their work whenever it came to fruition.
Not that that's why you do it. Remember, you're entitled to work hard, and that's basically it.
Instead, what we wound up with was a quickly-hacked-together piece of legislation that some people were affectionately calling repeal and go fuck yourself.
This is not what you get if you spend seven years putting together a good foundation and then refine some of the details. It's what you get when you assume that people fall in line behind you instead of actually asking them what they want.
It takes 218 votes to get a piece of legislation through the House. It has to be a pretty good piece of legislation, then, not something that gets hacked together.
Lesson One, then, is do the work.
Lesson Two is work with your colleagues.
Two more lessons learned came straight from the top.
If you leave everything on the field, you focused on nothing but this game, gave it everything you had, and are so exhausted at the end that you'll have to deal with the emotion of the result later. For now, all you can do is scrape yourself together and try to pull off your shirt so you can get off in the shower.
Not one of those things describes anyone in the legacy of the AHCA.
Lesson Four: Take some responsibility. And even if you don't control the whole process, understand who can actually help you. If instead you're angry at your son-in-law for being off skiing with your daughter and your grandkids, you clearly don't understand that your son-in-law's job is basically to say what he thinks should happen and hold your hand when things don't go your way.
Jared Kushner doesn't write policy and he doesn't vote on it. And frankly, if he didn't think this was a battle worth fighting, that's his business, not yours.
This is the letter I wrote to Congressman Buddy Carter on Sunday after I received his weekly newsletter. I'll update when I get a response. He only accepts email from his constituents, so unless you're in the first Georgia district, you can just read and enjoy (or whatever).
You write in your most recent email to constituents (March 26, 2017) that "Obamacare is a disaster," and you list many reasons why that may be true.
You also blame a "small number of [your] colleagues in the House" for failure to pass the AHCA.
If a small number of your colleagues were against the AHCA, it would have passed -- at least 218 of them must have been against it.
The problem with dwelling on the faults of Obamacare is that you create no solutions.
Obamacare was always imperfect, and nobody -- Democrat or Republican -- has tried to fix it or work out any of the kinks in the past seven years.
The proposed version of the AHCA failed because the president rushed together a new bill and tried to bully it through the House with a "pass it tomorrow or forget about it" dictate, rather than spending the time working with a majority of the House to write good legislation.
It's going to take some time to write good legislation. If it means gut Obamacare and start over, then do that -- don't just pick apart what you and your colleagues don't like and hope it works out.
Look, I am a healthy 40-year-old man with a healthy wife and so far no children. That makes me fairly immune from whatever comes down the pike over the next few years; even if we're blessed with a child or two, we're in pretty good shape.
My parents are not getting any younger, and their premiums are way too expensive under Obamacare, but they would not have been eligible for coverage under the previous system because a bad back or a previous rotator cuff surgery would have been flagged as a preexisting condition.
We're not sure what would have changed for them under AHCA because nobody bothered to tell us what's in it, other than, "it's better."
I want you to understand something, before you read the rest of this letter. I'm a writer by nature, and do a fair bit of writing by trade. I have a vocabulary roughly three times that of the average college graduate. I say that because the words I'm going to use are very strong, and you should know that I'm picking them purposefully. Ready?
Get it the fuck together.
Your constituents know Obamacare isn't working. We're subject to it, unlike you and your colleagues who have federal health care.
You're not struggling. We are.
You don't have to tell us "Obamacare is a disaster." In fact, we'd really like it if you found your own descriptor. We've heard that one before. Chernobyl was a disaster. By that metric, Obamacare is at best annoying.
While you're coming up with words, try some that mean something. Here is what you said about AHCA in your email: "The legislation contains the critical reforms necessary to deliver relief and a patient-centered health care system with the choice and control needed to empower patients. "
In case you need someone to translate your fancy speech for you, that says, "AHCA contains changes that will give patients power."
Give me some details, please.
You don't fix a broken system by calling it a disaster and then hoping you can speak vaguely enough for long enough that people will cheer for the new one.
Do some fucking work.
I know it's difficult. Remember that you are a public servant. You represent us, but you work for us. It's not the job of your constituents to make you feel great about yourself. It's the job of your constituents to ask you to do great things, even if it takes sacrifice and hard work.
Even God never promised us the fruits of our labor, only the labor itself.
Now, take a deep breath, then decide to take some responsibility for working together with 217 (or more) of your colleagues, to write some legislation that's good for your constituents instead of your reelection campaign.
I promised to update this if and when Rep. Carter responded, and I did get an email from him on April 7. I'm just going to paste the letter in and let you infer my reaction.
Thank you for contacting me about the urgent need to rescue America’s failing health care system.
As a lifelong health care professional, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact Obamacare has on health care in America, especially in South Georgia where I served patients for more than 30 years. This misguided law has driven up costs, taken away choices, and inserted Washington bureaucrats in to one of the most personal aspects of our lives: our health. It contained $1 trillion in new taxes, kicked 4.7 million Americans off their health care, and created a new class of uninsured with 19.2 million Americans who could not afford the coverage offered them.
I supported the American Health Care Act, which was our plan to rescue patients and families from the Obamacare train wreck. While imperfect, it put aside the failed policies of the past and built on the best ideas from around the country. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed it would lower costs and empower patients to make their health care decisions. I was disappointed this bill was not brought to the floor for a vote.
Please know that this is not the end. I will not stop working until we empower all patients with access to quality, affordable, patient-centered health care.
Thank you, again, for contacting me and for the benefit of your input. It is an honor to represent you in the United States Congress.
Clifton Pollard's name was queried on Google more on Sunday than it had been perhaps any other day except for one — Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy.
I'll save you the search, if you don't recognize the name. Pollard was the man who, on a Sunday morning, finished his bacon and eggs, went to Arlington National Cemetery, climbed into a reverse backhoe, and dug the grave into which Kennedy's casket would be lowered.
He made $3.01 per hour, and he came in on his day off.
He didn't get to go to the funeral. It was too crowded.
We know about Clifton Pollard because a New York Herald Tribune columnist named Jimmy Breslin wrote about him.
On April 5, 1992, Pollard, a World War II veteran, died and was soon after buried not too far from our thirty-fifth president.
Breslin died over the weekend at the age of 88. He had, earlier in the week, been admitted to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia and released the next day. His wife thought he was getting better and his death came as a surprise to her.
Breslin was part of a generation of hard-scrabble storytelling journalists. He wrote stories, not articles. He drank whiskey. He smoked cigars. He scorned reporters who stayed in the newsroom, and instead wandered the streets, pubs and tenements of New York, speaking to people.
It's a storied generation — one that included Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. Most of them predeceased Breslin.
While journalism — and the rest of the world, frankly — has certainly changed in the couple of generations since Breslin went and found Pollard, there are remnants of his world. I recently found in a used bookstore a collection of essays by PJ O'Rourke. Younger essayists like Doug Rushkoff and Chuck Klosterman certainly carry forth a biting witness. My friend Tommy Shea was so well-loved at The Republican that even the competition wrote him a nice sendoff. My friend and former colleague Sean Kirst had the same impact in Syracuse, and has now moved on.
Reading Shea and Kirst in print — actual newsprint still feels, and smells, familiar to me — put me in mind of a time I never really got to know. But the writing is still there. Wolfe is still writing books and the occasional column. Count among Breslin's non-journalistic contemporaries William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.
These are not easy men to read, but once you start, it's nigh impossible to stop.
Yes, the world has changed. You won't find many smoky bars anymore. Nor too many people in suits willing to walk into a slum in search of a story (nor many people willing to talk to them if they did).
Breslin was the sort of guy who was able to find not only Clifton Pollard but also a man named Tony Palma.
If that name doesn't sound familiar, I'll again save you the searching. Palma was once a long-haired Beatles fan in the 1960s, and later, on December 8, 1980, he was the police officer, along with his partner, Herb Frauenberger, who responded to a call of, "Man shot, 1 West 72nd St." That night, they helped a dying John Lennon.
And Breslin had his interview conducted and typed up that night in time for 1:30 a.m. deadline.
It takes hours or days to get that kind of access to some people in uniform nowadays. That's not a complaint; it's just the world we live in.
There are stories, and there are storytellers, and there are people who read stories.
I think a lot of people would like to claim to be the second, but to do so, you have to truly understand the first. And that's a hell of a craft. You'll know who they really are, because they attract the third.
Many people have stories — hell, many people are stories — they just don't know it. It takes a real storyteller to pry the stories out of those folks.
It's why we'll read a headline or a couple of sentences in almost everything we click on these days, but we'll read giant novels by Wolfe and Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It's why we'll read Kirst's book of Central New York stories.
Breslin told stories. They were stories of New York and New Yorkers, and people felt they knew him and the stories. Maybe that's why David Berkowitz — the Son of Sam killer — wrote him letters.
Sometimes the stories don't realize what they are. You might think you have a story to tell, but the one that comes out when a storyteller gets a hold of it may be entirely different.
Maybe it's a simple metaphor for doing the work ‐ climb the stairs while everyone takes the elevator, or just stays in the lobby. Or maybe it's a simple instruction manual. When you climb enough stairs, there are certainly stories when you get to the top.
Breslin called himself an "unlettered bum." He certainly put a lot of letters on a lot of pages.
Be a story, or be a storyteller. Hell, be both. Or neither. But don't pretend to be either. We have enough pretenders out there.
To Mr. Breslin, ever a story and a teller, may your cigar ever be lit, your glass three fingers full and your typewriter ready for some punishment.
We are a heavily divided country. End of sentence.
Many of us feel left behind. Millions of people have turned out for demonstrations. Usually quiet town hall meetings this past recess saw people get left out because fire marshals were concerned about occupancies. Some representatives simply didn't have them; some of their constituents held town halls anyway and brought cardboard cutouts of their elected officials.
Tomorrow marks the Ides of March, the day immortalized as a day of which to be wary thanks to the murder of Julius Caesar.
It also marks a day on which many people will send postcards to the president — liberals to send negative messages and conservatives to send messages of support to counter what those on the left are calling #TheIdesOfTrump.
I'll keep the more amusing details of how I think this plays out to myself, but I think the larger result is the recycling pickup at the White House next week is going to be somewhat heavier than usual.
Before you drop me in a corner here, I want to remind you where I stand. As an American, if President Trump succeeds in improving education and trade and international relations and community relations, I succeed. I'm rooting for him.
I'm just not optimistic.
Don't point to the stock market, please. It works independently of the president, and consistently works its way up. We're in the midst of the longest bull market ever (eight years). Pundits who are crediting President Trump for the growth since the election didn't give President Obama any credit for the previous seven and a half years of steady growth; markets aren't partisan — they just grow. At some point we'll have a bear market for a little while. Every single bear market in US history has been followed by a bull within a year, with the one exception being the Great Depression (and technically, they called that a crash, not a bear).
Here's the problem with the liberal side of this postcard campaign: It takes up the battle cry #resist.
I understand you prepare for the worst-case scenario, not the best, but if you don't appear ready for the best-case, you're never going to get it.
I feel like that's what the left is doing with #resist. Says the dictionary of resist: "to withstand, strive against, or oppose; to make a stand or make efforts in opposition; act in opposition; offer resistance."
This is different from debate, persuade, seek to change or even to work within the bounds of constitutional process. It's to set up a physical opposition, not a political one. It's a very aggressive message to send, and not one that invites discussion.
There are hundreds of #resist meetups that have popped up around the US (and also elsewhere in the world). The conversation is not civil. It's mostly a lot of shouted threats, again, not at all like discussion.
Aggressors rarely come out on top without a strong show of actual force, and liberals are going to have to decide if they're liberals in the way of George Washington and Fidel Castro, ready to pick up arms and overthrow their government, or progressives in the way of Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Dass, willing to fight with their brains and their mouths for what's right and not quitting until they get it.
If it's the latter, get on the phone with your elected representatives. Show them the numbers. If Medicaid is shut down in 2020 and your parents won't be able to get health care because simply being 72 years old is a preexisting condition and your $100,000-a-year CFO salary belongs to the hospital after three nights recovering from a fall, they need to know.
If your kid's public school can't afford a new roof after 30 years because half the federal aid that would have gone to that school is going to a private school down the street, they need to know.
If the NEA disappears and all the museums in your city that might have inspired children to be artists and archaeologists and historians have to close and those kids wind up in gangs because that's the only way they've ever seen to break the cycle of poverty, your representatives need to know.
If you're worried because the administration is purposefully lying to media to keep the public in the dark as to what's really going on in the world, your representatives need to know.
I'm not saying roll over for your government — for sure, always stay vigilant — but understand when you meet fire with fire you get a bigger fire. When you meet fire with water, you get relief.
If you've been listening to the podcast the past few months, you know that I have not fared well living in my brain, from the election on through the first month of the Trump administration.
By inauguration day, it had gotten so bad that I was trawling news sites, Twitter and Facebook several times an hour looking for people to argue with.
Inauguration day also happens to be my dad's birthday. As we drove to Charleston to visit and get some lunch (the dictate was at a place without televisions), I knew I had to do something to change direction.
So when we arrived, I opened my phone and deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps.
I'm still plenty active on both (Twitter | Facebook), but I really am only on the platforms when I'm sitting in front of my computer.
I do miss the opportunity to share from an app — most often Flipboard and my podcast app — but if there's anything I want to be sure to share out I'll email it to myself with a note.
There's something about deliberately visiting social media sites that makes my posting and commenting more deliberate. I have less time available, so I'm pickier about what I say and to whom I say it.
It's also led to some more in-person engagement. I'm certainly not pulling out my phone to look at it as often as I used to. I'm talking to more strangers, and I'm eminently more present around friends and family.
The brief backstory on Kotler is that he got Lyme disease, it was misdiagnosed and he was in bed for three years. Eventually a friend convinced him to go surfing and his body started to heal. "Hmm," he thought. "Surfing is not a known cure for chronic autoimmune diseases."
So he did some research and discovered that action sports with a fair bit of risk get us into a state called flow, a state that not only helps with decision-making in high-pressure situations, it's that state that gets us writing, conversing, coding or whatever for hours with a high level of correctness and efficiency.
Kotler figured out for himself while writing a book that he could get himself into flow reliably with a specific bit of exercise he would use any time he was blocked and trying to solve a problem. If you've ever sat down with a friend and started talking and all of a sudden four hours have passed, you've been in flow.
In The Rise of Superman, Kotler outlines some of the neuroscience behind flow. Meanwhile, I was taking another one of my random walks through the library stacks and Kayt Sukel's The Art of Risk jumped out at me.
She was a badass when she was younger. A climber who, after getting divorced, took her one-year-old son and backpacked around Europe. She got in an MRI machine and had an orgasm for a book and went around the country talking about it.
But she found herself taking fewer risks as she got older and wondered why, so she set out to figure out what goes on in a risk-taker's brain.
And fuck if she wasn't writing about the same bits of the brain that Kotler wrote about.
We'll come back to this later, but gamma activity is a signifier of flow.
Crazy. It was a sure sign that I needed to know a little more.
Here are some things we know about the brain. While I've been reading a lot here and there, the most succinct source for the historical stuff in this section is The Great Brain Book by HP Newquist.
Several thousand years ago, the Egyptians, in the mummification of the dead, were the first people to cut open bodies in an effort to preserve them.
They thought the brain was trash.
In the mummification process, the organs were removed so that the body could dry. The heart was returned to the chest. This is the organ the Egyptians believed handled thought, emotion and everything else, and that it would be useful in the afterlife to have it inside the body.
The lungs, kidneys and other stuff that sits in the torso were placed in jars and left nearby the body in the tomb (the Egyptians also left toys and tools and other things they thought the body could use in the afterlife).
Then they shoved a chisel in the nasal cavity, stuck a hook up there and yanked out what they could of the brain. They would later scoop out whatever was left.
They didn't leave the brain in the body. They didn't even put it in a jar. It just went out with the garbage.
Things go that way for about 1,400 years, until Herophilus, the "father of anatomy," cuts open cadavers and finds that the brain does connect to the rest of the body. This is around 300 BCE.
Four to five hundred years later, Galen posits that the brain actually handles a lot of functions, including moods. He gets the mechanism so wrong it's not worth discussing, but there's at least the understanding that the brain controls a good bit of what makes us people.
We're at about 1,900 years ago now.
Over the next, oh, 1,750 years, we get detailed drawings, but no real new science.
Then, in 1848, a railroad worker named Phineas Gage is clearing some space to lay track. He puts dynamite in a hole, tamps it down, and BLAM! — the explosive blows before he can get out of the way and his tamping rod goes up through his jaw, behind his left eye and out the top of his head.
As he's laying on the ground, the rod still stuck in him, workers come over and collect what they assume is the body of their late colleague. Instead, they help Gage up, and he's walking around and talking just like normal.
Well, as normal as you can be with a tamping rod sticking out of two holes in your head.
Gage lives another 12 years, with the only real noticeable side effect being that he turns into a really grumpy dude.
Doctors, of course, started examining him right away, and they studied his brain long after he died.
The biggest discovery early on from Gage's examinations was that different parts of the brain handle different things.
In 1861, a French physician named Pierre Paul Broca meets a patient named Louis Victor Leborgne. Leborgne could only say the syllable, "Tan." He seemed perfectly normal otherwise. His body language suggested that he understood everything that people said to him or asked him, but he couldn't say anything but "Tan."
Broca postulated that Leborgne had damage in the part of his brain that handled language, and, sure enough, when they opened his head upon his death, one part of his brain was badly decayed.
In the 1870s, a pair of doctors figured out that the right side of the brain handles the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right — in other words, the two sides of the brain work independently.
Over the ensuing half-century, we learn that the brain sends out electrical signals, and in 1924, we get the EEG, which worked then pretty much the same way it works now (we of course now also have the MRI as a more comprehensive way to look at brain activity).
In the 1950s, Wilder Penfield discovers he can get physical reactions by stimulating different parts of the brain.
And that's it, until very recently. Quick review:
• 1700 - 300 BCE: We go from throwing out the brain to learning that it's connected to the rest of our inside.
• Around 100 CE: We start thinking the brain controls our feelings
• Around 1500 CE: Anatomists start drawing things
• 1848-1950s CE: We learn basically everything you and I learned in science class about the brain.
In the 60 or so years that have passed since then — and we all know people who are way older than that — we've learned so much more. We've developed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines that can read what's going on in the brain. We know what each part of the brain does, at least to some extent. We know about neurotransmitters. We know about brain waves.
And we've been manipulating pieces here and there, with more and more accuracy. With the development of earlier drugs like fluoxetine and sertraline (Prozac and Zoloft, respectively), we figured out how to do things like block some neurotransmitter receptors. More and more specific drugs have been developed as well, and a current fad is over-the-counter nootropics like Alpha Brain and lion's mane-and-chaga mushroom "coffee" (both of which I'll recommend, but the Alpha Brain much moreso than the mushroom coffee).
As much as Alpha Brain help you with your focus and thinking abilities, there are other supplements for other things, for example, I have been using ligandrol for almost 2 months now and I absolutely love it ligandrol testosterone booster.
Kotler also recommends a recipe for getting into flow predictably, though I won't post it here as (a) he put the work in, (b) I haven't tried it to be able to recommend it and (c) it might not be legal everywhere.
We're only going to get better at manipulating our brains, too, and the speed of information gathering is going to continue to increase.
Exciting stuff, huh? And what amazing creatures we are!
We as a people have been griping a lot on Twitter and Facebook. While social media can be an informative and instructive tool — as well as a good medium for discussion if you can stay out of echo chambers and petty sniping — these posts largely are not read by anyone who actually makes laws.
We have the ability to contact our elected representatives, and, as with other rights, this is a use-it-or-lose-it responsibility.
You'll need to know two things: Who your Senators and Representative are, and how to contact them. Reminder: Senators are elected to six-year terms with a third of the Senate up every two years, and are not currently term limited. Members of the House of Representative are elected to two-year terms without term limits, and the entire House is up for election every two years.
Hey, look! Tools!
To find your Senators — every state has two of them, and they both represent everyone in the state — go here and select your state in the dropdown.
You'll get both Senators' names, along with their websites, phone numbers, office addresses and email addresses,
The House is a little trickier. Each state has a varying number of Congressmen based on population, and districts aren't always drawn with intuitive boundaries (that's another discussion for another time).
The best thing you can do is to start here with a ZIP code finder. If you happen to live in a ZIP code that has been divided by district boundaries, you'll have to go deeper.
Just like with the Senate search tool, you'll get your House member's website, email address, office address and phone number.
One of the things that a lot of people have been talking about with this incoming administration is fear. I've been trying to put into words what those fears are, and, well, we're going to go ahead and work this one out. Basically, it comes down to this:
I'm an American, and I don't feel the president has my back.
• My wife is an American, and I don't feel the president has her back.
• My parents are American, and I don't feel the president has their backs.
• My nieces are tiny Americans, and I don't feel the president has their backs.
• As an American, I am lucky to be able to be an example for the world. I don't feel the president cares that the rest of the world needs us.
I want to start with the media, and before you roll your eyes, let's do some civics. This won't take long, I promise. Maybe. I guess we'll see how much I ramble.
The Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle popularized the moniker "fourth estate," referring to the three estates of the UK Parliament, checked by the fourth estate, the media.
It translates well to the U.S.
I know you learned this in middle school, but let's have a little reminder. We have three branches of government with a check-and-balances system. The Executive branch has veto power over the Legislative branch and appointment power over the Judicial branch. The Legislative branch has advise-and-consent power over both branches, along with the power to override a presidential veto. The Judicial branch has the ability to strike down laws written by the Legislative branch and enacted by the Executive.
What happens, then, when there's collusion?
You are aware of what the government does because of media. If the three branches of government are our three estates, then the media are our fourth, and it's their job to tell us what they see — not what they're told to tell us.
CNN, some of you might be old enough to remember, brought us the first Iraq war in real-time. It doesn't get a lot less fake than that. Has CNN developed something of a bias over the years? Maybe, but even if so, that's not super-important (we can argue about it here, or you can go read my post on objectivity vs. transparency in media).
Flash forward to Trump's inauguration. It was well-attended. In fact, it was probably the third- or fourth-best-attended inauguration in the past 35 years, and certainly the most well-attended inauguration for a Republican in that time.
It was not the best-attended ever, as the president's spokesman, Sean Spicer, asserted Saturday during his first press conference — right before not taking any questions from the media at all.
You read that correctly. The press secretary lied to the press, then didn't take questions from the press.
How do I know Spicer lied? I have eyes. Here, take a look at these photos (I'll explain what you're looking at underneath it).
There's a camera on top of the Washington Monument. It provides a live feed. These are screengrabs from that feed. The top is from Barack Obama's first inauguration; the second is from Donald Trump's. Both are taken at the time the incoming presidents are taking their respective oaths of office.
Can you objectively look at that bottom photo and tell me there are more people in it than in the top photo? Even if you have no idea how many people are in either, there are clearly more in the top photo. However many people there are in that top photo, there are certainly more people in it than however many people there are in the bottom photo.
There's not a partisan issue here. The media are responsible for telling citizens the truth when their government lies. That's the issue.
Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway went on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning and told Chuck Todd Spicer didn't lie to the media, he merely had "alternative facts."Here's the clip.
Here are some alternative facts: I'm a seven-foot-two Mexican midget.
Conservatives like to make fun of special snowflakes getting butthurt? We officially have the most special and unique snowflakeever in the White House, and he hasn't even been there a week.
It appears that the president and his administration are at war with the media. Remember that this isn't the media's fault. Media aren't combative by nature, they're skeptical. Without a skeptical media, you get whatever the president wants you to hear. Like in North Korea, or Russia.
And before you ask me why media gave Obama a pass? It's because you weren't paying attention. Even an outlet like The Washington Post — which is certainly reporting on Trump from a contrarian position — rated Obama's administration one of the most secretive ever.
Again, media should be skeptical. That's how they protect us. It's their check against all three branches of the government. Really, it's our check against the government.
OK, so I lied. I rambled a lot.
Let's talk about what's really bothering me about this administration. And by bothering, I really mean scared. Honestly frightened. Like, it might be time to start selling stuff and become a prepper frightened.
Like I said at the top, I don't feel like the president has my back as an American.
It's the government's job, above all else, to keep its citizens safe. Not safe-space safe. Safe. Like I don't have to worry about going to the gym and having a racist blow me up safe.
If the president does nothing else well, he certainly talks — and tweets — a good game. He said nothing last week when several dozen synagogues and Jewish Community Centers across the country had bomb threats called in.
The thing these incidents all have in common is that they've happened since the election. Some were accompanied by "Make America Great Again" accompanying it. The vandalism is by people who feel empowered by Trump's election to bully others.
All Trump had to do was say, "This kind of thing won't be tolerated."
It's too late now, I think. I don't think I'd believe him at this late date.
I've been saying since the election I want to be wrong on Trump. If he succeeds, America succeeds, and if America succeeds, I succeed. Unless he succeeds in making us something else.
If you've been listening to the podcast the past couple of weeks, you know I've been worried to the point of paranoia. I didn't really have words for what I was actually scared of until now.
If the president doesn't have my back as an American Jew, he definitely doesn't have my back as an American who works in news media.
With no details of the president's health plan rolled out, I'm concerned for my parents, who are getting up there in age. If Medicare goes away, if Social Security goes away, will they have insurance as they head toward retirement? Will they be able to afford it?
I'm also worried about health care for my wife, of course — if we go back to a private, largely unregulated insurance market, should she get pregnant, will that be seen as a pre-existing condition? Will she be able to be covered at all?
This is not to mention all the allegations of sexual assault and that tape that got Billy Bush fired. They may or may not be important politically, but knowing what you know, would you let Trump date your daughter?
And my nieces. Again, Trump's problems with women. But also, did you watch those Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings? She's more concerned about grizzly bears coming into schools than mentally ill adults with weapons. She's long been a proponent of for-profit charter schools that have no requirement to meet any educational standards.
She's a candidate for education secretary who can't be bothered to proofread her own tweets. I'm no angel when it comes to social media and grammar, but this, more than any other time in her life, is a time to be a good example for students.
As my nieces' parents have to decide where to send the girls to school, will there be viable public schools? If not, will charter schools that get federal money actually teach them facts, and the tools they need to survive as adults?
Fixed Betsy DeVos's tweet. She can thank the _public_ elementary school, middle school, high school, and universities where I was educated. pic.twitter.com/A9fmIXRVlB
And finally, the US has never been out front on human rights. We've declined to sign the United Nations' Universal Decleration of Human Rights. I get that. But after Trump spent a part of his campaign slamming the UN, a few Republican congressmen on Jan. 3 introduced a bill to have America leave the UN, removing us, essentially, as a world citizen.
I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. During his campaign — and now on the White House website — he prefers the phrase "America First." While this sounds merely isolationist on its face, it harkens back to a racist, anti-Semitic group called the America First Committee, which wanted to keep America out of World War II — not because they wanted to keep citizens safe, but because they wanted Europe to worry about Europe.
They clearly hadn't thought about what that meant for trade or innovation.
That group disbanded shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.
I've been thinking, again, about political correctness, civility, and how far we need to go to be nice to each other. Forgive me as I ramble here, and work some of it out.
Kelvin and I did a podcast on rules for good communication. One of the rules is that the communicator should come in without malice, and that the listener should come in assuming the communicator is coming in without malice.
That is, if I say something subtly offensive, I probably didn't mean to offend you. If it's bothering you, speak up. On the other hand, I definitely shouldn't come in overtly offensive.
This is more-and-more front of mind as I see the way our outgoing president and our president-elect interact with people in public. During Barack Obama's farewell address, people started booing when he mentioned handing over the reins to Donald Trump. His response to people criticizing a political rival? "No, no, no, no, no."
Trump's response to someone like Meryl Streep criticizing him? "She's overrated." The number and variety of awards she's won is actually an objective measure of the fact that she's not.
She just disagreed with him. It's OK to do. Seriously.
Then I read something about university students in the UK demanding philosophers like Plato and Kant be removed from syllabi because they are white. While it's totally beside the point that Plato was probably not white, coming from the Mediterranean some 3000 years ago, the fact that great thinkers were members of the dominant culture doesn't diminish their work.
I haven't heard any calls for the art works of da Vinci or van Gogh to come out of museums. Or for John Grisham and JK Rowling to be excluded from bestseller lists.
At its heart, I think a lot of eye-rolling at "political correctness" these days is lazy people refusing to be civil to other humans. But it's another thing altogether to decide how much work to do to do what someone else might consider polite.
For instance, New York City has a long list of acceptable gender pronouns. It's upwards of 70, I hear. And if you're an employer or a landlord and use the wrong one, the Post writes, you could be fined a quarter-million dollars.
Turns out that's not entirely true. You can be fined if you're an asshole about it. For instance, if a transgender individual asks you to call her "Miss" and you insist on calling her "Mister" after repeated requests, that's when you're liable for a fine.
It was while I was sitting there thinking about political correctness and wondering how we got here that I opened Twitter, and, ta-da!
We need to start growing up and tackling actual issues. Here's a game plan for moving forward:
(1) Go a little out of your way to be civil to people. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all.
(2) If you're offended by something, particularly speech, ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable. And by reasonable, I mean, put yourself in someone else's shoes — if doing so requires an entire overhaul of your worldview, you're not being reasonable.
(3) Understand both language and context. You might reasonably describe your teenage kid as behaving uppity, but understand that word means something entirely different to black Americans who lived through the 1960s and 1970s.
(4) Shut up and work on real problems. If using whatever words you want or stopping people from using the words they want are high on your agenda, maybe go volunteer down at the soup kitchen or something for a day. There are actual problems in this world.
Here are some more writings on political correctness and group relations: