Category: Empathy

In order to form a more perfect union

In order to form a more perfect union

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I barely remember writing about our divided nation in the wee hours following the election last week, so we’re going to go there. And we’re not going to touch on (or link to) the Barack Obama speech that has been dubbed “A More Perfect Union.”

It comes, of course, from the preamble to the United States Constitution. It describes the very reason for writing the document that sets up the basis for our laws, and allows for amendments: in order to form a more perfect union. That’s one of the reasons America’s founders decided to establish the Constitution — importantly, it’s the first reason listed.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It’s why the words we use matter: when we’re gone, we have communicated the words, but not the intent.

A union, by definition, is what you get when you combine two or more things. Unity, on the other hand, is a feeling of harmony or oneness.

We all need a regressive eduction in this topic, I think. Thankfully, the National Endowment for the Humanities offers up a pretty intense curriculum for elementary school students to practice actually forming a more perfect union.

If the genius written into the Constitution is the ability to amend it, understanding that we just can’t predict what the world will be like in the future and we don’t know what we don’t know or what we might have missed (hence the “Bill of Rights” — actually the first 10 amendments, added and ratified because the founders realized they forgot a few things), the genius of its initial creation is the compromise of all the delegates to get it done.

In a two-party system, there’s no requirement to build consensus. Whoever wins gets to make the decisions. It’s why George Washington warned us against political parties. Yes, it’s a faster process when people don’t peacock (if you watched any of the Amy Coney Barrett hearings you know what I mean: 32 hours of speeches and the vote came out exactly as predicted), but maybe when we’re writing the rules and regulations that govern over 350 million people we should spend a lot of time on ironing out the details and not so much time preaching to our respective choirs.

Let’s do better.

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Vote

Vote

On Jan. 20, 2017, as my wife, our pup and I piled into the van to head up to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with him — at a place without a television, because he didn’t want to have to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration — my wife made a joke. I didn’t respond. I was very uneasy about a Trump presidency, what it meant for Americans, and, importantly for me, what it meant for Jewish Americans, and for American journalists.

I told her I might be uneasy for the next four years.

Donald Trump’s America has not been great for me. Before our collective quarantine, for the first time in my life, weekly services at my house of worship were strictly guarded. Armed police officer at the front door, which would open no more than 30 minutes before services, and 15 minutes after the scheduled start time, the front doors would be locked and the armed officer would move to the side door, where you need to go in.

I’d only ever seen that for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the Jewish equivalent, from an importance standpoint, of Christmas and Easter for people of Christian, Catholic and adjacent faiths — when a large portion of the community might be at worship at the same time.

Meanwhile, while the world is getting safer for journalists, the U.S. isn’t even among the top 40 nations for press freedoms, despite that freedom being expressly designated in the Constitution. Hundreds of journalists have been attacked, arrested and had equipment damaged this year. Reporters Without Borders blames the Trump administration for this:

Much of that ire has come from President Trump and his associates in the federal government, who have demonstrated the United States is no longer a champion of press freedom at home or abroad. This dangerous anti-press sentiment has trickled down to local governments, institutions and the American public.

People ask, what about the tax break? Our accountant predicted the tax legislation would save us $200. We don’t have a good assessment, though, since we had a child and bought a house the same years the legislation kicked in.

We do know the gutting of the Affordable Care Act cost us a bunch of money; our family went from two people to three, and our health insurance costs tripled while our deductible doubled (which means not only were we spending three times as much for our insurance, we had to pay twice as much out of pocket before insurance started to pick up a significant portion of the bill).

I can unequivocally say that, in the few ways government can affect my everyday life, I’m worse off during Trump’s presidency than I was before it.


Before I sat down to write this post, I went back and read some of the stuff I wrote before and after the 2016 election.

I wrote about the two major party candidates being in the same America of the “Two Americas.” While Joe Biden is certainly not in the same category of wealthy as Donald Trump — and not even in the ballpark with Hillary Clinton, it’s still true that both major party candidates are not in the America that is worried about paying its bills.

I wrote that I was concerned about civility. In our speech, on social media, and, importantly, in our streets, it’s become much worse. It’s clear we still understand nothing about context. I wrote a long post about nuance and facts and culture and a bunch of other stuff we can just toss out the window, since we’re ignoring them, outside of a few communities that actually value conversation.

I made some predictions in the days after the election. Some of them were correct — there’s no border wall of the sort promised and Mexico did not pay for whats there; he still doesn’t seem to enjoy the work; Apple’s not making iPhones in the U.S.

I didn’t see many traditions being broken. Trump didn’t place his assets in a blind trust, and luckily for him, the courts didn’t have the balls to cause a constitutional crisis by letting emoluments lawsuits get very far. He sent federal law enforcement in to bolster local law enforcement agencies, and the “small government” Republicans looked the other way, just as they did as the national debt skyrocketed (also surprising to me, though I didn’t make a prediction on it).


Normally when I post about voting, whether it’s on the blog, Twitter, Instagram, wherever, I tell you I don’t care which candidate you vote for, so long as you vote.

But this time I care.

I asked early for my absentee ballot, and sent it in early.

I’ve been tired of our two-party system for a long time. George Washington warned us of the problems of such a system.

I’m mostly behind what Unity has been up to, and while things got started too late to make much of a difference this election cycle (they asked supporters to vote their consciences instead of the Unity ticket this time around), I hope they keep up their efforts, which include:

• Drafting a center-right and a center-left candidate to run for executive office, flipping the ticket every four years. For example, let’s say in 2024 their members want to see Andrew Yang and Jocko Willink run. They randomize the ticket (let’s say, flip a coin) and, let’s say Yang would be the presidential candidate and Willink the vice presidential candidate. In 2028, the ticket flips, even if they win in 2024.

• Rank-choice voting. Instead of tossing all your vote power in, say, the Trump basket and getting stuck with Biden if Trump loses, you rank order your vote, expressing your second, third, fourth, etc., preference. Maybe you’d really like Trump but would prefer to have the Libertarian Party candidate or the Conservative Party candidate in office ahead of Biden. If you’re in a swing state, you have the opportunity to really make a difference with rank-choice.

• Electronic voting. This isn’t in Unity’s stated goals, but they had only a small tech hiccup on their primary day, which caused them to extend voting by a few hours, with over 8,000 votes coming in across time zones and the rank-choice winners announced the next day. Obviously there are some shortcomings, but if we were to start building systems now for 2022 or 2024, we could go beyond only being able to vote via iPhone or Android. And obviously for those without internet access we’d have to come up with an in-person voting space, like a library.


The last two Democrats to win Georgia were Bill Clinton in 1992, with a big boost from Ross Perot, and Jimmy Carter in 1976, a Georgia native. We’re not exactly a swing state. But I really feel the safety of my family could be on the line with another Trump presidency. If we can’t worship safely and my profession becomes more perilous, it’s increasingly clear that this isn’t the America the founders intended, and it’s time to find a way to fix the system.

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Get a damn flu shot

Get a damn flu shot

It’s coming on flu season, and that probably means something much different this year, thanks to COVID-19, than it does most years.

The four identified influenza (flu) viruses — A, B, C and D, the first three of which typically infect humans — have been around in some form for a long time. Data on annual epidemics and pandemics really starts in the 16th century, but may have been the cause of an epidemic in China some eight thousand years ago. Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine,” described flu symptoms about 2,400 years ago.

In an average year, flu kills about 290,000 people worldwide and 36,000 people in the U.S.; the 1918 Spanish Flu (about 500 million worldwide infections and 50 million deaths) was among the worst.

It wasn’t until 1933 that the virus itself was isolated, and a live vaccine quickly followed. We now have a dead vaccine (meaning the flu shot doesn’t actually give you a live infection to fight off anymore) that covers up to four strains — the originally identified A and B strains and a mutation of each.

My child was born during flu season, and the CDC doesn’t recommend anyone under six months old get a vaccine. The people most susceptible to flu, as you might imagine, are the very young and the very old. About a third of people who catch the flu virus are asymptomatic, and asymptomatic carriers can pass it along. So when she was born, we told anybody who wanted to have contact with her to get a flu shot or wait until she could.

The list of people who shouldn’t get a flu shot is pretty short.

If you think you might come into contact with people who could reasonably die from the flu — and again, that’s an average of 36,000 people in the U.S. every year, most of them grandparents and babies — get a flu shot. You can get one at your doctor’s office, at most grocery store pharmacies, and at most national chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreen’s.

Just like masks with COVID-19, it’s as much, or more, for other people as it is for yourself.

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It’s easy to be kind

It’s easy to be kind

I had a lot of links pulled aside for a post on cancel culture today.

Cancel culture isn’t the desire to see someone like Bill Cosby, in jail for rape after facing accusations from over 40 women, lose his audience. It’s getting someone, not a public figure, fired — and probably forced into early retirement — for a costume in poor taste at a party two years ago.

Or getting someone fired for 10-year-old bad joke tweets.

Or closing a tenant’s store because his teenage daughter posted racist stuff on social media several years ago.

It’s Amy Cooper getting fired for what we all understand was a racist and stupid overreaction that she was charged with filing a false police report for. But losing her job over it?

There’s a bunch more stuff going around these days. It’s dumb.

And then I saw a story about an (apparently adult) couple who showed up at a Central New York ice cream shop during the COVID-19 pandemic without masks, and were told by two teenage employees they would be refused service if they didn’t wear masks. The couple screamed at the employees.

Now, let’s imagine for a moment that the couple was maskless because they believe in individual liberties. Wouldn’t the notion that a business can turn away any customer for any reason fit into that belief?

Let’s imagine, instead, that they just didn’t have masks with them. That they were driving around just getting out of the house and they saw an ice cream stand and decided an ice cream might be nice. Well, just as some places post signs that say, “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” now some businesses have added “no mask” to that list.

Whatever the reason, the couple couldn’t possibly think that a couple of kids — the employees working were 16 and 18 years old — came up with the policy, or, let’s face it, had the authority to override it. In fact, in some counties, they’d be breaking the law if they were to serve those people.

Apparently, they’re not alone.

Let’s take the politics of the mask out of it. Unlike “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” “no shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service” currently sits outside the Overton Window as a policy decision. If you simply don’t meet the qualifications for being a customer somewhere, why do you think that place owes you something? And, on top of that, why be positively horrible to a couple of young people who are merely enforcing an unsurprising rule at a nonessential shop? It’s not like that couple needed the ice cream, even. They just felt that the couple of dollars the stand charges is all that was required to entitle them to the treat.

It’s hard to have honest conversations. It’s hard to admit pain to a colleague. It’s hard to be open and vulnerable about fears — be they fears of illness and death or loss of liberty or simply the unknown.

But it’s actually easy to see people as people. You don’t have to love everyone. You don’t have to agree with everyone. The root of most of the world’s religions is be nice to others. It takes no effort to not take your frustrations out on people who don’t deserve it.

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Prying apart the sides: George Washington on our current situation

Prying apart the sides: George Washington on our current situation

We’re coming up on the Fourth of July, Independence Day here in the U.S.

Whether to wear a mask during a pandemic is a political issue. So is whether to actually keep testing; apparently, if we don’t test, nobody is confirmed to have the pandemic disease, which means it went away.

Black Lives Matter is still more of a shouted plea than a reality. Blue Lives Matter is its obverse, as though we could only care about black people OR police.

People are getting fired for stuff that was perfectly reasonable when they were doing it. I suppose I’m supposed to take those Mark Twain novels off my shelf. You should see the language in those.

The New York Times wanted to do a feature on a popular science blogger who wanted to maintain semi-anonymity so he could keep his job, but they refused to leave out his last name, so he took down his blog, effectively killing the story, and making his large readership (and those who are new to his blog because of the newfound attention) get creative in seeking posts archived elsewhere. If you think internet anonymity is dumb for people who don’t earn a living online, ask Zoe Margolis how her life changed. She just wanted to blog about sex in peace.

Soon after the book was published, The Sunday Times published an article which revealed the identity of the author as Zoe Margolis, an assistant director in the film industry. Margolis described the experience as “nightmare,” “hell” and “fiasco,” writing about how deeply it affected her personal life and caused her to lose her career in the film industry.
 
After having her anonymity removed, Margolis went into hiding for a while. She chose to present her view in the media giving an interview to The Guardian and writing an article for The Independent, in order to balance the tabloid press. Despite losing her anonymity, she continued to write the blog.

I’m sure George Washington is out of favor right now. He was our first president, sure, but he was a slave owner, a military general who took up arms against his native country, and (gasp!) a Freemason (which holds more of a tin-foil-hat conspiracy place in the U.S. but is a big deal in parts of Europe).

You may have heard reference, recently, to the fact that Washington warned against forming, specifically, two political parties in his presidential farewell address, but let’s take a look at what he actually said.

In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.

The initial thought, then, was that parties were likely to form based on geographic distinctions. Turns out he wasn’t entirely incorrect. Obviously the Civil War represented some geographic tearing apart. The coasts these days largely lean Democratic with the interior of the country leaning Republican. Larger cities, too, lean Democratic, with suburbs, exurbs and rural areas getting progressively more Republican.

But note, more importantly, that Washington points out one of the worst things a party will do, when there are only two parties, is make false claims about what the other party wants and is doing.

You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

You cannot shield yourselves against it. The parties will render us alien to each other, even though we ought to be bound together. United States? Not with two parties.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

The ruins of public liberty!

Two parties, in Washington’s view, will go back and forth and try to consolidate power in a party leader until the leaders of the respective parties have corrupted everything so much public liberty itself is in jeopardy. Are we there? Some might argue we are. If we’re not there, we’re getting closer.


Until we step out from behind our Ds and our Rs and all the other things that divide us, there’s only regression. We’re not growing as a people, and we won’t. When it’s news that a black guy and a white guy are drinking beer together, we’re headed the wrong direction. News is for anomalies, things that stand out. This should just be two people having a normal afternoon, not national news.

Let’s all step back, take a breath, and start over. As people.

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Attack of the black squares: On virtue signaling, rebuilding and actual work

Attack of the black squares: On virtue signaling, rebuilding and actual work

One of the things I thought would go away with our COVID quarantines was manufactured offense. We were taking care of each other, 10 short weeks ago.

But as we got used to our new normal, we slowly trickled back toward petty insults and cancel culture.

And then the George Floyd protests started. After about a week of protests, Instagram was taken over by black squares. Like this:

View this post on Instagram

#blackouttuesday #vidasnegrasimportam

A post shared by Thayla21 (@thaylabarret) on

View this post on Instagram

#blackouttuesday

A post shared by @ dymonddesiree_ on

And so on. You probably get it by now.

Here’s a potentially unpopular opinion: Your black boxes don’t mean anything. Most of the people who follow you are aligned with your political views. You’re not making a political statement in a roomful of people who think differently from you. This is what is called, in the parlance of our times, virtue signaling.

People across the political spectrum do this. Scope out your Facebook feed. Your liberal-leaning friends are posting memes that say, “I, too, believe in liberal ideas! Don’t you believe in liberal ideas, also?” You know, things like “Trump bad, Biden good” and “Fund schools not military” and “More health care, fewer guns.” Your conservative-leaning friends are posting memes that say, “I too, believe in conservative ideas! Don’t you believe in conservative ideas, also?” You know, things like “Media bad and Fox News isn’t media” and “Climate change is a China hoax” and “Babies aren’t a choice.” The grammar on these memes won’t be much better than that, also across the political spectrum.

It’s a show we put on for our friends. And it’s assumed that if you post a meme in one column, you also align with all the other memes in that column.

It helps maintain our tribes, and it gets no real work done.

Have you ever been swayed by a meme you didn’t already agree with?


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a long post about George Floyd’s death, protests and more. It was full of facts, context and nuance. Along the way I asked if his death was a figment of systemic racist violence — in this case, wondering if the violence itself was systemic.

What I’m not curious about is whether racism is systemic — not necessarily “are people systematically racist?” but more “I know the system is racist.”

Here’s a pretty good, short explainer:

Yes, there are black people who are able to break out of the system. Yes, there are white people stuck in the system. But it’s a system.


There are people calling for defunding police departments. That’s not a good idea, but overhauling some of them might not be a bad thing. Camden, New Jersey, did it in 2012 and 2013 and saw saw great results, at least through the first couple of years — reduced homicide rates, more police officers on the streets, more community trust. It was a department that couldn’t keep officers on the force and couldn’t keep crime under control, and it seemed to work.

Like I wrote a couple of weeks ago, there are some 800,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S. The difficulty is, once you put on a uniform, you represent all of them. If one one-hundredth of one percent of those officers are simply jerks, you have 80 people who ruin it for everybody. That’s a wonderful ratio, but the (now former) officer who killed George Floyd and 79 others across the country make a bad name for the rest of them. Fair? No. True? Yes.

That’s what something systemic looks like, though.


The late great John Baldessari cremated his early work as a signal to himself to improve. Some houses simply have rotten foundations; you need to burn them down and start from scratch.

Others, you strip the floors, pull out some drywall, put in some elbow grease and give them some new glory.

Still others just need a little grout, a tile here and there, maybe some spackling and paint.

All three methods have a couple of things in common: The recognition of what needs to be done, and putting in the work to actually do it.

Let me say that again: you have to put in the work to actually do it.


Hard work is hard. And it’s work.

Funny that something that is hard and also work is called “hard work.”

We try to avoid telling the truth so often. “Social distancing” is really physical distancing. Remember alternative facts? Did we ever figure out what covfefe was? And apparently I’m no longer allowed to wear a Hawaiian shirt.

So much is coded.

But not hard work. There’s only one way to accomplish it, and that’s to do it.


This is a good time to reset. We’ve been talking about this a lot lately on JKWD. It’s a good time to figure out whether you need to burn it down and start over, or whether the bones are good and in need of some love, or whether it just needs some spit-shine.

And once you figure that out, get to work.

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The role of sports in a post-fact world

The role of sports in a post-fact world

Note: I work in the news industry. Opinions herein are my own and are not endorsed by my employer.

If the world were “normal” right now, we’d be watching baseball. The NBA playoffs would be going on. The NHL would begin its long, slow march toward the Stanley Cup. Nobody would know anything about Bill Belichick’s dog. We’d be into Triple Crown season.

This past Saturday would have been the running of the Kentucky Derby (it will be run in September). I’ve never been to the Derby, but I’ve been to the horse track, and it is a supremely weird environment — so weird that it launched Hunter S. Thompson.

There are two distinct crowds at the track. One owns or rents covered boxes. They wear gaudy suits and elaborate hats. They sip bourbon — mint juleps specifically at the Kentucky Derby — and place bets and food and drink orders via a monitor at their box. The other drags coolers full of cheap beer and camping chairs in, places bets at windows with tellers or ATM-type machines and watches races on giant monitors; sometimes there’s a little bit of standing room in one portion at the bottom of the grandstands that house the boxes. They wear dirty jeans and sleeveless t-shirts.

The actual sporting event is a series of 2-minute sprints, run every half hour by horses carrying jockeys. The worst horses are either put out to stud, or, if injured, euthanized. The best horses get to run their sprints again in a few weeks. The jockeys, trainers and owners of the winning horses are celebrated.

But here’s something about a horse race: A horse crosses the finish line first. Sometimes it takes a camera and a second look to see who it was, but once the determination is made, that’s it. The rules are everyone has to wait until the gun to leave, you can’t do stuff like collide intentionally, and the first one across the line wins. Swale won the 1984 Kentucky Derby. Funny Cide won in 2003. Those are facts. If you argue that Funny Cide won in 1972, you’re wrong — that was Riva Ridge. If you argue that Michael Jordan won in 1984, you’re wrong. He is a retired professional basketball player, not a horse.

Bob Costas talks to Cal Fussman on Big Questions about sports and news and the current political environment.
If for some reason you don’t know who Bob Costas is, he’s been a sports commentator forever. Football, baseball, the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby — he’s done it all, and he has dozens of Emmys for it, and probably hundreds of other awards. And then at some point, he started adding commentary.

Maybe you don’t want commentary with your sports, but his commentary was always reasoned, thought-through and supported by examples. By facts.


The news media industry has changed a lot since I entered it a little over 20 years ago, and even more since I started paying attention as a kid.

I remember lying on our living room sofa in 1992 when the U.S. attacked Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait. We turned on CNN and watched the missiles fly live, the first time something like that was available.

The research on media influence through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s said that media told people what to think about, but not what to think. In nerd terms, salience, not valence. For example, we would talk about whatever was in the paper or whatever Walter Cronkite was talking about, but we as readers, listeners and watchers formed our own opinions.

I don’t know what the new research says, but it’s clear that some outlets are fans of teams (political parties) rather than watchdogs. There’s also this new thing happening with the internet. With unlimited news hole and sites getting paid for views, it behooves sites — regardless of whether they belong to newspapers, TV or radio stations — to write about whatever’s trending on Google, and to get it fast without independent verification. It also leads to a lot of story aggregation, wherein perhaps a site like TMZ reports something and then a reporter for another outlet writes a story about what TMZ said, without doing any original reporting.

The other thing this period in journalism has brought is a much wider competition. The newspaper in Buffalo, New York, used to only have to compete with the TV and radio stations in Buffalo. Now, that newspaper is also competing with other regional papers like those in Syracuse and Albany, as well as all the news outlets in Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Sacramento and everywhere else.


We seem to be in a post-fact environment right now. I’ve been writing about this since before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but the reality is that truth has been politicized.

Remember alternative facts?

In his discussion with Fussman, Costas points out that you can argue about whether not playing against people of color boosted Babe Ruth’s stats, but you certainly can’t declare that Ruth wasn’t a good player. Much like the Kentucky Derby winners, there’s a truth to sports that isn’t subjective.

The return of baseball after 9/11 was the mark of some normalcy. David Ortiz declaring Boston to be “our fucking city” was the start of healing after the Boston Marathon bombing. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, pro sports are looking at a $12 billion revenue loss, but when they start back up, we’ll know things are on the way back.

And when things are on the way back, we know we’ll argue about Red Sox vs. Yankees, Tom Brady as a Buc, and all the other things sports bring. But we won’t argue about whether the Red Sox are a basketball team, whether Tom Brady is one of the worst quarterbacks to play football or whether ice hockey should be played on horseback.

Play on.

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COVID-19 and the death of manufactured offense

COVID-19 and the death of manufactured offense

I don’t know when you’re reading this, but if it’s not long after it goes up, you’re probably still mostly sticking to your home. And if you’re doing that, you probably have a lot of extra time to find new ways to ignore the people you live with reflect.

I was part of a wave of high schoolers in the early 1990s who kicked off a wave of political correctness that, a generation later, seems to have run amok.

We by no means invented political correctness. It had been around since the Russian revolution, and waves of political correctness hit the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s.

There are two primary things I remember from our era:

(1) The flattening of race. Rather than “Chinese” or “Japanese” or “Korean” or asking, “what are you?”, our generation asked people to consider a term like Asian-American. At the same time, we struggled with a term like African-American, since not all people who present as black are of African descent.

(2) Recognition of females in Judaism. This is a lasting thing, by the way. Newer prayer books acknowledge the contributions of traditional matriarchs as well as patriarchs, though they try to skirt around the fact that the Hebrew versions of prayers use masculine words, so the translations also come out as awkward, saying “God” where “God” is the appropriate translation, but also where “Lord” and “He” are more appropriate translations.

We seem to have hit a different time in the history of political correctness, though, with many different recognized (and sometimes unrecognizable) pronouns and people with soft triggers and my approach has generally been this:

(a) I’m not out to hurt anybody intentionally. I’m happy to call you what you want to be called or not call you what you don’t want to be called, but don’t make me guess and if I mess up, just correct me.

(b) Actually, that’s it. Don’t hurt anybody intentionally, but if you’re hurt, don’t assume people were out to hurt you. Most of us are just dummies trying to live our lives.

I call this ability to be easily offended “manufactured offense.”


Here’s the cool thing about manufactured offense: We live in a time in which unintended verbal offense can be a central worry for some people! That means we’re worried about words, not tigers or Genghis Khan or any major threat to life and limb.

But this novel coronavirus has us behaving differently. We’re caring for our neighbors. We’re doing things to keep other people safe.

When we’re through this, I hope that people continue to not hurt each other intentionally, but I hope people who are easily offended start to realize they have bigger things to worry about.

Lift each other up, people, stay safe and keep everyone healthy.

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Creation, adversaries and disruption: The War of Art, fundamentalism and humanism

Creation, adversaries and disruption: The War of Art, fundamentalism and humanism

In The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield puts in terms of art fundamentalism and humanism.

I usually read the book once or twice a year, and this is the first time this particular passage has jumped out at me.

The main character (if you will) of this book is Resistance — whatever it is that is standing between the creative individual and the act of creating. Resistance could be anything from agreeing to meet your friends for the game to spending three hours at the gym to deciding on just one more nap or one more cup of coffee or — worst of all — waiting for inspiration instead of sitting down to do the work.

It’s certainly not the first time since I’ve been reading and re-reading War of Art that I’ve thought about fundamentalism or about humanism, but maybe we should look a little bit about what they are before diving into what Pressfield has to say about art (and by art, he means something creative — books, screenplays, sculpture, painting, etc.).

Fundamentalism, says dictionary.com, is:

1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a religious movement characterized by a strict belief in the literal interpretation of religious texts, especially within American Protestantism and Islam.
 
2. the beliefs held by those in this movement.
 
3. strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles: the fundamentalism of the extreme conservatives.

And since the definitions of humanism vary so greatly, including one that disavows God (while Pressfield specifically includes God), I’ll include only the first:

any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.

So, a fundamentalist is someone who subscribes to literal texts, while a humanist is pro-people.

“The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism),” Pressfield writes, “cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past.”

“Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive,” he continues. “There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.”

 

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive.

 

I put extra space around that because it’s a good reminder that the narrower your mind, the less you are capable of.

It gets worse:

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil One, seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death.

Pressfield reminds us that the fundamentalists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center frequented strip clubs during their training, that their promised reward was to be a harem of virgins in heaven. They were most drawn to the things their teachings said were evil.

 

The fundamentalist puts his greatest creativity into the perfect avatar for the thing he most despises.

 

“The humanist,” on the other hand, he writes, “believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God.”

What’s the difference? Pressfield:

While the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

“When fundamentalism wins,” he writes, “the world enters a dark age.”

Where are we right now?


I love people. As individuals. As a collective, not so much.

We create tribes. It used to be important: we were resource-poor, inadequately defended and we needed to band together to prevent tigers from eating our babies, monkeys from stealing our food and other tribes from killing our men, raping our women and taking our stuff.

Now, it just gives us a reason to despise others for dumb reasons, like what they look like and what they believe. I’ve written and spoken enough about that in public forums. I’m not here to beat a dead horse.

But if you talk to individuals, you’ll find most of them are rational, generous and empathetic, even if they don’t have a lot of empathy. They are willing to share resources if you ask. They have reasons for what they believe, even if that reason is inheritance (“I believe this because my parents believed it”). They will help a person in pain.

So, if there’s a dichotomy between fundamentalists and humanists (it’s more likely, of course, that it’s a spectrum and there’s a lot of nuance and many other points along the way), I’m firmly on the humanist side.


I keep thinking about John Baldessari, who cremated his early work. This has been my Resistance point. I wrote about it a while ago. And a while before that.

I’m pretty good at destroying my bad art. In recent memory, I dumped a bunch of early tweets; maybe 27,000 or so. I cleaned out my Facebook profile. I axed a couple hundred subpar blog posts. I suspended my Instagram account. I ended my solo podcast.

You can prepare forever. But if you do that, you never actually achieve. That is Resistance.

I keep moving around the office furniture. Cleaning off my desk, letting it fill back up, cleaning it off again. This is Resistance.

I spend time tweaking the childproof-ness of the house. I crawl around and decide swap the card table and the chair, decide I don’t like it and switch back, then decide I liked the change better. This is Resistance.


Steven Kotler and several members of the Flow Research Collective are hosting a series of calls while we’re all quarantined.

During the first call, they discussed something a lot of us are feeling: cognitive overload. I think the term is self-evident when you hear it, particularly if you’re suffering from it. You get overwhelmed and — here’s the important thing — you never get out of the fight or flight response, which means your creativity is stymied.

Not only is that dangerous for creators, it also means that the innovators aren’t innovating as much, and we really need innovative solutions right now, not only as a global pandemic causes a lot of people to work from home and some economic issues, but also as we move into the future when more and more things will be automated and people will generally be out of work in favor of robots.


What’s your Satan right now? Are you putting your energy into crafting the perfect enemy? Is it a virus? A government? Your family? Are you putting any energy into an adversary? If not, good for you!

We need creators. We need art. We need growth. We need less adversity, less energy spent on running scared. We need the right kind of disruption. Go out and make.

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Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

Coronavirus: Personal responsibility, public responsibility, truth and vetting

It’s been a crazy couple of months, right?

It’s so difficult to vet information about something as confusing and fast-moving as a new virus — that’s what this new coronavirus, COVID-19, is — and knowing what to do and when to do it is tough.

The most level-headed discussion I’ve heard so far is Joe Rogan’s podcast with Michael Osterholm, head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind that the up-to-the-minute facts will be outdated, but you can’t avoid that when you’re just having an off-the-cuff conversation.

There are a few things we should consider, and some things that will be interesting in retrospect.

We talked about vetting good information on JKWD a bit ago, so let’s start there.

I will admit that I have no concept of what the “average” person is getting for news about coronavirus. I work closely with 10 newspaper-affiliated websites for 40 hours a week. I probably see 100 coronavirus-related stories per shift, in addition to the items I seek out in my preferred local, state and national media outlets, my Twitter feed (including the governor of Georgia, the CDC and WHO) and whatever else happens to cross my eyes and ears while I’m not working.

Most of you probably aren’t getting 750-plus pieces of information a week unless you’re sitting there glued to it at all times, and if you are, you should probably stop that immediately. It’s exhausting, and it’s going to be around for a while.

But I did talk to someone at a local business recently, who had no idea that Italy was entirely shut down and had thousands of deaths.

If you want to be informed about this — and I think you should be; I’ll address that when I discuss personal responsibility — don’t go overboard, but choose wisely. Read your local newspaper website, and maybe a couple local TV websites. Check the website of the biggest newspaper in your state, and, if it doesn’t have good capital coverage, the site of the paper in the capital area (in many states, the biggest market is the capital, but that’s not true across the board — Illinois and Pennsylvania are two examples). Check traditionally reliable sources like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

If you want international coverage, the BBC is always a good place to turn.

Find places that report the facts. If they make recommendations and/or criticisms, make sure they’re backed up with reported facts, not viewpoints from politicians. For example, “three people died in such-and-such city” is a fact. “Only a few people died in such-and-such city” is a viewpoint. Tell the families of those three people that it was “only a few people.” Now extrapolate that to the hundreds that are dying a day in some places.

It’s easy to get people to freak out too much or not enough by putting a viewpoint on our facts. But people are smarter than we give them credit for — let’s give them the facts and let them make informed decisions.


Let’s talk responsibility, and two types, which I’ll call personal and public.

Personal responsibility pertains to the things you owe yourself — information gathering, self-reflection, good habits, etc.

Pubic responsibility pertains to the things you owe to others — to not infect your neighbors and family, to tell people the truth as you understand it, etc.

Most adults will probably get this virus, even if they show mild or no symptoms (that’s important because you can have no symptoms and pass it along to people you come in contact with). Flu pandemics seem the model we can learn from (long read: a NIH workshop summary on Spanish flu of the early 20th century). Some 1.4 billion people tested positive the H1N1 flu (about 20% of the population of the world, including minors) a little over a decade ago, and at the high end of estimates, killed about 575,000 people (about .04%).

If you figure that you didn’t get tested if you had no symptoms or only had mild cold-like symptoms, a lot more people had it.

With COVID-19, we’re also having a problem with getting enough tests, so our current numbers are underreported because technically, if you can’t get tested, you don’t have it.

As I’m writing this, Georgia’s (USA, not the country) reported cases are increasing between 40 and 50 percent per day. I know of one person who said she couldn’t get tested at a local health center despite being immunocompromised and showing symptoms because they didn’t have any tests. The local health department said they were waiting on tests, and the local office of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was also waiting on tests. So if some high-risk people aren’t able to get tests, you can see how most people who are asymptomatic or only get mild cases (which is about 80 percent of people who test positive, by the way) won’t get tested.

No matter how high the numbers climb, we won’t be reporting all cases.


Centers for Disease Control info & guidelines | World Health Organization information


Even health professionals don’t seem to be able to predict how the virus will hit any one individual. We know that the respiratory repercussions seem to be really bad, so people with COPD or asthma or who are smokers are likely to get hit pretty hard, but sometimes they’ll get a mild case.

Which means that no matter how health you are, you can’t predict how it will actually hit you if you get it. So try not to get it.

And in case you are asymptomatic, you can’t predict how it will affect other people if you pass it along, so try not to. You’re probably going to pass it along to people you live with. But there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you don’t give it to anyone else — steps like stay the heck away from them.

We have an elderly neighbor. She has adult children who stop by and check in on her, and I imagine they call her, too. When we go to the grocery store, we call her to see if she needs anything.

Our responsibility to her in delivering things to her should be to wash our hands, wipe down the goods we’re bringing her, put them in a separate bag, place them outside her door, and ring her bell or call her to let her know they’re there.

Our responsibility to ourselves in that case would also be to wash our hands again after touching her bell.

It’s not that difficult, but it’s important.

We also owe it to ourselves, if we wish to stay healthy, to only go do important things, like getting food and medicines. Yeah, it stinks staying home. But think about things like going out to eat. Do employees at your favorite restaurants have paid sick leave? Are they likely to stay home if they’re mildly symptomatic — say a little sore throat and a sniffle, like if they had a cold? Probably not, if they don’t have much in the way of sick days.

Our trusted officials (such as elected and appointed members of government, but also the heads of organizations like hospitals and urgent cares and shopping malls and the sorts of places people gather) also have a responsibility to us. We’ve asked them to lead in times of crisis, and this is most certainly one. Give us facts. When you give us directives and/or suggestions, back them up with facts, because people will be more compliant if they understand why.

Viruses aren’t partisan — they don’t stop outside your mouth and ask who you voted for before deciding whether to infect you — so neither should the directives handed down by particularly government.


When this pandemic ends, there will be some interesting things to study, from a social science perspective (we know that biologists and virologists and geneticists will do their thing).

• What traits of leaders did the best and worst at containing the virus? China, where the virus started, was slow to admit its existence. The US, fairly far away from the epicenter of the pandemic, didn’t take it seriously at the start.

• What cultural traits did the best and worst at containing the virus? Did people stay home when told more in collectivist cultures than in individualist cultures?

• What cultural and leadership traits correlated with the least economic interruption and quickest recovery? What measures had the highest impact, both positive and negative?

• From a media perspective, how does this new era of reader-driven content selection and bottomless news hole affect coverage, especially deep reporting?


Stay healthy and safe, folks, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information.

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