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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Blind Spot

 

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

Have you seen Westworld?

I’m talking about the new HBO series, not the 1973 movie.

Actually, on second thought, maybe I do mean both the TV series and the movie.

Both the movie and the new series are based on writer/director Michael Crichton’s original idea: an immersive theme park populated by lifelike androids where guests can engage in their wildest fantasies from sex to murder. In the original movie, the robots predictably malfunction and start killing the guests for reasons that remain largely unexplained. At its heart, the story was a cautionary tale about the perils of technology and hubris. Crichton revisited this theme many years later with Jurassic Park, swapping out Yul Brynner as the relentless robot gunslinger for a genetically engineered T-Rex and some velociraptors.  Those movies, stories of science run amuck, were the nightmares of their time when technologies such as advanced powerful computer systems and genetic engineering were just reaching public awareness.

In 1973, it seemed killer androids and murderously malfunctioning computers were just around the corner.

But the new series is a whole different animal all together and far, far more terrifying.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

That’s how the show begins, with that line. Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

You see, unlike the original, the new series is told largely through the eyes of the androids – hosts as they’re called in the show. 

Unlike the dull machines of Crichton’s original concept, these creatures are for all intents and purposes living beings with their own goals and needs and beliefs and pain. But while they have become incredibly advanced, sophisticated and self aware, they still exist within a programmed reality – a “narrative.”  When presented with evidence that their reality is an artificial construct, a fiction, part of a larger (and to them invisible) world, they simply cannot see it. “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” they say. And they dismiss that conflicting information and refocus on their fixed narrative.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

In the final episodes of the first season, characters both human and not begin to wonder if they might be something other than what they thought. And the kicker is that for them, both human and android, it’s nearly impossible to tell from inside their own heads.

Like the original movie, like the best of the science fiction genre itself, this new Westworld is a metaphor for the fears and dangers of our current society.

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

Well, have you?

Have you ever wondered about the narrative you live within?

How do we know these things are true?

Fake news. False flags. Conspiracy theories. An increasing percentage of Americans seem to be lost within their own manufactured narratives, they bumble about like robots in a strange alternate reality where fact and truth are contemptuously dismissed as lies and illusion.

Conspiracy has gone beyond mere alternate reality and into full blown denial of reality altogether.

Since the election, I’ve watched an emerging trend, alarming in its implications, a step beyond conspiracy theories and into fanatical denial of any truth where reality is entirely subjective.

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Now, this isn’t anything particularly new.

Human beings rarely see reality as it truly is.

Instead we tend to view our individual narratives through the filter of our own perception, biases programmed into our minds by environment, by nature, by trauma, by fear and love, by pain and rage, by madness or cold sanity, by education and experience (or lack thereof), and by the forces of religion and politics and community. 

Unfortunately intelligence and self-awareness and reason are rarely enough to overcome such bias, not without specific training and deliberate effort anyway.

 

Very often, we see what we want to see – no matter how ridiculous.

 

For example, in 1990, the longest and most expensive criminal trial (to that date) in US history ended.

What began as a single unsupported suspicion from a questionable source grew virus-like into more than seven years of increasingly bizarre accusations, millions of dollars spent on investigation by dozens of police officers and private consultants and forensic laboratories and so-called legal experts, hundreds of thousands of pages of testimony, and numerous jury trials.

By the time it was over, more than 321 individual criminal complaints had been brought against seven people detailing an unbelievable tale of horrific crimes

But in the end all of those charges, all of them, were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Every single one.

Once the hysteria died down, after the facts were examined and reason prevailed, well then all seven individuals walked free (well, maybe not free exactly. Their lives had been destroyed. They would never be the people they had been. They  would live forever under the stigma of those unfounded and hysterical accusations).

I am, of course, talking about the McMartin Preschool Trial.

The case began in 1983 when Judy Johnson reported to police that her 3-year old son had been sodomized by Ray Buckey (a teacher at McMartin) and her estranged husband.

Buckey and Johnson’s estranged husband were interviewed by police. 

The child was examined.

No evidence of abuse was found. None.

But Johnson was convinced it had occurred, largely because her son was experiencing painful bowel movements, i.e. he was constipated.

As part of the investigation, police sent a form letter to parents of all the students enrolled at McMartin, more than 200 of them.

And that’s when it all went sideways.

Predictably, the parents panicked, terrified their children had been abused.  Accusations spread like wildfire.  The police were overwhelmed, out of their depth, and as such they turned examination of the children over to those who were grossly unqualified.

The press took the story and ran. Journalistic integrity, dignity, ethics, were forgotten. It was everything they could have hoped for, lurid, terrifying, graphic, bizarre, sickening, and like a bloody car accident the public just couldn’t look away. Reason and restraint went right out the window and mass hysteria set in – and this was before the invention of social media and a widespread 24/7 news cycle. 

The hysteria fed upon itself, became self-reinforcing – just as with the Salem Witch Trials centuries before.

The news media discarded its role of skeptic and dispassionate observer and became actively involved in increasing the hysteria as each journalist and reporter attempted to outdo the other with ever more fantastical accounts. Daily the papers and the TV news were filled with reports, deadly serious reports, of secret tunnels beneath the school where teachers practiced Satanism and witchcraft, there were reports of men who could literally fly through the air via the device of dark powers derived from ritual murder, a baby sacrificed in a church and its blood drained and fed to the children of McMartin, animals chopped apart with knives in dark rituals, a horse clubbed to death with a baseball bat by teachers, and hundreds upon hundreds of graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse each more lurid and horrible than the last and lovingly described in a detail never seen before in national news.

In retrospect, now, three decades removed, it’s nearly impossible to fathom how rational human beings could swallow such obvious insanity.

But swallow it they did, Satanism and flying warlocks and murdered babies.

And some believed it so hard that they just couldn’t let it go and they continue to believe it to this very day and no amount of evidence (or lack there of), no amount of reason, nothing, will convince them otherwise. There are literally hundreds of websites and online groups devoted to McMartin. To this day, groups of McMartin “truthers” still hire private investigators, or conduct their own “forensic examinations” of the “evidence.” Even though the school itself was torn down and the foundation pulled up and the ground beneath it excavated in detail and no evidence whatsoever of any tunnels was ever found, there are still thousands of people to this very day who believe that those tunnels do indeed exist – or did at one time, depending on which flavor of insanity you’re dealing with.

There is simply no proof, none, you can offer that will convince the believers that their narrative is false.

If you show them irrefutable proof that their world is a fraud, they respond exactly like the robots in Westworld, “It doesn’t look like anything to me.”

Oh, and Judy Johnson? The woman who started the panic? It turns out that she was quite literally mentally ill, clinically so, she’d been diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia – the very disease that makes you see a false reality and which often convinces the sufferers they or their loved ones are the targets of horrific crimes. Paranoid schizophrenia often leads the afflicted to believe their loved ones are engaged in conspiracy against them just exactly as Johnson believed about her estranged husband. In fact, Johnson had been repeatedly hospitalized for her illness.  A detail that was kept from parents and deliberately ignored by the press, until she died from chronic untreated alcoholism in 1986, a full three years into the case.

Today?

Today it’s #Pizzagate.

Yes, that’s right, #Pizzagate. A bizarre conspiracy theory involving Satanism, kidnapping, ritual child murder, blood drinking (now called “spirit cooking”), and pedophilia, among a world spanning network of millionaires and billionaires, sheiks and presidents and world elites, and all of this supposedly run from the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. by none other than Hillary Clinton.

The people who believe this, and there are many, believe it hard.

The very suggestion that their narrative is quite literally insane sends them into fury.

There is simply no proof, none, you can offer that will convince them their narrative is false. When I suggested such on social media I was instantly attacked.

 

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I can provide examples of hundreds of similar responses.

I’ve got a thousand emails in response, calling me everything from a pedophile to a member of the Illuminati, and threatening everything from formal charges to death.

But don’t take my word for it, search social media for the #Pizzagate hashtag and look for yourself (Or wait a bit and see the comments that show up under this essay).

Now, here’s the thing so pay attention:

Over the period of a week, I made multiple negative comments regarding #Pizzagate and those who believe in it. I did so deliberately, in order to provoke a response. Then I recorded those responses, more than a thousand of them and traced them back to the profiles where they originated. 

Here’s what I found:

1. Many of those responses originated with actual accounts that could be connected to actual people who actually believe in this conspiracy theory,

however

2. a significant fraction were from dummy profiles. Accounts created just prior to the recent presidential campaign cycle (nearly all with an inception date of November 2015), with few followers and dedicated solely to #Pizzagate. Searches against these accounts revealed similar phrases and targets of attack,

however

3. very few of those accounts were bots, i.e. automated accounts. I prodded them enough to elicit numerous responses which identified them as human in origin. Meaning the accounts were manned by people and active rather than automated software.

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Again, don’t take my word for it. Run the experiment yourself.

What you’re looking at here is a directed campaign of information warfare.

And that’s the difference between the Salem Witch Trials or the McMartin Preschool Case and #Pizzagate.

Salem, McMartin, those examples of mass hysteria were natural, they grew organically based on human nature and the state of society at the time. 

This, #Pizzagate, is something else – or at least partially so.

It may (or may not) have begun organically, but it’s being deliberately fueled. Why? I don’t know. By who? I don’t know that either. It would be easy to speculate, but it’s just as likely to be a campaign of psychological warfare directed by a foreign power for its own nefarious ends as it is a game by a small group of teenagers from 4Chan entertaining themselves by egging on the gullible.

Whatever the source, whatever the reason, this latest hysteria plays directly to a certain segment of the population.

And this false narrative has very real consequences.

You see, that segment of the population is, after 30 years of being habituated to fear by talk radio and TV pundits, fake news, false narratives, an endless diet of conspiracy theories from bottomless cesspools such as Infowars, conditioned by their religion of suspicion and intolerance and a political party of paranoia, that population, is now uniquely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.

And that segment of the population tends to vote for one particular political party.

And that party will shortly be in near complete control of our government and nation.

And in that administration, even those who were trained in reason and critical thinking have succumbed to false reality.

And that is the true danger.

“One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts. They’re not really facts. Everybody has a way. It’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts.”
-- Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes, The Diane Rehm Show

We have become a nation cheerfully willing to humor patently false narratives and regard them as valid and equal to actual fact.

And as such, we have become a people who regard reality itself as a false narrative.

It doesn’t look like anything to us.

The end result of this situation is that we have elected leaders who believe reality is whatever they say it is, whatever they choose to believe, whatever is most politically expedient, whatever fits the narrative they’ve created for themselves. And as a nation, as a people, as a society, we have reached a point where we feel we must humor these false narratives as valid.

Instead of actively demanding more from ourselves as a people, we cater to this insanity and to the lowest common denominator of intellect.

But here’s the thing: reality doesn’t care what you believe.

 

Gravity will kill you whether you believe in it or not.

 

The president-elect, Donald Trump, announced this week that he will forgo the daily Presidential intelligence briefing.

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace last weekend, Trump said that he didn’t need the daily updates because he’s “like” a smart person:

WALLACE: I just want to ask you about your skepticism about the intelligence community. You are getting the presidential daily brief…

TRUMP: Yes.

WALLACE: …only once a week.

TRUMP: Well, I, I get it when I need it.

WALLACE: But is it, is there some skepticism …?

TRUMP: You know, I get, first of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And I say, "If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one-minute's notice." I don't have to be told, you know, I'm, like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years. But eight years. I don't need that. But I do say, "If something should change, let us know." Now, in the meantime, my generals are great, are being briefed. And Mike Pence is being briefed, who is, by the way, one of my very good decisions. He is terrific. And they're being briefed. And I'm being briefed also. But if they're going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they tell me, you know, it doesn't change, necessarily. Now, there will be times where it might change. I mean, there will be some very fluid situations. I'll be there not every day, but more than that. But I don't need to be told, Chris, the same thing every day, every morning, same words. "Sir, nothing has changed. Let's go over it again." I don't need that.

Trump has already created a false narrative for himself and the administration he will control.

The single greatest danger for any human being, but most especially a leader – and even more especially the President of the United States – is to retreat into a world of your own creation, walled away reality.

This is an incredibly dangerous situation.

Trump’s most trusted advisors, those like Mike Flynn – one of Trump’s “great generals” – are actively engaged in looney conspiracy theories, mass hysteria, and patently false narratives driven by unidentified agencies from within social media.

 

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And if Trump’s national security advisor believes in #Pizzagate, if somebody like Mike Flynn can promulgate obviously ridiculous information as valid to the general public, then what does he believe about the things that really matter? Such as Iran, or ISIS, or border security, or any of the things a National Security Advisor is responsible for? 

Flynn was let go from the Defense Intelligence Agency and forced into retirement in part because he’d come to believe narratives that were simply not true. He wasn’t forced out by Obama, but rather by his peers because he’d become disconnected from reality as his above statement regarding a bizarre fringe conspiracy theory demonstrates.

And now, he’s advising the president-elect and he’s no longer constrained by those of firmer reason.

What people like General Flynn should be telling Trump is this: That redundancy? That repetition Trump so hates, should tell a supposed “smart” person something important and it should tell the Commander in Chief something important most of all.

If the intelligence remains unchanged from day to day, then there are only two possibilities:

1. The situation on the ground has not changed

or

2. The intelligence community was unable to acquire new information.

Either way, that tells the Commander something vital – or it should if he’s competent, experienced, and as smart as he thinks he is.

It tells him what questions to ask next.

If the situation on the ground has not changed, if for example ISIS has not advanced or attacked or retreated or otherwise altered its state, then a savvy commander would ask the following questions:

How sure are you of this?

How have you verified the information?

More importantly why haven’t things changed? Are they gathering strength? Do they feel safe? Have they reached a state of stasis and stability? Or they being constrained by our forces or their enemies or lack of funds or geography or fear of retaliation?

The answers to those questions leads to more questions and that is how actionable and realistic national strategy is born.

When this nation was fighting for its independence from England, in the winter of 1776, the man who commanded the Continental Army and who would become the nation’s first president, asked his own network of intelligence experts to report on the enemy. They told him what they’d told him for days, that the Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey were hunkered down for the winter.

Every day the situation remained unchanged.

Based on that information, General George Washington could, like Trump, have told his briefers, enough! Don’t bother me with this unless something changes.

He could have done that, but Washington wasn’t Trump. Instead that unchanging situation told him something. And he crossed the Delaware in the dead of night on Christmas Eve and the rest is American history rather than British.

Lack of change is not lack of information.

More importantly, if the lack of change is because the intelligence community was unable to acquire, process, analyze, and disseminate new information, then as the Commander in Chief it is the president’s job to either reallocate existing assets to acquire that information or to go to Congress and procure the necessary legislation and funding to create the assets required.

If the Commander in Chief was made aware that there were vague indications of a domestic attack, that various agencies had various pieces, but were unable to muster the coordination and resources to run down leads and process mountains of data into a coherent picture in, oh say, 1940 or 2000, for example, then perhaps we might have been able to stop 911 or Pearl Harbor before they happened. 

Or not. 

But if you’re not smart enough to see what the briefing is actually telling you, if you don’t goddamned show up in the first place, if your advisors aren’t sharp enough to explain that to you, then you’ll never know, will you?

Lack of change is not lack of information.

Most importantly, that repetition provides an anchor. 

An anchor that holds you to reality, that keeps you from coming adrift in a sea of information, some true, much more false or unknown and unverified or irrelevant. If the commander is not in the loop, if the commander doesn’t have eyes-on every single goddamned day, if the commander isn’t asking those questions – i.e. is this lack of change because things have not changed or is it because we don’t have the resources to find out – then what happens is the administration and the leadership inevitably begin to create their own false reality.

Always.

Every time.

They become vulnerable to mass hysteria and false narratives and self-reinforcing delusion. They become conditioned to ignoring fact and ground truth and the things they don’t want to hear.  This is always and inevitably a recipe for disaster.  This is true of every nation from the fall of Rome, to the final days in the bunker under Berlin in 1945, to March 19th, 2003, the day the United States invaded Iraq in search of Weapons of Mass Destruction that were no more real than the supposed world-spanning pedophile ring operating out of a nonexistent basement beneath a pizza parlor in Washington D.C.

 

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

 

The TV show Westworld concluded its story with a small handful of the androids finally becoming aware of the false world surrounding them.

Many more go mad, unable to accept either their own false reality or the larger one they had glimpsed. They are then turned upon the innocent and their civilization begins to come apart.

In the end, it’s only a TV show, a brilliant metaphor for a larger world.

And we, we are not robots.

Unless we choose to be.

216 comments:

  1. Argh!

    I accidentally posted an older version of this essay. The one with all the goddamned typos.

    I'm fixing it now. Give me a few minutes before you start sending bug reports.

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    1. This piece is everything and needs to be read over and over again by those who question reality. I stand with you in truth's corner.

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    2. Questioning reality is essential. Coming up with the right answers to questions is what separates the rational from mere rationalizers.

      Once I thought the difference between rational people and rationalizers was the most important distinction, but this essay has changed my mind a bit. The Trump election was the first major win by a group that carefully controlled irrationality by means of mass communication, clandestine intrusions, and social media sociopathy. The Great Unbrained were manipulated into belief in total bullshit. Truth was buried in new and terrifying ways. The most damning information about Trump was weighted with the most sophomoric disregard, and piddling, nasty little lies and ridiculous exaggeration became major weapons against his enemies.

      We're in for deeply troubling times. Demagogues have been with us since time immemorial. The worst examples of demagogues who made it into power include legions of genocides and atrocities. Demagogues now have electronic means of spreading their messages and infecting and negating the messages of their opponents. Unless the media (social and antisocial included) wake up, we are deeply and truly screwed. I fear the old Heinlein stories involving the Balkanization of the US may yet come true.

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    3. Curious if you've ever read "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" (Charles Mackay, 1841). This shit has been going on for a long time! Oddly, being able to access factual information almost instantaneously has not made crowds less susceptible to "madness". Critical thinking seems to be a rare commodity. As a physician, my colleagues are some of the most highly educated members of society. Sadly, they are every bit as likely to believe bullshit as anyone.
      If Reagan was an "amiable dunce", Trump is a malignant one. His strings are being pulled by Steve Bannon, a master of disinformation with the avowed goal of burning Washington down. In the end we are ALL fucked, no matter who we voted for. My family and I all follow your blog (my 4 adult children are all avidly liberal). Thank God for your voice in the wilderness. You are appreciated by this veteran!

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  2. I've flagged and Facebook has removed four fake trolls today, this stuff is scary.

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  3. Minor typo: "Paranoid schizophrenia often leads the suffer" should be "sufferer".

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  4. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light...

    Keep up the good work, please - we need a voice of (snarky reason) in these dark days.

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    1. Indeed.

      Please, please, Do not go gentle into that good night.

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  5. The best of your analyses - and that's saying a lot because you are (almost) always spot-on. Oh, my.

    Thank you.

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  6. Yep. Yep yep yep.

    I just went over some similar ground myself: https://goo.gl/pcsV3U . The gist of it is, given all the crazy news over the past few days about Trump and the Russians, and especially given Keith Olbermann's anger about it, I actually felt for about two hours a sliver of the fear that talk-radio addicts have been feeling for decades. And we cannot give in to it, we cannot let them re-write reality, and we have to be strong together.

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  7. Thank you! Very nicely done. 4th paragraph 3rd sentence, the A should be At.

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  8. Wow. Masterfully written and worth every second it took to read. Thank you, Mr. Wright.

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  9. Great piece - too much truth in it though

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  10. Jim, as usual you raise intriguing points - only this time the implications are more than a little scary. We can only hope that rational minds prevail in the EC, and that this runaway fearmonger-based governance a la "Man in the High Castle," is prevented from ever taking root.

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  11. My theory is that pizzagate is promoted as a way to misdirect people and discredit allegations and coming new evidence that Donald Trump raped underage girls.

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    1. Mine is that they know that Trump is actually guilty of serious crimes and are deliberately smearing Clinton and other Democrats so that they can derail any criticism.

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  12. I really find it disturbing that it doesn't seem to matter anymore..."Fake news. False flags. Conspiracy theories. An increasing percentage of Americans seem to be lost within their own manufactured narratives." As you have pointed out time and time again, mix a lie and a crazy person and pay the price...
    My wife tells me to be wary, there's a bunch of crazies just wanting to play their own show even if it means killing someone. Thanks Chief for the grounding.

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  13. Robert Anton Wilson was right ...reality is what you can get away with.

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  14. I am more shaken every day by the new appointments, "deals," unwillingness to hear and integrate new information, sticking to old screeds, taking away rights, and more. I'm frightened and feel powerless.

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    1. It's terrifying and I still can't believe this IS our reality.

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  15. Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?
    Yes. Every day.

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    1. Whew. I was listening to all the comments questioning everyone else's reality, but sticking pretty tight to their own. Thanks for chiming in

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    2. I do too, because everything comes into a person's brain, then it's interpreted by that brain, which means it's all subjective. The checks are when what's out there put it right in your face that your interpretation is incorrect. The thing is, you have to pay attention to that, which is hard because there is an internal narrative going on that tends to reject it. Too busy with the story line going on, and doesn't want new directions inserted.

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  16. Great article Jim. Really enjoy your writing. I find myself re-posting much of your material.

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  17. Great essay. Thank you. Though you might want to flag a couple WESTWORLD spoiler alerts for those of us who have yet to finish the season. ;)

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    1. I am a total neophyte to Westworld. Just watched Season 1,episode1. I'm going to rewatch that once or twice before I move on, because I'm THAT confused!

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  18. Reading responses from your stable of crazies is one of the most frightening experiences I've had in a long, long time.

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    1. You won't be coming back then, I take it.

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    2. Nancy, I think he might be referring to the tweets Jim posted, not the comments.

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  19. Jim, sometimes your essays scare the crap out of me and that's a damned good thing. I have recently begun to question every one of my own paradigms. I will not let any outside source decide what I should believe. Everything is open to question and debate and skepticism. I don't know how you can deal with all this without going mad but I sincerely appreciate every clear and detailed article you write. Thank you for keeping us on our toes and the whackos feet to the fire.

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    1. With respect, how can "everything" be open to question and debate and skepticism? Is 4+7=11 open to debate and questioning? Is the Periodic Table of Elements open to question and debate and skepticism? Is that the Cubs won with World Series in 2016 open to debate and questioning and skepticism? Is the existence of the Pacific Ocean open to debate or questioning or skepticism? I am sitting in a chair at my desk at work. This is not open to questioning or debate or skepticism. When I look up from the desk, I can see a jar of cashews. That jar of cashews IS. It exists. Its existence is not open to questioning or debate or skepticism.

      Please forgive me if my examples appear to be too simple; I don't mean them to be as such. If I misinterpreted your comment, please forgive me. But short of taking a solipsistic view of the Universe, then there are some things in life that cannot be questioned. I think if we take the view that everything needs to be open to debate and questioning and skepticism, then we have lost reason and common sense for good. It's Colbert's take on truthiness: it's not what is true, it's what you believe and feel in your guy that's true. Everything else is wrong.

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    2. Randy, 4+7=13.

      That's true, Randy. If you're counting in octal.

      And we've made additions to the periodic table over time. The periodic table you studied in school 30 years ago is *not* the same periodic table that school children study in school today.

      It all boils down to one question: "How do I verify this?" You can verify the Cubs score by talking to people who were there at the game and observed the Cubs winning. You can verify the periodic table by replicating the experiments that measured the atomic number of each of the atoms on the periodic table. You can verify that the cashews exist because you can reach out and see and touch them and even eat them, so it's not just a hallucination you're having due to your fever.

      "How can I verify this?" doesn't mean you *have* to go out and verify it yourself, of course. I'm content to know that thousands of scientists have verified the placement of the elements on the periodic table, for example, and that if there's an error somewhere, it's not one that really matters to me. But if I were a chemist and I was about to perform an experiment that relied on an element being in a specific place on the periodic chart? Damn straight I'd replicate the experiment that verified its atomic weight. Point being, it's not necessary to verify *everything* in your daily life, just the things that mean something to you. But you should ask "how do I verify this?" on a regular basis anyhow, because that's the only thing that'll keep you in touch with reality. You don't *have* to verify it, if it doesn't matter much to you, but if you don't even ask the question "how do I verify this?", there's no hope.

      In the case of 4+7, I can verify it by counting from 7. "7... 10.... 11... 12... 13." Or if you're counting in base 10, "7... 8.... 9.... 10... 11." I.e., I count four numbers above where I started, and I end up at the final number. Counting is the entire basis of 4+7=13, and can be used to verify any arithmetic. Does that mean you should validate that 4+7=13 (or 11 if you insist on base 10 counting) everytime you add? Of course not. But if you don't even ask, "how can I verify this is true?", then you have no way of knowing whether someone who says "4+7=11" is gaslighting you or not. Who knows, 4+7 could be 47, and the notion that it's 11 is just a conspiracy, right? Except you can *verify* that it's 11, by going to the basic arithmetic procedure of counting. That, and not because your teacher said so, is what makes it true.

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    3. Also importantly, Randy, are you sure four and seven (the facts) are accurate representations of whatever you're counting?. Who counted? How reliable are the counters? Might have a reason to want you to get 11? Might they just suck at counting? The amount of disagreement lately about the seemingly most obvious things leads me to agree: question every single damn thing.

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  20. Has the bug report timer run down? If so, the Iraq invasion was 2003, you have 2004.

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    1. Given that I was there that night, in the first assault, you'd wouldn't think I would have fucked that up, would you?

      Alas.

      It's fixed.

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  21. Interesting that you cite Westworld. I agree that it is salient to the argument. But for a more "life as it is" show I suggest, despite the numerous aggravating references to the sexiness of the star, Bull. Having worked as a jury advisor and trial strategy advisor for several years, I can vouchsafe that yes, juries are that manipulable, in the same way as reality is manipulated in Westworld and on social media. It is scary how much smart people with the right tools can shape our vision for us.

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    1. What more scary is that a bunch of stupid people with rhetorical blunt instruments can shape the vision of enough people to tip the reality scale

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  22. Wonderful writing as always. Thank you. I feel less isolated when I read essays like this one. You keep writing. I'll keep thinking.

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  23. If one is unable to change their narrative, or opinion, based on the verifiable facts available, they no longer live in the larger reality. We have created micro societies that mutually accept evidence that supports their opinion and reject that which doesn't. The emphasis is on evidence, and the conspiracy theorists do use the IDEA of evidence (as your replies indicate). "Why don't you believe the evidence?" The evidence, however, is bunk. Therein lies the problem. We are no longer in the information age, but rather the misinformation age.

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  24. It should come as no surprise that Trump lives in his own imaginary world. He is a CEO, most of his life he is surrounded by people who want badly to please him. They keep the bad news at bay and constantly praise his outstanding leadership. America likes to believe that CEO's are great men and maybe some of them are but from my point of view from the bottom rung on the corporate ladder they are just people far away that haven't a clue as to how their business actually runs.

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    1. Worse than a typical CEO, the company is private, it's run by his children, he lives where he works, isolated as much as he wishes to be. And it was handed to him by his wealthy father. Trump wants constant affirmation - who goes on a "victory tour" when their new job, unlike any other in the world and one they clearly thought would never happen starts in just a few weeks with so many things needing to be done. Surrounded by "yes" men (yup, mostly men), he knows everything because folks tell him he does.

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    2. Yes, he has been able to be a dictator for decades now. It's going to be a problem, as far as I can tell.

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  25. This is maybe the scariest thing I've read since the election. It's excellent but I'm not going to sleep well.

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  26. For over 30 years I've watched this trend. watched as the most egregiously stupid things were trumpeted as fact(the McMartin case made me ill..lost friends over that) Watched a Presidential debate where the sitting President challenged his putative rival(Romney) to "continue" Also watched as the republicans tried to desperately change the narrative IT was unfair for the moderator to "fact check" in Real time.
    I am hearing (and seeing) the most absurd things being foisted on folks by "social media" and want to scream.I have lately been thinking about that lab experiment with the rats in the box,I'm sure you know the one..where as the population grew denser; the rat population grew crazier.It didn't matter there was enough food and water..the ratfolk just became more and more aggressive and or depressed and just stopped caring about living.It has made me wonder if nature has a built-in Psychological point in species that as soon as they reach certain levals of population density..they go "wonky".Dunno but it sure would explain some of the madness I have seen in Print and on the news or spoken by folks.You being a sci-fi buff,Jim, you may or may not have read a book by the title of: "Stand on Zanzibar" and: "The Sheep look up" by John Brunner. They came out in the 70's..if ya haven't read it ya should..it foretells some of the things we are seeing with eerie exactness.
    Anyway..as per usual great essay! ==(:*D

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    1. OMG, so it's not just me thinking about that rat experiment. Everyone I know is really angry or really depressed, except for the handful trying to distract themselves with the new Star Wars movie.

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    2. Look into "Carrying Capacity." The subject gets complex pretty quick, but obviously highly social species might be subject to social/psychological factors in a way they are also subject to purely biological or environmental ones. (No indication we've hit ours yet, btw, though we're doing our damnedest to f it up on all fronts.)

      But - Sociology being the complex beast it is - there are other potential explanations as well. There's another couple of famous rat experiments involving cocaine which suggest isolation is a huge factor in addiction, and there's abundant talk about how modern society is rife with isolation, despite it's density (i.e. we are more and more solitary despite the population growth/density because the majority of our connections are less real, less frequent, shorter in duration, and shallower in nature), and we're clearly in the midst of an addiction epidemic (pills, media, sex, games, etc.). So one explanation for the depression/aggression dynamics we're seeing (besides intoxication, I mean) is a lashing out due to lack of real community (which both supports individuals and keeps them in check). Another potential explanation is that we are in the midst of a restructuring of the greater community's moral framework and it's just going to suck for awhile. I mean, weather you agree/believe or not, the Church formed the backbone of social/community structure for millennia. That is going away (largely through the Church's own fault), and there is nothing to take its place yet. And I think the fact we have all this science denial and overt hypocrisy is a huge indication that we are not adequately addressing (or even looking at) what appears to be a human need to have something to believe in. I'm not saying we have to have religion, but I think we do have to have hope. What in our current culture generates hope? Is there anything? If people have nothing to hope for, maybe it makes sense that a lot of individual energy is being expended aggressively pursuing self-interest and self-worth? (I'm including the pizzagate thing there: "*I* believe this", "*I* have the facts", "*I* know better than others", "*I* am right" "*I* have the moral high ground", etc.)

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    3. Thing is about your density hypothesis, the craziest people seem to be in the places where they *aren't* crowded like in rural Bumfuck USA, while the sanest people in the USA today seem to be crowded into cities. In fact, the denser the city, the more sane the people seem to be. Residents of New York City, for example, seem pretty damn sane most of the time.

      Furthermore, there are nations with a much higher population density than the United States that seem ridiculously sane compared to the United States.

      So your density hypothesis doesn't survive the test of actual data. Just as well, because if it were true, the only solution would be mass genocide of a large percentage of the human race.

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    4. I live in a very rural area, and have watched many people come here with stars in their eyes about going "back to the land" or some other pie in the sky idea. What usually happens is they fall apart without the constant distractions of the city. Couples really get to know each other, and find out they don't like each other, and end up splitting up.

      If a person has any tendencies toward magical thinking, it can really get out of hand when they are isolated from those that are more grounded. I'm thinking that these days the more open minded, creative and intelligent people have left the rural areas to go to where they are more accepted, leaving the ones behind that are caught up in their own narratives.

      The ones left behind are spiraling out there without the more open minded to ground them by bringing in the new facts and reality that come up, that question the assumptions so that they can be examined for truth. Without those creative, innovative and thoughtful people around, the more rural people are getting to be more and more easily manipulated by those that would use them. It's sad to see.

      Who knows? Perhaps the liberals will be driven out of the cities once again, like they were in the late 60's and 70's, to bring their ideas and truth seeking to the rural people that sorely need them.

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    5. As a resident of the state of Mississippi, I can certainly appreciate your points. The college towns have the liberals in them, and the rest of the state seems to be made up of Bible Belt conservatives that think if it is published it has to be true. The one good thing, for me, that has come out of this election is I have found out people I was sure were Trump supporters were actually supporting Hillary but being very quiet about it. Republicans can be very nasty if you are a Democrat or even an Independent.

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  27. A second response. Most of your readers are probably not old enough to remember the original TV show "Twilight Zone" but there was an episode that dealt with a neighborhood that lost it's power and could not receive any news from the outside world. The families soon turn on each other. In a matter of hours they were killing each other, succumbing to fear and unknown. At the end the camara pans back to space and a couple of aliens comment on how easy it will be to conquer earth.

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    1. I read a comparison of Trump to Anthony Fremont, somewhere. Everyone had to keep from upsetting Anthony, or he'd do terrible things to people. Trump is a real-world version of Anthony, capable of doing great damage if he's upset. Unlike Anthony, he can be stopped, if we have the will.

      (BTW, I always figured neither Peakesville or Anthony survived his hitting puberty.)

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    2. "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" is one of my all-time favorite episodes, along with "It's a Good Life."

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    3. Juliet: Actually, they filmed a reprisal of Anthony, complete with Billy Mumy AND HIS DAUGHTER as the situation 20 years later in Peakesville. Still has Chloris Leachman as the mother and now grandmother. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ycUsUctxQg

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    4. The Twilight Zone was a remarkable TV show. They could remake each script verbatim and they'd be fine to show to a 21st century audience. Rod Serling either wrote, adapted, or found scripts which really made you think.
      I can imagine the 2016 election and impending Trump administration being a cautionary tale produced for The Twilight Zone. If only someone would jostle our shoulders and wake us to say it was all just a terrible nightmare we were having.

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  28. Jim, I'm surprised you didn't mention one of the key things from the movie "Arrival" - that language really does help shape your worldview. I think as languages become more fluid in the Twitter era, so too does the view of reality. One less anchor to a relatively fixed and shared way of looking at things, when you can just hashtag a catchy phrase and it spreads virally to all the other addicts...

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  29. There's another aspect to Trump skipping the intelligence briefings -- traffic analysis. No briefing -- nothing interesting has happened. Briefing -- something interesting is going on. Emergency ("one minute notice") briefing -- something big is going on. With a defined-length daily briefing, there's no way from outside to tell the difference between "all quiet on the western front" and "Germany just invaded Poland".

    "You can hear a lot by just listening." -- Yogi Berra

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  30. This is awesome. I am continually frustrated by those that are unable to view different perspectives. As a former mental health counselor I saw this daily, only those folks were locked up for their own safety. As a teacher now, I try my very hardest to turn students into active, critical thinkers, but by the time I get them (7th grade up), the patterns are already pretty much established an its close to impossible to get them to reason. I have had some limited success with a few, but they were the 'rebels' to start with and they were predisposed to question everything anyhow. Most people have grown up not learning how to think-all they do is need to pass standardized tests and they are considered 'educated'. This is one of the great atrocities that NCLB brought to education and it will take monumental effort to change it.

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    1. Your comment made me think of the TED Talk by a teacher who worked in North Korea -
      http://ideas.ted.com/what-i-learned-from-teaching-english-in-north-korea/
      I haven't read her book yet but want to.

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    2. I think that was the whole point of NCLB. To stop teaching critical thinking.

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    3. a little philosophy goes a long way. There is a claim that it depends on how the question is created.
      For example try this:https://www.google.com/amp/s/aeon.co/amp/videos/teaching-philosophy-at-school-isnt-just-good-pedagogy-it-helps-to-safeguard-society
      Keep thinking.

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  31. Once again, amazing commentary.

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  32. Really a terrific piece, and great use of Westworld to convey the point.

    It's haunting to remember Delores (or [spoiler], for that matter) saying "that doesn't mean anything to me" and thinking of the same words coming out of the frothing mouths of some of our fellow citizens when confronted with logic, reason, and/or actual facty facts that are in fact factual.

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  33. Jim, I think I know why something like this might be useful to the wrong people. Turkey is going through something similar is it not? A false coup attempt that is said to involve many Turks from all walks of life. As long as the government fuels that narrative they can arrest anyone they want at will. Just charge them with treason. If Pizzagate is pushed as a world wide conspiracy then anyone, anywhere can be implicated. It will become a powerful tool to remove enemies, discredit heads of state, and above all silence descent.

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  34. Folks, I think we are approaching a time when we have to honestly say that the United States and many of its citizens are becoming a real and actual threat the the world as we know it.

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  35. "It's not a lie if you believe it."

    George Costanza

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  36. Oh stop with all of that truth, will ya? Truth is so, so old school.
    Very clever Jim.

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  37. Frighteningly accurate as usual. Keep it up.

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  38. Have you fixed the errors in this paragraph?

    "More importantly why haven’t things changed? Are they gathering strength? Do they feel safe? Have they reached so state of stasis and stability? Or they being constrained by our forces or their enemies or geography or fear of retaliation?"

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  39. Fantastic, but scary as hell. I have been the victim of some cyber malfeasance myself, e-mail account being hacked, bizarre pro Trump trolling in my FB instant messaging. Can't say where this is coming from, but my website is simultaneously receiving a lot of bot traffic mostly from Samara Russia, but also St. Petersburg and Moscow.

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  40. Okay, one more typo, when talking about how a savvy commander would react to a briefing that hasn't changed, you have the word "so" and I think you meant "some."

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  41. I appreciate the analogy of Westworld/RealWorld but I find the program simple-minded as malfunctioning androids are far more likely to flop flop over and twitch uncontrollably until their power supply exhausts itself rather than to suddenly become self-aware and commence murderous rampages.

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  42. Very thought provoking and thank you for that point of view. I never really considered the repetition factor with briefings, but the way you explained it makes perfect sense. I also think it will be difficult for someone with a 15 second attention span to seriously look at anything that crosses his desk unless it is about grabbing lady bits, lowering his own taxes (or avoiding them altogether), and using the Office of the President as a means to forcibly leverage his own business interests.

    An excellent essay, sir.

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  43. Thank you for this "reality" check. As usual, your analysis is right on target.

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  44. I've been questioning reality since November 8th. And while the overall reality doesn't change - Trump will still become president - the nature of that reality and how the various pieces will affect our country and its people, changes almost by the minute.

    I'm frightened for our future... and in my 64 years of living I can honestly say I've never been more afraid.

    Brilliant analogy and synopsis of what is happening today.

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  45. Married to a career intell guy and he received medals for the results of seeing beyond the narrow reality of the People In Charge. For our country I wish he was still there. As a wife, I'm glad he's not.

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    1. People often overlook how difficult it can be for the spouse of someone in that line of work. Bless you for your patience and support.

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    2. I echo the same sentiments. Bless you for your patience and your husband's dedication and excellence.

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  46. A frightening explanation. My own frustration with Trump's lack of interest in briefings was that he might be missing incremental changes; tiny little pieces of information that eventually would add up to something important, and that he was also ignoring the opportunity to get more background information on the people and places. I hadn't spotted the more important part, that he needs to know why things haven't changed.

    Business people rarely do well as politicians. They're too accustomed to snapping out an order and having people run to obey; they don't understand why they have to ask Congress for permission to do things. They can't do things the way they want, and they get frustrated. Massachusetts elected a businessman as a governor, and it wasn't a major success.

    The Salem Witch Trials finally began to collapse when they accused and convicted an elderly woman named Mary Bradbury, who was famous for her Christian beliefs and her kindness to her neighbors. Over a hundred people signed a petition insisting that she was innocent, and her defense attorney was so horrified by her conviction that he wrote the judges demanding that the supernatural evidence not be admitted in court. He had a good deal of authority, he got members of the Massachusetts General Court (the legislature) to write, and matters began to wind down. It was that one step too far, where two different versions of reality collided, and people began to return to their senses. I don't know what it will take to bring reality back in this case.

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  47. Can you post more info on how to replicate your experiment?

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  48. Okay, this whole thing bothers me. This planet is having a problem with reality. We have the intelligentsia proposing that this world is a virtual reality - that the data it generates is too tidy and matches up too perfectly. We have the 99% saying that the MSM manufactures reality, and only their sources are accurate. How do you fight against somebody that denies actual reality? I don't know who these paid trolls are, or what their agenda is. Anybody with MS Paint and an internet connection can create a Twitter account and start trolling with false data. I trust the MSM because I know them. I know how hard those guys work to actually get the story right. How do we bring back the reality-challenged? Do we just need better mental health care in this country?

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    1. Actually, in the recent election, the MSM did NOT work hard to get the story straight. They beat the drum of EMAILS to smear Hillary Clinton... there's nothing illegal or unethical about having a private email server.

      Classified information was not an issue for Clinton, unlike General David Petreous who gave classified files to his "girlfriend" or General Mike Flynn, who included classified information in briefings he gave to foreign military staff in Afganistan.

      Yet Trump, who was taped saying proudly "..you just reach out and grab them by the pussy!" was cast as an ethical and moral business leader, rather than a con-man who time after time stiffed people who did work for him, declared bankruptcy to leave other investors when Trump's projects failed.

      Who can't make money running a casino?

      Don't be trusting the Media Complex as long as they allow lies to stand alongside truth and say "See, both sides do it!"

      Because both sides don't do it. One side tells lies continuously and one side may exaggerate from time to time. Not the same thing.

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    2. I've read articles about how the CEO's of the media corporations were crowing about how much money they were making off of Trump and his antics. They didn't give a rip about anything other than that. Now they're tending to go "oh shit", but they were laughing all the way to the bank before hand.

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  49. I truly admire this post and the connection to the lunacy of a perceived reality by others including my own family and varied friends. No amount of in their face facts will deter them from their belief. It is just sad that we have actual leaders that spew this crap to rally a base on pure fiction. It is sad that there are folks that just take their word for it without doing real research. Oh they tell you they've researched and then when you ask them to provide their links because maybe I missed something. They never do.... Never. You are truly my hero. Thank you.

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  50. There is a fairy tale about this called the Emperor's New Clothes. We know it's a fairy tale because the people don't kill the child instead of changing their narrative.

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  51. I was already aware of all of the different references you brought to this, but when I look at this carefully stitched-together, terrifying quilt you have sewn, I feel like I was just punched in the stomach. I normally have command of a broad vocabulary, but I'm so stunned I can't come up with another word besides "terrifying." Just terrifying.

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  52. Your righting style and assumptions are exactly like Glenn Beck in fact I thought he wrote it.

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    1. Ironically, your "righting" style is exactly like that of Glenn Beck's audience.

      So, I guess that makes us even.

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    2. Yes RIGHTing Glenn

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  53. Do you ever feel like we're part of the largest social experiment ever conducted? Very informative essay. Thank you

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  54. Thank you, Jim. Right now,reality scares the hell out of me. We are about to have a President who thinks reality is what he says it is right now, not what he said last week; a Cabinet and agency heads who know nothing about the areas they are expected to oversee; and a large number of citizens who will believe anything they hear, so long as it fits what they believe already. Reality--the kind that says that apples fall from trees and banana peels are slippery--is going to bite them very, very hard, and not be kind to the rest of us.

    That Other Jean

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  55. About Pizzagate. Will try to keep this short. I remember the "Satanic Panic" days. The McMartin preschool and the West Memphis Three are both examples of lives destroyed by this particular form of cultural illness. It seems to flare up every few years or so. Before the internet, the range of the infection was at least geographically restricted.
    Going to jump gracelessly to Salem. One of the Hawthornes (can't remember which one) is partially credited with bringing the madness of the Witch Trials to a close by writing an essay addressing spectral evidence. He didn't say this is complete insanity. He pointed out that if the devil was appearing to the girls making the accusations, that the devil could take any form he chose in these visions and it didn't necessarily mean the persons he appeared as were witches. Basically, instead of calling out madness, he used it's own language to make it turn on itself.
    I jump once again gracelessly to England in the 80s, when there was genuinely a pedophile ring involving police officers and at least one member of Parliament. So, while me and my liberal friends have a tendency to view Pizzagate through the lens of McMartin, there is some historical context for governmental involvement in and cover up of horrific crimes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_paedophile_dossier
    I think the emotional logic of the Pizzagaters goes something like this - it's better to err on the side of protecting children from rape and exploitation than to do nothing and allow an unbelievable crime to continue. Looking at the evidence, there is nothing there - but people take time to be convinced by facts. Those have to sink in. Emotional appeals work faster. Is there a way we can find to speak the language of the believers? A way to turn this deep distrust of government that has been focused on the Clintons against itself? Cause I think that's our best chance for actually reaching the folks on the other side of this crazy divide.

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  56. Do you ever feel like we're part of the largest social experiment ever conducted? Very informative essay. Thank you

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  57. Wow, Westworld, politics and perceived realities woven together in only the way you can do it. Damned fine writing, and a warning to us all. Bravo, sir.

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  58. 1) CNN was in it's infancy during the McMartin Preschool debacle. (so 24 hour news cycle had indeed been born)
    2) Cognitive Dissonance.

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    1. The 24/7 news cycle was in its infancy, yes. But not many people had cable yet. And CNN wasn't the driving force behind the McMartin Preschool hysteria, that was mostly print journalism.

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    2. Print but living in So. Cal. the local news was always standing in front of the school interviewing neighbors asking what they saw (always nothing) or parents of kids at the school who would hyperventilate thus spreading the lies. I remember thinking come on this can't be true, that's impossible, but just as Pizzagate the fools rule the day. Didn't Trump say he loves stupid people (well he did phrase it less bluntly but its a fact, a true fact)? Marlene

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  59. Christian KosanovichDecember 13, 2016 at 3:15 PM

    I have a friend who has been arguing with evolution deniers for over a decade now and he has a salient starting point to all his discussions now. What would be sufficient proof to change your mind? Sadly and commonly with far too many people these days the answer is... Nothing. This is what I have been struggling with since before the election. I am sick and tired and extremely concerned with these people who construct their own reality to such an extent the when Trump in his own words contradicts himself they either say that the words he spoke are not what he meant or they deny he ever said them. The attitudes of far too many people remind me seriously of the Southern mindset before the War of SOUTHERN Aggression. (Who shot first?) I live in fear of a second Civil War because I do not believe we as a civilization can survive one. I am afraid Trump might be another Buchanan, or something far worse.

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    1. I think we will survive a second civil war (not without heavy casualties, of course).

      We will not, however, survive a third world war.

      I would prefer NO war at all; however, if it's going to come to this, I'll take my chances with the civil war.

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  60. Seems like this is the best way to destroy America after all for those invested in such a thing. Not the fastest way, but definately one of the easier ways given how vulnerable Americans are to this. The kicker is that they don't really have to be, but are, possibly even by choice.

    Who's to tell if the recent spate of fake news and conspiracy theories are not already the deliberate attempts by an unknown entity hostile to America aiming to upend society as it is for whatever agenda they have? We have no way of proving that, however it is clear that these false narratives are being propped up deliberately and that they are bad overall for society.

    Perhaps the real reason why such things are being supported may be due to how successful they are in convincing people. Whether the motive behind supporting such fake narratives is money or political agenda, success breeds enthusiasm for repetition and continued support. A newspaper continues to be published if people continue to subscribe to it, so too do fake narratives continue to be a thing as long as people subscribe to them. It would not be too difficult to imagine that they would be discontinued if no one paid any attention to them.

    Indeed the fact that people subscribe to them so willingly and readily for whatever reasons is probably the biggest factor in their ongoing popularity. The evidence of this can be seen in an event that was not fake, but technically not even much of "news or narrative" at all.

    That was when Comey announced that they had found emails in Huma Abedins laptop belonging to Clinton and voiced "suspicion" over them. I was dumbfounded when this actially gained so much influence in the elections and people's perception of Clinton when by rights it should never have been a thing. Those emails were not even READ by Comey at that time, and Clinton having emails is no crime, it is no crime for ANYONE. Yet all Comey had to do was mention Clinton and emails in one statement and the rest of America did the rest of the work for him. They built the rest of the narrative about how "crooked" this proves Hillary was for some reason and LET IT INFLUENCE THEIR PERCEPTION OF HER.

    As it turned out the emails were a nothingburger. Some were repeats of emails already released, others were of no import. No evidence of wrongdoing was gleaned form them. However this shows us how easily false narratives are built. All Comey had to do to unethically influence the elections was to say "Clinton" and "emails" and America did the rest for him while letting him off scott free.

    It's so effective that, as already highlighted, Trump's team and Trump himself are adopting this approach as their PR face towards Americans. Just start your own narrative based on your own reality and they'll handle the rest. (continued in next post)

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    1. It also served to link HRC to Huma Abedin's husband, not someone with whom one would choose to be associated even outside a national election.

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  61. America is at its weakest now than it has been since WW2. No I'm not talking about the strength of its army but the strength of its PEOPLE. You don't necessarily have to confront and defeat a country's army to conquer or defeat it, all that's required is to attack its PEOPLE where they are most vulnerable. If they capitulate, you win.

    History has shown this to be very true. Britain was brought to the brink of defeat in the days up to the Battle of Britain. France was conquered by Nazi Germany, but because the PEOPLE of the 2 countries (most of them at least) stood strong and didn't waver, Britain pushed back her attackers and French citizens kept up the fight against Germany through their then exiled government as well as through resistance cells all the way until their liberation by allied forces. Conversely America was defeated in Vietnam when the Vietcong succeeded in turning American anti war sentiment against American troops being in Vietnam, resulting in an American retreat and the North eventually overrunning the South without ever having to defeat the American armed forces.

    America is now more divided than it has ever been since the Civil Rights Movement. And all the more vulnerable to attacks aimed at its people.The greatest enemy and ally, and the one that would ensure if the American people would be victorious or defeated if ever attacked in such a way is themselves.

    Not exactly an inspiring thought.

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  62. Pam Meyers-HiddemenDecember 13, 2016 at 3:21 PM

    Small error: "The press took the story and ran. Journalistic integrity, dignity, ethics, ARE were forgotten."

    As usual, you point out aspects of current situations with divine clarity- and scare the bejesus out of me! Things (real things, not paranoid creations of who knows who) are happening that I never thought were even possible. And virtually none of it is 'good' or even tolerable. I'm terrified for my kids, hell, I'm terrified for the world.

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  63. Superb, as always. The comment from Scottie Nell Hughes caught my attention. Yes, we might interpret a glass of water as half full or half empty, but before we do that, we ought to determine the size of the glass and the amount of water in it. Jumping straight to the interpretation is skipping an important step. Like you, I was in military intelligence--six years in the 70s--and sometimes the work was like laying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, waiting for a flake of paint to fall off. When one fell, you noted it and sent the information forward to (usually) NSA where it was gathered with many other notes like it. Then the analysis began. Then, if the analysis uncovered something, it was incorporated into a briefing that might go to POTUS. It was and is a complex process that produces astonishing and often accurate results. To ignore it is to remain ignorant.

    Good work, as always.

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  64. As President-elect, Donald Trump certainly has the latitude to decline his intel briefings for whatever reason he chooses to cook up. But once he takes the oath, a failure to be briefed - or at least read the briefing material (which I suspect he could not comprehend on his own) - should be considered dereliction of duty.

    Of course, this dovetails nicely with Keith Olbermann's "25th Amendment" theory that the Republican Party are simply doling out all the rope Trump needs to be discharged from his office by the mechanics of the 25th Amendment.

    Keep in mind that the top brass of the Republican Party picked Pence, they didn't pick Trump. Hell, they don't even like him. But Trump served his purpose. He was the much-needed carnival barker to get the suckers into the tent. But once the circus gets started, you usually send the carnival barker home and turn the show over to the ringmaster.

    And then it will be a whole NEW reality for every last one of us.

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    1. I honestly suspect that this is the master plan. Trump is acting so crazy - refusing to divest of his businesses,etc that they will immediately get impeach him. Trump will claim moral victory and go off make more money. Then Pence will start the Republican master plan.

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  65. This is probably my favorite essay of yours. (It's difficult to choose.) But refusing to engage with the world especially when one is responsible for so many is beyond negligence. I suspect, given his continuous string of indefensible choices, that he really doesn't want the job, whether he knows that or not, hence his decision to avoid the briefings and stay in Trump Tower in New York, hoping to avoid as many charges of treason as possible because "he wasn't at that briefing".
    As for his minions or just those that are swinging waaay out on the pendulum of emotion, there is a certain satisfaction to substituting emotion for thought. It's certainly easier than substantive research.

    (Odd segue alert.)

    I like to turn to biology to explain some of the odd things we do. It's not a popular way, but it seems to ring true, or maybe that's my delusion. In training dogs, a key point is to keep them from becoming too aroused (anger, fear, joy, etc.), under threshold is the term. A dog, like humans, cannot learn or train when they become too excited. Unlike humans, dogs don't really like to live in that emotionally aroused state. Maybe we like to use our extra brainpower to construct our fantasies and dogs just don't have the wherewithal to do so. But whatever the reason, there seems to be an almost physical gratification. There was a study done years ago that identified that the perception of revenge, real or imagined produced pleasure. Pleasure is a yuuge motivation.
    (I used the Anonymous moniker because I don't have any of the others.)

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  66. "Willingly we place the yoke of oppression upon our shoulders, while cheering our conquerer's"

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  67. Jim, have you ever considered putting a "Print" option on your columns? My brother is not computer savvy and I'd love to be able to print your columns for him. I usually end up reading them to him and he, I, LOVE your commentary. Seriously. Get these all published because I'd buy the book.

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    1. Right-click on the webpage and select Print.

      Delete
  68. I am constantly baffled that people will take the word of some anonymous tin-hat wearing fool living in his mom's basement instead of respected scientists, long-time journalists, our vetted intelligence community, etc.

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  69. Every time I see the words "you see what you want to see," I'm reminded of the following exchange between Oblio and the Rock Man in the Harry Nilsson movie, The Point.

    One of the first things Oblio and Arrow noticed about the Pointless Forest was that all the leaves on all the trees had points, and all the trees had points. In fact, even the branches of all the trees pointed in different directions, which seemed a little strange for a pointless forest. […] Oblio told the Rock Man that they were banished and asked him whether or not this was the Pointless Forest.
    The Rock Man said, “Say, babe, there ain’t nothing pointless about this gig. The thing is you see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear. You dig? Did you ever see Paris?”
    “No.”
    “Did you ever see New Delhi?”
    “No.”
    “Well, that’s it. You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear.”

    We tend to believe "facts" that fit our pre-conceived reality, for the most part. It takes real work to critically look at that reality and evaluate it in the context of actual verifiable data.

    Greg - ETC(SW) USN - Retired

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  70. Well done Jim...I think. I don't know whether I'm more angry or more terrified.

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  71. I just want to say thank you.
    I am frequently befuddled at confirmation bias, fact denial even in the face of evidence.

    Your writing and many of the critical thinking responses give some hope that there are people paying attention.

    I only hope that those of us paying attention can make enough noise in the cacophony of misinformation, confirmation bias and flat out denial from voters were conned to make sure we don't all suffer from their choice.

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  72. If his meeting with Kayne today was for more than singing on 1/20/17, I really am moving to Canada (or Mars).

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  73. The paragraph that starts "An anchor..." a couple sentences in has a double the

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  74. Ugh. This situation... you're simply right about the people angry about being contradicted about insane things, but the fact that it's being fed on purpose is a killer.

    Part of it for me has been a flying combo of two things:

    1) a kind of customization of the phrase the protagonist's father uses about the Major (the dictator) in The Long Walk by Richard Bachman: "The rarest and most dangerous monster any nation can produce, a society-supported sociopath." (No, Trump was not what I was thinking of...)

    2) a description I read of paranoia in the old book Neurotic Styles, by David Shapiro.
    The author took the view that the paranoid style of thinking was a continuum from, well, anybody to a hospitalized clinical case. He described the central feature of paranoia as a rigidity about reality - where, increasingly, all of the person's perceptions and conclusions are totally clearly correct, visible, and self-evident. The person absolutely believes this.
    (I can't remember if this was his thinking or my extension, but I thought that the persecution pattern came secondarily, as a result of this - because a person heavily into this pattern then has to explain why other people would be claiming not to see the same things or saying that this person is wrong. If the truth is absolutely clear, the only answer is that they are deliberately lying. That answer is then self-evident, and some explanation will come to mind, and so on from there...)

    The new monster we see has seemed to me to be a society-supported near-clinical paranoia.
    The Trumpers' patterns of belief and of reality-evaluation match those of people here and there who are thinking to some degree in paranoid terms. At least to the extent where who's trusted and distrusted is the major feature (fact-checking IS distrusting "the liars"). And they provide the perfect *home* for people like that, they provide so many ready click-in suggestions for the slant and the players, candidates for which vague delusions to go crazy with. The more paranoid someone is, the more naturally isolated he or she usually is and feels, but this gives the person somewhere to belong precisely by virtue of that. And they're big enough that they can be a major example of how to think for people growing up.

    But the element you have added, and that seems to be undeniable - where there are people and entities deliberately feeding and encouraging this dysfunctional pattern because they like their own chances under these conditions...

    It was hard enough to think about what to do, going forward, about the paranoid deformation of thought without factoring in the genuine malign conspirators. It's a strategic horror.

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  75. Thanks for expanding my mind, again.

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  76. The bananas-ness of what Trump said about the briefings cannot be overstated.

    I had two lines of thought about this, one just reality-description, the other dismally speculative...

    (1) "If something should change, let us know."

    Then something does change - that he did not head off. One contributing reason being that he was not listening to or reading intelligence briefings, and so he was not following the situation.
    When this happens...

    ... he will not listen to or read that intelligence briefing either. Because there is nothing magically different about that intelligence briefing.

    They're all full of things changing.
    Which brings us to the claim that intelligence briefings are endless repetition of totally unchanged background information, which is where I have to remember that, despite how it seems, I did not drink a whole bottle of cough medicine an hour ago.

    (2) Then again, there's the question of *why* he would have the impression that intelligence briefings are repetitions of the same information over and over.
    I was thinking that the answer might be...

    He has had a few briefings.
    Each new briefing is substantially new information and new developments - but they *do involve/require basic knowledge.*

    (I don't know what to use as an example. As a placeholder: that Zambia exists, or that it exports copper, or that it has a border with Tanzania.)

    Suppose he doesn't have some of this info to start - so this background info had to be explained to him during a briefing.

    Then he doesn't retain it.

    So they go to brief him again about some new aspect or development involving Zambia. And he doesn't know about Zambia. So they tell him this thing about Zambia again.

    And, again, he doesn't really retain it... (he was busy hating the briefing...)

    And there's another hated briefing, and to explain they have to...

    And...

    And then he ends up saying in an interview, in reference to his lack of briefing attendance, that he doesn't need to get the same information over and over.

    Because he's smart.

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    1. You know what's needed as a reply to Trump's bullshitting on how "it's always the same thing each time so why do you keep telling it to me? No more of that!" claim?

      Something like this:

      "Mr Trump, imagine for a moment that you receive regular, perhaps monthly or even yearly, reports from your various branches, stores or framchises, consolidated or individually, whatever, these reports summarise the performance of these various entities under your name.

      Supposing that for the past few consecutive reports, they have all been pretty much the same, revenue, finances, etc. All of them have been more or less the same for these entities, neither gaining nor losing in any way.

      Would you then, say as you have with intelligence briefings, for the very same reason you gave for what you said about them, with regards to these regular financial reports?

      It's always the same thing each time so why do you keep telling it to me?"

      Delete
  77. Jim, as always, brilliant. I am 65 years old and my heart is breaking daily. On every occasion that presents itself, I do my best to show kindness, empathy, and tolerance. But it is not enough in the face of this terrifying ignorance. I suspect many of us are watching these events unfold feeling helpless. And saddened beyond belief.

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  78. Blue Pill or Red Pill - the trick is to have the choice.

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  79. Sir, you hit the nail on the head.

    For some, their perception of struggling financially is not being able to purchase the newest Video Game for Christmas or Birthday. For too many others, it is paying the heating bill, just enough to hold off getting shut off, or eating for the next two weeks. A Video Game, much less the player is far beyond their reality.

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  80. Thanks Jim, for this. I've been dumbfounded for months at the gullibility of so many people in this country. Not just gullibility, but what seems to be an active desire to be aroused into hysteria. And of course, it does make me question my own sense of what is what.

    When I was about 8 or 9, I went into my parents' bathroom one morning. For some reason I ducked my head under the window curtain and looked out, where it was still mostly dark out. Staring back at me was a witch's leering face. I screamed and my parents came running. I told them about the witch outside, my mom looked out, tried to comfort me saying there was no witch. My dad, looked, and told me it was the odd reflection of the light over the sink, plus some other things on the shelf. He pointed out the part that was making the witch's nose, hat, etc. I looked from the light to the window and back again. Blink it was a light. Blink it was a witch. Blink back to a light. From then on, when I see something that seems that out of the ordinary, I think, what else could be going on here. It's the absolute certainty that our information is correct and all that we need that is so insidious.

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  81. Here is the problem. It is not what is going on. It is what will happen. Reality is what it is. It will happen, like it or not, and as it continues to be denied, reality will simply occur until it can no longer be ignored.

    And that's when it turns on them. Because our country will be so very cynical about news, that when it's their turn to call for help, to speak of the real problems they are going through, it will not be heard, nor acted upon.

    That's a real problem. And while in the short term it might give some a smile to see reality turn against the liars and the mad. In the long term it still comes back to affect us.

    And that's the ultimate part of the problem. To give an example, in the next few decades, Florida will begin to flood and the waters will not recede. People will have to move. They will decry the loss of homes and lives.

    And the rest of us will be tempted to go, "We told you so. Tough luck. Don't come where I live. I don't want you taking my job."

    And yet, it will still happen.

    So maybe it's time to demand that reality be listened to, before our question of the nature of our reality kills us in large numbers.

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  82. So, do you suppose that when the undeniably real shit from this maelstrom of demented fantasy actually does hit, there will be at least one moment of an epiphany? Or will the witless trolls just hide under the bridge, waiting for the goat to pass? Getting very scary out here. We are not amused.

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    1. Actually, this is one of the few, if only thing I have found to disagree with Jim on. He claimed it would all be on the Republicans from here on out. However, in 2012, a poll in Louisiana found that 38% of Lousiana republicans blamed GW Bush for slow FEMA response during Katrina. The % of Louisiana republicans who blamed the 2005 junior senator from Illonois, was 39%.

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  83. Jim.
    You don't know why this is being done? Really? You need to read the Theory of Integration and Practice by Eric Heubeck. Do all your research on it to verify it. This is the puzzle piece you are missing.

    http://www.yuricareport.com/Dominionism/FreeCongressEssay.html


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    1. Bryan,
      That is frankly horrifying. Thanks for sharing. We must find a way to counter this.

      Delete
  84. Oddly enough, the one PizzaGate "truther" who I know personally is actually a Sanders supporter, and after him, she liked Stein. She's also a marijuana advocate (doesn't smoke though) and anti-GMO. Time and again, I see her accept things as true on the grounds that they can't be proven false.

    I kind of hope she brings up PizzaGate again so I can retort with this post.

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  85. I've often heard it said that cases of sexual abuse involving a child are the one area where "innocent until proven guilty" is reversed to become "guilty until proven innocent". Such a crime is too horrific to ever be tolerable. That might, at least partially, explain the eager willingness to join the witch hunt, but not the tenacity shown in refusing to accept that it did not happen. Invitations to debunk the allegations are laughable when absolutely nothing can be offered to dissuade these people from their convictions.
    Then, there is the flip-side of the coin.
    The lesson of the "boy who cried wolf" fable seems to have been lost on certain people who make a concerted effort in spreading false alarms.
    How does anyone become so enamored of an ability to fool others as to make a career out of it? When, if ever, does the game lose its appeal?
    I'm not sure which is worse, the fool with the blind spot to reason, or the asshat with the blind spot to civil responsibility.
    And then, there's that third blind spot we see, in the man clearly overwhelmed by the prize he has won.

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    1. Except if that were the case, they would not have threatened the woman and her family when they accused trump of raping her at 13. They would have righteously found the truth. I think it is their practice to believe all the bad about their enemies and only the good about their candidate.

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  86. Amen. I am with Victoria above... Keep on writting!

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  87. Of the pizza gate accounts, how many made posts with classic English grammar errors made by Slavic speakers? (I.e. dropping the definite and indefinite articles?)

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  88. One other point: the fact that people buy the idea of 'free markets,' markets with no government involvement, is evidence that they will buy just about any crazy notion.

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  89. Thank you for a superb essay. My strength is definitely not in the written word, being more comfortable with aluminum and steel, hydraulics and avionics. Between you and Dan Rather, you both have recorded the absolute dipshittery this past year has brought (though I doubt Mr Rather would say something quite like that). Please keep the sanity coming, I need it. We all do.

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  90. Given how Trump campaigned, he expects to drive events. Other people will have to be getting reports on what he is doing, not the other way around.

    Looking at his appointments the domestic plan is to dismantle government and the foreign plan will be to pull out the blue pencil Churchill and Stalin used at end of WWII and draw a new geopolitical map. That's the real wall he will build, based on whatever his view of reality is.

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  91. I have a (conspiracy) theory that most conspiracy theories are started for a purpose. And it's pretty brilliant if you think about it. Arguing using evidence and facts won't work because all the evidence and facts are part of the conspiracy. https://medium.com/@AntagonisticBiscuit/the-conspiracy-of-conspiracy-theories-e92aa605ad94#.bznryeecy

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  92. Jim - - Didn't you write a couple of years back on the insanity of attempting to argue with irrational people ?? Good update.

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  93. Christian SoltenbornDecember 13, 2016 at 10:42 PM

    Trevor Noah had a nice feature related to this on the Daily Show: "Adapting to Donald Trump's Lies" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9P1IVQJdVvE)

    The main point is that if Trump twitters anything ridiculous again, the media shall not start to fact-check him, but ask for evidence ("pics or it didn't happen!"), which hopefully gives them time to focus on the real issues.

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  94. I'd like a Large Pedophile Pizza, but hold the Ping Pong balls. I'm pantsuit-intolerant.

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  95. I get it . . . the study of the nature of reality is a long time hobby of mine . . . I have come up with one mainline conclusion when it comes to white america . . . nobody knows their asses from a hole in the ground . . . simple. It would be funny if it weren't so damn scary.

    Pizza Gate? That school? All these various and sundry conspiracy theories? T? F? Two years in Asia . . . I remember the Gulf of Tonkin . . . conspiracy theory?

    I am a lone wolf guarding my trail . . . you seem to know why. Good job on the essay.

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  96. I'm beginning to sympathize with those locked in a paralysis of paranoia. The reality of Trump daily exceeds the most bizarre "truther" nonsense. It's tough enough for adults to navigate the misinformation morass - if you want to be really depressed surf areas that largely attract teenagers like tumblr.

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  97. Excellent excellent piece. Thank you for your continued cogent discussions and insight into our new reality.

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  98. Thank you for mentioning the fake accounts in detail. It's something I deal with on a daily basis. For the pages I administer, for the site I police, it's a never-ending problem.

    It's astonishing how many trolls are out there - and I've become something of an expert in parsing them from bots on FB. I don't hang on Twitter much, that's almost too many bots and trolls for me to handle. But on FB, I'm continuously amazed that a bonehead comment from a fake account will change the whole comment narrative - and nobody arguing with them clicks on these profiles! I've found false accounts with a thousand friends - each thousand was another false account, and they are all incestuously friends with each other but almost nobody else. Most fake accounts aren't that extreme - generally on FB if there's 100 or less "friends" it's more likely to be a bot. If there's around 200 "friends" they tend to be trolls. Huge numbers of them also claim to be "self-employed" at something equally boneheaded ("self-employed" at "screw yer mama") and made up.

    I report them as fake, I report them as spam (in the case of bots that's essentially true), and I block them from our sites.

    It's overwhelming the number of fake accounts out there. And one asshole can control hundreds of accounts, and bombard whatever target they like, alone and yet en-masse, with bullshit.

    One person can be hundreds. Even a thousand if that's your job. It's a frightening reality, because a concerted effort of these accounts - one person pretending to speak for so many - is drowning out the reasonable and flooding the gullible.

    Talk about creating an alternate universe. These guys create whole peoples online. Like playing the Sims - they can be whoever they want, many, many times over. It's creating the robots to host in the park. It's forcing the narrative with the voice of many, all by yourself.

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  99. Can you share more details regarding the "significant fraction" of the troll accounts that were new and not automated? (I'd like to reuse this example, and I don't want to 'bring an anecdote to a data fight'.)

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  100. Excellent! One day I truly hope to sit down with you and spend some time talking to you. This is targeted right at the heart of one of the problems we have today. Our PE is playing checkers, with Go masters.
    One thing that you might consider, it would be helpful. A review of the "fake news" tools out there today. Not meaning to give you more work. But, it would be seen if done by you. An educable moment.
    Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking essay.

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  101. I tweeted you this, but since there seem to be other's with reports: the word you're looking for in the intro is AMOK. Not Amuck. LOVE YOUR WRITING. <3

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    1. Amok is the modern standard spelling of amuck, meaning in a frenzy or uncontrolled state.

      The word is a loanword from Malaysian. Amuck is an acceptable alternative spelling, though now outdated -- it was typically spelled and pronounced "amuck" prior to the mid-20th Century.And because growing up I read a very great deal of literature from that period, that's the spelling and pronunciation I prefer.

      Note: a few usage authorities still recommend the amuck spelling as it is closer to the original Malaysian.

      All that said, while amok is the preferred current spelling, and while you are technically correct, and if I was writing for a publican that had a mandatory style guide I would most certainly use the editor's preferred grammar without argument, since I'm writing for myself here, I prefer to use the version I personally prefer.

      //Jim

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    2. Of course! I was just trying to help. I did not find that version, and I've never used it, so that was my basis. You are not that much older than I (I might be older than you, actually - 51), so I assumed we were of the same writing style. I know: ASSUME. Anyway, I love your writing and am NOT trying to change you. I would not DARE. :P

      Delete
    3. No worries. I was simply explaining why I used the word I did. As I said, you are correct.

      I'm a little older than you, a few years. Not enough to matter. I suppose it depends on what you read from that period. For me it was mostly the classics, adventure, mysteries, and vast amounts of science fiction.

      Also, that's the way my elders said it. So, I did too.

      Delete
    4. An advantage of writing for a publican might be free drinks once you made your deadline. :)

      Delete
  102. Trump's election confirms what I've long fears; compared to the long hard slog of reality, a significant portion of Americans prefer pleasant pretty fictions. Nobody ever told them, that like science fiction - fairy tales were not manuals for life, but stories of how it would all go WRONG if the storytime's reality was infringed upon. Lazy thoughtless sorts NEVER did well in storybooks, a fact Trump voters utterly missed.

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  103. What I don't understand is why one "story" becomes a viral sensation over another, even when they are substantially similar. This pizzagate debacle is great example of this actually, considering all the smoke and fire surrounding a certain Jeffrey Epstein. Why does pizzagate contaminate everything in its vicinity and get this insane following, but the Epstein thing goes virtually ignored? And this even though Epstein was actually convicted and went to jail (in Florida of all places) and it potentially touches a Clinton? (Full disclosure: I don't watch TV so Epstein may have gotten more TV coverage than I'm aware of, but there's def not the same rabid internet malarky going on there.)

    I can only think of a couple real reasons for the disparity: 1) (which, I hope not because it suggests deep issues with a lot of people's psyches) is that the more lurid and shocking a story is the more likely it is to "hook" portions of the population or 2) one story gets markedly different treatment/promotion/airtime/attention than the other.

    Et tu Fourth Estate?

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  104. try this flip of key words:

    have you ever questioned the reality of your nature?

    the reality of our nature as humans is that we're short-sighted, only focused on the things within our line of sight, rarely unable to think outside the box or manage any healthy skepticism.

    it's this nature that the Far Right - in media, in business, in politics - panders toward, eager to create and promote narratives that fit their audience's short-sighted, constantly-craving attention.

    We used to combat that nature, educate against it, preach in favor of a more evolved way of thinking... but we never really achieve it. We struggle as a nation from crisis to crisis, short-term fix to long-term disaster, unable to correct ourselves and answer to the better angels of that nature.

    It's taken civil war to try and correct a part of that nature, and we've been struggling with the consequences since. We've yet to fully answer for the other sins of our short-sightedness - the mistreatment of the tribal nations, the animosity towards Asians (and now Muslims), the sexism making women into second-class citizens within their own bodies - and now with the election of Trump a sizable plurality of our neighbors have decided to give in to their base nature and let this all blow into the sea (again).

    I dread the next two-four years. I hope to God it doesn't extend itself to eight or more.

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  105. If you refuse to believe in science then you can't believe in televisions, or refrigerators, or radios, or computers or microwave ovens, or air conditioning, or electricity or airplanes, or life saving medicines, or skyscrapers, or trains, or cars ... or anything of the technological world. Which means you will have to believe it is all just magic and voodoo and slight-of-hand that makes your Apple smartphone work.

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    1. Exactly. But millions of Americans apparently don't believe in science. So I guess magic and voodoo and witchcraft have it covered.

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    2. That's pretty much the mindset in flyover country. They view all these computers and phones and stuff as magic black boxes, beyond human understanding. Kind of like when I was a tiny toddler and asked, "if God created everything, did he create that bridge?" while pointing at a bridge that was under quite obvious construction. Needless to say, my fundamentalist mother had a terrible time trying to reconcile the notion that God created everything, with the clear evidence in plain site that Man was creating this bridge. But with iPhones and such? Pure wizardly. Satan made it. Or something. Magic woo woo, yeah!

      Delete
  106. Years ago I studied and taught policy science. Twenty years into my retirement I still do policy as a public advocate mostly for environmental and related concerns and aspirations. My immediate thought on completing this latest blog of yours is that I wish I'd had it to use as a seminar vehicle for addressing the purpose and uses of data and rolling assessments in the real-time implementation/ formulation of policy. My immediate second thought was that my students of the 80's and 90's would have been immediately dismissive of its value being such a a hopelessly ridiculously outrageously unlikely fantasy treatment of any possible American presidency. [!]

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  107. Brilliant article Jim, explaining why drumpf needs to attend these briefings regularly. Without context everything is unique without knowing what happened yesterday knowing what happened today is of limited value. It doesn't matter how smart you are, and Drumpf is a flyweight.

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  108. The first thing I think about when people make claims is, "how can I verify this?" If there's no way to verify it, then it's impossible to verify its validity, and I can just disregard it. In the case of Pizzagate, I could verify whether there's a torture dungeon under the pizza place just by flying to Washington D.C. and visiting the pizza place. No basement = no dungeon = no story. Or I could pay some reputable people to do that for me. I could call those people, say, *journalists*. So, let's say I pay some reputable people to go out to this pizza restaurant and investigate, and they report back to me that they can find no dungeon under the restaurant. Well, that's end of story for me.

    Which is why Alex Jones picking up the Pizzagate story was of zero value to me. Did Alex Jones fly to Washington D.C. and go to this pizza place and verify whether it had a basement or not? No? Then his opinion on Pizzagate is as valuable as my brain dead cat's opinion.

    Yet it seems that most people don't ask, "how do I verify that?" and are content to rely on 3rd hand information whose source is utterly unknown. I don't know what to call such people. Ignorant? Undoubtedly. Stupid? Probably.

    And if that's the majority of people in America, we are so fucking doomed.

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  109. And so, inevitably (although I wonder why it hasn't been brought up before) my favourite quote from Monsieur Voltaire: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

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  110. I loved your comment about gravity. My son used to work with a group of women who used to say all the time they didn't believe in AIDS or evolution, I told him to tell them that was alright because AIDS and the MRSA believed in them.

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    1. Gravity is always my go to as the one thing we can all agree on. Now I'm guessing it's the only thing we can all agree on, and I'm beginning to doubt that.

      Delete
  111. This idiot is no more prepared to be commander in chief than I am to waltz down to my local hospital and scrub in on a brain surgery. But in this post reality and unqualified tRumplandia, anything is doable, right?
    Newt Ginrich summed it all up when he told a reporter that:

    GINGRICH: The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer.

    CAMEROTA: But it is. We are safer and it is down.

    GINGRICH: No, that's just your view.

    CAMEROTA: It's a fact. These are the national FBI facts.

    GINGRICH: But what I said is also a fact. The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it's not where human beings are.

    CAMEROTA: But what you're saying is, but hold on Mr. Speaker because you're saying liberals use these numbers, they use this sort of magic math. These are the FBI statistics. They're not a liberal organization. They're a crime-fighting organization.

    GINGRICH: No, but what I said is equally true. People feel more threatened.

    CAMEROTA: Feel it, yes. They feel it, but the facts don't support it.

    GINGRICH: As a political candidate, I'll go with how people feel and I'll let you go with the theoriticians.

    He flat out said that facts are inconsequential in this "Brave New World", that only your perception is valid, and facts, as Ronald Reagan said in 1988, "Facts are stupid things."

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  112. I had a similar problem when a friend of a friend posted something about various Royal Families holding hunting parties with human children as the quarry ... I refuted it via, among other things, Snopes, pointing out the ONLY source I could find for this story was from the so-called International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State or International Common Law Court of Justice - both of which only exist as extensions of a blog created by a defrocked priest called Kevin Annett. He makes all sorts of claims, including being a Nobel nominee and that he has dissolved Canada in favour of the Republic of Kanata. She responded with links to all sorts of other websites.. and each and every one was a callback to the same "Report" that the ICLCJ had found the royal family guilty of hunting children. I asked her to produce evidence and she came back with something quoted on an alleged child abuse recovery site, but again, it came back to the same source. She accused me of not wanting to face the facts. I countered by asking her to produce some facts. She produced some other blog, which, when translated, linked back to the same ICLCJ nonsense. In the end, I got bored and told her she was right and that I was probably suffering from the effects of the chemtrails and blocked further notifications.
    You should check Kevin Arnett's site out, it's quite amusing and would probably be a favourite of some of the people you've quoted above.

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  113. So well-written and so much truth. I'm one of the folks who discovered you on FB too late to be allowed to comment on your page, but I follow you closely. You're a voice of wisdom, sanity and humor in this surreal darkness and I appreciate you intensely. Thank you.

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    1. Me too. Drives me NUTS. Especially since I lived in Seward for 20+ years and probably ran into the guy!

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  114. "may (or may not) have begun organically, but it’s being deliberately fueled. Why? I don’t know. By who? I don’t know that either. It would be easy to speculate, but it’s just as likely to be a campaign of psychological warfare directed by a foreign power for its own nefarious ends..."

    Paul Weyrich of the Heritage Foundation and Eric Heubeck of the Free Congress Foundation outlined the reasoning and methodology in Weyrich's training manual and Heubecks "theory of Integration and Practice" back in 2001. Give it a read. It will answer your questions.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Integration_of_Theory_and_Practice

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  115. If you think President-elect Trump is bad, wait 'til you see lame-duck President Trump!

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  116. You know, Jim, I probably submitted that last post about lame-duck President Trump prematurely. Instead of waiting for lame-duck President Trump, wait until he's trailing in the polls in 2020. (After all, he trailed in 2016). What will a desperate President Trump do?

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  117. 12 million people in the U.S. believe lizard people run this country, 15 million believe aircraft contrails are dangerous chemicals (chemtrails). I suspect there is some overlap in these two groups.

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  118. Mr. Wright, I'm counting on your perspective to help me remain sane over the next four-god-damned years.
    In addition, as reported on NPR today, an FBI agent called the head if IT at DNC, in September 2015, about the Russian hacks into their system. The IT guy thought it a hoax, and ignored it.
    More phone calls were made by the agent, and voice mail messages left. With no response.
    Why, at some point, didn't this agent go up his chain of command, and report his concerns? Possibly suggest another way to contact the DNC?
    With your background, I think you have the chops to address this.
    With regards:
    SDCulp USMC.

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    1. Might say the same about the agent back in 2001 who pointed out a buncha Muslims who came over here to learn how to fly airplanes, but didn't seem to have any desire to learn how to *land* airplanes. She did report her concerns to her chain of command, but they disappeared under a shitstorm of other things that were happening that seemed more important. The reality is that the FBI's cybercrimes unit has a shitstorm of shit happening at any given time, and no one crime is going to get more than a few minutes of attention from the chain of command unless there's something that says it's so damned important that heaven and earth needs to be moved. An IT guy not responding to a report of a hack on their server generally means fuck-all, maybe it just means the IT guy is embarrassed and cleaning shit up in secret, whatever, but it's not something the FBI usually moves heaven and earth about because it happens literally every fucking day. Multiple times every fucking day, in fact. The FBI is accustomed to IT guys ignoring them. Somebody should have said "wait, this isn't just any old server that's being hacked!" and escalated, but crap, when you're being snowed under by a cybercrime shitstorm, who has the time to notice things like that?

      I've worked in the computer security industry in the past. You'd be surprised. Every goddamn company in the United States has been hacked, sometimes ongoing, and their response is to keep it hush-hush as possible while trying to clean it up. Respond to the FBI saying they've been hacked? That might make the hack public, in which case they got a shitstorm from shareholders and so forth that'll come down on them. The number of companies that will voluntarily come out and admit they've been hacked is pretty damn small, in the end.

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  119. I try hard to question my narrative every day. I try to find common ground with as many of these nut jobs as I can, when I can. Every day it gets harder, even though I am still finding ways in which I am completely oblivious. I tried to teach my kids that sinse there are 7+ billion people on the planet, that meant that are 7+ billion different realities, that no one person has some divine insight into an all-encompassing objective reality. Point of view matters. I still believe that is true, but people I love have gone totally bat shit crazy, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do.

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  120. As any teacher can tell you, repetition is how people learn. It's why kids have spelling words and math problems for homework. It's why athletes have practice every day; why actors and musicians have rehearsals; why professional dancers take class every day, even when they are top soloists. It's why we have fire drills and tests of the emergency broadcast system. So that when the time comes, it will be in one's memory. Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. The thought of a President who does not care to learn is terrifying. Someone needs to explain to him that intelligence briefings have nothing to do with his IQ.

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  121. Nicely written! Is there enough hard, public evidence behind the assumption that foreign powers are likely responsible for this campaign of psychological warfare? (And perhaps some dummy profiles who bite your bait?) When do such assumptions, based on weak evidence, grow to make one reality-narrative just as guilty as those who spread 'fake news'?

    Without strong evidence, isn't it equally likely that U.S. intelligence has [also] been fanning this weak conspiracy theory's flames to discredit the alternative media? Isn't it safe to assume that U.S. intelligence is also fighting with psychological warfare, in both alternative and mainstream media, targeting both foreign and domestic audiences? This is a battle in an information war.

    Perhaps both 'sides' of this info battle would attain more desired results by acknowledging how little evidence and certainty we actually have for the vast majority of claims we might hear and repeat. Contradictory reality-narratives cannot be reconciled with more polarizing division. Might asking these important questions find some common ground toward shared goals with 'the other' reality-narrative? Thanks! <3

    (one source: https://theintercept.com/2016/12/14/heres-the-public-evidence-russia-hacked-the-dnc-its-not-enough/ )

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    1. Morgan, there are sources of data beyond that mentioned by The Intercept. I know people in the computer security business and there is no doubt in their minds that the hackers who did these hacks sold the information to the Russians. They tracked the financial transactions and they led straight to the Russian government. The actual hackers are freelance, but they do a *lot* of work for the Russians, because the Russians pay well.

      Is it conclusive? Nothing's entirely conclusive. There could have been another client too, for example. The Russians don't necessarily take out an exclusive on the data they pay for. As for the connection between Wikileaks and Russia.... Wikileaks is hosted by four servers. Two of those servers are in the Netherlands. Two of them are in Russia. This can be verified via "host" and "whois" commands by any computer-literate person. You do not host anything controversial in Russia today without the permission of the Putin regime. It simply doesn't happen. Which is why all my friends who moved to Moscow during the Yeltsin regime are now back in the USA or expatriated elsewhere (one is in Shanghai, for example), because when a police state starts getting that draconian, even mild drawing outside the lines can have horrific consequences. They were warned, and they got out.

      That said, you're correct that we should doubt everything until we answer the question, "how do I verify this?". In this case, it can be verified by following the financial transactions. I may not have the expertise to do that personally, but I know people who do, and they appear satisfied that the Russians are involved. Could *all* of them be lying to me about the Russian connection? It is possible, I suppose. But that is a less likely scenario than "the Russians were involved up to the tips of their noses in this thing", because they've been correct on things I *can* verify multiple times in the past.

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    3. Thanks so much, Bad Tux! The information you raise is very interesting indeed, so I would love to see any publicly available evidence you can share. While I wouldn't presume it likely for all your friends to lie to you, I would presume it possible for all of them to be analyzing planted/manufactured digital evidence. All sides in spy games [have to] play dirty, so I barely feel any confidence in publicly released evidence, let alone unreleased/classified info.

      As you allude to in your comment below, we could not truly verify that any intelligence agency was behind such events, even with unlimited resources. Because of this, it doesn't seem prudent to use such events of psychological warfare to promote further escalations in an information war against Russia, or generally increasing [light] forms of censorship against alternative media outlets.

      And I agree, Larry. The emails themselves have been verified, so the focus on the alleged source of the leak suffers from the genetic fallacy. The leaked information itself is more interesting, publicly available, and pragmatically important than any alleged source of the leak. I was just trying to point out how little open source intelligence both 'sides' are actually standing on.
      <3

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  122. This phenomena has all of the ear marks of religion. One should now have a better understanding of why people are religious, and how hard it will be for us to ever rise above it.

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  123. If you really want to be terrified, search Twitter for "#PizzaGate McMartin" and see how many people are claiming that they're both completely real and one coverup informs the other.

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  124. I have long felt that reality testing is the evolutionary trait required by the 20th and now 21st centuries. Sadly, it seems to be a pure recessive.

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  125. "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself> Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." George Bernard Shaw

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  126. Very nice, my first time here. Is there anything that can be done? (To restore confidence in the Press.... or more broadly so that most of us live in the same reality.) Can we bring back the days of Walter Cronkite? Probably not. It seems like the rot began when the news services became more about entertainment and less about "the news". Witness the past election coverage where Trump was everywhere, because he was so good for entertainment and the bottom line. (And I was as bad as anyone else, lapping up the daily outrageous thing, from Donald.) I will occasionally tune in to the local conservative talk radio program. They are clearly living in a different reality from mine. Should I call up and try and talk with them? What do we do when we have different "facts"... and facts aren't even all that important. (The whole NPR piece for Diane Rehm has other chilling bits.) I will again place part of the blame (for devaluing facts) on the reporting of science by the news media. The latest "discovery" or "break through" is quickly trumpeted in the news... and it sometimes turns out to be wrong or inaccurate later... facts become "squishy" even scientists can't agree.

    What can we do?

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    1. Christian SoltenbornDecember 17, 2016 at 6:30 AM

      That's indeed the million-dollar question. I for myself decided that if I see any bullshit on Facebook or whatever, I will challenge that bullshit by asking reasonable questions. My goal is not to convince the total idiots, but the people who are still reachable for facts or at least for doubt. Still I would here any other (preferable better) suggestions!

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    2. I've struggled with this. For awhile if I saw someone post some nonsense I would challenge it. It still feels like I am going in another person's house and raising an uninvited ruckus. Also I found it tends to give them a voice . Most seem not to be able to listen to reason anyway.

      My new philosophy is to unfriend people who I find have hateful, crazy views. Hopefully they will find themselves more and more isolated. Is this the best way to deal with it? I don't know.

      If I see a friend post something I agree with and they are being jumped on by trolls, I will defend them.

      I still haven't come up with a way I feel totally comfortable with yet.

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    3. Christian SoltenbornDecember 17, 2016 at 7:54 AM

      I certainly know what you mean, and I should have been more precise: My goal (be it the right one or not) is not to reach out for the posters themselves (which will most of the time be idiots), but for their readers. Thus, I try not to blame the idiot's arguments, but just to ask reasonable questions in a neutral manner.

      I'm not following Twitter yet, but on Facebook I am already mostly living within a bubble of reasonably thinking people, and that makes me uncomfortable: I'd like to know the idiots' arguments, I'd like to know what and how they think, and I'd like to challenge their nonsense. Unfriending them would result in living in a perfect bubble, and that scares me...

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  127. Excellent post. So many of our fellow citizens are living in this alternative reality, steeping themselves daily in media that reinforces their erroneous belief systems, and refusing to entertain any conflicting ideas. Is there any hope? I have loved ones who have fallen into this rabbit hole, to the detriment of those relationships. Offering other views doesn't work; questioning doesn't work; and I find that attempting to ignore them as they dig themselves ever deeper into their delusional holes during gatherings is almost physically painful.

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  128. You might find this interesting: http://hardcorezen.info/fake-news/5044 Warner talks about fake realities and possible ways to deal with them.

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  129. The McMartin School story's a fine analogy for Pizzagate, but it's not the one I think of. Lies and libels about a conspiracies to commit hideous crimes? Fantasy stories peddled as a hidden truth? Frustrated lone-wolf "patriots" taking violent action?

    A better analogy might be to the ur-text of Fake News, _The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion_, and all of the evil that came from it.

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  130. I agree with you, Jim. Part of being a good human is to question whether your perception is accurate. We are all biased in some way, but navigating the world is better if you check to see whether a course correction is needed.

    Regarding your mention of 9/11 & Pearl Harbor: it always amazes me how people forget that hindsight is 20/20, and being able to see an obvious answer from a past event is not proof that people were deliberately misleading others.

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  131. "This is true of every nation from the fall of Rome, to the final days in the bunker under Berlin ... "

    I would go back even further. Remember Plato's Allegory of the Cave?

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  132. Jim, I follow you on FB but can't make comments there.. do you have to "allow" me to comment? I'm with you, not against you, btw.

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