- Kincade Fire
- Offshore Winds
- Donnal Hulbert Nichols
- Oliver Seeler
- Veggie Skull
- Quiz Night
- Firetruck Fundraiser
- Emergency Infrastructure
- Gaelic Supergroup
- Ed Notes
- Autumn Color
- Play Outside
- Yesterday's Catch
- Stripped Car
- High Society
- Cognitive Dissonance
- Haight Fashion
- Overhaul CPUC
- Surveillance State
- Check-Engine Light
- Kansas Clemency
- State Propagandists
- Degenerate Parties
- Largest Crowd
- Appalling Bias
- Social Security
- Truth Decay
- Found Object
FROM THE SONOMA COUNTY SHERIFF (Thursday 5:32am): The northern part of Sonoma County is on fire and we are currently evacuating the area south of Pine Flat Road and East of Highway 128, in the Geyserville/Healdsburg area.
KINCADE FIRE NORTH OF GEYSERVILLE TOPS 10,000 ACRES, PROMPTS MANDATORY EVACUATIONS
JUST IN (Thursday 6:45am): I can't see flames anymore cause the smoke is so thick where I'm at (I'm in Parkland Farms, north end of Healdsburg). Listening to my scanner, it's just jumped 128 and the river, so to me that sounds like it's heading southwest (which would be towards Healdsburg). They're doing mandatory evacs in downtown Geyserville now. CHP just closed the intersection of Healdsburg Ave. and Alexander Valley Rd.
SONOMA COUNTY KINCADE FIRE: Rapidly Moving California Wildfires Spark Evacuations In Geyserville, Santa Rosa Announces School Closures
OFFSHORE WINDS will bring mostly clear skies and warmer temperatures along the coast over the next couple of days. Inland areas will remain unseasonably warm as well, before cooling down this weekend into next week. With no rainfall in sight through next week, fire danger will remain high for portions of northwest California. (National Weather Service)
AT 11pm Wednesday night, PG&E's “outage map” showed Potter Valley was out, as was an area on Highway 175 east of Hopland. The Upper Lake, Nice, and Cloverdale areas also had the ominous purples dots.
Jim Armstrong expressed it best: "2:45pm power off on Potter Valley, or about half of it anyway. It did blow a little bit earlier, but this is just domestic terrorism. During storms and accidents and such, one can write it off as country living. PG&E’s making up for decades of taking profit instead of maintaining its, read Our, infrastructure is simply criminal. I am halfway between stressed and pissed."
DONNAL HULBERT NICHOLS
A memorial service for Donnal Hulbert Nichols will be held Saturday, November 2 at 2pm at the Church of Latter Day Saints, 55 Bellamy Lane, Quincy, CA 95971, and again a week later on Saturday, November 9, at 3pm at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds Apple Hall, 14400 Highway 128, Boonville. In liue of flowers or food, memorial contributions may be sent to Horses Unlimited Inc. Donnal was a founding member of this therapeutic horseback riding non-profit. Checks can be mailed to the contact info found on horsesunlimitedinc.org: Kim Walker, Horses Unlimited, Inc., 1128 Johnsville Rd, Graeagle, CA 96103
OLIVER SEELER HAS DIED.
A longtime resident of the Mendocino Coast, Oliver passed at his Albion home on Monday.
BRUCE MCEWEN WRITES: Patrick Pekin For Judge.
We should endorse him soonest. He’s already proven he can win and the encouragement of our cheers would not go amiss, even though it may well actually be sincere praise, rather than interest-based flattery (as Gibbon would phrase it) on our part, in the very likely event that he carries the election. True, he’s such a nice guy, he would never hold it against us if we were tardy, that is reluctant in our endorsement, having waited to see who would challenge him for the recently vacated Black Robe. But his wife Amanda, the force driving his ambition for the bench, would take it as a slight, and never forgive us. As a precautionary measure, I suggest deploying the avid Ms. Davin to Fort Bragg for a “Get To Know The Candidate” interview. I’ve never been able to get a judge to speak to me in anything but professional sound-bites, but Davin’s different; she can get ’em to talk. That doesn’t mean we would be restricted from enumerating any virtues any opposing candidate may have.
In other news, Bob (Robert) Vaughn has/had colon cancer, is recovering from surgery, going to chemo-therapy, and at the same time having his Philo cabin rented out from under him. He has to be out on the streets before Christmas Eve, so if anyone has any charity in their hearts, now would be an opportune time to express it, as Bob is looking for a job and a place to stay.
Vaughn’s GOFUNDME page is: gofundme.com/f/bob-vaughan-medical-expenses
BOONVILLE QUIZ TONIGHT, Thursday, Oct. 24th, is the 4th Thursday so a Quiz at Lauren’s Restaurant will be taking place. First question will be pitched at 7pm. Hope to see you there. Cheers, Steve Sparks, Quiz Master
FROM SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS:
BoS on radio system
A presentation at the BoS meeting yesterday highlighted the state of County emergency communications infrastructure. Failures are routine, parts are difficult to obtain, staff looks for spare components on eBay, buildings are crumbling and leaking with outage impacting fire, ambulance and law enforcement response. Since I joined the board, I've been calling it as I see it. Information Services is top notch with a hard working and competent team. Funding is difficult, because of competing priorities, but I see communication infrastructure upgrades as one of our highest priorities because of the impacts on everyday safety and reality that during a disaster an outage could result in catastrophic loss. Please watch the video.
AT 3PM WEDNESDAY, the usual afternoon breezes off the Pacific began to ruffle leaves in central Boonville, but not so much as a hint of the firestorms the media have breathlessly prepped us for. So, like everyone else on the Northcoast, we're waiting for Hell's ovens to burst their doors, igniting the hills in great gusts of typhoon-strength winds.
BUT, in what is becoming something of a regular occurrence of mass false alarms by PG&E as they shut down power to thousands of homes and businesses to reduce risk to their shareholders' profits, the power monopoly also promotes mass confusion via contradictory messages and the on again off again functioning of their website. One would think after their web fiascos of two weeks ago PG&E would at least have reliable communications.
WE FOUND that our Supervisor, the indefatigable Ted Williams, has been the best source of up-to-date shutdown information. We learned from the Supervisor at 9:20 this morning that "All of Laytonville and parts of Covelo have reported outages already. PGE outage map shows 1000+ customers out in County of Mendocino. PG&E tells us these outages were not planned and are unrelated to the PSPS."
ONE PROBLEM with these fire alerts is their multiple sources, which adds both to the confusion and misinformation in circulation. We think CalFire should be in absolute charge of deciding when conditions warrant a power shutdown, not the shareholder-driven management at PG&E. For now, we're sticking with Williams.
NEW YORKER FICTION: Call me all kinds of oinker, call me oaf, but I arrived at page 64 of the current edition to find a full-page overgrown fraught-looking garden photo inscribed "The Bunty Club" with the name Tessa Hadley in smaller print. Uh oh. Masterpiece Theater lit. Modern Brit fiction leaves this boor colder than cold. Anyway, thrusting my apprehensions aside, I began to read: "Serena was out in the garden in the early morning before her two sisters got up…" I'd groaned at “Serena” and quit at the end of the first sentence. this story was going no place I wanted to go. But trying real hard to be fair while I solidified my suspicions, I scanned on to find refs to a Victorian villa, a Pippa, a Gillian, an Augustus John Gypsy, the cleaner's grandchildren, a Maggie Tulliver. Sprinting all the way to the end of the thing, about 2500 words, I read, "In their bedrooms, her sisters were rousing from sleep, lifting their heads to stare at her, confused, embryonic in the cocoons of their duvets, not yet ready for her news." What news? Please, please, I beg you. Don't make me go back!
FACEBOOK. Every time I see Zuckerburg I know in my bones we're headed fast in the wrong direction. The titans of yesteryear were every bit as ruthless, but when you look at pictures of Carnegie, Frick, Rockefeller you know they were what they were — ruthless bastards who would sell their mothers for advantage. They weren't looking to be loved. Zuck, Bezos and the rest of these high tech moguls would not only sell mom, they'd want to be applauded for doing it.
SPEAKING of facebook, I saw a wonderful new euphemism on it the other day. A woman said she was posting for a friend who needed to "re-house" her dog. The re-house plea wasn't helped by the photo of the re-housing vic, a Pit-looking beast the size of a pony whose food bill, assuming he didn't eat your kids first, would be enormous.
MAINSTREAM MEDIA are not the only media in San Francisco, where the Chinese-language newspapers and television serve a large segment of the Chinese community. It's full of complaints about the sorry state of the city's streets and public places, and replete with crime stories whose victims are Chinese. (The Bay Area's thug community call Chinese "ATM's," or easy marks, and the incidence of street robberies and home invasions of Chinese is increasing. The other day a huge hullabaloo broke out when a candidate for mayor, Maggie Zhou, rented billboard space to depict Mayor Breed lounging on a chaise smoking a cigarette against a background of street chaos. Ms. Zhou, a pugnacious lady of middle years, said if she had the money she'd rent more billboards with the same message. Frisco Lib set up a howl that could be heard in Boonville, denouncing the billboard (predictably) as "racist" because Mayor Breed is black. Objectively, Ms. Zhou was guilty of nothing more sinister than making an irrefutable political statement about the quality of government presided over by her opponent, the mayor. You can be sure that Zhou's billboard resonated with Bay Area Asians, but it's no surprise that Frisco-Lib got it taken down, irrefutable as the depiction of Mayor Breed's city was.
MEANWHILE, Trump complained that he was being "lynched" by the Democrats, which is not a term billionaire white boys should deploy in any context I can think of, but to be fair to the orange dirigible just because he is who he is do all the rules of basic fair play get waived? Secret testimonies in closed sessions of Democrats with no opportunity for OG to confront his accusers or, in some cases, even know who they are?
FALL In Anderson Valley
CHILDREN SHOULD BE OUTSIDE 4-6 HOURS PER DAY.
CATCH OF THE DAY, OCTOBER 23, 2019
JAMES BROWN, Redwood Valley. Probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
THOMAS HANOVER JR., Ukiah. Paraphernalia, resisting. (Frequent flyer.)
ANDREW HURTADO, Fort Bragg. Probation revocation.
SCOTT KOPMAN, Willits. DUI, probation revocation.
DRINDA LAST, Fort Bragg. Failure to appear.
STEPHANIE LYLE, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
RAYNA MCGINTY, Willits. Battery with serious bodily injury.
ELMER VICHI, Fort Bragg. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, probation revocation.
ROADSIDE VANDALISM, A Mendocino County Tradition
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Getting into wars without a clear definition and plan to get back out has been a problem for as long as I can remember. The first one that comes to mind is Iraq, the effects of that are still reverberating today. Many argue that it triggered everything that has happened since, and I can’t disagree with that. My dislike of Trump stems from the fact that he wasn’t man enough to step up to the plate when his number was called for the military. You know as well as I do that he was just one of many rich kids, whose parent’s connections kept them out of the service, the same way now that their parents buy their way into elite universities.
In my mind, Trump embodies everything that I find disgusting in a human being. As a supporter, I don’t expect you to feel that way at all. My biggest problem is that I can’t lie to myself when someone I have supported turns out to be a crook, or whatever. I have noticed that many people, however, on both sides of the spectrum, suffer from what is known as cognitive dissonance. They simply skip over unpleasant facts, or deny their existence. I can’t do that. I look at the evidence, and if it appears to be true, I change my thinking accordingly.
What I see happening is that Trump supporters either ignore what he has done, try to put a spin on it, or minimize it. You don’t seem to have any problem finding fault with Obama for example. If Obama had behaved the way Trump has, or done the things Trump has, you would have been howling for his head. And frankly, so would I, and I voted for him both times & I think he screwed us.
But you people won’t do that. You are being dishonest about what Trump has been doing, because you are committed to believing in him. He could get caught tomorrow, buried to the hilt in a great dane, and you’d find an excuse or a way out for him.
Excuses are handy. Have you ever listened to a phone call where a collector for a loan shark has been taped talking to somebody who owes a debt? You hear them saying stuff like: “Please, I’m begging you, pay the bill.” “I’m down on my knees here, pleading, please pay the bill.” Now the reason he does that is so that when he goes and breaks both the guys legs for not paying, he has justified it already in his own mind. “Hey, I called him, I begged him, he didn’t pay, so I hadda break his legs.” I see people on both sides playing those same head games on themselves.
Like I’ve said, if Obama had done one tenth of what Trump has been reported to have done, I guarantee you & others would have been howling for his head. You don’t see that, but I know damn well that there a few others on here who see it, and are well aware of what I’m talking about. I don’t know what the MIC is.
HAIGHT ASHBURY SUMMER 1967
The first sentence of the California Public Utilities Commission website reads: “The CPUC regulates services and utilities, protects consumers, safeguards the environment, and assures Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.”
This clearly states that the CPUC has the ultimate responsibility for the behavior and operation of the state’s utilities, yet 99% of the blame for utility misdeeds is attributed to the utility companies. I suspect the real reason is that it’s easier to sue a company than a government agency.
I am not surprised that the CPUC hasn’t been able to manage electric utilities. I read the bios of the commissioners, and I see that not a single one of them has had the experience of managing any part of an electric utility or even has the technical training needed to understand its challenges.
A major overhaul of the CPUC is needed to resolve the issues facing energy utilities. Are you listening, Gov. Gavin Newsom?
China has been a dictatorship for seventy years. The idea that prosperity and the internet would in themselves make the country turn towards democracy has been proven wrong. Instead, China is about to become something new: an AI-powered techno-totalitarian state. The project aims to form not only a new kind of state but a new kind of human being, one who has fully internalized the demands of the state and the completeness of its surveillance and control. That internalization is the goal: agencies of the state will never need to intervene to correct the citizen’s behavior, because the citizen has done it for them in advance.
We have no need to reach a conclusion about the prospects for this new China – there’s plenty of time for that, and the chance of averting this future for China by wringing one’s hands about it is exactly zero. One point which stands out for me, though, draws on Bran Ferren’s immortal observation: “Technology is stuff that doesn’t work yet.” In other words, when technology is introduced, it doesn’t quite function as it’s supposed to; by the time it really does work, we stop noticing that it is technology and just accept it as part of the furniture of life. With the side of the new technology that concerns “security,” it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the surveillance really works or not. Of course, it matters deeply for the individual citizen: facial recognition currently has an error rate as high as 15%; combine that with a judicial system that has a conviction rate of 99.9% and some law-abiding people are going to run into problems. However, from the state’s point of view, that matters less than the deterrent and coercive power of omnipresent surveillance combined with social credit. People will change their behavior because they know they’re being watched. It doesn’t need to work in order to work.
The other side of the AI revolution is different. The CCP has always used rumblings from below to tell them what people are thinking, and where the party’s next problem is coming from – one reason the Chinese Community party likes the internet is usefullness as a means of finding out what is on people’s minds, not just for the purposes of surveillance but for governance too. Precisely because it is authoritarian, the state must listen to its citizens. The idea is to replace the listening system with AI, in order accurately to “‘sense, forecast and provide early warning of major situations for infrastructure facilities and social security operations; grasp group cognition and psychological changes in a timely manner.” Great, if it works perfectly. But it won’t, because new technology never does. China is facing problems linked to rising inequality. The world’s most populous country and leading greenhouse gas emitter (and leading manufacturer of solar technology) is also at severe risk from climate change. This might be the ideal time to experiment with a new kind of government by AI and big data; or not. It is one of the paradoxes of this moment that the world’s biggest and most effective dictatorship is taking such a big step towards an unprecedentedly technocratic form of government.
From the perspective of the West, we have a lot to learn from China, in particular about the scale and potential consequences of this new industrial revolution. Much if not all of the technology currently developed in China already exists in the West, in forms that are just as intrusive. The difference is that the technology is almost all in the hands of private companies. AI, big data, facial recognition: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and any number of smaller and emerging companies are deeply invested in these fields. Add what these companies know about you to the colossal amount of data held by the credit reference agencies, and we are as fully open to surveillance in the West as are the citizens of the People’s Republic. There is a touch of bathos to this: the technologies which are being used in China to invent a new form of the totalitarian state are being exploited here to make us click on ads and buy stuff.
Facial recognition is as we speak going live all over the developed world, and doing so in a manner that is fragmented, erratic and not at all thought through. Example: London’s Metropolitan Police have recently been running trials of live facial recognition. One pilot took place in Romford, where cameras were set up to film and identify passersby without their knowledge or consent. Four people were arrested for hiding their faces from the cameras. Is that how we want our policing to work? A London wine bar called Gordon’s, well known to anyone who has ever looked for a cheapish and non-horrible place to have a drink in the area around the Strand, turns up in a Financial Times headline: “How one London wine bar helped Brazil to cut crime.” Eh? What? It turns out the management of Gordon’s, previously best known for the invention of an oxymoronic “pork pie salad,” also came up with a facial recognition system to catch pickpockets and bag-snatchers, many of whom are repeat offenders, and has made money selling the system to shopping malls in Brazil. I mention this not because Gordon’s is an existential risk to democracy but just to make the point that this technology is becoming mainstream, and fast.
The big players in the area are the existing big players in technology, especially Facebook. Do we want facial recognition technology to be in the hands of the least scrupulous technology giant? If we don’t, we’re too late – it already is. Facebook has changed its terms of service over “tagging” people’s photos a couple of times, from opt-out to opt-in, but the gist is that it is too late: Facebook already owns your “faceprint,” the algorithmic representation of your face. How much do we think we can trust them with it? Put it like this: Facebook owns a patent on how to recognize patterns of friendship association through identifying the spots of dust on your phone camera – in other words, if two people had their photo taken by the same camera, then those two people probably know each other. That’s important to the company, because the “People You May Know” feature is one of Facebook’s strongest drivers of growth and engagement. Facebook also owns a patent on a system that interprets people’s facial expressions as they walk around a shop looking at the merchandise, and another on a system that recognizes shoppers’ faces and assigns them a “trust level” derived from their Facebook profile. The trust level might unlock special deals, if it were positive, but if it were negative – who knows? Why on earth would we trust Facebook?
— John Lanchester
KANSAS’S HARD-LINE ON POT
The times they are a-changin’ — in most states. 47 states have laws acknowledging the medical benefits of cannabis. 33 allow the production and sale of medical cannabis. 11 have legalized marijuana recreationally.
I am in the 16th month of a 7.5 year sentence for possession of marijuana in Kansas. Earlier this year in the same city where I was convicted of felony possession (25-450 grams), the Lawrence City Commission ruled that possession of less than 32 g is a misdemeanor with a $1 fine.
I have been a patient with a California medical marijuana license since 2005. I accept full responsibility for my wrongdoing as I knew it was illegal to possess medical marijuana in Kansas. I feel my sentence is too severe and disproportionate to others.
Having applied for executive clemency, I am awaiting Governor Laura Kelly to live up to her word as she publicly stated that nonviolent first-time drug offenders should not be serving prison sentences. Email: Governor@ks.gov. She describes exactly who I am.
It is my hope that the MORE Act (116HR3884, and 3884, S.2227) passes removing marijuana and THC from the Controlled Substances Act providing expungement and resentencing to federal offenders. Then maybe the few states like Kansas will hear the voice of reason and release nonviolent cannabis users who pose no threat to the state or its citizens.
Hutchinson Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 1568
Hutchinson, KS 67504-1568
Governor Laura Kelly can be reached at:
300 South West End Avenue, Suite 241-S
Topeka, KS 66612
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY #2
To say that both parties are utterly discredited is to state the blindingly obvious, the Republican party further on the road to dissolution than its competitor.
It may be called Republican, and there may be some traditionalists holding out in traditional Republican hinterlands, true believers in the age-old beliefs, but they may as well be devotees of Jupiter or Odin.
Folk aren’t going to Jupiter’s temple anymore, they’re going to that place with the crucifix in prominent display. And the Republican rank-and-file no longer adhere to austere Republican pieties. Those ideas were long ago found wanting, and all it took was for a New York City liberal and libertine to suggest something different and get an audience. So ironic, a degenerate from the second most degenerate place on Earth after LA. Who’d a thunk it?
Nope, instead the faithful have a new faith, going to stadium services presided over by a new High Priest, that same libertine degenerate (and multiple bankrupt), preaching revolution in semi-coherent sentences.
Now, you could have done much better than vote for the 2016 winner, but there had to be better offerings to vote for and there weren’t. But you couldn’t do much worse than abide by the nonsensical ideology of self-harm that prevailed until then.
The funny thing is, Democrat elites and office holders, for all their preening and puffery and superiority, abide by the same nonsense. By that I mean that Bush I = Bill = Bush II = Obama. Differences in appearances maybe, yet the piece de resistance for virtue signalers delivered the same goods as his predecessors.
Too bad that Democrat voters aren’t as evolved. It took a long time for Deplorables to smarten up but, to their credit, they did. I wonder when Democrat voters smell the coffee. For people that consider themselves high above intellectually and morally, they’re sure taking an awful long time. Puzzling it is.
‘A 1950s SHOW TRIAL’: John Pilger describes ‘disgraceful’ courtroom treatment of Julian Assange by UK judge
Veteran British journalist John Pilger has blasted the “atrocious” and “appalling” treatment of Julian Assange by a judge who decided this week to reject the whistleblower’s request to delay his upcoming US extradition hearing. “To say it is surreal is not enough, it is simply appalling,” Pilger, who was present in the courtroom on Monday, told RT’s Going Underground. Pilger accused District Judge Vanessa Baraitser of using “disgraceful” and “dictatorial gestures” toward Assange and said she was clearly biased in favor of the attorney acting on behalf of the US government. “Her bias was incandescent,” Pilger said, adding: “I’ve never seen anything like this. It belonged in a show trial in the 1950s Moscow, Prague, you name it.”
by Philip Caputo
I was invited to be keynote speaker at the 2019 Connecticut Book Awards ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 20. The event, sponsored by the Connecticut Center for the Book, took place in the Hartford Public Library. Below is a copy of my remarks. It’s all in uppercase to make it easier for me to read. Should take you no longer to read it than it did me to deliver it — about 15 minutes.
RECENTLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR SHEPARD SMITH CONCLUDED HIS NIGHTLY BROADCAST WITH A SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT — HE WAS QUITTING FOX. HIS DECLARATION SHOCKED JUST ABOUT EVERYONE IN THE MEDIA, NOT LEAST HIS FOX NEWS COLLEAGUES. SMITH WAS KNOWN FOR HIS QUALITY REPORTING. HE REALLY WAS WHAT HIS NETWORK CLAIMS TO BE BUT OFTEN IS NOT — FAIR AND BALANCED.
SMITH DIDN’T SAY WHY HE WAS LEAVING, BUT FRIENDS AND COWORKERS TOLD REPORTERS WHO COVER THE MEDIA THAT HE HAD GOTTEN SICK OF FOX’S HYPER-PARTISAN JOURNALISM AND BY THE PUBLIC INSULTS AND DIGS FROM ITS HOSTS AND GUESTS.
INDEED, FOX SEEMED TO HAVE MORPHED FROM A CONSERVATIVE BROADCAST NETWORK SUPPORTIVE OF PRESIDENT TRUMP INTO A VIRTUAL EXTENSION OF THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS OFFICE.
UNTIL RECENTLY, THAT IS. WHEN FOX AIRED A POLL UNFAVORABLE TO THE PRESIDENT AND SMITH ANCHORED A COUPLE OF SEGMENTS CRITICAL OF HIM, TRUMP REMARKED, “FOX JUST ISN’T DELIVERING FOR US ANYMORE.”
SMITH QUIT SOON AFTERWARD.
WINDING UP HIS ANNOUNCEMENT, HE SAID: “EVEN IN OUR CURRENTLY POLARIZED NATION, IT’S MY HOPE THAT THE FACTS WILL WIN THE DAY, THAT TRUTH WILL ALWAYS MATTER, AND JOURNALISM AND JOURNALISTS WILL THRIVE.”
I WAS THINKING ABOUT HIS COMMENTS WHEN I CAME ACROSS THE TERM, “TRUTH DECAY,” IN THE DEATH OF TRUTH, A NEW BOOK BY FORMER NEW YORK TIMES LITERARY CRITIC MICHIKO KAKUTANI. “TRUTH DECAY” WAS COINED BY THE RAND CORPORATION TO DESCRIBE THE CONDITION OF THE WRITTEN AND SPOKEN WORD IN TODAY’S AMERICA.
AND THE CONDITION ISN’T GOOD. FACTS AREN’T WINNING THE DAY, TRUTH DOESN’T SEEM TO MATTER THE WAY IT ONCE DID.
WE’RE ALL TOO FAMILIAR WITH THE LIES AND DISINFORMATION SPEWED BY TRUMP’S TWEETS OR BY HIS SPOKESMEN, AS WELL AS BY POLITICAL WEBSITES, ONLINE NEWS OUTLETS, CORPORATE LOBBYISTS, AND RUSSIAN HACKERS TROLLING SOCIAL MEDIA. THESE FABRICATIONS REVEAL
NOT ONLY AN UNWILLINGNESS TO COMMUNICATE TRUTH BUT A REFUSAL TO RECOGNIZE THAT OBJECTIVE TRUTH EVEN EXISTS.
TRUTH DECAY IS ADVANCED. ARRESTING IT MAY REQUIRE A METAPHORICAL ROOT CANAL, FOR WE ARE DEEP INTO THE ERA OF ALTERNATIVE FACTS AND FALSE NARRATIVES PURPORTING TO BE TRUE, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY DEVIATE FROM REALITY.
OKAY, YOU KNOW MOST OF THIS, AND YOU MAY BE ASKING YOURSELVES, WHAT HAS IT GOT TO DO WITH ME? I WRITE CHILDREN’S BOOKS; I WRITE OR READ OR PUBLISH MYSTERIES, THRILLERS, ROMANCES, LITERARY NOVELS; I WRITE OR READ OR PUBLISH POETRY.
I’LL GRANT YOU THAT THE CORRUPTION OF TRUTH AFFECTS JOURNALISTS AND HISTORIANS DIRECTLY; BUT IT ALSO BEARS ON OTHER KINDS OF WRITERS, BOTH AS CITIZENS AND AS WRITERS.
AS CITIZENS BECAUSE THE VIOLATION OF TRUTH MAKES PEOPLE SUSCEPTIBLE TO THE MENDACITY AND FALSE PROMISES OF LEADERS SEEKING UNCONDITIONAL POWER.
AS WRITERS BECAUSE YOU ARE DANGEROUS TO AUTHORITARIANS. THE FIRST THING TYRANTS DO WHEN THEY SEIZE POWER, AFTER THEY’VE ERADICATED THEIR POLITICAL OPPONENTS, IS TO IMPRISON, EXILE, OR EXECUTE ANY AND ALL JOURNALISTS, NOVELISTS, AND POETS WHO WILL NOT COMPROMISE WHEN IT COMES TO SPEAKING TRUTH.
AND DON’T THINK THAT IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. YOU’VE HEARD THE OMINOUS THREATS TO FREE AND HONEST EXPRESSION FROM TRUMP’S WHITE HOUSE — STATEMENTS THAT SOUND LIKE THEY COULD HAVE BEEN UTTERED BY STALIN OR MAO, FOR EXAMPLE “THE PRESS IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.”
BUT THE IMPACT ON WRITERS GOES BEYOND SUCH CONCERNS, CRITICAL AS THEY ARE.
JOHN LACARRÉ ONCE MADE THIS OBSERVATION: “WITHOUT CLEAR LANGUAGE, THERE IS NO STANDARD OF TRUTH.”
WRITING WELL DEMANDS A FIENDISH PRECISION IN THE USE OF WORDS. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN APPROXIMATE WORD. AS THE OLD SAYING GOES, CLOSE ONLY COUNTS IN HORSESHOES AND HAND GRENADES. A WORD CAN, OF COURSE, HAVE SEVERAL MEANINGS, BUT IT DOES HAVE MEANING. IT CAN’T SIGNIFY ANY OLD THING YOU WISH. PRECISE WORDS PRECISELY ORDERED CREATE HEMINGWAY’S HOLY GRAIL — ONE TRUE SENTENCE.
LANGUAGE IS THE WRITER’S CLAY, AND THE WAR ON TRUTH IS AT ITS HEART A WAR ON LANGUAGE ITSELF.
I’LL SAY MORE ABOUT THAT IN A FEW MINUTES. BUT FIRST, WE NEED TO ANSWER THE QUESTION, HOW DID WE GET HERE? HOW IN AMERICA DID WE COME TO THE POINT THAT MILLIONS OF OUR CITIZENS NO LONGER CARE ABOUT TRUTH, PREFERRING TO STAY LOCKED UP IN THEIR PARTISAN SILOS? BUZZFEED REPORTED THAT READER ENGAGEMENT WITH THE PHONY STORIES RUSSIAN TROLLS POSTED ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER IN THE 2016 ELECTION FAR OUTPACED THE REAL STORIES IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, AND OTHER MAINSTREAM MEDIA.
IN HER BOOK, MICHIKO KAKUTANI TRACES THE ORIGINS OF TRUTH DECAY BACK HALF A CENTURY TO ABSTRUSE PHILOSOPHIES ONCE FASHIONABLE AMONG LEFT-WING SCHOLARS AND LITERARY THEORISTS: DECONSTRUCTIONISM AND POST-MODERNISM.
THE TWO ARE INTER-RELATED. DECONSTRUCTIONISM, SHE WRITES, HAS MANY THREADS IN ITS FABRIC BUT IS ESSENTIALLY NIHILISTIC, CLAIMING THAT THE EFFORTS OF JOURNALISTS AND HISTORIANS TO DISCOVER THE TRUTH THROUGH THE CAREFUL GATHERING AND WEIGHING OF EVIDENCE ARE FUTILE.
FUTILE BECAUSE — HERE IS WHERE POSTMODERNISM COMES INTO PLAY — ALL TRUTHS ARE NOT OBJECTIVE BUT ARE SUBJECTIVE FUNCTIONS OF ONE’S RACE, GENDER, SOCIAL CLASS, LIFE EXPERIENCES, AND ON AND ON. HELL, I SUPPOSE WE COULD THROW IN ONE’S HAIR COLOR, HEIGHT AND WEIGHT AS SKEWING ONE’S PERSPECTIVES OF WHAT’S TRUE AND WHAT’S NOT.
THESE CONCEPTS WOULD HAVE BEEN MERE CURIOSITIES IF THEY’D REMAINED CONFINED TO ACADEMIC BUBBLES AND INTELLECTUAL SALONS, BUT THEY SEEPED INTO THE GENERAL CULTURE OF THE WEST, AND OVER TIME, MIGRATED, IRONICALLY, TO THE RIGHT, PARTICULARLY TO THE POPULIST RIGHT, ALSO KNOWN AS THE ALT-RIGHT. STEVE BANNON, FOUNDER OF BREITBART NEWS — ARGUABLY THE VOICE OF THE ALT-RIGHT — ONCE DESCRIBED HIMSELF AS A LENINIST.
AND POSTMODERNIST ARGUMENTS HAVE BEEN EXPLOITED BY TODAY’S ANTI-VAXXERS AND CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS, BY CREATIONISTS, AND BY PEOPLE WHO CLING TO SCREWY CONSPIRACY THEORIES LONG AFTER THEY’VE BEEN DEBUNKED BY FACTS.
PRESIDENT TRUMP HAS PROBABLY NEVER READ A DECONSTRUCTIONIST OR POST-MODERNIST TEXT, BUT HE WAS PRACTICING THE DOGMA OF “ONE OPINION IS AS VALID AS ANY OTHER” WHEN HE EQUATED THE PEOPLE PROTESTING A WHITE SUPREMACIST MARCH IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA WITH THE WHITE SUPREMACISTS.
I’LL RETURN NOW TO THE WAR ON LANGUAGE. LINGUISTIC ENGINEERING HAS BEEN EMPLOYED BY TYRANTS AND TOTALITARIANS FOR CENTURIES, GOING BACK TO ROBSPIERRE IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND CONTINUING THROUGH TO MAOIST CHINA, NAZI GERMANY, AND THE FORMER SOVIET UNION. CONTROL WHAT PEOPLE CAN OR CANNOT SAY, AND YOU’LL EVENTUALLY CONTROL WHAT THEY CAN OR CANNOT THINK.
DIVORCING WORDS FROM THEIR MEANING IS THE TYRANT’S WAY OF MAINTAINING HIS INFALLIBILITY. THINK OF THE SO-CALLED MINISTRY OF TRUTH IN ORWELL’S 1984, TURNING WORDS INSIDE OUT. WAR IS PEACE, LOVE IS HATE, AND SO ON.
THE ACIDS NOW EATING AWAY AT MEANING ARE NOT FLOWING ONLY FROM THE LIKES OF BREITBART; SOME EMANATE FROM WHAT WE THINK OF AS LIBERAL, PROGRESSIVE INSTITUTIONS. IN THE NAME OF INCLUSIVENESS, SOCIAL AND SEXUAL JUSTICE WARRIORS ARE ATTEMPTING TO CONTROL LANGUAGE — AND BEHAVIOR — WITH DIRECTIVES THAT MUDDY CLARITY TO THE POINT OF UNINTELLIGIBILITY.
EXAMPLE: A RULE BOOK AT COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY COMMANDS WHAT CAN AND CANNOT BE SAID BY STUDENTS AND FACULTY ALIKE. THEY MUST NOT SAY OR WRITE THAT A PERSON IS “MAD” OR “A LUNATIC” — THEY SHOULD SAY HE IS “SURPRISING” OR “WILD.” THEY MUST NOT SAY OR WRITE “MALE OR FEMALE,” THEY SHOULD SAY “MAN, WOMAN, OR GENDER NON-BINARY.” THEY MUST NOT SAY OR WRITE “AMERICAN” BECAUSE THAT EXCLUDES OTHER CULTURES; WORDS LIKE “ESKIMO,” “FRESHMAN,” AND “ILLEGAL ALIEN” ARE ALSO FORBIDDEN.
RENAMING THINGS IN THIS WAY IS NOT RESTRICTED TO COLLEGE CAMPUSES. IT HAS SEEPED INTO THE BROADER SOCIETY.
ONE WEBSITE PROVIDES A GUIDE FOR HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENTS IN MID-SIZE BUSINESSES. IT’S TITLED “GENDER NEUTRAL PRONOUNS — WHAT THEY ARE AND HOW TO USE THEM.” THERE ARE 62 OF THEM!
I WON’T GO INTO ALL 62. HERE IS A REPRESENTATIVE SAMPLE: HE/SHE BECOME ZIE, SIE, EY, VE, TAY, AND E.
WELL, I THINK THAT “ZIE” AND “SIE” IN PLACE OF “HE” OR “SHE” IS THE OPPOSITE OF THE CLEAR LANGUAGE ESSENTIAL TO A STANDARD OF TRUTH.
HR EMPLOYEES ARE FURTHER URGED TO USE “THEY” WHENEVER POSSIBLE, EVEN WHEN REFERRING TO AN INDIVIDUAL. AS IN “I SPOKE TO THE MARKETING DIRECTOR AND THEY SAID THEY’D GET BACK TO ME.” A GRAMMATICAL ATROCITY, BUT WHO CARES? CORRECT GRAMMAR ALSO MUST BE SACRIFICED TO ADVANCE AN IDEOLOGICAL POINT OF VIEW.
IT’S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS RUN AMOK.
BUT RIGHT-WING POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, BEING SO PERVASIVE THESE DAYS, POSES A GREATER DANGER TO TRUTH THAN THE LOONIER IDEAS SPILLING OUT OF FACULTY LOUNGES.
THE POPULIST RIGHT IS ALSO FOCUSED ON RENAMING THINGS, OR, IN THE CASE OF CLIMATE CHANGE, NOT NAMING THEM.
ALL REFERENCES, WRITTEN OR OTHERWISE, TO CLIMATE CHANGE ARE PROHIBITED IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR AND THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY. WHY? BECAUSE THE PRESIDENT HAS DECLARED THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HOAX.
MEANWHILE, IMMIGRATION HAS BEEN RECHRISTENED; IT’S AN INVASION; MIGRANTS ARE RAPISTS AND MURDERERS; MASS KILLINGS COMMITTED BY PSYCHOPATHS ARMED WITH ASSAULT RIFLES ARE “THE PRICE OF FREEDOM,” MEANING A SECOND AMENDMENT WITH VIRTUALLY NO RESTRICTIONS.
BUT WHEN IT COMES TO A BLATANT DISREGARD FOR, AND CONTEMPT OF, TRUTH, NO ONE CAN BEAT PRESIDENT TRUMP. HE IS THE KING OF MENDACITY, HAVING UTTERED OR TWEETED MORE THAN 10,000 FALSEHOODS AND HALF TRUTHS IN THE 1,000 DAYS OF HIS PRESIDENCY.
AH, TWEETS. AH, TWITTER. FACEBOOK.
BY ENABLING PROPAGANDA, DISINFORMATION, AND MISINFORMATION TO TRAVEL TO ALL CORNERS OF THE GLOBE AT LIGHT SPEED, SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE GREATLY CONTRIBUTED TO TRUTH DECAY.
IN A SENSE, THEY CAUSE IT. IN THEIR DIGITAL WILD WEST, FACEBOOK AND TWITTER MAKE NO JUDGMENTS AS TO WHETHER AN AD OR POLITICAL POST IS FALSE OR TRUE. THAT LAZIEZ-FAIRE ATTITUDE WAS WHAT ALLOWED FOREIGN TROLLS TO SPREAD LIES AND DECEIT IN THE 2016 ELECTIONS.
BUT THE SOCIAL MEDIA MANDARINS HAVE NO INTENTION TO SIGNIFICANTLY MEND THEIR WAYS. FACEBOOK’S NEW POLICY, UNVEILED JUST LAST MONTH, IMPROVES SECURITY BUT LEAVES AN IMPORTANT LOOPHOLE: IT WILL NOT MODERATE POLITICIANS’ SPEECH, NOR FACT CHECK THEIR ADS. DITTO FOR TWITTER. IT’S AN OPEN INVITATION TO THE TROLLS TO ROLL OUT THE PHONY VIDEOS, THE FRAUDULENT NARRATIVES, THE FALSIFIED PHOTOS ONCE AGAIN.
MARK ZUCKERBERG SAID IN A SPEECH AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAST THURSDAY THAT FACEBOOK’S POLICY REFLECTS HIS COMPANY’S DEDICATION TO FREE SPEECH.
HIS CRITICS SAY HE IS USING THE CONSTITUTION TO PROTECT FACEBOOK’S BOTTOM LINE. AT ANY RATE, IT APPEARS THAT ZUCK DOESN’T BELIEVE IN THE OLD ADAGE THAT FREE SPEECH DOESN’T INCLUDE THE FREEDOM TO YELL FIRE IN A CROWDED THEATER.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US WRITERS? WHAT SHOULD WE DO? TO EXTEND THE TRUTH DECAY METAPHOR, WRITERS CAN ACT TO PREVENT IT BY RESISTING AND PERSISTING. RESISTING ALL ATTEMPTS, FROM WHEREVER THEY MAY COME, TO ACCEPT AS TRUE WHAT WE KNOW TO BE FALSE, PERSISTING IN OUR FIDELITY TO CLEAR, MEANINGFUL LANGUAGE, TO AN UNCOMPROMISING ACCURACY IN THE USE OF WORDS, AND TO THE PROPOSITION THAT OBJECTIVE REALITY AND VERIFIABLE FACTS ARE WHAT THEY ARE AND NOT A MATTER OF OPINION OR PERSPECTIVE.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF ACCEPTING THIS NEW NORMAL AS NORMAL ARE UNACCEPTABLE. THE DECAY OF TRUTH WILL LEAD TO WHAT WRITER TOM NICHOLS TERMS THE “QUIET AND GRADUAL DECAY OF OUR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS INTO AN AUTHORITARIAN TECHNOCRACY.”
THE PROSPECT OF DYSTOPIA HAS JUMPED OFF THE PAGES OF NOVELS LIKE 1984 OR BRAVE NEW WORLD OR THE HANDMAID’S TALE. IT’S HERE, NOW, IN OUR DAILY LIVES; IT’S RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER, AND IF WE’RE NOT CAREFUL, IT WILL COME TO MEET US.