March 6, 2017

Et tu, Seuss???

For some background, see this piece on the racist cartoons of a young Dr Seuss.

Seuss Race

This is where redemptive stories get tricky. I watched The Shack last night, which has as a major story line, forgiveness (in this case without any real redemption).

Some of Seuss’s later children’s books have fantastic messages running completely counter to what was clearly his head-space early in his career (there is an argument for an amount redemption here – I’m not taking a side on it, just acknowledging it is there).

In The Shack, we are supposed to forgive a child murderer and move on; however, I’m not sure how to do that here. Do you condemn the entirety of the man for his early actions? Do you separate the man from his – decidedly disparate – message(s)? The adult from youth? The cultural context of an era from a moral and ethical true north that is itself a social construct?

I’ve spent hours spinning the tales of The Lorax and Horton to my children as examples of “who to be”… now I’m faced with the creator of those upstanding examples being (at times) reprehensible.

I’m seldom at a loss for a solid decisive path on issues, but have to admit, I am a bit torn on this one. Which, I think, is ultimately a good thing. “Good” and “evil” are certainly subjective concepts, relative to the lens of the person perceiving the action. This will lead to more (probably really good, because they are older now and have so much to add themselves) conversations with my kids. We’ll talk about “early-Seuss”, and how he effects the messages and lessons from “later-Seuss,” why this matters and how to apply it to our lives.

I’m sad to see a childhood icon fall, to whatever degree, from grace; however, I’m excited about the potential growth that fall might bring.

Maybe I’ll even have something more concrete to write about after that’s all said and done………………

July 10, 2013

This is why we can’t (or shouldn’t) have nice things…

Filed under: Environment,Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 10:26 pm

A few weeks ago I took (public) umbrage with the faux-fact based facebook post:

My issue with it was (and remains) the distorted use of facts taken out of context (not to mention the poor methodology and small sample size of the actual study cited). Rearing it’s face again, the over simplification and reduction to a few choice, targeted words of a complex topic so that is is digestible and easy to repeat for the ignorant masses.

Note: I am not saying everyone who read or repeated this post is ignorant… I am simply talking about the objectives of its creators

If that notions offends you, I’m sorry… but unless you read the entire study (I did, for the record) you really shouldn’t be quoting it… let alone passing on someone else’s quote from it. Bottom line, you don’t understand it and shouldn’t be passing it off as fact (or anything else for that matter).

But this is just background for what I want to talk about today. More of the same to be sure, but on this one I can actually chime in with my opinion. You see, on most issues, like abortion, because I work for a non-partisan office, I cannot share my views (which has made for some interesting reading of some of the comments I have received… as people have assumed quite incorrectly what side of the fence I am on regarding some issues and railed against “people like me” when in fact “people like me” are “people like them” since we share the same view).

Alas, once again, I digress…

Today I saw this juicy tidbit on Facebook (take note of the highlighted text and the circled link in the image):

As I am prone to do before commenting, sharing, or even liking something on Facebook, I clicked on the available link (the one circled in the image above) to read the background and detailed information about the post. So, imagine my surprise when I read, less than half way through the article, the following:

It is a very natural process and scientists say it should not be tied directly to the very real climate changes that are also affecting this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

You read that right… in the article referenced by the post stating “the time for half measures is over — we need climate action now” we are told in no uncertain terms that what we are reading about is “very natural” and that it shouldn’t be linked to climate changes.

Seriously, people???!?!??!?!??!?!?

This is particularly galling to me because I happen to believe in “Global Warming” and happen to agree with the folks that think we are creating our own extinction event on carbon emission at a time. And I don’t even care (…gasp…) how it effect profits (profits are of little concern to a uninhabited world, IMO). In other words… I completely agree with the message, and want to be able to re-post this. But I can’t, because it is rubbish (with regard to global warming… it’s still interesting from a purely scientific standpoint).

Simple minds are easily swayed, and I realize the path to political success is paved with mass ideological conscription. However, I can’t help feeling that with every Facebook post and Pinterest pin (of this ilk), we are chipping away our national intelligence quotient. And I’m not sure that’s a price worth paying to acquire a vote, or even an election, here and there. Democracy (representative or not) is based on an informed electorate casting informed responsible votes. When was the last time we could say that was the case for the majority of our voters? When was the last time we were even trending in that direction?

I don’t think the propaganda machines are going to stop any time soon (there is too much money and power to be accumulated), so it’s up to us, the “consumers” of this drivel to do our part. Read the underlying stories, research the so called facts, and most important… call people out on false or misleading statements (even, as is the case with the ice berg above) it runs contrary to your point of view.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

April 21, 2013

For better or for worse…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 5:32 pm

There’s probably some danger in titling a post “For better or for worse” and then starting it off with “I was talking to my wife this morning” … but that’s exactly what I’m about to do…

I was talking to my wife this morning about Facebook, specifically why she doesn’t really get all that into it… and doesn’t really get the rush that leads people to get “addicted” (words that came from an ad we heard while driving). She spoke of political propaganda, people spreading things they had heard without verifying the (in many cases lack of) facts, and of how folks manipulated situations toward their own ends (etc. etc. etc.). I can’t say I disagree with anything she said (although this doesn’t stop me from being a moderate Facebook user).

So then we got home, and I pored a bowl of cereal and headed to my computer to browse the internet while eating (kind of like reading the paper over breakfast but woefully less cool). Over time I drifted over to facebook, and the first thing I saw was this picture:

To which I responded:

I’m not really sure what makes me sadder, the fact that someone intentionally co-opted this policeman’s good dead for a malicious and small attack, or the fact that over 60,000 people have liked it, over 18,000 have shared it and lord knows how many people have commented upon it.

I take solace in my belief that many (if not the majority) of the people who have propagated this are doing so based on the picture itself, and perhaps the first few lines. That they have not seen, have chosen to ignore, or have dismissed the last line as trivial.

Nonetheless, it is an embarrassing and candid look at the downside of social media in general… and a strong argument for not over investing in such. If this was my primary exposure to Facebook (et. al.)… I’m certain I’d have the same view as my wife; because, this certainly qualifies as “worse.”

ps – this is a particularly difficult post, and this image struck me harder than it normally would have – I am sure – on the heals of what I wrote on Friday about the bombing in Boston. I was actively looking for the good in this story… thought I had found (some of) it – which, in reality I did, of course – only to have my optimism dashed by some simpletons idea of wit.

February 27, 2012

Time well spent?

I often think that dedicating ones time to eradicating propaganda might be a more productive undertaking than the fight against hunger, homelessness, or the pursuit of world peace. In fact, the former might just be the most effective method for hastening the realization of the latter causes.


If we could get beyond who’s fault the situation is, and focus – instead – on the situation in need of repair; it seems to me that we would become infinitely more capable of fixing what ails us.

So here’s a thought… spend a week (longer if you wind up enjoying it… or finding it productive… or both) finding no fault in others. Feel free to recognize situations that need remedy, and certainly feel empowered to work toward resolving them. However, do not seek the cause (other than to assist with the solution, of course), do not seek to blame, do not seek accountability. Don’t even seek a learning/teaching opportunity (other than the example you set by working to rectify the situation). After all, if a situation is bad enough enough to solicit blame, there is probably something more important to do anyway (i.e. fixing it).

May 12, 2010


Filed under: Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 9:31 pm

The opening scene of Idiocracy has always cracked me up.  It’s that scary kind of funny though, because, it (or something like it) could actually happen.  In fact, in a different way, I kind of think it is happening.

The land of the free is in trouble… that’s trouble spelled h-y-p-e-r-b-o-l-e.  We are being “dumbed down” one grandiose, yet remarkably obscure, reference at a time. So as not to be confused with or accused of doing the same, I will explain.

Democrats are “socialists;” Republicans are “fascists,” we all “know” (meaning, we all have heard) this.  However, when pressed on the point very few people are actually able to substantiate their sweepingly general claims.  I have recently begun asking people what they mean when they say such things, and the overwhelming response is something to the effect of “it’s obvious, how can you not see it” which, of course, actually says nothing.  Or worse, they offer absolute fiction in response.

And that’s the problem…

We, as a nation, are becoming less and less informed and more and more susceptible to “fluff” and “propaganda” every day.  The more we allow simple vague concepts to form our opinion on important issues, the more vulnerable we are to being led.

Completely false or intentionally misleading email propaganda pieces are being passed around as fact, and those “facts” are being inserted into daily dialog and becoming “facts.” These emails take about 5 minutes of research to debunk with credible sources, however people continue to blindly pass them along without any vetting at all.

As dangerous (in fact probably moreso) are what I call “factional messages” (fact wrapped in fiction).  This is where a ribbon of fact is woven through a web of misinformation or speculation to create a new and completely different set if circumstances.  Because the small sample of fact can be confirmed, or may actually be common knowledge, people believe the entire construct around it to be true as well.

Further, it is apparently bad form to let someone know they are passing around a false statement.  Three times in the past month I did what I thought to be a favor for a friend.  They were forwarding information that was incorrect, so I let them know (completely with citations) what the actual facts were… with a nice note explaining how I’d certainly like to know if I was saying something that was wrong, and figured they would like the same courtesy (cause… it’s better to hear it from a friend, right?).

Nope, I was read the riot act each time.

I surveyed my social network with the following question “unofficial poll – Can you name a freedom that is uniquely present in the United States, some freedom we alone enjoy?”  From Plurk (115 friends) I received a handful of responses (more on the few responses I did get momentarily); from Facebook (117) one response; Twitter (601) and Google Buzz (31)… crickets (to be fair, I got one Gchat response that was to the twitter query, so twitter was not technically completely shut out).

Lets talk about the results I did get from that “survey.”  I’ll take them one at a time (in the order I received them), because, well there are few enough of them to do so.

  • Due Process – Due process was actually established in England.  The term was first used verbatim in a statutory version of the Magna Carta in 1354.  Due process is a right currently held in many countries.
  • The right to carry arms – This is also an English carry over, from the English BIll of Rights of 1689, and is also enjoyed in many other nations today.
  • *Freedom from adequite state-sponsored health care (this may or may not be the case, but is clearly not a serious answer)
  • *Freedom from a well-run state-funded education (ibid)
  • Freedom of religion – This has been a freedom globally, in various forms and fashions, for centuries.
  • Freedom of expression without government interference – Once again, this freedom goes back at least to the English Bill of Rights in 1689 (like the right to bear arms and others above, it may go back further, this is just the information I happen to know off hand)
  • *Asshattery (yes, that is a quote)
  • *Entitlement
  • Freedom to ask such a question – While vague, I’m pretty sure this one is meant to be freedom of speech/expression… see above, or, English Bill of Rights, 1689.
  • *For all our blustering about how “free” we are, our populace is pretty well hobbled (unless you’re rich).

Clearly, half of these responses (the ones indicated by asterisks) were sarcastic.  This is telling, in and of itself, because not a single person who contributed a wise crack balanced it with a serious response.  Note, though, that not one of the responses (at least the serious ones) are actually a correct answer to the question…. not one.

Obviously, there is nothing scientific about this survey, or its results; it is what it is, and… isn’t.

The bottom line, though, is that people are willing to fight and sacrifice for the idea of freedom*, and it appears (from the “survey” above and numerous individual conversations) a measurable portion of these folks either don’t know what “freedom” actually is or have a distorted view of how it applies to their own country.

*This is where I would say, if I were going to contribute that that which I am pontificating against, “Patriot Act anyone???” … a completely unsubstantiated pot shot at Bush et. al. based on what I know has been planted in peoples minds regarding the Patriot Act.

I’m not blaming the people… garbage in equals garbage out.  Political campaigns, advertisements and media coverage has become a blur of stereotypes and hyperbolic sound bites.  The ever decreasing attention span of the typical U.S. citizen demands executive summaries; and executive summaries lend themselves to judgmental errors.

Yesterday I saw this from Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert) on Twitter: “Josh reminds me: If we went back to what the Founding Fathers wanted, as Sarah Palin desires, she wouldn’t be able to vote.”  Funny, and, taken literally it is true; however, clearly that is not what Sarah Palin wants*, and for my money, Roger knows it; he is, I believe, deliberately using paradoxical irony to make a point.

*Did I just defend Sarah Palin… somebody shoot me now!!! (yep, that was another “softer” example, guilt by association with Sarah Palin, and if I’m guilty for being associated with her, clearly… she must be bad).

It is a funny and effective way to make a point, however, increasingly, I don’t think it is “safe.”  More and more I hear people parroting things that are clearly wrong, misleading, or simply misunderstood.  But these things are being repeated as gospel and used as foundations for reasoned debates.

The bottom line is that people are becoming less and less able to discern fact from hyperbole and in a world where buzz words and catch phrases are being propagating at an alarming rate, that has got to be a cause for concern.

I included the two passages in bold above for a reason.  Those are things I would normally be completely inclined to say while composing this blog, or in conversation.  In other words I am directing this at myself as much as anyone else.

I believe it is time to get back to factual straight shooting.  We, as a nation and as individuals have to challange ambiguity when we see or hear it, and demand information.  When the facts are not provided, we need to treat it as a personal responsibility to seek accurate answers out for ourselves.  We need to fact check, debunk, and most importantly reject propaganda.

It will be boring, and droll, and seem like a waste of time, but, when you think about what is at stake… how can it not be your top priority*.

*Yep, one more for the road – a vague intimidating yet undefined consequence meant to call you to action out of fear.

For the big finish, I would normally put another clip (or at least a reference) from idiocracy here, but, instead I will simply say this…

I believe that the more informed you are, the better prepared you are.  It’s the reason firemen do drills putting out staged fires, football teams practice all week for one game, actor rehearse their lines over and over again, etc. etc. etc.  The better prepared you are, for anything, the better you will perform when the time comes (especially if it involves facing adversity). By the same token, any coach, general, or director will tell you that the more bad or “mis” information you have, the less effective you will be.

If you are reading this blog, you have the ability to fact check and inform yourself, my advice to you (and me) is… make use of it.


ps… none of this is to say that the people who responded don’t know what they are talking about.  I have surrounded myself with very sharp friends.  When I was talking of the disconnect, I was more refering to the lack of response per capita than the quality fo the responses I did get :)

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