A Different Kind of Virus

Perhaps more contagious than COVID?

Viruses get into our bodies from outside sources and then overwhelm human auto immune systems to infect – sometimes fatally —a significant proportion of people.

A virus’s only mission is reproduction – to find and inhabit as many host bodies as can be found, as quickly as possible.   

It is much the same with disinformation. False information distributed with malicious intent gets into the human brain and overwhelms our natural defenses (logic and skepticism, primarily) to gain a foothold from which to spread unimpeded.  

Social science has taught us that lies—especially big, deliberate lies, repeated endlessly – take on REAL meaning in the minds of millions of people who quickly lose the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. And, those BIG LIES thus become INESCAPABLE TRUTHS in the minds of those people.

That is CONTAGION!

Our country has suffered periods of disinformation contagion before, of course. The Salem Witch Trials are one famous example; Joe McCarthy another. In both cases, mass hysteria fanned by lies consumed a village, then a nation, albeit with far different consequences for its victims.

Today, the challenges are graver, the scope of infection broader, and the dangers exponentially larger. The misinformation virus has infected tens of millions of people and, unlike its biological counterparts, has been able to build a vast infrastructure to support its spread.

Consider Q-Anon, once noteworthy largely for the wackiness of the conspiracy fantasy at its core – an indiscernible plot for domination by a cabal of Satanist, child-predator cannibals led by a “deep state” embedded across the government. For four years, the anonymous “Q” posted Nostradamus-like blather about a coming “Storm” in which the forces of good, led by a sympathetic president, would rise up to save the day.

Then that sympathetic president left office — after his own efforts to foment a “storm” led to a deadly invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

The tortuous beliefs of its adherents proven wrong by the course of events, some awoke from their fever dream, perhaps a little embarrassed, and realized they’d been “had.” More, however, chose to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Many still believe that their Orange Messiah will somehow rise from the ashes of his failed presidency to save the country. Others have joined ranks with the “sovereign citizen” movement that asserts the U.S. was secretly converted to a corporation in 1871 (and therefore has no authority over them). They even have a new day of reckoning: March 4 (the original inauguration date outlined in the Constitution), when democratic rule will be restored to the nation and its true 19th president (guess who?) will be inaugurated.

Operating from a fact-free foundation, the disseminators of disinformation need not be troubled by real-world developments that undermine their cause; the amorphous nature of the conspiracy makes it easy to switch gears when events prove problematic. The only mission of disinformation is reproduction, to propagate itself far and wide to better infect the vulnerable among us.

There are two contagions raging among us, one deadly to humans, the other fatal to democracy. Stopping both in their tracks is the momentous challenge of our times.

A New Dawn

An old way.

A new dawn suggests more than just another day.

Indeed, we can expect the sun to rise every day –if only a bit later than the day before.

A ‘new dawn’ is the beginning of something– NEW-BETTER-PROMISING!

As the jet fumes from Air Force One taking Trump to Florida for the last time waft over us, we will begin to breathe cleaner, freer air for the first time in four years.

Air that is free of constant lies and wild promises.

The new dawn brings a new day and days when WE –the people –are the point of it all, not ME, EL PRESIDENTE.

Biden, sadly, cannot reunite us with a phrase.

But he can and will produce chains of new days dedicated to finding the will of the people, beating the pandemic, improving health care for all, restarting the economy and restoring our world leadership.

If talk – honest or not—could get things done, Trump perhaps could have been an even worse disaster. But all talk and no competence creates only illusions of things – such as who wins an election or who benefits from tariffs and trade barriers.

So, our new dawn is the beginning AGAIN of a truly professional political leader who will deal with facts, truth, and reality to make our world work once again.

The biggest challenge Biden faces is rebuilding REALITY. Until the third of the country that still believes Trump won the election comes to their senses and realizes that was THE BIG LIE it will be very difficult to truly REUNITE all our people.

It cannot be done overnight but with skillful continuous information and leadership can be whittled back to a normal level.

Then the human linkages which are the core of our freedom and democracy will begin to recover as well.

So, the new dawn is not by itself a magical change that wipes away the last four years, but it is the beginning of a healthy process of renewing all of our 350,000,000 lives!!

Trump Who?

How Did He Slip Through the Cracks?

Trump didn’t slip through.

Hillary delivered him to us with one word.

She declared that because only deplorables liked him, he was a deplorable.

While she was right, she was also plain STUPID!

When running for votes one NEVER wants to head on antagonize voters against YOUSELF.

So now 4 looooo…ng years and TWO impeachments later, it is over.

It would be nice if we could find something positive we learned from those wasted four years.  The big lessons – democracy is fragile, the country is dangerously divided – point to a challenging future.

Historians are already reminding us that a lot of folks (including me) warned that Trump was well known In New York City for being narcissistic and a congenital liar. At the time, though, it seemed harmless – more amusing than alarming — and it failed to pick up steam.

I recently suggested a ‘bonkermeter’ of some sort to warn us off making similar collective mistakes again. The problem is that that device has yet to be invented. Therefore, we all pussyfoot around the ‘indelicate’ topic of whether someone is in fact crazy. And, as the insurrectionists, white supremacists, Q-Anon cultists and ordinary people waving Trump flags and voting in (almost) record numbers attest, one man’s crazy is another man’s cunning.  

Now that the clock has run out and we have all run out of steam, there is only one word: GOODRIDDANCE.

And please do not tell me Hillary could have been worse. Nothing trumps crazy, corrupt and contemptible.

The Biggest, Toughest Unanswered Question

How do we find a “bonkermeter?”

With mere days left in his term, stripped of his Twitter feed, isolated and under attack, his legacy in tatters, the tenor and timing of President Trump’s denouement have at last become clear.  

The biggest question remaining is what becomes of his followers. To even hazard a guess at THAT requires understanding a deeper question that continues to elude me: what drew them to such a nutty, misguided person in the first place?

 If we could figure this one out, we might begin to make some progress for the future. 

If we can NOT find answers, then we may have an even BIGGER problem, because there is no shortage of “mini-Trumps” hoping to lay claim to his throne.

Skip over the racists, insurrectionists, and Civil War defenders. This group – estimated to be as much as 20% of the U.S. population, is a cause as lost as their cherished war.

But, in a country split down the middle, that still leaves about 30% that backed Trump.

Many people say these people are stupid, naïve, selfish, short sighted and simply misguided. And that is, perhaps, the root of the problem.  

Sure, we have plenty of people who fit this dismissive description. Every population has! But people who see themselves as looked down upon, discriminated against and just plain left behind, not surprisingly hate that treatment. And Trump, in their eyes, is treated the same way. That causes many people say to themselves, “There is THE guy who gets ME!”

The “establishment” looks down their noses at Trump the same way they sneer at the “uneducated hicks” who populate much of the country. Trump tickles the funny bones of such people because he is just as aggrieved as they are.  They love a leader like Trump and identify with him because they see him as fighting FOR THEM! Put another way, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The ordinary Americans who support Trump are not stupid, ignorant or even misguided (remember – white, blue-collar workers used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party.) They simply recoil at a political system that routinely dismisses their hopes, fears and circumstances – and openly mocks them, to boot.

That only means that they resent being looked down on. Big surprise?

The assault on the Capitol captured the new Republican dichotomy well. Most of the protestors did not enter the Capitol building, did not engage in fights with police, did not partake in the insurrection that unfolded. But they are forever tarnished by the rest, who on nothing more than the word of a congenital liar determined that it was not only their right, but their duty to take matters into their own hands.

The first order of business moving forward MUST be to separate the two groups. If Republicans as a party want to cast their lot with the Proud Boys and Lost Causers, they will wander the political wilderness for years.

Telling people engaged in armed conflict within the halls of Congress that “you’re very special” and “we love you” is both morally reprehensible and a prescription for political disaster – not that Trump cares a whit about the Republican Party.

One hopes that the storming of the Capitol may have broken the collective fever of Trump’s acolytes. Surely at least some of them see that, whatever their personal intentions when they marched from the Ellipse to Capitol Hill, they crossed a line.  

We cannot mollycoddle them; lecturing them will NOT help at all. It is simply time for Republicans – in Congress and in the heartland of our nation – to pick a side. Are they proponents of democracy and the rule of law, or are those Constitutions they self-righteously pull from the breast pockets of their fancy suits merely for show?

When most people feel under the weather for a while, they take their temperature. If they see 101, they understand they have a bug and act accordingly.

How can we find a ‘bonkermeter’ to go with our thermometer and learn more about our heads, so that we might know when America has, in fact, gone crazy

We and the people around us dance around on tippy toes, even when questions of mental competence are obvious.

We must tackle that and much more head on.

Any ideas?????

FACT and FICTION

How Can We Tell?

Consider this sentence:

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

What does that mean or tell you?

It contains some very important information that we all use all the time and it contains the key to solving the puzzle described by the title of this piece.

I will, for now, leave it to you to figure out, and ask you to send me your thoughts on what the sentence means.

The puzzle I’m suggesting you solve might help us all deal with today’s astounding and – as we’ve just seen in the U.S. Capitol – dangerous inability to sort out fact from fiction.

If we cannot do that, we may all fall down the rabbit hole alongside the folks who are trying to manipulate the real world into their fictional world.

I will give you a full read out of people’s ideas about the answer – absent names and with a promise not to embarrass anyone –in two weeks and explain what I have learned and how we can ALL put it to work to save our REAL world!

Are We Really All Born Equal?

If not, what should we do about it?

All over the place, from the Declaration of Independence on down, it says that we are born equal and should be treated as such to make the world a fair place.

BUT we are NOT all born equal.

Some of us are women and some men. We have come a long way to take care of that problem but are not all the way there. Our skin comes in a variety of hues and the non-white versions still struggle for basic equality.

Not all of us have 2 arms and legs, some of us are fat and others thin, some of us have an odd number of fingers and toes, some of us itch a lot and others do not.

Some of us are curious and many are not. Some of us are quick and others slow. Some of us have a sense of humor and others none.

In theory, it shouldn’t matter – after all, we’re all born equal. In reality, however, it matters a lot.

It matters because we should be coordinating the strength in all those differences into a glue that unites us.

Instead, we seem to use those differences to divide ourselves into factions, frequently at odds with one another and most assuredly NOT looking for common ground.

The problems begin very soon after birth.

Children –babies –all look very much the same. But that does not last long.

When those babies are old enough to begin school, they are generally treated all the same way—as if they were in fact equal – at least in the early years. By middle school, though, students encounter an education system that espouses a binary division – those destined for college and those not, with the former strongly favored in the educational system.

In the last 50 years, the number of college graduates has increased by about 50 percent. But this emphasis on a college degree as the favored way to secure society’s approval compounds the differences of and damages to those who do not ‘get’ what school is all about in their lives.

It also ill-serves the country’s economic engine, cranking out degree-wielding students who have learned not to value the economic contributions of those without college degrees, yet still leaving companies without the highly-skilled (if not formally educated) workers needed to keep things humming.

If the school systems could sort kids in a more nuanced manner, considering inclination, interests, temperament and it might be possible for their teachers to treat them as they are –not as identical building blocks—they all might have a better chance to develop into their full and unique potential.

The tools to do this actually have existed for a long time, but long-standing doctrine has insisted that ALL should be treated the same way because they are equal.

I am not sure how this can/should happen BUT it makes clear common sense to me that we must adapt our systems for the benefit of ALL our young people.

Trying to squeeze a one size fits all shoe onto millions of different feet may be one of the biggest educational mistakes in the past 100 years.

It should never be too late to wake up.

We have to help kids who hate school, and learning, to find their own appropriate ways forward with their very unequal bodies and lives.

We might just unlock powerful new forces in the world!

A Fantastic Tiny Sign

Of What May be on the Way This Year

My wife of 70 years and I were munching a bite of lunch at our kitchen table on New Year’s Day when the phone rang. I answered, as I was next to the phone, and a woman asked if Denie Weil was there. I said yes, and put the phone on speaker.

The woman introduced herself: “I am Mary Smith [not her real name] and we went to school together in Atlanta a few years back. I am calling just to say HELLO!”

Denie asked which school the woman meant and, after clarifying, the conversation went back and forth nicely. “Mary” explained that she had no particular reason to call, only that “I wanted to start the new year by reaching out to long forgotten friends to say hello again and reach across time and tide to make the world closer.”

We reciprocated pleasantly and said goodbye after exchanging email addresses.

After I hung up, Denie turned to me and said “I haven’t the faintest idea who that lady is. I only went to that school with 60 girls in my class for one year. But wasn’t that a nice thing to do?”

Then we got an email picture of her with a grandchild.

I said it wasn’t just nice. “Maybe it is fantastic and a sign that the new year will bring us a new world!”

Our Next Leader

Has been in training for this for 50 years.

Joe Biden came from nowhere in a crowded, strong field of contenders as a worn-out, old guy because it dawned on his party that Biden was exactly the right person for the moment.

CNN, which has been leading the news hounds wisely for the past year, did a brilliant survey the other day of Biden’s comments relative to today over the past 50 years.

Without using the exact words, the CNN piece nonetheless conveyed a single, important point: THIS MAN IS PREPARED TO LEAD AT THIS VERY MOMENT IN TIME!

There never is one perfect way to solve problems in an aggressive, competitive and complex world.

 But there are always ways to craft solutions, IF one looks with an open mind, to work compromises that help EVERYONE work together to make things happen.

For too long in recent years, we have been beating each other to death with competing ‘policies’ to solve all problems.

If we stop trying to sell the other guys on how smart we are and how dumb they are, we can start to see that we all have some part of the same problems and that if only we could listen and hear one another, we would find solutions TOGETHER.

Boy is that a sweet TUNE!

It turns out Biden has been doing that consistently in various ways for those 50 years, forging alliances and relationships that can overcome the partisan gridlock that is otherwise the hallmark of Congress.

There must be a God out there to have arranged for Biden today, like she did with FDR in 1932 and Churchill in 1940. Whether the work of a deity, fate, or simply the luck of the stars, we should be thankful that it delivered Joe Biden at this very moment!

Our Next World?

The word “next” is deliberate.

Let’s start with a guess at the next economic/financial world, because in theory what it ‘says’ (if we can understand it) may be what millions of people do or will come to believe. But we cannot stop there, because we humans often confuse what we hope with what we think.

On one level, the markets suggest the worst may be quickly at hand, then behind us, and the future will be very good. Fixed income markets are still producing VERY little return. That says quite clearly that too much money is looking for ‘homes’ and that too few ‘homes’ are looking for money.

That has been amplified by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve which have both opened all their spigots for pouring more money into the system to ensure the whole system remains fluid and liquid as it adapts to the rapidly changing world.

The stock market is at all-time highs in the face of all-time uncertainty and change, which by itself is very unusual.

Stocks have been led by a few amazing companies like Amazon, Apple and Google which indeed have been positioned almost perfectly for our times. One need not open one’s door to go shopping for anything and everything from Amazon, EXCEPT to let the delivery persons bring it in, often the same day it is ordered.

Apple has dusted off its iPhone so that they seem to anticipate our every thought and move.

And, Google will help us find IT – whatever IT is? – if it exists, wherever it exists.

The prices of those companies’ stocks are hard to comprehend, but what they do is equally hard to grasp.

The rest of the marketable companies’ stocks are far less overvalued, but the market seems to say most of those companies still will have a good part to play in the coming world.

How is this possible? Easy.

The vaccine is here, and, in a few months, we can expect to see and hear that the pandemic is inching towards HERD immunity, when it will cease to grow and begin to recede.

The economy has been adapting and changing rapidly during the crisis and is likely to be more efficient and profitable overall thereafter as a result.

Some things will change a lot.

Business travel, for example, will plummet. Zoom and its competitors have revealed that WIFI meetings may be even more productive and effective than old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings.

We will also see a reduced need for office space as many enterprises have discovered they need less space for people who do not need to work in offices conventionally all the time.

Tens of millions of workers will gain billions of hours of productive time as a result of this shift by not commuting to work every day.

The market seems to like these prospects a lot.

We should pay attention and roll with the punches.

So, even though conventional thinking suggests that caution is a proper watchword, perhaps us oldies have to shake ourselves into a more progressive attitude.

And that leads to a hint about my next piece, which will deal with the political world that surrounds all this.

Biden looks more and more like the PERFECT human to be the world’s next democratic leader.

Giving is the Beginning of Everything

Starting with Christmas

The origins of Christmas are surrounded by many stories about Jesus Christ and early German history about the Yule season. 

They are mostly about how it is better to give than receive; but it is really all about how humanity knits together the infinite different strands of people who make up our diverse world. 

My sister, Lucinda Bunnen, just published a book of some of her photographic art entitled Constant Impermanencefeaturing film that had been exposed to rainy weather. The damage gives the subjects of the photographs a new and different elegance. Indeed, nothing remains the same for long—particularly in today’s world—and what does is constantly changing from real into unreal. 

Looking at my sister’s art through that lens of impermanence produces memories and new ideas galore. 

Let’s stipulate that all the Christmas traditions –religious and other—are about one thing –and one thing ONLY. 

That thing is Humanity –all the humans on Mother Earth—bound together around a single simple idea: giving. 

We Came Together—We Stay Together! 

Some like it hot; some like it cold. 

I like it in a MUG!!!!