A Twitterverse of Moderate Discussion.

For all the criticisms of Social Media – perhaps the biggest issue lost in the discussion is that each person’s experience is a self-created environment.  We all choose our connections which drives what we see on our newsfeed. We choose which items to “like” or “comment” on – which in turn pushes that discussion out to the newsfeeds of our contacts.  Hence the echo chamber.

But, for all the criticism of Twitter – it can be a fresh start. I’ve created an account with the express purpose of following centrist, moderate, and/or thoughtful political discussions.  While it doesn’t allow for the same level of (hopefully thoughtful) discussions that I’ve participated in on Facebook – this Twitter account has exposed me to some interesting articles and points of view.  And, believe it or not, in many cases it has actually provided me with some of the best hope that our politics is not, in fact, based solely on memes, conspiracy theories, and partisan insults.Capture

Of course, this well of thoughtful argument is only because I’ve cultivated my feed with as much honest discussion as possible – topics and thoughts shared by these sites include issues that I may not agree with 100% of the time, but that’s OK because it’s typically well reasoned. I’m not looking for validation, I’m looking to be intellectually challenged.

After a few months of looking around, it turns out there’s a lot more rational discussion out there than I realized. Perhaps reason and thought will make a comeback and begin to replace (or at least compete with) tribalism in the marketplace of ideas.

Below are some of the organizations  I’ve found worthy of my time and newsfeed. Even if you don’t want to join the Twitterverse-  many of these also have Facebook presences – so perhaps you’ll consider adding a few of them to your feed.

If you’re already on Twitter you can follow me @realBobW.

(Organizations presented in no particular order)

Centrists

 

 

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Civil Discourse (10/29/17)

A couple of examples of thoughtful discussions from today’s New York Times.  Excerpts are simply one passage from the original article- click the hyperlinked title to read the entire piece.

 

Excerpt: 

“Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that “to create deeper intellectual and political diversity, we need an affirmative-action program for the full range of conservative ideas and traditions, because on too many of our campuses they seldom get the sustained, scholarly attention that they deserve.”

He said that in addition to Wesleyan’s commitment to admitting at least 10 military veterans to every freshman class, it would welcome senior military officials as instructors and would tweak its curriculum to offer, for example, a course on the philosophical underpinnings of free enterprise.”

My Take:

I’ve seen more and more articles, especially in the NY Times by Frank Bruni, arguing for and highlighting examples of colleges becoming more accepting of conservative ideas.

This is a good thing and deserves more attention that it’s getting.  Every speaker that gets shut down by protests will get coverage on a right-leaning media outlet.  The lack of coverage about the “good stuff” happening in terms of free speech on campuses from those outlets is an indication of how invested they are in the conflict, rather than the solution.

As the father of two teenage/young adult children- I want them to be exposed to rational thoughts about real issues.  They should learn to debate, consider other points of view, and even learn that it’s OK to change your mind or be persuaded by the introduction of new lines of thinking/real evidence.

Echo-Chambers, whether they be on the right or the left, are dangerous, especially in early adulthood.  Let’s celebrate real free thinking, the kind which requires honest participation from both sides.

 

Excerpt:

“Madison’s contradictions resonate with our own vexed racial situation. From the 14th Amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and affirmative action, America, at its best, has repeatedly aspired to establish racial equality in the face of our past of slavery and segregation.

Yet the need to accommodate the realities of economics, politics and the prejudice of others — which is to say, the difficulty that even well-intentioned people can have in accepting the true cost of meaningful change — has continued to hold back equality in practice.”

My Take:

Though I’ve long known about the serious discussions and compromises that it took to bring consensus to Constitutional Convention- I didn’t know about the “flip-flop” of the 3/5ths compromise until now.  Proof that the idea of hypocrisy is older than our government.

Also, in the recent speech by George Bush he mentioned that today we in America tend to ‘Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions’. I think that concept is also relevant when looking at history.

While it’s very important that we take a full look at our founding fathers and accept that they were flawed individuals, as opposed the mythical “demi-god” status we may have bestowed upon them in the past – the answer is not to vilify them.

Instead, we should always remember that there were other forces, well beyond the control of any one person or group of people at play. Forces that even those with the best of intentions had to deal with.

Where they perfect? No.  Did they make mistakes? Yes.

Could they have done better? Perhaps.  Could they have done worse? Absolutely.

Have we made progress? Definitely.  Can we do better? Always.

After all, the arc of history never bends as fast as many would hope and politics is the art of the possible, not the perfect.

 

Let’s Talk About How We Talk

It’s been a bit (OK 4 years) since I last used this platform to blog- but I’m back at it.  This time my focus will be a bit less on my thoughts regarding specific issues, but more so on the general state of political and national discussions.

One of the things that bugs me the most is how we’ve retreated into our media corners, watching/listening to/reading only sites and stories that reinforce our current ideas.

This has lead us to our current state of gridlock and mistrust.  But when we open our eyes to the full landscape, there is often more good work out there than we realize- it’s just not being shared across social media, hence it doesn’t get into the “daily discussions” – and since these stories don’t generate the views, likes and clicks on social media engagement, they don’t make the money.

It’s this spiral of a profit-driven media that created our current mess. But a profit-driven media is still better than a state-sponsored media.

So, let’s all do better at appreciating good articles, speeches, and outlets with well-rationed arguments – even those (or perhaps especially those) that may come down on an issue with a position other than our own.  Let’s start sharing the ones we find.

Let’s make civil discourse popular and profitable.  It’s up to us and is probably our only hope.

Empty Spots In The Parking Lot

The parking lot at the Annapolis Exchange and Commissary is tiny.  To make matters worse, after 9-11 they had to add barriers to keep people from parking too close to the building, which had a secondary effect of making each row a dead end. It’s impossible to drive around and look for a spot, if you choose to head down a row, you better know there is an actual space waiting for you, otherwise you will be executing a three point turn (or seven point turn in some cases) to get out.

Adding to this mess is general old age of the pavement that causes cracks and potholes as well the construction that is going on adjacent to the facility.  So you get my drift when I say that parking is never easy here.

If you time your visit right and go on “off hours” you can generally see far enough ahead that it’s at least manageable. An inconvenience at worst.  But yesterday was one of those days that I went at the wrong time. Not only was this trip right before Thanksgiving, but the weather was really lousy, too.  Cold…..rain…..a little sleet.  It took a while, but after a couple of slow laps around  the maze and seeing a few spots taken by other people just as I was getting close, I finally found a spot. About as far away from the exchange as you could get and still be on the property.

It was on the way back from the exchange that I saw the sign for the Gold Star Family Spots.  It was right there next to the spot for expectant mothers, flag officers, and Master Chiefs.  I had seen it before and to be honest I have never seen anyone use it. In fact, I’ve even wondered if it’s been used at all, I mean…come on… this is the Naval Academy.  People don’t deploy from here into harms way. I know they will in the future, but not now….so how many fallen service members have families that are really shopping at this little commissary on the Severn River?

Gold Star Parking Spots at the Annapolis Echange.
Gold Star Parking Spots at the Annapolis Exchange.

I actually got a little cynical.  After spending ten years in Camp Lejeune, the home of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force, I know about the toll of war.  I’ve been deployed and lost Marines from my unit.  I know they have families. I’ve been to the memorial services. 

Camp Lejeune could almost have a Gold Star Parking Lot. I started to wonder if the reason the signs were put up had something to with “jumping on the bandwagon”.  I know I shouldn’t have felt that way, and even chided myself for letting the thought hit my brain. I do admit, though, that every once in a while it happened.

It was yesterday, walking back to my car in the cold and rain, through the dreary labyrinth of poorly parked vehicles that I saw the spot from a very different perspective. The solitude of this real estate reminded me of the POW/MIA Table that you see at a formal military dining event. Like the empty table with its clean white cloth and singular place setting, these prime parking spaces served as reminder about the nature of the business we are in, a reminder that all of us have families.

It was the emptiness that struck me.

Moments like this remind us that life isn’t always perfect and things don’t always go as planned.  They remind us that we should be truly thankful for the things that are most important. They remind us that there are a lot of really good people out there who are celebrating the holidays with an empty seat at the table. For some this may be the first holiday without a loved one, but for others it may be now a regular occurrence. I won’t presume to know, but I imagine the idea that time heals all wounds doesn’t quite cover it.  

We should be thankful for what we have, because “There but the grace of God go, I”.  I won’t ever look at those spots the same way again. I’m glad they are there, even if they never get used.

Passing Along Untruths: Sheeple Of A Different Shepherd

It’s no secret to those who know me that I absolutely can’t stand internet rumors, especially the politically charged ones that get passed around Facebook.  I have to say, it’s been a rough couple of weeks on this front.

First there was the Obama Wants Marines To Wear Girly Hats falsehood, then there was the Tom Cruise Thinks Being in Movie Is Like War selective edit/misquote and now we have the Chris Hayes of MSNBC Is Disgusted By Veterans satire story being passed around.  The link to the original Chris Hayes story that appeared on the SATIRE page Daily Currant is here. For the record the “about” link to the Daily Currant clearly states it to be a satire site.

For extra fun check out the comments below the Currant Story. I wonder if the moderator is laughing at the idiots that post there, or are they happy that they got a rise out of them?  One things for sure, they are letting their advertisors know how much traffic the site gets. $$$$$

The real thing that drives me crazy is the how quick we are to pass these stories around on Facebook.  It’s tribalism at it’s worst.   And for what it’s worth, I gotta say that those friends in my news feed that pass this stuff around are the same ones who call their political rivals “low information voters”. 

C’mon….if your computer gets Facebook it also gets Google.  The more the story looks juicy and worth sharing, the more you should check it out.  If it only appears on the fringe sites, that should be a clue. If those fringe sites have the exact same story, word for word, that should be clue.  If the story only refers to something being “reported”, yep…..that’s another clue.

To make matters worse, when people are told that the info they shared is, in fact false, a frequent response is…..”So, that guy is still an idiot (or worse).” As if it’s OK to lie about people you don’t like.  Not sure if there was any fine print on the Tablets From Sinai, but I doubt it. False witness is false witness.  At what point do people start to feel bad for passing along bad gouge to their friends?

It appears, that at least in the world of Facebook Memes- there really are sheeple out there.  The scary thing is that they just don’t realize who they are.

Life of Pi: Richard Parker and the Combat Veteran

I finally got around to watching Life of Pi over the weekend.  I knew that it was a visual masterpiece, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how it made me think about the combat veterans of today (and the past).

For those that are not aware, the movie features a young boy who spends many days on a lifeboat adrift in the ocean.  In the movie he retells the story of his adventures (so it’s obvious he survives the ordeal).  Also on the boat with him are a number of animals that were cargo aboard the ship.  A zebra with a broken leg, a wild hyena, an orangutan  and a Bengal tiger.  During the over 200 days at sea, the hyena kills the zebra and the orangutan, before itself being killed and eaten by the tiger.  This left only Pi and the tiger (named Richard Parker) on board forcing them to learn to live with each other.  They survived by eating fish and birds before finally washing up on a Mexican beach, at which time Richard Parker departs into the jungle, never to be seen again.

At the end of the movie Pi explains that he had also told his story to the Japanese media after it happened, but they found it too hard to believe.  He says that he then told them another story, this time however there were no animals on the boat, but real people instead.  The zebra and orangutan were not zoo animals killed by the hyena, but instead were a crew member and Pi’s mother, who were both killed by the ships cook.  Richard Parker was not a Bengal tiger who ultimately killed the hyena, but instead was the animalstic, survival  mode of Pi’s brain and that Pi had killed the cook. The question at the end is which version does the listener choose to believe.

This story does a tremendous job of demonstrating the struggle for identity of someone forced to do things both unimaginable and against their nature in order to survive which is why I found it very easy to draw parallels to those who experience combat.

Although in neither of my two tours to Afghanistan was I ever called upon to fire a weapon, my job as the Leading Chief of an Aid Station for an infantry unit put me in direct dealings with those young men that did. I know that these men needed their Richard Parker as much as Pi did.  Even in the movie, after Richard Parker falls out of the boat and is about to drown, it is Pi that helps him back in. This he does because he realizes that without him, he will die as well.  It was a risk he had to take.pi

In the story Pi spends some time off his boat and on a makeshift smaller raft, giving him some separation from Richard Parker, but at other times he goes back onto the boat to share the little food he has with the tiger to keep it nourished.  He also finds ways to train Richard Parker in order for them to live together. This delicate balance is maintained until they reach land and Richard Parker leaves for good, off into the jungle.

Just as Richard Parker departed to allow Pi to move on with his life, combat veterans need to let their Richard Parker escape as well.  The same force that was required to keep them alive is incompatible with life on the “dry land” of society.

This is a timeless tale and has meaning for more than just those of this time.  My grandfather fought in World War II and those in his generation rarely talked about what happened.  It was probably good that there was not as much media presence in places like Tarawa and Okinawa.  Just reading some of the first hand accounts shows that those involved in those conflicts did things they weren’t proud of and certainly did things they weren’t ready to come home and talk about.

There is a little Richard Parker in all of us, and many combat vets were forced to coexist with their Richard Parker in order to survive.  It was tough but necessary. They may have had to even help their Richard Parker on board and find their own way to sustain it, just as Pi did.

Pi also had a foundation of family and faith which, though tested, helped him overcome some unspeakable events.  It may have also helped him to let the tiger go and move on when the time came to do so. Perhaps this story can help others move on as well.

** There is a ton more symbolism in this movie and I encourage people to watch it.  I’m in the process of reading the book as well.  I’ve seen many other takes on this story and how it relates to the search for God, as well as other things.  It’s definitely a discussion starter.

Dr. Ben Carson: Too smart for the media

Dr. Ben Carson makes too much sense for the media.

First there was Dr. Carson’s speech at the National Prayer breakfast that put him in the spotlight for speaking truth to power.  The six weeks since that time has been filled with regular appearances on Fox News offering his opinions on the current administration as well as the state of the nation as a whole.  Now we have the Ben Carson apology tour for remarks he made on Sean Hannity’s show last week.

It was the last question of the interview and the answer took all of 40 seconds, but, that at least for now, is driving the news cycle. I actually didn’t know about the issue at all until I first saw him on CNN yesterday trying to set the record straight.  It was through this apology tour that I came away more impressed with Dr. Carson, and a little less impressed with the media as a whole.

First off, I wish Sean Hannity would have pressed Doctor Carson a bit more on his answer. I think given a chance to clarify at the time may have made this whole thing a moot point.  But, television works on some serious time constraints and I’m sure Sean knew there wasn’t any time for that left in his show. I think Sean thought it was a softball question that would illicit either a simple or at worst “canned” response.  Instead he got a guy that tried to cram his complex views into a tiny soundbite and ended up with an awkward answer and no time to make it better.carson-wolf

The remarks were quick to be picked up by the other networks raising questions about his potentially offensive views. It’s almost as if they were hoping to find him a homophobic religious zealot. I saw the apology tour interviews on CNN as well as MSNBC and it looked like both networks were at least prepared for something other than honesty and sincerity.  In both cased Dr. Carson stated that (a) it was a poor choice of words, that (b) he wasn’t comparing homosexuals to pedophiles, that (c) he understood how it could be perceived as such and that (d) it was not intention to draw that comparison. He then categorically apologized.  In an age where most guests try to spin their way out of trouble, Dr. Carson owned up to it.  Bravo, sir.  That is how you defeat an embarrassing situation.

In interviews both  Andrea Mitchell and Wolf Blitzer followed up Dr. Carson’s initial explanation with questions essentially reframing the original question, as if they weren’t expecting to get a real answer on the first try.   Mitchell, in particular, seemed flustered by the fact that she was likely not interviewing the scary homophobe she anticipated, and was now stuck with a set of questions that he had answered in the first thirty seconds.  Both interviewers came back around to the fact that it used to be illegal for different races to marry later on in their interviews despite the fact the question had lost mush of its relevance based Carson’s previous answers.  It was obvious they were not used to an honest guest and were not prepared for the interview to go a direction they had not anticipated. If you haven’t already done so, i encourage you to check out the links to each interview.  Blitzer’s was far better than Mitchell’s, but both could have been better

It turns out Dr. Carson seems more intent on protecting the English language than supporting any specific conservative social cause.  He keeps going back to the fact that no one gets to change the meaning of a word.  When he talks  about specifics though, he believes that all people, (including gays) have the right to form legal unions in order to facilitate the transfer of property and establish visitation rights. He went so far as to voice support for their ability to adopt children in the Blitzer interview.

It was telling that Carson admitted he needed to learn the art of handling the media. This is why everyone in the media missed this opportunity.  Instead of making sure they got to all of their prepared questions, they should have reacted to his statements with more followup questions. No one asked the question “How would feel about granting same sex couples 100% of the legal rights as married couples if we used/made up a new word to describe it (civil union, perhaps?).”  It looked to me like that was what he was trying to say, but his brain got tied up talking about compring oranges and bananas. Instead of trying to really understand Dr. Carson, both hosts instead moved on. I guess they had to make sure they found a way to go back to their questions about marriage laws of the early 20th century prohibiting multi-racial unions.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised with was the exchange when  Blitzer asked if the fact that other people in the media had made the slippery slope argument about homosexuals, bestiality and pedophilia, if that may have influenced Carson’s choice of words when answering the question on The Sean Hannity Show.  When Dr. Carson said that it may have been a “subconscious reason he choose those words”, that was some refreshing honesty, not typically seen in a news interview.

Dr. Carson is a smart, well read, man with a large vocabulary.  He is the kind of person who understands subtle nuances, and his point is that we shouldn’t expand the definition of a word just because we expand the scope of legal rights for a group of people.  When we invented the light bulb we didn’t expand the definition of the word candle, even though they both produce light and heat.  I think he just wants a different name.

So does this put him on the right or the left of the issue?  I have yet to see his explanation tour hit Fox News, if he does (or already has) I will be interested to see how they handle it, because, on this issue, he does not fit the conservative mold, at least not completely.   I also wonder if Dr. Carson isn’t going to go from darling of the right, to darling of the left.

Ben Carson is coming across as a libertarian, which is really going to screw up our media industry.  There are reports that he may go to work for Fox News after his retirement, although Dr. Carson was quoted as saying that there has been “more than one network” that has approached him about the idea.  I am curious to see how any network takes on someone with such diverse opinions.

In the end, I think he has genuine views and it is good to have him as part of the discussion.  I just hope the media machine doesn’t put him into a corner where only one side wants to listen to him, or worse yet, drives him away from the conversation completely.

 

***Update****  I saw a story on the Fox News website about Dr. Carson’s apology.  It focused much more on the fact that some students at Hopkins did not want him to deliver the commencement address this year.  It also mentioned that he said he was sorry for the comparison.  Interestingly, though, it did not say anything at all about his stated support for same sex couples to have legal standing under the law for things like property transfer and adoption, etc.

 

 

 

Other articles I found interesting when researching this post:

“How well does Fox News know Ben Carson”

“Carson Apologizes, Offers to withdraw from Hopkins speech”

“Does Ben Carson have a prayer?”

“Dr. Ben Carson should apologize to Obama” by Cal Thomas