Of the People

IMGP2701.JPGPeople have a great many misconceptions about dictionaries. For a start, we assume that dictionaries are authorities—that the usages of a word listed in the dictionary are allowed, and that other usages are not. We assume that words not in the dictionary are not words, and words in the dictionary but labeled “obsolete” are no longer allowed. And we assume these things because we fundamentally misunderstand what a dictionary is.

We think dictionaries are arbiters of language, determining what is and isn’t allowed. But, in reality, dictionaries are just records of language. They preserve old ideas, record new ideas, and describe how language is being used. They are slow to catch up, but not that slow, and they occasionally retain things we would rather forget.

We have many of the same misconceptions about government.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Outrage

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I find the psychological whiplash of the news cycle exhausting and depressing these days. Yet, the worst part is not every new facet of the problems we face, but instead the constant demand for my emotional energy. “You’ll be horrified by this tweet” one headline promises. “The Trump nominee no one is talking about” blares an e-mail subject line. “Step up to protect migrant workers – call your senators NOW” insists a Facebook post. “New Russia revelations demand action!” orders a call to sign someone’s petition.

They’re not wrong, exactly—but it is too much. No one can do all these things. No one can spare the emotion to treat each of these with the gravity they deserve. And, perhaps most insidiously, the outrage is baked in. These things feed our anger, but they also assume it. Even well-intentioned organizations are using instant fury as their primary messaging strategy. It works, and yet along the way it sends an accidental message: anger is the only real way to respond.

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Five Pieces for March

puzzle_viaLetIdeasCompeteAt the end of each month I share some links to pieces I found thought-provoking in some way. Continuing the trend of less noise, more noticing, I offer five pieces for March.

 

Letter From a Drowned Canyon – Rebecca Solnit

“On October 15, 1956, President Eisenhower pushed a telegraph key that sent the signal to detonate the first round of dynamite. Construction of Glen Canyon Dam began with this warlike gesture by the former supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe. A temporary dam was built upstream of the site, and two 3,000-foot-long diversion tunnels were blasted into the canyon walls to send the river through while the dam was built. Rafters explored the canyon, conscious that it was doomed, and Porter made his expeditions to document it. Many Navajo residents of the region were horrified; the confluence of the Colorado and the San Juan rivers, a place of great significance to them, was about to be erased.

“Glen Canyon died in 1963 and I was partly responsible for its needless death” was how Brower began his essay for Porter’s book on the place. In March of that year, water began backing up behind the new dam, but the scale of the reservoir was so vast that it did not reach maximum water level until 1980. Full, its surface is 3,700 feet above sea level, but it will never be full again.”

 

‘Somebody Else’s Babies’ – Fred Clark

“But, on the other hand, there’s also something terrifying about the message of this sign. It seems to acknowledge and recognize something about our culture that is, frankly, monstrous and horrifying. That unlovely admission suggests that these signs are unlikely to do much good. It suggests that their appeal to empathy and respect for the Golden Rule is misdirected.

Think about it. “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here,” the signs say, because it’s understood that “Drive Like Somebody Else’s Kids Live Here” wouldn’t be an effective slogan. Just those last three words ought to be sufficient: Kids Live Here. But, given that those kids are not “your” kids, it’s expected that “you” would have no reason to care about that. If it’s somebody else’s kids — kids you don’t know, personally, or kids who aren’t a part of your personal bloodline — then it’s presumed that you’ll continue to drive recklessly and without regard for their safety.”

 

The Road That Lies Ahead – Sean Patrick Hughes

“Something happened not too long after that’s stuck with me nearly fifteen years later. Cruising up the highway in one of the long rural stretches of the great agricultural mecca of America that is Central California, we passed three cars that had just been in a gnarly accident. Two of them were smashed up badly. The other less so. There were suitcases and boxes strewn all over the side of the road. People were wandering around in a fog, disoriented, hazy. There was a woman holding a crying child. A man with a bloody nose sat next to one of the wrecks staring out in to space.

No one looked like they were too badly injured. At least not from a half mile away at 70 miles per hour. But the police weren’t there yet. And we were fifty miles from civilization. The first thing that popped into my mind was, man, I’m glad we weren’t in the middle of that.

My leading petty officer in one of the trailers popped into my ear over the radio.”You see that LT?”

“I see it.” Was all I said back. And we kept trucking. I heard him key the mike on the radio again, but he didn’t say anything else.

A hundred miles up the road when we stopped for gas, the door of the one truck swung open. My leading petty officer charged across the parking lot at me tattoos and muscle flying. He jammed his finger into my chest.

“Why the fuck didn’t you stop LT?” ”

 

I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations – Victoria Herrmann

“At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

I had no idea then that this disappearing act had just begun.

Since January, the surge has transformed into a slow, incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic. I now come to expect a weekly email request to replace invalid citations, hoping that someone had the foresight to download statistics about Arctic permafrost thaw or renewable energy in advance of the purge.”

 

Lithium-Ion Battery Inventor Introduces New Technology for Fast-Charging, Noncombustible Batteries – UT Austin

” “Cost, safety, energy density, rates of charge and discharge and cycle life are critical for battery-driven cars to be more widely adopted. We believe our discovery solves many of the problems that are inherent in today’s batteries,” Goodenough said.

The researchers demonstrated that their new battery cells have at least three times as much energy density as today’s lithium-ion batteries. A battery cell’s energy density gives an electric vehicle its driving range, so a higher energy density means that a car can drive more miles between charges. The UT Austin battery formulation also allows for a greater number of charging and discharging cycles, which equates to longer-lasting batteries, as well as a faster rate of recharge (minutes rather than hours).”

 

Image Credit: Let Ideas Compete

What if it Wasn’t Us?

We_Can_Do_It!What if the future of our country, our businesses, our economy, our children, and our friends and family were under threat? What if a natural disaster, requiring our concerted response, put us to the test? And what if, to fight back, we had to innovate, cooperate, act carefully and wisely, solve problems together, and save the world? What if that was America’s challenge, and within our power, and just a matter of will?

I mean, what if that was America’s challenge, but it wasn’t our fault?

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Under What Conditions?

bush_library_oval_office_replicaI do not support Donald Trump. But what if I did? He legitimately won the election under our democratic system; only a quarter of the country voted for him, but that is the system we have. His rhetoric is divisive and untethered from evidence, but that is the rhetoric we decided was acceptable. The choices he makes, whether we like it or not, will shape our country and possibly the world for many years to come.

One thing I am sure of is that being politically divided and unwilling to change our views is a self-reinforcing feedback loop. It’s easy to use division to justify more. But I don’t want to do that. I want to have solidly-evidenced political positions.

I don’t plan to say “oh, give him a chance,” because our country already decided to give him that on November 8th, and because I do not personally expect him to become any more respectful or honest as president than he was in the year preceding the election. Nor do I intend to shut up about what I disagree with, because critiquing the government is patriotic and quashing dissent is undemocratic.

So he’d have my critique even if he already had my support. But what would he have to do to get my support? Under what conditions would I say “Well, I didn’t expect it, but he’s doing a good job”? If my opposition to Trump is partisan, there will be no such conditions. But if my opposition to Trump is based on his policies and actions, I should be able to say under what conditions I would change my mind.

Here they are:

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Hypocrisy is Easy

two-ways_vaisamuelyooCan you believe what the other side said this week? They’re such hypocrites—they say one thing when it applies to everyone else, and another thing entirely when it applies to them. It makes me so mad when people don’t hold to their own fundamental principals—I think the best response would be to create a snarky meme showing that and share it widely, divorced from the original context.

Well, sometimes I think that. Sometimes I just see the snarky meme from someone else and get that little rush of agreement. You know the one: the one that makes you feel good about being right, and just, and having enemies. And not just any enemies—the best enemies. They go out of their way to be spineless fools whose simpering evilness is so clear in their fundamental lack of a coherent worldview that it would be foolish to even listen to them.

Right?

So bear with me for a minute here.

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