On the Fringe

CapitolReflectionvia_WilliamBeemIt’s not that I didn’t know Alternate America existed. I knew it did. I knew people believed a whole host of things that, to me, didn’t reconcile with the evidence. Yet, I make of point of being willing to change my mind when presented with solid evidence for a different position, so I assumed, wrongly, that most people would reasonably do the same. Outside of a few hot-button issues where emotions override facts, I figured truth was inherently stronger than fiction, however convenient.

Now that idea seems naïve. Of course the truth is not stronger. Of course the evidence is not convincing to those who don’t want to be convinced. Why did I think it was? The clash between America and Alternate America has been seething beneath the surface, erupting in localized ways, for decades. And yes, Alternate America has been losing a lot of battles, but in response they’ve also been tightening their boundaries and reinforcing their narratives.

That was a smart choice for people who care more about protecting their beliefs than they care about correcting them. Ideology is stronger than truth. I thought it was stronger by a little bit; but it seems to be stronger by a great deal. Mix a potent ideology with a well-chosen narrative, and people will happily ignore their lying eyes.

I’ve been trying to understand how people could possibly believe that host of things that doesn’t match the evidence. But that was the wrong question; the question I should have been asking was “what are the narratives?”

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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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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

Crossing Political Divides

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“I can’t help but feel like, this is our last chance to get it right.”

It is Martin Luther King day, a day when we honor a man and a movement for civil rights unique in our nation’s history, and so it is appropriate that I am spending today contemplating the civil rights we so desperately need. The event, Crossing Political Divides, is an attempt by many of us in the area to find a way over the gulfs that seem wider every day. Some 45 of us have gathered in a classroom at the School for International Training to see if those divides are too great, or if we can still reach across.

As a beginning, we are watching a short clip of Van Jones, a black man with political power, discussing politics with a family on the opposite side. The man who says it is our last chance is white, and a Trump voter, and a man who, in that moment, I entirely agree with. This is our last chance to get it right. We are both patriots. We both see the needs of our country. We both feel, desperately, that things cannot go on as they have.

And yet, if we get any more specific than that, we cannot agree. What he feels is progress, to me, feels like loss. What I think is righteous, to him, feels like weakness. What we both think is patriotism, to the other, seems like treason.

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