Current Affairs

McKinney pool incident – control of the narrative

Some quick observations about the aftermath of what i will call The McKinney Pool Incident.

1. Partisans on both ends of the narrative spectrum are currently engaging in an attempt to control and distort the narrative to fit their pre-conceptions. I am starting to see people on Facebook, Twitter etc. posting, totally uncritically, articles posted on echo chamber websites that seek to impose a glib, judgmental narrative on the events. Be smart, folks. Don’t just promulgate this guff without asking fundamental questions about the credibility of the source, and the way in which the article is written. Also pay attention to the use of coded language in narratives written by partisans. As an example. when I read an article on an authoritarian website asserting that the party organizers “appear to be from Chicago”, I know exactly what that claim is really saying. (Translation:  Chicago – evil den of political corruption controlled by people of the wrong party, you know that one that the POTUS belongs to, hint hint). If you want to understand more, read some of the books by George Lakoff.

2. The city of McKinney has already done one thing right by suspending the officer whose conduct was captured on video. But bear in mind that a lot of the incidents were not captured on video. The evidence for those happenings is anecdotal, and it will take a while to sort out the truth from the guff and misinformation. There is a process called investigation, a skill called critical thinking, and a third important principle called Due Process. They should be allowed to happen.

3. If your community is squarely in a media firestorm, it is not a good idea to create posters that reflexively and uncritically support one side or the other in the dispute. This shows a shocking lack of self-awareness, and if the investigation shows that the people you are claiming to support erred, you are going to look mighty stupid. Also bear in mind that if you have a well-paid job in corporate America, suddenly finding your name perjoratively splashed across social media is not what your employer wants to see. One constant of corporations is that they like publicity but they hate controversy. Since Texas is a “right to work:” state, you can be fired for no reason at all. (Of course there is always a reason, but they don’t have to tell you, and they would be fools to do so).

4. Any person who begins an explanation for their position with a protestation of “I’m not being XXXX, but…” is, most of the time, being XXXX. It is a well-understood reality that people who are telling the truth never claim that they are – they instinctively expect to be believed. It is identical to the “you can trust me” meme. We know this. We know it so well that it is ingrained in humour. Think of all of the jokes based on lines such as “trust me, I’m a doctor/dentist/consultant etc. etc.”. Be wary of these kinds of exculpatory protestations.

 

 

 

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McKinney incident

In case you had not yet found out…the city of McKinney is currently in the news for all of the wrong reasons.
There are a few obvious things about how to handle this kind of crisis that i learned when reading the classroom materials from a class that a work colleague attended in 1997 called “how to deal with the media”. There are several simple (and rather obvious) rules:

1. If you screwed up, admit it
This is the most obvious, and the most ignored. The reason for the old saying “it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” is that humans have a far higher forgiveness threshold for people and organizations who admit to error than they do for people and organizations who obfuscate, bullshit or lie in an attempt to deflect accountability. (Obvious note – with video in existence of at least part of the incident, it is not a good idea for the law enforcement bodies to try to impose a false narrative. Arguing against what people can see or interpret from a video is a Really Really Bad Tactic).
2. Make Good on recompense
The case study for this is Intel, who discovered an obscure (and rarely used) math processing error in their Pentium chip. Rather than sweeping it under the carpet, they admitted to its existence (tick Rule 1). But then they did something far far smarter. They announced that anybody who felt that they no longer had confidence in their Pentium CPU could send it in and get a replacement AT NO COST TO THEM. The gesture removed just about all remaining negative impact from the initial announcement. Intel had stood behind their product and their reputation, and backed it up with action. Their long term reputation was unaffected, and possibly even enhanced.
3. Hold the Right people accountable and show how you held them accountable
This is more tricky. The temptation in large organizations is to circle the wagons and diffuse accountability, via a number of rhetorical devices (prominent among them is the use of the passive “mistakes were made”, which de-personalizes and diffuses accountability). The aim is to ride out the storm. Those tactics communicate that you are not really interested in changing for the better, you just want the noise to go away. The challenge is that it erodes your credibility and trust with the public.

McKinney has a window of opportunity to Do The Right Things. Some of them may be unpalatable in the short term. However, failure to do them will result in Google searches of McKinney returning hits that are a lot more negative than positive in the months to come. (Obvious parallel – google Ferguson).
Ultimately, it is all about credibility. Failure to respond correctly will reduce and possibly eliminate the credibility of the city of McKinney.

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“If you don’t like it, leave” and “If this happens, I’m leaving”

“If you don’t like this country, then leave”

“If X happens, I’m going to leave”

I read these statements all of the time. In fact, I have had the first one used against me in Facebook and blog comments.

My first response is usually some variant of “is this all you have”? It’s not an argument. It’s an attempt to shut off the conversation. It is, like many rhetorical tricks used by people who are not into reasoned debate, intellectually risible, unserious nonsense. It reads like childish petulance, the sort of thing you would not tolerate from one of your own children.

It is hardly surprising that these kinds of invitations are usually written by authoritarians. One thing I notice about authoritarians is that many of them have a binary worldview. When they think they are in the ascendant, they suggest or demand that anybody who does not agree with them leave the country. When they fear they are not in the ascendant, they decide that they themselves are going to leave the country.

My response to “If you don’t like it leave” is usually “no, I am a citizen, I am not leaving. Now, do you have an argument?”

 

 

What I always think after reading the meme “I’m going to leave the country” is “so where the hell are you going to go?”. The challenge  is that when they say “I am going to leave this country”, that is not all that they are saying. Unspoken is the addition “I am going to go somewhere else and set up a place where We Are In Charge”. That unspoken pre-condition tends to limit where they can go.

Not Europe, that is a socialist hellhole. India is hot and full of people of the wrong color. China is communist and therefore scary. Russia is too cold. Latin America is strange and mostly socialist. The Middle East is full of terrorists…The list goes on.

I can really only think of a handful of countries that authoritarians might decide match their worldview. The snag is that they are all failed states occupied by corrupt venal and dictatorial regimes. And they are in dangerous parts of the world. In short, they would be a long way down any sensible person’s list of places to visit, never mind places to go live. The other thing that they are also overlooking is that they are never going to be In Charge in any countries run by authoritarians, and if they annoy somebody in the government, they will probably start to disappear in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

As I said, these kinds of petulant foot-stomping comments are unserious.

 

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The Attention grabbing headline – an example

We can expect 18 months of attempts by political parties and their representatives to impress us with their arguments and positions.
One thing that everybody needs to beware of is The Attention Grabbing Headline. This is some supposed fact that is designed to impress us and get our attention in some way (sometimes, the cynic in me believes that the political entity does not care how we react, it just wants our attention).
However, many of these headlines will, when examined, turn out to be not what they seem, and they will in many cases turn out to be full of logical fallacies such as strawman reasoning, circular reasoning, begging the question, arguments from inappropriate authority, or, as this examination of claims about crime rates in the UK shows, the incorrect comparison of two different sets of data 

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Binary sloganeering

From time to time i see people posting slogans or images over which somebody has plastered a slogan. You know the sort of thing. The slogan is a variant on “If you don’t like this country. leave”. Or “if you don’t love the country, get out”. There are numerous variants of it.
Folks, it is time to grow up and get real. Life is not binary. Things and people are not all bad or all good, with nothing in between. Countries are the same.
The world in which we live is flawed and imperfect because a lot of it is controlled by humans, who are imperfect, inconsistent and prone to flights of everything ranging from love, vivid fantasy through panic attacks, anger and (sad to say) violence.
Dissent is not disloyalty, and blind obedience to some idealized view of a society or country is not progress. It’s actually the sort of requirement placed on citizens in a totalitarian state, the sort of state that treats citizens as mere subjects, peons who should be seen and not heard, and know their place and obey their superiors. In other words, a country remarkably like some of the countries that the Founding Fathers left in order to form the modern-day United States.
Living in this country does not require you to fail to notice its imperfections, nor does it impose any requirement on you to keep quiet about those imperfections. There is a First Amendment for a good reason. There is also no Constitutional right to not be offended.
There are a number of sub-optimal features in the modern USA. From time to time I will comment on them. If you think that makes me “un-American”, “anti-American”, “unpatriotic” etc. etc.. then so be it, but, frankly, it says more about your binary mindset than it does about my opinions. 

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Same-sex marriage – the hysteria of the antis

I once read a discussion on the internet about debate and argument where one of the participants made a statement which I tend to apply. Paraphrased it goes something like this:
“If you want me to respect your ideas and arguments, have good ones”.
I was reminded of this while reviewing the current level of hysteria being promulgated by people who believe that same-sex marriage is a Bad Idea. Those people seem to be competing right now to see who can find the most vapid, illogical batshit crazy argument or assertion. Every time that I think that I have heard something utterly idiotic, somebody comes along and lowers the bar.
James Dobson is working hard to be the owner of the lowest bar. On a radio show, he went into overdrive.

“I would like them to think, just for a moment, about ‘LGBT,'” Dobson said. “The ‘B’ stand for bisexual! That’s orgies! Are you really going to support this?”

Dobson, you clueless bloviating twit, that is not what bisexual means, and you damn well know it.

This is one example of why I am increasingly regarding most opposition to same-sex marriage as fundamentally unserious, and unworthy of serious consideration. In fact, a lot of it is now ridiculous, and worthy only of ridicule.

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The “POTUS is a liar therefore he needs to be removed from office etc. etc.” meme

OK folks, time for an explanation. I am reading yet more of the usual nonsense about how the POTUS should be charged with treason (this idea has been popular amongst many authoritarians and nativists for a long long time).
When I inquired exactly why he should be charged with that crime, the person on Twitter who was firing off all manner of “hang him high” tweets came back with “because he told me I could keep my doctor under the ACA and now I can’t therefore he lied therefore he should be charged with treason”.
Sheesh. Where to begin.
First of all, lying is not treason. There is a specific definition of treason in most legal jurisdictions, and it requires a level of malfeasance (presenting a clear and present threat to the existence of a country) far in excess of simple lying. I don’t think that there is a cat-in-hells chance of charging a sitting president with treason on the grounds that he lied about the ACA.
Secondly, the statement by President Obama was certainly not true. However, I doubt if it meets the definition of a lie based on the evidence. A lie is a falsehood uttered by somebody who knew that it was false at the time that it was uttered. In order to prove legally that somebody lied, you have to provide proof that a person knew that they were saying something untrue when they originally said it. That is a high bar to clear.
Now if you want to start from the assumption that all politicians are liars, or that the POTUS is a liar, then you can define any mistaken utterance as a lie. However, that does not make it a lie. That is you overlaying your assumptions about behavior on other people’s statements.

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Fear, Fear, Fear…the psychosis of perpetual (bad) arousal

Fear, Fear, Fear…no sooner had the “second Ebola patient in Dallas” scare story fallen off my Facebook feed (probably because it will be at least 48 hours before we know for sure if that person has Ebola, and that is a lifetime in the sphere of news management), than I find recycled allegations that ISIS terrorists are marching across the border from Mexico into the USA popping up all over the place like molehills on a lawn after the rain.
Where do I start?
Firstly, it is election season. BS lies thick on the ground and flies through the air on all sides of the political spectrum in election season. A hell of a lot of the stories popping up right now are, or soon will be, revealed as total bullcrap. NOTE – If you happen to believe that only The Other Guys Do That, Not My Guys, then I suggest that you stop reading and toddle off to your sources of information. You probably won’t like the rest of this posting.
Secondly, it might be a good idea for people to stop thinking that just because a story appears in well-modulated prose on one or more websites, that it is somehow true. You can be distrustful of government (as I am) but that does not mean that any story that contradicts the government is therefore true. That is like assuming that your enemy’s enemy must be your friend, which is the kind of simplistic thinking that, starting in the 1950’s, keeps getting the USA into trouble overseas.
Thirdly, beware any story that uses suspiciously specific numbers contained in a rumour or allegation that is unsourced, or unattributably sourced. and delivered in a style designed to engender fear. Students of history will recall that Sen. Joseph McCarthy got up and running by calling a press conference, brandishing a piece of paper and claiming that it was a list of 205 Communists in the State Department. It turned out that his list was a figment of his imagination, but people were seduced by the superficial exactitude of his initial claims. Right now, the standard fear-induction process is at work in these allegations. First of all, it is “4 terrorists” (GASP), now it is “10 terrorists” (SHOCK HORROR). Folks, if you are going to immediately believe these types of undocumented unverified claims, I can’t be polite about this – you are almost certainly being played.
Fourth, when a politician or conspiracy theorist trying to get attention (but I am being tautological) claims that he will produce “proof”, “evidence” etc. to back up an uncorroborated and rumour-sourced allegation, be very very skeptical. People do that sort of thing all of the time when they have nothing of substance to back up their initial allegations and bloviations. It is merely a variant on the old showbiz trick of trailing bigger and better things and keeping your audience transfixed and waiting for more. I have been waiting for 3+ years for the “compelling evidence” that the POTUS is not a US citizen, and all I have seen is variants on “coming soon – this will be explosive”. It reminds me of the old placard you see affixed to the wall behind the bar in pubs in the UK (the one that says “free beer tomorrow”). Either you have the evidence, or you don’t.
Lastly, triangulate, triangulate, triangulate. There are websites that track what is actually happening on the border. They are not difficult to find.

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