Author Archive: graham

Part of “The Withered Arm” rises from the ashes

On Saturday November 20th, a significant railway system event will occur in North Devon. Passenger train services will resume from Okehampton through Crediton to Exeter. The route from Coleford Junction, West of Crediton, to Okehampton will be re-opened for the first time since 1972.

The line from Coleford Junction to Okehampton was part of the original LSWR railway main line from Exeter to Plymouth, the rival to the GWR line from Exter to Plymouth via Dawlish. The route was opened in 1865, when competition between different railway companies was heating up. The LSWR route ran North-West out of Exeter, through numerous towns to Crediton, and then snaked around the Northern edge of Dartmoor, through Okehampton, then on to Lydford, through Tavistock, Bere Alston and down the valley of the River Plym into Plymouth. It was a steeply graded route, rising to 1000 feet above sea level at the highest point West of Okehampton.

The route’s main engineering feature was Meldon Viaduct, constructed to carry the line over the West Oakment valley West of Meldon. Meldon Viaduct is a wrought iron pier viaduct, an impressive structure, which is in reality two sets of viaduct structure bound together. The line, like so many routes in the 1860s, was originally single track, and when it became clear that it needed to be double track, the LSWR simply erected a second set of piers in the valley next to the original single-track viaduct, and created a second track platform at the top, tying everything together with string, tape, baling wire and Mrs Smith’s underwear.

The entire route from Crediton through to Okehampton became part of the Western Region in the post-war British Railways region re-shuffle. It also was one of the many hundreds of lines that appeared in the infamous Beeching Report as being uneconomic. The Western Region already had one main line to Plymouth. Why have two?

At around this time, the entire former LSWR rail line network West of Exeter was dubbed “The Withered Arm” by…nobody knows who, and the name stuck. The Western Region stopped investing in the former LSWR lines, since most of them were uneconomic, and axed all through services, including the famous Atlantic Coast Express, a unique train that ran from Waterloo, with coaches for the many Cornwall and Devon coastal towns originally served by the Southern Railway.

The Beeching Report listed nearly all of those lines and station for closure. Crediton through Okehampton to Plymouth was in the list, partly because local traffic was sparse, and partly because if it was no longer a through route, there was no compelling rationale for it to exist except as a diversionary line for the ex-GWR main line via Dawlish.

A complicating factor was the condition of Meldon Viaduct, which had not been constructed well, and used old-generation materials. The Heath Robinson nature of the viaduct caused problems, as locomotives became heavier. The viaduct was strengthened in the 1940s, but the lack of engineer confidence in the viaduct led to a speed restriction being imposed on all traffic. By the Summer of 1966, the line over the viaduct was singled to reduce the load. At the same time, since the line was slated for closure in the Beeching report, all through services were withdrawn, and single-car diesel multiple units served the stations, many of which were located miles from the communities they purported to serve because the original line engineers had tried to save money by straight-lining sections of the line.

One factor in the line’s favour was the existence of Meldon Quarry, started in the 1930s as a source of railway ballast for the Southern Railway. The quarry was built before the Dartmoor National Park was created, which meant that its extraction license was grandfathered to the present day. The current owners can still extract rock from the quarry in perpetuity. The stone traffic from Meldon required several trains a day.

The axe fell on the section between Okehampton and Bere Alston via Tavistock in May 1968. The entire section was closed, and grass grew on the tracks and weeds filled the platform crevices. Towards the end of 1969, the demolition crews moved in and dismantled the line. Stations were sold off into private ownership or demolished. Meldon Viaduct became a headshunt for Meldon Quarry, and the line from Meldon down to Crediton was singled. A 2-hour service with bad time-keeping, plus several stone trains a day, was not going to justify double track.

After much to-and-fro, the passenger services from Okehampton to Crediton ceased in January 1972. Stone trains continued to use the line, sometimes 4 trains a day would rattle down from Meldon, through the closed Okehampton station and down the gradient to Crediton.

I travelled the line in 1978 as part of an Atlantic Coast Express special train. At the time it was a well-maintained route, still with a 60mph speed limit, and Okehampton Station was still in good repair.

For several decades, the line saw regular stone trains. So much so, that British Railways eventually sold the entire line from just past Coleford Junction to Aggregate Industries, the owner of Meldon Quarry. In turn, Aggregate Industries allowed the Dartmoor Railway, a preserved railway group, to use the line alongside the stone trains, and they restored Okehampton Station and ran tourist trains using a variety of motive power. SouthWest Trains also began to run occasional weekend trains on the line from Okehampton to Exeter. However, the trains were not popular since the deterioration of the line meant that speeds were too low for the journey times to be competitive. The line had needed investment in the years before it closed to passengers, but no money was spent, and there had been no investment in new track or infrastructure since closure.

Meldon Quarry closed in 2011, as cheaper sources of stone were found in Eastern Europe, and the line was silent except for Dartmoor Railway activity at weekends. The Dartmoor Railway services only ran from Okehamption to Meldon, since the stations East of Okehampton were all in private ownership, and the rights to use the line stopped short of Coleford Junction, beyond which the line was owned by Network Rail, who were not interested in allowing interlopers to use the section into Crediton.

After the closure of Meldon Quarry, Aggregate Industries sold the line to a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific. That sale made no sense, and Iowa Pacific later lurched into bankruptcy. The line was no longer being maintained by professionals, the Dartmoor Railway volunteers doing essential maintenance to keep it open.

However, 2 years ago a lot changed, with the creation of the Beeching Reversal Fund, an implicit admission that many of the 1960s line closures under the Beeching Report had not been at all smart. The impetus came from the massive success of the re-opened Borders Railway, using part of the old Waverley Route. The re-opened line exceeded all traffic forecasts.

One of the lines listed at or near the top of the list of lines to be re-opened was…Crediton to Okehampton. The plan was to reinstate services to Exeter. Network Rail spent 2019 and 2020 surveying the line, and estimated it would cost 45 million pounds to reinstate passenger services. Government approval was given, and in December 2020, work kicked off with large amounts of new track being brought up the hill from Exeter and deposited in Okehampton Station yard. No new track had been laid on the line since the early 1960s, apart from a section that had been replaced after a stone train derailment in the 1980s.

Network Rail bought the line back from its current owners (the receivers of Iowa Pacific) to take legal charge of the line for the first time in 20 years. A large percentage of track has been replaced with CWR (some of the track was 100 years old), bridges and other structures have been repaired or overhauled, drainage replaced, and a lot of other detail work performed. Okehampton station will be an unstaffed self-serve station initially.

There is a plan to build a new station East of Okehampton named Okehampton Parkway. The current station is not ideally placed, high on the hill overlooking the town on the South side, and more recent housing developments are to the East.

The closed section of line from Bere Alston to Tavistock has also been under review for reinstatement, the main issue there being that the site of Tavistock station is now a local government building. That project has been under discussion for years, but nothing has happened yet, mainly because until the Beeching Reversal Fund was created, everybody agreed that it was an excellent idea, but nobody really wanted to pay for it.

The key question to be answered is whether the reinstated Okehampton service will be popular enough to persuade the railway companies to invest more money in improving the line further, or even reinstating the section from Okehampton through to Bere Alston. The entire line from Crediton to Plymouth is in the Beeching Reversal Fund shortlist. There has been a lot of genuine interest in re-instating the entire Northern Route via Okehampton to Plymouth, mainly because the Southern route via Dawlish runs next to the sea for 4 miles in the Dawlish area, and that section of the line is vulnerable to storm damage. A section was washed away in 2014, and it took several months for repairs to complete. The big issue is Meldon Viaduct, which is now a Listed Building and is a cycle path. The viaduct is unlikely to be re-instated for train use, so a new bridge will have to be constructed across the West Oakment valley, and that carries a large price tag.

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R.I.P. Terry Moran

My brother-in-law Terry Moran passed away peacefully in the UK this morning after a short illness.

He and my sister met via a widowed persons forum on social media after they were both widowed many years ago in unfortunate circumstances, and they had been happy married for 10+ years. Terry was retired, my sister also retired from the restaurant business, and they played the doting grandparents role, and traveled a lot, mostly to the Greek Islands.

Terry was an interesting character. He was very much an Englander at heart, not much of a fan of politics or governments in general, which left him and me at opposite ends of the opinion spectrum quite often. He also had a deep hatred of all things Microsoft from his time in I.T., which meant that he was a Unix and Linux geek (nothing wrong with that, we need OS diversity now and in the future), and he was a fierce personal privacy advocate, which led to he and my sister using Signal for messaging. He had a typical dry, wry British sense of humour, heavily based on irony, mixed with sarcasm. He and I looked like physical opposites, he was tall and gangly, with the figure of a marathon runner crossed with a pro cyclist, I looked like Michelin Man by comparison. I could do with being a lot more like he was physically, I have to admit.

Sadly, Terry’s time came to an end quite rapidly, but he did not suffer. My heart goes out to my sister, who has to cope with widowhood for the second time in 14 years, and to his family.

2021 is not getting any better.

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A letter from a School District superintendent

Dear Parents,

As you reach the exciting day when your child starts to attend one of our schools, I would like to explain the philosophy that our school district adopts when dealing with you.

As local taxpayers, all paying your share of school taxes, you deserve to know about our philosophy when it comes to education. You deserve to know it because you need to feel confident that your child will end his or her time at one of our schools in a place where they are sufficiently educated to move on to their next phase in life.

You also deserve to know because you may determine, after hearing about our philosophy, that you do not want your child to be educated in one of our schools. In this fine country of ours, you do have other options. You can use private tutors, or you can homeschool your children. That is your right and choice.

Let’s talk fundamentals.

  • You are not our customers

Yeah. The big one.

No, you are not our customers. You provide funding for the district by paying school taxes (although I should point out that single people and people without children also pay school taxes, so don’t forget about them, they also have skin in the game), but we are not educating YOU. We are educating your children. If we do a bad job of educating your children, and (for example) they go to college and flunk out, because they were poorly or incompletely educated by us, and were unprepared for that next step in life, that is on us. We directly failed them, not you.

This means that we are not going to always take direction from parents. We will consult with people who are, surprise, surprise, experts on child education. We may also consult with the children themselves. No, that is not the same as letting the children run the show. Remember how annoyed you get when you’re not consulted about something by your family or partner before they may a decision or do something? How that feels? Think about that and apply it to the children. They may be small, but inside that sometimes-confused head of theirs is the brain of an apprentice adult, which often thinks and feels the same way.

  • Education is not just about teaching, and does not include obedience training 

Many of you seem to think that our primary  job (in some worldviews, our only job) is to ensure that your child passes all of the right exams, ticks all of the right boxes, and sails through essential education and on into life.

The truth, as many of you well know, especially those of you who did not pass a lot of exams, is that passing exams, to a fair extent, is a skill, just like learning to ride a bicycle or learning to read music. Some people just happen to be good at passing exams. (In my youth, jealous or resentful people who were not good at passing exams used to call those people “swots”). Some people are just not good at passing exams.

There is a more interesting truth hiding behind the obsession with exam performance, namely that all that matters is the information that we cram into your child’s head over a limited period of time.

We have a much more expansive view of the word “education”. It is not about your child being able to remember most of the 10,000 things that Miss Smith taught you in History. Sure, remembering stuff is important. But one day, your child will no longer be in school, and they will then need new skills. As in, teaching themselves new skills and self-learning, especially when those skills apply to the whole of their lives, and not a narrow area that fits into a box or zone covered by education systems.

Education, for us, is about giving a child the tools and processes so that they can teach themselves as they move through life. Many successful people have little in the way of a formal education, and they are largely self-taught.

We also regard an integral part of education tools as including skills such as logical analysis and critical thinking. As you know, the world out there is full of what might politely be called Bullshit. Separating useful information from bullshit is a task that we all have to perform on a daily basis. Giving your child the tools to perform that fundamental task is, we believe, rather important, which is why you will find it on our curriculum as its own learning stream.

One item you will not find on our learning stream is Obedience Training. We are not in the business of forcing children to behave like well-behaved domestic pets or chattels, obeying any order, no matter how asinine. As you will no doubt know, many bad events in human history occurred when large groups of people did Bad Things collectively, because they had been told to do those Bad Things, and they automatically obeyed. We intend to reinforce respect, politeness, and honest inquiry. We are not in the business of mandating unquestioning obedience. We use various words and phrases to describe those kinds of societies. The most commonly used word is totalitarian, and it is not intended as praise or as a compliment.

Your child is not simply going to be shuttling between classes, forever learning Stuff. The school is also a social system, and your child will be learning social skills, many of which we do not explicitly teach, although we can provide help and guidance. Those social skills also include fundamentals like how to not be an ass.

  • It is not our job to create a clone of you and your worldview

Your children are likely to be heavily influenced by you, because they will grow up in your household, and will spend more time with you than they do with us. For that reason, we do not consider our task as being one of ensuring that your child ends up as a clone of you. Education is not an a la carte menu where you get to choose which worldviews your child is to be exposed to, and which attitudes you wish your child to be taught.

Respectfully, if your desire is that your child exactly matches your personal worldview, preferences and behavior, then I would suggest that you consider home schooling.

  • We will not prioritize your parental rights over the needs and requirements of the education process

While we value input and feedback from parents, we do not structure our curriculum around their needs, collective or individual. There is a state curriculum that we have to adopt or adapt, and that is legally required. As I said earlier, you cannot choose your child’s education from some a la carte menu where you get to discard all the bits you don’t like or which you consider to be irrelevant. Some of what we teach is non-negotiable. Some of it is a matter of customer choice (i.e. the child).

if you consider the curriculum to not meet your needs, then I would again, respectfully urge you to consider home-schooling.

  • We will not tolerate anti-social behavior or bullying

Lots of school districts say this. They (and we) have to, because our lawyers demand it. Then we usually get down to the business of ignoring bullying, because it’s a rite of passage, right? Stand up for yourself etc. etc. Plus, it is messy. Too much he said she said, “he made me do it”, and all of those other bullshit excuses or evasions that children learn from their parents or from other children.

We actually have a different practical approach. We simply do not tolerate it. If a child is found to be bullying, we will apply any necessary and appropriate sanction, up to and including expulsion, and, if necessary, activating law enforcement. If your child is behaving like a jerk or an ass, they will be held accountable. That’s part of the learning process, otherwise known as actions have consequences.

  • We will not change policy or strategy based on public meetings

Having seen the horrible results when school districts try to implement policy changes or make personnel decisions based on the excited or angry rantings of a small number of parents in a public forum, I am informing you that we do not intend to practice decision that way.

The members of the Education Committee and the School Board are elected by the electors (who, I would remind you, do include taxpayers who may not be parents at this point in time) to represent the electorate in school district policies, strategies and decisions. This is not a direct democracy. The school board meetings are not a policy-making or policy-changing forum.

We will not be taking input on school board decisions and actions from people who do not live in this district. They may have interesting views, but if they are education professionals, there are other avenues for them to express those views. If they happen to be citizens, they should be paying attention to what is going on on their own school district, not ours.

We will treat attendees and speakers at meetings fairly and in an adult manner. That will involve terminating their involvement in the meetings if they cannot or will not behave like sensible adults. You wouldn’t tolerate an asshat crashing your meeting or gathering and disrupting it. We are not going to tolerate it either.

We owe it to you to treat your children as well as possible as they move through childhood and adolescents. We also require you to move beyond the limiting idea of you as customers, and us as providers, towards an enlightened partnership to provide an environment where your children can learn to be themselves in a socially advantageous way for them and those around them, while acquiring both the knowledge and the tools to allow them to make their own way in life. At some point, they will leave your home, and our oversight, and they have to be as ready as we can make them for that time in their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Grapevine-Colleyville ISD

Dear GCISD,

Well, my my my.

You seem to be in a bit of a hole.

No, I take that back.

You are in a big hole. A deep, big, embarrassing hole. It is, at the very least, a major PR black hole. It may also be a legal hole.

You have a school principal now suspended (albeit on full pay) because you may have been paying attention and listening to the wrong people.

One of the enduring myths of service in the USA (although the myth does exist elsewhere) is that the Customer Is Always Right.

Logical, huh? After all, without customers, many businesses would cease to exist. So, if they need customers to survive and thrive, then those customers deserve the best service and deserve to be treated well.

However, as you will discover after a while, there is a difference between treating people well, and obsequiously catering to their every desire, need or want, even when that desire, need or want is batshit crazy, stupid, or, worse still, damaging to your business.

That is not catering to needs, or engaging in great customer service. That’s called pandering.

If you do not understand the road you are heading down, pandering leads to spineless capitulation to increasingly stupid and dangerous demands from people.

Based on what I have read, you are in this hole partly because you have been pandering to stupid, racist and irrelevant demands, either from parents, or from people purporting to represent parents.

This is stupid on several levels.

Firstly, it is stupid, because your parents are NOT your customers. The customers are your students. Your parents may be paying the bills for your students, via their school taxes, but your primary duty of care is to the students. If they flunk out of college because you gave them a shitty high school education, that’s on you. The parents have flunked nothing. You failed to prepare their children for that next phase of their education. You might want to remind the next parent that storms into your office and starts ranting about some real or perceived injustice that they are not your customer, their children are. Will it shut them up? Probably not. Entitled parents usually only shut up when they are breathing in, or when they are gagged. But it might make them think for a wee second.

Secondly, it is stupid, because, by essentially terminating the career in GCISD of the first African-American principal in the district (let’s not be cute here, by suspending him, you have made it impossible for him to continue in his role), you are begging the asking of all sorts of awkward questions. Question #1 is Why. Absent a compelling, legally viable answer to that question, Question #2 will show up really quickly. Question #2 is “how come this just happened to the first African-American principal?”.

As politicians are fond of saying, amidst their massive collection of in-group cliches, Question #2 has terrible optics. You and I both know what the subtext is, and it is a bad subtext. Really bad.

So what is the answer to Question #1?

Well, that is where you start to look even more stupid. Based on what I have read, (and here is an article from NBCDFW), in 2019 you decided to criticize the principal, based on the discovery of pictures of him and his wife on the beach…on social media. This was not a nude beach, both the principal and his wife were wearing clothing, and several of the images, clearly taken by a professional photographer, seemed to comprise a re-enactment of the famous beach seduction scene from the movie “From Here To Eternity“. A movie that these days is regarded as classic, good old fashioned entertainment.

The word seemingly used in communications about the photos was “questionable”. If that is what you think, then OK. What questions do you have about them?

I think you should have to answer. You don’t get to use ambiguous words in a statement and not have to explain them. That’s not how the world works. You’re accountable to the citizens of Grapevine and Colleyville.

But, since the photos were clearly taken in the principal’s private time (on vacation), I think I already have a question for you. Whose damned business is it anyway?

You employ (or in reality, you did employ) James Whitfield to lead and manage a middle school. You do not own him. He is not a slave or an indentured servant. You have no control over his life outside of school time. You do expect him (as is your right) to uphold the standards of the district in his life, but photos of him with his wife on vacation cannot be said in any way to be a bad reflection on the school district.

So, my question stands. Who in the school district leadership thought this was any of your damned business? Because from where I am viewing this, any admonishment to him about the visibility of the photos was irrelevant, vexatious and way out of line. It was, quite simply, an abuse of power.

But continuing with Question #1 (Why?), it now seems that you suspended James Whitfield, not for this supposed infraction, but possibly because some parents, in July 2021, accused him of teaching Critical Race Theory in the school.

This is even more stupid. First of all, as a principal, I would be surprised if he actually does any significant teaching. So if Critical Race Theory was (or is) being taught, he probably wasn’t teaching it.

Secondly, your job is not to pander to the curriculum demands of a few parents. They are not your customers (remember what I said earlier?) There is also an old saying that empty vessels make the most noise. If you did not poll all of the parents at the middle school (and no, you do not ask parents from other schools, and you especially do NOT listen to people with no skin in the game, like non-residents) to determine if these parents are at all representative of the views of all of the parents, you were professionally negligent.

A few loud, yelling parents does not mean anything in the grand scheme of things. You know as well as I do that there are always unhappy parents, for many different reasons, and you cannot please everybody all of the time. That is NOT your job, partly because it is impossible, and partly because it elevates the loud whinings of the few to a higher level of importance than the quiet of the many.

You also should not be paying attention to and readily accepting hyperbolic claims being made by former candidates for School board positions, like Stetson Clark. Hyperbole is a poor basis for credible argument. You should also be putting accusers on the spot. If you were an observer in a court room, you would expect to see prosecution witnesses being cross-examined in order to validate or expose flaws, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in their statements or testimony.

If an angry parent gets up in front of me and accuses one of my leaders of teaching Critical Race Theory, I am going to want to see if that person can answer one or two fundamental questions:

  1. What is your definition of Critical Race Theory (HINT: A lot of people cannot define it, because they are using it as a weaponized slogan)
  2. What compelling evidence do you have that it is being taught in a school in this district

Answers to (2) that are hearsay or speculation, like “some people told me that they think that the school might be teaching it” need to be filleted up and tossed back on the ground. Preferably buried underground where they belong.

You have to perform due diligence, otherwise you start to look credulous, gullible and professionally negligent. If you didn’t do that sort of due diligence, shame on you.

Oh yes. You should have gaveled Stetson Clark off the podium immediately, the second time he violated the meeting rule by mentioning Dr. Whitfield’s name. You warned him once, he ignored the rule and the warning, which showed that he was not acting in good faith. That cancels any obligation on your part to let him continue speaking. The rules are there for a reason.

The fact that you suspended James Whitfield with no explanation is just…optically bad. There is no good way of explaining that event. You suspended him on full pay, which suggests that you currently lack any case to terminate him for cause, or presumably you would have already done so.

Your failure to articulate any reason for the suspension, given the fact that he is African-American, is, given the recent allegations and other past events, the equivalent of sending up a large hot-air balloon with “pandering to race-based fear” stenciled on the side of it in very large letters. Optics. Abysmal. There are good legal reasons for staying silent, but that is not a good place for a school district to be for any length of time.

If you had evidence that the school was teaching Critical Race Theory, where is it? If you had any other evidence of malfeasance, where is it? You should have, at the least, had all of this sorted out before the news leaked out that he has been suspended. Instead, right now James Whitfield can play the aggrieved party. He is actually being very restrained, probably because he is already being advised by lawyers.

The prior abuse of power over his family images means that, in my humble opinion, James Whitfield is probably sitting at home right now, trying to decide exactly which prestigious firm of employment lawyers will represent him in his upcoming lawsuit against the GCISD. I suspect that your options, unless you have a compelling non-public reason for action, might center around how many zeroes to the left of the decimal point his compensation check will prevent him from dragging you all the way through discovery. Discovery would result in the reasons for his suspension becoming public domain.

There is going to be collateral damage. Like appearing at the top of Google Search for the wrong reasons. Instead of your glorious football teams, the search results will show lines like “terminated principal wins settlement after suspension following Critical Race Theory allegations”.

You could have avoided this mess, if you had actually engaged in proper dialogue with ranting parents, and then thought long and hard before reacting. Parents are not always right, and you should not be pandering to their worst behavioral impulses.

My message to the School board:  Those of you who supported this train-wreck have dragged down the name of the entire GCISD, and have sent the message to the outside world that both Grapevine and Colleyville have dysfunctional school districts, where scurrilous rumors and abusive speculation can override sound, ethical and visionary leadership. The school district and the cities now look like repositories of casual suburban racism. You’re culpable for helping to convert the school district to a poster child for that, a place where no sensible leader is going to want to work. If there is any justice in the world, you need to be voted out of office at your next election.

My message to the School district leadership that made these decisions: If you worked for me, I would give you all 24 hours to resign, or I would terminate all of you for cause. The causes would be: abuse of power, gullibility, pandering, and total failure of leadership.

My message to the parents who did not want James Whitfield removed:  This is what happens when a loud and malevolent minority seizes control of the dialogue. The school district leadership and the school board did not represent your interests, and you need to be much more vigilant. Crackpots and wackaloons can easily be elected to or influence school boards. You will have to make sure it does not happen in future.

UPDATEThe school district has issued this statement which seems to list all of the reasons that were not causes for the suspension of Principal Whitfield.

I am not sure exactly why they did this, but I have to assume that it is part of a legal CYA process for them. It would have been better for them to have said absolutely nothing. The statement cannot answer the question of why they suspended him. The reasons will not be revealed unless the district has no choice, but if he decides to sue the district, and there is no settlement, that will end up being revealed in discovery.

I would bet that any lawsuit, if there is one, will be settled confidentially. The complaint, if there is one, will probably be some form of hostile work environment complaint, based on the abuse of power over the photos and the failure to defend him and his school from the rush to judgement on the allegations of the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

UPDATE 2A Twitter user who thinks that Principal Whitfield is playing the race card and whining about white fragility directed me to this website.

This website is new, having been created on or shortly after April 7th 2021. The domain creator is hidden, and the site, superficially, tries to look like a non-partisan site that covers events and policy in the school district.

That only lasts until their page on Critical Race Theory, which is a distorted strawman collection, pushing all of the white fear and resentment buttons. It contains the usual slew of allegations, with several cut-and-paste polemics, including one from the Heritage Organization, containing lines like “Critical race theory is an ideology which maintains that the United States is a fundamentally racist country”. It is the usual theme of “people need to stop talking the country down and instead talk it up, and stop trying to make us look and feel bad”.  The writer of the web page even shows the cover of the book “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo at the top. I am not sure how they think that makes their complaints about CRT any more credible, because to my reading eye, what is on the rest of the page kind of proves most of the point she was making in the book. (Not that the book is that good, since, as many reviewers pointed out, it is long on diagnosis and short on suggested solutions).

UPDATE – The GCISD board has, by unanimous vote, proposed not renewing Dr. Whitfield’s contract, which expires at the end of the school year. Based on this article from CNN, it seems that the board, aware that violation of due process will likely result in legal action, are attempting to obey a formal administrative process of asking Whitfield to respond to the allegations against him.

The meeting was, by all accounts, dominated by supporters of Dr. Whitfield, who all spoke in his favor in the public comments period. Dr. Whitfield was also there and spoke briefly. The list of accusations against him does not look substantive. When I read that the allegations against him include claims that he was “insubordinate”, “unreasonable” and “disrespectful”, my BS detector is triggered. I have heard these phrases used in the past in a post hoc justification of terminations. They are allegations largely based on perceived style, and without specific examples, they end up sounding to many neutral observers like “we didn’t like the person on a personal level”. To an African-American person, this also reads like a variant of the classic complaint of white racists about AA people being “uppity” and “not knowing their place”. Whitfield has apparently requested that as much as possible of the process be held in public. This, to me, suggests that he intends to try and put the school district in a hole of their own making over his imminent non-retention.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out the obvious; that the public falling-out with Dr. Whitfield is going to have a negative impact on the district’s ability to recruit teachers and administrators.

 

 

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Shevlin Media – rules for interviewees

Dear politicians,

Here at Shevlin Media, we are seekers of the facts. Not polite or impolite fiction, bullshit or other forms of evasion, deflection, ducking and weaving.

We know that for many of you, those forms of interactions have always been collegial and pleasant, an opportunity for you to show up with pre-baked talking points that you then get to repeat over and over again. Then we thank you for allowing us to question you, and you keep being invited back.

Those days are gone.

In future, all of our guests will be operating to a new set of rules. As follows:

  1. You will stay on topic and answer our questions

When we ask you a question, we expect you to answer that question. Not a different version of the question, or a completely different question.

So if you show up intending to recite a collection of talking points that bear little or no relation to the questions we intend to ask, we will stop you and remind you that you are not answering the question. if you persist in not answering the question we will remind our viewers that you did not answer the question. And we will keep reminding our viewers of this, just to ram the message home.

2. You will not interrupt the questioner or other guests 

Interrupting somebody else in a question-and-answer or debate dialogue is at best discourteous, and at worst is a form of bullying. We will not do that to you, and we expect you to not do it to us or other guests. We will operate to a three strikes rule. If  you violate the rule more than three times, the interview will be terminated.

If you persistently refuse to obey these rules, we reserve the right to immediately terminate an interview, and ask you to leave the studio. If you will not obey the rules and you will not answer our questions, you’re wasting our time, and that of our viewers.

If you show up and don’t play by the rules, don’t expect another invite. We are under no legal obligation to invite you online. There is no Fairness doctrine governing our guest appearance policies, so if you decide that you will not appear on our network, that is your call, but we will probably then have a lot more airtime to give to your opponents, and non-politicians, who tend to be a lot better at answering questions in any case. We will be casting our guest net a lot wider in the future.

If you don’t want to come on to answer our questions, because you only want to answer your own questions, so be it. We might invite actual experts on instead, to talk about important topics. We will invite anybody who agrees to appear according to these rules, and we will be happy to invite people back if they show that they can operate according to these rules.

 

 

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“You Work For Me” – The Tell and how to respond

From time to time, anybody who works in government and deals with members of the public will encounter a member of said public, usually a person who is riled up for some reason, who unleashes the imperious statement “You work for me”.

This is a Tell, on several different levels.

Firstly, it is a clear attempt to establish dominance in the encounter. It is a form of bullying. The subtext of “You work for me” is “you will do what I want”. This is a variation of the other classic dominance gambit used by angry customers – “Do You Know Who I am?”

Secondly, it is an attempt to link taxpayer funding of government to the need for government to be responsive and deferential to the taxpayers that fund it.

The problem with the second line of reasoning is that it is defective on two grounds:

  1. The taxpayer yelling “you work for me” is probably, when you do the math, contributing, at most, a few cents of the salary of the person that they are yelling at
  2. The person they are yelling at works for a leader in the organization that controls what they do and how they do it. Not the yelling member of the public.

The big question in all of this is how the government employee should react to the demanding, possibly yelling customer.

Well, leaving aside obvious push-backs such as “shut the f**k up and sit down”, no matter how tempting those might be, here is my suggested answer.

“You help to fund this organization, but I report to a leader who controls what I do and how I do it, so no, I do not work for you.”

Crisp, correct, and hopefully not too inflammatory.

Ultimately, the primary thing to remember is that a person using this line is trying to bully a government employee to get what they want. You cannot negotiate with a bully. They regard attempts to negotiate as a sign of weakness, a signal that they can bully you some more. So meek acceptance or attempts to placate this kind of verbal abuse are not likely to be effective. Firm, authoritative push-back, sending the message “I will not be bullied, so try something else” is required.

 

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A blunt and honest letter from a UK politician

Dear UK voters,

I thought it was time that we, the politicians, (you know, those people that you love to hate), told you the honest, blunt, unvarnished, non-spun truth about a few issues.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. More BS from self-serving corrupt nincompoops.

For sure, a lot of us are exactly like that. But, let’s start with the biggest and, for you, the most embarrassing fact.

You voted for us, consistently and persistently for decades.

So when you sit at home watching the TV on your sofa, or sit on your barstool at the Dog and Duck, whingeing about “shysters”, “arseholes”, and using other choice words, you need to remember; you almost certainly had other choices when you voted at the last few elections.

And you chose us to be your elected representatives.

Now, if you say “but a majority of us didn’t vote for you guys”, well, that is probably true. We are in power, with this very nice majority, because there is an election system in the UK known as “first past the post”, where the person getting the most votes in a constituency gets to be an MP, and every other candidate gets to keep their rosettes, posters and concession speeches and wonder What Might Have Been. We also benefit from the fact that an awful lot of you seem to be incapable of actually, you know, moving your arses from those sofas or barstools to go down the road to a polling station and vote. The fewer of you that vote, the easier it is for us to win those elections.

Now, if you don’t like that system, I have to remind you that you all had a chance to implement a different electoral system in 2011. And you voted to keep this current one. So, this is what YOU voted for. Again.

You’re sensing a pattern here? You should. Because I am about to remind you of some of your other decisions.

At this point, I can sense some of you are mouthing “f**k this” and preparing to leave the room. You can do so, but that is a Tell. It tells me, even if you haven’t realized it yet, that you are in Denial. Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is that comfortable place where we all like to live, where our beliefs and worldviews are correct, everything in the garden is rosy, and there are no Big Problems.

Right now, as I am sure you have noticed, we have at least two Big Problems.

One of those is the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, which continues into the foreseeable future. I will be frank, everybody in the UK has not done a good job of handling Covid-19. We, your elected representatives, talked ourselves out of listening to experts, because, well, they use big words, and sound aloof, so it is easy for us to take cheap shots at them in order to rile up the guys and gals in the cheap seats. Sometimes the experts are wrong, because they are humans, and then we get to act all smug and say “see! Those experts were wrong AGAIN!”, and then we think that gives us credibility (and reduces their credibility) so that after a while we can come on TV and say utter fucking nonsense like “well, I think the British public has had quite enough of experts, don’t you?”

The second problem is Brexit. You, I have to remind you, also voted for this. Those of us who are going to be honest know what made you vote for it. You were pissed off because, in common with most politicians who believe in laissez-faire economic policies, we allowed ourselves to react to a recession starting in 2009 by cutting government spending, when we should have increased it, in order to support the less fortunate and more vulnerable in society. That led to wholesale cuts in public services and economic assistance, which in turn led a lot of you to conclude that we don’t give a damn about you, the majority of the people.

It’s true. We don’t really care enough about you because, well, you don’t fund us. We’re whores, for sale to the highest bidder. At least privately. And the main reason that we are whores is that, well, we’re paid terribly. In return for the important and extraordinary responsibility of representing potentially hundreds of thousands of voters in Parliament, we get a base salary of 82k a year. This is chickenfeed, when compared to jobs of a similar responsibility in private business. What it means, in practical terms, is that unless we are already financially secure (in which case we probably live in a bubble and we will be clueless about your careabouts and challenges), we will be whoring ourselves out from the moment we announce that we intend to run for elective office. And the sort of people that we like when we’re whores are people who hand us large wads of cash at frequent intervals, in return for certain “considerations” when we make decisions and draft government bills. The sort of people who can hand out sufficient cash in one fell swoop are the likes of big business, and oligarchs (like those nice Russians and other mind-bogglingly rich people who live in the UK, some of whom happen to own football teams). Not you, the common people.

This could change, if you are prepared to accept that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys. But whenever the idea of a pay rise is floated for politicians, the media comes down on the idea like a ton of bricks, and whips you up into a frenzy from your sofas and bar stools, and the idea often dies on the vine, with people suddenly retreating at high speed, saying “it was just a thought…we didn’t really mean it!”. And so you continue to pay peanuts to your elected representatives, and we will continue to whore ourselves out in private, usually to the highest bidder.Anyway, I slightly digressed.

Brexit. Ah yes.

The other challenge with Brexit is that we have not been telling you for decades about how important the EU has become, and how closely our entire economy had been integrated into a single European market. So we allowed a polite fiction, that of an independent Britain, to become ingrained in the minds of many people. Too many people.

The reason we did this was that our party has been split on the fundamental question of whether the UK being in the EU was a good thing. For decades. Not just us. The Labour Party has had the same problem. They call themselves Eurosceptics. Like most of what they say, that’s total bullshit. They have always been reflexively and dogmatically anti-EU. I’ll come back to that in a minute. Every time somebody in our party said something good about the EU, all of the baying hounds would rise up and say shit like “No! EU stuffed full of unelected bureaucrats imposing United States of Socialist Europe!”.

Like I say, total bullshit. But we were scared of these folks, because they would threaten to rebel and vote against some important bill or piece of legislation, or make our lives miserable in other ways, and they would keep pointing at the UKIP and other racist shit-stirrers and crackpots and say things like “if we don’t fight the EU, those guys will eat our lunch”. So we kept kow-towing to the Eurosceptics by being reluctant to say anything good about the EU in public. This, as you might expect, made the EU wonder about just how committed we were to being good members of the EU.

Starting in 2013, the anti-EU faction began pissing and moaning, and the UKIP began taking support away from us with their nativist anti-European claptrap. So, just like the whoring weathervanes that we are, we tried to out-UKIP the UKIP, by getting all tough with the EU, demanding and negotiating concessions, and agreeing to demands for a referendum. We figured that once enough people realized that being in the EU was a good thing, we would win the referendum.

Well, we got that wrong, didn’t we? We didn’t realize how pissed-off you were with politicians generally, and we also screwed up our entire Remain messaging, to the point where “Remain” sounded like a meek acceptance of a bad deal, where “Leave” sounded brave, action-oriented. We also allowed the Leave supporters to use empty weaponized slogans like “take back control” and “sovereignty” without demanding that they actually define what the hell those words and phrases meant. Oh yes, and writing codswallop on the side of a big red bus.

The fact that many of the Leave supporters were charlatans, all mouth and no trousers, was something that we were too polite to point out. They were impolite enough to complain about “Remainers” and propose a Brave New Global Britain, without actually explaining any of what that meant or how it would work. But we are not in a position to complain that much, because we had spent 20+ years miserably failing to explain how the EU worked and why being a member of it was a Good Thing for the UK.

So Leave won the referendum.

Now, remember what I said about us being whores? The other thing I forgot to mention is that we love power. We do a good job of hiding it in public. After all, nobody is going to be impressed by a candidate that says “actually the reason I want to be an MP is not so that I can serve you, the voters. Did you come down from the hillside with the last rainstorm or something? No, I am in this for money, attention and my own ego. And to shag that nice little number in the office round the corner”.

That is what we call Saying The Quiet Bits Out Loud. It may be truthful, but you should have realized by now that most humans would rather hear simple bullshit than complex truths (especially if it fits on that bus, or if it makes for a snappy tabloid newspaper headline). So we learn to say All The Right Things, like “I exist to serve you, the electorate”. Then, once elected or re-elected, we get down to the serious business of Whoring In Private.

Because we are whores, and we love power, we tend to forget about principles. If we were principled, those of us who thought that Brexit was a batshit crazy idea (which is most of us) would have resigned from office and parliament shortly after the referendum, explaining that we could not, in all good conscience, try to implement a decision that we profoundly disagreed with. Yeah, no. The money and the power took over. So you got to see most of an entire generation of guys and gals in our party swallow hard and say shit like “we will respect the vote, and negotiate to leave the EU”. Then we proceeded to adopt all of those silly weaponized slogans that Leave had used, and started acting all tough in public, because when the people that voted for you have voted for you because they are angry and vengeful, you have to pretend, at least in public, that you agree with them. We not only know how to whore, we also know how to pander.

Unfortunately, because nobody had seriously thought that You, The Voters, would be dumb enough or uninformed enough to vote Leave, we had no strategy or plan to negotiate our way out of the EU. So then we had to try and create one. This, as you will have noticed, proved to be impossible, so that after 3 and a bit years of dicking about, we were still locked in negotiations with the EU, with no end in sight, and no real strategy, other than empty cliches like “sovereignty” and the New Grand Phrase, “Global Britain”.

At that point, late in 2019, there was another General Election. That was great for us, partly because we presented ourselves as bellicose defenders of the Mighty UK, and partly because our political rivals, to use that old phrase, couldn’t have organized a piss-up in a brewery when it came to having a unified position on Brexit. We offered that elusive, totally bullshit-based, but powerful-sounding item to the electorate. Certainty. Backed up with some more tough-talk that we know is bullshit, but which you folks and those tabloid newspapers that you read seem to love. I mean, Boris may be a total bullshitter, but “oven ready deal” certainly went down well with the tabloids.

It worked. We won by a country mile. Having talked tough, we then went back to acting all tough with the EU, but we still didn’t have a strategy, and as you noticed, our leader is a bullshitting arsehole, so everything since then has been a shambles. We now have the worst of all possible outcomes, including a virtual border down the Irish sea, which is causing all sorts of problems in Northern Ireland, a fisheries policy which has reduced many of our fisherman to impotent penury, and all manner of restrictions rules and processes that we now have to obey simply to send a paper clip to the EU. And we have border personnel behaving like arseholes, because we have an arsehole as Home Secretary.

So when you ask “has Brexit been a disaster”, those of us who are honest will say Yes, of course it is a disaster. We have a minimal trade agreement with the EU, and if you think that Liz Truss is out there signing fantastic trade deals with all of those countries that the UK has been unfairly neglecting for decades in favor of the Big Bad EU, and that those trade deals will magically replace our trade deals with the EU, then I have a bridge near New York to sell you. Really cheap of course. Particularly if it has a trade agreement thrown in, haha.

Now, remember what I said earlier about the town named Denial? The one where most of you live? Well, this where it comes into play. If we were to be brutally honest, we would, at this point, be saying to you, the voters, “this is is a disaster, it is going to become a bigger disaster, and you voted for it. “.

We won’t say that. And if you look across the other side of the political spectrum, you will notice that very few folks on that other side are saying that at all. The reason is that you, the voters, don’t really want to hear it. You don’t want to hear it because when you are in Denial, you will ignore any information that conflicts with the voice in your head.

Too many of you, to be blunt, are still living somewhere between Lalaland and Cloudcuckooland. The reality is that if you leave the club, you don’t get to keep the membership benefits. So all of those benefits of being in the EU, the ones that we obtained by virtue of being in the single market, and the customs union? Those benefits have all gone away.

We decided we had to leave the single market because freedom of movement was an integral part of the single market, and we found out a long time ago that many of you think that “freedom of movement” means “totally uncontrolled borders where any darkie can waltz in on a boat across the Channel and collect lots of government handouts and steal Our Jobs”.

I have to tell you, you bought bullshit from the tabloids. The dirty little secret is that you lived in a country where, whether you liked this or not, or even understood it, we did a Faustian bargain decades ago. We allowed immigrants in, and expected them to do all of those shitty dirty low-end jobs that we had decided were Not Good Enough For Us. In return we let them stay around. When we, the macro-economically stupid government, imposed what is now generally known as “austerity” starting in 2010, you all began to resent these folks, and the tabloids invented the mantra “they’re taking our jobs!” The fact that we are now short a few tens of thousands of lorry drivers, and tens of thousands of agricultural labourers, should be a large hint that we broke the Faustian bargain, by leaving the EU and cutting off that supply of willing workers.

At some point, enough of you are going to realize that Brexit, in its current form, is a disaster. Then you will get angry.

Some of you are already angry, but as is normal, you’re getting angry at the wrong people. It’s no use you complaining that Remainers are mean or negative. They owe you nothing. They voted against leaving the EU, so blaming them is like complaining that the guys who wouldn’t jump off the cliff at the same time as you are refusing to fall.

And, although my colleagues like to pretend that the EU is being mean to us, this is all performative bullshit for show and to show you that we are still With You. The EU is simply imposing rules about what it is like to be a third country dealing with them on matters of trade and movement of people. Those are rules that we helped to write over the last 40+ years. I think the old British Navy phrase for this state of affairs is “hoist by your own petard”.

As for the complaint “this isn’t what I voted for”, that is both true and false. You DID vote for Brexit, albeit by a narrow majority. What you didn’t have a clue about (because it wasn’t part of the referendum question) was what form Brexit was going to take. That’s down to us expecting the answer to the referendum to be Remain. Also, we’re stupid, unlike Switzerland where they run referendums frequently, and where they would have actually asked 2 questions (1) do you want to leave (2) if you want to leave, how do you want to leave? With the referendum question as it was, anybody saying “I know what I voted for” is really saying “I had some idea about what Brexit should comprise at the time, I expected that to be the final version of Brexit, and now Brexit has happened, I don’t like it much”.

Of course, there were lots of charlatans and bullshitters (with names like Farage) telling you that you could have your cake and eat it. You believed them? Well, I can be tough and say that’s not my problem, but in reality most of us kept quiet when we should have said “that is not going to work”. Instead we were worried by the constant drumbeat of “will of the people” being promoted by the Brexit charlatans and the tabloids.

By the way, “will of the people” is a phrase historically used, a lot, by fascists and demagogues. But I digress again.

Brexit is a disaster, and will result in an acceleration of the decline of the United Kingdom. If you look at the history of the UK, we passed our peak as a country a long time ago. We should have realized this when the US forced us and France to withdraw from Suez in 1956, and we had a second chance to learn when we had to devalue the Pound and get a standby loan from the IMF in the 1960s. But instead of realistic acceptance, we ended up with the ludicrous “I’m Backing Britain” campaign, which lasted all of…ooh, about 4 months. I could point out the acute similarity between “I’m Backing Britain” and “Global Britain”, but I won’t.

So, many people in the UK continue to live in that pleasant place named Denial, convinced that we are still an empire. I hate to break it to some of you, but a few collections of distant islands are not really an empire, and our Special Relationship with the USA is, ahem, in a spot of bother because Boris supported Donald Trump, who is no longer around, and pissed off Joe Biden, who is still around. So we are short of friends. This is one of the realities that your tabloid newspapers never seem to discuss.

Brexit may also result in a break-up of the UK. A lot of Scottish people are angry, and I don’t blame them. Scotland voted Remain, and we are acting like arseholes. That is because a lot of us are scared. Our leader is a bully, and when bullies cannot get their way, they get all obnoxious and, well, more arseholey.

Not a lot of what I have talked about will change, until You, The Voters, start thinking a lot more about what you want from your politicians and elected representatives. You keep electing the same sorts of people to elective office, and that is not a recipe for change.

As long as you pay us peanuts, for example, you can expect us to be money-grubbing, expense-chasing whores. We have a living to make, and quite a few of us can be fired by you at election time, so we have to safeguard our personal and family futures. Plus, you know, we can get addicted to nice stuff, like expense accounts, chauffeur-driven cars, and that nice little number in the office round the corner.

If you vote against proportional representation, you can expect the scenario where more people vote against the ruling party to continue. That’s how first-past-the-post works.

if you vote for a strategic direction change for the entire country without knowing or understanding what that actually translates to in practice or impact, you get something like Brexit. Put it this way, if somebody says “let’s go on a journey to Nirvana” and you say “great! how do we get there?” and the person responds “no clue, but I’m sure we can find our way there eventually”, you might reasonably ask “is this a person I want to travel with?”. That’s what happened when you voted in 2016. You probably don’t want to do that again.

Oh yes…forget all of that “sunlit uplands” nonsense. It sounds great if you really like that hymn “Jerusalem”, but it’s just another one of those tabloid slogans.

I am prepared to bet money that within 5 years we (those shysters and arseholes) will be telling you that the UK needs to be starting a dialogue with the EU to re-join the Single Market and the Customs Union. Whether the EU will want us back is a whole different matter. We haven’t exactly been covering ourselves in glory when talking with EU representatives in the last few years, and our behavior in public has been even worse. Sitting in the EU parliament chamber, chanting football yahoo slogans and waving Union Jacks may look good to drunkards at the Dog and Duck, but I have to point out that it made the UK look like a country dominated by arseholes who elected a lot of arseholes as MEPs.

Cynically, some of you who voted for Brexit will be dead in a few years’ time, so why should you care anyway? I suspect that your children and grandchildren will be the ones who have to wise up and try to vote for the right people to stop the accelerating decline of the UK. We already slipped from #5 to #6 in GDP over the last several years. Not long before we do not qualify for those nice G7 meetings where our Prime Minister gets to strut around looking all powerful and important.

I have to get back to more governmental bullshit now. Something involving “sovereignty” and lorry drivers.

 

 

 

 

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Trump and anti-vax partisans – the deep hole of Denial

Once in a while in life, one comes across one or more individuals who have backed themselves into a corner or dug themselves into a hole over an issue or an event.

They usually defend their position by repeating the same general rhetoric over and over again, peppered with tough-sounding justification phrases like “it’s the principle!” (that, folks, is a really big Tell that you are dealing with somebody who is dug in and not coming out).

The ultimate fate for these people (which some of them actually come to embrace) is martyrdom. Martyrdom, giving up your entire life for a cause, be it personal or a group cause, removes you from the planet, but probably gets you into the history books. Ashli Babbitt, one of the January 6th insurrectionists, who was shot and fatally wounded while attempting to break into a secure area inside the Capitol building, is being re-born as a martyr as I write this.

Cults and cult followers often end up in a hole, sometimes because they collectively break laws, or because they adopt ideological positions that are incoherent, self-contradictory, or in many cases, totally at variance with reality. When a belief system does not match reality, it becomes a collection of delusions.

Right now, in the USA and the UK, there are millions of people who have adopted beliefs totally at variance with reality. Those people are trapped in a worldview that they adopted. They are also usually surrounded by people who have identical or mostly similar worldviews. Those people are their social circle, comprising friends, family, church and other sources of social and ideological validation. Those sources provide powerful and continual reinforcement.

The insistence by supporters of Donald Trump that he won the November 2020 Presidential election, for example, is being perpetuated today, 9 months after the election concluded with him losing the Electoral College to Joe Biden. The delusion that Trump won extends far beyond the insistence that he was in fact the winner. There are people out there insisting that Trump really is in charge, and that the images of President Biden are digital manipulations, and that Biden is under arrest or has been executed. To an observer who deals in facts, the people making these claims look utterly deluded, and are living somewhere between Lalaland and Cloudcuckooland.

Any attempt to engage with these people on social media is largely futile, except for the grim amusement of seeing how many ways they can contradict themselves in the course of a discussion, and how many more and more bizarre methods of rationalization they can invent. Their fundamental convictions and beliefs remain fixed, immovable, and insistent. When stressed by contrary fact, they act like 8 year olds found stealing from the cookie jar, throwing tantrums, blocking people and ultimately stalking off in a huff.

I have yet to see a single person in this group admit to making a mistake. Nor do I expect to. The reason, as explained in this article, is that people dug into a defective worldview are sustained in that worldview by their social world, which is their primary support system. They are not going to pay attention to any perceived opponents, since those people are outside of their social circle already. Nor are they going to pay much attention to experts, which explains the parallel (and often overlapping) resistance of anti-vaccine individuals to inputs from epidemiologists and medical professionals. An experienced epidemiologist on TV doesn’t stand a chance next to Fred down at church.

A parallel contributory factor to the communication failure is the infantilization of communication and interaction in the modern USA. Covid-19 has magnified this tendency by dramatically limiting social interaction opportunities, where people congregate together for extended periods of time to discuss all manner of subjects. Now, instead of talking over dinner or drinks, exploring issues, people huddle over smartphones and consume limited-bandwidth soundbites that neatly summarize a complex issue down to binary math. This good, that bad. Me good, you bad. This helps to explain why so many partisans, especially Republicans, seem to have adopted the interaction style of emotionally stunted adolescents, complete with all of the signs of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. “You’re not the boss of me!” is merely a different version of the adolescent foot-stamping cries of “Shan’t” and “You can’t make me!” that most parents get to hear at some time in their life as parents. Of course, most adolescents eventually do learn how to Adult, at least most of the time. But right now, when it comes to political issues, an awfully large number of people seem to have regressed to adolescence, or something preceding adolescence.

They are, to some extent, taking their cues from above. Donald Trump’s communication style, right now, is that of a jilted, emotionally injured adolescent. One thing I have had to come to terms with is that people spend far too much time imitating those above them, and too little time asking the question “is this person talking or acting like a dick?”

The evidence is all around us that being pro-Trump and being anti-vaccine are positions which are deluded, and dangerous for the collective welfare of society.

Desperate supporters of Trump believe that insurrection is a valid tool for redressing their electoral grievances, since Trump told them that the election system is corrupt and rigged, which therefore justifies seizing power by other means.

Anti-vaccine activists believe that harassment, intimidation and refusal are valid tactics, despite all of the visible evidence that people that refuse vaccination are harming not only themselves, but also their families and wider society. One would think that the sheer numbers of prominent people who ranted against vaccines, only to contract Covid-19 and die from its effects, would be having some impact on anti-vaccine activists. So far, the impact seems to be limited.

The big question is how long the Trump and anti-vaccine cults (when you examine their collective behavior, the parallels to religious cults are obvious) will keep up their collective and individual positions.

The likely answer is: quite some time. We are dealing with people who are in the first stage of change: Denial. The other stages, classically analyzed by psychologists, are Anger, Bargaining, Acceptance and Commitment.

This, as you will have noticed, is the classic transition that all addicts go through. And, as Nick Carmody has pointed out, the supporters of Trump show all of the signs of addicts, in that they eagerly accept and like any information that reinforces their convictions that they are right. Any and all information of that type gives them self-validation, the dopamine high of “see! I am right!”.

Right now, the rapid transition of Trump partisans to anger when their delusions are challenged tells me that many of them are in the transition from Denial to Anger. This is dangerous, since angry people tend to do stupid things as individuals, and as groups, can do terrible things to others. I would not be surprised if highly hyped individuals try to assassinate or attack politicians and government officials who are seen as supporters of Biden or supporters of authoritarian measures related to Covid-19 mitigation. There is plenty of evidence of this latent anger, in the form of activists harrassing and threatening medical professionals and people wearing masks. (Ironically, in Florida, the state government is adopting the Orwellian position that being required to wear a mask at school can be defined as harassment).

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God admits to causing Great Flood – “it was an oops” says God

Heaven, August 3rd 2021: In a press release from Heaven, God, nearly 4000 years after the event, issued a belated apology for the Great Flood that required Noah to build a massive container ship to preserve the Earth’s animal species.

“Yeah, well, that was a boo-boo on my part”, he said, after stopping part-way through creating yet another variant of the Covid-19 virus. (“I decided to throw the whitecoats another curveball”, he said by way of explanation). “I left the shower on in the bathroom and went for a long weekend to party with Satan, and when I came back there was water everywhere. You should see the water bill for that month. Horrible. It could be worse though. I did tell that guy to build a boat and capture two of every living thing. Otherwise I would have had to make all of those animals from scratch, and I lost the CAD plans for some of them. Can you imagine how much time it takes to model a rhinoceros or a lobster? And it is just as well I had whistled up that volcano group, Ararat or whatever, when I built Asia Minor, or Noah would have been totally SOL, haha.“

Asked about the Plagues, God sighed. “Yeah, well, one of those was a SNAFU with the local Celestial Depot. Those DIY stores keep running out of pesticides in the Spring, ya know? Otherwise I might have been able to stop that locust thingy.”

God excused himself at that point. “Sorry, gotta go. I have to go sort out the earthquake and hurricane schedule. You guys are pissing all over the environment, so things are going to be a lot more hectic down there in the near future. “

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Bill is…not content

Bill sits at his old seat in the bar. He got it back tonight by showing up early.  Mutt is lying under the chair, snoozing it up.

Officially Mutt is not supposed to be in the bar at all (those damn hygiene regulations or some such) but since Bill is a regular, almost as old as the beams holding up the roof, Lance lets him bring Mutt in in the evenings, although he warned Bill that if he hears that any city guys are coming in, Mutt will need to temporarily make himself scarce.

Bill has his usual tall Miller Light in front of him. He is watching Fox News, as ever. Tucker is on a roll, yelling about those ungrateful sons of bitches in Tokyo, who won’t salute the flag properly. Damn it, why did they select them in the first place? Lance used to call that soccer player woman with the pink hair Megan Rap Music. Bill liked that, he understands the joke, making her out to be black when she is very white. And bent as a three-dollar bill, haha.

He takes another gulp of Miller. Things are different here. Since Randy disappeared, it hasn’t been quite as friendly. They have a new barman, Dave. Randy hasn’t worked out where Dave is coming from, but the signs are not good. Why, the other day Bill walked in (well, it was a bad day, he limped in on his cane) and the damn TV was showing CNN. What is this shit? Where was the American television station? A quick word to Lance, and Fox was back. But Bill suspects that Dave, who is a lot younger than Randy, is not One Of Us. His suspicions were aroused the other day when a video of Biden came up on Fox, and Bill growled “not for long”. Dave asked “what does that mean?”

“Trump will be back there soon, you’ll see” said Bill.

“How is he going to get back there?” asked Dave.

Bill said nothing, but he seethed. Of course Trump will be back. Those Democrat swamp-dwellers couldn’t find their ass in broad daylight with a flashlight and a map. They are already kow-towing to China. Yes Mr Chink, No Mr. Chink, three bags full and you can have Taiwan Mr Chink. Time for paybacks. Impeach the sonofabitch and Kamala the Ho. Everybody knows the election was rigged. Look at the pillow guy’s lawsuits. They’re going to get that shit overturned any day now.

Tucker goes to commercial. Bill takes another gulp and looks around the bar. It’s different these days.

Bill’s buddies are not here very much any more. This damn virus has made many of them shy of going out. What the hell is happening? Two years ago there were no seats along this side of the bar. Now half the seats are never filled except on Friday and Saturday nights.

But the biggest news, which is really sticking in Bill’s craw, is the rumor that Lance is going to request proof of vaccination to allow anybody in the bar starting…Real Soon. Dave said the date is not fixed, but Bill heard it from Old Joe, who said that he is going to stop coming in if it happens. Old Joe seems to only be here about half the time these days.

Old Joe doesn’t care for any of those damn rules, especially if they come from the government. That might have something to do with his run-in with the IRS and the courts over child support a few years ago. Since then, the mention of the word “government” usually has Old Joe growling, and drinking even faster. And that guy can drink.

If the silly vaccination rule is for real, maybe he and Old Joe can find a different bar, where they don’t have to have that damn vaccine and muzzle up just to get in the front door. Besides, is Lance going to make Mutt muzzle up as well? Bill is hoping that the governor will do what the Texas guy did and prohibit cities and businesses from imposing mask mandates and requiring proof of vaccination.

Of course, what Bill won’t admit to is that his real problem is that little needle. Ever since knee high Bill has been terrified of hypodermics. When you are 4 years old, even a small one looks like it is half the size of your forearm, and when it is being waved in the air by a massively tall human authority figure, it is…scary. Bill remembers getting a tetanus shot. It hurt like hell, and his arm was stiff and sore for days. No thank you. No more of that inoculation shit. Plus, he keeps hearing that it gives you flu symptoms for up to 2 days. That’s ridiculous. You should go to the doc to get cured, not catch something.

Bill looks at his glass. Most of the Miller is gone, but he has to be careful. He asked Dave for a sub 2 nights ago, because he was out of cash, but Dave appeared to not understand him initially. When Bill explained the arrangement that he had with Randy, Dave smiled. Then, without saying anything, he went to the middle of the bar, and moved Lance’s sign that says “Even God Pays Ca$h Here” up one shelf to the middle shelf, and angled it towards Bill. Then he went off to serve somebody else. Bill got the message.

Bill wondered about asking Lance. Hell, he is part of the furniture here. And when he tries to move his knee and his back, it sure feels like it. These days both of those parts of his body feel like creaking timber. But Bill knows that the arrangement was strictly between him and Randy. He doesn’t want that conversation.

Mutt stirs, and makes a bored dog sound, and scratches his body with a back leg. Then he puts his head down and goes back to doggy dreaming.

Bill sits alone with his thoughts. His knee is really painful tonight, and the beer isn’t enough to even dull the pain. Bill knows he needs a knee replacement. The doc told him 3 years ago. But he fears even going into the hospital might be the last thing that happens to him. Kevin, the brewery distribution guy, went into hospital in the next city last year after complaining of stomach pains for weeks, and within a month he was dead. He never left the hospital. Cancer. That’s what happens when you go in there. Sometimes you never make it out.

Bill knows his son and daughter-in-law want him to get both his knee and back fixed. His daughter-in-law even offered to come down from New York and help him with his recovery. Bill nixed that idea pretty damn quick. A city woman driving him around? Hell no. The embarrassment. Besides, she couldn’t handle the truck. It does pull to the left a lot under braking these days. You gotta be a man to keep that damn thing straight. Bill’s buddy Aaron says steering arm is bent and the brakes need a rebuild, but that costs money, which Bill doesn’t have.

Bill drains his glass. He looks up. Fox is on weather. Nice girl. Dave is talking to a new couple, who look younger than the normal age range. He hopes Dave is not pulling in Democrats. The horror.

He straightens himself on the chair, his back speaks and not in a good way. These days, getting down is more painful than getting up on this chair.

Everything seems to be going to Hell in a handbasket. The guy who could have sorted everything out is gone, replaced by those damn business-as-usual sharks, the virus won’t go away, and now the bar is changing around him.

Bill fumbles in his pocket for his car keys. Mutt hears, and gets up off the floor.

 

 

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