Saturday, October 15, 2016

President Trump's dream: his very, very own news empire, where anything could be true

         The media coverage of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign has had a one-thing-after-another feel. A flood of bigotry, misogyny, Islamophobia, and a discussion, albeit in coded langauge, about the size of the would-be presidential ding-a-ling; more recent, revelations regarding Trump’s tax situation and his bragging about putting the moves on women.
The experience of taking it all in has been dizzying, like being stuck on an islet, watching a twister blow around and around the land for months on end. We have seen the result: noise and murky water.
However, from the pattern of the sediment that has settled, quietly, on the shore, I discern a plan for something more sinister than a rash of chauvinism and boorishness. There are strong signs that if Trump wins, he will establish state-run medium – in other words, an administration-run propaganda organ.
This is not far-fetched, so don't touch that dial.
For starters, in May, Vanity Fair reported that Trump may consider starting a cable outlet. The magazine quoted an anonymous source close to the campaign as saying that Trump’s thinking is 
``(W)in or lose, we are onto something here. We’ve triggered a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.’’1
(The source does not answer the question of whether Trump would wait until his presidency is finished before setting up his cable network. It also does not say what kind of content it would broadcast. A Trump spokeswoman said the Trump circle has given ``not a thought’’ of going into media.)
If current trends continue, a Trump Administration outlet could come to pass.
·         The administration of President George W. Bush provided fake news segments to TV outlets. Some of these were broadcast, with no disclaimer that they were the product of the administration.
·         In early 2015, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, initiated ``Just IN,’’ which would have provided local news outlets with prepared stories, but scrapped the project after public outcry.
·         Roger Ailes, the Fox News founder who works for Trump, proposed to President Nixon the idea of setting up a GOP TV channel. Nixon rejected the idea.

            The fact that none of those enterprises took, at least not for long, may not discourage Trump from trying.  It is less likely that negative public feedback would kill a Trump Administration media initiative. Trump is stubborn; he doesn’t like to be seen as a quitter.
            Most people know that Trump hates what some call the``mainstream'' media. He claims that election coverage has been rigged against him. He has described reporters as ``the lowest form of life.’’
            Further, his antipathy and his actions show that he will do business only with journalists who agree with him all the time. It follows that as president he would establish a media channel that would transmit only the information he wants the public to know.
Trump has hired Ailes, who had been fired from Fox News amidst charges of sexual harassment, to be a consultant to the campaign. The campaign hired as its CEO Stephen Bannon of Bretibart News, a right-wing Internet news site. Bannon and Ailes are aligned ideologically with Trump; they could provide him with with considerable business and technical expertise.
            Ailes’ "A Plan For Putting the GOP on TV News,’’ according to Gawker reporter John Cook, who broke the story five years ago, was ``a plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the `prejudices of network news’ and deliver `pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.’’
              The memo is not signed, but Cook, who examined hundreds of pages attributed to Ailes, said the copy that the Nixon Library provided to him ``literally has Ailes' handwriting all over it.’’
              The memo states: ``Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.’’
In a piece that appeared August 17 in the conservative journal, The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes wrote that by taking on Bannon, Trump has chosen to live in Breitbart’s ``alternative reality.’’ Hayes writes: ``When Trump can't explain his own words, Breitbart faults the journalists who have asked the questions.’’
Armed with a state-run news outlet, Trump would not have to explain his words. Broadcast anchors or reporters would speak for him – no questions, please.
The platform would allow the administration to broadcast, with a straight face, assertions as staggering as Trump’s remark that Ted Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before Oswald was shot, or that African-Americans are living in the worst time of their history, ``ever, ever, ever.'' Skeptics would not be allowed airtime.
After a while, the members of an audience loyal to Trump media would start to see the world through a prism of deceptions and of propaganda. They would come to live in a reality alternative to those who got their information from other sources. And even though myriad other news outlets exist, a state-run channel could have a large, loyal following. Witness the adherence to Fox and Breitbart.
The idea of a media-generated alternative reality reminds me of ``1984,’’ George Orwell’s tale of a dystopia in which the only public information is generated by the government.
Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, wrestles with his work. Orwell writes:
 Anything could be true. The so-called laws of nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. ``If I wished,’’ O’Brien had said, ``I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.’’ Winston worked it out. If he thinks he can float off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens.’’ Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind. ``It doesn’t really happen. We imagine it. It is hallucination.’’ He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a ``real’’ world where ``real’’ things happened.         

Winston Smith is tasked with planting in the public mind the slogan ``two plus two make five.’’

The arithmetical problems raised, for instance, by such a statement as `two plus two make five’… needed… a sort of athleticism of mind, an ability at one moment to make the most delicate use of logic and at the next to be unconscious of the crudest logical errors. Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.
        Under those circumstances, it would become hard to think straight. 

During the 1930s,  ``2 + 2=5’’ was the slogan of  the Five Year  industrialization plan of the Soviet Union, headed by Josef Stalin. The idea was that the Soviets would achieve their goals in four years instead of five. From Eugene Lyons, an American journalist working in Moscow at the time:
``It seemed to me at once bold and preposterous. The daring and the paradox and the tragic absurdity of the Soviet scene… 2 + 2 = 5: in electric lights on Moscow housefronts, in foot-high letters on billboards, spelled planned error, hyperbole, perverse optimism. ’’3
A concept central to ``1984’’ is the Memory Hole, which the Ministry of Truth uses to destroy information the government no longer wants its citizens to have. Once placed in a Memory Hole, things that had happened or said no longer exist, and no one remembers them ever existing. Of course, the Memory Hole is a metaphor; today the world has YouTube and is loaded down with cell phones and security cameras. The disappearance of any piece of public information would impossible.
This is not to say that Trump hasn't tried. In March, he said Japan and South Korea should have nuclear-weapons arsenals to defend themselves against North Korea, China, Pakistan and Iran. In May, he denied making those remarks even though they had been recorded. And during the September 27 presidential debate, Trump denied ever saying that global warming was hoax perpetrated by China, even though he had posted the statement on Twitter in 2012.

If he could, Trump would immobilize reporters.
        Seeking to limit coverage from press organizations that have run stories that Trump found disagreeable, he barred about a dozen of them access to himself and the inside of his campaign airplane. Those banned included BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast and the Huffington Post. In early September, he lifted the ban.
            Trump has also stated that he would revise libel law to make it easier for him to sue media organizations that disenchant him.   ``We're going to open up libel laws and we're going to have people sue you like you've never got sued before,’’ he told a rally in Fort Worth, Texas.
Libel protection is intended to safeguard the reputations of private citizens so that they can continue to earn a living and, in general, stay in their neighbors’ good graces. News outlets may report ``provably true’’ damaging material about private persons without legal consequences. But libel protections do not apply to public figures; among these are politicians and eminent people in business. Trump is one of each.
Yet this month Trump threatened to sue The New York Times after the paper ran a story that quoted two women as saying that Trump had touched them inappropriately. Trump’s attorney said the timing of the article was politically motivated. The paper’s lawyer said the Times ``welcome(s) the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”
A final signal that Trump sympathizes with state-owned media is his tacit support of those in Russia and North Korea. Both nations, by way of their media organs, have endorsed Trump. He has not disowned the endorsements.
In September, Trump granted an interview with RT America, which is owned by the Russian government. In it, he said American media will ``take a statement that you make which is perfect and they’ll cut it up and chop it up and shorten it or lengthen it or do something with it.”
 This month, the Obama Administration confirmed that last year hackers who work for the Kremlin knocked France’s TV5Monde off the air.
How can we know that Russia would not, at Trump's request, do the same thing to a station in the United States?
Recall that Trump said Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear arsenals to defend themselves from North Korea. If North Korea is so bad, why has Trump not repudiated its endorsement?
Because the man finds it hard to think straight. Stay tuned.

1 Although Vanity Fair does not identify the speaker, I trust the editorial staff of the magazine to have vetted the source and found it credible.
2 Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet, 1949.
3Lyons, Eugene.  Assignment in Utopia. London: Harrap, 1938, in Tzouliadis, Tim. The Forsaken. New York: Penguin Press. 2008.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

`Why is it so hard to learn programming?'

Today I finished this essay for my Coursera class in Python.  If you've got absolutely nothing better to do, or if you're really ``into'' language, or both, then go ahead and read it.

The problem I have had is realizing that some of the code -- representations of computer language -- I've seen so far has perplexed me with what are, to me, hidden and obscure meanings. Learning code became easier when I realized it contains those meanings.
By hidden meanings, I mean what's ``behind" functions such as try/except, type/int, max/min, etc. Just looking at them gives me no clue about their purpose. Purpose is therefore hidden. It's a lot like a encountering for the first time a human-language word of whose meaning I have absolutely has no idea. Just because I don't know the meaning, it still has a meaning and serves a purpose. To uncover the meaning of the word, and to use it effectively, I have to learn and memorize its definition or definitions.

But one difference of course between human language and computer language is the nature of their origins. The meaning of human-language words are most often determined and changed over centuries through the loose consent of many thousands of people. Computer languages are invented over minuscule spans by either an individual or a team. So learning Python has been hard for me because it is a de jure  language; while human language is formed by a vast and democratic consensual process, in which I can have a part, making it a de facto language.

So for example when I encountered the Python term ``except'' it didn't make intuitive sense to me. As a speaker of a de facto language (English) I understand ``except'' when it's used as a preposition. "I read all the books in the series except that one.'' In try/except it's meant as a verb (I think...), as in to identify an exception such as a string of letters when the is called for. (Get it?.) So now I have to memorize the use of ``except'' as a verb (which isn't hard) if I'm going to use Python effectively. Until I know what the term try/except does, it's purpose is hidden.

(The main reason I had a hard time comprehending  "except" in the Python sense is that I find the conversion of non-verbs into verb form distasteful. As examples: the use ``to partner,'' as in one person partnering with another, is awful. There is also our friend ``to access.'' I still prefer to ``gain access to'' things.)

Also, I think that it would be easier for me to learn programming if I were still young. It is well known that children have a much easier time learning language than adults.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

An outrage

This is a local price of political apathy.  The powers that be, aka the Granby Heights board of directors, has decreed that each and every flower and bush in front of all 76 units shall be removed to the rear of a dump truck.
This is what the crew had managed to accomplish after about four hours today.
In the photo beneath that one, we see the adjacent plants, which are mighty close to getting theirs.(Note: they were excavated June 18.)
Directors are elected by condo owners. The elections aren't vigorously contested, so we've been stuck with a board that does what it wants. Meetings are public, so this is perfectly legal, but there has been few chances for us to insist on decency.
In other words, since they run unopposed, they can do whatever the fuck they want.
In a memo, the directors ask residents to keep cars away from the work being done. "Allowing a clear work area will hopefully speed up this work," the syntactically challenged board says. Yeah, hopefully.
The board also notes the work will include "the relocation of the downspouts into the parking area.
"This is being done to improve our drainage and appearance."
Ah yes, I can see it now...

Monday, June 2, 2014

The scene at the Yaleville Inn in Bainbridge, the night of the rehearsal of the wedding of my brother Mark Alan Miller to Elizabeth Jane MacDuffie.
Upstate New York resembles the landscape of Richmond, Vermont,  where my father's parents last lived. Tonight my dad confirmed that impression.
In other news,  we're staying at the Algonkin Motel located on State Highway 7 in Bainbridge. Kinda rednecky. Earlier we stopped at Duane's diner in Duanesburg, I think the town was called.  The place was not at all busy. They told us to sit anywhere and then ignored us, so went to a nearby Dunkin' Donuts. Talk about keeping the money local.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I grabbed this one of me and Sebastian before Mark and Elizabeth's wedding this evening. I figure this will be the last time we'll be dressed in the exact same getup. Too bad this photo doesn't show more of our tuxedos.
No great loss since I couldn't get the straps on my pants and vest to hold. Just before the cake I had to drive back to the motel and put on my chinos and belt. The next time, give me suspenders!
My brother Mark and his fiancee could not have chosen a more beautiful day for an outdoor wedding. For breakfast Sharon and I walked to The Cream of the Crop, a barn that has been renovated into a restaurant/bar. A grand big open room. This time they served us, unlike the folks in Duanesberg, N.Y. Gorgeous countryside,  although it must have been brutal here last winter.
The scene across the street from The Cream of the Crop

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Videos from Cape Ann, Massachusetts

A few weeks ago we went to Gloucester again. Same deal. Stayed at the Good Harbor Beach Inn, room 18. Only this time we went for four nights, which I don't believe we had done before. Also, for the the first time I am blogging sound and motion -- that is, video. In the past it has just been photos.

This first one I took at Halibut State Park in Rockport, which is the town along the shore north of Gloucester. (Both towns are in the Cape Ann area of Massachusetts north shore.) You'll have to pardon the wind, which makes kind of an unpleasant sound, bashing against the smart phone.


Some of my Facebook friends have already seen this video of Good Harbor Beach at night. In the distance you can see the signal from one of the two lighthouses on Thatcher Island. Again, this time it's about movement and sound. As I said on May 18, 2008: ``I could not photograph the smell in the air and the sound of the rushing of the water.''


The only bummer about this is the fact that the colors aren't true. The Samsung Galaxy Rush took the colors darker than they really were.

I've been dreaming about moving to somewhere in Cape Ann -- I'd settle for living in a hovel to start off -- for four years. Western Massachusetts has worn out on me. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, everything here reminds me of something. As of today I've lived in Franklin, or Hampshire (mostly Hampshire) and Hampden counties for 49.5 of my 53.5 years; the rest of the time I lived either in Indiana or in Jamaica Plain. To paraphrase D.H. Lawrence, western Mass. for me has become a room full of echoes.

Nice picture -- if I say so myself -- of Grace yesterday. Sharon and I were at a Memorial Day picnic at the home of Sharon's daughter Lindsey and her boyfriend, Eric.

This photo is similar to one I posted on Facebook yesterday.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hey, long time! I don't have time to catch up now, but I wanted to post a video of Grace I made on the Sunday of the Super Bowl, which you can hear in the background. (And it is pass interference.) Although I don't think I can beat the profile photo on the right -- it was taken in 2009 -- and the dog has aged some. She's doing good, though. I mean, well. She's an out-and-out sweetheart. In fact there's something kinda perverse about watching and posting videos of a dog when the actual dog is laying down in the next room. We should be petting our companion animules, not digitizing them...