Fake News and Clickbait

There’s a lot of talk online right now about fake news pages on Face­book and how they influ­enced both the elec­tion and how we think about the elec­tion. It’s a prob­lem and I’m glad peo­ple are shar­ing links about it.

But when we share the­se links, let’s take that extra step and point to orig­i­nal sources.

Exam­ple: Some­one named Melis­sa Zim­dars has done a lot of work to com­pile a list of fake news sources, pub­lished as a Google Doc with a Cre­ative Com­mons license that allows any­one to repost it. It’s a great pub­lic ser­vice and she’s fre­quent­ly updat­ing it, reclas­si­fy­ing pub­li­ca­tions as feed­back comes in.

The prob­lem is that there are a lot of web pub­lish­ers whose sites exist most­ly to repack­age con­tent. They’ll find a fun­ny Red­dit list and will copy and paste it as an orig­i­nal post or they’ll rewrite a break­ing news source in their own words. The rea­son is obvi­ous: they get the ad dol­lars that oth­er­wise would go to the orig­i­nal con­tent cre­ators. They’re not engag­ing in fake news, per se, but they’re also not adding any­thing to the knowl­edge base of human­i­ty and they’re tak­ing the spot­light off the hard work of the orig­i­nal cre­ators.

Back to our exam­ple, Zimdars’s updates on this click­bait sites don’t get updat­ed as she refines her list. In some cas­es, click­bait web­sites rewrite and repost one another’s ever-more extreme head­li­nes till they bear lit­tle real­i­ty to the orig­i­nal post (I fol­lowed the page view food chain a few years ago after read­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly dopey piece about veg­ans launch­ing a boy­cott over a TV ad).

So here’s part two of avoid­ing fake news sites: before you share some­thing on Face­book, take the two min­utes to fol­low any link to the orig­i­nal source and share that instead. Sup­port orig­i­nal con­tent cre­ation.

Seeing how it goes

It seems a lot of con­ver­sa­tions I’m in the­se days, on social media and IRL revolve around how we should be respond­ing to Trump’s elec­tion. I know there’s a cer­tain dan­ger in being too deter­min­is­tic, but a lot of answers seem to match where indi­vid­u­als are in the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty scale. Some are coun­sel­ing patience: let’s see how it goes after the inau­gu­ra­tion. May­be we don’t know the real Don­ald Trump.

Well, I think we do know the real Trump by now, but what I don’t think we know is the actu­al fla­vor of a Trump pres­i­den­cy. Have we ever seen a pres­i­dent elect who was so thin on actu­al pol­i­cy? Trump rode his lack of pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence to vic­to­ry, of course, cit­ing his inde­pen­dence from the peo­ple who gov­ern as one of his chief qual­i­fi­ca­tions. But it’s also his per­son­al­i­ty: on the cam­paign trail and in his famous 3am tweets from the toi­let he often con­tra­dict­ed him­self.

He’s a man of high-concept ideas, not detailed pol­i­cy. This means the actu­al poli­cies – and the gov­er­nance we should and shouldn’t wor­ry about – will depend dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly on the peo­ple he hires. Right now it seems like he’s trolling lob­by­ists and a hand­ful of neo­con dinosaurs that start­ed the Iraq War on forged doc­u­ments. He’s bring­ing the alli­ga­tors in to “drain the swamp” and in the last 24 hours they’ve already sig­naled that a lot of key cam­paign pledges are open for recon­sid­er­a­tion. How much we have to wor­ry – and just what we have to wor­ry about – will be clear­er as his team assem­bles.

Shitty jobs that don’t exist

I don't think we can fully understand the appeal Trump without realizing just how shitty life has become for a lot of working class white men and their families. Stable, honest union jobs just don't exist anymore. It wasn't so long ago that you could graduate high school, work hard, and have a good life with a rancher and two cars in the driveway. You weren't living large but you had enough for a Disney vacation every couple of years and a nice TV on the living room wall. For a lot of working class families, that just doesn't exist anymore. Now it's astronomical credit card debits, defaults on mortgages, divorces from the stress. Saving for the kids' college or for retirement is just a joke. It's easy to get nostalgic for what's been lost.

A few years ago I wrote about the time when I worked the night shift at the local supermarket. The older guys there had decent-enough stable jobs they had worked at for twenty years, but for the younger guys, the supermarket was just another temporary stop in a never-ending rotation of shit jobs. Sometimes it'd be pumping gas overnight hoping you wouldn't get shot. Other times it'd be working the box store hoping some random manager didn't fire you because he didn't like the way you look. A lot just didn't last at any job.

There was a small core of long-time nightshift crew members and a revolving door of new hires. Some of the new people lasted only a day before quitting and some a week or two, but few remained longer. Many of these temporary employees were poster children for the tragedies of modern twenty-something manhood (night crews were almost all male). One twenty-something white guy was just back from Iraq; he shouted to himself, shot angry looks at us, and was full of jerky, twitchy movements. We all instinctively kept our distance. Over one lunch break, he opened up enough to admit he was on probation for an unspecified offense and that loss of this job would mean a return to prison. When he disappeared after two weeks (presumably to jail), we were all visibly relieved. (Our fears weren’t entirely unfounded: a night crew member from a nearby ShopRite helped plan the 2007 Fort Dix terrorist plot.)

Another co-worker lasted a bit longer. He was older and calmer, an African American man in his late forties who biked in. I liked him and during breaks, we sometimes talked about God. One frosty morning, he asked if I could give him a lift home. As he gave directions down a particular road, I thoughtlessly said, “Oh so you live back past Ancora,” referring to a locally-notorious state psychiatric hospital. He paused a moment before quietly telling me that Ancora was our destination and that he lived in its halfway house for vets in recovery. Despite the institutional support, he too was gone after about a month.

The regulars were more stable, but even they were susceptible to the tectonic shifts of the modern workforce. There was a time not so long ago when someone could graduate high school, work hard, be dependable, and earn a decent working-class living. My shift manager was only a few years older than me, but he owned a house and a dependable car, and he had the nightshift luxury of being able to attend all of his son’s Little League games. But that kind of job was disappearing. Few new hires were offered full-time work anymore. The new jobs were part-time, short-term, and throw-away. Even the more stable “part-timers” drifted from one dreary, often dangerous, job to the next.

You can read the whole piece here:

To be clear: I don't think Trump himself really gives a crap about these people. As I said yesterday, he's all about himself and his fellow rich New Yorkers. The millions of people who voted for him mostly got suckered. That's just how Trump works. He suckers, he raids, he bankrupts, then he moves on (see: Atlantic City). Eight years from now our country will be teetering in bankruptcy again, but that's not the point, not really, not now at least. The American Dream really has disappeared for a lot of people. They'd like to see American made great again.

Up Into The Cherry Tree

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Gar­den of Vers­es

My moth­er died a few days ago. While I’m over­whelmed with the mes­sages of prayers and con­do­lences, at least at some lev­el it feels like cheat­ing to accept them too ful­ly. This isn’t a new con­di­tion. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.

A lit­tle over five years ago my moth­er was for­mal­ly diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the test­ing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared sce­nar­io for aging. Grow­ing up, we had befriend­ed an active elder­ly neigh­bor who had gen­tly died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Gold­smith had come to her in a dream the next night to con­grat­u­late her­self, say­ing “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years after­wards, my moth­er con­vinced her­self that she would go in a sim­i­lar­ly ele­gant way.

My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a pos­si­bil­i­ty when she sched­uled that doctor’s vis­it. The news didn’t come as much of a sur­prise to us fam­i­ly. I had been jok­ing for years that my mom seemed to have only twen­ty sto­ries that she kept on rota­tion. After she read a study that cross­word puz­zles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obses­sive cross­word puz­zler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had brave­ly bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeat­ed­ly, that she would be leav­ing it “in a box.” Caulk­ing trim, replac­ing win­dows, and trou­bleshoot­ing a mud room leak that defied a dozen con­trac­tors became her occu­pa­tion, along with vol­un­teer­ing and watch­ing grand­kids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.

When she called to tell me the diag­no­sis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doc­tor was putting her on Ari­cept. A quick Google search con­firmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doc­tor lat­er that after­noon helped map out the road ahead.

Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been dis­ap­pear­ing from us for a long while. Reg­u­lar out­ings became less fre­quent till we couldn’t even take her out to a near­by restau­rant for her birth­day. As words dis­ap­peared and speech began fal­ter­ing, I’d show her recent kid pho­tos on my phone and tell sto­ries to fill the emp­ty­ing space. Even­tu­al­ly she stopped show­ing inter­est even in this. On my last reg­u­lar vis­it with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun tak­ing pic­tures. Mom kept point­ing out at the phone’s dis­play as if it were a mir­ror. But con­ver­sa­tion was too dis­joint­ed and after a few min­utes, my kids start­ed wan­der­ing in ever widen­ing cir­cles look­ing for inter­est­ing but­tons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.

In the past few weeks her for­get­ful­ness has extend­ed to eat­ing and swal­low­ing. Inter­ven­tion would only buy a lit­tle more time until she for­got how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.

On my last few vis­its she was most­ly sleep­ing. She’s was calm, preter­nat­u­ral­ly calm. Lying on her back, pale and peace­ful, she looked as if she might already be a body rest­ing in a cas­ket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if bare­ly. I felt awk­ward just sit­ting there. Some peo­ple are good in the­se kinds of sit­u­a­tions, but I self-consciously strug­gle. With lit­tle chance of inter­ac­tion, I struck on the idea of read­ing from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on count­less nights as a child.  “Up into the cher­ry tree, who should climb but lit­tle me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pic­tured the cher­ry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be togeth­er.

The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For rea­sons that go deep into biog­ra­phy, she was a won­der­ful­ly friend­ly per­son who didn’t have a lot of close friends any­more. It seems pecu­liar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so peo­ple notice your depar­ture. But then may­be that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eight­ies. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of qui­et rip­ples with which we entered.

The PTSD of the suburban drone warrior

Some­thing I’ve long won­dered a lot about, As Stress Dri­ves Off Drone Oper­a­tors, Air Force Must Cut Flights.:

What had seemed to be a ben­e­fit of the job, the nov­el way that the crews could fly Preda­tor and Reaper drones via satel­lite links while liv­ing safe­ly in the Unit­ed States with their fam­i­lies, has cre­at­ed new types of stress­es as they con­stant­ly shift back and forth between war and fam­i­ly activ­i­ties and become, in effect, per­pet­u­al­ly deployed.

I men­tion this toward the end of my review of The Bur­glary, the sto­ry of the 1971 anti­war activists, and it’s some­thing I’ve been try­ing to pull from poten­tial authors as we’ve put togeth­er an August Friends Jour­nal issue on war. Much of the day-to-day mechan­ics of war has changed dras­ti­cal­ly in the past 40 years — at least for Amer­i­can sol­diers.

We have sto­ries like this one from the NYTimes: drone oper­a­tors in sub­ur­ban U.S. cam­pus­es killing peo­ple on the oth­er side of the plan­et. But sol­diers in Bagh­dad have good cell phone cov­er­age, watch Net­flix, and live in air con­di­tioned bar­racks. The rise of con­trac­tors means that most of the grunt work of war — fix­ing trucks, peel­ing pota­toes — is done by near­ly invis­i­ble non-soldiers who are liv­ing in the­se war zones. It must be nice to have crea­ture com­forts but I’d imag­ine it could make for new prob­lems psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ing a war zone with nor­mal­cy.

Can we count the ways that the McKinney video is messed up?

mckinney2When the McK­in­ney video start­ed trend­ing I wasn’t in a state to watch so I read the com­men­tary. Now that I have, the whole thing is com­plete­ly messed up but at least three parts espe­cial­ly unnerve me:

  • The com­plete­ly unnec­es­sary commando-style dive-and-roll that intro­duces Cor­po­ral Eric Case­bolt. Some reports describe it as a trip but to me it looks like he’s play­ing a Hol­ly­wood action hero stunt dou­ble. Has he just been watch­ing too many of the police videos he’s been col­lect­ing on YouTube?
  • That none of the oth­er offi­cers saw his derring-do and said “yo Eric, stand down.” Is this some­thing cops just don’t do? And if not, why not? We all know what it’s like to be hopped up on too much adren­a­line. I know peo­ple do weird stuff when their rep­til­ian brain fight-or-flight mech­a­nism cuts in. It seems that offi­cers should be on the look­out for just this sort of over­re­ac­tion and have some sort of safe word to tell one anoth­er to take a chill.
  • The video­g­ra­pher was a “invis­i­ble” white teenager. He walked near­by – and occa­sion­al­ly through – the action with­out being ques­tioned. At one point Case­bolt seems to pur­pose­ful­ly step around him to put down his dark-skinned friends. The video­g­ra­pher told news reporters that he felt his white­ness made him invis­i­ble to Case­bolt.

I nev­er quite real­ized all the race pol­i­tics behind the switch from pub­lic pools vs pri­vate pool clubs. I grew up in a Philly sub­urb with two pub­lic pools and very much remem­ber the con­stant wor­ry that Philadel­phia kids might sneak in (“Philadel­phia” was of course code for “black”). The town­ship did have a his­tor­i­cal­ly African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hood so the pools were racial­ly inte­grat­ed but I’m sure every dark-skinned town­ship res­i­dent was asked to show town ID a lot more than I was. And it’s hard to think it was entire­ly coin­ci­den­tal that both pub­lic pools were locat­ed on the oppo­site ends of the town­ship from the black neigh­bor­hood.

There are no pub­lic pools in the South Jer­sey town where I live. A satel­lite view picks out thir­teen pri­vate pools on my block alone. Thir­teen?!? There’s one pri­vate pool club across town. There’s a lot of casu­al racism around here, pri­mar­i­ly direct­ed at the mostly-Mexican farm­work­ers who dou­ble the town pop­u­la­tion every sum­mer. If there was a town pool that reflect­ed the demo­graph­ics of the local Wal­mart park­ing lot on a Fri­day night in July, we’d have mini-riots I’m sure — which is almost sure­ly why we don’t have a munic­i­pal pool and why wealthy fam­i­lies have poured mil­lions of dol­lars into back­yards.

(My fam­i­ly has joined the Elmer Swim Club, a pool locat­ed about half an hour away. While the major­i­ty of mem­bers are super nice and I haven’t heard any dodgy racial code phras­es. The pool is diverse but is most­ly white, reflect­ing the near­by pop­u­la­tion. That said, I’ve read enough Ta-Nehisi Coates to know we can rarely take white towns for grant­ed. So.)

Crows Woods in Haddonfield NJ

The blog­ger behind South Jer­sey Trails orga­nized a “dads’ hike” today in a small pre­serve along the upper reach­es of the Coop­er River.

The pre­serve is remark­ably inter­est­ing despite its rel­a­tive­ly small size and posi­tion­ing between soc­cer fields and train lines. There’s lots of hills ands wet­lands. We saw two turtles fight­ing and a snake of some sort swirling around an eddy in brack­ish iron-filled bog water. There was a lot of flow­er­ing moun­tain lau­rel, one of my favorite wood­land flow­ers.

Many local trails in deep woods are on land that has seen waves of devel­op­ment over the past two hun­dred years but a check of the 1930 New Jer­sey aeri­al sur­vey shows that this same patch was deep woods then.
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