Tag Archives: truth

Showing the way in a surprisingly different world

leadwolfThe recent surprise election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has occasioned a lot of writing that I can sum up like this: Suddenly the world is very different than I thought it was. How do I (or we) deal with that?

One particularly poignant article came from technical communication blogger Danielle Villegas — TechCommGeekMom. Danielle pondered what the election results, and the conditions leading up to them, mean for technical communicators. Are we seeing the end of the trend toward globalization? How easy will it be to find work if you live in a rural area, away from a city?

Toward the end of her article, Danielle issued a call to action:

The proclivity of technical communicators, from my observations, is that they have big hearts. They have strong ideas, they are organized, and they know how to take action. They are generally open-minded, they think “outside the box” for solutions, and they understand the importance of reaching out and embracing the world because the proliferation of the internet has warranted it. We can make a difference in how we approach our work, both domestically and internationally, to set an example of best practices of being decent human beings trying to help each other progress and survive in this world.

How can technical communicators show the way, or “set an example,” in the way Danielle describes? How can we use our “big hearts” to bring progress, and perhaps bring reconciliation, to the fractured world in which we live?

Here’s my stab at an answer. I hope all of you will chime in with your comments. Continue reading

The gaslighting of America

gaslight (v.): To manipulate someone into doubting their memories and their perceptions of what is true.

Amid all of the jaw-dropping news that’s been happening lately, here’s a doozy. During the presidential election campaign, teenagers in Macedonia made money by churning out fake news stories designed to be read by millions of people as they circulated on social media.

What’s going on? Well, the truth — as so often is the case — is complicated.

Outright lies and twisted reality


In case you’re wondering where the term “gaslight” comes from….

Did the fake news stories (including, for example, a report that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for president) tip the election to Trump? I seriously doubt it. Even the most gullible American voters probably had already made up their minds to vote for one candidate or the other.

On the other hand, is Mark Zuckerberg kidding when he says that Facebook — which pushed the stories into users’ newsfeeds — has virtually “no influence” on the people who use it to get news? Maybe he’s kidding himself. But everyone else knows better.

You should care about this, no matter who you voted for. The fake stories slanted toward both the left and right wings (although the right-wing ones reportedly gained a lot more traction).

Presenting phony news side by side with legitimate news. The beginning of the gaslighting of America.

Now we’re seeing reports from the mainstream media — not from kids in Macedonia — that treat the preparations for Trump’s presidency as if they were a normal transition of power.

As if it were normal to install Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, an outspoken white supremacist who’s called for “tearing down” the political establishment, as the chief White House strategist.


The look of someone who’s compromised every last one of his principles (source: Washington Post)

As if it were normal for the Speaker of the House, who over the summer denounced Trump’s words and actions as the “textbook definition of a racist comment” and a “joke gone bad,” to say that he’s enthusiastic about carrying out the “mandate” that Trump has received from the American people.

(Joshua Foust of the Foreign Policy Research Institute has compiled a much longer list of abnormal goings-on.)

These stories are being reported as business as usual, with barely a raised eyebrow.

Reporting the abnormal as if it were normal. The next stage in the gaslighting of America.

What are we to do?

Just in case you’re wavering: the crap you saw on Facebook was false. And the facade of respectability being applied to the Trump transition is false too.

So what can we do to stop the gaslighting, to overcome the lies and the distortion?

Continue reading

Truth and the Vichy Republicans

Vichy Republicans. During his commencement speech at Stanford University, historian Ken Burns coined the term to describe Republicans who’ve endorsed their party’s presumptive presidential nominee even though they don’t think he’s qualified to hold the office.

In this extraordinary election year, it seems like Vichy Republicans outnumber all other kinds of Republicans:

  • Those who are happy with their party’s nominee and are happy to endorse him.
  • Those who are unhappy with their nominee and have publicly declined to support him.
  • Those who have nothing to say.
Stanford 125th Commencement Ceremony, Stanford Stadium.

Ken Burns speaking at Stanford’s commencement – 12 June 2016 (Image credit: L.A. Cicero, published on news.stanford.edu)

If you fall into one of these three groups, I can respect that. Although I might not agree with you, I can see that your actions align with what you say you believe.

But to the Vichy Republicans, I echo Burns’ words: please reconsider.

I have some experience here. Continue reading

Coke’s bogus research: Everything old is new again

Growing old isn’t without its advantages. Here’s one: I remember stuff that happened long ago, so that I recognize it when I see it happening again.

This morning’s paper brings news that the Coca-Cola company has created a nonprofit foundation dedicated to funding research. The purpose of the research? To show that lack of exercise, not excessive calories, is reponsible for people being overweight.

It brings to mind the Tobacco Institute (TI), which famously in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s supported research refuting the growing scientific consensus that smoking tobacco causes cancer. Even after U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry reported in 1964 that smoking and cancer were definitively linked, the TI kept up its campaign through reports and magazine articles. The TI, of course, was founded and sustained by the leading cigarette manufactures of the day.

Now it’s Coke’s turn. I’d say that sugar isn’t the only thing Coke is full of. Continue reading

What is truth?

An elderly Groucho Marx recounted a story that happened in a Texas town during the Marx Brothers’ early days in show business.

In Raised Eyebrows,, the memoir by Groucho’s secretary Steve Stoliar, a member of the luncheon party responded, “According to Harpo’s book, that story took place in Oklahoma, not Texas. Who’s right?”

Grouch said, “I am, because I’m alive and he’s not.”

Thus we get a lesson in the elusive nature of truth. Continue reading