America’s Cult of Ignorance


asimov-culture-of-ignoranceIsaac Asimov wrote in the 1980s: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

He describes a sad history of vilifying erudition, then Adlai Stevenson, now Barrack Obama; as well as unthinkingly accepting the proudly nonintellectual like yesteryear’s George Wallace or today’s Donald Trump.

The hippies gave us “Don’t trust anyone over 30”. By the time they were well into their 30s, community began to fall away to isolation. They shed their beads, donned work wear and started saying “Don’t trust the experts”. Hence the onset of the age of fear of elitists.

In 1980, Asimov wrote, “As soon as someone shouts “elitist” it becomes clear that he or she is a closet elitist who is feeling guilty about having gone to school.” While this is still true of elitist hunters within academia, it is also now true that many calling out the sin of elitism are expressing a deeply-suppressed shame for their own ignorance.

Asimov’s concerning message of decades ago has only amplified and accelerated in the current age of instant and global communication. Today’s levels of national willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism have risen to a legitimate national security risk.

Life Cubicled


Actual conversation overheard at work today:

A: I think I’ll just stop off an pick up some KFC.

B: (palpable disgust) Eww…

A: You don’t like KFC?

B: (sustained palpable disgust) I HATE KFC.

A: Oh… I like their cole slaw.

B: Oh, I love their cole slaw.

PAUSE

A: Yeah…

PAUSE

B: (absolutely no irony) And their chicken.

accountable-coworker

Extra! Extra! Trump’s Press Secretary is a Pernicious Little Twit


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Despite Trump’s boisterous claim that he knows words, the best words, he seems all to reliant on others to speak for him. At Trump’s first press conference, he had an attorney and a stack of papers do most of his talking. The stack of papers was far more succinct and on-message than either Trump or the attorney. And today, his first full day in office, he had his press secretary Sean Spicer speak for him. Having a press secretary speak for you to the press is actually a perfectly appropriate thing to do. Having Sean Spicer speak for you seems particularly reckless. Leaving the press corps waiting is also typical as schedules are often hard to manage for any administration. However, on the first day, the lengthy delay seemed intended as a punishment to a media that Trump openly disdains. Then Spicer made clear the intentions when he came out practically splattering the first row of journalists with the administration’s contempt.

He approached the mic a little breathless and understandably nervous. Then he opened his mouth and his speech quickly took the tone of a petulant rant. He spoke quickly, reluctant to take a breath for fear a media terrorist might lob a bomb in the form of a question. The entire event was organized to address “a little bit of the coverage of the last 24 hours”. The word coverage was spoken as one might say the word scabies.

The tone was set and the press corps seemed to push against the back rests of their chairs, seeking some distance from a man who may in fact be a little unhinged. According to his website, Spicer is “a seasoned communicator and strategist who has been combining his communications skills, creative sense, political savvy and issue knowledge to create, lead and implement successful public policy and issue campaign efforts for over fifteen years.” Fifteen years to craft this public relations tantrum is fifteen years lost. Far from a seasoned communicator, Spicer comes across mush-mouthed and far too reliant on reading rather than speaking.

Almost immediately he put forth rather confounding explanations for the smaller-than-normal crowds, widely reported, at Trump’s inauguration the previous day. To explain the biased images of sparse crowds, Spicer seemed at first to describe some new environmental consideration for our National Parks. However, it wasn’t, and it is hard to tell exactly what he was describing.

“This is the first time in our nation’s history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass in the [National] Mall. That had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past, the grass eliminated this visual.”

A good amount of thought and effort went into crafting this spin. The result is bewildering. The Trump administration, as the man himself, seems unable to ignore any perceived slight. Rather than ignore it and move on, they call a press conference to highlight it, as well as draw attention to Trump’s own hypersensitivity. It begs the question how they will be able to handle an actual crisis.

Then Spicer cited fencing and security as the next conspirators hell bent on limiting Trump’s crowd size. Spicer spoke of inaccurately reported numbers of people at the event. He practically screeched, No one had numbers!” It was akin to a three year-old yelling, “But I don’t like my vegetables!” as if desperately and loudly stating something as fact can make unpleasant situations go away. Spicer went on to say the National Park Service controls access to the mall but does not release numbers. Ergo it is impossible to determine how many people may be in or around that area at any given time, and it was the height of irresponsibility for the press or the people to attempt such impossible estimations. Spicer stated this impossibility also applies to today’s Women’s March around the world. Apparently we will just never know. It is one of those divine natural mysteries that even science can’t overcome.

However, Spicer then proceeds to do the impossible and make an estimate of crowd size. By determining how many people can fit in the area, he was able to come up with, by his calculus, an accurate number: 720,000 souls. Their crack team also deduced that there were 103,000 more people on the D.C. Metro for Trump’s Inauguration Day than President Obama’s (Wrong!). So much for the impossible. I told you they put a lot of effort and thought into this response. In fact, by Spicer’s loud logic, Trump garnered “the largest audience to witness an inauguration. Period!”

Spicer then summarized Trump’s speech at CIA headquarters, with 400 in attendance who afterward gave a 5 minute standing ovation. There is a lot of emphasis on numbers here as well as devotion and sycophancy. Perhaps Trump will be able to cobble together a jobs policy that can put America’s unemployed back to work as paid enthusiastic audience members for speech rallies. Don’t think of it as a hand out or a hand up, but really just many happy hands clapping.

Spicer, the veteran communicator, then criticized the Democrats for stalling on the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as CIA Director (with no mention of the ten month block his party threw on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee). “That’s what you guys should be writing and covering instead of sowing divisions about tweets and false narratives,” Spicer spat. Perhaps journalists should heed this last point. He does seem at least knowledgeable, if not deft, with the false narrative.

At this point, Sean Spicer finally stopped reading his prepared statement. He reported upcoming events. Trump called Trudeau. Oh, and apparently Mexico has a new president as well. Someone named Uh-Na-Piña Nahto. Trump will receive Great Britain’s Teresa May, obliged by our two nations’ special relationship, as the first foreign head-of-state to pay a visit. Also, the whole administration has an ethics briefing tomorrow. Presumably they will discover they have none. Let’s hope that by then someone more palatable than Sean Spicer has been pegged to communicate that to the American press and people.

Pay-to-Play Olympian


Di SilvestriAdmittedly, I didn’t recognize the flag of Dominca when I saw it waving at the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. I did recall that Dominica is a small Caribbean island nation and that was about it. The man waving the flag did not look Caribbean. But the world is a beautiful mix of peoples, and race does not tell one’s full history. The event in which he would compete, cross country skiing, isn’t a Caribbean sport. Yet, Jamaica had famously produced a bobsled team that won the hearts of the world, even if it won no gold. When the commentators noted that the man carrying the flag wasn’t actually Dominican, I was curious. They went on to explain that Gary Di Silvestri has no direct link to Dominican ancestry. Rather he is a Staten-Island born, Georgetown/Cornell educated investment banker who blessed Domica with a little philanthropic benevolence. For this he was awarded citizenship. The rest is Olympic history.

Dominica is a small island nation. Unlike many of its more famous neighbors, Dominica is not blessed (or cursed depending on your perspective) with tourist-attracting idyllic beaches. It does however have hot springs, water falls, lush tropical forests and thankfully a national park system to try to protect these treasures. This is terrific for the natural environment and wildlife, but essentially useless to a country’s growth percentage. A nation will make money where it can. The Commonwealth of Dominica does so, as many of her neighbors, by offering tantalizing tax havens where accounts are officially sealed from outside eyes. They also offer economic citizenship to those seeking a valid second passport. For a cash contribution, Dominica will waive the 7-year residency requirement to gain citizenship. This costs $105,000 for a single applicant. Tack on another $25,000 for a spouse or dependents. This allows the Dominican “citizen” to travel to around 90 other nations and territories without a visa. This is just the sort of benefit that would appeal to the kind of people who feel the need to seek tax havens in the first place. Dominca has specifically designated Government Approved Economic Citizenship agents to help clients, or soon-to-be citizens, with all the paperwork.

This is likely the sort of philanthropic outreach that garnered di Silvestri his Dominican citizenship. It likely required deeper philanthropic passion to secure the title of Olympian. Although, di Silvestri claims the Dominca Olympic Committee approached him and his wife, knowing they were cross-country skiers and apparently the best Domincan snow-sporters in the world to represent their country. Granted, di Silvestri and his wife must be able skiers; they did have to qualify to compete after all. However, this pay-to-play approach seems to undermine the meaning of the Olympics. Before one can carry the flag of a nation in the Olympics, one must carry the flag in their hearts. That is not to say there is no room for immigrants in national sports. Countries like the U.S. and Canada would not be the winter Olympic powerhouses they are without immigrant national athletes. These athletes worked hard in the nations they came to represent.

Of course there are occasional situations where there is an athlete who plays the official citizenship card to represent a smaller country with a conveniently less dense pool of competition. More often than not, there is a family connection. The Briton who chooses to represent Egypt where he/she or his/her parents were born, as just one example. Gary di Silvestri’s Olympic scheme is something else entirely. It is in particularly poor taste because, at its essence, it is a rich guy taking advantage of a poor country to boost his own interests.

In a way, it is like modern global economics itself. Wealthy bankers boosting their bottom lines on the backs of the browbeaten. This pay-to-play reality also embodies, more and more, the Olympics as a political power. The oligarchs of Russia have the cash to finance the games and subsequently to silence, or at least marginalize any critics. The rest of the world for the most part looks the other way, because after all everyone is going to benefit from this little quadrennial banquet.

There has developed a disconnect between Olympians and Olympics. As the Olympics as a corporate machine becomes increasingly corrupt, the Olympians themselves still represent the best of who we are and what we can achieve through hard work and fair play. Di Silvestri undercuts this balance and puts the athlete square on the side of the opportunistic corporation.