The Trump Phenomenon: Part II Donald J. Trump: The Pokémon Candidate (by Jack)

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The latest craze to hit Florida (as well as the rest of the world) is Pokémon Go. After installing the appropriate app on your Android or IPhone you then set off on your search, in “augmented reality,” for Pokémon characters. There are, of course, special strategies and special ways of capturing Pokémon by strategically using gyms, incubating lucky eggs, maximizing the use of Pokéstops, using Pokéballs, and the like. Mainly, in order to capture all 142 of these ‘lil critters you have to spend considerable time “poking around” with your phone.

ThR8TNWZ_400x400        Floridians have a special advantage when it comes to playing games with “augmented realities” since we live in the state that is the home of Disney World.  With special ticket prices for Floridians we can more frequently experience the joys of Disney hyperreality—imitations of imitations of things that never existed (e.g. someone dressed in a Mickey Mouse costume who impersonates the character who appears in Disney films which, of course, is merely a cartoon figure). Augmented reality is a piece of cake for us!

The Pokémon Go craze is an interesting cultural phenomenon that raises some fundamental questions about reality. Do the various Pokémons and associated characters actually exist? If so, where are they located? If they exist why is it that only some people can see them? Can you touch them? Can you feel them? Are the IPhones used creating new, alternative realities? If they are not real, what are they? If they don’t really exist then how can people see them? Is reality merely perception?

The entire Pokémon phenomenon makes the case that reality is a social construction. For those with a cell phone with a Pokémon Go app they may see a park bench as a Pokéstop while others without a phone may simply see a bench. One’s view of reality is interpreted and can vary from person to person.

Games such as Pokémon are popular because they tap into important cultural values. The malleability of reality makes the game successful. In a like manner, Donald Trump has built his campaign for the presidency on a similar assumption. In his 1987 book The Art of the Deal he described his relationship to reality: “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”

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Like the Pokémon Go game, Trump’s exaggerations are fast-paced. He throws out absurdly false claims which draws the attention of the media and then he rides the wave of publicity until the media begin focusing on the truthfulness of them; then he distracts them by throwing out yet another false statement and the media scramble to catch up. All the while he amasses followers who love, strangely enough, his “truthfulness.”

Still hung up on traditional notions of reality the media watchdog Politifact found so many false statements made by Trump in 2015 that it couldn’t identify only one to designate as “lie of the year” and instead gave the “award” to Trump himself. Examining 77 statements he made they found that 76 percent of them were either mostly false, false or “pants on fire” false.

Still, in our present cultural environment does it matter? One of the keenest observers of contemporary America, Stephen Colbert, perceptively highlighted the problem. Truth was no longer relevant. It was boring. Instead, our new approach should be “truthiness.” Things don’t have to actually be true, they merely need to sound as if they could be true.

Don’t be surprised after you download that Pokémon Go app and it directs you to the White House that you see a Donald Trump anime staring at you!

 

The Salt Life: The Herald-Tribune’s Zika Forum (by Jack & Sasha)

On August 17 we were two of about 100 people who attended the Hot Topics Forum on Zika that was sponsored by our excellent local newspaper the Herald-Tribune.

Rather than summarize the points made (check out reporter Maggie Clark’s August 18 article at http://www.heraldtribune.com), we offer here our reactions to and thoughts about what we heard—and didn’t hear.

Sasha:  This is such a difficult issue to present, especially for a city that counts on tourism. On the one hand, panelists encouraged public awareness and taking steps to avoid Zika transmission whether by mosquito or sexual transmission.  There was also support for additional research but also concern that the US Congress did not allocate the $1.9 billion asked for by the CDC. Don’t panic was the general message. On the other hand, the risk to pregnant women of giving birth to a baby with microcephaly, little knowledge about the neurological damage that might not show in the infected for years, no crystal ball for how this will play out and whether it will eventually spread, and with the probability that the lack of funding will delay the development of a vaccine, we should be very concerned indeed.

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Jack:  The potential impact of the virus spreading when people leave the Olympics and return home was mentioned, but one huge omission was Puerto Rico (a commonwealth of the US whose residents are US citizens). Given that, it should be of concern that over 11,000 American citizens living there have Zika, the territory is bankrupt, and the US is ignoring them. If we said that 11,000 people were infected in Florida, believe me, the Congress would act. It is being projected that Puerto Rico may have as many as 800,000 cases by the end of the year.

Sasha:  I learned a lot from the panelists, mostly because they brought together points that were on the periphery for me. For example:

I knew that mosquitoes could infect humans; but I had missed that once-infected, humans could pass on the virus to other mosquitoes who would then pass it on to other humans, and so on. In addition, the type of mosquito that carries Zika likes to bite several hosts rather than feed on one. Eeek.

I knew that Zika could be sexually transmitted, but who knew that although women carried the virus for perhaps as many as 8 weeks, that men could carry it in their semen for up to six months. [Question: How on earth, then, can we be sure that the virus can be contained within Miami’s zone of infection without also “containing” sexually active men? Wow. This would be a new twist on reproductive and sexual freedom, no?]

Dr. Vilma Vega introduced the issue of whether Guillain-Barre syndrome, which harms the nervous system, could be linked to those who had Zika years earlier. So rather than experiencing short-term flu-like symptoms and being done with it, Zika could pose a much greater danger for all those infected.  Continue reading “The Salt Life: The Herald-Tribune’s Zika Forum (by Jack & Sasha)”

From the Salt Mines: Reasons to Hate Online Job Applications (by Sasha)

dreamstime.com A few months back, I was helping an unemployed plumber with his online job application. When I asked him for his password to the employment site, he replied, “bite me.” Unfazed, I moved the keyboard toward him and said, “okay then, you type it in yourself.” “No,” he said. “You do it.  My password is ‘bite me;’ I figured I wouldn’t forget it because that’s the way I feel each time I have to fill-out an application online.”

I told him I understood completely, and that it made no sense to have the unemployed jump through so many hoops for some very ordinary jobs.

“Yes it does,” he said. “That way, when we give up, do it wrong, or don’t bother, it’s our fault. It’s like there’s a conspiracy out there to screw us, man!”

Hmmmmm……

 

………………………………………………………..

As director of the Human Resources Department, I’ve called this meeting because we have an emergency on our hands.

Plainly stated, for every job advertisement we place, we receive on average 125 applications.

People, this is taking up too much manpower, therefore based on the best practices of HR departments throughout the country, we will manage this problem by following a new strategic plan.

To wit, effective immediately we will implement three policies.

First, all applications must be completed online and all documents submitted electronically.

Q:  All? How about say for groundskeepers and maintenance?

A:  All.

Q:  But typing and computer literacy are not skills required for doing those jobs.

A.  Hmmm. Let’s agree that to hold them to the same standard we’d hold ourselves is to treat them fairly and equally.

Next, we will erase all contact information for this department from any eternal site; No more phone calls, emails, or heaven forbid, texts from external applicants. And as backup, we’ll put someone at the front desk who will deny anyone who comes in access to HR without a verified appointment.

Q: But then how would applicants ask us questions?

A:  Pay attention! That’s the point. We don’t have time to hold their hands! Make them figure it out!

Finally, our software will be upgraded to provide applicants with new challenges; we will add questions that are irrelevant but with spaces that can’t be left blank, we will have the system reject any phone number that doesn’t contain two hyphens, and we will discourage the casual applicant by demanding their social security number upfront.

Q:  How about ask them to click on buttons that don’t exist?

Q:  Or could we also log them out automatically after just 30 minutes.

Brilliant ideas team! Now you’re getting into the spirit of this meeting. Other suggestions?

Q: What if we list in the job description every conceivable responsibility the new job holder will have and ask them to document how they meet every single one?

Q: Oh, oh, I’ve got one: our software could upload the applicant’s resume then cannibalize it to fill out the application form automatically but incoherently.

Q:  I’ve heard that other firms apply algorithms to each application to pre-screen for the presence of keywords and then automatically reject all the others.

Q:  We could require them to download the latest versions Acrobat or QuickTime before they apply.

Q:  Wait, but what if they can’t because they don’t own the computer? Oh, I get it, that’s the point.

These are great ideas, people, just email me the details later today.

Q:  Perhaps if we took down the ads for the jobs that have already been filled we’d have less applicants?

This is not, I repeat NOT, in keeping with “best practices.” It would be far too time consuming to take down every position when we fill it. What next? Would you have us thank applicants for applying or inform them when they are no longer being considered? For heaven’s sake, people, let’s stay on track here. 

(Someone else enters….)  Excuse me…I hate to interrupt, but the toilet is overflowing in the Executive bathroom.

So call the company plumber! Now!

I did; but he told me that for this job to be considered, I had to apply online.Shutterstock.com

What!?!

And I have to use his password.

Which is?

Bite Me.

 

 

 

 

The Salt Life: Older Women and Exercise (by Sasha)

Throughout Sarasota, women “of AARP age” are exercising. You can see them walking the beach, running over the Ringling Bridge, biking the roadways, pumping iron at the gym, competing on tennis courts and golf courses, and practicing at yoga studios.

Whenever my sister Cat and I see these women, we say in unison “You Go Girl!” We don’t care how they look, what they wear, or whether they are good at what they are doing. We admire them. We are each one of them.

And we can’t help but recall how much has changed for American women and exercise.

When we were growing up in the 1960s, it was a dim time for girls and “physical education” (a misnomer if any there was one). Unfortunately, these classes taught us that we as females were not meant to be physical:

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  • We wore  cloth gym suits that had to be starched and ironed;
  • On our feet were ill-fitting Keds that we kept white by applying shoe polish;
  • We were graded not on what we achieved in class, but according to whether we “tried” and whether our uniforms passed inspection;
  • When we had cramps from our menstrual cycle, we were allowed to skip gym class—and we did, as often as possible;
  • We never warmed up our muscles or stretched before or after exercise;
  • Every year our “fitness” was assessed by the number of jumping jacks, sit-ups, and chin-ups we could do in a timed session;
  • Only girls were introduced to gymnastics and dance; only boys to lacrosse, soccer, weightlifting, wrestling, and football;
  • When we played basketball, we had to dribble three times then pass, and we only played half-court;
  • In the locker room, we were our own worst enemies; we judged each other (and ourselves) by cup size, leg stubble, and body fat;
  • We chose up teams and ridiculed those chosen last, and labeled as lesbian any girl who was a “jock;” mediocrity was the safest route to go;
  • We tried our best not to sweat in order to avoid ruining our hair or having to shower in the locker room;
  • We were encouraged to join team spirit (for only the boys’ teams) by becoming a cheerleader, joining the pep squad, twirling batons;
  • When we joined one of the few competitive girls’ teams, we lacked uniforms, equipment, coaches, travel budgets, and time to practice on the field or courts;
  • When we asked for more resources, we were made to feel guilty that we were taking money away from the serious athletes (i.e., boys).

Then in 1972 along came Title IX.  Continue reading “The Salt Life: Older Women and Exercise (by Sasha)”

Explaining Donald Trump-Part I (by Jack)

There are many advantages to living in Sarasota—great weather, world famous quartz-sand beaches, a vibrant cultural community, and no state taxes. But one significant advantage that few realize is that living in Florida forces you to think about weird things and accept them as normal: wacky weather, swamp land giveaways, invasive species, tropical creatures that appear in your garage, odd laws, criminals who are dumber than a stump, a wild west gun culture, and a flow of news items that make the jaw drop (remember the hanging “chads” of election 2000?)

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So what better way to apply our skills in making sense of the inexplicable than to use them to try to explain the presidential nomination of Donald Trump.

Members of the media and political pundits have struggled to explain how Trump has been so successful doing things that would have disqualified any other candidate from serious contention. These breaches of decorum include insulting people (and refusing to apologize), fabrication of facts (i.e., lies), changes in positions almost at will, demonstration of a disturbing ignorance of important political issues, taking positions directly contrary to traditional Republican positions, contradicting himself, and ignoring his own political advisors. Even more recently, he has suggested that his opponent Hillary Clinton might only be stopped by Second Amendment enthusiasts (an invitation to assassination?!?)

How can voters make sense of this? How do we evaluate Trump?

In a series of five essays to follow I will attempt to explain why Trump has been as successful as he has been. (Hint: it has to do with a paradigm shift). But, for now let me provide some reasons why the criteria normally used to evaluate candidates fail when applied to Trump and what you can do about it.

Issues. Trump makes things up all the time, so much so that the media is exhausted trying to continually point out that what he says is not true. In many ways it’s a clever strategy because the media report the statements and if you are only half-listening it is easy to only hear Trump’s statement and pay little or no attention to the fact that it is not true. Furthermore, Trump has developed a strategy for dealing with media critics—he is the victim of the “liberal media” who are out to get him by making him appear to be ignorant about the issues. Clever. So in essence, Trump tells his supporters: don’t evaluate me on the basis of the issues. Take his advice, don’t.

Party Identification. Around 2/3rds of the voters identify fairly strongly with a political party. They use this identification to help them make decisions. It’s no wonder that Republicans tend to vote for Republicans and Democrats tend to vote for Democrats. This process isn’t as irrational as you might think. People usually have pretty good reasons for identifying with a particular party and the candidates of that party usually adhere to the traditional policies embraced by their parties.

In securing the nomination of his party Trump made a special point of running against the party establishment. While doing so he articulated a number of positions that actually ran counter to traditional Republican positions. While it is difficult to trust any positions he has taken given that he changes them so frequently, it would make it very problematic to use party ID as a reliable indicator to predict his behavior if elected. In the Age of Trump using party ID as a criterion for voting is not a good idea.

Trusted Friends. Usually trusted friends are a reliable short-cut to help make a voting decision. Rather than following what at times is a disgusting campaign you can find some friends who enjoys being a political junkies and let them do that for you. Then pump them for information just before election time.

But something strange is happening in 2016. While politics always engenders emotions, this year there seems to be a substantially greater amount of emotional intensity. A little bit of emotion in politics can actually be beneficial as it engages people in the political process, but the intensity of the emotion in the 2016 presidential contest threatens to overwhelm logical thought. Thus, I recommend not talking to friends who begin to foam at the mouth when Trump’s name pops up. In talking about Trump friends can’t be trusted.

What does that leave us with when trying to evaluate Trump?

 

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OK, just kidding…

Character. One of the few political scientists who wrote a best-selling book (Presidential Character by James David Barber) claims that the most important factor to determine what a president will do once in office is his/her “character.” All other considerations should take a back seat to this critically important factor. What’s more, according to Barber the media provides us with enough information about the candidates to make relatively informed decisions about this.

While I am a bit uncomfortable relying so heavily on character when looking at presidential candidates, I’m afraid that in this election we are left with little else that can be considered reliable information about Trump. So, to assess candidate Trump I recommend you look at how he has managed things in the past, how he goes about collecting information to make decisions, and what is his world view of causation. In addition, what has been his pattern in life as far as being active or passive, whether he enjoys the give-and-take of politics or instead views serving as a duty or political differences as personal assaults. Finally, what is his relationship with people: does he like people; does he surround himself with different types of people to get different viewpoints, does he empathize with people, etc?

In short, we know Trump is a character, but does he have the character of a President.

Salty Dog Singin’ in the Rain

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Doo-dloo-doggy-doo…

I’m walking in the rain

Yes walking in the rain

What an uncomfortable feelin’

I’m soggy again

My humans ignore those clouds

So dark up above

I wish it was snow

August I do not love

 

 

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Let the stormy clouds chase

Every 4pm in this place

“Come on” and they leash me

With a smile on their face

I walk down the lane

Water circling the drain

Just singin’

Singin’ in the rain

Dee-ah dee-ah dee-grrrrrrr.

 

 

New Urbanism and The VUE (by Jack)

A number of Sarasotans have raised concerns about The VUE (and the adjacent Westin hotel) that are being constructed at the corner of U. S. 41 and Gulf Stream Avenue. Mumblings have been heard in local bars along the lines of “the view for who?” and even my mild-mannered wife, Sasha, has likened the massive hulking structure to a Klingon Bird of Prey, saying that it casts a dark shadow of death on Sarasota.

But, like most things in life, there’s another side to the story. Back in April, Gretchen Scheider, general manager of planning and development for the City had the unenviable task of defending the building. Invoking the name of Andres Duany she claimed that the building was consistent with New Urbanism principles because New Urbanism recommended buildings that were closer to the street in order to create a more walkable feel and a better interaction between the pedestrian and the building.

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OK, stop laughing.

With all due respect to Ms. Scheider, she’s cherry-picking the part of New Urbanism she needs to justify a really bad decision to allow The VUE to be built using the design they are using. While it is true that New Urbanism recommends that buildings be closer to sidewalks, that principle only makes sense if many of the other aspects of New Urbanism are also present.

The essence of New Urbanism is to create attractive urban environments that nourish the human spirit, where the architecture creates a sense of place, and where buildings are built to human scale. To do this you should slow down the traffic on streets (even eliminate automobile traffic on some streets), have mixed use buildings, encourage the use of green transportation (walking, bikes, scooters, etc.), and link sidewalks with public spaces where diverse types of people (young/old, rich/poor, etc.) freely interact. The VUE violates all of these principles. But, wait! It’s even worse than that.

To really understand what is happening with The VUE I suggest you take a look at its own website (www.vuesarasotabay.com) to see what is really being planned. Behind that massive structure you will find an oasis for the well-to-do. Condos sell for between $1.5 million and $3.4 million. But, look what you get for your money.

There are beautiful green spaces, tennis courts, spas, an outdoor pool overlooking Sarasota Bay (elevated above street level so you don’t have to see pedestrians walking by), an up-scale fitness center, private meeting rooms, a pool-side grill, and even a rooftop doggie park. The idea is to wall off The VUE’s residents from the Sarasota riff-raff. Alas, this is far from New Urbanism. This is American development at its worst. The building alienates not just pedestrians but drivers as well, it walls off a segment of the population from interacting with others, and rather than connecting with public spaces it creates “counterfeit public spaces” behind enormous walls.

So rather than an example of New Urbanism, its sole defense seems to be:  it is within code! Which begs the question about the purpose of Sarasota City codes.

Salt and Snark: The Un-Vue (by Sasha)

Which is scarier, a Klingon Bird of Prey warship (courtesy of Star Trek)…

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or the Vue at 41 and Ringling Causeway (courtesy of unchecked development)?

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Consider the similarities:

  • Two huge wings;
  • An enormous mass that casts a dark shadow on those below;
  • A threat to life as we know it.

Okay, so maybe we’ll learn to love it once it is done. But it does raise the legitimate questions of:  A Vue for who? and How close to the road can a building be without requiring a driver’s license?

Read more here