Lies in civilization are much like ground glass in an otherwise nutritious, delicious buffet. They are dangerous. They are potentially deadly if undetected. Quantity matters. One piece of undetected ground glass is serious. One hundred pieces means that some people will die. Twenty thousand means everyone who partakes of the buffet will likely die.
If one side lies constantly and one of the things they lie about is saying the other side lies, then, of course, your “loyalty” to your own side may get you to thinking: “Both sides lie equally.” Or, even more sadly, “The other side lies!”
Imagine Rembrandt’s Mona Lisa: a beautiful painting. Now, imagine painting a red stripe one inch wide diagonally through the painting. It’s only a small part of the painting, after all. Maybe 10%. But is the value decreased by only 10%? Of course not.
Ever use a dictionary? How much would you pay for a really good dictionary? How about a dictionary with 1% errors? How about one with 10% errors? How about one with 50% errors? How about one with 100% errors?
Imagine you finally manage to save up enough money to buy your dream house. Location: near highways, shopping, & parks. Style: perfect. Condition: perfect. Except for one small thing.
Living in a society that is perfused with lies is like living in a house situated right next to a sewage plant.
The *only* advantage humans have in their struggle to survive is their ability to cooperate and communicate. A lie diminishes that ability to coordinate. The impact is not just that one lie. It’s the spread of skepticism. It’s the felt need to double and triple check everything.
In a complex society, even a tiny bit of deception can multiply far beyond the immediate effects. That is particularly true if a deception passes through a number of weak points in what could be and should be the world-wide web of wisdom.
For example, an employee at a drug company might be pressured to downplay side effects in a report. He does so. But in a corporate culture of honestly, someone will catch the lie and patiently explain that this is not the way things are done around here. The error will be corrected.
And no-one will die from that lie.
On the other hand, the same employee doing the same act in a company with a sociopathic corporate culture might well have that lie not only propagated but further elaborated. As a result, the drug is over-prescribed and over-used. Millions of dollars, and then, that money is like seed money to buy layers and layers of political protection and press protection. At last billions of dollars flow from the pockets of customers into the pockets of the drug company. And, when I say “the drug company” of course, ultimately it ends up in someone’s pocket. Whose? A little of it goes to workers within the company. A huge amount goes to the top executives. But a huge amount also goes to the major stockholders — people who did nothing to discover or promote the drug, but in some sense provided money to support the company.
Guess what? It might even turn out that the drug’s drawbacks outweigh the benefits. In the short run, that might not diminish profits at all.
Again though, we need to realize that the damage to society is not limited to the effects of this particular drug (though those can in and of themselves be devastating effects). It is experiences like this, for instance, that play into vaccine reluctance. Because some drug companies have done some unethical things, people naturally have some degree of mistrust for *all* drug companies for *all* drugs. Nor is the mistrust that such a scheme produces limited to the drug industry. If people believe corruption is widespread, they may themselves become more tempted to engage in it. Even if they don’t themselves engage in lies, deception, bribery, etc., they will certainly be on the lookout for such schemes. It will be harder to take people at their word.
Putting crushed glass in a buffet injures people and ruins the buffet. And, if it happens often enough, it can turn you off from going to any buffets or any restaurants.
Lying can seem attractive in the short term. But in the long run, it will be found out. It will ruin your individual reputation, but it will also tarnish the reputation of your organization and even, to some extent, your entire industry. Beyond that, lies work to spoil society as a whole.
Imagine that a well-functioning society is something like a well-oiled machine. One part connects to another and things function smoothly. Lies are like pouring sand in the gears. Things will move more slowly. Parts will also wear out more quickly. Add enough sand and the motor will burn out or the machinery may catch fire. Would you put sand in your gas tank? Would you add sand to the oil in your auto? Of course not! Why would you support lies in your company or in your society?
Apart from the societal disintegration that lies promote, if you actively pursue a policy of lies to benefit yourself, you are basically taking a kind of informational poison into your own psyche and eventually it will poison your mind. You’ll become more and more addicted to a strategy of relying on lies rather than relying on doing a good job or learning from your mistakes. When someone asks a perpetual liar a question, they will not be able to simply answer. They will have to calculate who knows what and how easily the lie will be found out and try to recall what lies that they have already told to whom.
Just as more and more of an addictive painkiller must be used to achieve the same level of pain relief, so too, an addicted liar will find that they have to tell more and more lies. The lies may at first be “reasonable” lies. That is, at first, a liar may tell lies that are plausible. Over time, they will have to tell more and more absurd lies. If the liar is a popular figure, his or her fans may echo the lies despite not having any relevant direct knowledge. As the lies become more absurd, the fans echo not only plausible, lies but also echo absurd lies. To those who are not addicted to the lies, fan behavior becomes more and more ridiculous and pathetic.
When Mr. Ted Chews screams “FREEDOM!!” In his attempt to sound ferocious and therefore uses his most big-boy voice he can muster, be assured, he is not talking about your freedom. He is not talking about freedom at all. He is talking about power and license. For him.
The thing Chews finds attractive about his idol is not the Golden Calf’s competence and certainly not his (non-existent) compassion, nor fair-mindedness. Mr. Chews has no illusions about that. He knows Trump’s a monster. But he’s a monster that promises that old white dudes like Ted himself will be able to have it all and take it all if he becomes dictator.
The fact that Trump seemingly never has to suffer any consequences for his many serious and petty crimes is a proof point! Ted figures: “If someone as stupid and inept and uneducated as Trump can get away with anything, then, I sure as hell can! I’m twice as smart and four times as educated. And younger! And, speaking of younger, if I play my cards right, and support T-Rump, either I’ll get picked when he drops dead right before the convention or — I’ll get picked as his VP and he’ll die soon after he takes office. And hell, he’d only have at most, five years as dictator. I will have decades and decades to suck every ounce of wealth, and enjoyment out of America and funnel it to myself! Why the hell not!! Rules don’t mean anything! Laws don’t mean anything! All that matters is power for power’s sake! And I will have it all.”
Rest assured, when Mr. Chews screamed “FREEDOM!!” he was screaming about his own license to do whatever the hell he wanted to whomever the hell he wanted to do it to.
Teddy Boy, of course, is not the first person to have come up with this idea. Nor was Donald Drumpf. It’s a compelling idea partly because there is a part of nearly everyone that can relate. You want things for yourself! You do. I do. Nearly everyone does. But there’s another part of nearly everyone that has to do with caring, with love, with empathy. And, if we are adults, we also realize that if we act like a$$holes all the time, it encourages others to do the same and we will all end up in a much worse place. And, even if you can’t see that, you can at least hopefully see that there will be real consequences if you act like a selfish a$$hole all your life.
That is true for nearly everyone in the society. However, if you happen to be an absolute dictator, two of these constraints on your behavior are lessened. First, since you control the laws and the press, you will suffer no consequences from the law. While it is true that your actions will make the entire society crappy, that crappiness will fall hardest on those with the least power. So, although everyone will be worse off (except the dictator) in a dictatorship, those with some power will enjoy mistreating those “beneath” them and that gives them some sort of sick pleasure. Meanwhile, of course, they’ll be getting mistreated themselves by those with more power. Everyone is held rigidly in place and does not want to take a risk, reveal bad news, speak truth to power, try anything creative. It is quite literally making a prison of the entire nation. You think not? Why do countries prevent their own law-abiding citizens from leaving? (Putting aside PANDEMIC-related reasons; barriers to emigration predate that).
The only thing that would keep a dictator from doing incomparable horrors is empathy. But if you were strong on empathy, you wouldn’t even be interested in being a dictator.
Please do not quote or summarize or repeat what the likes of Ted Crews, Minorlee Greene, or #MoscowMitch say. Their words mean nothing. They have worked to overthrow our democracy. They are not interested in fair trials. They are not interested in the rule of law. They are not interested in fair elections. They are not interested in taking their oath of office seriously.
They are interested in one and only one thing: power. They want power in order to line their own pockets and decide what other people can do in their private lives. They have zero interest in governing, solving America’s problems, or listening to what liberals, Democrats, Independents or experts have to say.
Yes, they vibrate their vocal cords. Yes, they move their lips and jaws to form sounds that remind people of actual words. But their words mean nothing.
Their word means nothing.
When they take a solemn oath to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, they don’t mean it.
When they take an oath to have a fair trial, they don’t mean it.
When they say that a Supreme Court Justice should not be confirmed during the last year of a President’s term, they don’t mean it.
When they say that tax reductions for the rich will benefit everyone, they don’t mean it.
When they say that they think the attempted coup and the attack on the Capitol was despicable, they don’t mean it.
They don’t mean anything they say.
They bark and snarl and whine and, I grant you, it sounds a lot like actual words.
But it’s different. They use these barks that sound like words only trying to lie, cheat, steal from Americans and to confuse enough voters and donors to get votes and money in order to stay in power.
In America, we have a long tradition of trying to be “fair” to “both sides” of a debate, discussion, campaign, election, etc. And, given that you have two sides playing by the rules, that is a great tradition. But if only one side is playing by the rules and the other side subverts and avoid the rules, that is no longer a relevant tradition.
If two sides are both arguing in good faith based on facts, then presenting those facts with various analogies and analyses in order persuade people that their plan, position, or platform is superior, it is good to make sure people hear both sides or all sides of those arguments in order to make a better-informed decision. That’s fine.
But if one side is telling the truth and one side makes up stuff out of thin air, it is not the duty of the media to repeat both sides. If one side is using words in order to destroy our democracy, it is not the duty of the media to repeat both sides. If one side is on board with a Crime Family and pushing for an absolute dictatorship, it is not the job of the media to repeat their lies.
When a patient has cancer, the ethical doctor limits treatments to those treatments that kill the cancer cells or improve the health of their patient. They don’t give medicine in “fair proportion” — giving equal doses to those treatments that help the patient and those treatments that help the cancer cells.
When a general leads his troops in a war, he or she doesn’t go out of his way to make sure the enemy has just as much ammunition as their own troops so they can have a “fair fight.” They call in air support to bomb the enemy. They don’t ask their bombers to be sure to they are dropping shells equally on both sides.
The likes of Ted Cruise, #MoscowMitch, and all the other Trumputinists who tried to overthrow our government by refusing to certify the election; the likes of Trumputinists who attend a trial and snub the entire process of prosecuting the most egregious campaign of actions that any President has taken in the entire history of the nation are not involved in true debate, true discussion, true dialog, or true governing.
They are interested in one thing: power. And they will do anything and everything to get that power — including overthrowing the duly elected government through violence.
Repeating the lies of violence-loving traitors is not part of the duty of the media.
You might think that it is okay so long as you add the tag line that what they say is contested or even a lie. Sadly, however, that doesn’t really do the trick. Once the lie is presented to people enough times, it will “stick” in some people’s memory. (See this post about the “primacy effect” in human memory).
What betrayal of trust in all of American history rivals the relentless campaign of lies, conspiracy theories and violence perpetrated by Trump and supported by disingenuous, treasonous Trumputinists? There is nothing close. Presenting the so-called opinions, views, musings, thoughts, etc. of the Trumputinists is not the duty of the media any more than it is to repeat the delusional lies of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, or Kim Jong-un.
We are not having a dialog, or a debate, or a discussion, or a contest with Trumputinists. They want to destroy our country. Don’t be fooled into pretending to have a debate with them. This is an attack on our country every bit as much as the sacking of the Capitol by the British in the War of 1812. Trumputinism is an attack on America every bit as much as Pearl Harbor. Trumputinism is an attack on America every bit as much as were those who flew planes into the World Trade Towers.
People have debated what, precisely, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution means. But no-one to my knowledge has argued that the “right to bear arms” means that you can therefore shoot dead whomever you want. That is not a “freedom” under any reasonable definition.
What would be the consequence of simply saying that under our Constitution, you can kill whomever you want? Anarchy. Chaos. Such a state of affairs would certainly not be conducive to an economic recovery, controlling the pandemic, or “domestic tranquility.” The Second Amendment also doesn’t mean that you can go kill people provided you think you are justified. The fact that you believe you are right does not mean you are right. If you do own a gun, you have a responsibility to use it wisely. You can own a car. But that doesn’t give you the right to drive however you damned well feel like. It doesn’t give you the right to go as fast as you want and it certainly doesn’t give you the right to kill people with your car. Similarly, you can own a home. But owning your own home doesn’t mean you can set up an opium den or a crack house there. With rights come responsibilities.
So it is as well with the “Freedom of Speech.” You have the right to make arguments for your point of view, even if that view is not popular. But, as nearly everyone realizes, that does not mean you have the freedom to stand up in a crowded theater (should they ever exist again) and scream “FIRE!” at the top of your lungs. If you did, and people were trampled to death in the panicked rush to get out, you would rightly be held liable for their deaths.
That is not the only restriction on your “Freedom of Speech.” You cannot visit someone, sneak a bottle of vodka out of their liquor cabinet while they aren’t looking, pour the Absolute down the drain, and replace the contents with wood alcohol, and then sneak it back into the liquor cabinet. You cannot knowing sell horse meat as venison. You cannot lie about your age in order to register to vote or buy alcohol or firearms.
You cannot convince your neighbor that wood alcohol will prevent COVID (it won’t and it’s poison) and then let them act accordingly. It is certainly not ethical, if someone has the symptoms of an appendicitis, to tell them not to worry because doctors just perform operations to make money and that instead, they should simply take a laxative (this can easily result in a burst appendix followed by sepsis and death). It is also probably illegal to do so, even if you sincerely, but wrongly believe that taking a laxative will cure an appendicitis.
Suppose your friend has a two year old with a nasty looking wart on their hand. Suppose you convince your friend, that you can simply cut off the child’s hand with a meat cleaver and that the next day, a new hand will grow back and it will be perfect — no wart. Your friend is rather stupid to believe you, but that doesn’t mean you have no responsibility in the matter. You cannot successfully argue in court that you were “merely executing your right to free speech.”
It is not okay to simply spread lies because there are other people spreading the same lies. With Freedom of Speech comes the responsibility to check up on the veracity of what you say, write, or tweet. If your intention is to mislead people into harming or killing someone, you will be held liable.
Sometimes, deciding what is true is difficult. In the case of my convincing you that your child’s hand will grow back, you could use logic, or experience, or seek out the expertise of medical doctors. Some people have not been educated to take these steps. That is sad, but if someone is misled into committing a crime, a mentally competent adult doing the misleading and the mentally competent adult who has been misled are both liable, even if both of them have been misled by misinformation on the Internet. That is why it is so important not to spread misinformation.
Sometimes such misinformation is spread with the best of intentions. People may actually believe that people with red hair are devils in disguise and that they are all hell-bent on destroying the earth. That still doesn’t make it all right for you to kill red-haired people nor to spread lies about them that results in someone else killing red-haired people. If you spread your belief and that action harms other people, you are not somehow exonerated because you believed the lie that you spread.
There is, however, a category of misinformation still worse than spreading deadly lies without checking up on them.
That happens when people who know better, such as Ted Cruz, spread lies that they know are lies in order to gain political power. He was valedictorian in his high school class and has degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School. He has both the knowledge and the intelligence to know that he was lying about election results. Unless someone was drugging him without his knowledge or he has a brain tumor, he knowingly and cravenly tried to overthrow the most recent Presidential election. And he did so in the most cravenly and cowardly way possible: by intentionally and cynically rousing others to violence. Everyone who died in DC as a result of the Sedition Riot has their blood on his hands.
What he did, and others of his ilk, is not the exercise of free speech any more than screaming “FIRE!!” In a crowded theater is exercising free speech. Cruz’s rabble rousing is no more free speech than my robbing a bank at gunpoint is a “free speech” demonstration of my objection to wealth inequality. Cruz knows full well that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and by quite a bit. Cruz knows that there was no wide-spread election fraud. Cruz knew full well that the President’s lies on the subject had predisposed an angry mob to believe his lies and act on them.
This was not the first time that Ted Cruz had egregiously lied in public life. Before the Senate impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, he swore an oath for a fair trial. Then, he joined other GOP Senators to refuse to hold a fair trail; refusing to call witnesses and refusing to subpoena documents. Leaving Trump in office has led to hundreds of thousands of needlessly dead Americans. Those deaths are on the heads of Donald J. Trump, but also on the heads of Senators who swore to hold a fair trial and then made no attempt to do so.
There are many lies that have emanated from Ted Cruz — a man who is a United States Senator. His lies meant to incite a riotous attack on our democracy were not the first of his lies. But they should be the last.
He should be ejected from the Senate and criminally prosecuted for inciting to riot and for treason.
Our founders knew that a would-be dictator, such as Donald J. Trump, would be a danger to our democracy. They provided for that eventuality. Sadly, they failed to anticipate the astounding level of cowardice that could be displayed by people such as Ted Cruz. I suppose it’s understandable. After all, these founders had just engaged in a war against the much more powerful and better trained British. And, they had won. They didn’t all agree with each other, but they were not a bunch of craven cowards who would sell their family for a moldy table scrap of a would-be dictator’s affection.
Cowardly sycophants of that ilk belong in prison; not in the United States Senate.
“…and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” US Constitution, Article 2, Section 2.
One reading of this statement is simply this: If a President has been impeached, he will cede the power to grant reprieves and pardons. “He shall have power…except in cases of impeachment.” An impeached President — one completely without a shred of decency or ethics — could use the power of the pardon to shroud his own perfidy and prevent himself from being convicted of the high crimes and misdemeanors that he has been charged with in his impeachment. Then, it would make sense to put in a limitation to Presidential pardons in cases where the President has been impeached.
In a more narrow interpretation, he is only limited in that he is not to give pardons to people who are impeached. That would have been easy to clarify if that’s what was meant.
In either case, the provision does not say that the power is “unlimited.” It does not give explicit and specific limits (except in case of impeachment). That doesn’t mean that the power is unlimited. Those are two different concepts.
I have bought many tools in my life. For instance, one of those tools is a hammer. Nowhere in the instructions for the hammer does it say I can’t use the hammer to bash people’s brains in. Similarly, I own a saw. Nowhere in the instructions for the saw does it say that I can’t use it to dismember people and store their limbs in the freezer. I own a screwdriver. Nowhere in the instructions for the screwdriver does it say I can’t use to stab folks in the heart. I also own a car. Neither my registration nor my driver’s license says that I am not allowed to mow down pedestrians.
Yes, there are other laws that make it clear that I’m not allowed to murder people.
Pardons are meant to be tools. The framers of the Constitution did not bother to say, “The Pardon is a tool that should be used to right wrongs and dispense mercy — not to be used to destroy the rule of law or help the President destroy the nation he is supposed to protect.”
Why would they put that? A political entity clearly, by its very nature, must admit of a variety of opinions, approaches, and policies. They didn’t bother to put in the Constitution that the President, whatever his political leanings, must actually take his oath of office seriously. Clearly, #45 is working for Putin’s benefit & doing what he can, in a thousand ways, large and small, to destroy America. It makes zero sense, to use the Constitution as the excuse for him to destroy the Constitution.
If the rule of law is subverted, the entire rest of the Constitution is useless. That’s why he’s pardoning war criminals. He’s not pardoning anyone out of a sense of “loyalty” either. That’s absurd. He feels no loyalty for what people have done. He’s using pardons as a weapon for the destruction of the Constitution.
Imagine you hired a contractor to fix your deck. You provide him with all the materials and tools he needs to do the job. You both sign a contract and you agree that he should be allowed to fix your deck without your standing there the whole time telling him how to do his job. After all, he’s the professional.
Now, day one on the job, he begins to dismantle the deck. And the the supports. And your roof. He uses the hammer to smash your windows. He says, “Look! Look here! It says I can fix the deck any way I want. You are not to interfere.”
You fire him. In no uncertain terms. But he comes back the next day and continues to destroy your house. Again he points to the contract and he points out that there is nothing in the contract that explicitly says he can’t destroy your house, just so long as he fixes the deck. Meanwhile, he’s hired a gang of thugs to keep you from physically kicking him off your property. He still claims to be fixing your deck, even though every piece of decking has been put through a chipper. You discover that someone wants to put up a shopping mall where your house is and he is paying your “contractor” to destroy your house so you’ll have to move.
What comes next?
I’m not sure, but I am sure it was never intended by the framers of the Constitution that a sitting President should be allowed to use any single provision or any combination of provisions in the Constitution as a way to destroy the very Constitution he swore to uphold.
You own a dog. You love your dog. And you know your dog loves you.
Your neighbor, on the other hand, you do not love.
But you tolerate the guy despite his odd habits.
Then, one day, your neighbor comes over and shoots your dog dead.
In court, he explains that bullets only kill evil dogs. Bullets will pass through good dogs without harm. In fact, he claims he was doing you a favor, because an evil dog can appear like a good dog and then kill you in your sleep. And, as it turns out, he knows this is true because he found this out on the Internet. Then he heard it on Sketchy News Channel. He joined a group called “Bullets are Truth” on a social media site called “Parlez Vous Tromperie” which has cool pictures of scantily clothed acrobats all around the edges.
Your friend is an adult. He went to high school. He came from a reasonable home. He was not on drugs when he murdered your dog. He is not certifiably insane. He insists he was doing you a favor. He was operating, of course, on the basis of misinformation.
It doesn’t matter.
He killed your dog.
The fact that he did it based on false information makes no difference in how you feel nor does it make a difference in the eyes of the law. The false information he believed in makes no sense and is easily disproven. It doesn’t matter that thousands of people were duped into believing the same nonsense.
You own a dog. You love your dog.
Same neighbor. Same result. He shot and killed your dog.
When the truth at last comes out, it turns out that your spouse called him up and through sobs and hysterical screams, managed to squeak out that the dog had been bitten by a bat and though they had thought little of it at the time, the dog was now rabid and about to attack the children where they were all playing in the yard. She said she knew you had a gun and could you please save her children before it was too late!
Turns out your spouse always hated the dog and the neighbor. After the call, she smiled a very self-satisfied smile at her acting performance. Then, she let your dog out to play, but not before squirting whipped cream all over his muzzle.
When your neighbor came into the yard he saw your dog charging toward the kids and apparently foaming at the mouth.
He killed your dog. He did it on the basis of misinformation.
After all the facts come out, you’ll probably still be pretty PO’d at your neighbor, but you’d be a lot more PO’d at your spouse!
One crucial difference between Case 1 and Case 2 is that in Case 1, your neighbor had plenty of time to verify the veracity of the claim that bullets would pass “harmlessly” through the body of a “Good Dog.” In Case 2, your neighbor could have reasonably thought that he had zero time to do anything but save your children. In Case 1, your neighbor’s belief was absurd. In Case 2, your neighbor believed something unlikely to be true, but it wasn’t physically impossible. Dogs can catch rabies. And if a rabid dog bites a child, that’s really bad for the child.
What do you think are appropriate punishments in these two cases?
Case 3 is just like Case 1 except that your neighbor comes and shoots your kids. He has all the same excuses. He has all the same misinformation as in Case1.
What do you think would be an appropriate punishment for your neighbor? How about the people who put the information on the Internet?
Or, perhaps you think all should be forgiven because he was misinformed?
Your neighbor relies on misinformation on TV and internet sites to engage in treasonous behavior toward America.
The minimum sentence for treason is five years in a Federal Penitentiary.
The maximum penalty is death.
What do you think is an appropriate price for committing treason when the traitor does it based on an absurd conspiracy theory — one that he sincerely believes?
One of the first card games I ever learned to play was “Hearts.” It’s actually quite a fun game. Unlike bridge, which requires four people to play “normally”, Hearts, in my opinion, is even more fun with three. (If you like, you can read about the game before going on, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to understand the rest of this essay. The first link talks about the general rules and the second link gives some hints about “Shooting the Moon.”)
Three was a good number (besides being prime, and a triangular number) because I was an only child for the first 11 years of my life. My parents taught me to play Hearts and Bridge at a fairly young age. I was young enough, for instance, that I looked carefully at each face card to try to understand the personalities of the people peering out! I liked the Jack of Diamonds and the Jack of Spades the best. I desperately wanted to meet them! (I wonder whether Roger Zelazny felt the same because in his rather wonderful “Amber” series…).
The back of the cards also fascinated me. I wondered what it would feel like to ride one of those bikes! I was particularly interested when one of the cards developed a flaw or bend mark. Even knowing the identity of one of your opponent’s hidden cards could be a tremendous advantage.
Anyway, the game of hearts has an interesting payoff structure. You get a point counted against you for every heart that you take. You get 13 points against you if you end up taking a trick with the Queen of Spades in it. There’s a catch though. If you manage to take all thirteen hearts and the Queen of Spades, you get zero points against you. Your opponents each get twenty-six points against them.
The player then is often faced with a dilemma: “Should I try to Shoot the Moon? If I do try, and fail, I will likely end up with many points scored against me. On the other hand, if I succeed, it is a huge advantage for me.”
It isn’t only the points. At a young age, I could handle rules and strategy, but if I tried and just barely failed to “Shoot the Moon,” I would feel extremely frustrated. I didn’t initially try to hide it either! I would literally see red and the top of my head felt is though it were floating away. I would accuse my parents of cheating although I don’t think they ever did. I simply made a false assumption or miscounted or miscalculated. Often, I took a reasonable risk, but the cards just didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. At that point, my view of the world was still primitive: someone was at fault whenever I failed, and I desperately did not want it to be me who was at fault.
Luckily for me, throwing temper tantrums at the outcome of a hand of Hearts was not the sort of nonsense up with which my parents put. I soon learned to hide my rage and eventually not to feel it at all unless there really was evidence of cheating. I didn’t “declare” cheating on my parents or friends just because I didn’t like the outcome — at least not past the age of 7 or 8.
In hearts, it often happens that the cards you are dealt will obviously not let you “Shoot the Moon.” In those cases, your strategy for the hand is clear. Avoid taking as many hearts as possible. However, if I weren’t careful, I could easily end up helping my Mom or Dad “Shoot the Moon.” Better to take one heart or even four hearts or even the dreaded Queen of Spades than to let them “Shoot the Moon” and end up with 26 points!
It is extremely rare, in my experience to be dealt a hand in Hearts that makes it obvious that you will Shoot the Moon so long as you don’t slip up. Generally, the most you can expect to get every round or two is a hand that might let you “Shoot the Moon.” In accomplishing this goal, it is important that you not let your opponents guess that you are trying to Shoot the Moon. The sooner they “catch on”, the lower your chances of succeeding.
At a very young age, I learned to “fake” my reactions to help my chances. For instance, the first time I took a trick in which someone laid a heart on me, I might grimace and growl and shoot the person with my dagger eyes. These ploys worked better against my friends than with my parents who quickly learned to read these fakes. Then, I learned to make them more subtle. Instead of grimacing and growling and shooting the person a nasty look, I would let the slightest hint of disappointment flash over my face quickly and then vanish like morning fog. It reminds me of toasting a marshmallow to perfection without letting it catch fire.
I learned to judge more accurately whether I had a hand that would likely allow me to “Shoot the Moon” or a hand that would only allow me to “Shoot the Moon” if I were very lucky. If there was any chance at all, I would play for awhile and see how things went. After every trick I would “recalculate” my odds in some non-numeric kiddish way. I would often try and sometimes succeed. When I failed, I would try to learn from it. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, my parents would show me how I had messed up. For me, I discovered that it was more fun to try and fail than not to try at all, especially because I could learn from my failures.
September 12, 1962: John F. Kennedy declared that “We choose to go to the moon.”
The United States of America, literally decided to “Shoot for the Moon.” And succeeded.
During my working life, I have far more often heard so-called “leaders” in many different organizations encourage their workers to “Find the Low-hanging Fruit” than I have heard them encourage people to “Shoot the Moon.” What “leaders” will sometimes do is set a “stretch goal” for the workers to fulfill without any provision of the necessary time, resources, or personnel to achieve that goal. If the workers achieve the goal, the manager (not an actual leader) scores 26 points against his or her opponents. They shot the moon. But if, as a worker, you come up one heart short; if you fail to “Shoot the Moon”, then 25 points will be scored against the you theworker who failed. It is the worker who fails to “Shoot the Moon.”
Since the late 1960’s, the real wages of workers have hardly moved at all. During that same time, because workers learned new methods, procedures, and technologies, productivity soared. In the past, the wealth created from increases in productivity had been split between the workers and the owners. Since, the 1960’s however, the increased wealth that accrued from increased productivity has gone completely to owners and virtually none of it has gone to the workers who increased their productivity.
At the same time, and perhaps not coincidentally, most businesses, even pre-COVID, were not trying to “Shoot the Moon” — they were searching for “Low-Hanging Fruit.”
What happened, America?
When do go for it again?
When do we try to “Shoot the Moon” again?
When do we reshape our society to allocate windfall profits to the people who actually work for a living — and not just for the people who watch their wealth increase by simply owning stuff?
I do not think these two changes are unrelated. The people who actually do the work are willing to take risks to build something better. They are invested in the product or service they provide. They would like to be fairly paid, but it isn’t only about the money. It’s also about doing something really cool and providing value for the society as a whole.
The people who simply move money around from stock to stock to make money don’t want to take risks. They don’t really care whether their money is being spent to cure cancer or to develop a new toothpaste that comes out of the tube and whistles “Dixie” while it does so. They want a decent return on investment. They may be willing to invest some of their capital in a portfolio of high risk/high benefit investments but most of them will abandon backing the attempt to cure cancer to invest in the whistling toothpaste if that’s what the “numbers dictate.”
This is obviously not true of everyone who is rich, but it’s more often true than not. Those, like Bill Gates, or George Soros or Mike Bloomberg who do contribute enormous sums to good causes are pilloried. Is it by other billionaires because they don’t want to look bad by comparison? Is it by foreign actors who simply want to sow dissent and distrust within America? I don’t really know.
I love to play tennis. Before I learned tennis or even knew it existed, I learned badminton. I love badminton as well as table tennis and racquetball. Now, living in San Diego, the weather gods are kind enough to shine sun and blue and warm so that tennis is often possible seven days a week. Unfortunately, my 75 year old body has issues with playing every day.
Before COVID, I went to the gym every other day and lifted. I still exercise my muscles but I can’t quite make it as effective as using real weights. Lack of strength and having flat feet combine to put a lot of stress on my feet and knees. Before COVID (will we call this “BC” at some point?) my strength was good. I was nearly as strong as when I was 16.
As it turns out though, lifting strength is not the only factor that determines how well you can run and jump. The body has, in effect, a number of “springs.” When someone runs (at least when a young person runs), fully half of the power for a running stride comes from the rebound of internal springs which provide power from the previous stride. Our human running springs are primarily the arch, the Achilles tendon and the quad muscles.
My own arches, sadly, have never worked properly. When I step down forcefully, rather than compressing and expanding, my foot slips inward and does not rebound. But the muscles and tendons have also become less resilient with time. Wearing orthotics helps align my body and lessens pain in the arches. But orthotics do not provide the “bounce” of the natural bone arch as it rebounds from the previous step. Nonetheless, I enjoy playing tennis. It’s good for the body, the soul, and the mind.
I enjoy playing singles but I mainly play doubles. And doubles also provides a variety of lessons (and challenges) in teamwork.
Consider that you are positioned near the baseline of the court (far away from the net) and someone hits a ball right at you. As it turns out, it is much much easier for your partner to tell whether this shot is going to be long or not than it is for you yourself to tell. Just today, for instance, I was standing just inside the baseline when a deep shot was hit right at me, about waist high. My partner yelled, “BOUNCE!” I let it go. I might mention that my partner’s eyesight is not so good as mine is. I’m not putting him down. That’s just a fact. Nonetheless, I prepared to hit the ball out of the air until I heard my partner yell “BOUNCE!” When that happened I pivoted and let it fly by me, turning so I’d have a good at where it landed. Two inches out.
It turns out that a similar kind of teamwork is important in the outfield of a baseball game. If you are playing in the outfield and a long fly ball is hit toward you, it is devilishly difficult to tell whether the ball is going to land near you, in front of you, or behind you. When a well-coached team plays, the outfielders will call out to one another and give guidance about whether a ball hit directly to another outfielder is going to land in front of them, roughly where they are or far behind them. In a poorly coached team, they do not help each other in this way.
In a well-coached team, the fielder who is not going to catch a high fly ball does not simply “zone out” and think, “not my play.” Instead, they are still cognizant of their ability and responsibility to help out their teammate who is going to catch the ball, even though they are nowhere near that teammate. Competition for fame, fortune, recruiting, salary, etc. all push toward not helping each other out. But normal people on normal teams actually have a normal reaction to want to help the others on their team. Good coaching enhances a feeling of teamwork. It also involves explaining, at least to the younger players, the ways in which they can help each other. Calling “Forward” or “Back” to a fellow fielder is only one of the many ways teammates in baseball can help each other.
The man behind the mask (the Catcher) and the outfielder trying to throw a player out who is trying to score — that is a delicate sort of dance so that the outfielder throws the ball the spot where the Catcher can most likely tag the runner (advancing player) out.
For a team to function at the highest level, there has to be both the skill to know how to coordinate and mutual trust. Mutual trust means everyone looks out for each other and wants everyone to succeed. Some teams lack one or both of these qualities. If they lack both, it will be nothing more than a set of individuals doing assigned tasks. That is both less effective and a whole lot less joyous way to play Baseball or Tennis. (Or, Life, for that matter).
Perhaps you’re not a fan of tennis or baseball but you like golf. Watch one of the most prestigious tournaments of all, the Masters, played at the remarkably beautiful Augusta National. The winners of the Green Jacket show their excitement with a riotous palette of smiles, tears, cheers, and beaming. Regardless of how the excitement is exhibited, the winner shows a lot of excitement. That level of excitement does not, however, even begin to compare to the degree of excitement that the victors exhibit in the Solheim Cup competition nor the Ryder Cup where teams are competing against each other.
There’s no comparison, to my eyes; or, in my own experience. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win an individual match. I am very competitive, likely too competitive. But I still experience a team victory as — not only more joyous. It’s a different level of joy. A private victory is much like a bite of my favorite food; perhaps a handful of cashews. I love cashews.
But a team victory? That is more like going out to dinner (if you can still remember BC times) at a wonderful and unique restaurant. I think this feeling is nearly universal. The intensity and even quality of that feeling depends on the quality of the teamwork. If the team really knows how to work together and has the empathy and motivation to do so, and if that teamwork is largely the source of the victory, it is all the sweeter.
The best teams have the skill and the motivation to cooperate well. Mediocre teams will lack one or the other of those qualities. Poor teams will have neither the desire to cooperate nor the skill to do so. But there is a fifth type of “team”: one composed of people who are actively working against each other. This is like a cancer in an organization.
If Susan sees Charlie fail to help Barbara as promised, Barbara will be less likely to help Charlie. She may even help him fail. But Susan does not remain unaffected either. She may also try to avenge Barbara. Or, she may say to herself, “Well, hell, if Charlie can get away with blaming someone else for his mistakes, why can’t I?” Mistrust, disloyalty, inefficiency, high turnover rates, actual violence in the workplace, absenteeism, theft — just as you would expect, higher costs are associated with all of these things and all of these things are more common in a toxic environment — one where people cannot trust each other.
In tennis, the on-court team is only two players. You might think the cooperation is simple. It’s more complicated than that. Believe me — or don’t — but it would be another whole essay to explain. One factor that’s important in all types of teamwork is mutual trust. If my partner says “BOUNCE!” and I let it go repeatedly only to watch it drop well in bounds, I’m eventually not going to trust those judgements of my partner any more.
Notice that trust broken is difficult to bounce back from. And, like arches, muscles, and tendons, when a society gets older, it may well have less “bounce” when it comes to forgiving betrayals. Perhaps the same is true for individuals.
I don’t know. But it seems to me (as a liberal) as though Trumpists believe liberals are betraying Trump. But why should a liberal have any loyalty whatsoever to Trump. Initially, I felt some loyalty to the Office of the Presidency, and was willing to watch him with an open mind, but he has shredded trust like a pet hamster named Liberty that fell in the document shredder. Only, in the case of Trump, the pet hamster didn’t just fall in the shredder. Poor Liberty was thrown into the shredder. And, when the legless and hapless hamster tried to squirm its way out, he grabbed a handy Barr to push it back in.
There’s something even worse, from my perspective. My “teammates” on the “other side of the aisle” are being conned. From my perspective, over here, on the side, it is painfully obvious. To them, it is not obvious. The cons are coming right at them like a high line drive and they cannot see how deep these shots are or how close they take us to the brink of a fascist dictatorship or utter anarchy.
I try to tell them, “BACK! BACK!” But instead of going back, or asking someone else, they continually insist they are not being conned. And then, they ask me why I hate America and hate Baseball. (Neither of those are true, by the way).
The ball falls over their head; the other team is scoring runs; and they deny that anything ever happened! They don’t only deny they were not back far enough. They deny there was a ball even hit to them. Or, they insist that they are free and as such, they don’t have to back up just because I say so.
They don’t even run back and get the ball that landed behind them! Someone else has to do that. I look at the scoreboard, and what I see is this:
COVID19 — 300,000 dead America – 12,000,000 unemployed
They apparently look at the scoreboard and see:
Liberal Hoax — 300,000 supposedly dead
Donald Trump worked from day one of his Presidency to put our American “team” in the fifth and last category: a divided team without mutual trust.
We have the skills of teamwork. We have the motivation to act as a team. What is missing is trust. Americans do have the skills to cooperate across every kind of divide. Most Americans do have the desire to work together on some serious problems such as immigration reform, sensible gun control, addressing climate change, increasing employment, decreasing crime, improving our standing in the world, stopping systemic racism. I don’t say all Americans share these goals, but most do. At a more fundamental level, we all want a shot at a decent life and a chance that our kids will do even better. That’s what most people want. We can get all of that and more with teamwork.
The hardest part of that will be recovering and rebuilding mutual trust. There has been colossal betrayal that goes way beyond policy differences between liberals and conservatives or between Democrats and Republicans. Until the Trump administration, there was an expectation of truth; there was an expectation of hiring excellence for the government; there was an expectation that we would face a common enemy like Russia together; there was an expectation that we would all take an oath of office seriously; there was an expectation that people in high places would not, with absolute impunity, line their own pockets from the public treasury. There was an expectation that a President of the United States of America would tell the truth about a deadly pandemic and not spread lies about it and model lethal behavior. There was an expectation that both Republicans and Democrats would put our Democracy and the legitimacy of our elections ahead of conning followers out of millions of dollars just to line the pockets of Donald J. Trump.
All those expectations were broken. Trust was broken. Now, we have to try to see that we’re on the same team and work together.
We can do it. But it won’t be easy.
The most important thing that liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, and independents can focus on is that our election worked. I don’t just mean that the technology worked or the process worked. What’s most important is that the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats worked together to make that election happen and be counted and be reported. Yes, there were some high-ranking high-profile Republicans who seemed to be joining the Trump “Let’s Destroy America!” Train; the Trump “If you don’t want me, fine! I’ll burn your silly little democracy down on the way out!” Train. But thousands and thousands of people of all political stripes and all across this country came together to make it work. People in the Great Plains worked together; people in small towns worked together; people in large cities worked together — Republicans and Democrats.
Those who supported Trump need to understand that we were not trying to rain on their parade or hate on them. We were trying to tell them that the damned ball was going over their head! They were being conned! (And many still are). Being conned can happen to anyone. And it’s pretty much always the case that it’s easier to see from the side as shown in the following dialogue.
Grandpa: “Oh, Grandson! You’ll never guess what happened today. I got a letter in the mail from this really nice man in Kremblinia and he’s giving me…us, really… a million dollars! Isn’t that amazing!”
Grandson: “Grandpa. No-one gives away a million dollars!”
Grandpa: “No, no. You don’t understand. It’s not exactly a give away. He can’t get to his money because of political problems in Kremblinia. You know. It’s in Africa. I guess they have corruption there.”
Grandson: “It’s still a scam.”
Grandpa: “No, it’s real. He just needs my bank routing number so he can wire me the money into my account.”
Grandson: “You didn’t give it to him, did you?”
Grandpa: “Of course I did! You think I’ll turn down the opportunity of a lifetime? Why are you being so negative?”
Grandson: “Call the bank. Quick. He’s going to rob your account!”
Grandpa: “Let me just show you the letter. You can just tell he’s sincere. He’s very religious actually. He was taken from his mother when he just a little kid. Horrible. They do that there. Anyway, he became a Prince in this whole region, but then the Muslims came in. I forget all the details. I’ll show you next time you come over. You’ll see.”
They are also a rather amazing family of creatures. Much like humans, they have managed to reach most of the lands on our planet. Spiders produce silk which, by weight, is five times as strong as steel.
Some make beautiful webs. And some are themselves beautiful. In any case, like every other advanced life form, their internal structure is an incredible design fitted to their environment.
Their behavior is part of that beauty as well. I had an opportunity to observe a fairly large one for a few days. She had built a web, larger than a bicycle tire, all across the entry way of our back deck. My wife and I liked to go out on the back deck, but both of us were reluctant to destroy the beautiful symmetry of the web. I spent some time watching and she always returned to the center of his web after every “search and destroy” mission that she carried out. As soon as something hit the web, she rushed out unerringly to the spot where the unlucky mosquito, fly, or small moth struggled to set itself free. I only saw one insect succeed before the spider wrapped his prey and bit it to immobilize it. After wrapping up the unlucky prey, the spider would go back to the center. The center is a wise place for her to hang out. It gives the minimum maximum distance to “get to” the prey. And, it allows maximum discrimination for which direction to go. It also allows the spider to “run” the same “algorithm” to get to her prey.
Once, it happened by chance, that two little flying insects hit the web simultaneously and quite far apart. The spider rushed off to one of the two and wrapped it immediately in its silky tomb. Then she returned to the center. She seemed to recall that somewhere out there was another meal, but she didn’t know where. And the insect caught was no longer struggling. So — the spider began systematically “plucking” the radial strings of her web one by one. At last she came to the strand which led to the position of the fly who was attempting to play possum. But once that strand vibrated, the fly, out of what might be something like fear, began to struggle again. That was a fatal mistake. In a flash, the spider’s hypothesis confirmed, she ran up that strand and wrapped up that prey as well.
In The Hobbit, as well as The Lord of the Rings, large spiders are willful villains. It’s much the same in Harry Potter. It’s rare for a spider to be one of the “good guys” but it does happen; e.g., in Charlotte’s Web. Spiders can hurt and even kill people. But it is very rare in the United States; on average about 6 per year. About 30 are killed from stinging insects; about the same number as dogs. About 130 are killed from collisions with deer. The biggest killer worldwide, in terms of complex animals is the mosquito. Those critters have partners of course. They transmit malaria, dengue fever, Zika, encephalitis and other diseases. Spiders trap and kill a lot of mosquitos. Does that make them our friends? Is the enemy of my enemy necessarily my friend?
The truth is that the web of life has many players and is a constant dance. We try to make sense of it, but we are not really in a position to really understand how the estimated 8 million species interact. In a few cases, like the novel coronavirus, it seems pretty clear that the virus is not friendly to humans. In this case, the “vector” that transmits the virus is not a mosquito. It’s other human beings — especially those who don’t wear masks or socially distance — who are acting as vectors, spreading disease, and killing their fellow Americans. Is the friend of my enemy my enemy?
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Which is exactly why Putin is working so hard to divide Americans against each other and to break up the EU and NATO.
Have you heard the story about the tailor who killed giants by hiding in a tree and throwing stones at the giants? Each giant assumed another giant had thrown the stone and they ended up killing each other while the tailor sat hidden in the tree. Except in our case, we know there’s a tailor in the tree throwing stones and it makes no difference. Weird.
Meanwhile, the spider spins a web. Watch her grace. Watch her unity. It isn’t simply the left hand knowing what the right is doing. It’s every one of her eight hands knowing what each of the other seven is doing. When they don’t fight with each other, much can be accomplished.