In our current times, the Information Age, literacy is more widespread than it has ever been. People who can read and write and have Internet access have all of human history and science at their fingertips. People who don't have those things...that's a tragedy, and one that I hope there are organizations out there trying to fix.

What is not tragic, but terrifying, is that one of the most powerful individuals on the planet is functionally illiterate and President of the United States. I know, I know, all those tweets indicate he does know the alphabet and words, usually, but I said "functionally" illiterate. His tweets are sound and fury, signifying nothing. And according to the news, he rejects briefings longer than a couple of pages, and according to him, he doesn't read books.
More on those tweets...the man uses capital letters exclusively for emphasis, and shows no complexity of thought or subtlety in his word choice, either in his tweets or in his verbal expressions (considering, for example, the one-word insults he tagged to every one of his opponents in the campaign last year, most of which were superficial). 
Yes, I know, Twitter has a character limit, and it's not easy to convey complexity or subtlety in that space. But does "Donald Trump's tweets are sound and fury, signifying nothing." fit under the character limit? Then complexity and subtlety are possible.
[To give credit where credit's due, the phrase isn't mine, it's Shakespeare's, and then either Faulker or Hemingway, I can't remember which, borrowed from it for a novel's title. But I'm not looking up which one to make a point--it would take me five seconds to confirm which one, and I doubt Trump would even recognize that the original quote is from Shakespeare. Words are tools, and sometimes you borrow someone else's tools as best suited for a given purpose, and that's OK as long as you acknowledge where you got them from.]
All told, Trump uses words like a child would. I'm not an expert in childhood linguistic development, so the only thing I can say for certain is that he has more grasp of words than my three-year-old niece, but I'm not sure how a person would graduate elementary school with such flawed use of language. And while he may be more literate than my niece, he's just as prone to tantrums, and I'm not saying my niece is any sort of emotional control prodigy.

I'm taking this personally, I admit. Words are so important to me that my brain spent twenty years suppressing one eye, so I could be literate. I was unknowingly physically disabled, because words matter more. (Now that I know about this, I've been working on exercises, have both eyes functional, and the eye that's been functional all along has actually an improved lens prescription, but none of this is the point.)
I don't know why Trump is functionally illiterate. He might be lazy or stupid, he might have some physical or learning disability, I don't know and before January, it was none of my business. But now this is the man representing my country on the global stage, and he so little understands the uses and misuses of words that he keeps giving his team mixed signals, that he embarrasses himself in front of the world when he shows his weak grasp of history, he's told a certain phrase ('travel ban') is hurting his court case for the ban and he tweets that exact phrase like a child newly introduced to a swear word, and he can't comprehend the concept of classified information (other than 'no one gets to talk badly about me, but of course anything anyone says to me I can repeat to anyone else'). [That latter I tie into the 'subtlety and complexity'--words have a very specific use, and so does information. If you can understand the first, you can grasp the second.]

What I'd really like to do is sentence Trump to a time-out, no more executive orders, no more communication with world leaders, no more Twitter, until he demonstrates his literacy and reading comprehension. Force him to read Curse of Chalion and write a book report, comparing and contrasting himself and Dondo dy Jironal, or a report on the importance of good governance. But that's just one idea--the basic principle is the time-out until he can prove himself both literate and to have the patience for all the information he needs, and also the understanding that Fox News has less, not more, information than all the intelligence services that report to him, so maybe he should cut down on his news-watching in favor of letting his employees give him briefings.

When it's time for an idea to be discovered--when the cultural surroundings strongly support knowledge and those who study it, usually, although occasionally when we've just made enough discoveries that this next one is logical--it seems common that several people come up with it simultaneously.
I'm thinking of Darwin and the theory of evolution--which Alfred Wallace was getting close to at the same time (my source, Science of Discworld, argued that Darwin was not quite sure he wanted to publish something so revolutionary, but when Wallace sent him his own paper, with all the same ideas except for a mechanism, Darwin realized he had to publish, and did so jointly with Wallace).
I'm thinking of calculus--invented by Isaac Newton, and also by Gottfried Leibniz, almost simultaneously (how simultaneously is unclear because Newton wasn't very organized in his notes).
I'm finally thinking of the race to discover the structure of DNA--a book I read (can't remember which one right now) even argued that Linus Pauling might have gotten there first, if he'd been able to make a flight to London to talk to one of the other teams working on it. The anecdote still strikes me, weeks after reading, because the book said that Pauling couldn't make the appointment because he was having trouble getting a visa, thanks McCarthy.

And then that leads me in a different direction--how many first discoveries are we missing the chance at, if we close our borders and build our walls high? The pace of knowledge in the last two decades strongly indicates that we're at one of those times when cultural surroundings beg for discovery. But if we won't let our people talk to (the London teams studying the structure of DNA), then guess who gets the Nobel Prize, the glory, and the patents, and who gets left behind. Especially important to the current administration should be the patents--because brain drain also means money lost to other countries who get first rights to sell the innovations.
I just heard (audiobook) Merchant of Venice for the first time, and it reminded me of everything I know about anti-Jew prejudice during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, occurred to me...
In a lot of worrying ways, that's how a segment of the populace is talking about Muslims now. Because it wasn't just usury (which at least was factually true, although modern society has grown more comfortable with the concept of interest on loans) and greed, it was stealing Christian children and deliberately defiling Christian holy sites and despoiling Christian artifacts and rituals. (None of this from the play, but I have faint memories of reading about this sort of prejudice). Not because these were things that were happening, just that it was easy to make the Jews the bad guys (really, after centuries, you might try a bit of forgiveness? No human responsible for it was still alive, and ultimately a good chunk of the reason for the incident in question was forgiveness--of all of us.)

The concept was "war on Christianity", on Christian values and Christians generally. And that sort of rhetoric has come up again. Modernized, and applied to Muslims instead of Jews, but it's ultimately the same thing, just differently targeted, and almost as inaccurate (for the exception, see below)
And, as we saw last century, with even more potential for danger--Ferdinand and Isabella kicked the Muslims out of Spain, if I understand enough of the history. But now, we have the tools for genocide--and off the top of my head, I can think of at least two genocides of a religious group, in Europe, in the 20th century.

Now, where Daesh (ISIL or ISIS, but Daesh at least is a name I'm sure is valid) is concerned, those accusations seem valid, or at least worth worrying about. In Daesh-controlled territory, I would worry about forced conversions and genocide, and destruction of artifacts (not just Christian--artifacts created by humanity in ages past, which matter because history). But I very much doubt they have much influence outside that territory. How many of their attempts to claim responsibility for terrorist attacks are valid, and how many are either them trying to pretend more influence than they have, or some nutjob wanting an excuse for his violence? I get the distinct impression that claiming to be following God's will, either by pledging allegiance to Daesh or by claiming to be a good Christian, is the claimed motivation behind a number of hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism in the US. But it's as much Christians as Muslims--I'm remembering the nightclub attack last year, but also the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado the...year before, I think?
No one group is the enemy, except maybe if there's a group out there with the explicit and sole purpose of destroy-all-members-of-[group which includes you]. But even then, why does this group exist, what makes them want to kill-you-all, and never forget you're talking about people, who have motivations and reasons, and who are capable of amazing goodness as well as heinous evil.
Now is a really good chance to start reducing racial tensions nationwide. We have a case of a white officer brutally attacking a black student, who at worst seems to have been guilty of disruptive behavior. Everyone knows he was in the wrong. Unlike many previous incidents, there's no ambiguity about the black person's innocence or apparent innocence as the cop saw it (although I still have trouble believing that the 12-year-old with a toy gun was an ambiguous situation).
In short, we have a cop using his badge to bully and assault, so this isn't the sort of case in which conviction leads to police being discouraged from doing their jobs for fear of punishment and litigation (which is, to be fair, a concern when prosecuting police officers). We have an innocent victim (except of disruptive behavior). We have a case which by all accounts should lead to a clear conviction of the officer. I'm not sure of the charges, but misuse of power and assault probably have proper legal terms to attach to them (assault being a legal term).
And moreover, since August 2014, we as a country have really needed a conviction, an obviously just one, of a white police officer for harming a black civilian. (And Baltimore, equally obvious though it seems, isn't even going to start trials for another month.)
Please don't screw this up.
Since the riots started, my first concern has been for my family there, and I'm very glad that things have calmed down. But I'm also glad that the cops in question (who appear to have been negligent at a minimum) are being charged accordingly.
Because I have a one-year-old niece, and since the riots started I've been wondering--what if she were male and black (if my sister-in-law weren't Caucasian as well, and given that gender is a matter of complete chance), instead of white and female? Or if preconceptions changed, and white teenage females were considered suspicious? In twelve, sixteen, twenty-five years would my niece be in danger because of a water pistol, or a panicked run from cops, or....
The cops, and also the grand juries who have said "oh, no charges, just doing his duty" so many times in the last year--have they ever stopped to think, what if it were my son/nephew/cousin on the other side of the gun? If the response is "well, but my relatives are white, or female, so there's no danger to them", then congratulations on both being aware of the problem and being part of it.
But I don't think they've, any of them, thought that far. I fear that the cops in the incidents in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore weren't seeing citizens who it's their duty to protect (even from themselves), much less "what if it were my family", but at best saw "possible threat, must destroy." Not "must stop"--many of these incidents sound to me like they could have been stopped without death, so unless I'm missing key details about all of them, we have some problems with police training nationwide.
And what were the grand juries thinking? "We can't stop cops from protecting themselves, then they won't be able to do their duties"? What if it were your child, your husband, your family next time? It is true, cops need to be able to do their jobs, but part of that is making sure that they are doing their jobs. Don't you realize that each acquittal without trial reinforces this type of behavior on the part of the police, and so will lead to another dead child or young adult, possibly for doing something wrong (though not worth a death sentence), but possibly for nothing more than loitering while black?
...I just realized, I missed a key set of people. The prosecutors in these cases should have been able to come up with these arguments themselves. I really hope they do better in Baltimore, instead of protecting the cops just because they're cops (the idea that police can do no wrong would lead us down a very bad road).
We need to do better. We HAVE to do better.



June 2017

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