Monday, March 20, 2017

Correspondence: Irony...and a public dole

Current events

By Moristotle

“Weaponizing irony”: could this be one of Trump’s greatest offenses? “Trump Ruins Irony, Too” [Moises Velasquez-Manoff, NY Times, March 20]. Excerpt:
We didn’t always have to contend with such ambiguity. People may have used air quotes as early as the 1920s, but they really came into vogue in the late 20th century. In a 1989 essay, “The Irony Epidemic,” Kurt Andersen and Paul Rudnick called air quotes “the quintessential contemporary gesture that says, ‘We’re not serious.’” Earnestness was out. Sarcasm was in. Nothing meant what it seemed to mean.
    ...To my mind, air quotes serve an important purpose. Modern life is complicated, and words have simultaneous meanings. We need a way to acknowledge that. Besides, irony can be fun. It can make us laugh. And we could all use more laughter.
    ...Which brings us back to Mr. Trump and his minions. He and Mr. Spicer are employing ironic techniques not comically but cynically — to destabilize meaning. As Mr. Rudnick and Mr. Andersen wrote prophetically, “Air quotes eliminate the responsibility for one’s actions, one’s choices.” In the president’s hands, air quotes are apparently a way to push an alternate reality — one that’s often defined after the fact.
    ...As usual, it’s unclear how much of this is deliberate, and how much results accidentally as the administration scrambles to do damage control....
    The paradox is that President Trump has turned an invention of the urbane and educated against them. He has weaponized irony. Now we may all rue the day when he says, “I said ‘nuke’ them, not nuke them.” [read more]
This writer’s psychiatric insight is that Trump has destabilized our sense of reality: “Trump’s Method, Our Madness” [Joel Whitebook, NY Times, March 20]. Excerpt:
...many of us throughout American society at large, after an interminable electoral campaign and transitional phase into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, have experienced a form of disorientation and anxiety that bears a striking resemblance to the clinical situation I have described....
    ...Donald Trump and his operatives...armed with the weaponized resources of social media...aim to subvert our relation to reality in general. To assert that there are “alternative facts,” as his adviser Kellyanne Conway did, is to assert that there is an alternative, delusional, reality in which those “facts” and opinions most convenient in supporting Trump’s policies and worldview hold sway. Whether we accept the reality that Trump and his supporters seek to impose on us, or reject it, it is an important and ever-present source of the specific confusion and anxiety that Trumpism evokes....
    By continually contradicting himself and not seeming to care, Trump generates confusion in the members of the media and political opposition that has often rendered them ineffectual, especially in speaking to those outside the liberal base. They were slow to realize that he was playing by a different set of rules. This is why they, like Hillary Clinton before them, have had such difficulty gaining traction against him via appeals to facts and other cherished norms of liberal democracy. He has proved adept at deflecting well-intentioned fact-checking, regardless of how often it has caught him in a contradiction, and rational counterarguments, which can bounce off him like rubber. As long as Steve Bannon and his colleagues continue to destabilize our sense of reality, and their opponents fail to recognize how these techniques work, those who oppose him will continue to stumble.
    In the psychiatric setting, it only becomes possible to treat a patient in the psychotic range of the diagnostic spectrum when an analyst does not focus on the “manifest content” — on what actually happens on the surface — but finds a way to address the underlying dynamics....
    On the hopeful side, there has recently been a robust and energetic attempt not only by members of the press, but also of the legal profession and by average citizens to call out and counter Trumpism’s attack on reality.
    But on the less encouraging side, clinical experience teaches us that work with more disturbed patients can be time-consuming, exhausting and has been known to lead to burnout. The fear here is that if the 45th president can maintain this manic pace, he may wear down the resistance and Trump-exhaustion will set in, causing the disoriented experience of reality he has created to grow ever stronger and more insidious. [read more, including the comments, which are fascinating]
Ego-fragility, another attempt to understand what’s going on with Trump: “America’s Epidemic of Infallibility” [Paul Krugman, NY Times, March 20]. Excerpt:
...This administration operates under the doctrine of Trumpal infallibility: Nothing the president says is wrong, whether it’s his false claim that he won the popular vote or his assertion that the historically low murder rate is at a record high. No error is ever admitted. And there is never anything to apologize for....
    ...But Mr. Trump’s pathological inability to accept responsibility is just the culmination of a trend. American politics — at least on one side of the aisle — is suffering from an epidemic of infallibility, of powerful people who never, ever admit to making a mistake.
    But what’s going on with Mr. Trump and his inner circle seems to have less to do with ideology than with fragile egos. To admit having been wrong about anything, they seem to imagine, would brand them as losers and make them look small....
    But why did so many Americans vote for Mr. Trump, whose character flaws should have been obvious long before the election?
    Catastrophic media failure and F.B.I. malfeasance played crucial roles. But my sense is that there’s also something going on in our society: Many Americans no longer seem to understand what a leader is supposed to sound like, mistaking bombast and belligerence for real toughness.
    Why? Is it celebrity culture? Is it working-class despair, channeled into a desire for people who spout easy slogans?
    The truth is that I don’t know. But we can at least hope that watching Mr. Trump in action will be a learning experience — not for him, because he never learns anything, but for the body politic. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll eventually put a responsible adult back in the White House. [read more]
Positive comment on Krugman’s column by a Canadian in Vancouver:
As a consultant I worked across the U.S. for more than 50 corporations, so let me say this from experience. Trump is the arch-type of the old-school American line-and-staff CEO or executive, whose role is to bluster his way to power by, in part, never admitting a mistake or acknowledging a failure or weakness, and in part, by surrounding yourself with flunkies and bullying subordinates....
    ...So many older voters are not troubled by Trump is that they have seen the Trump prototype in their own working lives. (Not to mention on reality TV.)
    Something that has not been explored enough, but which I learned about on a Trumpcast episode, is the influence of Norman Vincent Peale's 1952 book "The Power of Positive Thinking" on Trump personally (and on his ilk). The message of this massive best-seller was basically, never, never, let failure slow you down, always portray yourself in your own mind as a success.... [read more]
Amazing how dolefully realistic Andy Borowitz’s satire is! It’s virtually a factual description of the actual situation: “Able-Bodied Senior Who Watches TV All Day Receives Free Government Meals” [New Yorker, March 19]. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—An able-bodied senior citizen who refuses to do anything but watch television receives three free government meals every day, according to reports.
    The senior, who has three piping-hot meals wheeled up to him each day, reportedly has no intention of working and prefers to fill his hours watching cable news....
    Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of the Center for Benefit Reduction, a think tank that focuses on reducing federal benefits, called the individual’s consumption of free government meals “the worst abuse of the system I’ve ever seen.”...
    But, according to a source familiar with the senior, those calling for him to work for his meals are, at best, ill-informed. “You can’t expect someone to do a job when he’s completely unqualified,” the source said. [read more]
More about this “public dole”: “Trump family’s elaborate lifestyle is a ‘logistical nightmare’ — at taxpayer expense” [Drew Harwell, Amy Brittain, Jonathan O'Connell, Washington Post, February 16]. Excerpt:
On Friday, President Trump and his entourage will jet for the third straight weekend to a working getaway at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla.
    On Saturday, Trump’s sons Eric and Don Jr., with their Secret Service details in tow, will be nearly 8,000 miles away in the United Arab Emirates, attending the grand opening of a Trump-brand golf resort in the “Beverly Hills of Dubai.”
    Meanwhile, New York police will keep watch outside Trump Tower in Manhattan, the chosen home of first lady Melania Trump and son Barron. And the tiny township of Bedminster, N.J., is preparing for the daunting prospect that the local Trump golf course will serve as a sort of northern White House for as many as 10 weekends a year.
    Barely a month into the Trump presidency, the unusually elaborate lifestyle of America’s new first family is straining the Secret Service and security officials, stirring financial and logistical concerns in several local communities, and costing far beyond what has been typical for past presidents — a price tag that, based on past assessments of presidential travel and security costs, could balloon into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a four-year term. [read more]

Heads-up about the latest in credit-card scams. One of our employees was called on Wednesday from “VISA,” and I was called on Thursday from “MasterCard.” The scam works like this:
    Person calling says something like, “This is [name] and I’m calling from the Security and Fraud Department at VISA. My Badge number is 12460, your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern, and I’m calling to verify. This would be on your VISA card, which was issued by [name of bank]. Did you purchase an Anti-Telemarketing Device for $497.99 from a marketing company based in Arizona?"
    When you say “no,” the caller continues with, “Then we will be issuing a credit to your account. This is a company we have been watching, and the charges range from $297 to $497, just under the $500 purchase pattern that flags most cards. Before your next statement, the credit will be sent to [gives you your address]. Is that correct?”
    You say “yes,” the caller continues: “I will be starting a Fraud Investigation. If you have any questions, you should call the 1- 800 number listed on the back of your card (1-800-VISA) and ask for Security. You will need to refer to this Control Number.” The caller then gives you a 6 digit number. “Do you need me to read it again?”
    Here’s the crucial part of how the scam works: The caller then says, “I need to verify you are in possession of your card.” He'll ask you to “turn your card over and look for some numbers.” There are 7 numbers; the first 4 are part of your card number, the last 3 are the Security Numbers that verify you are the possessor of the card. These are the numbers you sometimes use to make Internet purchases to prove you have the card. The caller will ask you to read the last 3 numbers to him. After you tell the caller the 3 numbers, he’ll say, “That is correct. I just needed to verify that the card has not been lost or stolen, and that you still have your card. Do you have any other questions?”
    After you say “no,” the caller then thanks you and states, “Don't hesitate to call back if you do,” and hangs up. You actually say very little, and they never ask for or tell you the card number.
    But after we were called on Wednesday, we called back within 20 minutes to ask a question. We were glad we did! The real VISA Security Department told us it was a scam, and in the last 15 minutes a new purchase of $497.99 had been charged to our card. We made a real fraud report and closed the VISA account. VISA is reissuing us a new number.
    What the scammer wants is the 3-digit PIN number on the back of the card. Don’t give it to them! The real VISA told us that they will never ask for anything on the card, as they already know the information, since they issued the card!
    When I received my own call, on Thursday, about my MasterCard, I was told a word-for-word repeat of the VISA Scam. I didn’t let him finish. I hung up immediately.

This set of coincidences were striking when I first heard them, and truth still seems stranger than fiction:
    Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846. John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
    Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860. John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
    Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
    Both wives lost their husbands while living in the White House. Both Presidents were shot on a Friday. Both Presidents were shot in the head.
    Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy. Kennedy’s Secretary was named Lincoln.
    Both were assassinated by Southerners. Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson. Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808. Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908. John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839. Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.
    Both assassins were known by their three names. Both names are composed of fifteen letters. Both were assassinated before their trials.
    Lincoln was shot at the Ford theater. Kennedy was shot in a Lincoln car made by Ford.
    Lincoln was shot in a theater and his assassin ran and hid in a warehouse. Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin ran and hid in a theater.

Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle

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