Just a Thought

A thread for thoughts or questions that pop into your head that don’t necessarily warrant a thread. Here’s one that came to mind just now.

In some of the news I see today, I react with dread. For example, I saw this tweet:

Sometimes I feel like we’re doomed because we’re stupid or dysfunctional. But then this thought came to mind: 40 years ago, somebody likely felt the exact same way I did. I mean, if you go back to the Cold War, a nuclear apocalypse wasn’t something people worried about, over-population, the ozone layer disappearing. My guess is that you could go back forty years from that point, and someone would be feeling–with justification–a similar level of dread and doom.

Here’s what I’m wondering. What if the world has always had really dreadful problems, but the difference is that an individual, at a certain point in their life, gains enough knowledge and insight to actually become aware of that? In other words, the world isn’t really worse off per se, but it feels that for the individuals who have reached a point of awareness.

Actually, I don’t know if I’m comfortable with this. The problems now could indeed be worse than in the past; and even if they’re not, they could be bad enough to be seriously catastrophic. That is, there’s no guarantee that human life will continue.

Still both situations could be true: Individuals who reach a certain point may realize how bad things are, and things may also be uniquely bad. I don’t know, it’s just a thought.

25 thoughts on “Just a Thought

  1. if you go back to the Cold War, a nuclear apocalypse wasn’t something people worried about, over-population, the ozone layer disappearing.

    I disagree. I remember us hearing about all three of these things repeatedly. Forty years ago we were nine, so maybe you don’t remember (we were so young!), but that stuff was out there. I remember looking at my dad’s can of shaving gel, and reading “This product contains no chlorofluorocarbons known to harm the ozone layer.” When I first read that, I thought the ozone layer must be something dermal, so I asked my dad which layer of our skin was the ozone.

    The Day After was 35 years ago, which I agree isn’t 40 years ago, but we didn’t go from no concern to major concern in just those 5 years.

    And I hazily remember a PSA similar to the Indian at the side of the highway crying because people were littering, only it was about overpopulation. Oh wait! I just did a quick search and this came up. Is this what I remember?

    Anyway, your main point is definitely something worth considering even though I disagree with this one supporting argument.

  2. You’re right–many people were aware of those problems. I remember being aware and anxious about them myself as a child. What I’m talking about is developing a greater depth and breadth, not only of the problems, but the means to solving them. For example, my level of understanding of human nature, government and politics, is broader and deeper now than it was in the past, and this understanding can make one even more pessimistic, perhaps intensifying a sense of doom. Does that make sense?

  3. How does the press eschew both-sides approach in an asymmetrical situation while still maintaining trust with the public?

    I think I’ve brought this topic up several times before, so I’ll put this here, instead of in a new thread. If the press covers an issue or politicians, where the facts, logic, ethics heavily support one side over the other, how does the press report the story this way–versus presenting both sides as relatively equal–without losing the trust of the public? This unbalance reporting will seem like the press is taking sides, which will undermine the public’s trust. I also think journalists have a psychological warning system that will make unbalanced reporting really difficult, even if it is totally justified and appropriate. How do we get around these problems?

  4. At some point, “offline” will be “in” and “online” will be “out.”

    Here’s a kind of trajectory for online activity that I’m noticing:

    1. Information will become easier and easier manipulate and manufacture;
    2. Information security and privacy will either decline or will always be significant vulnerable;

    The consequence?

    1. People will have more difficulty knowing what is real and what is fake–and if that trend continues it will be impossible to distinguish the two;

    2. Individuals, businesses, governments (including foreign governments), etc. will be able to manipulate and track individuals at an unprecedented level.

    If these things are true, a reasonable response would be for people to migrate away from the internet. This creates an opportunity for offline services, institutions–to address what these people have given up. Individuals and groups providing information/news should think of ways to capitalize on this. Businesses can create offline services as well. I’ll try to write more about this later.

  5. Okay, Reid. This is just for you.

    Imagine two coins. Coin A and Coin B.

    Coin A is tossed 1,000,000 times. About 500,000 times it lands on heads, and about 500,000 times it lands on tails, in no discernible pattern.

    Coin B is tossed 1,000,000 times. About 500,000 times it lands on heads, and about 500,000 times it lands on tails, in no discernible pattern.

    Coin A is then tossed 1,000,000 times more. This time, it lands on heads 1,000,000 times.

    Coin B is then tossed 1,000,000 times more. This time, it again lands on heads about 500,000 times and again lands on tails about 500,000 times, in no discernible pattern.

    Now someone forces you to wager your life on the next coin toss. The coin must land on heads, or you forfeit your life, but you get to choose which of the two coins is tossed. Do you choose Coin A or Coin B?

  6. I have no idea how what you’re saying relates to why my previous post is “just me”…unless you mean: My crazy questioning of coin flips is just like what I’m suggesting above. 🙂

  7. It’s just for you because you’re the only one I have this point to make with. Are you going to answer the question?

  8. If you choose Coin A, you don’t actually believe that 1,000,000 heads in a row on a truly random coin would have to pull slightly in favor of tails. I understand why you have stuck to that position for 20 years, but with your life on the line, you don’t actually believe it, do you? Because by your theory, you’re more likely to flip tails with Coin A. Unless you have a death wish.

  9. I’m a little confused, here–and I honestly I didn’t really think a lot about my answer. I chose A because heads kept appearing. I assumed it’s not really a balanced coin. Or, was the first 1,000,000 flips supposed to prove that the coin was balanced? Can you explain what your thinking was in setting up the question.

  10. Yes. The first 1,000,000 flips demonstrates that it’s a fair coin. And not thinking about your answer is the right approach anyway, because I asked the question to see what you believe about the coin.

  11. I didn’t conclude that the first 1,000,000 flips established that, though. The situation you pose is bizarre and highly unrealistic. If you recall, in the examples I give, I offer a much smaller number of flips landing all on one side–and I do that because I’m trying to be realistic. 1,000,000 heads in a row would cause me to doubt the fairness of the coin. How could something like that happen? If the we could flip the coin an infinite amount of times, then that isn’t so unusual or unrealistic, but we can’t do that with a real coin.

  12. So if we’re certain it’s a fair and balanced coin, and let’s say we see 40 consecutive heads in row. Let’s also assume that we have data. Specifically, we’ve flipped a coin a trillion times (generational project) and we’ve found that coin 40 in a row has only appeared two or three times. I’m going with coin B.

    The key part to this has been the thinking/explanation. My thinking has been the following:

    1. If we find the higher number of consecutive flips landing on one side is less likely as the number of flips increases–i.e., 2-10 flips in a row may be so unusual, but as the number increases 15, 20, 25 30–in a row–the likelihood becomes a lot less*, then

    2….if we’re flipping a coin and we get to 40 in a row, the chances that the streak will continue start to diminish, if the coin is truly fair.

    The point isn’t that I really believe this is the case. What I’m looking for is a good explanation why this isn’t case.

    (*The key here is that infinity is excluded as a range. Theoretically, with an infinite number of flips than 1,000,000 heads in a row would not be unusual or rare. But I’m saying infinity isn’t real–an actual coin doesn’t have an infinite number of flips.)

    (I can’t believe you’re bringing this up. I thought you hated this topic.)

  13. Making Good Governance Exciting to More People

    There are things that occur in government–things that good politicians do–that just aren’t sexy or exciting for the average person, but are really important to everyone. For example, ensuring that an international system based on the rule of law and human rights is strong and functioning is really important for every American. Why? Because I believe helps prevent major wars (as in world wars)–wars that would likely draw in the U.S., which would obviously affect many average Americans. And there are other reasons this type of system is important.

    My sense is that many Americans don’t really care about such a system; they don’t care if a politician does something to strengthen or stabilize it. And this is just one example of the type of policy that many people are largely indifferent to.

    What comes to mind is a way we can make this more meaningful and interesting to the average American–to get people to care about these things when voting for politicians. I don’t really have any answers, but I hope we can figure out a way to improve this….

  14. I don’t know. I think if we focus instead on helping our fellow citizens understand what good political candidates and governmental appointees are, they don’t really have to know the details of what makes it all work.

    You walk into a high-rise in downtown Honolulu without knowing what the building inspectors, construction supervisors, engineers, architects, plumbers, or electricians did to make it a safe building. I’d say this stuff is equally (and more immediately) important.

    Whatever we’ve got going on now with government is flawed, but it can be made better without educating everone on specifics. Don’t you think?

  15. I think if we focus instead on helping our fellow citizens understand what good political candidates and governmental appointees are, they don’t really have to know the details of what makes it all work.

    I suspect we’re thinking of this in very similar ways (but I’m not sure). I expecting people to know a lot of details about how government works or about policy is realistic–that’s not what I’m asking for. My example about international system involves broad, conceptual understanding, more than understanding specific details.

    I also agree that we should give people a better understanding of what makes a good politician and public administrator. Actually, when I thought of this post, I thought of George H.W. Bush. I honestly thought he wasn’t a very good candidate/president primarily because he was dull and un-charismatic. It’s clear to me that this is a bad way to judge him, and he might have did a more than I realize that helped our country and the world. But those things either didn’t get enough attention, or they didn’t interest me enough. What I’m suggesting is that we find a way to make that type of information more interesting and meaningful to voters–mainly by helping them understand why these things matter. Another possible way could be to create certain benchmarks–benchmarks that may not see so exciting, but are nevertheless important–track them, celebrating them when we move closer to achieving them.

  16. A friend of mine recently went on a trip to New York City. She goes twice a year to catch theater, but this was the first time she took a day to visit Ellis Island. “The Statue of Liberty is a lot smaller than I always pictured it,” she wrote.

    I feel the same way.

  17. Enlist Hollywood in the Fight Against Authoritarianism

    The fight against authoritarian regimes, ideas and information will be a key element. Remember WWII propaganda films? I’m a little uncomfortable about any sort of political propaganda, but I think liberal democracies will probably have to engage in this, and I think Hollywood should join in. And really, in terms of entertaining stories with compelling heroes and villains, there is a treasure trove. With action/spy films alone, there’s a bonanza. As an example, look below (I believe it’s real):

    This sounds like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film or a maybe a Marvel Comics movie. Some like Vladmir Putin, who is a combination of a KGB agent and crime-family boss is a great concept for a villain.

    Action/spy films aren’t the only genres with potential. Dramas with journalists as the heroes–with themes reaffirming Enlightenment values; or historical films that celebrate the best moments of our democracy; or films that tear down walls between whites and non-whites, reducing the fear of the Other.

  18. Originally I wanted to write this post as a separate thread, but I fear I’m flooding the site with too many posts on politics or other topics that others aren’t interested in. The post has to do with observations and insights I’ve gained from consuming a lot more news, starting at the 2016 election. I wanted to talk about one specific observation–namely, the difference between consuming a lot of news, from a variety of sources on a regular basis, versus less consumption, from less sources. Here are several takeaways:

    1. I got a better sense of who is trustworthy and reliable. Over time, seeing the journalists and publications that are reasonable and reliable become much more apparent, or at least I feel far more confident in determining these things. For example, when I first started consuming a lot more news, I had no idea about the credibility of The Federalist, conservative website, and some other editors/writers like Sean Davis and Mollie Hemingway. Now, I’m pretty confident that they’re not really reliable or reasonable, but I’d never feel confident saying that if I didn’t consume as much news, on a regular basis, as I have. (I should say that prior to 2016, I got a lot of national news from magazines like The Atlantic, as well as reading some articles from national newspapers. Now, I read far more of the latter, as well read more articles from more magazines [like National Review] and follow a variety of journalists, pundits and academics on twitter.)

      The situation reminds me of my experience with getting NFL gamepass. Once I subscribed, I watched far more games (close to every game, every week), and when that I happened I grew far more confident in evaluating how good the players and teams were. I could compare players and teams to all the other players and teams in the league; I developed a baseline for different positions, offenses, defenses, etc. Now, this past season, the number of games I watched started to decline a little, and I felt less confident about my opinions. I expect the same would be true if my news consumption decreased.

    2. I didn’t have to rely on or trust journalists as much. I still hadd to rely on them to gather information, and I also had to rely on their analysis–but to a lesser degree. And I could determine not only who was more trustworthy for myself, but I could also determine which claims and arguments were credible or even compelling from the ones that weren’t. Now, it’s important to note that I could be wrong in these assessments–my biases could be clouding my judgments. But the point is that I felt more confident about these judgments, because I had been reading many sources on a regular basis for a relatively longer period of time. In my opinion, what’s happening here is that I’m forming a mental track record of the various sources, keeping score on who’s accurate and reasonable. I couldn’t do this if I weren’t consuming as much news, from many different sources on a regular basis.
    3. The people who aren’t consuming a lot of news are more vulnerable and have a greater chance of being confused and uncertain. This applies to very smart, well-educated individuals as well. If these people aren’t consuming a lot of news, I don’t see how they can feel really confident about the information they’re receiving–unless they’re really comfortable trusting certain sources, almost in a blind way. (By the way, blind trust–in reputable sources–isn’t necessarily as bad as I’m making it sound.) This is a problem, and I’m not sure there is any good answers for this.
  19. I think your numbers 1 and 2 are related. And they’re legit positions, but I’ll add one more that I hope you’re adding to your arsenal of discernment. The more you read credible sources, the more able you are to pick up hints in non-credible places that they are not credible just because of the language they use and how they use it. There’s a reason the NYT and WaPo phrases their stories the way they do, and most non-credible sources don’t work as diligently to stick to this kind of phrasing.

    A long time ago, we had a very long conversation on the phone about editorializing on the front page. You didn’t think it was a big deal, but it has never stopped bugging me. Editorial language in what is supposed to be a news piece is one betrayal of credibility, and you’ll see it a lot in most non-credible places. The more you read good journalism, the more obvious bad journalism is.

    Of course, the NYT and WaPo have more resources with whom to edit that stuff out. The Star-Advertiser is less careful about it, partly because of fewer resources, but then I’d say that also makes the Star-Ad less credible than, say, the Washington Post. This is not to say the Star-Ad is not credible; it just means that by not sticking to the conventions and ideals of good journalism, it compromises its credibility.

    The NYT, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post in most (if not all) news stories try to demonstrate to the reader that they have exercised due diligence in fact-checking, getting verification from two sources, and asking for response comments where they should.

    And I don’t mean to keep getting back to this, but the more you read technically sound writing, the more you’ll agree with me that non-credible news sources are far (far!) more rife with errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I very often don’t have to read more than a couple of paragraphs before I can decide that a source is not credible, based on the writing alone. This is not a perfect way to filter out the bad, but it’s a pretty reliable first defense.

    Have you noticed the same, with the increase in your consumption?

  20. I read an interesting content review study in 1994. Someone analyzed the languaged used in TV promos for shows like Entertainment Tonight and A Current Affair, and compared it to TV promos for convential news programs. The tabloid programs promoed themselves with words like “exclusive,” “sensational,” and “shocking,” while the news programs stuck to much more neutral language. That seems obvious, but someone actually quantified it. I notice this kind of thing all the time in websites I give no credence to.

  21. The more you read credible sources, the more able you are to pick up hints in non-credible places that they are not credible just because of the language they use and how they use it.

    I suspect that’s happening on some level–I’m honestly not fully cognizant of all the factors that help me determine if something is reliable or not.

    Editorial language in what is supposed to be a news piece is one betrayal of credibility, and you’ll see it a lot in most non-credible places. The more you read good journalism, the more obvious bad journalism is.

    If you can let me know some specific examples of publications or articles that demonstrate this connection. I’m open to checking this out.

    On a related note, for what it’s worth, in my mind, I don’t usually make a clear separation between journalism and opinion-pieces/analyses. That is, I’m not thinking, “OK, now I’m reading objective reporting,” or “I’m reading an opinion piece.” I mean, I’m aware of this sometimes, but it’s not that big of deal. Also, when journalists appear on TV (especially in group discussions), aren’t they sort of blending journalism and editorializing. The language they use seems to suggest this at least. In any event, I don’t have a problem with the editorializing. To me, the substance and accuracy of their points, the logic and reasonableness of their arguments–to me these things matter for more than subjective language.

    And I don’t mean to keep getting back to this, but the more you read technically sound writing, the more you’ll agree with me that non-credible news sources are far (far!) more rife with errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

    Maybe I don’t even make to these sources, because I don’t really notice this. What sources do you have in mind? By the way, typos in major publications are not really that uncommon in my view, especially their online content.

  22. Idea: Software That Will Build Scorecards

    We’ve talked about tracking the comments and prediction of NFL draft experts, and I’m wondering if there is a way to build software that will collect these comments, and then put them in a table or chart. Let me sketch out what I mean.

    Step 1

    Input names of draft experts (any amount of them). Program will search internet for all the comments made by these experts about specific players.

    Step 2

    The program will then sort and display comments by specific experts about specific players.

    Step 3

    User can customize the tables. For example, let’s say you want to see all the comments all the experts gave about all the defensive ends, you could enter these specifications and the program would show you a table with all of this information.

    Step 4

    A separate category would be made for how each of the players are doing in the NFL. The user could either evaluate and render a judgment for how good each player is. The program could collect comments about the player online and then collect them in one spot. Over time, this assessment may change. For example a player may get significantly better in year 3.

    It should be obvious that this program could be used for other subjects besides football. For example, we could input comments made by journalists about the Trump presidency and track those comments over time. The program would make all of this more automatic and efficient.

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