Perception Is Reality

A hypothesis. The 2020 Presidential election isn’t going to be decided on policy differences. As always, both candidates will make lots of promises, some partly fleshed out, others not. It isn’t even going to be decided on “kitchen table economics”, or tax proposals, or other manifestos for further weakening or strengthening our frayed social safety net.

It’s going to be decided on emotions, how the candidates make people feel about themselves, even more than how they feel about the country.

Remember Bruni’s description of how Trump makes his followers feel like victims:

“He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.”

The Demo candidate should rebut Trump victimization head on, repeatedly saying, “We are not victims. Your neighbors and you control your destiny. Together we can strengthen labor unions, create jobs that pay a livable wage, preserve our natural environment, and take care of the most vulnerable among us. Immigrants and foreigners are not our foes, our only foe is unfounded fear of the other.”

Trump also plays brilliantly on his followers sense that they’re being pushed around by the mainstream media, “coastal elites”, and anti-religious liberals whose common thread is a sense of superiority.

That’s why television segments like this (start at 2:33) are a serious problem for anyone who wants to defeat Trump in November. Like Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorable” slur, the single worst thing anyone who wants to defeat Trump can do is laugh at people susceptible to his victimization bullshit because it plays right into their belief that liberals are arrogant; that Democrats, whether they know it or not, whether they accept responsibility for it or not, can be counted on to convey a sense of superiority.

The larger context of this clip, Pompeo’s unconscionable treatment of a female reporter doesn’t matter. The fact that geography is not Trump’s strong suit doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how their laughing makes those susceptible to his victimization push feel because perception is reality.

For Democrats to win, they can’t let their animus for the Trump Administration spill over into disrespect for the dignity of moderates, independents, and “still undecideds” in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Freedom Not to Speak

Power to anyone, who with microphones in their face, opts not to speak. I’m glad Marshawn Lynch refuses to speak to the media. The league is stupid for fining him. They argue players as employees have to promote the league, that ultimately, it’s in their best interest. On the surface that’s logical, but when they insist that every employee has to promote the league by speaking to the media it’s a pointless exhibition of power. The majority of athletes will always be happy to talk to the press, freeing up outliers like Lynch not to.

No one wants to listen to athletes that are coerced to talk because you can’t force anyone to say anything remotely authentic or interesting. I wish Tiger Woods would stop talking to the press starting today. Listening to him is painful because you can see him thinking “What do they want me to say?” Let’s try an experiment. Let’s let Tiger know it’s okay not to speak and then see if he chooses to say something semi-interesting five or ten years from now.

Switching gears, I’ll never understand why the family and friends of victims of horrific crimes agree to speak immediately after losing a loved one. Take last week’s tragic shooting of the on-air newsperson and her cameraman. That same night on CNN I saw her dad and fiancee talking to the press. Why? The public has no real need or right to know how they feel at that moment. I don’t begrudge the press for asking the questions, but I wish more people would decline the invitation to speak.

I pray I’m never in any situation remotely like the father and fiancee were last week, but if I get called up by the Seahawks to fill in for Kam Chancellor and become the oldest player in the league to return a pick for a touchdown, don’t be upset if I make like Marshawn Lynch afterwards and say “No comment.” Don’t sweat it though, I’ll probably blog about it.

When Nationality Binds and Blinds

You know the story. A former NBA player recruits a team of retired professional basketball players to play an exhibition game in front of Kim Jong Un on his birthday. Obviously, the players haven’t spent any of their post NBA lives learning anything about life in North Korea. The whole trip, especially the players clapping adoringly while the team leader serenaded Kim Jong Un with “Happy Birthday”, was almost too surreal to process.

Understandably, the media was quick to criticize the player and his friends. But the national-centric nature of the media’s criticism warrants criticism. And as far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been any. Never mind that 1m North Koreans died during famines in the 90s, that hunger is still a daily reality for most North Koreans, or that state prison camps have doubled in size since Kim Jong Un’s ascension two years ago. Learn more here.

The media’s criticism has focused on only one thing, American missionary Kenneth Bae, whose story is tragic. Bae, who is in declining health, is being held against his will for allegedly cataloging the extent of hunger among North Koreans under the guise of Christian missionary work. Bae’s story deserves media attention, but not at the expense of tens of millions of ordinary North Koreans whose daily lives have always been a living hell.

Our passivity about the plight of ordinary North Koreans explains the myopic media coverage we’ve been subjected to. Interestingly, Bae was born in South Korea and moved to California when he was 17 or 18 years old. Overtime he not only gained citizenship, he secured the one thing that seems to make him far more important than all the North Koreans combined, a U.S. passport.

Our passivity about our media’s national-centrism is an embarrassment. The North Korean media spotlight is in actuality a sporadic lighting of dim, fast burning individual match sticks. Given that, it’s especially important that our first instinct is always to honor the humanity of everyone held captive in North Korea irrespective of their nationality.

A Work in Progress

I need a personal motto.

A recent headline from Yahoo Personal Finance (YPF) read, “Apple Rebounds to $600, Time to Buy?” For the love of investing fundamentals, someone please alert the knuckleheads at YPF that the objective is to buy low and sell high. “Apple Plummets to $400, Time to Buy?” would make a hell of a lot more sense.

Unless of course Apple is headed to $1,001. Which leads to another recent YPF headline, “Top Analyst Thinks Apple Could Hit $1,001”. “Top Analyst” is code for really smart dude who knows way more than you and me. So I guess we should believe him. Wait. He’s also referred to as a “market pro” which means we HAVE to believe him. Thank you top analyst market pro. Since each of my APPL shares is about to go up $400, I think I”ll buy that Cervelo R5 bicycle I’ve had my eye on. More evidence of his intelligence—he covers his ass with “Could”. Here are some other “Could” headlines:

• Relative Unknown Ron Byrnes Could Win the British Open

• The Seattle Mariners Could Win the American League West

• Presidential Candidates Could Take the High Road

• Despite Barely Passing High School Chemistry, Ron Byrnes Could Cure Cancer

Then there’s “Dr. Drew” who received $250k to promote Glaxo’s antidepressant drug. Of course Double D never revealed anything about the payments. Most egregious, he repeatedly used his television pulpit to say it helped cure problems that exceeded what the FDA approved it for. Another doc (among many) was paid a cool $2m to promote the drug.

Daily reminders to read between the lines and remember things aren’t always as they may appear. Reminders too to get some splashy adjectives or a personal motto for yourself.

Cable news networks do it. CNN is “The Most Trusted Name in News”. The Supreme Court rejects health care mandate. Opps! Fox News is “Fair and Balanced.” Opps! And regular people who make wild-ass stock predictions do it. Top analyst, market pro. Another recent YPF headline read, “Goldman’s ‘Rock Star’ Gives His Market Outlook”.

Maybe I should follow suit. The examples illustrate an essential element of moniker or motto making. They don’t have to be true. Repeat them enough and create a hypnotic effect. So aim really, really high.

I’m thinking something like “Ron Byrnes, rock star blogger, friend of small animals, a tribute to humanity.” On second thought, it’s probably unwise to alienate large animals. A work in progress.

No doubt, that right there, “a work in progress,” is what my wonderful wife of 25 years (this week) would recommend for my personal motto.

Personal Responsibility

Why do we routinely blame others for problems we’re responsible for?

For example, I often think if everyone drove like me, not too fast, in control, no cell phone, maximizing distance, there would be no accidents and road rage would be something social scientists once studied. One problem, my self-congratulatory description of my driving isn’t objective. Truth be told, sometimes I am part of the “driving stupid” problem. My car has a large blind spot and I have to swing forwards and backwards in my seat to make sure the coast is clear whenever merging onto the freeway or changing lanes. I do that without problem about 499 times out of 500. All it takes is one time though to understandably anger another driver.

Worse than that, I know big semis inch forward from one freeway exchange I take home to another so it’s easy to swing left, pass 40-50 cars and merge back into the correct lane in the 50 yards of cushion that the semis usually create. Usually. One night a few weeks ago the cushion was half it’s normal size and I made an idiotic snap decision to shoot through it anyways. My car was probably 15 yards from the truck’s front bumper, but I was going too fast and I admit, if our positions had been reversed, I would have been livid. To get on the second highway I had to loop back under the slow moving truck. I looked up to see someone in the passenger’s seat waving at me with just one finger. Totally deserved.

I’m not special, I’m complicit.

Fast forward to Walmart’s recent decision to sell the top ten most highly anticipated hard backs (Steven King’s among them, retail $35) for $10. Last week Amazon decided to match it so Walmart lowered their price to $9 and said they’d go “as low as necessary”. Amazon went to $9 and now Walmart is sitting at $8.99. Some people complain about big box stores and everyone waxes nostalgic about small independent retailers, but they’re rapidly disappearing because people focus exclusively on finding the lowest prices for the goods they purchase without giving much if any thought to the ripple effect.

We’ve created the monster that is Walmart and we’re upset it’s destroying small independent businesses. Does that make any sense? What most amazed me about last week’s story is the unabashed bluntness of the company. “We’ll go as low as necessary to become the one stop place for book purchases.” May as well have added, “Your local independent book store be damned.”

But Walmart is not inherently evil. Walmart’s customers focus exclusively on the lowest prices, ignorning the negative impact on small businesses in the immediate area. Take me for instance. Recently I saved about $20-$25 on a Timex watch I bought at the behemoth. By doing so I added a tiny drop into the gigantic bucket that is Walmart sales, a bucket they will now use to extinguish the Fireside Bookstore in downtown Olympia where my friend works. If the Fireside Bookstore closes, Olympia will be worse off and I’ll only have myself to blame.

Or take outsourcing and all the empty rhetoric around keeping jobs in the U.S. A few years ago, before the housing correction, a study was done of people taking out home equity loans. They were given two choices: 1) have it processed abroad and receive the money in two to three days or 2) have it processed domestically and receive the money in five to six days. I don’t recall why the foreign companies were twice as fast, but something like 85% of the people chose the quicker/outsourced option. I’m guessing 100% of that 85% nod approvingly whenever they hear a politician bemoan outsourcing.

Finally, there’s the Fort Collins, Colarado “balloon boy” bullshit. We criticize the media, but don’t recognize we are the media in the sense that our collective viewing habits shape the “news”. How can we watch CNN’s balloon boy coverage, talk to friends about it, buy People magazine and read about it, and then criticize the media for covering it? I didn’t watch any of the television coverage, and only skimmed the headlines on-line, but now that I’m blogging about it, I suppose I’m complicit.