Category Archives: Yikes! Politics!

Is There An Echo in Here?

The easiest temptation on social media is to follow people, blogs, websites, etc. who reinforce what we already believe.

More difficult is to follow those who have near the opposite point of view. The exceptions of when we do, it’s usually to laugh, scoff, or get offended by. We don’t do it to learn, and listen but to argue, sometimes in the hopes of convincing the opposition the rightness of our cause.

Too often, though, the opposition has no more desire to listen and learn than we do. In the end we give up, and return to our little echo chambers filled with people of like mind.

I don’t often read so-called news sites such as Vox, Slate or Salon. I find their news rife with too much bias for my taste.

Sometimes, however, I run into a headline that so intrigues me (and not in a good way), that I have to read it.

This is one such headline:

When I debate or discuss, I make sure I have truth and facts to back me up, otherwise, not only will I fail to convince, but I waste my time and that of my opposition. I don’t argue with emotions, because emotions are not rational or logical. Too often they are baseless, and fleeting. Too often they are based on misunderstanding of a smattering of facts, and can do more harm than good when trying to debate a specific point.

As Ben Shapiro likes to say, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

You can understand then, why I found this headline befuddling to say the least. Why would anyone give up facts in favor of emotion to win people to their side? It’s idiocy. And temporary.

Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to read the piece. Too many news websites love to write provocative headlines in order to get people to read it (such as me). Click-bait as it’s called. Often, however, the headlines can also be misleading to the point that the article ends up making the exact opposite point.

As a writer, I found a lot of the opinion piece objectionable such as using emotions as a weapon. It implies that the author doesn’t want to convince, but to manipulate. It read less like a professional article and more like a personal journal entry (kind of like this lovely blog entry). The author isn’t trying to make a specific point so much, but exploring his/her thoughts in order to discover that point.

Still, after weeding through the verbosity, I surmised the author’s overall point was not to give up on facts, per se, but to appeal to a person’s emotions with facts instead of presenting facts alone. It’s a valid point, because in this day and age, regardless of what side people take on an issue, they are so emotionally entrenched in their point of view, facts proving their contentions false won’t deter them.

The entire article can be found here.

It’s worth thinking about, and for me will be one heck of a challenge. I don’t argue emotionally. Only facts matter to me, because they’re immutable. Still, I have to see the other person’s emotional point of view, and try to understand it before I can debate a specific issue.

I have to learn how to speak their emotional language, otherwise communication will be near impossible.

If I hadn’t stepped out of my own self-imposed echo chamber, I wouldn’t have discovered, let alone considered the idea.

She shoves her fingers in her ears and sings, “La la la la.”

I go through days when I can’t stand politics, and I do whatever I can to avoid it. Other days I eat it up like chocolate during that certain time of the month.

One of my political craving days happened during President Trump’s inauguration. I perused Twitter afterward, and I tweeted this:

Fascinating how people listening to Trump’s speech are having such opposing reactions and all based on political leanings.

As a writer, in order to create believable characters, I have to study human nature. This includes studying myself. Time and again, I discover that in many ways I am not unique. I have the same automatic responses to stimuli – both mental and physical – as everyone else.

Part of our humanity demands acceptance of our peers. We need to be loved and understood. It’s written into our DNA as a matter of survival of our species. Strength in numbers, and all that.

We all learn that discrimination is bad, but that isn’t always true. We discriminate when choosing our friends, and most especially our spouse (or significant other depending upon your chosen verbiage).

Whenever we’re thrust in the middle of a crowd, we will – often subconsciously – look for people similar to ourselves. Why? Because if we surround ourselves with like-minded people, we feel that much more safe, and understood. It’s not necessarily about race or gender, either. In a crowd, I will seek out older people to converse with rather than a group of teenagers, because the chances of me having more in common with the older folks is greater. Plus, those teenagers might look at me a bit askance wondering why an old woman would choose to mingle with them. It’s not because I hate teenagers, but more to avoid any awkwardness on both our part. It’s much easier to be myself around those similar to me, just as it is for a teenager to be more relaxed around people his/her age.

To step out of our comfort zone is never easy. That includes politics.

I find myself spending more time on political sites that agree with my own leanings than those that don’t. I don’t delve into politics much on Facebook, but I do on Twitter. If you look at the people I follow, I share similar political views with about 80% of them. When I see a post (both on Twitter and on Facebook) contrary to my political an/or religious leanings, my eyes unfocus and I scroll past as fast as I can.

We’ve all heard the phrase that the truth is somewhere in the middle of two extremes. By spending all my time on like-minded sites, and with like-minded people, I may be getting a skewed, flat, and biased version of the truth.

To put it more simply let’s say I see a flat square in front of me. If I don’t step out of my self-created cage and see the square from a different point of view, I’ll never discover that it’s really a cube.

I have to remind myself that life is far more interesting in three dimensions, and the whole truth is far more complicated than a flat piece of paper.

Everything we hear is an opinion. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.

– Marcus Aurelius

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from the motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.

– Elizabeth Cady Stanton

It’s Personal

The message in church today was about how to keep love in a marriage. The scripture my pastor used was Ephesians 4:28-32:

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I focused mostly on verses 29 and 31-32 (in bold), because we need more of that – and not only within the context of marriage.

This also occurred to me during the sermon:

In the realm of politics, we can’t help but take things personal. This is especially true when someone personally attacks the candidate or leader we supported and voted for. We see it as an attack upon ourselves.

This is something we all need to be aware of when we criticize our leaders. Are we criticizing their policies (good), or their dress, looks, heritage, or mannerisms (bad)? I always hated the personal attacks on Obama and his family (some of it downright horrific) even though I disagreed with his policies. It was unproductive, cruel, and never gained a single convert. The same holds true for the nasty rhetoric against Trump and his family.

A friend of mine, Jessica, wrote this on Facebook a few days ago:

I’ve been trying to be better about checking my motives before posting stuff on Facebook. Often I decide my motives are wrong so I don’t post. So, I’m starting to wonder about the purpose of Facebook beyond being able to see pictures of people’s babies. If, after thinking about it some more, cute baby pictures turn out to be Facebook’s only redeeming purpose, I will stay on here because I totally love seeing pictures of people’s babies. People with babies: keep posting pictures of your babies. They are not only adorable, they also remind me how good our God is. And I need to be reminded of that. Especially after scanning past all the political posts.

I, too, need to keep in mind my ultimate and ulterior motives, not only in my Facebook posts, but in my blog. I’ve written plenty that I decided against posting (and others I probably shouldn’t have posted), because they sounded condescending and pretentious. I realized that I wrote them in an attempt to make myself look good, to appear “better than everyone else.”

Ugh. Humility isn’t one of my strengths, and it needs to be. If not for my sake, certainly for those around me.

Also highlighted in today’s sermon: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. – James 1:19

Unfriend Me If . . .

Every once in a while someone will post, “If you don’t agree with me on this particular subject, unfriend me now.”

Thankfully these posts are rare, but they nevertheless make me sad, especially when that person claims to be a Christian.

I’ve only unfriended one person, and that’s because she changed her profile picture to a particular politician (who shall remain nameless), and 95% of her posts were so politically divisive, I had unfriend her to keep my blood pressure down. This was before I knew about the “unfollow” button. Had I known about the “unfollow,” I would have gone that route instead, and remained her friend. Since then, I’ve only “unfollowed” one person, because it seemed she posted a link to some cat video (for example) every five minutes. Her time-wasting posts so saturated my feed, I spent way more time than I wanted scrolling to find anyone else’s posts.

The only time I will “unfriend” another person is if they physically threaten me or my family. Other than that, opine away.

Now when someone tells me to “unfriend” them due to a difference of opinion, I’ll admit I’m tempted. Especially if I indeed disagree with them. I don’t, though, because I understand where they’re coming from. I don’t think they’re right to do so (more on that in a minute), but I do understand.

Whenever I’m a bit stuck on how I should respond to others, I look to Jesus as my example (I don’t always succeed, but I do try). Many disagreed with him, but he turned away no one. He gave them the riot act for sure, but he never held up his hand and said, “Shut up and go away, because you don’t agree with me.”

I have many of friends with whom I have stark disagreements, whether it’s politics, religion, and a myriad of other topics. Some of them I disagree with from 10% of the time to 90% of the time. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. They enrich my life more than I can ever express. I have even altered my own point of view because of theirs at times. If nothing else, they teach me to keep an open mind.

Knowing other points of view – especially those opposite of mine – is not only useful, but necessary to a writer. How am I to write complex characters with opposing views (both antagonists and protagonists) if I don’t expose myself to them? By keeping monochromatic friends, I will only be able to write monochromatic characters. If I try to write a character so opposite of me without knowing people opposite of me, I decrease my chances of writing a believable character. Part of the reason I don’t attempt to publish a non-fiction book is because I’m not that interesting. Why would I want to constrain myself to write only characters who think and act like me?

We’re all different, and it’s those differences that make life so darned interesting.

News Blackout

I hate news media. I know I’m not supposed to hate anyone, but I truly despise news media today, especially national media. They don’t care about anything unless it “proves” their preconceived notions about a certain issue or incident. If it doesn’t, they will ignore any facts to the contrary, and use only the “facts” that do.

I’ve always known news media was biased, but until I started paying attention to the North Dakota Access Pipeline news, I didn’t realize how bad it was. While our local news agencies did present most of the facts (some are better than others), but national news coverage ignored all points of view except the so-called “protesters.” It’s nothing less than journalistic malpractice as far as I’m concerned.

For example, although two court cases proved the protesters wrong in that the pipeline does not go through reservation land, and no burial grounds or other historically significant sites had been disturbed or destroyed, almost every national news article left those parts out. They also never considered Law Enforcement’s point of view; only how the protesters are [allegedly] being mistreated and injured, and how Law Enforcement continues to violate the “protesters” civil rights. Not a word about the laws the “protesters” broke.

Yesterday I read the ACLU’s letter to the Department of Justice, and their cited sources included articles by Salon, Democracy Now!, other magazines or newspapers from other states – even blogs. They included not one local news source.

You can read the letter here.

With today’s election I have decided to engage in a complete news blackout, and that includes all social media. The news media has proven time and again who they want to win, so they will cite only certain counties and states that are all but guaranteed to go to Hillary. They will throw at us exit poll after exit poll that also “proves” their desired results in the hope they will discourage the other side from voting at all (in an attempt to repeat what happened in Florida in 2000).

Truth and facts not only don’t matter to them, they are like garlic and sunlight to a vampire.

I will wait until tomorrow to find out who won and who lost, both nationally and locally. News media talking heads pretending to know everything – including the future – are nothing but sirens screeching in my ears, and I refuse to torture myself.

Maybe by then I will no longer give a rat’s ass.

About Hate

WARNING: This is a long rant, so you best make yourself comfortable.

I live in Morton County, North Dakota where all the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are taking place. Thankfully, so far, I’ve seen little of it out my front window.

We’ve all seen riots in other cities. Percentage-wise, few of us have seen a riot up close. It’s easy to say from hundreds or even thousands of miles away how people should respond, but — at least for me — it’s difficult to understand the fear, the hatred, the anger and uncertainty of everyone who experiences it first hand. Even for those who don’t participate, and merely want to go about their day in peace, but can’t.

The protests started because many of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believed the pipeline was encroaching on sacred land, and thereby destroying many of their sites, including burial grounds. Time and again, and through multiple federal, state and local agencies, the claims have proven false. The pipeline in fact doesn’t even enter reservation land, and is going in the same easement as another pipeline built in 1982.

After Standing Rock lost two court cases, they changed their tactics to claim it’s about keeping the Missouri River free of oil contamination, and to protect our drinking water. Again, through multiple agencies, the pipeline design has shown to be well above current regulations with regard to safety (I have to add that all the water we drink is filtered, processed and cleaned of all forms of contaminates before it ever enters our pipes, so that argument is disingenuous at best).

Even that’s no longer the issue.

All day today, I’ve had this hard, dark, and sick feeling in my stomach. A sense of dread that refused to go away.

It stemmed mostly because I knew the police would be removing the so-called protesters from private land. They spent almost an entire day yesterday and this morning asking them to disperse, and return to the camp set up on Corps of Engineers land — which they have permission to occupy, and remove all the barriers they set up on state and county roads.

Many did leave, but enough remained that the police had to round them up. Sixteen were eventually arrested at that time, but not before they continued to block the roads and set fires to tires to create a black smoke which — I believe — they hoped would delay the police even further.

No one was harmed during the arrests (as of now 117 today, so we’re well over 300 total arrests since August). The police have shown remarkable restraint and professionalism. No one has been seriously injured, police and protesters alike.

Aside: Several weeks ago when my husband, Dave and I went out to lunch, six officers from a neighboring county who’re helping with the protests sat next to us. We chatted with them for a bit about some of their standard equipment including a tourniquet that’s no bigger than a pocket knife.

Before we left, my husband said, “Thank you for all you do. We really appreciate you.”

The looks on their faces when they said, “Thank you,” almost brought me to tears. It was obvious how much they appreciated being appreciated. Considering all the vitriol, hatred and outright threats they’ve received non-stop on social media alone (seriously, it’ll make your blood simultaneously turn cold and boil — if you don’t mind the cliché), I’m certain they don’t feel that appreciation enough.

Many of the Sioux Tribe aren’t even involved in the protests, and want them to stop as much as the other locals. Especially the farmers and ranchers who only want to get their livestock and crops in and taken to market in a timely manner, and not have to fear protesters trespassing and molesting their property, including livestock.

I had hoped that after all the arrests, my sense of foreboding was nothing more than an over-reactive fear (that happens with writers sometimes. We can’t help ourselves).

I was wrong. In the last few hours, a woman was arrested for shooting a firearm at the police line, a man was allegedly shot in the hand (don’t know the details on that), and our news agencies released reports of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police.

Someone asked on Facebook when all this was going to stop.

I responded thusly: “It won’t. Not even after someone dies, and I fear it will come to that. It’s not about water or oil anymore. It’s about hate and contempt, and feelings instead of the rule of law.”

I can’t help but wonder if these protests (read: riots) will soon spread to my town (because it’s also the county seat), and I am seriously considering carrying a firearm with me (don’t worry, it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I don’t carry concealed [I don’t have a concealed carry license as yet; I’m thinking it’s time I did]).

I hate that I’m thinking this way. I hate that it’s even possible in a state with a population of 600,000, and a county with a population of less than 30,000. I hate that I want to glare at every single person driving an out-of-state vehicle (of all arrests so far, less than 15% are from North Dakota). I hate that when I see a Native American, I wonder if they’re only here to protest (I still smile and say hello, though, because it’s the right thing to do. I just hate my initial reaction and assumptions).

For example, a few days ago I had to run to the City building to pick up a plat. I walk because it’s only four blocks away. At the same time, over 100 people were protesting for the release of a journalist (the judge eventually dropped the charges) at the County building which is right across the street from my destination.

When I stepped out of my office, I saw a Native American riding a bicycle.

My first thought? “Dude, you’re going in the wrong direction. The protest is the other way.”

As I approached, he stopped and asked where he could find social services. To quote, “I’m only here to look for work.” He didn’t even know people were protesting until he saw the police lights. Nor did he seem to care.

I asked him to follow me, and I’d show him where to go. He smiled a lot, thanked me more than once, and kept calling me “ma’am.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone passing us would take a second glance: A white girl and a Native American walking side-by-side toward the protests. I’m sure they all thought we were going there to add our voices to the protesters’. We definitely made an odd couple that day.

Will tomorrow be any better? If these riots (and they are riots as legally defined. See below) follow the same pattern as others, I sincerely doubt it. I can only pray for the safety of everyone involved, and those figuratively and literally caught in the crossfire.

Legal definition of a riot: A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.

Apropos

I participated in a blog contest on my other blog a few weeks ago. Considering what happened with Melania Trump at the RNC Convention, it seemed apropos to repost it here.

For the first round, I had to answer this question:

What is originality and what is plagiarism? As writers we experience a fine line between the two. Most ideas have been done, but if we take our own original take on them, are they new? Sometimes we find inspiration or influence from other authors; it is how we grow as writers. How do you deal with this dilemma in your own writing?

The other day I complained to a friend how reading as much as I do has constrained me when it comes to starting a new story. Every time I think I have a great idea, I remember a book or story that tackled it already.

“It’s been done already,” is a phrase I oft repeat, and it’s downright depressing.

I can also point out certain ideas in my current stories that have come from other books and even television shows. Does that make me a plagiarist?

First, let’s consider the definition of plagiarism (according to the Oxford Dictionary):

the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

On the surface, yes, I have plagiarized other writers.

According to Wikipedia, however:

Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work. The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement.

Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics. It is subject to sanctions like penalties, suspension, and even expulsion. Recently, cases of ‘extreme plagiarism’ have been identified in academia.

Plagiarism is not in itself a crime, but can constitute copyright infringement. In academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense. Plagiarism and copyright infringement overlap to a considerable extent, but they are not equivalent concepts, and many types of plagiarism do not constitute copyright infringement, which is defined by copyright law and may be adjudicated by courts. Plagiarism is not defined or punished by law, but rather by institutions (including professional associations, educational institutions, and commercial entities, such as publishing companies).

The Bible even addresses this difficulty in the Book of Ecclesiastes (verse 1:9):

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

All in all, a certain amount of plagiarism can’t be avoided in anything we write. A large percentage of what we know and learn originated from someone else.

What we have to do as writers is try to make whatever idea, concept or thought we find from someone else, and put our own unique spin on it.

For instance, one idea I copied pertains to mental telepathy. In my stories, some of the telepaths’ strengths and weaknesses were taken (although I prefer “borrowed”) from the television series “Babylon 5.” I could claim the rest is all from me, but if I searched every book, story, and television show, I would find a lot more similarities.

My world and my telepathic characters, on the other hand, are different enough from “Babylon 5,” I believe only true fans of the show will see the similarity between the two. I doubt they’ll contact the owners of the show and convince them to sue me for plagiarism, though. If anything, they might consider it a compliment – the whole “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” kind of thing.

As the Wikipedia article states, I am certainly in an ethical gray area if taken to plagiarism’s literal definition to the extreme, but I don’t use the ideas to subvert or otherwise harm the “Babylon 5” writers, or to claim their work as my own.

That’s really all plagiarism is. It’s not using other people’s ideas and thoughts to create something different or unique, but to take something someone else has done or written in entirety and claim it as my own.

As for the rest, if you want to borrow my words and my ideas to mix in with your own, you have my permission. I’d be flattered if you did.