The Framing Lie

Donald Trump addressed the nation last night to talk about his Wall, and he was “fact checked” by just about everyone. The New York Times fact-check article I saw cited only two overt falsehoods, but there was a list of a half-dozen or more other remarks quoted, and marked “needs context.”

These “needs context” statements are all examples of a “framing lie.”

I’ll give you a framing lie to illustrate how this is done.

Donald Trump was in the White House yesterday, not wearing pants. He did it again today. He’s gone absolutely nuts.

Fact-check this if you like. The bit about the pants is completely true. He had his pants down both days, because he was sitting on the Presidential Toilet, doing the thing Presidents do (presumably) in the Presidential Toilet.

The statement is nonetheless a lie, because I’ve created a misleading and invalid connection between a trivial truth, and a contentious opinion by putting them in the same context, or frame of reference. I’ve used the framing to imply (without actually saying) that Donald Trump is wandering around the Oval Office in his skivvies, which would in fact suggest that he’s losing his mind.

Note that I never actually said that he’s “wandering around” without his pants. I just set it up so that you assumed that’s what I meant. If challenged, I would then blame you. In fact, I may even insult you, and tell you that you are stupid and have a vile and dirty mind. So sad.

That’s how the framing lie works. It is a deception that uses truths to tell a lie.

So let’s take one of Trump’s statements that is, in fact, a whopper of a framing lie, noted merely as “needs context” by the New York Times.

My quick check of the number says it’s about right. Three hundred a week is roughly 15,000 heroin deaths a year, which roughly matches the CDC numbers for 2017. So my next question is: is that a big number? Or is it a small number? We have 300 million people in the country, and that means a lot of people die every day, for a lot of different reasons. Losing 300 students out of a class of 500 is a mind-numbing, catastrophic death toll. Losing 300 people out of 300 million — not so much. How does it compare to ALL deaths, from traffic accidents, school shootings, old age, and everything else? Turns out that the death rate in the US is about 50,000 a week. So roughly a half-percent of all deaths every week in the US are due to heroin overdoses.

Half of one percent.

It’s certainly larger than the number of people who drown in bathtubs. But it’s only half the death-toll by guns, and only half the death-toll by traffic accidents. It’s only two percent of the number of people who die of heart attacks. It really isn’t a very big number.

More relevant is the fact that from 1999 to 2010, heroin deaths hovered at around 50 deaths a week. From 2010 to 2016 it climbed to 300 deaths a week. Other opioids climbed steadily to 300 deaths per week by 2016, and fentanyl shot from 50 to 600 in just three years, from 2013 to 2016.

If I wanted to be snide, I could point out that heroin deaths kicked up the same year the US House flipped to Republican under Obama, and shot up further after the Senate also went Republican, and then went through the roof when Donald Trump started campaigning in 2015 and has continued to increase. Maybe there’s a message there?

But let’s not do that.

Heroin usage (and overdose) has been climbing sharply, but if there’s a real problem, it’s fentanyl, not heroin: death rates from fentanyl are currently twice that of heroin, and growing. That’s ignored by Mr. Trump, of course, because fentanyl is not coming in from south of the border: most of the fentanyl comes from China.

So the first framing lie is that the 300-deaths-per-week from heroin overdose is significant. It’s as if I were to shout at my wife for “wasting” $300 on a new work-dress, while ignoring the $5000 I spent on video games. It’s a deflection. It’s a framing lie that says, “Look over there!” while I pick your pocket.

But the lie gets deeper when we add the “90 percent floods across the southern border.” It may be true, as a fact, but there is a framing lie here, too. Very little of the heroin coming from Mexico would be stopped by the Wall, because the heroin is smuggled directly through Ports of Entry — legal entry-points, complete with guards, dogs, and electronic surveillance — concealed in hidden compartments in cars, false-bottomed luggage, or otherwise. It doesn’t even go through areas where Mr. Trump says we need this Wall. Sending drugs through the desert would be stupid, and the businesses shipping the heroin aren’t stupid. They smuggle it through Ports of Entry, and count on losing a percentage of it to border confiscation, just like a certain percentage of eggs can be counted on to break between the henhouse and the grocery store. It’s merely a business cost. If the drug lords were doing taxes, they would write-off confiscations on their taxes.

So where the heroin comes from is completely irrelevant. It is coming through Ports of Entry, which is where every last bit of foreign trade comes through. Grapes from Chile. Plastic clothes-hangers from China. Brie from France. Heroin from Mexico. Fentanyl from China. Building a Wall does not affect the heroin trade. At all.

Now we come to the biggest framing lie of all. Putting these two statements together invokes the following hidden assumption: if we restrict the flow of heroin into the country, it will fix the heroin problem.

This is the assumption beneath the entire Drug War, and the Drug War failed precisely because this assumption is not true. It is, in fact, completely wrong.

No one is going around shooting up people with heroin against their will. Heroin is taken voluntarily, by people who are numbing their own pain and despair. Yes, they get physically addicted, which means they suffer if they try to stop, and they need more heroin all the time to get the same effect: it’s one of the reasons they end up overdosing. But you cannot get people off painkillers or heroin or any other drug if you don’t figure out a different way to relieve their underlying pain or despair. If you restrict access to their drug of choice, they’ll find another drug. If you make the use painful, they’ll find another drug. If you make it too dangerous to obtain, they’ll find another drug.

Like fentanyl.

If you somehow succeeded in cutting them off from all relief for their pain and despair, they’ll simply kill themselves some other way.

So let’s sum up.

Heroin is not as big a problem as fentanyl: together, they aren’t as significant as death by guns and traffic accidents; building a wall won’t affect the heroin trade at all, and even if it did, it would not affect the problem of a portion of the population voluntarily drugging itself to death.

So let’s go back to the statement:

Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across our southern border.

What does this actually mean? Nothing at all. It’s two unrelated facts, like citing the number of miles of veins in the human body, and the number of calories in a can of Coca-Cola. Two numbers. You can fact check them. They may be accurate.

But the framing says, “This is a compelling reason to build my Wall.”

That is a bare-assed lie.

No, It Is Not Okay

I’ve been watching certain Progressive news channels where the anchors have a tendency to say, “Hey, look, it’s okay to be a conservative, it’s okay to have conservative political views.”

As we’ve watched the Republican government in Washington melt down in what amounts to a hostage situation, I keep thinking, “No, this is not okay. Not remotely. Not in any possible way.”

Here’s the thing: there are ideas that work, and ideas that do not work. Some of them — brand-new ideas — you have to try before you know they will fail, but others are just wrong from the start. Spending billions of dollars on a commercial bridge across the Grand Canyon made of pasta. Serving six-days-uncovered-at-room-temperature salmon mousse to your house guests. Starting a child-sitting service staffed by pedophiles.

No.

These things are not okay.

Republican political policy today is not okay. Supporting it is not okay.

If you’re reading this and happen to consider yourself Republican, I’ll say that I’m sorry it turned out this way. It wasn’t always a bad thing to be a Republican.

It is now.

So if you can let go of the label “Republican” for just a moment, and just call yourself “politically conservative,” take a good, hard look at the party you are supporting. A party where the President is himself facing lawsuits for corruption, has surrounded himself by criminals who have been convicted of crimes, including crimes that threatened national security, and has now taken federal employees and is holding their wages, their livelihoods hostage to force his political will against a legislative body that is not supporting his agenda: you might be interested to look up the definition of “terrorism” and try to split a few hairs. A party where one man, Mitch McConnell, blocks the Senate from hearing testimony, debating, or voting on issues critical to the nation, simply because the vote might not go the way he wants it to. A party that has entered a “post-truth” era of “alternative facts” — that is, a party given over completely to deceiving its own supporters with lies and propaganda.

Are you supporting this? It is not okay.

I’m not going to pretend that it is.

This kind of thing happens often in the course of time.

You are a loyal Catholic soldier in southern France, and then your commander tells you to enter the city of Beziers and kill the Albigensian heretics. You ask how you can tell the heretics from the True Catholics, and he replies, “Kill them all, and let God sort it out afterwards.”

You are a loyal German citizen, and your government tells you to report those illegal Jews, those criminals and rapists and eaters-of-babies. You report your Jewish neighbors, and then those neighbors vanish — and when the government falls, you find out what happened to the neighbors that you reported.

You are a Christian, and believe in the words of Jesus, and then learn that your church supports taking children from their parents over paperwork violations, and placing those children in chain-link “apartments” in a prison facility with guards, and you can’t help remembering there’s something, somewhere in the New Testament about children, and millstones, and the sea.

You are a lifelong Republican in a multigenerational family of Republicans, and consider yourself a decent, hardworking, intelligent person. Then you see the end of our Constitutional democracy being acted out in front of us all by the Republican Party.

You have a moral choice to make. I’m sorry you have to make it. But you do.

Continuing to support this Republican Party is not okay.

The Wall

People argue about The Wall between the US and Mexico like it has anything to do with the inane rhetoric about the Wall. Rapists and drug dealers. Border security. Immigration.

Knock it off, all of you. The Wall is not about the wall. It’s nothing more than dominance signaling among human primates.

Trump, the Terrible Infant, said he wants it, and Gramma Pelosi said, “No.” He’s shut down the government in a tantrum; he’s going to hold his breath until he dies. That will show Evil Old Gramma Pelosi.

Seriously, how can any adult watch this thing play out and not see that?

Debt Slavery

There’s an interesting thing about money.

Money isn’t wealth. It’s debt.

I think I’ve covered this before, but it bears mentioning again. I won’t go through the whole exercise of explaining how fractional reserve banking loans money into existence. But the simple form is this: every dollar bill is ultimately backed by the Federal Reserve, which has loaned money into existence in the form of Treasury Bonds, and that gets expanded by approximately a factor of ten by the fractional reserve banking system. Treasury Bonds have to be paid back to the buyers with interest, and that obligation is backed by the “full faith and credit of the United States.”

That dollar bill you hold in your hand is a piece of paper that obligates you to do some kind of work to make that dollar bill worth $1.03, because in the end, the Federal Reserve has to pay back its bondholders everything they paid for the bond, plus about three percent in interest. Everyone in the US has that obligation: “full faith and credit,” and all that.

The ironic thing is that the rich — the people who have the most money — actually hold the most debt. Because money is debt.

The fundamentally unjust thing is that the rich — who hold the most debt, in the form of money — can compel the rest of us to pay off that debt, so that they can accumulate more debt, in the form of more money. They do this by forcing us to work to increase the size of “the economy” — to spur “economic growth.”

Our peculiar form of currency-creation, combined with the capitalism that allows private individuals to accumulate and control this massive debt-obligation and pass the support of it off to others, was an interesting short-term exercise in exploiting the New World. Capitalism is older than fractional reserve banking — the former dates back to the 14th century (or earlier) in Europe, while reserve banking didn’t develop until the 17th century. They didn’t get the huge instabilities worked out of the banking system until the 20th century: arguably, they still haven’t.

But the process worked very well to get the trees cut down, and the gold mined, and the oil pumped, and the desert farms watered, and the railroads built, and the indigenous people exterminated. That’s pretty much what it was intended to do. It succeeded brilliantly.

The problem now is that banking and capitalism are one trick dogs, and they’ll keep doing that same trick, over and over, until they die of the effort.

We are rapidly approaching that point.

In looking at the state of the US and the world, it’s important to realize where the “wonders of our modern civilization” actually come from. They’ve come from mortgaging our future.

We are all indentured servants — slaves — to this mortgage.

The problem with the conservative mindset — and I do mean true conservatives, not this political sideshow that calls itself “conservatism” — is that it’s stuck with trying to conserve a system that can no longer continue doing what it has been doing.

We need a complete overhaul of our entire economic system. As in complete.

The way this usually happens, of course, is through failure. As in complete failure. Societal collapse. Because people are stubborn, and cannot move through major changes gracefully.

I would like to see a more graceful shift to some future that must and will come, and I don’t think such a graceful shift is entirely impossible. But my money is on failure, followed by building from the rubble, over the course of many centuries. That’s the normal historical model. People are simply that stubborn.

I wrote some time ago about four major tsunamis that are going to hit the US within the next century: first, political, then economic, then energy, then climate change.

We’re living through the first wave of the political tsunami, embodied in that person masquerading as President in the White House right now, and the enormous damage he is doing to the structure and resilience of our system of government. There’s been an enormous backlash in the mid-term election, and I’m hopeful that it will spur much deeper change than anyone anticipates. Whether it will be enough is an open question. If it isn’t enough to break through into a new vision for the country, then we’re likely to see increasingly violent thrashing between Left and Right, Blue and Red, until the thing breaks apart entirely.

The remaining three Ghosts of Christmas to inevitably visit in the dark night of this century are economic failures (note the use of the plural), peak oil, and climate change, I think in that order. We’ll stop burning oil before 2100 — it will simply be too expensive for common people to burn. We won’t start seeing catastrophic climate change before the end of this century.

Like it or not, things will change.

Through all this, people will survive — of that, I’m reasonably certain, though I should note that our species does have a finite lifetime, as (indeed) does the entire taxonomic class of mammals. Modern humans are about 200,000 years old, give or take. We might have another few hundred thousand years left. Though there are runaway climate scenarios that could result in an entirely mammal-toxic atmosphere.

But people a century from now will certainly be living with very different cultural norms than we have now, because what we are currently doing has already stopped working.

And the debt slaves are growing restless. Can you not hear the drums?

Elegy for String Quartet

One of the things I have always loved about classical music is its ability to reach into the human soul and evoke some of the deepest, most powerful emotions we can experience, over a tremendous range from joy to sorrow, anger to terror. It’s why there are musical scores for films that so often draw on classical themes and styles: they set the tone in ways that mere visual images cannot.

I’ve added a new work for string quartet on my music page, named Elegy, which is a lament for the dead. Glacially slow — only 40 quarter-notes per minute — in C minor, it has to be the saddest piece of music I have ever written.

I don’t often dwell on sadness in my music. I love minor keys almost more than major keys, but even the darkest minor key passages have a degree of energy and hope. This piece has some beautiful harmonies, but they are all heart-breaking.

I’ve never known where the music comes from, and probably never will. It seems to have little connection with my own state of mind. But some part of me is resonating with a deep grief that wants to be expressed, and it doesn’t feel like my own grief.

Listen, and let me know what you think.

Facebook Cleanse

I’m doing another Facebook Cleanse.

This is where I remove the Facebook icon from my browser shortcuts, and resist the urge to sign in to “see what’s happening.” Like any addiction — “habituation,” more accurately — it’s hard at first. I find myself reaching for the mouse, opening the browser, looking for the FB link, eager to distract myself from this or that … but the link isn’t there, and then I remember. After a while, I stop reaching for the fix. A little later, I stop reaching for the browser. And my spirit quiets.

What dragged me back last time was a responsibility: the local symphony posts its events on Facebook, which reaches a lot of people who wouldn’t be reached otherwise, though we haven’t been doing that long enough to know if it has affected ticket sales. I’m the guy that pushes the buttons and pulls the levers for the FB events. Hopefully, I will resist the pull next time: get the job done and get out.

What is so toxic about Facebook? A combination of paid advertising, paid trolls, and ePeople. ePeople are people freed of their human baggage: they are surfaces, shells, simulacra.

There has been a conceit among futurists, modernists, and philosophers that the whole problem with people is their animal nature. Since the Enlightenment, they have praised the mind over the body, and believed that if they could simply rid us of our animal lusts, we would automatically hew to our best natures, fit residents of a Utopia.

Facebook gives a clear indication that this is exactly wrong. Freed of our animal nature, we become the very worst versions of ourselves; we become offal in a river of verbal sewage.

When I’m at a local party, meeting new people I might find myself living amongst in a broader circle of acquaintances for a very long time to come, I watch my tongue. Most people do. I haven’t called anyone a “fucking moron” to his/her face in a very long time — if ever — even when the thought crosses my mind. I can’t recall the last time anyone has called me a “fucking moron” to my face, though I’m sure it’s crossed their minds, too. We are generally quite polite to each other.

Yes, there’s a level of fear in this. Fear that they will take offense and physically attack me. Fear of their disapproval, not so much their words as the contempt and anger in their eyes. Fear of the disapproval of others, who are important to me even if the fucking moron is not.

But there’s a level of empathy and compassion in this as well. With real people, I make an almost unconscious effort to see through to the person beneath the fucking moron exterior. More often than not, I’m at least partially successful. In the context of their animal nature, which must eat and shit just as I do, I see the commonality, and sense a bit of why they are what they are. Emotional damage. A hard life. Poverty. Ignorance. Propaganda. Privilege. Underneath, I see our shared primal, animal desire for very little more than a full belly and a spot in the warm sun.

I also see myself reflected in their eyes. My own emotional damage. My ignorance. My privilege. I always find it humbling to get to know other people.

With ePeople, all of the commonality and shared regard goes away, and all that remains are the ill-chosen words of a fucking moron — or a troll, or a bot, the former being a paid propaganda disseminator, and the latter being a troll implemented as an automated machine process. The fact that you can almost never distinguish an ePerson from a troll is an indicator of how empty the ePerson shell really is.

This is not new to Facebook. Its predecessor, the “bulletin-board chat room,” was also a nascent nightmare of verbal abuse, and the term “flame-war” comes from the behavior of people in the pre-Facebook chat rooms. These venues generally had a common acceptance of something called “netiquette,” a kind of “book of manners” to be observed in the chat room, and there were “monitors” who would summarily eject someone they deemed disruptive. Like the bartender who throws a mean drunk out of the bar.

Facebook is, in most respects, a failed Utopian experiment gone mad.

I find less of this problem in my monologuing here. This is more like correspondence, though targeted to an audience rather than individuals, and generally without feedback. It isn’t Facebook — it’s Mybook.

This illuminates perhaps the biggest difference between Facebook and this blog. I currently have nearly fifty “draft” posts for this blog. Some are no more than an opening paragraph. Some are half-done, some are finished. But I didn’t feel right about completing or publishing any of them, for various reasons. Instead, I’ve found myself, more and more, reactively venting on Facebook, and my words have been growing more snide, dismissive, and angry.

I need to cleanse my aura. And the simplest way is to avoid Facebook for a while.

Boardwalk and Park Place

Has anyone actually played a game of Monopoly to the end?

It never really happens, because at some point, people realize they will lose, no matter what, and they kick over the board, or go grab a soda and never come back.

But there’s this interesting point that happens just before that. Right toward the end of the game, it can suddenly become a competitive game of stealing money from the bank without getting caught.

Of course, the game never recovers from that point.

This is, of course, a metaphor for what has happened to the United States government: our much-vaunted “system of checks and balances,” our self-correcting republic, our “balance of powers.”

Once upon a time, our government was playing Monopoly. The game has changed.