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Replace Strategic Voting with Strategic Living

Replace Strategic Voting with Strategic Living

I’m not a fan of strategic voting. It seems to me that various arguments, such as voting in the other party’s primary, splitting one’s vote for president and for down-ballot candidates (an effort to guarantee divided government), or the ubiquitous “lesser of two evils” arguments generally amount to one thing: An attempt to persuade someone to vote their way.

In this election, I’ve been told that a vote for a third party candidate, usually Gary Johnson is a vote for Clinton. Or a vote for Trump. It just depends on who’s making the statement. Statistically, it appears that any impact one way or the other is within the margin of error. So votes for Johnson, Stein, or McMullin don’t appear to be all that likely to shift the final result in any case. Of course, one can’t be certain of that either.

I like to put my vote in context in two ways. First, my vote in the presidential election is just one vote I will cast on November 8. (Yes, I’m an election day voter.) As I noted earlier today, there are many other important races and issues on the ballot. Further, and even more important, as important as my vote is, it is only one thing I will do to try to influence society and to improve the country I live in.

If you are concerned with the nature of the election, consider that the events of the election grow out of our culture and the way we deal with one another. Just as the presidency is magnified in importance, so the election tends to emphasize and reveal the things that are or are not working well in our culture generally.

A more important question that who you will vote for in this election is this: What will you do to make this country and this world a better place? Will you work to break down barriers and open dialogue with other people or will you foster more anger and frustration?

When we look with horror at people’s behavior during the election we should consider that people were treating one another badly all the time. All the election did was put more of it on TV.

We’ll be reminded by candidates and others that our vote is important. It’s one little vote in a large pool, but that’s how major things are accomplished. Let’s remember at the same time that everything we say and everything we do is also just one small action but that the sum of these actions becomes our culture. What is our contribution to that whole?

That’s why I’d rather walk into the voting booth and vote for the person I think would be best, not the lesser of two evils. That’s also why I don’t even consider electability. I’ve been told that this is a selfish act and that I do so just to make myself feel better. (Note that I have not announced who I am voting for. It might just be a major party candidate; but my choice won’t be limited to the major parties.) If it does make me feel better, then I simply hope that I will, in turn, be more cheerful in my dealings with the next person and thus raise the “cheer” level just a tiny bit.

We like to argue the importance of one vote. I agree. It is important. Let me, in turn, argue the importance of one word, one smile, one good deed.

And let me proclaim the importance of a life lived with integrity. To the best of one’s ability.

Please Remember: The Election is about More than the Presidency

Please Remember: The Election is about More than the Presidency

ballot-woman-300pxI’ve read recent stories that speculate that Donald Trump’s problems may depress Republican turnout and make a problem for down-ticket candidates. On the other hand, I’ve read that lack of enthusiasm for Clinton may depress Democratic turnout and be bad for the chances of down-tick Democrats.

These things disturb me in a completely non-partisan way. It is unfortunately that off-year elections have lower participation as do local elections. A substantial amount of the policy you have to live with is made by local authorities such as your county commission, your city council, and your school board. In Florida we have judicial elections and retention votes as well. Even if the national candidates make you want to put a clothespin on your nose before going in to vote, there are plenty of things that are important for you to vote on, perhaps even more important than who sits in the White House. Oh, I didn’t mention issues, did I. Those too!

In national terms we will be deciding control of the Senate. In theory we could be deciding control of House as well, though it’s very unlikely that will change hands. Nonetheless, considering that party discipline is very weak in Congress, every representative counts.

So even if you decide to write in Mickey Mouse for president, as a more qualified candidate than those on offer, please pay some attention to these other races, study your choices, and vote. I’ll have looked up every single space on my sample ballot and found what I can find in order to make the most informed decision possible.

My suggestion: consider all candidates for all offices. They’re important.

We Need to Quit Blaming the Media, Politicians, or the Infernal Them

We Need to Quit Blaming the Media, Politicians, or the Infernal Them

I call this group of (people | entities | circumstances) the infernal “they” or “them.” They are the people who cause all the problems. They have no moral compass. They are disruptive. They lie. They are apostates, perverts, stupid, deplorable, weak, losers, socialists, libertines (sometimes intended to include libertarians!). Disgusting, all of them. They are doing it to us.

This is one of the unfortunate results of individualism. There are many fortunate results as well. I am not one who wishes we’d get back to some sort of day when the individual didn’t really matter, and everything was about the collective. Like most “old days,” the reality of the old days is somewhat less [whatever we wanted it to be] than our imagination makes it. There has always been a balance between a view that values the society above all and one that values the individual. The emphasis varies; the elements are still there.

One problem with western individualism, however, is that we can so easily use it to find ways to blame someone else while separating ourselves. I am not responsible for anything but the things that I, personally, have done. I take no responsibility for what my ancestors did (though I’ll cheerfully benefit from their actions). I take no responsibility for the wrong actions of my church, my party, my social club, or my industry. I, personally, am blameless. In this, I am wrong.

In politics right now it’s popular to blame the media. Despite the fact that media outlets come from many perspectives, and you can find one as liberal or conservative, libertarian or authoritarian as you might desire (ain’t the internet wonderful), somehow, the collective media is responsible for whatever it is that I think is bad. They have lied and propped up one candidate, they have lied and trashed another. Within the same day I can read about how they have both completely destroyed and totally built up the same candidate.

This they, a “they” of which the speaker is not a part and does not carefully define, is the infernal they. It is the “they” that commits all evil acts. Besides being infernal it is also highly mobile. It is very hard to find this “they” and cause them to change or take responsibility for “their” actions.

I’m aware that neither you nor I are responsible for everything. But here’s a suggestion: Drop out of the game of assigning blame for the stuff you didn’t do and take responsibility for what you have done and can do something about. In addition, if you are—and remain—a member of a group, take responsibility for that group. Yes, you can distinguish what you support and don’t, but you are a part of what the group does. This means Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, United Methodists, Baptists (of whatever variety), and so forth.

I would like to demote the word “they” in my vocabulary and promote the word “we.” The media is producing material that people watch and that produces sales for their sponsors. Yes, there are some things that the people in media want themselves. But there is little that motivates so effectively in our culture as money. For the media, readers, viewers, and listeners mean money. That’s the “we” I’m talking about.

We need to be more discerning in our viewing and listening. We need to be active in letting the media know what we do and do not want to see and hear.  But, you say, you can’t really change that whole mass of “them” out there. Don’t worry about it. Change you. Turn your TV off. Visit a different site. Read a good book instead (says the publisher!)

Try to find the “we” before you utter that critical word. What I can say for myself is that I am often much too fascinated by the seamier side of the world. It is too easy to persuade me to give views to a web site that is saying things that I really shouldn’t support. I can make the excuse that I am “checking out the other side” or “keeping informed,” but it really is just the receiving side of gossip, and the one who listens to gossip is just as responsible, I believe, as the one who speaks it. After all, if every time the gossiper said, “Do you know what widow Jones did?” the response was “No, and I don’t want to know,” gossip would die.

Wrong needs to be challenged, but let’s start with the wrongs we can challenge using the word “we.” Let’s take our example from the biblical Daniel. I’m reminded of his prayer in chapter 9. By all biblical accounts Daniel was a righteous man. No act worthy of blame is recorded of him. Yet as he begins praying (Daniel 9:5-6a), there is a powerful litany:

We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, and we have rebelled, turning aside from your commands and your judgments. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets …

Yet Daniel had done none of those things. It was not a matter of feeling or being guilty; you can drown in the guilt of others. What he did was he spoke for his people as one of them.

I think our prayers would be more powerful and our actions more effective if we learned his approach.

The Flawed Way People Read Polls

The Flawed Way People Read Polls


Here’s your illustration. Liberals loved Nate Silver because he calculated that Barack Obama would win the presidency, among other things. Conservatives didn’t like him so much. Now conservatives are pointing to the poor odds, though 60-40 is a ratio many politicians would covet.

I love Nate Silver not because of who he supports but because he shows his work, admits his mistakes, and has a pretty good track record. If I want to disagree with him, I can find the data in his own material. No, I don’t think he’s always right. The good thing is that he doesn’t think he’s always right.

People on both sides of the political spectrum try to make polls say what they want, or they cherry pick the poll that suits them. Newspapers tend to represent polls in whatever way will sell the most papers. It causes me to remember the book Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. There’s no better way to lie to people than to combine two factors: 1) Tell them what they want to hear and 2) Put some numbers in it.

Self-Demonstrating Statements

Self-Demonstrating Statements

Well, only if you blog them.

Yesterday I wrote about checking the truth of what we post on social media, (though I was more interested in us checking the truth of what we share about one another personally), and today I note that a post by Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars), written by a liberal urging liberals not to share/quote certain (types of) sources (Please Stop Sharing Links to These Sites), now has 581 comments (It’s 10:30 am central time). Most of these comments clearly demonstrate the problem that Ed is talking about. (Mental Health Warning: Read only a judiciously selected small portion of these comments.)

And since I know I have both conservative and liberal readers, and many that defy classification, if you’re nodding your head about the liberal sites, be aware that there are plenty of conservative sites that behave likewise. The names aren’t the key. It’s the behavior and the content.

Of Politics, Cats, Context, and Church

Of Politics, Cats, Context, and Church

Cheena the CatThe other day I was browsing through my Facebook feed, which I do only occasionally, and becoming more and more annoyed at the politics posts. It’s not that I don’t care about politics; I do. It’s that I don’t like very much of what anyone says about politics on social media.

As I browsed, I scented a certain odor, and I thought the odor was familiar in some way, and not from reading about politics.

But first, let me talk about my cat. The cat you see in the picture to the left, at least mildly annoyed by having her picture taken, is Cheena. Now this post isn’t about cats. In fact, though I will talk about politics a bit, it isn’t really about politics. Nonetheless, Cheena the cat helped me along.

You see, I remember one day trying to explain Cheena to another cat person. She’s not that friendly, she’s a one-person cat, she’s stubborn, self-centered, and wants just her choice in attention. “So,” said this other cat person, “she’s a cat.”

Just so. She’s a cat. But you see, I’ve had many cats, and what I was trying to say was that, compared to the many other cats I have experienced, Cheena stands out for those characteristics. Pretty much every cat I’ve known makes its own decisions as to how long to sit on someone’s lap. But most of my cats, at least, have frequently curled up on my lap and purred. Cheena does this about every 3rd or 4th Christmas.

It’s about context. I could have been explaining how truly cat-like Cheena is, apart from, you know, fur, claws, and pointed ears. I would have used much the same words. But I wasn’t. I was talking in the context of the behavior of numerous cats, and trying to explain how Cheena differed from them.

It’s hard to accomplish that with just a few words. Someone who doesn’t want to take the time to understand Cheena’s behavior probably won’t get it. And why should they take the time? (I might note, however, that often people take more time to understand Cheena than they do many other things one might think more important.

So back to politics, remembering that I’m looking to illustrate something else. I wonder if any of us could give a five minute speech, much less an hour-long press conference, without saying something that could be extracted to produce an attack ad—or meme—against us.

The biggest problem I see with the political dialog is that very few people have taken time to look at the source and context of the material they present. (One of the most important purposes of finding a primary source, such as video of a speech, is to get the quoted line[s] in context. From Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” to Trump’s supposedly kicking a baby out of his rally, things get placed into whatever context a writer or sharer desires, irrespective of validity. Very few of these items are completely made up, but even fewer are totally truthful, representing the true intent and behavior of the person involved.

We tend to construe statements from our friends in the best possible light, while we construe those of opponents in the worst way possible. Sometimes we end up lying both times. Our person isn’t as good as we claim and the other guy isn’t as bad. But my call here isn’t for balance, but rather for accuracy. I find counts of positive and negative stories quite irrelevant. How much positive or negative information was there? Was it reported accurately and in accordance with its value? Was it sourced?

Many people share material without even reading it. The basis for sharing is not the accuracy of the content but whether they agree with the headline.

Now here’s a question. How may of you followed the link in the preceding paragraph? If you did follow it, how many of you realized it was a secondary source, and then followed the link to the primary source? Did you then read the actual study? Do you know what the methodology was? What social media platform was studied? How they determined shares vs. clicks? Do you think the headline of the secondary source was accurate?

We might want to blame social media for this, or perhaps the nature of politics. Politics is dirty business, after all. Yet I think we are all to blame, and we do it all the time.

Now where was it I had smelled this odor before?

It was in church.

Notice how in 1 Corinthians 1:11 Paul observes with indignation (and possibly feigned shock) that he has even heard that there are factions in that church. Sometimes we think factions simply refers to differences of opinion, but Paul is quite open to differences of opinion (e.g. Romans 14). There’s something that’s different about factions.

Factions build up around supporting one another no matter what, and putting down other people. Factions thrive on gossip. In Romans 1:29 we find “rumormonger” as one of the sins Paul lists showing how corrupt people are. Notice how many other words in the list there have to do with the way we talk about one another (slanderer, anyone?).

When someone whispers a juicy detail about another church member to us, and we repeat it, even if we preface it with “I don’t know if this is true, but I heard …”, we’re guilty of rumormongering, gossip, and slander. It’s a sin. Paul saw it as a sign of depravity. It’s endemic in our churches, and generally we are unrepentant about it. Oh—it’s a sin when you do it about people outside the church too, even a politician.

Gossip starts easily, and it can be stopped just as easily. If you want to see how it starts, just check the feed of your favorite social media platform, but don’t blame the technology. That’s precisely how those rumors about “Widow Brown” started in church. Someone says something they heard, or something they think might be the case, and the fire is started (James 3:5). And on it goes. We’ve all heard it. I suspect we’ve all been guilty of helping the flames spread at some point.

How can we stop this fire? Apply two tests to what you’ve heard: 1) Is it well-founded and accurate? and 2) Am I a person who needs to know this? Apply similar tests before you repeat: 1) Do I know the source and that it is accurate? and 2) Does the person I am about to tell need to know?

If it’s politics, it’s appropriate to pass accurate information on to those who need to decide their vote. In church, much more commonly the answer to the second question in each case is “no.” I know it’s hard to imagine, but we really don’t need to know the latest juicy story about our fellow church members. But even in politics we can ask the question of whether the information is actually of value. Should you pass on even accurate information about a candidate’s family? I’ll leave that to your conscience.

I demonstrated some of the ways to check out a story with the link I used above. That’s good for your political information. If you find a story that has no source, or that uses as a source someone who couldn’t possibly know the information, reject it immediately. If an article says that “a study shows” insist on finding the study itself. Could the research they did produce the answer they produced? If not, drop the subject. If the story says “____ said,” ask whether they could know or not.

In church, the procedure of Matthew 18:15-18. But first, make sure what you’re about to ask about is any of your business. If it’s not, dismiss it from your mind. If it is something that would be your business, going directly to the person is the best way to start. Afraid to go to that person? Don’t like confrontation? Then don’t share it. In fact, make “shut up” your default configuration.

And do it about politics too. Unless you truly know.

An Election for the 90s

An Election for the 90s

Image Credit:

Our crop of candidates, all parties and all levels are admirably intellectually equipped to guide our nation through the 1990s.

As an example, one need only look at the incidents of hacking and the response to them. This is only going to get worse. It may not be the next war, but at some point we will see a war fought entirely from computer terminals. With our dependence on technology, and lack of understanding of how it functions, we could see devastation without the use of physical weapons.

In this situation one careless or malicious individual can wreak massive havoc.

Too bad those we elect will be leading us into 2020 and not 2000.