“Fake News” Roots

During last weekend’s interview with 60 Minutes, Pres. Trump admitted to Leslie Stahl that he uses the phrase “fake news” to “demean” and “discredit” legitimate media when they ask questions that discomfort him because, essentially, he wants people to believe in him, not what other people say or think.

In essence, the President has admitted that he has tried to gaslight the American people for the last four years.

As a recovering journalist, I know all too well that each member of the media carries personal bias to each article written. So does every member of every other profession. But I also know that the best journalists (and their editors) try hard to distinguish fact from opinion. As Stahl herself mentioned in the interview, 60 Minutes will not report anything as fact that its editors know to be opinion.

Stahl referred specifically to a tabloid’s reportage of items allegedly found on a laptop owned by the son of Pres. Trump’s political opponent. Investigators from institutions ranging from snopes.com to Attorney General William Barr cannot substantiate claims made by that tabloid. Stahl demonstrated her integrity as a professional by not repeating rumor, and the President left the interview soon thereafter.

The episode reveals so much about the President’s mindset, starting with his conviction that he has a monopoly on not only “truths” but also “facts.” This is narcissism, not leadership. True leaders tolerate debate and dissent because doing so ensures fairer, better policies; true leaders want what is best for all Americans and will not bend the truth to suit fringe elements.

Posted in Ethics, National Politics, Social Media | 7 Comments

For the Film Class

I’m not sure that today’s viewing experience was stellar. Let’s think out loud about options for watching the remaining movies.

  1. Stick with Zoom, but make sure that we turn off our own cameras. If there are more than a few viewers, and those viewers have their PC cams on, it compromises the streaming. Similarly, we can try to refrain from chatting during screenings.
  2. Try another platform like Discord.
  3. I can record films on Zoom, post the recordings, and let you watch the films on your own time. We would still have class discussions at least twice a week, but this would mitigate buffering issues.
  4. An option I haven’t fully considered yet.

Your thoughts?

Posted in Education | 17 Comments

TL;DR

Every once in a while I realize that I am too old to be hip but too young to be square. The most recent evidence: the acronym WAP began appearing in social media and I could not for the life of me figure out how Wireless Access Protocol applied to the context in which the acronym appeared.

I looked that particular piece of slang up–no need to repeat the meaning here–but find myself beset by social media shorthand that doesn’t make sense at first glance. Educate me. What do I need to know to understand what people are saying? I promise not to repeat it–I’m too old for that. But I still want to know so I don’t embarrass myself.

Posted in Education, Music, Pop Culture | 9 Comments

The Power of Self Deception

Scanning the headlines and leads in my newsfeed this morning offered a great illustration of how manic and polarized our nation has become: the CEO of Neiman-Marcus shows off his new mansion on the same day he lays off employees; Wall Street opened high despite indications that economic growth is slow; our president claims to be a billionaire but paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

I understand the fears of people who don’t want the government to drift too far to the left. I understand that people don’t like paying taxes. I don’t doubt that the president’s accountant can explain why his federal tax burden is significantly less than the average Mississippian’s. However, you can’t claim to the IRS that you’re losing money every year, and represent to investors that you’re financially sound with appreciating assets. That’s fraud.

Other information contained in the president’s tax return seem laughable. Seventy thousand dollars in annual expenses for hair care? Claiming over $100,000 in deductions for hair and make-up expenses for his daughter’s televised appearances? I realize that we live in an age where CEOs make, on average, almost 300 times the average annual salary for a worker, but those “health and personal care” deductions rub me the wrong way.

Trump has often described himself as “smart” for being able to avoid paying taxes. However, people who want to lead should hold themselves to a higher standard than “smart.” So here’s my question for the blog: among those who are as repulsed as I am by the president’s behavior, what will cause them to hold their noses and vote for him anyway?

Posted in National Politics, Politics | 5 Comments

Your Pending Return

Screen fatigue is real, y’all. After six weeks of a four-by-four schedule of remote classes, I have discovered genuine antipathy for looking at screens of any size. I find myself wishing for an old-fashioned landline. I don’t especially care to stream movies I’ve put on the watchlist. I’d as soon go grabbling for alligators as turn on my laptop once I get home.

I’d like to tell you that your physical return to MSMS will result in significantly less screen time. However, social distancing guidelines mean that very few classes will be able to meet with all participants in the same room–only a couple of spaces in Hooper and Shack can accommodate even eleven students at the same time. As a result, we will have to deal with “hybrid” models in which some students are physically present and others Zoom–which in effect means that even those in the room will be watching Zoom to monitor the questions and chats of their colleagues in other places. Social distancing will also mean courses that rely on groupwork–labs, performance classes, robotics classes, etc–will not quite be normal.

This begs a series of questions: because health needs continue to require social distancing, would students be better off at home, both educationally and socially, until the third or fourth quarter? If students do return to campus in October. what should the tipping point be for a resumption of distance learning? Do we send everyone home after ten students test positive? Twenty?

Posted in Education, Ethics | 7 Comments

Double-Barreled Disasters

Fifteen years ago, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the gulf coast from Hancock County, Mississippi, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. The two storms caused more than $180 billion worth of damage to human structures. They also decimated what remained of barrier islands and wetlands south of these two states. Since then, environmental groups have poured millions of dollars into improving those crucial natural resources. Their efficacy will be tested later today near Lake Charles, where Hurricane Laura is slated to make landfall.

Like most people, I feel good about money spent improving the environment. But I’m curious: how much good will building up barrier islands and wetlands do if ocean levels outpace such expansion?

If those efforts prove insufficient, what should our next steps be to protect these lands–and New Orleans, the greatest, culturally most significant city in the south? How should we marshal our resources effectively? The answers aren’t simple. Cease and desist with the creation of new housing and developments? That will be a non-starter for those who rely on tourism for their tax base. Try to wean ourselves off fossil fuels? That sounds great to elites, but won’t fly with people whose monthly incomes don’t last as long as their months. What balanced approach can work?

Posted in Environment | 5 Comments

Quarters

This fall marks the first time MSMS has used the quarter system, also known as a four-by-four block. The principle difference between our quarters and a typical high school’s involves the Academic Support Day, which, ideally, allows students the opportunity to confer with teachers, or to take deep dives into specific topics that interest them. Students are in class approximately seven hours per course each week, which means that they are either in Zoom rooms or working on Canvas about 21 hours each week.

This system differs significantly from the college semester model used at the school for the previous three decades. Last year, students usually took 18-21 hours of classes per week, which equates to six or seven classes a semester. No Academic Support Day existed, but faculty returned to campus one night a week for tutorials.

I’m curious: which model, quarter or semester, seems to be a better fit for classes during the pandemic? Do you think the model should change once we return to face-to-face instruction? Seniors, I’ll be especially attentive to your responses.

Posted in Education | 8 Comments

The Tipping Point

We win! Mississippi is first in something!

We lead the nation in positive rate on C-19 tests, which means that we’re actually losers. Surprise.

But there may be more bad news on the way. All of Mississippi’s public school districts will reopen by the end of this month, which means that rates of infection are likely to increase, even with our best efforts. What will be the tipping point for a return to distance learning? Must 20% of the school be infected? Fifteen?

I suspect that our decisions will mirror how we’ve responded to the disease in other ways. Communities that quickly adopted mask mandates will offer more flexible curricula predicated on keeping people healthy. The assumption in these districts will be that parents will be well informed and intentional about the ways their kids get educated, and that students can return to f2f classes once numbers improve. Other districts will not have such resources–or the faith that the parents of students will stay engaged enough to help with teaching their kids.

For students who lack connectivity or familial stability, staying home to try to learn means living, but losing opportunities. Consider the students who turn to school as a source for reliable social structures, meals, and emotional support. Returning to remote learning won’t help them thrive, either. Do those issues transcend the health risks? The economic loss of not having class weigh heavily on us as well. What will happen when parents of grade schoolers cannot go to their jobs?

What happens when the grandparents of face-to-face school students attend school functions and contract C-19?

None of these issues has an easy resolution. I look forward to your assessment of the best path forward.

Posted in Education, Politics | 6 Comments

Blog Rules, 2020-21

Good afternoon! Below, please find information you need about the blog for this school year.

  1. You must be an MSMS student to post.
  2. I must approve your first post. After that, you can post without such approval.
  3. I encourage you to use your name when you post rather than an alias. This is somewhat contentious; if you have a reason for using an alias, please let me know. But I’d prefer to see your name attached to your thoughts.
  4. You may earn 1/4 the total number of quiz points for the quarter when you blog.
  5. Employ civility.
  6. Don’t be a lazy thinker. Engage issues.
  7. I consider it bad form to blog during class.
Posted in Ethics | Leave a comment

Welcome Back. Honestly.

An old tome fell out of the bookshelf while I cruised through titles searching, ironically, for something new to teach this fall: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Sissela Bok. Bok’s premise is that we are all liars. What should matter, she argues, is when we tell the truth. It’s one thing to say you’re having a great day when your day has been mediocre at best. It’s quite another to tell your shareholders that your company expects record earnings during the next quarter so you can sell your stock, secretly, at a profit.

For Bok, “clearly intended lies” own a gravitas that little white lies do not. Yet any form of deception, from changing the subject to deploying vague euphemisms, can have a significant, detrimental impact. The simple solution would be to tell the truth all the time. That may smack of hopeless naivete, but when you act with integrity, everything else is easy. It may also help to distinguish between important facts (specific truths involving person, place, and time) from truths (values we hold dear).

Lying was published in 1978, which means that it does not include any ways to cope with the information overload brought on first by cable news and then by the internet. If you were to add a chapter to her book, how would you equip readers to discern truths in the media on which they rely? Have we gotten to the point where ideology determines both fact and truth?

Posted in Ethics, National Politics, Politics | 4 Comments