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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 8/7/20

Good morning!

 

QUOTATION OF THE DAY

In an exchange with Bradley Mindlin the other day, we were lamenting the politicization of the COVID-19 crisis and mask-wearing, coupled with broadly-based governmental inability (at all levels) to appropriately address the crisis. The lack of leadership reminded me of a great quote by JFK:

“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”*

The sad thing about our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is that our defeat (to date) seems to have a thousand fathers—from the lack of national leadership, a preoccupation with electoral considerations, the varied, poorly thought out State “opening” plans, State officials bowing to public pressure, the obstinacy of those who fight any level of governmental intrusion with their right to choose (“You can’t make me wear that mask!”), the rush to announce a vaccine and/or begin its administration before the election, and the unwillingness of the public to accept science and adhere to simple guidelines.

*By the way, I am told this quote actually is paraphrasing a similar quote from the Roman historian Tacitus. Of course, I also was told Ted Sorenson wrote Profiles in Courage. Oh, wait…

 

WE ARE EASILY MANIPULATED

Much has been written about Russian manipulation of social media to sow the flames of distrust and resentment among segments of our society. Indeed, they have been proven to post inflammatory material that is grist for the mill of both the right and left on the very same issue. It also has been established that news outlets that blur the line between reporting and opinion are riling people up for ratings. Add to this the politicians that are using key words and phrases to spark discontent and rally their bases. Top that off with the “click bait” that is forwarded our direction by the algorithms and the masters of manipulation on the internet and one has the recipe of continuing discord.

But here’s the thing: You can only be manipulated if you are predisposed to manipulation. And Americans seem to suffer from this propensity in spades. We are studied and polled and analyzed—and have been for years—to determine our hot buttons for electoral advantage and to determine our tastes so that we can be sold every sort of item that we probably don’t even need. And if you don’t yet believe that we are being manipulated into purchasing things we don’t actually need, consider Oscar Mayer Bologna, Cheez-Whiz or half the stuff hawked on informercials.

All of the manipulation that poisons our politics and our human interaction presupposes that the American people will “rise to the bait” (whether click bait or otherwise) when presented with something. The American people are being manipulated by Russians and bots and fringe groups not because it doesn’t work but because it does. It seems that people are willing to suspend their instinct to question what they read when it comes from a source they are inclined to accept (even when it seems preposterous). Until we are able—as a society—to place critical analysis ahead of blindly following perceived opinion leaders, we have little hope of coming together to address the profound problems we face.

We all know that a fire can only continue as long as there is fuel. The most basic way to put out a conflagration is to deprive the fire of oxygen. In this case, the oxygen is the Internet and cable “news.” It is why it is so important that companies like Facebook, which control much of what we see and how often we see it, must take a lead in “draining the swamp” of lies, hate speech, calls for violence, and misinformation. And if they can’t or won’t do it, we need to consider other ways in which the distributors and re-publishers of these lies and invective can be regulated.

 

MORE ON THE ROAD ACROSS THE DESERT AND UTAH

Many people have commented about our car journey from here to Aspen. They have shared their weekend trips, national park visits, and week-long Air BNB rentals. Steve Meadow provided a great play-by-play summary of his family’s trip through Vegas to Park City, on to Jackson Hole and Whitefish Lake in Montana and back through California. I’m guessing we’re all going to be “hitting the road” a lot more in the next few months. Of note, RV and camper sales and rentals are way up this year…

Brad Mindlin notes that the “Mad Greek” from Baker was in one of Brad’s shopping centers in Las Vegas. He also reminded me of the great line, “the casino with heart” from Lost in America. A reminder that if you haven’t seen this movie, you’re missing out.

 

MORE ON LEGAL MOVIES

Big “oops” on describing In Cold Blood. It was the story of multiple murders in rural Kansas, based upon the Truman Capote novel of the same name.

Craig Karlan says And Justice for All belongs on the list.

Adam Torson recommends The Rainmaker for the list (noting its absence calls into question everything said in these Musings …!).

Howard Kroll insists on a couple of oldies—Inherit the Wind and Anatomy of a Murder. He also sent a whole list of old Rom-Coms, proving yet again that he may have been born in the wrong decade…

Here is a great courtroom scene with Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSCcj7mYuhc.j This film is based upon the famous trial of a teacher (played by Dick York in his pre-Bewitched days) who taught evolution in the classroom.

 

CLOSING THOUGHT

"If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slenderest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way."

-- Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads to Freedom (1918)

All the best,

Glenn

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