Lipstick On The Pig

What is it they say? If you put lipstick on a pig it’s still a pig? This appears to be an application of that adage! The Donald is making every attempt to pretend he is something he is not — since what he is turns off so many people. This is part of his effort, initiated by his new PR people (staring Kellyanne Conway) to create a different image for him and make him out to be someone else. Note the brief excerpt below:

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is planning a Thursday morning meeting with Latino and African-American activists at his Manhattan headquarters in Trump Tower. The activists are fellows from the Queens, N.Y., office of the Republican Leadership Initiative, a program designed to train young, diverse recruits to be campaign field operatives.

Multiple GOP sources confirmed plans for the meeting and characterized it as part of Trump’s outreach efforts in the African-American and Latino communities. While the initiative is not solely focused on training minority activists, a source said the Queens office of the program is in a predominately African-American and Latino area and has attracted its participants from the community.

An email circulated earlier in the day Tuesday indicated that former U.S. Rep. Bob Turner, current chairman of the Queens County Republican Party, was helping to organize the event, which was initially set to take place in Queens. Turner told Yahoo News the event had subsequently shifted to Trump Tower and described it as part of Trump’s efforts to court Latino voters.

We all know how The Donald feels about minorities generally and this is almost funny — having them come to Trump Towers to meet with the great one (in his surroundings) to see what he can do to placate these folks and convince them he’s really not a racist and orthodox bigot so they will go forth and spread the word to their peers. He had his fingers crossed the whole time! Right!

There are so many things wrong with this one hardly knows where to begin. But I suppose we could start with the fact that he is not going to these people, he is asking them to come to him. The meeting was “shifted” to Trump Towers. I dare say he wants to intimidate them with his opulent surroundings and the emotional effect it must have on these folks to have to visit the great man in his palatial surroundings. It borders on the sick, if we find it difficult to laugh at the shenanigans of this man and his supporters.

It is so clear to any disinterested bystander that this man is making an effort in the final two months of this campaign to unsay some of the things he has said, win over new voters, and bring back many of those who have defected from the Republican Party. One would hope those people cannot be this naive. And I gather from this snippet that many of those targeted will not fall for this codswallop:

Many rank-and-file black voters, meanwhile, dismiss the overtures as another racially charged pitch from a campaign aimed exclusively at whites, from Trump’s emphasis on “law and order” to his withering critiques of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first black chief executive. It was Trump in 2011 who fiercely challenged Obama’s U.S. birth.

“Any minority who would vote for him is crazy, ought to have their head examined,” said Ike Jenkins, an 81-year-old retired business owner in the predominantly black suburb of East Cleveland.

It’s all about selling the candidate, and his name has grown sour and isn’t selling very well to the uncommitted voters, especially minorities whom the man has eviscerated repeatedly, while driving away many of those loyal to the Party. So we change the image and present the new version to those out there who haven’t already decided that voting for this man would be the greatest of all possible mistakes. Seriously. There’s not enough lipstick in the world to make this pig look like anything but what he is. He remains the same belligerent, bellicose, bigot with an ego the size of the Pacific Ocean.

News That Sells

I found the following remarks in an article about how we should take reports about the latest polling results with a grain of salt. I have always done so, but it was most interesting to read what the writer said about news reporting generally:

Our research suggests yet another reason not to overreact to news stories about the newest poll: Media outlets tend to cover the surveys with the most “newsworthy” results, which can distort the picture of where the race stands.

Why? Consider the incentives of the news business. News outlets cover polls because they fit the very definition of newsworthiness. They’re new, timely, often generate conflict and allow political reporters to appear objective by simply telling readers and viewers what the public thinks. Horse-race stories are also popular.

Given that readers are drawn to drama and uncertainty, polls that offer intrigue or new developments — such as a close race or signs that one candidate is surging — are more likely to be deemed newsworthy. In particular, polls with unusual results may be more likely to make the news.

Note, please, the “incentives” of the news business. To begin with, news is regarded as a business, not a public service. This is, of corse, true. The hooker is that as a business news sources must worry about who pays the piper. That is to say, news reporting should be about what we need to know to be an informed citizenry; rather, it’s about what sells newspapers or air time. “Newsworthiness” is nothing more or less than what sells.

But I was struck by the notion that reporters should “appear to be objective,” as though objectivity should not be their highest goal. Clearly, it is impossible to be completely objective — how could one be objective about a person such as Donald Trump, for example? One either hates or (apparently) loves the man. But the idea that a reporter, like an historian, should be objective should be the first order of business. I recall a friend once saying that he wished someone would write an objective history of the Civil War — from the Southern point of view! As I say, it can’t be done. None the less, it should always be the goal of any historian or reporter. But this writer says it is enough to “appear” to be objective. The polls do this by giving us numbers. But the selection of those polls can be very subjective and it appears as though that choice is based on what strikes the reporter as sensational (“drama and uncertainty”).

It’s a good idea to take what we hear and read with a grain of salt generally. It pays to be suspicious and question all sources of information. We cannot always do this, but it, too, is a goal we should all seek to achieve. This is the point of thinking critically — not to reject, but to accept on reasonable grounds, which requires that we have a good idea off what constitute reasonable grounds. This is especially difficult in an age like ours in which the reports we read and see on television are selected for all the wrong reasons.

I have noted in past blogs that reporting has become an arm of the entertainment industry. But it is interesting to have reinforcement of that idea by someone who seems to accept as a given the fact that reporting is all about getting through to an audience rather than about telling the world what is going on and letting the world decide what they want to read, see, or hear. Apparently TV is the worst culprit in this decline of reporting as news provider and this is because TV is a cut-throat business and as we all know business is what our world is all about these days: it’s all about the bottom line.

Why It’s Close

To many observers, this political race for president of the United States should be about over. It shouldn’t even be close. On the one hand, we have a candidate who has managed to offend everyone from the disabled to the mother of a baby who had the audacity to cry at one of his rallies. On the other, we have a trained lawyer, a seasoned veteran who has been involved in international affairs at the highest levels, advised a sitting president, and was married to another. As I say, it shouldn’t even be close.

But, depending on what polls you read and when they were taken, the race is alarmingly close — “alarming” because if the former candidate (who shall remain nameless) should win it would be a disaster for this country given his twisted sense of reality together with his proclivity for alienating practically everyone and his inability to take criticism or advice from anyone who disagrees with him. The thought of this man (who shall remain nameless) with the nuclear codes is enough to wake the dead and cause them to dig deeper graves. This is the man, after all, who repeatedly asked, during a State Department briefing, why, if we have them, we could not use nuclear weapons. As has been said, America’s choice is between sanity and insanity.

But the race is closer than it should be and the obvious question is why. The answer seems to be that many people do not like Hillary Clinton. She is a strong woman with definite opinions and a hard exterior. However, I cannot recall any political candidate in my lifetime who has had to withstand the personal attacks and relentless —  and in many cases unwarranted — scrutiny that this woman has and she has handled it with remarkable equanimity. But, you see, she is a WOMAN. And there is the rub, it would seem.  We managed to elect a black man to the presidency and we now sit on the threshold of electing a woman– both “firsts” for a nation not known for doing the right thing of late.  And yet it appears we are afraid to take that step. Why is that?

Is it possibly because the candidate whose name will not be mentioned has scared the pants off a great many people in this country and created a fictional opponent whom he has pilloried on every possible occasion, hurling every ugly calumny at her?  Most of us under the circumstances would have wandered off to the local Home For The Bewildered babbling incoherently. Clearly, his mindless minions have bought into this diatribe. They have bought into it because (a) there are a great many people in this country who are sick and tired of “politics as usual”; they want to elect “someone else,” i.e., someone from outside the political mainstream. Hillary Clinton is decidedly mainstream. And (b) because they do not want a woman to hold that office, especially the woman who has been held up to them as the embodiment of all they hate and fear. As one of this man’s followers said in a recent interview, following a rally, regarding women generally : “No. A female has more hormones. She could start a war or anything. Hot flashes … BOOM!” By depicting this woman as the bearer of all of the vices any one person could possibly bear and holding that image before his mindless minions this candidate (who shall not be named) has managed to create the belief in the hearts of many that they must reject his opponent because she is weak and thoroughly evil while he is the only one who can save this country from perdition. And because those minions are mindless — and more numerous than anyone thought in his or her wildest nightmares — they have bought into it; as a result the race is so much closer than it should be.

Thus, those of us who see things as they are — and not as they are painted for us by a twisted mind — worry that this race will go to the wrong person and we shall have to deal with the consequences, consequences that are worrisome indeed, because it really is a choice between sanity and insanity and it shouldn’t even be close.

Straw Woman

There is an informal fallacy in logic that is committed with great frequency. It is called a “straw man argument.” It occurs when person A misrepresents the argument put forward by person B and attacks the misrepresentation — which is always a weaker form of person B’s original argument. Thus, I might argue that you should stop smoking because there is a very high correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, and despite the fact that a strict cause between cigarette smoking and cancer has not been shown — due to the fact that some people smoke and do not get lung cancer and some who do not smoke  get lung cancer anyway. You might then say, “oh, I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that there really is no risk in smoking because no one has been able to show a causal relationship between the smoking and lung cancer.” In this replay we see the “straw man,” a weaker (distorted?) form of my argument that is easier to attack because it is vulnerable.

A similar sort of thing is taking place in today’s political contest for the office of president of the United States. The opponents of Hillary Clinton have created a “straw woman,” a fictional person who closely resembles the female form of the devil (Trump has actually called her that, among other things!) and who is in no way like the original. This fiction is easy to attack because she embodies evil, is ambitious, dishonest, weak, and determined to bring the country down about her ears.

Now, I don’t know the “real” Hillary Clinton but from what I have read, despite her flaws, she is nothing like the creation of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. But since the real Hillary will be hard to beat, the creation has taken her place in the minds of a great many voters who now hate the woman and would not vote for her even if she could walk on water.

We tend to believe what we want to believe, of course. So it is easy to “sell” this fictional person to the voters of this country who almost certainly fear strong women in their lives in order to sell them their own fiction, a man who “tells it like it is” and offers us his proven expertise as a successful businessman and a refreshing alternative to politics as usual. Clearly, this is a fiction and nothing like what we know about the man himself. But it is a fiction that “sells” and in the minds of a great many people is preferable to the straw woman they have grown to hate and fear.

To be sure, attacks on politicians whose image has been created for us by marketing experts are always terribly weak, though commonplace. Such attacks tend to miss the mark because we have no way to know precisely who those people are and what they will do when elected to public office. Such is the case with Hillary Clinton — and Donald Trump, to be honest — because the straw woman has become the main figure in the target practice that has become politics. Create the image you want to hate and start slinging mud. That’s now the name of the game.

As responsible voters, we must do whatever we can to put aside those caricatures and try to see who the people running for office really are: listen carefully to what they have to say, “vet” them to know as far as possible how much experience they have had and what sort of track record they have thus far. We must rely on the media, which is a problem, but there are sources that are known to be unreliable (e.g., Fox News) and there are sources that are known to be reliable (e.g., the New York Times, CNN, and PBS — or even the BBC). The latter sources are more likely to present us with a true picture of the candidate than are the former. But, in the end, we must be as sure as we can be that the person we vote for is the person himself or herself and not a straw image that will hurst into flames as soon as elected.

The Real Victim

We have already heard the claim that this election is “rigged” and that Donald Trump may lose as a result. What this translates into it: My name is Donald The Trumpet and IF I lose it will not be as a result of my own failings as a person and a potential president, it will be because the Democrats have rigged the election.” In a word, it’s an escape clause that Trump has built into his ridiculous candidacy, because in his mind he cannot lose fair and square. The facts, of course, do not matter — though his claim is, indeed, based on the fact that the DNC managed to guarantee that Hillary would be their candidate and Bernie Sanders would not be. There is certainly some truth in that (if truth matters any more).

But it is a huge jump from that particular unpleasant fact to the outrageous claim that the entire election will be rigged to guarantee that Donald Trump will not be our next president. Why, we might well ask, should the Democrats bother to rig the election when the Trumpet is managing to undermine his own candidacy by continuing to shoot himself in the foot? If only he wouldn’t open his mouth, he might have a chance. But whenever he opens it another outrageous claim comes gushing forth and another doubter is born (we would hope).

To be sure, things have been done in the past to promote the interest of one particular candidate — Mayor Daily in Chicago practically delivered the election to John Kennedy back in the day. But there have been numerous other attempts, such as Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise certain voters (usually Democrats) and help the candidate of choice. And it would appear that Florida was pretty much delivered to George W. Bush by his brother not long ago. But to “rig” the entire election in favor of one candidate over another would appear to be practically impossible.

But that doesn’t matter, as we have learned. It’s not what is the case, in fact, that matters. It’s all about perception and the Trumpet is a master at deception — making the “truth” out to be whatever he says. He will say the word “rigged” enough to convince his mindless minions that it is a fact. And when he goes down in defeat in November (if he is not forced to resign sooner) he will shout “foul,” and his minions will rise up in protest. Let’s hope and pray that they not do so in violent protest — though I would certainly not bet against it.

The real victim in this race is not Donald Trump. If the real victim is not the Republican Party (which may well be the case) it is the truth. It is facts. It is what happens to be the case and not what people perceive to be the case. Truth is the real victim because the consequences of this transformation of lies into The Truth From On High are incalculable. The Donald will, as he says, take a long vacation and then probably work for Fox News and do the lecture circuit to help reimburse himself for the expenses he has incurred in this contest — and keep his face in the public eye. But what his mindless minions will do is anyone’s guess and those consequences follow directly from the rocks this man has turned over and the rage he has ignited in the hearts of so many people who might otherwise have simply remained mute. And, again, the truth will lie in tatters around our feet, unrecognizable and incapable of resuscitation. There’s the real victim.

Enhancing Performance

After watching Katie Ledecky win her fourth gold medal at this year’s Olympics, beating her second-place opponent by 11 seconds in the 800 meter free-style race I immediately thought “I wonder what she’s on.” It’s sad. I have no reason whatever to believe that this young women took anything to enhance her performance, but in this day and age when anyone wins big one immediately wonders what that person was on.

For so many years we could simply enjoy the thrills and spills that are sports, getting satisfaction from the remarkable feats of strength and grace. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Now that’s all done and gone. I suppose Lance Armstrong was the one who spoiled it for me. Or was it Barry Bonds? Or Roger Clemens? Anyway, there seem to have been so many “great” athletes who, it was discovered, cheated and had a leg up in their goal to achieve great things in sports. They have spoiled it for me.

I watch an athlete like Katie Ledecky win her race by such a large margin and I cannot get it out of my head that if she’s that much better than her opponent she, too, much have had a letup. The same is true of Serena Williams who is big and much stronger than so many of her opponents. I don’t want to believe it, but the seed has been planted and it has grown into a thorny bush that pricks and stings and makes every great moment in sports a moment of suspicion and doubt. How sad.

Sports are one of the few places left in our world where people are rewarded for their wins and punished for their losses, where there is success and failure — and many athletes at all levels of play learn important lessons from both winning and losing. But when winning is tainted by the suspicion (well-founded or not) that there was cheating involved it makes the entire enterprise dark and shadowy. That is not as it should be by any means. But that is what Performance Enhancing Drugs have brought to sports. All successful athletes play under a cloud of doubt and the only thing we can do — and we do it — is to think “well, everyone else does it, so what’s the difference?” We try not to think of it.

As I say, that’s not the way it should be. It’s not fair. We should rejoice with Katy Ledecky and admire the determination and skill of this remarkable athlete and the wonders she performs in the pool. But, because of that thorny bush, I find it difficult to do any more. How sad.

Lies, Lies, Lies

In one of my favorite episodes of “Seinfeld” George is giving advice to Jerry who has been asked to take a lie detector test to determine whether he does or does not watch a soap opera every day. He is seeking to impress a cute policewoman and is afraid the truth will put her off. George is giving him advice because George is so good at lying; it has become a habit with him. He tells Jerry, “it’s not a lie, Jerry, if you really believe it.”

Needless to say, this doesn’t work, because Jerry simply cannot keep up the ruse. But it seems to be working in today’s political scene as the Republican candidate (who shall remain nameless if not blameless) seems to be very good at lying. I suspect he has had a great deal of practice — after all he claims to be a successful business person when, in fact, his businesses have a habit of failing. But I also suspect that he really believes what he says. Or, perhaps, he doesn’t know what he says because he doesn’t listen to himself. His mouth seems to open when his brain is engaged elsewhere — heaven only knows where.

The problem is that his mindless minions who hang on his every word and grammatically incorrect sentence seem to believe whatever he says. One thinks of a cult where the followers blindly follow where the leader leads — or points. And this is a problem because when the lie becomes the norm, then facts are useless, even meaningless. Truth becomes merely a word that is used by critics to shame their leader who can do no wrong. Those “Fact-checkers” who claim to be neutral and only interested in setting the record straight are dismissed as biased and perhaps even in the pocket of the opposition.

Freud talks about the “reality principle” that operates as one grows older, separating fact from fiction, truth from myth. This principle is central to maturity in the human animal. Without it, he or she remains a child living in a make-believe world in which everything goes as planned and there is no pain or suffering. This, of course, is the world of those who continue to insist that there is no Truth (except what comes from one man’s mouth) and where lies are otherwise the norm. Reality is displaced by myth and the leader standing before you is larger than life and beyond reckoning. What others say about him are all lies. Everything he says is solid gold.

What happens in this case — and it is this case which is of major interest since so many seem to be living in this mythical world where one man has all the truth there is and everyone else is an inveterate liar — is that ears are closed to the truth as it relates to the real world: the real world has ceased to exist. The only world is the world in which the man standing before you says whatever comes into his head and it is taken for the truth, the only truth there is. Everything else is a lie, the only lies there are.

Philosophers will tell you that truth is attached to statements that correspond with facts in the real world. Thus, if I say the cat is on the mat, this is true if, and only if, the cat is, in fact, lying on the mat. But when the successful businessman standing before us tells us that the truth is what he says, and what he says alone, then the cat disappears and the only reality is the reality created by this man’s words — such as they are. We hear what he wants us to hear and nothing else. Our minds become closed to the fact-checkers because we are told they are biased. The word “lies” attaches only to those things said by those who oppose this man. The paradox is that he lies when he says that others lie. But we are no longer able to distinguish between the lies and the truth — except when it is pointed out to us by our infallible Leader.

Making Widgets (Once More)

We are having a hot, tropical summer here in Minnesota and I decided to repost a previous entry rather than simply repeat what I have already said in order to avoid getting even more overheated. This post deals with my favorite topic, the failure of our education system (which I think is at the root of many of our current difficulties and helps us to understand why a moron could be seriously considered for the highest office in the land.) Please note that I have made some subtle changes to update the entry.

Some time ago I wrote a post about the need to make distinctions in order to be clear about the things we discuss. One of the distinctions I mentioned is that between “wants” and “needs.” We rarely make the distinction and that leads to major confusion, especially when raising our kids, forming policies, or selling goods. In the latter case, for example, we are told that people need the product they are buying when, in fact, they may simply want the product.m Or they may not even want it at all until an ad convinces them they do. One of the things marketing people are very good at doing is creating wants and they do this by insisting that those wants are needs. (Do we really need a 5 hour energy drink??)

Surprisingly, educators do the same thing. They talk about what the kids need when they are really talking about what the kids want. It’s easier to determine wants than needs, because we can simply ask the kids: “what do you want?” Or we can continue to dumb-down the curriculum and provide them with electronic toys until they stop complaining. When it comes to needs, the kids don’t have the slightest clue. Sad to say, neither do many of their teachers and professors. And this is a very important point, because it leads us to the central reason why education is in deep do-do: those who are in a position to determine what the kids really need are either unaware of what those needs are or fail to act on that knowledge and fall into the marketing trap of simply determining what the kids want and then attempting to meet those fickle wants by insisting that they are providing the things the kids really need. It’s the path of least resistance. The confusion is widespread and until it is cleared up there is little likelihood that those who teach will lead those who learn rather than the other way around. (Note the interesting parallel here with parenting.)

But there’s another distinction that we seldom make and that is the distinction between education and training. I have discussed this confusion in previous blogs but have never focused on the key difference — until now. Training involves teaching learners how to do something, say, make widgets. Education involves understanding why we might want to make widgets in the first place. This is a critical difference, and the fact that education has devolved into job training is a serious blunder, because we need folks now more than ever who ask the troubling questions — why DO we make widgets?

There is a growing number of company CEOs who insist that educators are failing because the people coming out of college lack the ability to communicate, read and write memos, and speak before an audience. These highly paid corporate bosses talk a great deal about the need for these young people to have a broader, “liberal education,” though what they mean is that the folks they hire should be more effective at their jobs. However, at the level at which people are hired the message to hire broadly educated employees has failed to filter down and the initial search is simply for college graduates who can do a particular job, who can make widgets. The computer apps these recruiters use tend to screen out applicants who have majored in, say, philosophy, because presumably those people cannot make widgets (even though they could be trained to do so in a matter of weeks [days?]). So the job market looks bleak for graduates in such subjects as philosophy, literature, and history, because those folks are weeded out by a process that is designed to assure companies that the people hired can do meaningless jobs without the companies themselves having to spend money training them: the colleges are now expected to turn out people to make widgets, not ask why those widgets are being made in the first place.

Thus the CEOs who speak about the need for liberally educated employees don’t really mean it. The last thing they want is employees who ask why they are making widgets. They want workers who are already trained and can effectively make and market the products. The irony is that those who stop to ask the troubling questions would make the best employees in the long run because it is those people who can not only learn how to make and market the products, but they can also figure out how to improve those products as the world changes and demands for new products arise — as they most assuredly will. Because the only certain thing about the future is that things will change. And this is why America needs educated citizens, not simply those trained to make widgets.

Nails In The Coffin?

This story is a must-read from Yahoo News:

More than four dozen former Republican foreign policy officials have signed a letter declaring they are not voting for Donald Trump because it would put national security at risk.

“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” reads the letter, signed by 50 veterans of the George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush and Richard Nixon administrations and published Monday by the New York Times. “From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander in Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.

“Most fundamentally,” the letter states, “Mr. Trump lacks the character, values, and experience to be President. He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world. He appears to lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution, U.S. laws, and U.S. institutions, including religious tolerance, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary.”

Those who signed the letter include former Homeland Security Secs. Thomas Ridge and Michael Chertoff; former NSA and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden; ex-Deputy Secretaries of State John D. Negroponte and Robert B. Zoellick; and Eric S. Edelman, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and was a top aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, their letter continues, has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values.” What’s more, the real estate mogul and former “Celebrity Apprentice” host “has shown no interest in educating himself” on crucial foreign policy issues.”
Yahoo News Now: Former acting CIA director Morell calls Trump a threat to national security
On Friday, August 5, 2016, Yahoo News Deputy Editor Dan Klaidman and Yahoo News Chief Washington Correspondent Olivier Knox join Yahoo News Guest Anchor Alexis Christoforous on Yahoo News Now to discuss the recent op-ed piece in the New York Times former acting director of the CIA Mike Morell wrote. Endorsing Hillary Clinton, Morell called Donald Trump “a threat to our national security.”
“He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood,” the letter adds. “He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be president and commander in chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

The stinging assessment of Trump’s national security proposals came on the heels of several apparent foreign policy gaffes, most notably the GOP nominee’s vow that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not invade Ukraine, despite the fact that Putin seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand,” Trump said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”

“He’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos responded.

Trump later clarified to say he was talking about Russia’s future actions under a potential Trump administration.
Donald Trump tries to clarify his previous statements on Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin
On Aug. 1, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump took to Twitter in an attempt to clarify remarks he made on “This Week” about Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s involvement in the region.
The Times noted that absent from the list of signatories are former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

Earlier this year, Trump met with both Kissinger and Baker, telling the paper he “came away with a lot of knowledge” from the pair.

In March, more than 100 national security advisers signed a similar letter blasting Trump as a “fundamentally dishonest” candidate who “would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe.”

Monday’s missive was even more blunt.

“We understand that many Americans are profoundly frustrated with the federal government and its inability to solve pressing domestic and international problems,” the letter concludes. “We also know that many have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us. But Donald Trump is not the answer to America’s daunting challenges and to this crucial election. We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.”

The Self As God

I resubmit here for your consideration some ideas I expressed a few years ago when I first started writing my posts and had even fewer readers than I do now. I have updated and altered it a bit as the ideas seem to be worth a few moment’s thought.

A former student some years back sent me a most interesting comment made by the Swedish film-maker Ingmar Bergman. It keeps coming back to me as one of the most profound insights into modernity’s spiritual malaise. As Carl Gustav Jung once said, modern man is in search of a soul. It’s not clear when he lost it, though some think it was around the time of the industrial revolution and the growth of free-enterprise capitalism. By the end of the nineteenth century Nietzsche had pronounced God dead. This has created an abyss into which we anxiously stare and which continues to both fascinate and confound. Henry Adams saw this as he reflected on the 35 years that has passed since his return from England with his father in 1868:

“Prosperity never before imagined, power never yet wielded by man, speed never reached by anything but a meteor, had made the world irritable, nervous, querulous, unreasonable, and afraid.”

Bergman, on the other hand, is speaking about art, but we must remember that art creates culture; where the artist goes culture follows:

“It is my opinion that art lost its creative urge the moment it separated from worship. It severed the umbilical cord and lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. The individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. Creative unity and humble anonymity are forgotten and buried relics without significance or meaning. The smallest cuts and moral pains of the ego are examined under the microscope as if they were of eternal importance. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our own loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death.”

In a word, we no longer worship God, we worship ourselves. The self has displaced God, or indeed anything outside the self. In his autobiography, Adams tells us that he spent his life searching for meaning and continued to find only frustration. He looked back to see where we had gone wrong. In doing so, he wrote a marvelous study of the cathedrals at Chartres and Mont St. Michel, built to the greater glory of the Virgin Mary. In that study he expresses his astonishment at the power of faith over the entire European population at that time. How else to explain the cathedrals that took generations to build and remain to this day the highest expressions of human love? They reflect precisely the kind of passion and attention-turned-outwards that Bergman finds missing in our art and in our world today.

What we have instead is art that is largely self-expression coupled with technological expertise and amazing devices that allow us to move mountains, race at great speed, and communicate around the world in seconds — even travel to distant places in space and look back at the earth we are rapidly destroying. But, as Adams notes in his autobiography (which is clearly a companion piece for his study of Chartres and Mont St. Michel):

“All the steam in the world could not, like the Virgin, build Chartres.”

Medieval men had the power of inspiration, we have the only power of steam and nuclear fission.

We really are a stupid species. We pride ourselves on our accomplishments while we deny our ignorance which is immeasurably greater. We are surrounded by beauty which we ignore. We are capable of love but only “have feelings” for a very few. We have the capacity to reason yet we are unable to think our way out of the simplest difficulty — usually one we have created for ourselves through lack of foresight.

Adams thought history revealed itself as a tendency toward greater and greater complexity, that it is impossible to grasp the meaning of events in a simple unified theory. Physicists might call this “entropy.” If he is correct, and I suspect he is, it is almost certainly because humans continue to unleash forces they little understand and can barely control — as we learned not too long ago in Japan and are learning anew each day as we read about the latest gun death.

Bergman showed us in his films that the truth is staring us in the face. It’s in the smile of the infant, the love between people, friendship, the glorious sunset, or the bird soaring high above us against the bright blue sky. We can’t see these things because we are preoccupied with ourselves and the things we have done; we insist upon finding meaning where it doesn’t exist — within ourselves.