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Trump Versus Twitter

President Donald Trump met with head “Twitter” honcho Jack Dorsey on Tuesday, and it made for a lively discussion. According a a “tweet” from “Twitter” the two were to talk about “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 election and efforts underway to respond the opioid crisis,” but much of it was reportedly spent with Trump’s gripes about his favorite way of speaking directly to the public.
Trump’s battles with the old-fashioned print and broadcast media are well known, but he’s also been picking fights with all the newfangled social media and the rest of the internet industry. He’s accused Facebook of suppressing his supporters’ voices, charged the Google search engine with directing its users to unfavorable stories, and told reporters that the government “might have to do something about it.” He’s now complaining that the number of his “Twitter” “followers,” who automatically see Trump’s “tweets” on their computers or tablets or smart phones or whatever other kind of device they’ve devised, is lately falling.
Trump takes his crowd sizes and poll numbers and television ratings “Twitter” following personally, so we can imagine he was none too pleased, and implying that he would do something about it. Dorsey, a slim and bearded and hippy-looking of typical Silicon Valley youthfulness, who despite having more billions in net worth than Trump probably has was unable to purchase a neck tie for his Oval Office meeting, did not seem intimidated in videos and photographs the old media printed and broadcast.
Dorsey had reasons for Trump’s declining numbers that had nothing to do with political bias, and so far as we can tell, given our considerable ignorance about how this internet thingamajig works, they’re persuasive. He explains that the company routinely reviews the followers of all its “tweeters” to remove fraudulent “spam” accounts, partly to ensure its advertisers that the numbers are real and partly to guard against foreign meddling in the vast political conservation that “Twitter” plays an outsized role in. That might only persuade Trump to rail further against the practice, but at this point Dorsey is probably more intimidated by his paying customers and the Congressional oversight committee looking into foreign meddling and other Trump-related internet issues.
Trump is unlikely to “tweet” that the government should shut down “Twitter,” and this hippy-dippy billionaire Dorsey fellow has no incentive to run afoul of any branch of the government. He’s met with several right wing figures with complaints of censorship, which has angered left wing “Twitter” users who clamor for censorship, but he’s also allied with Facebook and Google and the rest of Silicon Valley’s Big Social Media.
Besides, Dorsey can plausibly figure that Trump needs “Twitter” more than “Twitter” needs Trump. The president has made “Twitter” famous, but it was already famous when Trump started “tweeting.” With some 60 million followers still logged in Trump is an even bigger draw than any of the athletes or musicians or movie stars on the platform, but for now he doesn’t have a better way to speak directly to those 60 million presumably real people without the mainstream media’s annoying edits and annotations. “Twitter” is the perfect medium for short attention span readers who enjoy a good schoolyard taunt and bully boy rhetoric and don’t mind the misspellings and improper punctuation, and we notice that Trump — or @realDonaldTrump” as he’s known to his followers — was uncharacteristically restrained in “tweeting” about “Twitter.”
“Great meeting this afternoon at the @WhiteHouse with @Jack from @Twitter,” Trump “tweeted.” “Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!”
Which sounds very chummy, and might well be, and if so that would probably be for the best. Even if all those damnable @’s and other internet gibberish are painful to our Gutenberg-era eyes, this internet thingamajig is how we’re communicating with you at this moment, so we hope this newfangled idea somehow endures through the old-fashioned principles of the First Amendment and free markets. If that means Trump keeps on “tweeting,” and so do all his equally illiterate and bully boy critics, so be it.

— Bud Norman

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Googling and Binging and Trumping

Around this office we never “google” anything, as we prefer the Bing search engine for our internet queries, but that’s partly because we hate these cacophonous neologisms that make a verb out of everything, and mostly because we find the soothing photographs on the Bing.com search engine’s home page more appealing than Google.com’s always garish and too-often annoyingly didactic artwork. Both search engines have always answered our arcane questions well enough, but President Donald Trump is recently complaining that Google is rigged against him.
In a couple of conspicuously early morning “tweets” this week Trump has griped that if you type in “Trump news” in that box at the Google search engine you’ll find the first several pages of links are to stories that reflect unfavorably on his presidency. He even hinted that perhaps some government regulation is needed to correct this, although he later seemed to back down from that in a chat with reporters, even as he continued to condemn Google for its obvious bias. There were also some reiterated complaints about various social media companies silencing conservative voices, but that’s another and equally weird post-modern matter that we’ve already commented on.
Trump didn’t mention any other search engines, but when we typed ¬† “Trump news” into the box on the Bing page — for the very ¬†first time, as our queries are usually far more specific — they featured pretty much the same first few pages of links. There are probably other search engines available on this newfangled internet thingamajig — we’re old and not at all hep to the young whippersnappers’ high-tech lingo, and are too tired to “bing” it, so we can’t name them — but our guess is that most of them would yield pretty much the same desultory results.
Trump blames the internet’s bias on its reliance on such left wing media as The New York Times and The Washington Post and the few other remaining big city newspapers, as well as the over-the-air newscasts and a couple of long established cable networks, and although they all do seem to relish in bad news about Trump it’s not “fake news” in almost every case, and for now they’re still so widely read and watched that they turn up on the first few pages of any old internet search about “Trump news.” Perhaps there’s an algorithm that would pop up only reports about the low unemployment rate and the the recent rains here in Kansas, with news about vanquished Democratic foe Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama and their “deep state” conspiracy to depose Trump, but it would have to compete with a lot of more convincing noise from that establishment media.
The death of bona fide war hero and former Republican presidential nominee and lauded-as-a-statesman on both sides of the aisle Sen.John McCain couldn’t be kept out of any honest accounting of the recent news, and it would have been hard to come up with a front page link to a story lauding Trump for courageously continuing his express his disrespect even after the hero’s untimely death. Somewhere out there on the internet or talk radio you’ll find a full throated explanation of why Trump’s campaign manager recently being convicted on eight felony counts and his former deputy campaign manager and national security advisor pleading guilty to felonies and his former lawyer and longtime top business executive cooperating with an ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing” is just proof of that “deep state” conspiracy,but it would take some doing to put them at the top of a search engine’s priorities.
Our understanding is that these so-called “algorithms” are so called in honor of Vice President Al Gore, inventor of the internet, and we don’t claim to at all understand how the heck they work, but we’re not the least bit surprised that Trump is displeased with the news they routinely come up with. Our advice to the president is to stay out of the news for a cycle or two, starve them of anything to report about but latest unemployment numbers and the absence of any recent wars, and hope for a bombshell report about the Democrats and their dastardly “deep state” conspiracy, but even in these crazy days either possibility seems unlikely.
We have our own complaints with these danged newfangled search engines, which never seem to put such an august internet publication as The Central Standard Times on the first few pages unless your queries are pretty darned specific, but we’ll not call for any governmental regulations to address this grievous error. With all due respect to the office of the presidency, we hope Trump will do the same.

— Bud Norman

Smarter Phones, Dumber People

The news was slow and the weather stormy over most of the weekend, which gave us a chance to ponder some of the big-picture think pieces in the high-brow media. For the past 160 years Atlantic Magazine has been among the most high-brow of them, as well as one of the most reliable sources of ponderable big-picture think pieces, and they offered up an excellent essay about the modern age of the “smart phone” and its dire effects on its youngest generation.
It’s a lengthy and complicated article, but even if you’re not rained in and there’s another bombshell Russian story on the front page we highly recommend it. The author has been spent the past 25 years studying how Americans differ from generation to generation, with his research stretching from the 1930s to the present, and he reports on an anomalous change in the usual ebb-and-flow of cultural shifts that have occurred since 2012. That was the first year that a majority of Americans owned “smart phones,” the author notes, and when “I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.”
The author also posits there’s a causal connection between these two things, and based on our more anecdotal evidence we think he’s on to something. He briefly and glumly summarizes all the widely-observed ways that “smart phones” have altered the daily lives of all generations — a more complete assessment would require shelves of upcoming social science dissertations and satirical novels — but finds his most alarming data among the youngest generation that never knew what life was like before the damned things. What the author calls the “Gen-I” generation reports markedly higher levels of lack of social interaction, loneliness, depression, and suicide, and links these to hours spent on texting, social media, and other time “on screen.” We’re short at the moment on very young friends, as all of our friends’ kids are all grown up but haven’t yet had kids that are even old enough for “smart phones,” and we’re proudly among the dwindling minority of Americans who still don’t own one of the damned things, but we’re not surprised by the author’s findings.
At this point we’re tempted to take some time off and write a satirical novel of our own about “smart phones,” so outraged are we with the way the damned things have made people so damned dumb. When we’re out arguing politics with our friends at the local hipster dives we always notice the attractive young couples sitting across a booth from one another and staring into their “smart phones” rather than into the other’s eyes. A conspicuous number of our similarly-aged friends lately seem frustratingly forgetful, and instead of an unexercised and flabby memory rely on their “smart phones” to tell them the name of the guy that they’re talking about. By now all of the great adventures tales would have to be re-written if they were up-dated to an age when the hero could ask the palm-sized device in his pocket for an answer, we have friends who can’t get from one place in Wichita, Kansas, to another without help from a “smart phone” global positioning system, and we don’t count it all as progress.
Shudder to think, then, what it’s like for those poor kids who can’t remember the good old analog age of actual rather than virtual reality. The Atlantic’s highbrow correspondent also provides the unsurprising and commonsensical data that children who spend less time “on screen” and more time social interactions with other children in extra-curricular activities and religious services and sports and local playgrounds, and spent their other hours with either family or books, were less likely to be lonely, depressed, or suicidal. The real world is a daunting place, but people there seem happier than the ones in the virtual world.
All the data shows the younger folks tend not to date, in the traditional sense of the term, and although that’s had a salutary effect on the teen pregnancy rates we think it’s a mixed blessing. The Atlantic reports that teens are also postponing getting a driver’s license, which would have been unimaginable to our teenaged selves, or any previous generation of red-blooded Americans, and spending way too much time in their bedrooms and worrying that the picture they posted on Instragam won’t get a self-affirming number of “likes.” The youngest of them are now tethered by a global positioning system every hour of the day and every day of the week to their parents, too, and we shudder again to think of what that must be like. We were blessed with diligently watchful parents, but we’re sure they won’t mind us saying that we’re also grateful that the technology of the time didn’t preclude those occasional moments when we were blissfully free to act according to our own better judgement. Every previous generation, after all, had those moments.
This might seem yet another old folks’ rant against modernity, but we’ve got some state-of-the-art social science data from such a highbrow publication as Atlantic to back it up, and we think there’s something afoot that’s even more significant than the next presidential “tweet.” We finally got an old-fashioned “flip phone” a while back to be constant communication with our still-watchful folks, who are now old enough to require our watchfulness, and we have to admit we’re taking up some of your own “on-screen” time, so we can’t deny that some progress has been made. Every generation has also lost something dear to every technological revolution, though, and we hope that the next one will still know something of a real-life and primal childhood.

— Bud Norman

Staying Out of the Race

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced Tuesday that he will not be running for president, and it took us quite by surprise. It had never occurred to us that Portman might run, after all, and none of the many pundits handicapping the upcoming field seem to have considered the possibility. The announcement served its purpose of reminding America that there is a Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, however, and might even have led some to conclude that Portman is an important person.
Being in desperate need of some some self-aggrandizing publicity ourselves, and lacking anything else to write about on a slow news day, we have decided to follow Portman’s lead and announce that we are also not going to run for president. This will come as a bitter disappointment to the multitudes of Americans who have looked to us for hope in these dark times, and we cannot deny the alarming possibility that it might result in someone even worse winning the office, but we think it is for the best.
Longstanding political tradition requires a non-candidate to say that he has discussed the decision with his wife and children, but we are single and childless so we talked it over with the regulars at Kirby’s Beer Store. They were fine with it. Another longstanding tradition requires a non-candidate to explain his reasons for not running, and lest the public think that we are selfishly shirking our patriotic duty by declining our shot at the office will we oblige.
We would like to say that we are prevented from running by our ongoing sex scandals, but we have embarrassingly little to confess about that lately. Certainly nothing that would raise an eyebrow at a Georgetown cocktail party. Some might question our other numerous vices, our lack of any notable achievements in life, and our general low moral character, but recent history indicates that the general public isn’t so nit-picky about such things. The fault lies not in ourselves, contrary to Shakespeare, but rather in the stars.
There would be difficulty in raising the necessary funds, for one thing. Most of our friends are as destitute as us, and our campaign pledge to let businesses fight it out in the free markets of red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism is unlikely to appeal to any of the big-money donors. The Koch brothers might go for it, and one of them lives right here in town, but we don’t want to get cast in any of the crazy conspiracy theories they inspire. Prime-time network ad buys and styrofoam Greek columns don’t come cheap, so the cost of a modern presidential campaign is simply beyond our means for the foreseeable future.
Modern presidential campaigns seem to involve a lot of social media, as well, and we have little aptitude and less enthusiasm for that nonsense. Even such a taciturn statesman as President Calvin Coolidge could not compress his policies into a “tweet,” and we are no Silent Cal. Nor do we care to schmooze with smarmy comedians on the late night comedy shows that are now an obligatory stop on the modern presidential campaign trail, especially in this day and age when we’re unlikely to be sharing the couch with Charo. Hair stylists and fashion consultants and focus groups and the rest of the indignities of the modern presidential campaign are also irksome to us. We rather like the idea of eating hot dogs at state fairs and speaking from the back of railroad cars and engaging in heated but civil debates with our opponents, and we wouldn’t even mind a reasonable amount of baby-kissing so long as the little bastards have been properly cleaned, but we fear our candidacy must await a return to those halcyon days of old-fashioned politics.
Not that the job of president doesn’t tempt us, especially now that its powers have been so vastly expanded. The idea of being able to get on airplane without taking our shoes off is appealing, presidents seem to eat well, it would be nice to have someone take an interest in our college basketball tournament predictions, and although we don’t play golf the rest of the perquisites of the job seem ample compensation for its responsibilities. There’s always a chance one can do some good for the country, as well, but we expect the public might less appreciative of our efforts to stop doing things to them rather than attempting to do things for them.
If a draft movement continues to gain momentum we might be forced to reconsider, but for now we will keep our hat outside the ring. It’s a fine old hat, and we don’t want it soiled.

— Bud Norman

Pretty Safe in a Messy World

The world might seem dangerously out of control at the moment, what with Islamist terror gangs slaughtering people across a wide swath of Iraq and Syria and enjoying the swimming pool at the abandoned American embassy in Libya, along with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its threats of nuclear weapons, and the nuts running Iran in the process of getting their own bombs, not to mention the suddenly assertive Chinese and all the other crises popping up around the globe, but the President of the United States assures us this is all quite normal. Speaking to yet another group of rich people at yet another high-dollar fund-raiser recently, the president assessed that we’re actually “pretty safe.
This is not as reassuring an assessment at the president probably intended, but it’s probably the best one can hope for these days. Still, after paying $32,400 per plate the audience had every right to expect the famously silver-tongued orator to provide a more convincing case for even that rather modest boast.

“The truth of the matter is that the world has always been messy,” the president said, which is true enough, and rather generous in its implied acknowledgement that this was so even before the George W. Bush administration, but he added that, “In part, we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through,” which is altogether wrong and quite strikingly stupid. Perhaps the president has only recently noticed the messiness of the world because of the “tweets” and Facebook postings that pop up on his cell phone, such as those hash-tagged missives his wife once sent out about the Boko Haram terror gang that is still running amok in Nigeria, but almost anyone old enough to have been aware of the world’s imperfections even before the invention of these new media can easily judge that the world is conspicuously messier lately. Islamist terror gangs controlling huge swaths of resource-rich countries is not a routine feature of history, invasions of European countries by other countries is a problem that had largely been eliminated by the post-war world order once imposed by American power, the various other crises are more numerous than usual, and all of this would be impossible to ignore even the good old days when three networks and a couple of newspapers got to decide what people knew.
It’s not so dangerous as the Cold War days, the president explained to his well-heeled friends, and it’s true that at least for the moment none of those Islamist terror gangs have a stockpile of nuclear atop intercontinental missiles. Iran’s working to get one during the seemingly eternal negotiations that the administration is so proud of, however, and Russia and China already have plenty and are clearly intent on expanding their territories. The president also believes that the Cold War was won “because the world stood as one,” as he put it to those gullible Germans who gathered to hear his highfalutin speech at the former Berlin Wall back in ’08 when people everywhere were believing such nonsense, so it’s hard to have confidence in his ability to handle the current challenge.
The president also told his friends that America’s military is preeminent in the world, which is true for the moment, but when the planned downsizing is complete and our enemies continue to beef up their defense budgets with the interest payments on the national debt or the oil fields they’ve seized from our former allies the advantage won’t be nearly so overwhelming. All that military might doesn’t mean much without a credible threat of its use, too, and the country’s enemies are all tweeting one another that it’s now a post-American world.
There are more alarmed voices in the administration, including those of the Defense Secretary and the Attorney General and the unnamed sources for a spate of old-fashioned news media stories about the possibility for another large-scale terror attack sneaking across the porous southern border some time soon, and the president seems content to know that they’re on the job with all those intelligence and national securities that his hated predecessor put in place. The harsh interrogations and Guantanamo Bay detentions and some of the other ideas are gone, which might explain the downgrade to “pretty safe,” but we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed.

— Bud Norman