Friday, May 12, 2017

Master of deception

Speech perception is an ephemeral process. The literal content rapidly vanishes and what we’re left with is a felt-sense of what’s said. Deception works when the literal content is no longer available and all we have to refer to is felt-sense ..or sometimes no-sense.of what's true.
1. Deception by felt-sense: Trump announced an executive order that he says: “Restores religious liberty.” However, what the order actually says is:
 “The treasury department will not take action against religious groups (tax them) for making political speeches that do not amount to participation or influence in a political campaign.”
 It’s a double negative that doesn’t change anything. Before religious groups couldn’t make political speeches …now they can as long as they don’t intend to influence the way people think …(?) Sounds to me like they’re still liable. It was never really enforced anyway so what difference does it make? Trump’s statement sounds significant only if you don't have a copy of the order in front of you. 

2. Deception by no-sense: Trump announced that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) will: “Cover more Americans more cheaply.” (He doesn’t say which Americans). However, policy wonks at the Congressional Budget Office were given access to the bill only after Trump’s announcement. Here’s what they found: 
“21 million working class Americans will lose their health insurance.” “People with pre-existing conditions will be priced out of the insurance market.” and “Caps on out-of-pocket expenses for costly treatments will be eliminated for people with employer-sponsored health insurance.” 
The net effect is less coverage at a higher price for most Americans. Trump’s announcement only sounds possible if you don’t have a copy of the bill to refer to. 

3. Deception by pre-supposition:  Trump says: “I fired FBI director Comey because he’s a show-boater, a grand-stander, and the FBI is in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that.” Saying “He’s a showboated …” is just an opinion. However, adding “… everybody knows that.” makes it sound like a valid pre-supposition and good reason for a firing … even when it’s not. Trump fired Comey for personal reasons that were not based on his performance as FBI director.

4. Deception by public record: On his termination letter to FBI director Comey, Trump wrote: “I appreciate that, on three separate occasions, you told me I was not under investigation.” There’s no record of Comey ever saying that …and it’s not FBI policy to inform subjects when they’re under investigation. Trump however made it sound factual by making it a matter of public record.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Discourse analysis of the news

I’m paying closer attention to news stories these days. I like to see how many examples of fake news and deceptive claims I can spot …I’m weird that way. I know that just because a story sounds sensational … doesn’t mean it’s a widespread pandemic. A picture of protestors at a local college doesn’t make it a campus-wide event. A group of cheering supporters at a political rally doesn’t represent everyone in attendance. I call this a ‘slice-of-pie’ sort of misrepresentation. It’s not necessarily the fault of the reporter …it’s just the nature of news. It’s not always a view from 35,000 feet.
 I’m also seeing where events are reported in a sequence that’s different from the way they actually occurred …and how it affects my interpretation of things. One thing after another is easily mistaken for one thing caused the other.
I’m also clearer on the difference between ‘speculation’ and ‘data-based accounts’. I know it takes a sufficient number of cases to turn a speculative claim into a credible account. It’s the difference between Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying “…legalizing marijuana will lead to something like the opioid epidemic” and the New England Journal of Medicine reporting “a study of 2,500 users shows that marijuana does not have the same addictive properties as opioids.” I guess it depends on your perspective, and, from what I’ve seen, pre-conceived notions about marijuana can beat out data-based reports almost any day of the week.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Deceptive speech

1. It’s deceptive when Trump calls news outlets fake and dishonest because reports about him “…haven’t been positive.” He didn’t say that reports about him haven’t been honest. 

2. It’s deceptive when the administration says: “The national debt went down $12 billion since we’ve been in power.” That’s implying that they deserve credit for events that are actually beyond their control (they’ve only been in power for a month and have not yet done anything to affect the budget). 

3. It’s deceptive to attribute job losses by middle class Americans to undocumented immigrants …unless you consider gardening and fruit-picking middle–class occupations.

 4. It’s deceptive to treat the fair-trade agreement with South America the same as China. South America doesn’t engage in anti-competitive practices like the Chinese. They don’t present the same barriers to foreign investment.

5. This is not necessarily deceptive but a big component of intelligence is understanding the question. Over two-thirds of the errors on an intelligence test can be attributed to misunderstanding the question. This was certainly the case at Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. When asked: “As Attorney General, if presented with evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians …what would you do?” He replied: “I did not communicate with the Russians.” Why did he deny doing something he wasn’t asked? He claims he was responding to a something he read in the news that day …and got it confused with the question. Good thing intelligence is not a qualification. 

6. Spicer has reached the level of master of deception. He’s not necessarily good at it …just prolific. In the latest example he cites news-stories about British spying to back up his accusations against Obama. When British Intelligence confronts him, he says: “I was simply pointing out these news-stories. I wasn’t endorsing them.” However, when you cite news-sources to back up your claims …you are crediting theses sources as valid, which is the same as endorsing them

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Discourse analysis

I look for samples of deceptive speech in the news. Happens more frequently than casual observation would lead me to believe. We don’t process speech like a linguist. It’s too ephemeral. We listen for meaning and not a literal transcript of what's said, which makes it easy for speakers to pass-off fiction as fact and make implications sound like direct assertions. The original sentences don’t hang around long enough for us to tell the difference and we’re left with a more general sense of what's said. The new administration provides a lot of examples. Here are a few I've come across lately.

 1. It’s deceptive when press secretary Spicer defends Trump’s travel ban by saying: The power given the president to protect our country is substantial and without question.” It’s deceptive because he’s implying that Trump’s actions are ‘beyond question’ because the constitution is beyond question. However, it is not unreasonable to ask whether his actions were a legitimate use of power and met the criteria proscribed by the constitution. The courts clearly found his actions questionable.

 2. It’s deceptive when the administration says they didn’t fire secretary of state Flynn because he did anything wrong but because it was leaked. According to press secretary Spicer: “leaks are criminal and what should be investigated here.” It’s deceptive when he deflects attention by implying that some kind of “breach in security” was at fault and not the actions of the secretary of state.

 3. it’s deceptive when attorney general Sessions says marijuana use should be prosecuted under federal law because: When you see something like the opiate addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.” He’s implying that marijuana carries the same health and safety risks as opioids.

 4. It’s deceptive when the administration denies ever saying: “We are conducting mass-deportations using the U.S. military.” But that is exactly what Trump was implying when he announced: “ We are conducting deportations at unprecedented levels and doing them as efficiently as a military operation.” What’s the difference. Since speech perception is not literal …implications get treated as direct assertions and “ ..mass-deportations by the U.S. military” is exactly what gets conveyed. Denying it because it was not part of the ‘actual transcript’ is like something you’d hear in a court of law. It’s deceptive because it’s not the natural way we process information. We don’t keep record of things like a stenographer and the administration knows this.

 5. It’s deceptive when Trump characterizes undocumented immigrants as criminals based on one case. As tragic as it was … a single case does not represent an entire population. However we don’t think like statisticians. We mistake sensationalism for the size and magnitude of a problem. The administration knows this and they’re relying on it to help make their case.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Trump tweets

Trump is beginning to find Twitter less unforgiving than the press. In addition, it has a multiplier effect that can boost adversarial comments astronomically ..hugely! They’re not just calling him out on his use of ‘alternative facts’ …they’re ridiculing him. Take for instance the (#Bowling Green Massacre Relief Fund). The remark he made about the “So-called Federal Judge …” has spawned (#So-called Presidential appointment) (#So-called Senate confirmation) and (#So-called Constitution). His statement that: “All negative polls are fake news …” and his unrelenting attention to SNL has generated one called (#SNL weekend update is real). Historically, ridicule is one of the oldest means of deterring socially unacceptable behavior. Twitter has virtually crowd-sourced the editorial and fact-checking process. If Trump thinks Twitter offers him a way around the press so that he can make stuff up without consequence …he’s going to find that Twitter has the unrestrained power to bury his claims with ridicule and mockery. And it’s not subject to libel laws. He may have call in the National Guard on this one.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Deception by definition

The Constitution says the role of the Senate is to “... give advice and consent” to the President during the selection of a Supreme Court Justice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell re-frames consent to mean refusing to participate. I don’t think consent means agreeing with the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee. I think it means agreeing with a nominee during the selection process. It’s deceptive because he’s using the Constitution to back a misuse of the term.  It’s like saying that the Constitution gives him license not to do his job … because that’s what the process is … his job.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Anxiety can be paralyzing. That’s a fact. Republicans feel threatened and they’re circling the wagons. I get that. They say they don’t want to decide on a Supreme Court nominee … wait until next year when cooler head prevail. Problem is everyone has to make decisions under pressure. I do. Trick is, I’m told, to breathe, take a walk on the beach, then calmly do what needs to be done. I’ve also been told don’t let them see you sweat and the first one to show anger – loses. Obstruction, I believe, is an expression of anger as well as anxiety (i.e. sweat). In the words of the mighty Trump … that makes Mitch Mitchell and the Republican Senate a bunch of losers.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The scoundrel

For the record, I’m not proud of my behavior in college. Figuring I wasn’t going to get by on looks alone ... I needed another way to mask my edginess and appear sincere. Stories of past adventures both captivated and added a vicarious boost of adrenaline in my unsuspecting prey, which diverted their attention away from my need for adventure elsewhere. Tales of crossing Baja in a dune buggy and surfing Spider Bay were good (and true). I once told an innocent young debutante about my fool-proof plan to smuggle cocaine from South America aboard a sailboat (a complete fabrication). Shocked the shit out of her …but she was intrigued. I later got her to shoplift, dine-and-dash plus switch theaters at the mall during dates … things that were totally out-of-character for her. Like I said, I am not proud. Horsepower was also good for spiking adrenaline (and providing me with a fast getaway). I had an Alfa Romeo that I kept in immaculate condition. White-knuckle rides through Laguna Canyon or Big Sur tended to suppress discussion and release inhibitions. Then lastly there was the fear of abandonment (or the loss of living vicariously) which was a good motivator. Kept ladies hooked and in-line. Back me in a corner and I’m gone.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Deception in Politics

Someone asked the other day if I thought candidate Trump was deceitful. When I thought about it I found him far less deceitful than, say … Mitch McConnell the Senate Majority Leader. When Trump says he’ll build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it he’s not being deceptive. He’s making an outrageous claim but it’s out there for everyone to hear and judge. He’s being forthright. Besides it’s a campaign speech that few believe. When McConnell says: “The American people will be heard before the next Supreme Court Justice is determined” … he is being deceptive. Without actually saying so, his statement falsely assumes that Justices are somehow elected to the Supreme Court by the American people. He makes it sound like it would be undemocratic to do otherwise. McConnell is appealing to a sentiment (representative government) where it doesn’t apply (the Supreme Court). Trump’s appeals to a sentiment where it does apply (immigration issues). What he says may be outrageous and undoable but his message is overt whereas McConnell’s message is delivered in a more covert manner. Makes Trump sound like the honest one here. Theatrical and extreme … but honest. McConnell on the other hand sounds duplicitous to me. He is speaking as an elected official about his duties as Senator (approving Supreme Court nominees).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Change of Narrative

I’ve heard that a winning strategy in politics is never change the candidate to fit the narrative (national debate) but change the narrative to fit the candidate instead. So I predict that over the next few months we won’t see much of a change in Jeb Bush. However, we will see him bring out his credentials as member of a military family (his father was a war hero and his brother was commander-in-chief during wartime), which helps foster the illusion that he is – and always has been – a military leader himself. Next, we are going to hear heck of a lot more about threats to national security from places like the Middle East, Russia, Iran, Syria and North Korea – bolstering the narrative that we’re a country under siege. Since fear usually trumps domestic issues, I don’t even believe the selection of the next Supreme Court justice will compare.

Monday, February 8, 2016

OJ Simpson

 Masters of illusion

It didn’t take much to persuade a jury that OJ Simpson was innocent by creating the illusion that the LAPD were capable of framing him. Defense attorneys were relying on sensational events in the recent past to pull this off. The LAPD were already being demonized for police brutality in the Rodney King case. Made it easy to create the illusion that they were capable of similar malfeasance in the OJ Simpson case – even though individual instances of brutality do not compare with the kind of massive departmental conspiracy required to frame a celebrity for murder. Attorneys successfully created an illusion of conspiracy by invoking the jury’s memory for brutality.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The case against Hussein

 Masters of Illusion

It was easy for George W. Bush to create an illusion that bringing down Saddam Hussein would help defeat Al Qaeda. The U.S. had just experienced an unprecedented attack by foreign terrorists on American soil. Illusions are easy to create around sensational events. People are more susceptible to suggestion. Bush never actually claimed that Saddam Hussein had either direction or control of 9/11– he didn’t have to. He implied a link and relied on his listeners to do the rest, which they did in record numbers. A Washington Post survey found that over two-thirds (69%) of Americans actually believe that Bush said Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks of September 11. He created the illusion through an unspoken agreement with his audience.