One-Liner Wednesday — Handshake

handshake

“Each president gripped the other’s hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.”

Philip Rucker, a reporter for the Washington Post, was in the room for the now somewhat infamous handshake between French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump at last week’s NATO meeting in Brussels. The sentence at the top of this post is how Rucker described that handshake.

I suppose it could have been worse. Instead of competing with an intense handshake, these two world leaders could have had an actual pissing contest!

This is my entry into today’s “One-Liner Wednesday” prompt from Linda G. Hill.  Thanks Linda.

Facts Versus Opinions

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In my last post I wrote about the difference between facts and truth. But a topic even more highly frustrating for me is what appears to be a lack of understanding of the differences between facts and opinions.

We seem, these days, to live in a culture where everyone thinks that the words “I’m entitled to my opinion” implies that all opinions are equal and that ignorance is just as good as knowledge.

“I’m entitled to my opinion” is something people will say when they’ve hit a wall in their argument. It is a last ditch effort to justify their point of view by defending their right to hold an opinion no matter how ill-founded, uninformed, and yes, even stupid, it might be. In their minds, they create a false equivalency between fact and opinion.

A fact is something that has actually happened or that is empirically true and can be supported by evidence. An opinion is a belief. It is normally subjective, meaning that it can vary based on a person’s perspective, emotions, or individual understanding of something.

Facts can change over time. What is a fact today may, through more study and new evidence, be updated or revised. Knowledge is growing at an impressively rapid pace, and because knowledge is not finite, scientific facts can be refined as more knowledge is acquired.

As one’s knowledge or understanding grows through learning, opinions may change, may evolve, as well. That’s as it should be.

So yes, you are entitled to your opinion, but you must never, without foundation, equate an opinion with a fact or assume that an opinion is truth. If your opinion about something or someone is well-researched and is based upon conclusive, observable evidence, it may have merit. If not, your opinion is probably just wrong. Express it at the risk of sounding ignorant.

Well, that’s my opinion, anyway.

Facts Versus Truth

Facts and Truth

When I first read Faulkner’s quote (above), I was perplexed. I had always considered “facts” and “truth” to be synonyms. Even the definitions of the two words cross-reference one another:

Fact: something that actually exists; reality; truth.
Truth: conformity with fact or reality; a verified or indisputable fact.

Facts are used as proof of what is undeniably “the truth,” but are these words truly interchangeable or do they actually have different meanings and usage?

I was curious enough about the similarities and differences between these two words to do some Google research. And I learned that not everyone believes that they are synonymous. Some folks actually differentiate between the them using diametrically opposed logic.

One site argued that facts can be fleeting, enduring for but a moment. For example, the “fact” of someone’s location on a fast-moving train changes every instant. Truth, on the other hand is a more enduring type of fact, this source claimed.

Another site argued that if it’s a fact now, it will be a fact in the future, whereas truth is more temporal. Facts indicate a universal truth, while truth depends upon temporal circumstances. For example, that the sun appears to always rise in the east and set in the west is a fact. It will never change.

I found an interesting site, differencebetween.net, which provided four facts (or truths?) about facts and truths:

  • Facts are more objective when compared to the more subjective truths.
  • Facts are more permanent when compared to the more temporary truths.
  • Facts exist in reality, whereas truths are usually the things that one believes to be true, or the things that are true in the current situation.
  • Facts can also answer the ‘where,’ ‘when,’ and ‘how’ questions, whereas truths answer the ‘why’ question.

Truthiness

And then there is “truthiness,” a word first coined by Stephen Colbert a dozen years ago. Like when Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact…I just know it’s true,” truthiness is the quality of seeming to be true based upon one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic or factual evidence. It’s when someone feels, believes, or wishes that something is true even when it is not supported by the facts.

So with both facts and truth under siege by Donald Trump and his surrogates, and with “alternative facts” and “false truths” being promulgated, I  have to wonder if Faulkner’s statement was extremely prescient and sadly reflective of where we are in the second decade of the 21st century.

So what do you think? Are the words “fact” and “truth” synonyms? Do you use them interchangeably in your oral and written communications? Or do these two words, as Faulkner believes, have little to do with each another?

And in today’s world, where truthiness means more to a lot of people than either facts or truth, does it even matter anymore?

Commas, Quotation Marks, and Apostrophes

Yes, when it comes to grammar, punctuation, and usage, I can be a little fussy (aka, pedantic, persnickety, and/or nitpicky). But like sexual orientation, it’s not a choice. I was born this way.

This post is about three of my personal punctuation pet peeves. How’s that, grammar nerds, for a wonderful example of alliteration?

First, I will opine about the Oxford comma. After that I will discuss the placements of period and commas with respect to quotation marks. And finally, a brief word on apostrophes.

Are you ready to rumble?

The Oxford comma

The Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma is a comma before the conjunction “and” or “or” preceding the last item at the end of a list of three or more items. Some suggest that use of the Oxford comma is optional. I don’t concur. Let me give you a few common examples where the absence of the Oxford comma can be problematic.

“We invited the strippers, Trump and Putin.”

Without the Oxford comma, that sentence implies that Trump and Putin are the strippers who were invited. But with the Oxford comma, “We invited the strippers, Trump, and Putin,” it becomes quite clear that Trump and Putin were each invited, along with the strippers.

Another frequently used example:

“I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Hey, unless you’re Jesus, God is not one of your parents. Neither is Ayn Rand, since she never had any children. What’s so hard about writing, “I’d like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God”?

I’m not sure why anyone has a beef with using the Oxford comma, which always insures clarity in written communications. It’s not like the little comma takes up a lot of extra space. It’s not as if that one extra little keystroke will increase the amount of time it takes you to write whatever it is that you’re writing.

Why not, in the interest of clarity, insert that little comma each and every time? Why not ensure that people aren’t confused by what it is you’re trying to communicate?

Quotation punctuation

quotation

Let me state up-front that I write primarily for an American audience. I preface this rant with that caveat because I know that you Brits, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders follow different punctuation rules.

And that’s fine. That’s the way you were taught. Who am I, just because America is the center of the universe, to suggest that you’re wrong? Even though you clearly are wrong.

That said, there is an American punctuation rule that states unequivocally that commas and periods must always be placed inside the end quotation marks, even if they are not part of what is being quoted.

Okay, I’ll admit that putting a period or comma inside the end quotation marks may not always make sense. But rules are rules, right?

A recent movement in this country, though, promotes what is called “logical punctuation.” As one grammar site noted:

“In the United States, periods and commas go inside quotation marks regardless of logic. In the United Kingdom, Canada, and islands under the influence of British education, punctuation around quotation marks is more apt to follow logic.”

This “logical punctuation” movement seems to have gained some level of grassroots acceptance in the U.S. I’m not surprised to see this trend developing,  given the proliferation of emails, chats, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts, and the informality used in those forms of written communications.

Even Wikipedia, the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” has embraced logical punctuation. Wikipedia’s style guide notes that “logical punctuation … is used here because it is deemed by Wikipedia consensus to be more in keeping with the principle of minimal change.”

This “principle of minimal change” means that if you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are wrongly suggesting that the period or comma is part of the quoted material, and thus you have “changed” it.

As a liberal, I am certainly not opposed to change. But as an American, I am bothered by this encroachment of the British way of using punctuation, or what is euphemistically called “logical punctuation.”

My fellow Americans, it’s really not that difficult. Put the goddam period or comma WITHIN the freakin’ end quotations marks.

Oh, one more little thing

If you’re using an apostrophe to make a word plural, as in “Stop by the grocery store and pick up some banana’s and apple’s on your way home.” STOP IT, DAMMIT, STOP IT!

Informed Delivery

Informed Delivery

A letter from my college alumni association
An invoice from the gas and electric company
A bill from the dentist
A solicitation from a local ISP to change internet providers
Yet another letter from the AARP asking me to join
An invitation to get a new low interest credit card
A coupon from my local hardware store

These are some of the items that showed up in my mailbox this past week. I actually don’t get that much physical mail from the US Postal Service delivered to my mailbox these days. Most of what I do receive consists mosty of catalogs, solicitations, and junk mail, along with periodic, unwelcome bills and the one hard copy magazine I still subscribe to.

Even so, when I received a post card last month from the USPS telling me about a new service in my area, I was intrigued. This new service, dubbed “Informed Delivery – Email Notification,” would send me an email every morning with black and white images of the front of the actual envelopes that would be delivered to my home that very afternoon. Neat, huh?

So I signed up. After all, my mail usually isn’t delivered until very late afternoon and sometimes not until early evening. I think my mailman likes to sleep in. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, to learn via an email early each morning what I otherwise wouldn’t find out until many hours later?

And so, starting a few weeks ago, I began receiving emails at around 8:30 each morning with these envelope images. I got a kick out of seeing what was going to be delivered to my mailbox much later that same day. To me it was like experiencing time travel or having a special prescience about an event yet to have happened.

I’d say to my wife, “Hey honey, guess what we’re going to get in today’s mail.” At first she seemed mildly interested in hearing what was going to be delivered, albeit not nearly as excited about it as was I. By the third day, though, she seemed not to care at all.

I must admit that, after only a few weeks, the novelty — even for me — wore off. In a way, it’s as if, when you were a kid going to bed on Christmas Eve, your parents handed you an itemized list of the Christmas presents that you would find under the tree when you woke up on Christmas morning. Way to ruin Christmas, Mom and Dad!

I miss the anticipation of going to my mailbox each afternoon to see what the mailman brought me. It was something to look forward to late in the day. Still, I’m going to continue to get my early morning notifications. If it ever gets to the point where getting the early morning heads-up takes all the joy out being surprised by whatever mail shows up in my mailbox each afternoon, I’ll stop the USPS emails.

But right now it’s time to check my email to see what’s coming to my mailbox later today!

Can American Democracy Survive Donald Trump?

Pett Cartoon
© 5/11/17, Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, you know. No siree, Bob! I’ve been around long enough to have experienced Vietnam and Watergate and how terribly divided this country was at that time. But I’ve never seen anything quite like what is happening now to the sanctity of American democracy under President Donald J. Trump. It’s taken its toll on me. I’m tired, very tired.

It’s not because I’m old, though, or because I’ve been having trouble falling and staying asleep at night. No, the reason I am tired is because something devastating has been happening in and to the country I love. And it’s draining me.

Fake News and Alternative Facts

For months before the election in November, we had been inundated with fake news, alternative facts, lies, racism, and misogyny. Since the election things have only gotten worse, given all of Trump’s conflicts of interest, blatant nepotism, and unprecedented incompetence at the highest levels of the government.

Our new president is purging (or buying off?) his perceived enemies and anyone he believes might do him harm, FBI Director James Comey’s firing is the latest example. Donald Trump is successfully … so far, anyway … turning our country into an authoritarian dictatorship.

Bill Sanders Cartoon
© 5/16/17 Bill Sanders, Sanders Cartoon Commentary

And what I find truly remarkable and upsetting is that the spineless, gutless, “party over country” Republicans in Congress are just sitting back and letting it happen. They know that Trump is an unhinged, delusional narcissist who is also a pathological liar. But he’s their unhinged, delusional, narcissistic, liar who will sign whatever bills they put in front of him.

Trump is engaging in a war against the legitimate media. He is spreading outright lies, misinformation, and conspiracy theories in an effort to divert and distract attention from the many self-inflicted wounds he’s created as a result of his more outrageous tweets and his asinine behaviors.

Treason or Stupidity?

He has yet to admit that Russia interfered with the election and seems to be giving Putin and the Russians cover. And while he’s saying “America First,” his actions appear to be putting Russia first. He even shared highly classified information with Russian operatives in the Oval Office. Is he intentionally committing treason or is he just incredibly stupid? Or Both?

Respected scholars of history have expressed concerns about how Trump seems to be leading our country down a path followed by despotic 20th century and contemporary leaders.

He has sung the praises of Vladimir Putin (“a strong leader”) and Kim Jong-un (“a smart cookie”). He congratulated Turkish leader Erdogan on winning a referendum that expanded and consolidated his authoritarian powers. He praised the autocratic Egyptian leader el-Sisi as well as Filipino strongman Duterte, a man who likens himself to Hitler.

At the same time, Trump has denigrated and challenged the judicial branch of our own government and seems to have co-opted congressional Republicans, who hold the majority in both houses.

So back to my original question. Can American democracy survive Donald Trump? The short answer is yes, but it will take four types of people to make sure it does.

First, courageous employees within the executive and legislative branches of government who recognize the damage to our national security and our way of life that Trump is causing must be willing to risk their careers and leak documents to the legitimate press so that the unhinged actions of Donald Trump will see the light of day.

Second, brave journalists and reporters must do their jobs and continue to research, publish, and report on what is going on at the White House and in Congress.

Third, concerned citizens need to continue to reach out to their senators and representatives and hold them accountable for their actions. And if these elected officials in Congress don’t have the backbone to put country over party and to do what’s right and best for their constituents by standing up to Trump, they need to know that they will be voted out of office.

Finally, GOP members of Congress and Trump loyalists must stop turning deaf ears and blind eyes to Trump’s faults and follies. They need to honestly and objectively see him and the danger he posed to our country. They also need to stop getting all their news from Fox News.

If these groups of people do the right thing, democracy in America has a chance. If not, well, it was good while it lasted.

Practical Pragmatist

pragmatist-610x250

I am a pragmatist. And I think of myself as a practical person. Thus, I am a practical pragmatist.

So what is a pragmatist? A pragmatist is a person who is oriented toward the success or failure of a particular line of action, thought, etc.

A pragmatist is an advocate or adherent of pragmatism, which is the philosophy or conduct that emphasizes practicality.

Philosophical Pragmatism

The pragmatic philosophy is based on the belief that the best way to evaluate the practicality of ideas, policies, and proposals is through their workability and usefulness. Pragmatism stresses action over doctrine. The philosophy embraces the notion that ideas base their meanings from their consequences; that they are essentially instruments and plans of action.

So how do I know that I’m a pragmatist? When I was a young adult working a full-time job and attending graduate school at night to get a Master’s degree, the girl I was dating at the time lambasted me for putting more emphasis on “dollars and degrees” than on my relationship with her. I wasn’t, she bemoaned, giving her as much time and attention as I was giving my job and my school work. She didn’t like being the third priority in my life, yet she was.

I knew I needed to work hard at my job in order to pay for rent, food, school, and, well, life. I knew that getting a graduate degree would enable me to be more successful and secure in the future. I knew these things because I’m a pragmatist.

So what about “practical”? I describe myself as a logical, rational, and reasonable person. I am not ruled by emotions but by facts, observations, and evidence. That’s likely why, in addition to being a pragmatist, I’m an atheist. There is nothing logical, rational, or reasonable about religious doctrine or dogma. Rather than being based upon facts, observations, and evidence, religion is based upon faith and beliefs where there is no empirical evidence.

This is not to say that I am devoid of emotions. I am empathetic and have been known to shed a tear or two when I encounter pain or suffering by others. I may not feel as intensely as others feel, but I feel nonetheless.

Nor does my pragmatism mean that I can’t be open to beliefs or faith, either. Every time I board an airplane I have faith that the aircraft is mechanically sound and that the pilot and copilot are sober and competent. I just don’t buy into this whole God thing because there is no empirical evidence that such an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, supernatural being exists other than in the minds of those who have embraced ancient mythologies over logic, rationality, and reason.

So bear in mind as you read my posts, should you decide to read beyond this first one, that, as a self-identified practical pragmatist, my perspectives are borne out of practicality and pragmatism.

And that works for me.