Saturday, October 20, 2018

Newcomb Is No Friend of the Watermen

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

Four years ago, Jay L. Newcomb lost his seat on the County Council to Dan B. Satterfield.  The real question I should be asking is "Did anyone notice much less care?"

Ok, I'm being facetious.  Maybe the County Council doesn't have much to brag about because we have a failed technology park outside of the Bucktown Airport and a medical plaza being built to attract less-than-living-wage national chains.  To add salt to the wounds, rumors are the national chains won't hire locals for the positions of responsibility (read higher pay) because local talent is unreliable (read some city folk want to move to the country.)

Despite the failures and rumors, we are still tasked with electing new commissioners.  If the talk among long time county residents holds any truth, we have to decide who should join the Old Boys Club called the County Council, a club designed to fatten the members' private bank accounts and not much else.

One long time member to the Old Boys Club, Jay L. Newcomb, wants back in after being ousted four years ago.  Arguably, it doesn't matter who occupies the seats on the County Council.  The Council's history of intransigence will relegate Dorchester to a time warp corridor sandwiched between the more successful Talbot and Wicomico counties.  But let Jay L. Newcomb be the council's seat warmer, Dorchester might become a time warp corridor to Little Mexico.

Faced with a worker shortage made of their own doing and sexist thinking coupled with desire to fatten their own bank accounts, crab house owners scrambled to find a solution to their labor shortage back in 1991.  Newcomb cried, "But Mexicans are cheaper...."  Ok, the words weren't his, but his arguments screamed as much.  Newcomb was the first seafood house manager to bring cheap labor from Mexico to the Eastern Shore.

After Newcomb's success with the cheap, imported labor, the other seafood houses followed suit.  Boxed with the Old Boys Club are many of the local business leaders who practice a monkey-see-monkey-do approach to building the success of their businesses.  Blinded by sexist views of the seafood industry and greed to get something for nothing, seafood house managers replaced the American wives of the watermen with cheaper Mexican labor of the senoritas.  Yes, in the sexist world of the seafood industry, men do the fishing and crabbing; women do the cleaning and picking.

Newcomb's decision in 1991 to hire Mexican workers is somewhat understandable.  Dire reports from the EPA concerning the health of the Bay that led to Maryland's Critical Bay Habitat legislation, oysters decimated by a foreign disease, rockfish all but disappearing, and blue crab populations showing their first signs of stress as watermen tried to make up their loss revenue in the other fisheries by harvesting more crabs painted a bleak picture of the future of the Maryland seafood industry.

Caption that picture with two decades of a stagnant economy where the average American worker saw no real wage growth.  The average family needed both husband and wife working full time to make ends meet.  Seasonal jobs didn't help the family.  It's not hard to see the desperate need for guest workers from Mexico back in 1991 as wives of the watermen entered the full time job market outside of the watermen communities.

Problem is, what should've been a temporary solution became a permanent solution.  The political and business leaders of the day dare not peek outside of their comfort box to offer more permanent solutions that would create new jobs and keep our watermen comfortably above the poverty level instead of near poverty level as many are today.

As recently as five years ago, when Newcomb kept a County Council's seat warm, a state representative on the other side of the Bay proposed a "branding" law.  In short, the law mandated that any crab or oyster product labeled "Maryland" or "Chesapeake" had to be harvested in Maryland or the Bay.  It reinforced my idea, The Branding of the Bay, I shared before hearing about the law.

Sadly, the law died in committee.  This law, had it passed, could have been the first step in raising our watermen's income and would've raised the status of the Maryland crab and oyster to a delicacy far superior to the crabs we now get from as far away as Peru or Indonesia or oysters farmed in Illinois, yet all still labeled as "Maryland" or "Chesapeake."

Dorchester County Council hard at work
One would think the president of the Dorchester County Council, Jay L. Newcomb, would've been excited over the bill.  His deafening silence supported by the deafening silence of the other four members speaks loudly that, yes, Mexicans are cheaper.  As manager of a crab house, he likes cheap labor and wants to keep it that way. 

The most telling evidence of Newcomb's lack of concern for the watermen and the residents of the county is how he handled the Mexican labor crisis this year.  He whined to Representative Harris that due to the caps on the guest workers program, his crab house has been closed because he didn't get the cheap labor from Mexico.

Why wasn't he in his crab house shelling crabs?  Afraid to get his hands dirty?  Where was his family, friends, and neighbors to help him?  Afraid to get their hands dirty?  Why didn't he offer higher pay to attract local workers?  He's cheap?

Point is a businessperson will do what is necessary to stay open and make money.  Locking the doors and begging the government for cheap labor is not an option.

It's probably safe to say that Newcomb most likely did not close his crab house doors.  By most measures, Newcomb is a successful businessman and one doesn't become successful by sitting on one's hands in times of a crisis.  Unfortunately, Five Drunk Rednecks lack the resources to conduct an in depth, investigative report.  You, the reader can draw the conclusions you want.  Perhaps some day Newcomb will be forthcoming and explain how he weathered the labor shortage.  For now, we'll have to accept Newcomb's explanation that he closed his doors and whined to our representative in Congress, who responded by backing an ad campaign promoting Maryland seafood.  (Sounds kind of like his answer to my letter asking why he encouraged others not to do their job - fluff with no substance.)

Who do the Five Drunk Rednecks endorse?

Well, that's a funny joke.

Answer is anyone except Newcomb.

The candidates don't understand the voters work full time while raising families.  They don't have hours to spend in front of a computer screen digging for clues as to where their candidates stand.  I did a lot of research for this article and then did a ten minute search looking for any council candidate's website outlining his/her vision for Dorchester County.  I found nothing.  I know more about the Talbot County Council candidates than I do about my own county's candidates.

I have a feeling no matter who is elected, we're in for another four years of the Old Boys Club shooting the breeze over a couple of beers during Happy Hour and not much more.  If anyone knows where to find a candidate's position and vision for the future, please share it with us.  If you are a council candidate, step outside that safe box and share your vision.

And if we elect Newcomb, we may as well start learning Spanish as he keeps bringing in the cheap labor to fatten his bank account.  Pretty soon, he might start training the cheap labor how to fish the Bay for half the cost our watermen currently fish it.  Bet the price of crabs won't go down, though....

TL;DR Folks:
Vote anyone for Dorchester County Council except Newcomb.

For your listening pleasure:

Posted by A Drunk Redneck

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Andy Harris' Résumé Is Empty Fluff

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

More then two-thirds of the writing is dedicated
to boasting about himself.  Less than a fifth is
dedicated to his accomplishments.
In addition to needing an American Statesman 101 course, Andy Harris needs to take a Business Writing 101 course with a  concentration in applying for a job and writing a compelling résumé.  His two page (front and back) color brochure résumé he sent to his prospective employers (voters of the Congressional First District) is a selfie screaming "Look at me!  Ain't I special?"

Well, no.  More on that in a bit.

Just about every job seeking site out there agrees what one goal of a resume should be.  It should show quantifiable accomplishments.  If you were a line cook at a burger joint, you don't put "flipped burgers."  What else would a line cook do?  You do, however (and only if it's true) put "broke store record for the most lunches served in an hour without any errors."  That is a quantifiable achievement.

You also don't talk about your kids and how you and the family go to Church every Sunday.  Nor do you talk about how much you love your neighborhood nor your hobbies.  None of those things tell anyone about how well you can do the job you seek to fill.  If you don't believe me, here are two good sources that tell you what to do and what not to do: popular job site, - Six Universal Rules for Résumé Writing and Forbes Magazine - 18 Things To Take Off Your Résumé And LinkedIn Profile Today To Succeed Tomorrow, written by Jack Kelly, an executive recruiter with over twenty years experience.

Taking the addressed side of Harris' résumé as being page 1, the first thing that sticks out is his attempt to ride the coattails of Governor Hogan to re-election.  Harris could have a couple of reasons for the name drop and I won't pretend to know what his reason is.  In general, though, one name drops when they don't feel they are qualified on their own merits and the name drop might help.  In politics, a name drop could also be a "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" gesture - or worse, the gesture is plain partisanship and has nothing to do with anyone's qualifications.

In big bold letters next to the name drop picture is the headline, "Andy Harris Knows What Matters to Us."   He then proceeds to tell us how hard he worked in medical school with meager accommodations.  Then he talks about all the bills associated with being a father of five as if he struggled there, too.  What he doesn't tell you is an anesthesiologist earns six figures a year, even when first starting out in the career field.   In fact, the average pay is well over a quarter a million per year.

Did he struggle to get through school?  Yes.  Most college students do and often with less.

Did he work hard to support his family?  Yes.  Most parents do and often with less.

Does he know what matters to us?  Doubtful.

Now let's look at what he claims are his legislative accomplishments.

He voted for the largest tax cut.  Well, yeah, voting on legislation is his job much like flipping burgers is a line cook's job.  Voting on legislation is not an accomplishment.  It's doing his job.  Later down the page, though, he says "securing billions of dollars to fight the opioid epidemic."  He doesn't tell us his role in securing those funds.  He only takes credit for it.  More importantly, he doesn't tell us how the government will pay for the opioid program.  He took credit for the "largest tax cut" so the logical question is where will the money for the opioid program come from?  Did Congress take a collective payroll cut?  What government jobs were cut?  What government programs won't be funded so we can fix the drug addicts?  Right now, it looks like school lunches and food assistance programs are on the chopping block.  In some form of convoluted logic I can't understand, when the government needs money, they go after the children and poor people for it.

Harris also claims he fought to repeal Obamacare.  Since Obamacare hasn't been repealed, listing a failure on one's résumé is not a wise move. My faithful readers might think, "Hold on there, Drunk Redneck.  You opposed Obamacare since before it was called Obamacare.  Why are you faulting Harris for fighting to repeal it?"

Like the line cook flipping another burger, Harris did his job.  He cast another vote.  Casting a vote, the main job description of a House Representative, is not fighting for anything.  When a line cook slaps together another burger, is he fighting to end hunger?

Harris then goes on to state that he is strengthening our schools, protecting the Bay, and ensuring safer streets for our families.  He does not say how he's accomplishing these goals.  It's safe to say he's voting (doing his job) for legislation that aims to do some of those things, but he, himself, hasn't done a thing other than vote for legislation drafted by other Republicans.

Oh, wait.  Here's his idea of "protecting the Bay."  He voted for H.R. 2, Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.  H.R. 2 allows farmers to spray pesticides directly into water, including sources of our drinking water, without obtaining a permit under the Clean Water Act.  H.R. 2 is an ecological disaster, as described in Ag Magazine's article, 5 Ways House Farm Bill Would Roll Back Protections from Pesticides.  One has to wonder does Harris read the Bills before voting for them, lie to us to win our vote, or play partisan hack who votes for anything sponsored by a person with the letter R after their name.

Do tell, what employer cares what a potential
employee loves?  None...and neither should you
Page two of Harris' résumé continues with the short and sweet message of "Hey, look at me!  Ain't I a wonderful guy?"  With various pictures, side two simply states "Congressman Andy Harris loves...being a family man, fixing up old cars with his family, chopping wood in his backyard, being a veteran, being a doctor, watching the sunset over the Bay, AND...serving the families of the First Congressional District."

What is interesting about this page is not what it says, but what it doesn't say.  Not one thing listed is a qualification for being a good Congressman.  Not one thing offers any vision where he wants to take the Eastern Shore, Maryland, and the nation in the next two years.  Not one thing mentions any bills he's working on or will try to introduce to Congress to "serve the families of the First Congressional District."  Not one thing mentions he's proud to support his community and neighbors as a responsible community member.  Not one thing mentions he's proud to be a member of Congress working towards the common good.

Harris lacks vision and initiative.  His newest TV commercial is testament to that fact.  The owner of a local crab house tells a story of how the IRS came knocking on her door and seized everything she owned.  Andy Harris came to the rescue and got everything back for her.  A good Congressperson who truly cared about their constituents wouldn't have stopped with a band aid to the problem.  A good Congressperson would've worked to reign in a runaway bureaucracy so no other family would ever have their property seized.

Oh, and then there was that whole letter incidence....

TL;DR Folks:
Don't vote for Andy Harris.

Related Articles:
Let's Make This Year an Andy Harris Free Zone

For your viewing pleasure:

Posted by A Drunk Redneck

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

After Five Years, Justin Carter Is Not an Accused Felon Anymore

Over five years ago, I wrote an open letter to then President Obama calling him out on his comments about the George Zimmerman case.  George Zimmerman, if you recall, was the neighborhood watch guy who killed a Black teen.  A jury later found Zimmerman not guilty of all charges.  President Obama held a press conference urging all Americans to do some "soul searching," a directive obviously meant only for White people.

In my letter, I challenged President Obama by exposing his racism.  Oddly, President Obama displayed the same sort of bigotry most people accuse Trump of on almost a daily basis.  President Obama tried and convicted Zimmerman, blamed the court system for systemic racism, and made sweeping generalizations about the racist tendencies of White people.  Not some White people; not some Black people; not some Hispanics.  Just White people.  Like Trump often does, President Obama stuck his nose in a state's business where it didn't belong.  Zimmerman and the tragic end of young Trayvon Martin's life was a state issue, not a federal one.

By the time the Zimmerman case made it to court, a teen in Texas faced federal charges of "terroristic threatening" for making an offhand joke to a fellow gamer about being crazy and shooting up a school.  The other gamer's Mom caught wind of the joke and filed a complaint with local Texas authorities.  Here's the clincher: the other gamer and his Mom are Canadian citizens.  Apparently, Canadians have a helicopter Mom problem, too.  And, apparently, citizens from another country can get an American arrested on nothing more than a phone call and a bad joke.

Unfortunately for the Texas teen, Justin Carter, he was from a poor family and is White.  He sat in jail for six months before an anonymous benefactor posted the bail Carter's family couldn't afford (half a million dollars).  And because we had a Black President who didn't give a muskrat's patootie about good ol' White boy teens in Texas, Carter was ordered to stay away from the Internet until his trial was settled and President Obama said nothing.  Carter faced $10,000 in fines and up to ten years in jail for his bad joke.

Five years later, Carter's case ended in a plea deal.  Even though he did nothing wrong back in 2013 except make a joke in bad taste, he had to plead guilty to a misdemeanor of filing a false report or alarm and sentenced to time served (no more jail time) in exchange for all felony charges being dropped.  Carter had to plead guilty to something otherwise the state of Texas could be held liable in civil damages.

For the five years the court had banned him from Internet use, Carter was unable to apply for most jobs.  In case the courts hadn't noticed, one can't get a job without applying online first.  One can't even go to school without applying online first.  Carter was unable to do much with his life for the last five years except sit at home and hope for the case to end quickly.  In government time, five years is honoring the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution for the right to a speedy trial.

The case closed in April of this year.  Carter has since moved to Colorado to play catch up with his dreams and a career.  He runs a Twitch TV channel on gaming and hopes to pursue a career as an entertainer or comedian.  He also wants to use his experience with the First Amendment to teach others about the "murky boundaries."  He might want to consider a lesson in the Sixth Amendment, too.  You would think our judges and lawyers are fully versed on the amendment, but apparently not if they think five years is a speedy trial.

To help him get on his feet, he started a GoFundMe drive.  He's hoping to raise a year's salary while he tries to play catch up with his life.  Perhaps those Canadians will do the right thing and contribute to his fund.

Please share this update.  Five years ago, the far right conservatives made a big deal of it.  They have long since forgotten about Carter, but I'm sure there are people out there who remember the story and would appreciate an update.

Posted by A Drunk Redneck

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Whatever Happened to Those Veterans?

Estimated read time: 9 minutes

Often I read a story that was touching and memorable at the time and I always hope for a sequel.  More often than not, the story is written when it's news or is good enough to earn a writer wannabe (or a drunk redneck) fifty bucks, but the author rarely revisits the story later.  I might not think about the story until weeks, months, and sometimes years afterwards when I experience or read something that brings that story to mind.  I'm left hanging with the empty thought, "Whatever happened to...."

Talk show hosts, both radio and TV, are notorious for leaving us hanging.  They feign their outrage of the day today and move on to other topics tomorrow as if the outrage yesterday was nothing at all.  They'll revive the outrage or topic when other players are involved, but the listener or viewer is left with that empty thought, "Whatever happened to...."

Or maybe it's just me.  I have a long memory.  I don't care who is in the spotlight today rehashing what I remember from yesterday.  I want to know what happened to the person who was in the spotlight yesterday and why they aren't in the spotlight today.

Here at Five Drunk Rednecks, I try to revisit some stories.  I figure if I feel that way about stories I read about, readers of my stories may feel the same.  I'm not perfect at revisiting stories, but I try to hit on the ones I know I would want an update on if someone else had written them.

About a year ago, I wrote Mental Illness Comes in Many Shapes.  Like most of my articles, I ended it with a music video - Joe Bachman and the Tailgaters.  If you haven't read my article or seen the video, now is a good time to click on the link and get yourself up to speed.  I'll grab a beer while you're catching up.

Welcome back.

A lot of characters played a part in the story.  Many played a tragic role.  The most memorable are the three veterans injured looking for Bergdahl and the two veterans featured in the video dedicated to raising awareness of our veterans suffering from physical and emotional (PTSD) injuries.

Afghanistan veterans and Bowe Bergdahl


None of the veterans in my story chose to be on the public stage.  Circumstances and events beyond their control thrust them there.  It is reasonable to assume that they may want to put that chapter of their lives behind them as they embrace the future and what it holds.  For that reason, I performed a cursory search of the Internet and am sharing only what they have shared since the trial of Bergdahl last year and the release of the video a few years ago.  If we stop respecting one's wish for privacy, what sort of society have we become?  A reality show for profit?

Two of the three veterans injured on a search and rescue mission for Bowe Bergdahl have fallen off the grid.  Sgt Mark Allen, who suffered a traumatic head wound that left him paralyzed and unable to communicate, and Cpl. Jonathan Morita, who suffered severe damage to his hand that required a dozen and a half or so surgeries, have left no online traces of themselves since Bergdahl's trial.  We can only hope or pray that they and their families are putting back together the pieces of their lives Bergdahl shattered.

Navy SEAL James Hatch has written a book about his service, the search and rescue mission for Bergdahl, and the aftermath of putting his life together again.  With the support of his family and friends, he overcame his depression and suicidal thoughts and is at peace with himself and Begdahl's sentence, a sentence that didn't include any prison time for desertion.

The Army formalized Bowe Bergdahl's sentence for desertion and other charges this past June.  Bergdahl was demoted to private, ordered to pay the equivalent of a $10,000 fine in the form of pay forfeiture, and given a dishonorable discharge.  The fine is in the form of pay forfeiture, but the Army has yet to decide if Bergdahl is entitled to almost $300,000 in back pay he accrued while a prisoner of the Taliban.  Other than his pay issue, Bergdahl has dropped off the grid and out of sight of the public stage.  We can only hope or pray he finds the mental health care he needs and then dedicates his life trying to make amends for all the tragedy he caused.

PTSD Video Veterans and the Band


The first veteran featured in Joe Bachman and the Tailgater's song, "A Soldier's Memoir" that ended my article is Staff Sergeant David Crocket.  His honor, pride, and pain are written in his eyes throughout the video.  After retiring from the Army in 2014 after 12 years of service, he worked with a construction company for three years.  In 2017 he decided he needed a "massive change," as his LinkedIn page states.  He moved to Montana to become a rancher and live his dream.  He also is active on Twitter and Instagram tweeting and sharing pictures of his horses, dogs, snow, and the Big Sky country.  For all intent purposes, he's found his peace and living his dream.  Since he never posts anything of his personal life nor his military career other than to state he is a retired army Staff Sergeant, I take it his ranch is his life and his presence on the public stage five years ago was nothing more than a pixel in the complete picture of who he is.  I'll respect his apparent wish to exit the public stage and not link his social media accounts.  The accounts are out there if you wish to befriend a great guy, but you'll need to do your own homework to find him.

The second veteran featured is Tyler Southern, Corporal USMC.  His infectious smile and sense of humor hides the extent of his injuries until well into the video. "I may have been relieved of three of my original issued limbs," Southern states in the video.  With his arm around his wife, he proudly says what matters is her and, as he points to her belly with what's left of his other arm, his son to be born.  Southern has a Twitter account that he hasn't posted to in two years.  It looked like he fell off the public stage, forgotten.  It was because of his absence from Twitter I dug in to find out what happened to him...and the other veterans.  No matter how well veterans hide the demons inside they are battling, sometimes the veteran loses the battle.  Thankfully, I can report Corporal Southern is doing  fine and hasn't lost a bit of his humor.  In a local news story out of Florida where he lives, you not only get to see Southern's not-yet-born son of five years ago in the video playing with his Dad a few months ago, but in another picture, you see Southern's second child.  The feel good story doesn't stop there.  A businessman in Reno, NV - Justin Von Metal of Von Metal Performance V-Twin Racing motorcycle shop - heard of Southern's story and he set out to do what never had been done before.  He modified a motorcycle for a triple amputee so Southern could get some of his freedom back.

Joe Bachman and the Tailgaters have worked closely with veteran organizations to raise awareness of veteran issues.  Not a veteran himself, Bachman chose to serve his country another way.  His song, "A Soldier's Memoir," inspired by his fans who are veterans, accomplished what hundreds of PSAs, ads, and blog posts have a hard time doing.  His song brought tears to many eyes, raised awareness of veteran issues, and made us all truly appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have made.  My Internet search failed to turn up a good website for the band or a schedule of their tour dates. For the local folk here, they have played at Seacrets in Ocean City (click anywhere in the video at the bottom to view their hour long performance), but an official site for the band is lacking.

The Takeaway, Which Substitutes for the TL;DR Folks Section 

The platitudinal treatment of veterans glosses over the very real sacrifices many have made for their country.  A pretty boy selling TAC glasses "inspired by our heroes in uniform" does more of a disservice to our veterans than anything else.  No, I take that back.  The so-called Commander-in-Chief referring to our troops as "heroes in uniform" on an almost daily basis does far more damage.  The casual "thank you for your service" cliche outright negates the true thankfulness we should have for those veterans who have sacrificed the most.  If you were to meet any of the veterans described above, how do you think your words of gratitude to them would be taken with so many reducing the gratitude to the level of "have a nice day?"

As a veteran, I still wouldn't begin to know how to talk to these veterans.  I'm a good listener, though.  Sometimes that's all that's needed.  One thing I am sure of is our veterans need support.  Not the platitudinal support, but real support.

Vietnam War Memorial reminding us our
women soldiers
suffer the traumas of war, too.
The government doesn't provide state-of-the-art prosthetics.  Your support to outside organizations can.

The government can't provide a lifetime of top notch psychological support.  Your support to outside charities can.

You get the picture.  The government can provide needed and necessary basic support for our veterans, but non-governmental organizations provide needed and necessary support over and beyond.  And it's support that will be needed for a lifetime.

As our veterans age, the emotional scars may become more pronounced.  I talked about a veteran I knew in my article, What Memorial Day Means to Me.  All his life he hid the details of his experience in The Bay Of Pigs fiasco.  It wasn't until forty years later he hinted at the scenario that he might have shot and killed a Cuban boy.  Experts now know that PTSD never goes away.  If anything, it becomes worse as a veteran ages.

As veterans struggle with their injuries, both physical and emotional, we must be there to support them the best we can.  Always.  For their entire lives.  And we must support them not for profit nor fifteen minutes of fame nor to sell the latest military inspired gadget.  We must support them as individuals because it is the right thing to do.

How to Support Our Veterans

One of the biggest ways you can help is lend your ear.  Sometimes, a veteran just wants to be heard, but doesn't expect answers.  Resist the "thank you for your service" platitude.  Save the thank you for when you make a connection and want to reach out and shake the veteran's hand or give them a hug of support.  That's genuine and the veteran will know it.

If lending an ear isn't enough, a good place to start is with the Veterans Administration.  Not only might the veteran need help understanding what's going on inside, but family members and friends might need help understanding what the veteran they love is going through.  The old school stigma of PTSD being a sign of a "weak man" is over.  People need help dealing with the trauma of battle.  Other people need help dealing with the trauma of their loved one or friend "not being the same."  Seek help together.

If you don't have a friend or family member directly affecting you, a veteran in your community may need help.  It doesn't matter if you know the veteran or not or even if the veteran is in your neighborhood.  Veterans have given to you every day in their service so you can celebrate your birthday in freedom.  Make your birthday the day you give a little something back to the veteran.  There are many organizations that strive to give our injured veterans the best care possible.  On your birthday, give to those organizations so they can help our veterans in ways you can't on your own.

Oh, and hey.  If you're like me who enjoys quiet many miles away from people because people will never understand anyways, type away - as anonymous even - in the comments section below.  I'll guarantee that I will read your comments...might even respond.  Point is, someone is always listening to you.

Encore presentation:

Posted by A Drunk Redneck

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Mansplaining Fake News

Estimated read time: 8 minutes

Fake news is all the rage today.  It's the modern day version of yellow journalism during the early days of the printed newspaper over a hundred years ago.  Outrage over yellow journalism led to the creation of journalism ethics, codified by the Society of Professional Journalists.  Perhaps the prevalence of fake news today will lead to a set of ethics for digital journalism tomorrow. 

We all know (or think we know) fake news when we see it, but many struggle with a definition.  Anything coming out of the White House or the Capitol is fake news.  That's a given.  But what about anything coming out of the Daily Wire, an online news source?  (It is a fake news site.)  What about Five Drunk Rednecks?  (It isn't a fake news site.  It's an entertainment site clearly offering opinions, arguably drunk opinions, and not news.)

Kim Goodwin offers us a prime example of a fake news story.  Doubtful she intentionally wrote a fake news story, but her story has all the elements of one.  It's so well written, in fact, it fooled the BBC editors into thinking it was a real story.  Let's go through Ms. Goodwin's story one step at a time to show why it is a fake news story. Hopefully, by the time I'm done mansplaining (or rednecksplaining, drunksplaining or drunkrednecksplaining) why Ms. Goodwin's story is fake news, you'll catch the irony I'm presenting.

Ms. Goodwin's story is a simple one:
"Before explaining something to someone, ask if they need an explanation.  It's the polite and civil thing to do rather than assuming they're too stupid to understand the matter at hand."
Ms. Goodwin expanded my thirty-three word factual snippet into a eight hundred twenty word fake news article.  Let's break it down.

Social media world

The trend among news site wannabes, writer wannabes, and anyone with no experience outside of Mom's basement is to turn to social media to show the importance and validity of what the article is going to tell you.  Ms. Goodwin's "news story" is based solely on her Twitter post.

This may come as a surprise to geeks who haven't ventured much past their front door and only know the world through the virtual vision of social media, but social media is not a reflection of the real world.  Social media and all the "excitement" it generates is make believe.  Ms. Goodwin's article appealed mostly to trolls looking for their own fifteen minutes of fame.  It also served the purpose of making her fifty bucks for getting another written-in-half-an-an-hour article churned out and published.  She does have a living to make. 

"Look at me!" the story screams.  "I made a simple flow chart and it went viral.  I'm validated by the general public!"

First of all, from Ms. Goodwin's article, "3,300 comments, 50,000 retweets, and 120,000 likes" is not a viral tweet.  With 336 million Twitter users, the highest number in the stats (likes) translates to about one grain of sand in the kids' sandbox.  If we add all the likes, retweets, and comments as support for what her article had to say, we'd still have one grain of sand agreeing with her article.

Second, social media responses are hardly a valid statistical measurement of  anything.  If Ms. Goodwin understood any basic statistical measures, she would know her 173,300 statistical sample represented only Internet consumers of social media, specifically Twitter users, and not the general public at large. 

When something "goes viral," viral is undefined.  On Twitter, the tweet didn't go viral by any measurement, but even if it did, was the tweet viral across the social media platforms?  Doubtful.  Most viral posts on social media only mentions one platform, not cross platforms.  Ms. Goodwin's tweet wasn't viral on Twitter (as the numbers show) and she makes no mention of her flowchart going viral anywhere else.  Her tweet had Twitter appeal at the moment it was posted and that's it.

General rule: if an article is based mostly (more than half) on social media reaction, it is fake news.

Journalistic ethics violation

The Society of Professional Journalists state that journalists should avoid stereotyping.  "Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting," the guidelines explain.

By definition, "mansplaining" is a derogatory, and sexist, term.  Feminist bloggers coined the term about ten years ago and a couple of years later it worked it's way into the mainstream lexicon.  Mansplaining is a condescending term used to describe condescending behavior some men exhibit towards women, but is generically ascribed to all men who explain anything.  (Am I mansplaining, rednecksplaining, drunksplaining or drunkrednecksplaining now?)

When some of Ms. Goodwin's more astute readers questioned the m-word as being an example of female chauvinism by pointing out that men tend to explain everybody...she dismissed the accusations.  She justified the term as being valid since there is ample evidence that how we learn to communicate is gendered biased.

On some esoteric level, I agree with her sociological explanation of how our communication skills were developed and are taught.   Some of the biases need to be fixed.  Denigrating men, in general, with derogatory terms is not the best way to effect change, though. You don't fight fire with gasoline.

Just as men should mothball their sexist tendencies, women should do the same.  We all should embrace gender differences and discard the hurtful ones.  Responsible journalists and editorialists (yes, professional editorialists are still held to journalistic standards) shouldn't be fueling the gender divide on the BBC news site or any news site.

Faulty premise

Ms. Goodwin took a shortcut that every writer wannabe is guilty of doing.  She took the intellectually lazy route of stereotyping the villain then proceeded to tear down the villain to size.  In Ms. Goodwin's article, the villain is men.

What is the intellectually lazy route?

Quite simply, don't treat people as individuals.  Find the labeled box the individual fits in for the purpose of the story, stuff them in and then proceed to prove your point.  I'm mansplaining (or maybe rednecksplaining, drunksplaining, or drunkrednecksplaining) because, obviously, I fit into the box labeled "man," "drunk," or "redneck," and I wouldn't be surprised if someone else labeled a new box, "male drunk redneck" because, you know, female drunk rednecks -oh, wait, there's such people as female drunk rednecks? - are completely different than their male counterparts.

Real and honest journalists and editorialists don't look for the labeled boxes to make their point.  I could easily put Ms. Goodwin into a lot of boxes right now, but I refuse to.  Either I make my point based on intellectual honesty or I don't make my point at all.  Men explain things.  So do women.  Neither one is mansplaining nor womensplaining.  They are simply explaining.  They may be explaining politely or impolitely, but even that determination is to be made by the two engaged in the conversation.  Trying to expand the claim of impolite explaining to include some sort of sexist undertones is sexist itself.

Boxing people with neat little labels is not only a sign of intellectual laziness, but also a sign of a bigot or just about any -ism or -ist word out there we use to describe groups of people.  I have no problem labeling Ms. Goodwin as a probable sexist or female chauvinist, but no group she may belong to (women, feminist, author wannabes, extra-terrestrial) are stuffed in there with her.  Why?  Because people are people and they all should be treated as individuals, not products of a labeled box.  Ms. Goodwin sits in the box labeled "female chauvinist" all by herself.  Sure, she shares the box with other female chauvinists, but I'm not talking about those other individuals right now.  They are irrelevant to my story. 

Unfortunately, Ms. Goodwin took the alleged conversation of two of her coworkers and turned those two conversations into a box labeled "men" and proceeded to bash men in general. In the process, she painted women as "victims."

Hmm, there's an interesting conundrum.  By all accounts of her Internet presence, Ms. Goodwin is a highly successful woman despite all the "mansplaining" she may have suffered through.  Public life is replete with examples of successful women who don't mince their words any more than any man.  Some of those women scare me, especially Judge Judy and my Mom.

Oh, I see.  Because I'm explaining this, I'm mansplaining and need to shut up.


The take away

Spotting fake news, even in editorial form, is easy.  The writer should always strive for factual information (which also means not omitting relevant facts), impartiality, and neutrality.  Be alert for the red flags of a fake news story.  Relying on social media response as "proof" is a red flag.  Stereotyping people is a red flag.  Not relying on validated research is a red flag.  Misapplying validated research is a red flag.

With all that said, Ms. Goodwin would be a good addition to the Five Drunk Rednecks.  Her article was an entertaining read that, while falling a bit short of this blog's editorial standards, did generate a ripple caused by a dying gnat's plummet in the ocean of social media so, "yeah!"

By the way, did you catch the irony of this article?  If not, I reckon I failed to adequately explain what a fake news story is.

TL;DR folks:
Y'all have been placed in a box labeled "lazy people."  Read the article or at least look at the chart below, which is unrelated to the article.  The chart is the result of a challenge to make another pointless flowchart.

Instead of a YouTube video for your viewing pleasure here's
another pointless flowchart explaining Trump supporters.

Posted by A Drunk Redneck

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Alien Code

Estimated read time: 7 minutes
Every once in awhile a movie comes along that leaves you scratching your head.  It has to be good because days later, you're still scratching your head trying to make sense of what you saw.  When I was a kid, two movies had me scratching my head and, over forty years later, I'm still scratching my head.  I don't care how much you might think you understand 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or A Clockwork Orange (1971), I bet you still scratch your head over some parts of those movies.  Alien Code joins the ranks of these head scratching classics.

If you like your science fiction movies with aliens made realistic with expert makeup or special effects pulled off with state of the art CGI, Alien Code is not for you.  The aliens look like slimmed down aliens I've seen in Twilight Zone ("To Serve Man") and Lost in Space ("Invaders from the Fifth Dimension").  An explosion is depicted as a freeze flash of red light and a quick cut to the next scene.  You get the idea - low budget.

If you like your science fiction to make you think like the classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood did, Alien Code is for you.  It has the effect of leaving you empty and unsettled before the end credits begin to roll.  The acting is certainly not low budget.  Kyle Gallner's portrayal of Alex, the main character, as the cocky, carefree cryptographer taken to the brink of death as a result of his interaction with the aliens is nothing short of a memorable performance.

The movie begins with a tried and true plot line and cardboard cutout characters.  A coded message is recovered from one of our satellites, a satellite that we hadn't even built and launched yet.  The government hires a top notch cryptographer to decipher the code, which turns out to be instructions for building a machine.  If it weren't for the opening few minutes of the movie, this fifteen minute or so scene would have you reaching for the remote. What was the opening scene that keeps you glued through the character introduction part?

Alex, the main character who dang near makes the movie a one man show, comes home to his apartment and is startled by a dead body on the floor.  He rolls the body over's him, thinner and more gaunt, but him all the same.  He holds an envelope marked, "Watch me," and inside the envelope is a flash drive.

With an introduction like that, you don't hit eject.  You bear through the stale character introductions knowing (or at least believing) there is going to be more to the movie than shady government men protecting military secrets as they build a super weapon or something.

Fortunately, the movie spares us of macho military men breaking the rules to get what they want.  Even better, the movie spares us of macho military women breaking the rules to get what they want.  The closest the movie gets to those stale stereotypes is with the government agent, Rebecca, played by Mary McCormack.  McCormack brings a refreshing change to the image of a woman playing a traditional man's role.  As the woman in the "Men in Black" team, she played a stoically stern character without trying to be a man.

The first third of the movie is dedicated to developing Alex's character as he's hauled off to a secret government facility to decipher the strange codes.  You get enough of Rebecca to lend the story line believability without overdoing the evil government stereotypes.  It's when Alex is returned home after deciphering the code that the story takes a twist.  Aliens visit Alex and from their short, but terse, conversation, you know you are in for something more than evil aliens trying to overthrow the macho military and takeover the world.  You sense you're in for a much more philosophical story line.

When the aliens pay Alex a visit, both sit on the couch straight as a board and question him in soft monotone.  As the questioning intensifies, Alex becomes noticeably agitated and confused like a crab in a steam pot.  
 (Transcribed best I could directly from the movie, Alien Code.)
(Alien 1): We're curious.

(Alex): Do what?

(Alien 2): We are curious.

Still can't talk about it.

(Alien 1): These questions do not betray the parameters of your contract. want to know why I took the job?

(Alien 1): Yes.

Yeah.  I took it because you paid me.

(Alien 1): You did it for money?

No.  I didn't do it for money.  I actually did it for the use of mouthwash.  [frustrated pause]  Ahh, yeah, yeah.  I did it for the money.

(Alien 2): You acted in no part out of a sense of altruism?

Altruism?  [stutters]  I'm not curing cancer, ok?  I...I decrypted a message.

(Alien off screen, possibly 1): Your decision was purely selfish....

Ok, look.  I've had a mother of migraines for the past week.  I need you guys to help me out here.

(Alien 1): You're in need of help?

What do you want!

(Alien off screen, possibly 2):  We are curious.

(Alex, pause of disbelief, mutters): Jesus Christ.

(Alien 1): You agreed to decipher the code for profit much like your previous work implementing backdoors in security programs.  The outcomes of your actions do not concern you?

The outcomes?  It's a job.  If I don't do it, someone else will.

(Alien 2): What did they ask you?

What?  What?

(Alien 2): What did they ask you?

Why know what?  Can I see some identification?

(Alien 1): Identification?

Yeah.  I'd like to see some.

(Alien 2): Do you feel responsible for the harm that will come from the weapon?

The weapon?

(Alien 1): Will identification make you feel more comfortable?

(Alien 2): The weapon that will be constructed from the blueprints.

(Alien 1): Will it make you more compliant?

What are you talking about?  What weapon?

(Alien 2): The blueprints you decrypted.

(Alex, frustrated): I deciphered blueprints.

(Alien 1): Is that something you base trust on?  [pause]  You did not know?

No.  I didn't.  I did not know this.

(Alien 1): How do you feel now that you know?

(Alien 2): Do you feel regret?

It's a job.  I needed the money so I took the job.  There was no ulterior motive.  It was just a [expletive] job so whatever I deciphered was not my creation and I'm not responsible for what happens next.

These are two HR folks I wouldn't want
to face in a job interview
(Alien 2): Does it scare you?

(Alien 1): Do you trust us?

(Both aliens in unison): Have you thought about your own path?


The aliens never moved...not even a flinch.  Their questioning remained at a soft monotone without a hint of inflection in their voice.  Alex grew more and more agitated as he was questioned, fidgeting and running his hands through his hair as if he wanted to get up and far away.  The scene played so convincingly, I wouldn't doubt that many viewers squirmed in their chair as if they were the ones being interviewed.  I know I did.

This is the first, but not last encounter Alex had with the aliens.  I could say, "Spoiler alert," and tell you more, but I won't because you'll read the spoiler alert despite my warning.  You just have to go get the movie and watch it.

The movie is very philosophical, but not in-your-face philosophical.  It might leave you questioning why you have done the things you have done and why you do the things you do now.  It might leave you feeling unsettled and empty.  At the very least, it will get you thinking about it for days afterwards.  It's been a month since I seen the movie and I still think about it.

TL;DR Folks:
The movie is longer than this review.  You can always wait for the comic book release.

For your viewing pleasure:

Posted by A Drunk Redneck