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Add more seats around the public policy table, please

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Journalists report on the world’s important issues primarily in two languages — those of politics and economics.

When a budding college journalist asks me what she should minor in or take as a second major, my reply is swift but bitter: “As much as it disgusts me, take every course you can in political science and economics.”

“Why?” she asks.

“Because,” I reply, “if you can’t speak those two languages, then you’ll be clueless about what the major players driving the agendas are saying. You’ll be shut out of covering, let alone understanding, major issues.”

“Why does that disgust you?”

“Why should the world’s problems be examined from only two perspectives?” I counter. “That limits the range and types of potential solutions.” 

For example, the disciplines housed in the broad field of social science, which is where political science and economics find their homes, differ in two fundamental ways. Each has a different set of assumptions that mark the boundaries of the disciplines; each asks different questions, which also marks the boundaries of the discipline.

Where boundaries exist, vision is limited. That’s why my advice that young journalists should study political science and economics frustrates me: It gets them into the conversation but it traps them into the same boundaries marked by the other participants in that conversation.

Imagine a climate scientist (a real one), a wildlife biologist with an artist’s perspective, an Inuit seal hunter, an economist, and a political scientist sitting at a table pondering the urgent questions posed by accelerating climate disruption. Would they produce richer, more insightful, more potentially successful avenues of human action as a basis for public policy? I don’t know. Journalists don’t know, either. So perhaps they should seek people from such disparate disciplines to interview.

It’s important, of course, for journalists to report fully and faithfully what is said (and done) by those politicians and economists customarily sitting at the table.

But it’s equally important for journalists to report what disciplines of art, science, and even religion are not at the table and therefore unable to be heard.

Who can speak and who can’t underlies so much of how public policy is crafted. Journalists are responsible for making that clear and identifying who’s in and who’s out.

Will different voices help craft better public policy and produce social sanity instead of turgid tribalism?

I don’t know.  But I look around, and I can’t imagine those different voices making our lives more miserable than our current mainstream diet of politicians and economists.

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 16, 2020 at 6:31 pm

When loyalty speaks with only a meaningless whisper

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Seven years ago I wrote about the attainment of loyalty. Now, with deepening  sadness, I confront the loss of loyalty and its emotional costs.

As I have aged, loyalty, at least in the world as I see it, has trended to the transactional. No one needs look farther than the current president for a model definition of transactional loyalty.

Think of it like this: Who can do what with the least cost to and most benefit for me? We all have, perhaps, a nuance of transactional thinking in our dealings with others. We act with seeming kindness and generosity without request, but in the back of our minds, are we thinking, “This is an investment for some future return”?

Prominent in our heavily mediated world are exemplars of false loyalty practiced with cunning artifice. I suspect most of us have felt the sudden breach of loyalty, the feeling of back-stabbing betrayal — or, to be blunt, “I just got fucked over …” That nauseating sensation burns for a long time.

So what element of loyalty necessary for selfless service to another is missing?

Seven years ago, I wrote:

Nearly half a century ago, a friend sent me a telegram from half a continent away. “I need help,” it said. I replied: “En route.” I fired up my old LandCruiser and drove through winter’s wrath to get to him. Loyalty? Obligation? Duty? All, perhaps.

He trusted me to come. He had seen in me reliability, truth in speech and action, an ability to look past my own interests for the sake of his, and a strength of friendship well bonded. He trusted me to act in his best interests despite any risk to mine. He trusted me without reservation.

But in this world too often dominated by transactional thinking, trust has congealed into one shallow meaning — be damn sure the other guy covers his or her end of the deal.

That makes me feel trust as a significant human value is dying, if not already dead and cold in the ground. Still, if I expect to grant and receive loyalty, shouldn’t I despite the prevailing winds retain and exhibit the ability to trust?

Try to choose potential components of loyalty from among the field of more publicly prominent and mediated emotions — such as fear, hate, anger, rage. Can loyalty exist with inclusion of such baser emotions as its bonding agents? In our tribalized society, these emotions do present organizing calls for common ground. But I cannot see any of them as the heart of loyalty — only as messaging for recruitment for  causes with dubious merit.

Can a single act of betrayal destroy loyalty? Can that one act be forgiven? Does forgiveness rest on the nature of the precipitating event for the betrayal and whether such an event is likely to recur? I don’t know, but I’ve experienced both.

Over time, can loyalty fall victim to resentment for another’s isolated act that seems thoughtless at best or cruel at worst? Or is resentment the consequence of a loss of trust wrought by the act? Some scars run deep and are seemingly unforgiveable.

The trust embedded in loyalty can be lost with a single thoughtless act even if the actor is just temporarily blind to the value of loyalty. Or a weakening trust, eroded slowly over time like rain and wind grinding against bedrock, can fracture loyalty by taking its existence for granted.

I think the former is forgivable. Who hasn’t acted in the heat of the moment without thought of consequences? But the latter? I think not. It reflects a lack of commitment and selflessness. It signals that trust (and love) only faintly binds two people.

The disintegration of trust can be as swift as the death of an expectation of behavior in a crisis — Why didn’t you trust me to act in your best interests regardless of mine?

Loyalty needs love as much as it needs trust. I’m hard pressed to say which of those two ingredients is more important. How can love exist without trust? How can trust exist without love?

When loyalty eventually evaporates, through inattention or neglect, only a reactive, often transactional charade of a relationship remains, empty of trust and incapable of selfless love. Such past moments, and recognition of my own careless roles in those failures, have produced the deepest sadness I have ever known. Perhaps that’s why melancholy is the emotion that dominates my life.

Rebuilding trust, let alone loyalty, may be among the most difficult tasks two people can attempt. It requires two partners already feeling “burned” who may bring to the effort a wariness too deep to overcome.

Attend to loyalty with love, trust, and, where possible, passion. Loyalty is rarely regained without as much pain in restoring it as in losing it.

h/t: Ars Skeptica, Doc WinterSmith

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 11, 2020 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

If you’re young, vote for a younger Congress

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“Don’t trust anyone over 30.” — Jack Weinberg, 1964

 “I’m confident we’re going to win.” — Mitch McConnell, 76, Senate majority leader, during Kavanagh hearing

 “Do whatever you have to do, just win, baby.” Nancy Pelosi, 78, former House speaker, to Democratic candidates

 If you’re under 30 years old, then you’re one of nearly 60 percent of voting-eligible adults in the youngest generations in the United States. But you likely won’t be among the majority who actually vote. That’s a shame, and in this mid-term election, your failure to vote would be surrendering your future to political hacks and miscreants.

If you don’t vote Nov. 6, you’re risking your life. You’d be failing to hold accountable those who selfishly and foolishly put your life at risk — as well as those who refuse to act against such selfishness and foolishness.

The risks you face as a result of an incompetent, selfish Congress bowing to a president are many — a foolish emphasis on “saving” coal, attempts to weaken clean water regulations, curtailing regulations on uranium mill waste tailings, and numerous attacks on environmental regulations. All these, and many more, are risks to your health and longevity.

But the largest risk you face is the lack of congressional and presidential interest and action to curtail the coming consequences of climate change. Denial and rejection of science at the highest levels of American government mean that you — the young among us — will be those who face the outcome of uncontrolled climate change.

Should nations refuse to jointly address climate change — and the current American government has demonstrated it will not act in any leadership capacity — your ability to prosper, to enjoy life, to ensure a better future for your children will falter.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

October 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Journalists aren’t your enemy — they might be your last resort.

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Imagine you’ve been wronged. Someone, or some faceless corporation or other spineless institution, has caused you physical, emotional, or financial injury.

You want recompense. You want compensation. You want payback. You want it to never happen again — not just to you, but to anyone.

As the Ghostbusters say, Who you gonna call? The phone number on your bill or the back of your credit card that leads to a machine imitating a human being asking you to pick through several options, none of which fits your problem?

image of a newspaperDo you call a local, state, or federal regulatory agency? Where you repeatedly run into Sorry, I’ll have to transfer you to another department. Or you go to the agency’s office and are handed forms many pages long to fill out — and no one will help you do it.

Do you try to reach your representative in state government? Or your members of Congress? Are you told to use the contact form on the member’s website? Do you receive a form email or letter in response saying We’re glad you brought this to our attention

You want to reach someone who won’t lie to you. You want help. You need help.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 16, 2018 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

July 4, 2018: What, if anything, can stave off the ruination of the Republic?

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In 2007, on this overblown, sadly commercialized holiday whose historical moment has been buried by beer, barbecue, patriotic bombast, and over-the-top, often taxpayer-paid fireworks, I wrote what 2011 might bring. I wasn’t hopeful. I predicted:

sign for fireworksNearly one out of every six Americans will still be without health insurance. Attempts at immigration reform (whatever that means) will still have been eroded by more objections by many more interests with particular beefs. No coherent, consistent, effective American policy that begins to undo climate change will exist. American school children will continue to lag far behind other nations in math and science — and still have decreasing abilities as critical thinkers. Spending by lobbyists to influence federal regulators and members of Congress will be on its way to passing $3 billion for 2011. …

The income disparity between the top 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us — the other 99 percent — will have widened. The continual tension between those who demand increased security and those who fear erosion of civil liberties and constitutional rights will continue unabated. The debates and difficulties involving voting fraud and reform will have been heightened by the 2008 election as election foes bicker endlessly in courts about outcomes. And, figuring a 10 percent increase per election cycle, the top 50 industries will be en route to shelling out $850 million to just members of Congress alone in political contributions for the 2012 election cycle.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

July 4, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Bagdikian was right: Don’t allow media to concentrate

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Ben Bagdikian, one of the nation’s foremost media critics, died in 2016 at age 96. He left behind warnings about concentration in media ownership. We should have paid more attention.

head shot of human being

Ben Bagdikian

Beginning in 1983 with the publication of “The Media Monopoly” and again in 2000 with “The New Media Monopoly,” he railed against the growing power of ever fewer owners of media — big fish swallowing little fish, then still bigger fish swallowing those big fish. In the 2000 edition, he called the most monstrous fish “The Big Five” — Time Warner, The Walt Disney Company, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Viacom, and the German firm Bertelsmann. He argued these corporations had “more communications power than was exercised by any despot or dictatorship in history.”

That was only 18 years ago. The world of media has dramatically changed — and, thanks to a federal judge’s decision this week in the merger case of AT&T and Time Warner, more change in media ownership and concentration lies ahead. AT&T (which provides the conduit) and Time Warner (which provides the content) argue they must be allowed to merge to compete with the new generation of media titans — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.

Bagdikian would have none of this. He’d continue to argue the media concentration underway for more than a century has consequences on how we the people see ourselves, see others, and govern ourselves.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 13, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

When is that chemical toxic? Ask the industry-guided EPA

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If you’d like a reason to be cynical about whether government favors you or favors an industry, look no further than a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA safer choice logoThe EPA has decided to review 10 chemicals in public use but considered toxic by many scientists. However, the EPA will only assess the risk of these chemicals in terms of direct human contact. A law passed by Congress in 2016 requires the EPA to assess toxicity risk in hundreds of chemicals to determine whether they should be further regulated or even removed from the market, according to The New York Times.

Under potential review are chemicals in common commercial products. Take, for example, the chemical often used to dry clean your clothes, the solvent perchloroethylene. Yes, it will clean your Sunday best, but it’s nasty stuff. Also on the list is 1,4-dioxane. You might find it in your deodorant, your shampoos, or your cosmetics. Its use, too, might not be in your best interest.

But the EPA’s review, taken at behest of Congress, will be limited to only direct contact. Members of Congress, says The Times, argue the 2016 law calls for comprehensive analysis of risk. That would include contamination of air, land, and water in addition to direct contact.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 12, 2018 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Why save coal instead of investing in wind?

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Money moves toward enterprises where profit lies in waiting. But money runs as fast as possible from the tired and unprofitable.

wind turbines sky road

Wind turbines along I-80 in southern Wyoming.

Consider the fortunes of wind-generated energy and that produced by burning coal — a carbon fuel notable for emissions of carbon dioxide into an atmosphere already laden with it.

President Donald campaigned on the reckless promise to rescue the coal industry. I’ve already written about the economic improbability of coal’s rebirth (and the jobs that go with it). Note, too, that President Donald’s former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, disagreed with the president’s touting of coal. (Hence the italicized former.)

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

June 4, 2018 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mental illness should not become a blanket barrier to owning a firearm

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I want to buy a gun.

As a kid, I loved westerns — those with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and John Wayne. They were heroes — good guys in white hats defeating bad guys in black hats. Those heroes had guns — but they never drew first. That was the code of the West.

One movie — Winchester ’73, starring James Stewart — touted the gun I wanted most. I saw that rifle, that lever-action carbine, and I wanted one. But I was just a kid.

Now I’m not a kid. So I want to buy a Winchester Model 94 Carbine. It’s only about twelve hundred bucks. I can afford it. Lever action, seven-shot magazine, satin wood finish, brushed steel barrel. I have friends who can teach me to safely shoot it, respect it, and maintain it. So why not?

As I salivate, two thoughts emerge.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

March 8, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Really? It was ‘Science Day’ in Congress?

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How nice of the retiring Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the outgoing chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, to declare this past Monday “Science Day” in the House of Representatives.

CATEGORY: ScienceTechnology2Yes, according to a press release from the science committee office, Rep. Smith had the House primed to consider “five bipartisan Science Committee bills that support careers and education in STEM, reauthorize federal firefighting programs and promote cooperative space and science programs between NASA and Israel.”

The House majority leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was soooo proud of the intended accomplishments of Science Day: “America has led the world in science and innovation for generations. To think, 65 percent of today’s students will be employed in jobs that don’t exist yet. In our mission to prepare America’s next generation of innovation, the House will honor our nation’s history of leadership with Science Day. We will bring five bills to the floor that will support science, our nation’s infrastructure, aerospace and STEM careers. I applaud Chairman Smith on his hard work to get these bills ready for floor consideration.”

If you’d like to see the bills, laughably labeled as “bipartisan,” go to the committee’s press release. But if Monday was Science Day, it was a low bar.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized