My favorite part of the book 1984 by George Orwell is the appendix, entitled “The Principles of Newspeak.” In 1984, Newspeak was the official language of the Party that ruled Oceania.  As the Appendix states:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.[…] This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words…

Orwell then explains how, through shrinking the vocabulary of the language, heretical thoughts became unthinkable. He illustrates by quoting the following passage from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.

Orwell then states that “it would have been quite impossible to render this into Newspeak while keeping the sense of the original. The nearest one could come to doing so would be to swallow the whole passage up in the single word crimethink.”

Why do I mention this?  Well, it is very relevant to our present political situation.

One of the most notable things about Donald Trump is how few words he seems to know. People mock his tiny hands, but to me what’s truly amazing is his absolutely minuscule vocabulary.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in his tweets, where he will often conclude one of his communiques insulting someone or complaining about something with an imperative “Sad!” or “Bad!”

If Trump needs to lengthen some statement, usually all he can do is add the word “very” or, if he is talking about something he does not like, interject “so terrible”.

When Trump wants to add extra emphasis to some point, he often adds that it will be “big league”. (e.g. “We are going to win big league.”) Thanks to Trump’s peculiar accent, many people have misheard this as “bigly”; a child-like non-adjective that seems extremely fitting for the man, with his penchant for gaudy, oversized buildings.

If the problem were merely that our President-elect was a man incapable of eloquence, that would be one thing.  But it is far worse than that.

The scary thing is that his style of communicating is very infectious.  People–myself included–have picked up his habits of saying “sad!” or “big league”. It’s addictive, I won’t deny it; and there is an alarming pleasure in mimicking him–even for people like me, who find him utterly appalling and oppose him completely.

But that is the frightening thing: once you start to talk like him, you will start to think like him.  And once that happens, you could reach a point where “a heretical thought” becomes, as Orwell warned, “literally unthinkable”.

To be clear, I think Trump’s rhetorical style (if you can call it that) is more a symptom than the disease itself. I wrote back in 2010 that “Twitter = Newspeak”, and that was before Trump was even on the political map. I do think that the ascendance of Trump, who communicates through Twitter far more than most candidates, supports my point. It may be that Twitter itself made Trump possible.


It’s worth asking.  It was a very close election, and so a little careful cheating could have changed the outcome.

The experts seem to take it for granted that the election couldn’t possibly have been stolen.  But the experts also took it for granted that Trump couldn’t possibly beat Clinton.

I’ve always assumed that in a country as big as the USA, there is bound to be some cheating in national elections, but that it is on a small scale, and people from both sides do it, so it more or less evens out.

There is, however, reason to think 2016 was particularly ripe for cheating, due to two facts:

  1. Earlier in the year, the FBI warned that the Russian government was hacking U.S. voting systems.
  2. Donald Trump was singularly sympathetic to Russia throughout his campaign–not only in comparison to Clinton, but also in comparison to his rivals for the Republican nomination.

I am not saying that the Russians hacked the election in order to ensure their preferred candidate won.  I am just saying that if that did happen, it would look exactly like what has happened.

Trump and his staff kept saying throughout the campaign that the polls were wrong, and they had secret supporters in the Rust Belt. And sure enough, that is exactly the way it appeared to play out on election night, with Trump narrowly pulling upsets in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Maybe Trump is an instinctive political genius who could intuitively sense what the professional analysts were all missing. Or… maybe those secret Trump supporters were really deep cover. As in, perhaps they only existed as lines of binary code.

Again, I’m not saying I think this is the case.  To my mind, the election results match up perfectly with what the charisma theory would predict. That seems like the most likely explanation.

But because the Press got their predictions of how it would play out so wrong, it seems to me they should at least look into whether it might have been stolen, rather than simply assuming it wasn’t–just as they previously had assumed Clinton couldn’t lose.

There’s a lot to hate about social media.  From idiot trolls to widespread fake news stories, there’s some reason to believe social media is responsible for many of the problems in the world today. In fact, I’d say social media is a net negative for humanity.

(This is pretty ironic, because I used to be in charge of social media for my employer.  And also I’m writing this blog, and I’m going to tweet the link after I’m done.)

But social media does sometimes have benefits.  The other day I was doing what most millennials do with Twitter: used it to look for some good Gilbert and Sullivan information.  Quite by chance, I came across Dr. Alison Vincent’s Twitter account.

Dr. Vincent is the CTO for Cisco UK and Ireland, and an all-around cool person. Her C.V. is very impressive, but the reason I recognized her was from some very enjoyable performances of Gilbert and Sullivan by the Southampton Operatic Society that I had seen many years ago.

I tweeted my thanks to her for the performances, and she very kindly replied.  Then, the Southampton Operatic Society replied as well, with the above clip of one of their performances. Then another one of the performers, Mr. Mike Pavitt, also kindly responded. It was a thoroughly nice exchange all around.

I’d seen those performances about eight years ago on Youtube, but it had never occurred to me in all that time to thank the people involved.  Without social media, I never would have been able to do so.

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.”–Edward R. Murrow. 1958

[Note: it might be useful to read this post before you proceed.  It addresses some of the same points.]

Barb Knowles of the saneteachers blog suggested that I do a post on print media political campaigns vs. televised/video ones.

The famous line of demarcation in how media changed campaigning is the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debates. They were the first-ever televised debates. Kennedy, the charismatic candidate, won over the supremely un-charismatic Nixon.

It made such an impression on Nixon that he did not debate in his later winning campaigns. He believed, and he was probably right, that an extended televised appearance that wasn’t carefully stage-managed would hurt his image with the voters.

Indeed, in every campaign in which there have been televised debates, the more charismatic candidate has won.

Television, as I once wrote, is a force multiplier for charisma.

Back in the days of print-only campaign coverage, it was much harder for a charismatic candidate to win.  In the 1896 Presidential election, the famously charismatic populist speaker William Jennings Bryan lost to the un-charismatic William McKinley.

Both Bryan and McKinley played to their strengths during the campaign.  Bryan traveled the country at an incredible pace, giving more than 500 speeches. McKinley used his massive financial advantage to send other speakers on his behalf, and to control the coverage that appeared in print.

There can be no doubt that if television had existed in 1896, Bryan would have won. For one thing–and this is something political strategists still don’t understand–even negative television coverage of charismatic candidates is a win for them.  Even if some pundit comes on afterward to denounce the candidate, as long as video of him delivering his message is getting out, he is winning.

There was of course no television, or even radio, in 1896.  However, Bryan was so popular that decades later, he would record parts of his legendary “Cross of Gold” speech for posterity.  No doubt he was less brilliant an orator in his old age, but it is still powerful:

Print media is inherently less emotional than television and video.  It’s a more intellectual, less visceral activity, to read an article in the paper than to watch someone on television.

If you just read transcripts of Trump’s speeches or debate answers, you will see they are incoherent nonsense.  He rarely speaks in complete sentences, he repeats himself, he interrupts himself. It only works if you can see him delivering it. That visceral reaction is the nature of charismatic authority.

This, more than anything else, is the key difference between televised and print campaigning. Print is intellectual, television is emotional.

I was thinking today about some of the great thinkers in history, and how the vast majority of the great minds had so little access to information compared to the average person in the present day.

It’s sort of sad when you think about it.  Take any great thinker from history, and then think about the logistics required for him or her to get the level of education they received.  They had to go to school, study, get books from libraries–if they were available at all.  If you were reading and you found a word you didn’t know, you had to go find a dictionary and hope you could find it in there. Not to mention that the mundane day-to-day tasks also took longer and were more difficult.  And yet, there were people thinking deep philosophical thoughts, inventing new technologies, writing great books, founding nations, etc. etc.

Compare them to me: I have almost instantaneous access to all the recorded knowledge in human history via the internet, I can have it translated instantly if need be, and I can do it while sitting at my desk.  On paper, I should probably be more well-educated and accomplished than the entire population of the world in the 1600s.  But I’m not.  If somebody from past times came to the present, they’d be appalled by how little I’d done with the wealth of resources I have.

Suppose John Locke had been able to access the internet.  He probably would have invented the perfect system of government in 10 minutes, if he kept up his past rate of productivity. How many times over could the great economic minds have solved the U.S. economic crisis in the time I spent watching cat videos?

I feel like an under-achiever, I guess is what I’m saying.

Shamus Young had a good post about the history of the internet. It introduced me to a phrase I’d never heard before, describing when the internet came to be how it is now, full of trolls and imbeciles. It’s from someone named Dave Fischer, who said: “September 1993 will go down in net.history as the September that never ended.”

What did he mean by that? Young explains that prior to ’93:

September was a big deal for the internet back in those days. As you can imagine, etiquette was important in a world where there were no moderators and everyone was on the honor system. Every September a flood of college freshmen would be given internet access for the first time in their lives. Then they would blunder online and make a mess of things by posting things to the wrong place, or typing in all caps, or failing to read the FAQ…. So every September was this chaotic time where the net had to assimilate a few thousand newcomers all at once, and it usually took about a month for things to calm down again.

It’s funny to read about the internet as a civilized place where ideas could be discussed in a thoughtful manner.  I came later to the internet, so I feel like somebody in a post-apocalyptic setting reading about the lost Golden Age before the great collapse.

Still, there are pockets of intelligent discourse–I like to think of this blog as one of them. Shamus’s is another (although he manages that by banning any talk of religion or politics.) But it’s funny to think that there was a time when it wasn’t a problem trying to find sites where people could have discussions without sinking into a Topix-like morass of name-calling.

The internet has been making fun of super-rich Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones because of this picture of him using a flip phone at a game the other day.

I’m not usually one to defend Jerry Jones, mostly because his team has humiliated mine many times over the years.  But I also use a flip phone–it works well enough for making calls, so why shouldn’t I?  Actually, this is probably why Jerry Jones is so rich–by not paying extra for useless stuff, like a phone with lots of superfluous bells and whistles.

Then again, maybe not.

Anyway, I didn’t realize having a flip phone was so weird.  That makes feel extra cool for having one.  It’s probably because I don’t like to talk on the phone–I don’t use it much, so it’s not like I would want to spend a lot of money on it.

Last week, I watched an episode of the old TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett.  It was “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty“, in which Holmes’s client is a secretary who was copying a top-secret treaty, which gets stolen from his desk when he leaves his office for a moment.

I started thinking about the new “Sherlock” series and wondering how they could adapt the story to the modern day if they wanted to. In the age of word processing software and copiers, there’s no need for clerks to sit around copying lengthy documents for hours.  Conan Doyle’s story simply could not occur in the present day.

Then, a few nights later, I saw an episode of the show Bewitched.  In it, the witch puts a spell on household objects to make them respond to voice commands, e.g. windows opening and closing by simply saying a command.  When they made that show in the ’60s, that must have seemed fantastic; now it’s eminently doable.

I’ve often seen Cold War spy thrillers where a big problem is finding a phone quickly, before something serious happens.  Again, nowadays that’s obsolete–cell phones eliminate that problem.

It’s funny to think of how people in those days wrote these stories, probably never thinking that there would be technology that would one day make the whole scenario they had constructed obsolete.  It doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable, of course, but it just gives you an idea of how much technology has changed.  Makes you wonder what people will look at in our modern films and television programs  and think “if they just had…”

eurobrat posted an interesting observation about electronic communication and how the experience of using it must differ for introverts and extroverts.  It’s interesting because I also consider myself an introvert, but I don’t really like electronic communication via email, instant messaging or even blog comments that much.  Mostly because I always worry when I’m not communicating face to face that what I say might be misinterpreted and accidentally cause offense.

In my experience, it seems like blogging is largely done by introverts and Facebook is used by extroverts. But eurobrat points out that even Facebook  must not be adequate for those who really like getting out and interacting with people.  I guess that’s true, now that I think about it. Probably all the people on Facebook are just using it as a stopgap measure between interactions with their friends.  It’s a complement, not a substitute.

Turns out, these people had it right: tablets are the way to go. Image via Wikipedia

I don’t see what’s so great about this Microsoft Surface thing.  Then again, I said the same thing about the iPad when it came out.  But I got one for Christmas this past year, and I now love it.  But for the most part, I can’t see what new features this brings to the tablet.

The only advantage I can see for the Surface is that it has the touch-type keyboard.  That isn’t important to me, as I don’t touch-type, but I can see how that would be a big feature to people who can.  But any small advantage that may offer over the iPad seems negated by the cheesy-looking user interface of the Surface, plus the problem of it being rather late to the tablet party.