Fletch and the Man Who
Fletch #6 (in the stories' chronological order: #9)
Fiction; Mystery and Suspense
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
August 1, 1983; re-released September 1, 2004
“A girl jumped off the motel’s roof. Five minutes ago.” "Give it to me straight. Does the girl have anything to do with us? I mean, with the campaign? The presidential candidate?" "It's your job, Fletch, to make damned sure she didn't." FLETCH and the Man Who When Fletch arrives as the new press representative for Governor Caxton Wheeler’s presidential campaign, he isn’t sure which mystery to solve first: what his new job actually is or why the campaign has been leaving dead women in its tracks. FLETCH and the Man Who He finds himself on the other side of the press, a human shield deflecting the questions he is asking himself. Are the murders just coincidence, or is a cold-hearted killer looking for a job in the White House? FLETCH and the Man Who When the campaign shifts into high gear, Fletch’s skills are working overtime in a desperate bid of his own to find the killer and to make sure the governor doesn’t lose any more votes.
I’m slowly nearing the end of the entire Fletch series, but they still manage to stay relevant and interesting. Fletch and the Man Who is certainly no exception. In fact, I might argue that it is not only still very relevant to modern culture, but that it has actually ripened with age.
Caxton’s Technology Platform
The most interesting portions of the book were the prescience of the role of technology in modern life that were described within it. Mcdonald wrote this in 1983 long before the advent or ubiquitization of satellite communications, cellular phones, desktop computers, and even the internet. Yet somehow the discussion being pushed by the lead presidential candidate in the story feels very forward thinking and is highly relevant even today. Given the rise of Twitter and Facebook, it may actually be more interesting and relevant today than when the book was written in the early 1980s. Interestingly it feels like we have yet to figure out where technology is taking us. This book brings up a lot of philosophical ideas that we’re still heavily grappling with and on even deeper levels. Some of the mentions of religion and politics are all still alive and well in the modern political scene (though Communism/Marxism have died and disappeared after this book was written) and are just as touchy in their relation to technology. The recent presidential campaign certainly highlighted some of these technology issues, particularly with relation to the effect on political communication via fake news and Facebook. Mcdonald takes aim at the idea of “truth” within a political campaign and having a well informed electorate.
There is some really great satire on politics in the book. Oddly, not much of it originates with Fletch or his views on life. While there are a handful of good zingers that Fletch delivers in his wry signature fashion, this book seemed like a major departure in that the supporting characters take on the typical Fletch role of smartasses. This felt interesting and almost natural from a storytelling point of view as Fletch himself actually throws off his typical rebel character mantle to “join the establishment” and run interference for the presidential candidate’s press corps. Most interesting to me a lot of the mentions about politics still play as well today as they did 30+ years ago.
We meet one of Fletch’s old war buddies and learn a few new pieces of backstory that flesh out his character a bit more, which is something I didn’t expect as much of at this point in the series.
There isn’t as much sexual tension in this as in some of the past works, but Freddie Arbuthnot makes a reappearance and really forces Fletch to work overtime for her approval. This seemed more interesting to me than some of Fletch’s past sexual exploits which seemed to come too easily for him. It’s more interesting to see him have to work at creating a relationship, particularly with a woman who had previously thrown herself at him.
Of interest to me with regard to the plotting and the reveal at the end was that there were a nice number of potential suspects. Better, despite my decade+ affair with Law & Order and similar procedurals on television, there was just enough psychological subtlety and distance that the reveal of the killer was not only well motivated but also hidden enough to be entertaining right up to the end. (No spoilers here…)
One thing I did miss was the complete lack of phony characters invented by Fletch as cover stories. To my recollection there were none in this installment. I did however notice that a despicable character in the plot had the name Hanrahan which was (probably not coincidentally) one of the fictional names that popped up in a cover story Fletch spun in the film version of the first book:
Well now, you know that and I know that, but… somebody’s bucking for a promotion. Probably that pederast Hanrahan. I don’t know. All I know is if I don’t go back with something, you and your son-in-law are going to be the scapegoats of the week.
This book would have been out and available well in advance of the May 31, 1985 release of the film.
There were a few tidbits that could have been better resolved at the end (what was Caxton really doing during those disappearances?), but overall, this was a very satisfying and interesting read. It’s certainly made me think about politics and the philosophy of technology in a different way than I have been recently, and for that this may have been to me the most interesting book in the series so far. Some of the philosophy in particular deserves additional thought and study, and may motivate me to actually re-read this one.
08/7/16 marked as: want to read; “The Rio Olympics reminded me that I’d gotten Carioca Fletch to read back in the 80’s and never got around to it, so I thought I’d come back and revisit the series.”
11/21/16 21.0% done; “Fletch has a new job, and like usual, the first few minutes of the book throw us right into a riveting high concept. Where we’re ultimately headed is anyone’s guess…”
11/22/16 22.0% done
11/23/16 35.0% done; “Usually Fletch is the one with all the sharp, ascerbic statements, but in this installment I’m noticing that he’s the tame one and everyone else is somehow playing the part he usually does.”
11/24/16 56.0% done
11/25/16 Finished book; “There’s some great stuff in the last half of the book about Wheeler’s platform that is eerily prescient of the situation we now find ourselves in with regard to a heavily internet connected world and who owns it. It’s also an odd feeling reading this after experiencing what’s recently happened in the 2016 presidential election and it’s ensuing results.”
Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia
On a presidential campaign, all the crises are biggies. You’ve only got a few minutes to learn that.
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Added on Thursday, November 3, 2016 11:39:44 PM
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This is a great word that’s usually only used in horse racing settings. I suspect that it’s second most-oft used setting is politics, so it’s certainly at home here.
Added on Thursday, November 3, 2016 11:41:19 PM
“I knew you had something other than pretzels between the ears.”
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Added on Thursday, November 3, 2016 11:44:42 PM
“Going my way?” he asked.
“No,” she answered. “I’m on my way up.”
“You don’t read the Newsworld Syndicate?”
“Not on crime. Gross stuff, crime. Reports on what the coroner found in the victim’s lower intestine. I don’t even want to know what’s in my own lower intestine.”
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Added on Saturday, November 5, 2016 11:06:02 PM
“You couldn’t have gotten here that fast from New York or Los Angeles or—or from wherever you hang your suspicions.”
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Added on Saturday, November 5, 2016 11:07:46 PM
“The Press is The People, sir.”
“Funny,” said The Man Who. “I thought the government is.
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Added on Saturday, November 5, 2016 11:10:36 PM
The living room was decorated in Super Motel. There was a bad painting on the wall, oil on canvas, of a schooner under full sail.
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Fletch always does enjoy commenting on art, and this bit of satire about the sameness of motel rooms is no different in allowing him some commentary.
Added on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 2:16:39 AM
“Motels and gas stations expect even presidential candidates to pay their bills. It’s the American way.”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:36:20 PM
they’d desert us faster than kittens leave a gully in the January thaw.
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:37:00 PM
“Working on a book,” Fletch said.
“On an American western artist. You know: Edgar Arthur Tharp, Junior.”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:39:22 PM
“Isn’t American politics a crusade of amateurs?”
“Who said that?”
“I did. I think.”
“You’re wrong. But it has a nice ring to it.”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:40:09 PM
“I understand the job of press secretary is to keep paintin’ the picket fence around the main house. Just keep paintin’ it. Whatever’s goin’ on inside, the outside is to look pretty.”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:46:35 PM
“Where’d you get the money?”
“You can save a lot of money by not smoking.”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:48:09 PM
“And do you have any good ideas?”
“Just one, for now.”
“And what would that be?”
“To be loyal to you.” Fletch grinned. “Until I get a better offer. Isn’t that what you just said politics is all about?”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:48:48 PM
“Don’t know how the press will accept him,” the governor said. “Fletch looks like breakfast to someone with a hangover.”
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Added on Friday, November 11, 2016 9:51:55 PM
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Should have been “lips”.
Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 9:38:17 AM
“You know how to make the best of a bad situation, Fletch. And a presidential campaign is one bad situation after another.”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 9:52:16 AM
“Walsh, you’ve been drinking.” She stood up only partway.
“Had to spend some time in the bar, Mother. Something happened. This girl—”
Doris Wheeler slapped her son, hard.
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 9:58:41 AM
“Well,” Walsh finally said, “I’m glad I gave you my lecture on loyalty, before you saw that.”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 9:58:55 AM
“Dearly beloved,” said the governor.
“Now you’re leaving out Arbuthnot!” said Joe Hall.
“All creatures great and small?” asked the governor.
“Why’s that man up there calling us a bunch of animals?” Stella Kirchner asked Bill Dieckmann loudly. “Trying to get elected game warden or something?”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:00:49 AM
“Good morning,” Fletch said. “As the governor’s press representative, I make you the solemn promise that I will never lie to you. Today, on this bus, we will be passing through Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, New York, and Keokuk, Iowa. Per usual, at midday you will be flown to San Francisco for lunch. Today’s menu is clam chowder, pheasant under glass, roast Chilean lamb, and a strawberry mousse from Maine. Everything the governor says today will be significant, relevant, wise, to the point, and as fresh as the lilies in the field.”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:05:24 AM
“Is it true you saved Walsh Wheeler’s life overseas?” Fenella Baker asked.
“That’s another thing,” Fletch said. “I will never evade any of your questions.” He turned the microphone off and hung it up.
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:06:40 AM
“How does it feel to be an adversary of the press?” From her seat on the bus, Freddie Arbuthnot grinned up at Fletch.
“Some people,” announced Fletch, “think I always have been.”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:07:28 AM
“You’re a help.”
“You’ll never make it.”
“I know it.”
“That’s all right.” She patted him on the arm. “I’ll destroy you as painlessly as possible.”
“Great. I’d appreciate that. Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Up to what?”
“It will be easy,” she said. “Because of all those conflicts in yourself. You’ve never tried to be a member of the establishment before, Fletch. I mean, let’s face it: you’re a born-and-bred rebel.”
“I bought a necktie for this job.”
She studied his solid red tie. “Nice one, too. Looks like you’re already bleeding from the neck.”
“Got it in the airport in Little Rock.”
“No. They had five or six to choose from.”
“That was the best?”
“I thought so.”
“You only bought one, though, right?”
“Didn’t know how long this job would last.”
“Glad you didn’t make too big an investment in your future as a member of the establishment.”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:12:26 AM
“The definition of a press representative. You are game as fair as any, seasoned, roasted, carved, and chewed.”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:13:54 AM
“We’re being overcome by machines.” Freddie sat up again. “They’ll have their day. Or so they predict. And they’re always right. Right?”
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Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 10:19:14 AM
Your Bookmark on Location 811
Added on Sunday, November 20, 2016 11:50:32 PM
“Vic Robbins! Upton’s advance man?”
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Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:01:09 AM
speechwriters Phil Nolting and Paul Dobson
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Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:01:26 AM
Lee Allen Parke
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Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:01:49 AM
Barry Hines, the campaign’s communication chief
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Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:01:59 AM
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Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:02:51 AM
Michael J. Hanrahan
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His last name is the same as the pederast’s name in the film Fletch during the Poon scene; it also would have been written in time to have been read and included into the movie.
Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:06:32 AM
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Added on Monday, November 21, 2016 12:07:43 AM
He put his chin up at Fletch, who was still on the stairs of the campaign bus, and tried to give Fletch a penetrating look with bloodshot eyes, each in its own pool of poison.
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great bit of language for a vile character
Added on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 4:20:14 AM
Even Hanrahan’s neck was turning red. “You know how many readers I got?” he shouted.
“Yeah,” Freddie said. “Everyone in the country who can’t read, reads Newsbill. Big deal.”
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Added on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 4:22:00 AM
Dr. Thom spoke with extraordinary slowness. “Anyone trying to handle the press can have anything he wants from me: poisoned gas, flamethrowers, machine guns, hand grenades. If I don’t have such medical and surgical tools on hand, I shall secure them for you at greatly reduced rates.”
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Added on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 4:24:11 AM
“Do you really think so? Neither the substance of America’s favorite sport, politics, nor the substance of America’s favorite food, the hot dog, can bear too much analysis. If the innards of either American politics or the American hot dog were too fully revealed, the American would have to disavow and disgorge himself.”
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similar to Bismark on laws and sausage
Added on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 4:25:06 AM
Fenella Baker and Betsy Ginsberg. I had been talking with Bill Dieckmann
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:07:07 AM
Of course, if I ever come across a lawyer lying on the sidewalk, I’ll tread on his face.”
“You don’t like lawyers either?”
“Even lawyers’ mothers don’t like lawyers. If you do a survey, I think you’ll find that lawyers’ mothers are the strongest advocates of legal abortions in the land.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:08:02 AM
“Ask me some questions.”
“Anything your heart desires. You know a man more from his questions than from his answers. Who said that?”
“You just did.”
“Let’s not make a note of it.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:13:37 AM
The governor was smiling. “The American people don’t want anyone with deep convictions as President of the United States. People with deep convictions are dangerous. They’re incapable of the art of governing a democracy because they’re incapable of compromise. People with deep convictions put everyone who disagrees with them in prison. Then they blow the world up. You don’t want that, do you?”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:15:01 AM
“Didactic but not dogmatic is the rule for a good politician. Who said that?”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:16:59 AM
Then Fletch said in a rush, “Ideology will never equalize the world. Technology is doing so.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:17:41 AM
“Yeah, but Newsbill’s readers are too ashamed to identify themselves to each other.”
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This sounds a lot like many Trump supporters before the election. They wouldn’t identify until after-the-fact.
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:19:22 AM
“Arbuthnot and Hanrahan.” The governor was smoothing his jacket. “Sounds like a manufacturer of pneumatic drills.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:25:09 AM
“Are we at the right school?”
“Oh, yes,” the governor said. “They couldn’t have played ‘America’ that badly without practicing it.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:34:41 AM
“What kind of a story did some of you find to phone in? I saw you at the phone.”
“You don’t know?”
“Some press rep. you are. You ever been on a campaign before?”
“You’re cute, Fletcher. But I don’t think you should be on this one, either.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:36:05 AM
“I used to pray in school,” Roy Filby said from the seat behind Betsy. “Before every exam. Swear like hell afterward.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:37:18 AM
To Betsy, Fletch said, “I have a question for you, okay?”
“The answer is yes,” she said. “Anytime. You don’t even have to bring a bottle of wine.”
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What a way to proposition someone…
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:39:17 AM
Fletch too wondered why Fenella Baker’s face didn’t itch. Surely some of that powder had been on it since the days of Jimmy Carter.
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:40:26 AM
Freddie said. She continued reading Jay Daly’s Walls.
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Walls is a work of fiction from 1981 in which “Frankie O’Day, an incurable graffiti writer, has to deal with pranksterish friends, an alcoholic father, and a new romance.”
“Somebody in a presidential family ought to marry a Ginsberg. We do nice table settings.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:53:21 AM
“Irwin!” Roy Filby echoed. “I’d rather see one than be one!”
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I read this little snipe at Fletch (and the ubiquitous mention of his disliked first name) as a blatant reference to the Gelett Burgess nonsense poem Purple Cow first published in 1895. One will note the reference comes via verbal transmission rather than direct as the line is slightly modified.
I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one. 
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:53:41 AM
“How did you know my name is Irwin?” Fletch asked.
The bus driver said: “Just guessed.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:54:59 AM
“Guess they don’t think too badly of bribing schoolchildren.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:04:32 PM
“Sweet Wheat, the breakfast cereal that makes kiddies yell for more.”
“Yell with the toothache,” Paul Dobson said. “They’re yelling because it makes their teeth hurt!”
“Make ’em hypertensive with sugar at breakfast,” Phil Nolting intoned, as if quoting, “then slap ’em down at school.”
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Could these two have been the inspiration for Larry and Ed on the television show The West Wing?
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:05:14 PM
“I don’t think the American people are apt to consider an older man handing out coins to little kids as Beelzebub.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:08:55 PM
“Who was the first one to say ‘If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen’?”
“Who was he?”
“Cooked for Henry the Eighth.” The governor gave him a weird look. “Buried under the chapel at the Tower of London. Forgot to take the poultry lacers out of roast falcons.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:10:20 PM
“… It used to be that what happened in New York and Washington was important in Paramaribo, in Durban, in Kampuchea. Nothing was more important. Well, things have changed. Now we know that what happens in Santiago, in Tehran, in Peking is terribly important in New York and Washington. Nothing is more important.”
Fletch said: “Wow.”
“… The Third World, as it’s called, is no longer something out there—separate from us, inconsequential to us. Whether we like it or not, the world is becoming more sensitive. The world is becoming covered with a network of fine nerves—an electronic nervous system not unlike that which integrates our own bodies. Our finger hurts, our toe hurts and we feel it as much as if our head aches or our heart aches. Instantly now do we feel the pain in Montevideo, in Juddah, in Bandung. And yes, my friends in Winslow, we feel the pains from our own, internal third world—from Harlem, from Watts, from our reservations of Native Americans …”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:19:01 PM
“… You and I know there is no theology, no ideology causing this new, sudden, total integration of the world. Christianity has had two thousand years to tie this world together … and it has not done so. Islam has had six hundred years to tie this world together … and it has not done so. American democracy has had two hundred years to tie this world together … and it has not done so. Communism has had nearly one hundred years to tie this world together… and it has not done so.”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:20:04 PM
“… You and I, my friends, know that technology is tying this world together, is integrating this world in a way no theology, no ideology ever could. Technology is forming a nervous system beneath the skin of Mother Earth. And you and I know that to avoid the pain, the body politic had better start responding to this nervous system immediately! If we ignore that which hurts in any part of this body earth, we shall suffer years more, generations more of the pain and misery of spreading disease. If we knowingly allow wounds to fester in any particular place, the strength, the energies of the whole world will be sapped!”
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:23:02 PM
At the edge of the platform, The Man Who shook hands with the congressperson as if he had never seen her before, keeping his arm long, making it seem, for the public, for the photographers, he was greeting just another well-wisher.
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Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:31:09 PM
Your Bookmark on Location 1766
Added on Wednesday, November 23, 2016 2:32:14 PM
“What did the governor say?” Kirchner asked.
“Well,” Fletch said, “roughly he said the world is getting it together despite man’s best ideas.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 12:34:30 AM
“Part of the process of a political campaign is to go around the country listening to people. At least, a good politician listens. You said something this morning that struck me as eminently sensible. Something probably everybody knows is true, but no one has yet said. Probably only the young have grown up with this new reality in their guts, really knowing it to be true.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 12:36:52 AM
“There’s a difference between ideas and facts,” the governor said. “The people of the world will be better served with a few facts.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 4:15:48 PM
Your Bookmark on Location 1991
Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:01:08 PM
The governor narrowed his eyes. “Is it crap?”
Doris Wheeler’s voice became that of a reasonable lecturer. “Caxton, you know damned well the farmers and merchants of Winslow, of the U.S.A., do not want to hear about the Third World. They want to hear about their taxes, their health programs, their Social Security, their defense, their crop subsidies. The voter is a totally selfish animal! Every time the voter hears the name of a foreign country, he thinks it’s going to cost him money.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:08:02 PM
“Used to hear you through the wall in Virginia. Key of C in the morning, F at night.”
“I take a cold shower in the morning.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:19:55 PM
“Get the space, baby. Get the network time and the newspaper space. Builds familiarity. Recognition of the candidate, you know? What the candidate is actually saying or doing is of secondary importance, you know?”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:23:45 PM
statesmanship has no place on a political campaign. A campaign is punch and duck, punch and duck. Fast footwork, you know? Always smiling. The voters want to see fast action. Their attention won’t hold for anything more.
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:27:10 PM
“Longer than that, I. M., longer than that. Something ol’ Vic taught me, and it’s always proved to be true: statesmanship has no place on a political campaign. A campaign is punch and duck, punch and duck. Fast footwork, you know? Always smiling. The voters want to see fast action. Their attention won’t hold for anything more. From day to day, give ’em happy film, and short, reassuring statements. If you really try to say anything, really ask them to stop and think, they’ll hate you for it. They can’t think, you know? Being asked makes us feel inferior. We don’t like to feel inferior to our candidates. Against the democratic ideal, you know? The candidate’s just got to keep giving the impression he’s a man of the people—no better than they are, just doin’ a different job. No one is ever elected in this country on the basis of what he really thinks. The candidate is elected on the basis of thousands of different, comfortable small impressions, not one of which really asks the voters to think.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:28:31 PM
Eulogies to a relationship never need encouragement from the listener.
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:30:11 PM
“Wow, a presidential campaign. What’s it like, Fletch?”
“Unreal, man. Totally unreal.”
“I believe you. On television you were wearing a coat and tie.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:36:02 PM
“I’m doin’ my best, Mr. Persecutor. It’s like trying to put out a fire in a circus tent, you know? I can’t get anybody to admit there is a fire.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:38:44 PM
“Sent any woe-begones to jail lately?”
“Two yesterday. No outstanding warrants on you, though. I check first thing every morning.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:41:16 PM
“California can always use a few more people who wear suits.”
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:41:30 PM
“Simple enough deal,” Fletch said. “Tit for tat.”
“Tits for that,” Judy said.
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Added on Thursday, November 24, 2016 8:49:38 PM
There are some old books in the cabin—Ellery Queen, S.S. van Dyne. He reads them sometimes, in bed.
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Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:43:29 AM
“Why shouldn’t I help them out?” Flash Grasselli asked reasonably. “I’m bigger than they are.”
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Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:46:51 AM
Abruptly Walsh sat up in his chair. “You’re always making jokes. Is that how you escape?”
Slowly, carefully, Fletch said, “No. That’s why the chicken crossed the road.”
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Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:58:20 AM
“As sure as God made anchovies.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 2711-2711
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:59:21 AM
“I take from the unhealthiest doctor I could find. He’s a wreck. Fat as the federal budget. He smokes like a public utility; drinks as if he has as many different mouths as a White House source. When he breathes, you’d think someone is running a caucus in his chest. Thought he’d be easy on me. Tolerant. Relaxed. Not a bit of it. Still he gives me that old saw, ‘Don’t do as I do; do as I say.’ I guess I should. Already he’s invested in a burial plot, he tells me. And he’s only thirty-two.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 2868-2872
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:10:08 AM
Campaigns at first need idealism and youth. Once the primaries are won, cynicism takes over and idealism gets a bus ticket home. You don’t mind being used?”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 2909-2910
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:14:29 AM
“You look like your heart just sat down and took off its shoes.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 2947-2947
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:17:32 AM
Your Bookmark on Location 2998
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:22:48 AM
“I’m talking about the gathering and dissemination of information,” the governor said, “instead of weapons.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3004-3005
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 12:57:58 PM
Fletch had been in funeral processions that went faster.
Highlight (yellow) – Location 2989-2989
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 1:00:02 PM
“Through this technology, the people of this earth are beginning to recognize each other, know each other, and realize their commonality of interest.
Highlight (yellow) – Location 2993-2994
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 1:03:51 PM
Lansing Sayer wasn’t getting much into his notebook.
“Am I wrong to think that most of the bad things that happen on this earth happen because people don’t have the right facts at the right time? It’s all very well to believe something. You can go cheering to war over what you believe. You can starve to death happily over what you believe. But would wars ever happen if everybody had the same facts? There is no factual basis for starvation on this earth,” Governor Caxton Wheeler said softly. “Not yet, there isn’t.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3012-3016
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 1:12:03 PM
“Facts are facts,” said The Man Who. “I’m not talking about faith, belief, opinions. I’m talking about facts. How come most children in this world know Pele’s every move playing soccer, know every line of Muhammad Ali’s face, and yet this same technology has not been used to teach them the history of their own people, or how to read and write their own language? How come a bank in London can know, up to the minute, how much money a bank in New York has, to the penny, but a kid in Liverpool who just had his teeth bashed out doesn’t know three thousand years ago a Greek analyzed gang warfare accurately? How come the governments of this world know where every thermonuclear missile is, on land, under land, on sea, under sea, and yet this technology has never been used for the proper allocation of food? Is that a dumb question?”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3018-3024
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 1:14:56 PM
Anyone who thinks he’s absolutely right is capable of anything, including murder.
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3097-3098
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 1:55:45 PM
“So this is how you live.” Freddie looked around his hotel room. “Your suitcase is dark brown. Mine is light blue.”
“Yeah,” Fletch said. “That’s the difference between boys and girls.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3161-3163
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:03:34 PM
“Got to make clothes last on a trip like this.”
“I never wear that jacket.”
“Then why do you carry it?”
“That’s the jacket I carry.” He pointed to one on the unmade bed. “That’s the jacket I wear.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3190-3193
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:06:12 PM
“Relationships between men and women can be nice. I guess.” He watched her from the chair where he was sitting. “Can’t say you never had one, Freddie.”
“I live out of a suitcase, Fletcher. All the time. Anything that doesn’t fit in the suitcase can’t come with me.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3202-3205
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:07:24 PM
“Next to Solov, Maxim Gorky would seem a fun date.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3293-3293
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:14:13 PM
“Guess you got to take that chance, jackass. If I can’t print something that looks like answers, I’m going to print something that looks like questions.”
“Oh, I see,” Fletch said brilliantly. “That’s why people refer to what you write as questionable. ’Bye, Mike.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3328-3331
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:17:07 PM
Your Bookmark on Location 3333
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 2:18:05 PM
“Young people always think it’s clever to disparage our institutions.”
“Politically, it’s suicide. As I said last night. You can knock the institutions on their goddamned asses,” her voice grated, “as long as you always give them lip service. That’s the only reality.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3426-3429
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:23:19 PM
“I wouldn’t vote for your husband for dogcatcher!” the driver shouted. “He doesn’t know a bitch when he sees one!”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3472-3473
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:29:59 PM
The wind, the sound of traffic in the parking lot, the noise of jet airplanes passing overhead made the governor look like a frantic, laryngytic opera singer.
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3492-3493
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 3:31:58 PM
to draw up a sort of international constitution guaranteeing that no one—no nation, no political party, no group—gets to control too large a share of the new technology.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3753-3755
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 4:21:02 PM
Highlight (orange) – Location 3808-3808
Mcdonald has used this at least once before in another Fletch book
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 4:28:09 PM
Buy him a one-way ticket to Tashkent.
Highlight (yellow) – Location 3936-3936
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 7:24:10 PM
Highlight (gray) – Location 3957-3957
Was this meant to be Caxton’s?
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 7:25:34 PM
“Yeah,” Fletch said to Freddie Arbuthnot in the airport terminal. “I lost my job again.”
“You’re good at that.”
“I think it’s what I do best.”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 4330-4333
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 8:02:31 PM
“Gee, Freddie.” He took the tickets away from her and shoved them into his own pocket. “Why do you want to make a mystery out of everything?”
Highlight (yellow) – Location 4391-4392
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 8:11:08 PM
Your Bookmark on Location 4448
Finished with book
Added on Friday, November 25, 2016 8:11:22 PM
Guide to highlight colors
Yellow–general highlights and highlights which don’t fit under another category below Orange–Vocabulary word; interesting and/or rare word Green–Reference to read Blue–Interesting Quote Gray–Typography Problem Red–Example to work through
The mayor of Clay, West Virginia, has resigned and another county official is out following their exchange over a racist Facebook post that compared first lady Michelle Obama to an "ape in heels."
The county employee, Pamela Taylor, worked as director of the Clay County Development Corporation and wrote on Facebook: "It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House. I'm tired of seeing a (sic) Ape in heels," according to a screengrab obtained by CNN affiliate WSAZ.
A shift in political culture away from journalism’s grasp.
I just finished reading Jay Rosen’s fantastic piece on his reactions to the 2016 Presidential election which he wrote just before the election itself. It has a stunning take on what was going on before the election and indicates to a great extent why things have gone so drastically wrong. For those who are heavily concerned with what has happened, it also directly indicates a large part of what was missed and therefore provides the base problem so that we might all do a better job of protecting against it in the near future.
In part, he discusses the concept of fact checking and why Trump didn’t appear to care if anyone was fact checking his statements. Personally, the blatant lies that he was telling on a regular basis were even more disconcerting to me than some of this less than civil behavior. Rosen goes into some reasonable depth on this particular issue and its recent history which is very illuminating. Sadly it doesn’t make me any more happy about our present situation.
Yesterday I read something by a philosopher, Jason Stanley, that illuminated what I mean by “a miss bigger than a missed story.” Beyond Lying: Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Reality. Stanley made the point that fact checking Trump in a way missed the point. Trump was not trying to make reference to reality in what he said to win votes. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.
“On a certain level, the media lacked the vocabulary to describe what was happening,” Stanley writes. And I agree with that. He compares what Trump did to totalitarian propaganda, which does not attempt to depict the world but rather substitutes for it a ruthlessly coherent counter-narrative that is untroubled by any contradiction between itself and people’s experience.
I find large portions of the Trump narrative similar to the story of “The emperor with no clothes.” Reality may be what you can manage to get others to believe, but in a reasonable democracy truth must manage to win out. While I think that it’s almost certainly the case that a small minority of the populace really wanted to vote for Trump, how did he manage to capture the remainder? The “I won’t vote for Hilary segment” certainly gave him an additional fraction of the vote. Then people who were traditional Republicans who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Democrat added another piece of the pie. (Sadly, some of those who repudiated him during the end of the campaign seem to be falling right back in line for their piece of patronage.) Many are simply hurting and want to believe anyone who will give them someone to blame for it and a possible glimmer of a solution. Sadly, I expect these last people to be hurt the most at the end of the day when they realize too late that the emperor is naked.
But other than outright lying, how did Trump connect with some of the electorate? I’ve written before on Trump’s use of doubletalk, which I still feel is a significant factor in his capturing a large part of the populace. See also: Complexity isn’t a Vice: 10 Word Answers and Doubletalk in Election 2016 for this argument. Rosen’s discussion of facts is, to me, the other major missing piece.
I also wonder if it’s possibly the case that in an ever sub-specializing world that people have somehow lost the time, effort, or even inclination to attempt to put all of the facts together themselves to create a cohesive whole? Instead they rely on others to manufacture these stories on their behalf and thereby make it easier for such totalitarian propaganda to insert itself.
Perhaps the working men and women of the country aren’t spending time reading the paper anymore? It’s certainly easier to read third and fourth party stories on Twitter, Facebook, or listen to infotainment in the later hours on Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN. Why try to follow more direct sources when we can read Facebook and worry about who’s going to win this season of The Voice or The Bachelor?
As the workforce of the world continues to subspecialize, we’re going to need to be able to trust our political leaders more and more, not less and less.
[Totalitarian propaganda]’s open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.
The question is: how can we exploit the weaknesses to make the problem apparent to those who are too easily willing to believe?
What’s unusual about Trump is he’s a leading candidate and he seems to have no interest in getting important things factually correct.
It’s one thing to lie for political advantage. It’s another to keep lying to prove you have the power.
I’m hoping that some of the electorate realizes that things aren’t improving for them any time soon before too much significant damage has been done. Just because you believe a thing doesn’t make it true or even a fact.
I’d highlighted the concept before, but perhaps it’s a good time to remind people again:
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen dozens of news outlets publish multi-paragraph excerpts of speeches from Donald Trump and have been appalled that I was unable to read them in any coherent way. I could not honestly follow or discern any coherent thought or argument in the majority of them. I was a bit shocked because in listening to him, he often sounds like he has some kind of point, though he seems to be spouting variations on one of ten one-liners he’s been using for over a year now. There’s apparently a flaw in our primal reptilian brains that seems to be tricking us into thinking that there’s some sort of substance in his speech when there honestly is none. I’m going to have to spend some time reading more on linguistics and cognitive neuroscience. Maybe Stephen Pinker knows of an answer?
The situation got worse this week as I turned to news sources for fact-checking of the recent presidential debate. While it’s nice to have web-based annotation tools like Genius and Hypothes.is to mark up these debates, it becomes another thing altogether to understand the meaning of what’s being said in order to actually attempt to annotate it. I’ve included some links so that readers can attempt the exercise for themselves.
Recent transcripts (some with highlights/annotations):
It’s been a while since Americans were broadly exposed to actual doubletalk. For the most part our national experience with it has been a passing curiosity highlighted by comedians.
n. (NORTH AMERICAN)
a deliberately unintelligible form of speech in which inappropriate, invented or nonsense syllables are combined with actual words. This type of speech is commonly used to give the appearance of knowledge and thereby confuse, amuse, or entertain the speaker’s audience.
another term for doublespeak
see also n. doubletalk 
Since the days of vaudeville (and likely before), comedians have used doubletalk to great effect on stage, in film, and on television. Some comedians who have historically used the technique as part of their acts include Al Kelly, Cliff Nazarro, Danny Kaye, Gary Owens, Irwin Corey, Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, Stanley Unwin, and Reggie Watts. I’m including some short video clips below as examples.
A well-known, but foreshortened, form of it was used by Dana Carvey in his Saturday Night Live performances caricaturizing George H.W. Bush by using a few standard catch phrases with pablum in between: “Not gonna do it…”, “Wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture”, and “Thousand Points of Light…”. These snippets in combination with some creative hand gestures (pointing, lacing fingers together), along with a voice melding of Mr. Rogers and John Wayne were the simple constructs that largely transformed a diminutive comedian convincingly into a president.
Doubletalk also has a more “educated” sibling known as technobabble. Engineers are sure to recall a famous (and still very humorous) example of both doubletalk and technobabble in the famed description of the Turboencabulator. (See also, the short videos below.)
Doubletalk comedy examples
Al Kelly on Ernie Kovaks
Rockwell Turbo Encabulator Version 2
And of course doubletalk and technobabble have closely related cousins named doublespeak and politicobabble. These are far more dangerous than the others because they move over the line of comedy into seriousness and are used by people who make decisions effecting hundreds of thousands to millions, if not billions, of people on the planet. I’m sure an archeo-linguist might be able to discern where exactly politicobabble emerged and managed to evolve into a non-comedic form of speech which people manage to take far more seriously than its close ancestors. One surely suspects some heavy influence from George Orwell’s corpus of work:
While politicobabble is nothing new, I did find a very elucidating passage from the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election cycle which seems to be a major part of the Trump campaign playbook:
In the continuation of the article, Jacobs goes on to give a variety of examples of the term as well as a “translation” guide for some of the common politicobabble words from that particular election. I’ll leave it to the capable hands of others (perhaps in the comments, below?) to come up with the translation guide for our current political climate.
The interesting evolutionary change I’ll note for the current election cycle is that Trump hasn’t delved into any depth on any of his themes to offend anyone significantly enough. This has allowed him to stay with the dozen or so themes he started out using and therefore hasn’t needed to change them as in campaigns of old.
Filling in the Blanks
These forms of pseudo-speech area all meant to fool us into thinking that something of substance is being discussed and that a conversation is happening, when in fact, nothing is really being communicated at all. Most of the intended meaning and reaction to such speech seems to stem from the demeanor of the speaker as well as, in some part, to the reaction of the surrounding interlocutor and audience. In reading Donald Trump transcripts, an entirely different meaning (or lack thereof) is more quickly realized as the surrounding elements which prop up the narrative have been completely stripped away. In a transcript version, gone is the hypnotizing element of the crowd which is vehemently sure that the emperor is truly wearing clothes.
In many of these transcripts, in fact, I find so little is being said that the listener is actually being forced to piece together the larger story in their head. Being forced to fill in the blanks in this way leaves too much of the communication up to the listener who isn’t necessarily engaged at a high level. Without more detail or context to understand what is being communicated, the listener is far more likely to fill in the blanks to fit a story that doesn’t create any cognitive dissonance for themselves — in part because Trump is usually smiling and welcoming towards his adoring audiences.
One will surely recall that Trump even wanted Secretary Clinton to be happy during the debate when he said, “Now, in all fairness to Secretary Clinton — yes, is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me.” (This question also doubles as an example of a standard psychological sales tactic of attempting to get the purchaser to start by saying ‘yes’ as a means to keep them saying yes while moving them towards making a purchase.)
His method of communicating by leaving large holes in his meaning reminds me of the way our brain smooths out information as indicated in this old internet meme:
I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Scuh a cdonition is arpppoiatrely cllaed typoglycemia.
I’m also reminded of the biases and heuristics research carried out in part (and the remainder cited) by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow in which he discusses the mechanics of how system 1 and system 2 work in our brains. Is Trump taking advantage of the deficits of language processing in our brains in something akin to system 1 biases to win large blocks of votes? Is he creating a virtual real-time Choose-Your-Own-Adventure to subvert the laziness of the electorate? Kahneman would suggest the the combination of what Trump does say and what he doesn’t leaves it up to every individual listener to create their own story. Their system 1 is going to default to the easiest and most palatable one available to them: a happy story that fits their own worldview and is likely to encourage them to support Trump.
Ten Word Answers
As an information theorist, I know all too well that there must be a ‘linguistic Shannon limit’ to the amount of semantic meaning one can compress into a single word.  One is ultimately forced to attempt to form sentences to convey more meaning. But usually the less politicians say, the less trouble they can get into — a lesson hard won through generations of political fighting.
I’m reminded of a scene from The West Wing television series. In season 4, episode 6 which aired on October 30, 2002 on NBC, Game On had a poignant moment (video clip below) which is germane to our subject: 
Moderator: Governor Ritchie, many economists have stated that the tax cut, which is the centrepiece of your economic agenda, could actually harm the economy. Is now really the time to cut taxes? Governor Ritchie, R-FL: You bet it is. We need to cut taxes for one reason – the American people know how to spend their money better than the federal government does. Moderator: Mr. President, your rebuttal. President Bartlet: There it is…
That’s the 10 word answer my staff’s been looking for for 2 weeks. There it is.
10 word answers can kill you in political campaigns — they’re the tip of the sword.
Here’s my question: What are the next 10 words of your answer?
“Your taxes are too high?” So are mine…
Give me the next 10 words: How are we going to do it?
Give me 10 after that — I’ll drop out of the race right now.
Every once in a while — every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that there aren’t very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for 10 words.
I’m the President of the United States, not the president of the people who agree with me. And by the way, if the left has a problem with that, they should vote for somebody else.
As someone who studies information theory and complexity theory and even delves into sub-topics like complexity and economics, I can agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. Though again, here I can also see the massive gaps between system 1 and 2 that force us to want to simplify things down to such a base level that we don’t have to do the work to puzzle them out.
(And yes, that is Jennifer Anniston’s father playing the moderator.)
One can’t but wonder why Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to have ever gone past the first ten words? Is it because he isn’t capable? interested? Or does he instinctively know better? It would seem that he’s been doing business by using the uncertainty inherent in his speech for decades, but always operating by using what he meant (or thought he wanted to mean) than what the other party heard and thought they understood. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Idiocracy or Something Worse?
In our increasingly specialized world, people eventually have to give in and quit doing some tasks that everyone used to do for themselves. Yesterday I saw a lifeworn woman in her 70s pushing a wheeled wire basket with a 5 gallon container of water from the store to her home. As she shuffled along, I contemplated Thracian people from fourth century BCE doing the same thing except they likely carried amphorae possibly with a yoke and without the benefit of the $10 manufactured custom shopping cart. 20,000 years before that people were still carrying their own water, but possibly without even the benefit of earthenware containers. Things in human history have changed very slowly for the most part, but as we continually sub-specialize further and further, we need to remember that we can’t give up one of the primary functions that makes us human: the ability to think deeply and analytically for ourselves.
I suspect that far too many people are too wrapped up in their own lives and problems to listen to more than the ten word answers our politicians are advertising to us. We need to remember to ask for the next ten words and the ten after that.
Otherwise there are two extreme possible outcomes:
We’re either at the beginning of what Mike Judge would term Idiocracy. 
Here, one is tempted to quote George Santayana’s famous line (from The Life of Reason, 1905), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” However, I far prefer the following as more apropos to our present national situation:
If Cliff Navarro comes back to run for president, I hope no one falls for his joke just because he wasn’t laughing as he acted it out. If his instructions for fixing the wagon (America) are any indication, the voters who are listening and making the repairs will be in severe pain.
s I watch the unfolding of the 2016 presidential election, I find myself wondering more and more where I can register to vote for the “scientific party?”
The electorate seems to want to focus primarily (only?) on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which our country was founded. Though I have no qualm with these principles, they seem to miss the firmer and primary base upon which the country was built at the dawn of the Age of Reason.
The more I read of Henry James Korn‘s work, the more I love both it and him. Nothing pleases or honors me more than to be part of the process of not only re-releasing several of his prior works, but to be part of the team releasing his debut novel. Toward that end, I’m happy to announce (on what I hope to be his best birthday yet) the availability to pre-order his forthcoming novel Amerikan Krazy on Amazon.com! If anyone loves it half as much as I do, it’s guaranteed to be a best seller.
I’ve helped him to edit and shape it for several months now and somehow never tire of reading his characters, his plot, or re-experiencing his never-ending wit or his truckloads of snark. Somehow, between the two of us, I think I’m always getting the better end of the deal in working on his book. Either way I’m proud to call him my friend.