Why PubClassroom?

Why Pub Classroom?

Dreaming in Translation

Academics harbor a lot of learning. But all that knowledge and insight often remains unused in the public. In an odd parallel with the old story about Las Vegas, what’s learned in colleges and universities often stays there. Part of the reason for this is that citizens outside academia are too busy with their own work to follow scholarly publications or attend college classes; and many don’t have the time or money for academic training, or even notice why anyone needs this kind of work.

But another reason for this disconnect of “town and gown” is that academics often speak with more intricacy and complexity than most people have patience for—and sometime analyze with more elaboration than is immediately necessary for the understanding how to steer through key issues and problems. Using academic learning for understanding direction would actually be helpful to the average person. True confessions: I live the professor type, ready to elaborate in detail; I thank my children for warning me about too much “complexifying.”

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The Many Stories of DAT

Attention becomes more important when there is more to pay attention to.  The information explosion of the modern world has put attention front and center as the gatekeeper of a flood of information, misinformation, and different interpretations about all those facts and claims.  Even the simple acronym, DAT, used on this page for Deficit Attention Tweets, points to oceans of input on many fronts. Continue reading

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Halloween 2016

Paul Croce, Halloween Night: Window to Fantasy.

Fantasy ruled the night.

I’m not referring to election night, but to MegaHalloween on Minnesota Avenue in DeLand.  I met about 1000 festive and creepy characters, and there must have been at least that many more on the street, making it a carnival.  From my random sampling, as the social scientists say, I got a hint of the taste for fantasy among the outfits with people who graced my front yard.  And fantasy-fueled imagination also meant a lot of characters crossing over into all kinds of combinations.

People dress in outfits from the world around them, like the 4 Doctors including 1 Dr. Decay (how does this one stay in practice?), 1 Tacky Tourist, 6 Football Players and 5 Cheerleaders (including 1 Gothic Cheerleader), 5 Police Officers (one was “Buff”) but only 4 Robbers (1 had his “gun ready” and another was also a Nun!), and 1 Overweight Gen Xer.  They tap long spans of history such as with Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, a Renaissance Woman, Bob Marley, 4 Native American Indians, including 1 Pocahontas, and 2 Flappers; and the natural world with 4 Butterflies, 3 Foxes, including 1 with a sword and 1 downright “Foxy Fox,” 2 Cheetahs, 1 Bunny, and of course 2 Spiders.

Most people let their imaginations range still further in all kinds of playful ways.  There was the Secret Agent (at first, he only said, “if I told you, I’d have to kill you,” but then his friend divulged his real identity), the Cereal Killer (with lots of cereal boxes, all bloodied), and next up was a real Smartie Pants (yup, with Smartie candies stuck to her pants).  I met one person still searching for identity, but with a blank label that said “insert name here,” and a self-professed Mime, but since he spoke his name, you gotta doubt his commitment to miming.  And in keeping with the fear-flecked tone of the night, one character was no ordinary painter; no, he was a Killer French Painter.  Then there was a Guy with a Mask, a Scary Guy with a Chain Saw, another who was not sure, but for sure he was “your worst nightmare,” and then, Just Me, “and I’m very scary.”

Lots of people tapped stories from folk traditions, including 10 Red Riding Hood, mostly Little but 1 was Big Red Riding Hood, plus 1 Minnie Mouse crossover, and one was her evil daughter.  There were also 2 Mermaids, including one who was a Superhero, 6 Ghosts, including 1 Pink with purple eye lashes, 1 from Ghostbusters, and Casper himself (very friendly), and 1 Rapunzel.  And of course, still more of the folk characters were dark and scary: 10 Reapers, all quite grim, 3 Draculas, 1 Mad Scientists, 1 Executioner, and 1 Forsaken Soul.  There was 1 Wolf in Grandmother’s clothes; apparently all those Little and Big Riding Hoods were too late, and I wonder … were Minnie or the evil daughter involved in some kind of secret hostage deal?

Still more people draw on the imagination factories of popular culture, some very cheerful such as Pippi Longstockings, Violet from Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory, and 4 Woodys from Toy Story; some were suited up for hope and adventure as with the 5 Dorothys from Wizard of Oz, 5 Harry Potters, Sophia I, the commoner queen, Elena of Avalor, the Hispanic princess, and the 8 Elsas, 3 Annas, and 1 Olaf, but these numbers show a big thaw from costumes from Frozen in previous years.  Star Wars still rules a big sector of the Halloween galaxy with 2 Luke Skywalkers, 1 Princess Leia, 3 Darth Vaders, 1 Imperial Officer, 3 Stormtroopers (including 1 Flametrooper), 3 Reys, 1 BB8, and 4 Kylo Rens.  And a lot more are just plain scary including 7 Scream characters from the horror movies and TV shows, including one Ghostface, 5 Jasons, 4 Chuckys, 3 Jesters, including 1 Creepy and 1 Evil, 2 Leatherfaces from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1 Zipperface, 1 Killer Wife, the mysterious assassin Winter Soldier from Captain America, and 2 Jokers, including one in colorful striped pants and bright white face paint walking briskly with a cane; when I asked, “Are you The Joker?”  Without Jack Nicholson’s crazed smile, he answered with an elusive seriousness, “Sort of….”  Part of the fear comes from keeping you guessing.

How should we deal with all this murderous nastiness?  You could rely on the 9 Soldiers, including 1 Officer, 1 Army Girl, 1 Zombie soldier, 1 Navy Seal, and one who was “supposed to be a soldier” but I guess he went AWOL.  Fantasy supplied lots more troops.  Enter the strong men like the 5 Iron Men and 2 Hulks, both incredible.  Lots of righteous superheroes looked ready to keep those bad guys in line, ranging from Batman and Robin, Superman and Supergirl, and Spiderman and Wonder Woman, to newer heroes like the Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and the P. J. Masks kids.  There is not full gender equality in the fantasy world, but women are elbowing their way in on both sides of the law.

Women actually dominate among the Disney characters.  Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, the crocodile, and Peter Pan himself appeared, along with 1 Aladdin, and 1 Tigger, but these guys were outnumbered by 3 Cinderellas, 2 Jasmins, 1 Ariel, 1 Belle from Beauty and the Beast, 1 Tinker Bell, 2 Joys and 1 Disgust from Inside Out, and 1 Snow White, but no Dwarfs.  And this just in: 2 Mickey Mouses, but 7 Minnie Mouses, along with 1 Minnie Mouse Mom, which may explain all those Minnies.

These temporarily adopted characters fuel our fantasies, giving expression to our deepest fears and loftiest hopes.  And a lot of the fantasies are intricate, with storylines that rival the workings of the so-called real world.  In fact, there may even be some overlap.  Having a tough day?  Isn’t it more appealing to enter imaginatively into another world than to keep dwelling on the day’s troubles—and besides, in that parallel world, you might even come up with some insights for dealing with all that weird real stuff.

And then there are ways that our current events begin to look like fantasy—as with the recent election.  324 million people, almost two years of campaigning, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, and the two major political parties produce candidates that most Americans did not even like; no wonder most people prefer Neverland or the Power Puff Girls who settle up fast, “saving the world before bedtime.”  By contrast, the politicians seem to go in circles, while describing the opposition in lurid terms worthy of comic book fantasies—with each candidate often living up (or down) to the charges.  Then, once in office, the words race way ahead of action.  Gridlock, while problems multiply.

On Minnesota Avenue, there were 12 characters from the movie series Purge with problems even darker than in our off-screen world: in this dystopian future, the US has instituted 12 hours every year when crime is legal—what a metaphor for the campaign season with its verbal mayhem.  In the latest movie, called Election Year no less, a woman Senator tries to stop this madness but gets trapped inside the Beltway just as the next 12-hour Purge begins—talk about dysfunctional Washington….

Alongside this popular political fantasy, there were no costumes of actual political figures, except for 1 George Washington, and he was sporting a bandana (perhaps an idea for a new $1 bill?).  Between the example of the righteous first president and the appeal of fantasy, maybe we can pick up some civic lessons.  The fantasies are fun, but there are also morals to the stories.  The best political take-away would be to listen to each other, even the person who has ideas that seem ghoulish, and before turning to trash talk, double check the evidence and try adopting policies for the good of the country rather than just your own party or class.  That’s part of the art of living together.  The ladybugs, Pokémons, and Buzz Lightyears—and even the ones who look like Mad Hatters or Freddy Kruegers—work it out for a few hours on Halloween.  Surely we can work together the rest of the year too, with all of us less-threatening characters.

And the whole world of our imaginations, on full display at Halloween, can be a resource.  Here are the leading characters that fueled the most imaginations on October 31st, the Top Ten of 2016:

34 Cats, including 6 Kittens (1 a Zombie and 1 from Hello Kitty), 1 Princess Cat, 1 from Josie and the Pussy Cats, 1 Dancing Cat, 1 Cheshire Cat, 1 Calico Cat, 1 Dead Cat with Granny, 1 Catboy, 2 Catwomen, 1 Cat Minnie Mouse, 1 House Cat, 2 unassuming felines who were Just a Cat, but one was Just a Black Cat; judgment call: without the popular culture crossovers, the actual felines would only get Third Place—but Cats still beat out the one and only Dog!

33 Ninjas, including one from Skull Wars, 1 Skull Commando Ninja, 1 Blue Ninja from the Lego movie, 1 Dragon Ninja, 1 Skeleton Ninja, 1 Vampire Ninja, 1 Blue Ninja, 2 Green Ninjas, 1 Red Dragon Ninja, and 1 Ninja Girl

30 Zombies, with Honorable Mention for the most Combo Characters, including 1 Seminole Zombie, 1 Army Man Zombie, 1 Bride Zombie, 1 Prom Zombie, 1 Kitty, 1 Monkey Zombie, 1 Apocalypse Zombie, 1 Basketball Player Zombie, 4 Football Player Zombies (including 2 DeLand Bulldogs), 3 Cheerleader Zombies (including 2 Twins), 1 Walking Dead Zombie, and 1 Doctor Zombie

21 Batmans, including one with vampire teeth, but if you go across gender and generation lines, with 8 Batgirls, 1 Batboy, and 1 Batgirl, you get 31 Batpeople

21 Princesses, including a Candy Princess, Tiger Princess, Princess Selene from the Underworld action horror movies, and Princess Leia from Star Wars

20 Vampires, including one proudly displaying Vampire teeth and another from the Underworld movies

20 Pirates, including 1 Pink, 1 Pirate Homecoming Girl, and 3 from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, along with Jake and Izzy

18 Witches, including 1 Witch in training, 1 Mixed-Up Witch (who was keen to ask, “so which witch is that?”), 1 from the novel and movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” 2 movie Witches from Bolt and Hocus Pocus, and 1 switching between Witch and Minnie Mouse (does Mickey suspect—or is he really a Wizard?)

18 Skeletons, including 1 Pirate Skeleton, 1 Ninja Skeleton, 1 Half Human, 1 Pink Skeleton, 1 Bride Skeleton, 1 Ballerina Skeleton, and 1 with no mask

10 Supermen, and with 5 Supergirls, you get 15 Superpeople

The fuel of our imagination might take us far for dealing with our serious problems: how are we going to maintain a steady stream of jobs without crippling the environment; how are we going to get past prejudice to get along with each other across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, and region; and how should Americans respond to global grievances and brutal terrorism?  Those are tough tasks; let’s start with a few steps.

I am reminded of the family I ran into earlier in the day before the night of Trick or Treating.  The little boy, confident in his blue cape, caught my eye.  I asked his mother about him.  “He’s going to be Gekko tonight,” she said; on P. J. Masks, the kids become their fantasies at night to fight for right.  Then she added with a plain flip of her hand, “but right now, he’s just a superhero.”  There is no point in waiting for Gekko, Superman, or Wonder Woman—or any politician, elected or unelected.  No one person can save the world, but each plays a part.  We’ve got to be our own superheroes.

-Special thanks to Chris Finkle and Peter Croce who joined me in talking with the costumed wonders, and to Mary Bernard, Maria Frank, Mari Hanley, and Brett Whitmore who helped to organize the information and who filled me in on some of the finer points of contemporary youth culture—thanks for coolifying me!

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2-2016 Election Quake II: Five Lessons from Recent History

This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post, November 21, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/2016-election-quake-ii-fi_b_13126268.html

The Trump Phenom and Republican sweep have roots that go even deeper than the inaccurate polls.  The recent past tells the story of the rising strength of sentiments that would lead to this election quake. 

An air of shock and awe still hovers around the election results.  Donald J. Trump declared war on the federal government, on big business, on military and foreign policy leaders, on words that work in campaigning, even on his fellow Republicans, and of course on Democrats.  Few expected these results, from respected polling professionals to Republicans themselves—even as that party benefitted in Congress and state houses.  Recent history shows that these surprises have been building for years.

1-Slim Republican Majorities: Until the late twentieth century, most presidential candidates ran their campaigns toward the political center.  By contrast, Trump was not shy about appealing strongly only to one half of a polarized electorate.  The Republicans had already honed this strategy in the 1990s, as a response to Democrat Bill Clinton’s effective move to the center; they portrayed him as a radical leftist and grown-up hippie by reminding voters of his anti-war stance and marijuana use in the 1960s.  His defense that he did smoke pot, but “didn’t inhale,” only reinforced conservative feelings that liberals were weak and possibly un-American.  Republican strategist Karl Rove made plans for gaining 50% +1 of the vote.  It worked for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but Republicans veered away from this approach in the next two presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney, as Barack Obama won the White House by appealing not just to Democrats, but also to centrists willing to support his reasonable, thoughtful style.  Trump has broken with many mainstream Republicans on issues and in style, but in strategy, he has turned back to Rove’s hope for (slim) Republican majorities.  And despite the surprise of her defeat in the only election results with legal impact (in the Electoral College), Clinton won the popular vote nationwide.  So with a polarized electoral, and with slim majorities in strategic states, Trump did not even need 50% plus one voter, but only about 47% of the electorate with over a million fewer votes than for Clinton.  Trump’s impact may be “huge,” but his electoral win was not.

2-The Power of Diversity Deferred: The 2016 election offers a reminder of 1968, not just for the divisions in a polarized electorate, but also for the approach of the Republican candidate.  In 1968 and 1972, Richard Nixon, like Trump, also promised to save the nation from “too much turmoil”; political analysts Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg bluntly advised that he tailor his message to those who voted most, “the unyoung, the unpoor, the unblack.”  The Nixon White House worked this strategic way of appealing to mainstream white voters into their Southern Strategy, which has supplied a highly successful playbook for Republicans ever since.  Recently, Democrats have held promises of success through reliance on the nation’s increasing cultural diversity to counter the large white majorities for the Republicans.  But this election shows that while the white majority may be declining, it will not go quietly into minority status.  As already forecast by tabloid newspapers and the popularity of country music, the white working class ain’t dead yet.  Stay tuned: this election may be one of the last hurrahs of this white-centric politics articulated by Nixon’s advisors and unspoken for years before that; another indication of this is that those over 45 years of age voted for Trump in large numbers, while young voters gave him little support.

3-Down with Government!  (Because Its Programs Have a Weak Brand): Trump joins a long line of Republicans who have presented liberalism itself as part of the establishment.  Despite all the work of Democrats over the last century for economic uplift in support of workers’ rights, for racial and social justice especially with the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements, and for environmental protection through regulation of polluters.  Republicans present the argument, persuasive for about half the population, that reliance on big government, with its taxes and mandates, makes liberals the true elitists.  In focusing on government intrusiveness into free choice, this narrative pays little attention to the importance of achieving these public goods and overlooks the top-down power of corporations in shaping people’s choices.  The Trump campaign even blamed government regulations for the oppressive power of job-destroying global corporations.  Businesses operate for private profit with much advertising shaping public reputation; government programs operate for public interest with virtually no advertising.  In a time when media attention shapes perceptions, it is no wonder that Republicans up to and including Trump can critique government shortcomings with almost no counter-narrative.  Government programs from the Head Start that underprivileged children receive to the administration of protections for our intake of food and drugs are unilaterally disarmed in the media landscape, with no advertising for their contributions to the public (and economic) welfare.

4-The System Was Rigged!—in Trump’s Favor: The plurality win of Donald Trump was a product of our federal structure, as a nation of states.  James Madison, who was a leading architect of the Constitution before himself serving as President, hoped that the “extended republic” of multiple states, made up of people aligning with diverse “factions” or interests often concentrated in states or regions, would require candidates to appeal to a wide range of those different factions.  Clinton was not able to do this despite her high numbers overall.  So the structure of the system actually “worked” in this part of its design.  She was very attractive to liberals, city residents, African Americans, Hispanics, and young people overall, but decidedly unappealing to many in the white working class, especially in the South, West, and in rust-bowl states, and to many independents and to ideologically ambidextrous populists who associated her with business as usual.  There may be unsavory reasons, along with media hype, for her lack of appeal, including prejudice against women in high office, the unleashing of outright antagonism toward minorities, and exaggerated emphasis on her email issues.  If Madison could be present to comment on these results, he would likely use his own words when he insisted that the Constitution should operate without relying on “angels … govern[ing] men,” words that he might like to deliver in sly commentary on the election result.

5-Tightening the Circle of Americanness: For all of Trump’s defiance of the establishment, including in his own party, on Election Day, he gained support from the same groups that have supported Republicans historically.  In the nineteenth century, when the GOP (the Grand Old Party) was still new, it brought together people who had been identifying with the super-patriots of the American Party; they put a tight circle around what counted as American identity, which included exclusion of immigrants and Catholics.  By contrast, Democrats appealed to those very cultural outsiders, in broad coalitions with Southern whites who objected to the mainstream directions shaped by urban, culturally liberal Northern life.  The personnel have changed—most dramatically in the South, with Republicans gaining large majorities among whites—but Democrats still appeal to cultural outsiders, especially non-whites, and those who defy conventional norms of gender and sexuality.  And Republicans still appeal to those who want to draw the insider circle more tightly.  Trump appealed to that same constituency, but with more of them actually voting, since his anti-establishment stance appealed to many who had for years avoided the electoral system completely.  First-time and previously infrequent voters cast their ballots for Trump in large numbers.  Their disillusionment with the system was part of his campaign appeal.

The late New York Governor Mario Cuomo offered an elegant commentary on our raucous politics: we “campaign in poetry,” but we need to “govern in prose.”  This campaign brought more opera than poetry with its melodramatic comments, fierce accusations, and one of the sharpest polarizations of the electorate in US history.  These will make governing difficult.  Republicans are now in the driver’s seat.  Can they find effective prose and still more effective policies to heal the nation’s electoral wounds and solve problems without making them worse?  That is their task for the next few years, and the nation’s hope.  And the unRepublicans had better learn the populist lessons of this Election Quake.

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1-2016 Election Quake I: Five Expected Surprises in Cultural Trends and the Media

This essay first appeared in the Huffington Post, November 22, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-j-croce/2016-election-quake-i-fiv_b_13144442.html

Huh?—a year and half of campaigning, two leading candidates with the highest disapproval ratings in American history, a Republican Tsunami—how’d that happen?  Get ready, America, for four years of Donald J. Trump’s reverse smile. 

Few anticipated the results.  Even Republicans and Trump himself seemed surprised on election night.  Although commentators have been wringing their hands for not anticipating the way voters actually voted, observers from major media stars to people at diners and around water coolers were already calling the campaign unprecedented.  And yet, contemporary history and the current state of the media provide clues about how we have arrived at this surprising election.

1-Class Matters: The election signals the resurgence of class after a half century eclipse when race and gender attracted more attention, especially in the Democratic Party, but also among many Republicans who have been trying to play catch up since the Rights Revolutions of the 1960s.  Republicans have often seemed reluctant or hesitant about cultural identity politics while they have put more emphasis on a class politics of their own in support of the already wealthy and the enterprising.  Democrats largely did not challenge this trend, even as they added more protections for those vulnerable to marketplace dynamics.  The result has been a broad consensus for a Republican-initiated economic structure with strong globalized businesses and government programs on the defensive.  In the 2016 campaign, the most powerful and energizing voices were from a Republican and a Democrat who challenged this structure: Trump and Bernie Sanders became the voices of working-class politics expressed with liberal and conservative accents.  Politics does not have to involve either-or choices, but it often does: can the focus on class surge without slipping into prejudices on race and gender?  And will the Republicans in Trump’s White House pay at much attention to the working class as he did on the campaign trail?

2-Human Motivation Trumps Organization: A conventional wisdom has grown around the business of campaigning about the power of money and the effectiveness of organization.  This assumption has been at the heart of liberal worries about the impact of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited campaign contributions.  Politics has been in step with marketplace thinking that already pervades so many parts of life.  By this logic, with the right branding, even a candidate with “high negatives” could be marketed effectively.  Hillary Clinton excited quite a few people, especially for her range of experience, her message of inclusion, and her potential to be the first woman president, but she also generated a lot of doubts especially for representing an Inside the Beltway leadership establishment.  Her campaign had the best organization in the presidential campaign, with about twice as much money and a much better “ground game” than the Trump people, but even marketing cannot erase a negative reputation.  FBI Director James Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress refocusing public attention on Hillary Clinton’s emails were most hurtful to her campaign because they reinforced an already common reputation.  Well before this October Surprise, motivation trumped organization.  For good or ill, Trump’s supporters were fired up in defiance of the establishment, despite the irony of his vast wealth.  His campaign became a movement triumphing over the mechanics of campaigning.

3-Boldness is Trump’s Brand: A bold, even brash self-presentation has been particularly important in the business world, at least since the age of Dale Carnegie, if not going back to the nineteenth-century, when the “confidence man” inspired fear and grudging respect for confident presentations that would also instill confidence in the content presented.  In business, especially in sales, looking successful has been a major step toward being successful.  In politics, confidence looks like honesty—and sometimes it is, but a strutting posture doesn’t need that virtue to play the role.  A big part of Trump’s appeal, especially for working-class voters who have felt jilted by elites, is that he presents a picture of righteous indignation, from his sharp words to his scowling demeanor.  He breaks with a decades-long trend of upbeat, smiling politicians; his trademark reverse smile screams righteous indignation.  His scowling bluntness presented the appearance of telling it like it is, even when fact-checking of his comments and their policy implications told a different story.  His brash promise to build a wall was of a piece with his demeanor; now as President-Elect, he is already dialing back the actual policies.  He campaigned as the tribune of the angry, and he looked the part.  This helps explain how he could say conventionally (and morally) outrageous things and not get hurt with a large swathe of the electorate.  For many of his supporters, these comments—and that look—showed them that he was willing to stick it to the establishment.

4-Media Attention Matters: Trump often did not have to campaign.  While many journalists likely favored Clinton or at least could not conceive of a Trump victory, Democrats have posed reasonable criticism of the media for granting Trump (free) news coverage of his shocking comments.  A food chain emerged: shocking comment gains media attention; attention leads to discussion for and against, which brings shocking comment into plausibility as a point worthy of consideration; shocking point gets subsumed into a broader discussion with the initial shock serving as a symbol of a bold position, which is attractive for its boldness with one sector of the population; this divides the electorate over the broader symbolic traits of the issue while the plausibility of the position as policy gets forgotten.  Shock sells because in a cluttered information environment, surprising facts and stories get the most attention.  This way of conveying information reduces the chances for democratic deliberation, but the scramble for public attention and with that bigger shares of the market has been the direction of media exchanges for the last few years.  The only surprise is that it has taken so long for a politician to use this approach so effectively.  Politics going forward?  It’s going to bring some wild rides; keep your eye on what generates the most attention.

5-Pollsters Call, But Who Answers?: Election watchers from polling and media organizations almost universally got this election wrong.  After the third debate, the press portrayed Trump’s campaign to be in such a “death spiral” that Saturday Night Live ran a sketch portraying Clinton confidently asking for the “election right now”; the New York Times, right through the evening of Election Day, predicted a 90% chance of a Clinton victory.  Reporters are now confessing to simply missing the story, such as Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist for the Washington Post, who admits that “although the [Trump] voters shouted and screamed, most journalists just weren’t listening.”  Scott Trende of Real Clear Politics insists on the role of “margins of error” to defend his polling profession, but also admits to “sampling errors” in not surveying enough white working-class voters.  One cartoonist simply displayed the “O” in the word “POLLS” as a sink with the other letters slipping down the drain.  Polling issues may stretch beyond problems of sampling into an ideological challenge.  The populist upsurge that Trump (and Sanders) tapped has included a suspicion of intellectual professionals.  They perceive that many in this class operate at the behest of power brokers in business or government and with theories they cannot understand, but that may be operating in ways that undercut their interests.  The alternative pools of half-truths quite properly make intellectuals bristle; meanwhile, many who are not college educated harbor deep suspicions, especially when the information counters their common sense.  This polarization at the fountains of knowledge shows up for example in the difference between economists who have declared the recent recession technically over and workers who experience continued displacement.  These intellectual and class differences enter into the scene when a worker considers answering a poll with all its formal language; that person might very well just say … Fuggedaboutit!

Our media-soaked politics makes democratic deliberation difficult but more important than ever.  The many outrageous comments or downright false reports during this campaign show not only the ignorance of those persuaded by them (and the media’s complicity); but in addition, they also reveal the power of likely stories, broader realities unaddressed in mainstream coverage.  So in this climate, it will be important not only to track the facts, but also to remain sensitive to the wide range of human experiences that sometimes make the distorted facts seem plausible.  This does not make them right, but it does show the importance of paying attention to difference, even when ideologically unpalatable.  This will help us to keep in tune with each other—even with people who hold dramatically different position—and with the nation’s problems that sorely need addressing.

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What's DAT?

Attention, Our Effective Intelligence

Everyone has their own particular brain capacity.  From an early age, we are good at some things rather than others, and attracted to particular fields.  Do you like detail work or big pictures?  Are you good with numbers or with words?  You probably had a favorite subject in school; and if you are lucky, when a first job did not suit you, you found one that did—one that well suited your native capacities.  Psychologists measure our brain capacities with numbers, our IQ or intelligence quotient, which puts a big emphasis on logical reasoning abilities.  But our full capacities are a whole congress of talents for figuring things out, from mathematical puzzles and chess moves to basketball plays and social interaction.  In the whole theater of life, some steps are smarter than others.

Education is the widely recognized setting for upping our intelligence game, with more knowledge and more skills; classrooms are important for learning all kinds of things from better writing to the subtleties of mitosis or financial accounting.  Education is a great social step for sharpening our native intellectual capacities.  But there is another personal step that anyone can take without spending a dime on tuition.  Pay attention.  Yes, paying attention is like pressing the power button on our brains.  Imagine a powerful computer that’s turned off; now imagine a powerful brain with great capacities but no attention: powered off.  Attention is effective intelligence.  No matter your native endowments, add the sharp focus of attention to any project large or small, with interests fired up and mind drilling down on every implication and detail, and you’ve got intelligence to the max.  Find what captures your attention, and you’ll find yourself capturing more of the world.

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What's DAT?

What’s DAT?—Introducing Deficit Attention Tweets

This is a page for brief comments on the changing role of attention in American culture.  See my essay “Contesting the Human Normal,” https://pubclassroom.com/2016/02/12/adhd-contesting-the-human-normal/, for more on the emergence of the Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis, revised in the psychiatric profession as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in 1987, and for an overview of debates about how to deal with these tendencies to distraction.

What’s DAT offers short accounts of what Americans have been paying attention to and what is being ignored.  Does attention follow love or hate, the important or the exciting?  Have our capacities for attention changed as our lives have changed in speed of travel and communication, where we live, how we work, and how we play?  Does attention support our thoughts or our feelings?  Can others control your attention, or are you in charge?  What other parts of life attract or distract for this vital gatekeeper of the human mind?

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