Author Archives: Father William

The CTAL Newsletter – February 2017, Part 1








   “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.” -Carl Sagan. 1995, The Demon-Haunted World. Science as a Candle In the Dark

“The highest level cause of a problem is called the root cause: “The root cause is “the evil at the bottom” that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect chain causing the problem(s).”




February Greetings, Dear Friends… Let me begin by apologizing to my international friends for the behavior of my country’s new President He should never have happened. But he has. Let me continue by emphasizing this week’s newsletter is not just about what’s happening in the US, but about what is and has been occurring in the world for some time. Our world, and its elections, are now being shaped by technologies of persuasion we have not seen before. The article I’m offering this week is a long read and very scary — but it will give you insights into the “root causes” of Brexit and The 2016 US elections. It will also show you where the same “Big Data” technologies have been and are being used to manipulate political events in Ukraine, Nigeria, Nepal, Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. Truly we are in the ”Brave New World” that Aldous Huxley warned us about in 1932. It has been cheering for me to witness the building resistance to the new forms of oligarchic fascism “Big Data” is helping happen, but resistance is hard work. If we who care about human decency do not understand where the “root causes” lie, we will squander our engeries on the problem’s symptoms and first-level causes. I’m using the language of the Total Quality Movement in business and industry because I know many of you have been trained in Total Quality Control (TQC), Six Sigma or ISO 9000. I was fortuate enough to be sent through TQC training in the early 80’s by my client, Corning Glass. That experience helped learn about how MacArthur used Edward Deming’s philosophy to rebuild Japan’s economy after WWII. It worked so well that US manufacturing lost its competitive edge to many Japanese industries for some years. It’s time to look at how we conservatives, liberals, libertarians and middle-of-the-roaders have lost our political competitive edge to the Alt-right “white supremacists and white nationalists”, and our Total Quality Tools will do that. “Root Cause Analysis” (RCA) is one. The following article will show you some “root causes” of our recent political disasters, how they’ve been applied and why they work. Sorry for such a heavy start to February, but it’s a heavy time. If you have thoughts to share, please send them along to Much love, FW PS: The first link in #3 this week will blow your mind with technology’s capability to create “alternative facts” — and you’ll enjoy showing it to your kids… =====================================================



Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory? Two reporters from Zurich-based Das Magazin went data-gathering.​ An earlier version of this story appeared in Das Magazin in December. On November 9 at around 8.30 AM., Michal Kosinski woke up in the Hotel Sunnehus in Zurich. The 34-year-old researcher had come to give a lecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) about the dangers of Big Data and the digital revolution. Kosinski gives regular lectures on this topic all over the world. He is a leading expert in psychometrics, a data-driven sub-branch of psychology. When he turned on the TV that morning, he saw that the bombshell had exploded: contrary to forecasts by all leading statisticians, Donald J. Trump had been elected president of the United States. For a long time, Kosinski watched the Trump victory celebrations and the results coming in from each state. He had a hunch that the outcome of the election might have something to do with his research. Finally, he took a deep breath and turned off the TV. On the same day, a then little-known British company based in London sent out a press release: “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communication has played such an integral part in President-elect Trump’s extraordinary win,” Alexander James Ashburner Nix was quoted as saying. Nix is British, 41 years old, and CEO of Cambridge Analytica. He is always immaculately turned out in tailor-made suits and designer glasses, with his wavy blonde hair combed back from his forehead. His company wasn’t just integral to Trump’s online campaign, but to the UK’s Brexit campaign as well. Of these three players—reflective Kosinski, carefully groomed Nix and grinning Trump—one of them enabled the digital revolution, one of them executed it and one of them benefited from it. How dangerous is big data? Anyone who has not spent the last five years living on another planet will be familiar with the term Big Data. Big Data means, in essence, that everything we do, both on and offline, leaves digital traces. Every purchase we make with our cards, every search we type into Google, every movement we make when our mobile phone is in our pocket, every “like” is stored. Especially every “like.” For a long time, it was not entirely clear what use this data could have—except, perhaps, that we might find ads for high blood pressure remedies just after we’ve Googled “reduce blood pressure.” On November 9, it became clear that maybe much more is possible. The company behind Trump’s online campaign—the same company that had worked for Leave.EU in the very early stages of its “Brexit” campaign—was a Big Data company: Cambridge Analytica. To understand the outcome of the election—and how political communication might work in the future—we need to begin with a strange incident at Cambridge University in 2014, at Kosinski’s Psychometrics Center. Psychometrics, sometimes also called psychographics, focuses on measuring psychological traits, such as personality. In the 1980s, two teams of psychologists developed a model that sought to assess human beings based on five personality traits, known as the “Big Five.” These are: openness (how open you are to new experiences?), conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?), extroversion (how sociable are you?), agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative you are?) and neuroticism (are you easily upset?). Based on these dimensions—they are also known as OCEAN, an acronym for openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism—we can make a relatively accurate assessment of the kind of person in front of us. This includes their needs and fears, and how they are likely to behave. The “Big Five” has become the standard technique of psychometrics. But for a long time, the problem with this approach was data collection, because it involved filling out a complicated, highly personal questionnaire. Then came the Internet. And Facebook. And Kosinski. Michal Kosinski was a student in Warsaw when his life took a new direction in 2008. He was accepted by Cambridge University to do his PhD at the Psychometrics Centre, one of the oldest institutions of this kind worldwide. Kosinski joined fellow student David Stillwell (now a lecturer at Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge) about a year after Stillwell had launched a little Facebook application in the days when the platform had not yet become the behemoth it is today. Their MyPersonality app enabled users to fill out different psychometric questionnaires, including a handful of psychological questions from the Big Five personality questionnaire (“I panic easily,” “I contradict others”). Based on the evaluation, users received a “personality profile”—individual Big Five values—and could opt-in to share their Facebook profile data with the researchers. Kosinski had expected a few dozen college friends to fill in the questionnaire, but before long, hundreds, thousands, then millions of people had revealed their innermost convictions. Suddenly, the two doctoral candidates owned the largest dataset combining psychometric scores with Facebook profiles ever to be collected. The approach that Kosinski and his colleagues developed over the next few years was actually quite simple. First, they provided test subjects with a questionnaire in the form of an online quiz. From their responses, the psychologists calculated the personal Big Five values of respondents. Kosinski’s team then compared the results with all sorts of other online data from the subjects: what they “liked,” shared or posted on Facebook, or what gender, age, place of residence they specified, for example. This enabled the researchers to connect the dots and make correlations. Remarkably reliable deductions could be drawn from simple online actions. For example, men who “liked” the cosmetics brand MAC were slightly more likely to be gay; one of the best indicators for heterosexuality was “liking” Wu-Tang Clan. Followers of Lady Gaga were most probably extroverts, while those who “liked” philosophy tended to be introverts. While each piece of such information is too weak to produce a reliable prediction, when tens, hundreds, or thousands of individual data points are combined, the resulting predictions become really accurate. Kosinski and his team tirelessly refined their models. In 2012, Kosinski proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced. The strength of their modeling was illustrated by how well it could predict a subject’s answers. Kosinski continued to work on the models incessantly: before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves. On the day that Kosinski published these findings, he received two phone calls. The threat of a lawsuit and a job offer. Both from Facebook.

Michal Kosinski. Courtesy of Kosinski

Only weeks later Facebook “likes” became private by default. Before that, the default setting was that anyone on the internet could see your “likes.” But this was no obstacle to data collectors: while Kosinski always asked for the consent of Facebook users, many apps and online quizzes today require access to private data as a precondition for taking personality tests. (Anybody who wants to evaluate themselves based on their Facebook “likes” can do so on Kosinski’s website, and then compare their results to those of a classic Ocean questionnaire, like that of the Cambridge Psychometrics Center.) But it was not just about “likes” or even Facebook: Kosinski and his team could now ascribe Big Five values based purely on how many profile pictures a person has on Facebook, or how many contacts they have (a good indicator of extraversion). But we also reveal something about ourselves even when we’re not online. For example, the motion sensor on our phone reveals how quickly we move and how far we travel (this correlates with emotional instability). Our smartphone, Kosinski concluded, is a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously. Above all, however—and this is key—it also works in reverse: not only can psychological profiles be created from your data, but your data can also be used the other way round to search for specific profiles: all anxious fathers, all angry introverts, for example—or maybe even all undecided Democrats? Essentially, what Kosinski had invented was sort of a people search engine. He started to recognize the potential—but also the inherent danger—of his work. To him, the internet had always seemed like a gift from heaven. What he really wanted was to give something back, to share. Data can be copied, so why shouldn’t everyone benefit from it? It was the spirit of a whole generation, the beginning of a new era that transcended the limitations of the physical world. But what would happen, wondered Kosinski, if someone abused his people search engine to manipulate people? He began to add warnings to most of his scientific work. His approach, he warned, “could pose a threat to an individual’s well-being, freedom, or even life.” But no one seemed to grasp what he meant. Around this time, in early 2014, Kosinski was approached by a young assistant professor in the psychology department called Aleksandr Kogan. He said he was inquiring on behalf of a company that was interested in Kosinski’s method, and wanted to access the MyPersonality database. Kogan wasn’t at liberty to reveal for what purpose; he was bound to secrecy. At first, Kosinski and his team considered this offer, as it would mean a great deal of money for the institute, but then he hesitated. Finally, Kosinski remembers, Kogan revealed the name of the company: SCL, or Strategic Communication Laboratories. Kosinski Googled the company: “[We are] the premier election management agency,” says the company’s website. SCL provides marketing based on psychological modeling. One of its core focuses: Influencing elections. Influencing elections? Perturbed, Kosinski clicked through the pages. What kind of company was this? And what were these people planning? What Kosinski did not know at the time: SCL is the parent of a group of companies. Who exactly owns SCL and its diverse branches is unclear, thanks to a convoluted corporate structure, the type seen in the UK Companies House, the Panama Papers, and the Delaware company registry. Some of the SCL offshoots have been involved in elections from Ukraine to Nigeria, helped the Nepalese monarch against the rebels, whereas others have developed methods to influence Eastern European and Afghan citizens for NATO. And, in 2013, SCL spun off a new company to participate in US elections: Cambridge Analytica. Kosinski knew nothing about all this, but he had a bad feeling. “The whole thing started to stink,” he recalls. On further investigation, he discovered that Aleksandr Kogan had secretly registered a company doing business with SCL. According to a December 2015 report in The Guardian and to internal company documents given to Das Magazin, it emerges that SCL learned about Kosinski’s method from Kogan. Kosinski came to suspect that Kogan’s company might have reproduced the Facebook “Likes”-based Big Five measurement tool in order to sell it to this election-influencing firm. He immediately broke off contact with Kogan and informed the director of the institute, sparking a complicated conflict within the university. The institute was worried about its reputation. Aleksandr Kogan then moved to Singapore, married, and changed his name to Dr. Spectre. Michal Kosinski finished his PhD, got a job offer from Stanford and moved to the US. Mr. Brexit All was quiet for about a year. Then, in November 2015, the more radical of the two Brexit campaigns, “Leave.EU,” supported by Nigel Farage, announced that it had commissioned a Big Data company to support its online campaign: Cambridge Analytica. The company’s core strength: innovative political marketing—microtargeting—by measuring people’s personality from their digital footprints, based on the OCEAN model. Now Kosinski received emails asking what he had to do with it—the words Cambridge, personality, and analytics immediately made many people think of Kosinski. It was the first time he had heard of the company, which borrowed its name, it said, from its first employees, researchers from the university. Horrified, he looked at the website. Was his methodology being used on a grand scale for political purposes? After the Brexit result, friends and acquaintances wrote to him: Just look at what you’ve done. Everywhere he went, Kosinski had to explain that he had nothing to do with this company. (It remains unclear how deeply Cambridge Analytica was involved in the Brexit campaign. Cambridge Analytica would not discuss such questions.) For a few months, things are relatively quiet. Then, on September 19, 2016, just over a month before the US elections, the guitar riffs of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” fill the dark-blue hall of New York’s Grand Hyatt hotel. The Concordia Summit is a kind of World Economic Forum in miniature. Decision-makers from all over the world have been invited, among them Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann. “Please welcome to the stage Alexander Nix, chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica,” a smooth female voice announces. A slim man in a dark suit walks onto the stage. A hush falls. Many in attendance know that this is Trump’s new digital strategy man. (A video of the presentation was posted on YouTube.) A few weeks earlier, Trump had tweeted, somewhat cryptically, “Soon you’ll be calling me Mr. Brexit.” Political observers had indeed noticed some striking similarities between Trump’s agenda and that of the right-wing Brexit movement. But few had noticed the connection with Trump’s recent hiring of a marketing company named Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix. Image: Cambridge Analytica.

Up to this point, Trump’s digital campaign had consisted of more or less one person: Brad Parscale, a marketing entrepreneur and failed start-up founder who created a rudimentary website for Trump for $1,500. The 70-year-old Trump is not digitally savvy—there isn’t even a computer on his office desk. Trump doesn’t do emails, his personal assistant once revealed. She herself talked him into having a smartphone, from which he now tweets incessantly. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, relied heavily on the legacy of the first “social-media president,” Barack Obama. She had the address lists of the Democratic Party, worked with cutting-edge big data analysts from BlueLabs and received support from Google and DreamWorks. When it was announced in June 2016 that Trump had hired Cambridge Analytica, the establishment in Washington just turned up their noses. Foreign dudes in tailor-made suits who don’t understand the country and its people? Seriously? “It is my privilege to speak to you today about the power of Big Data and psychographics in the electoral process.” The logo of Cambridge Analytica— a brain composed of network nodes, like a map, appears behind Alexander Nix. “Only 18 months ago, Senator Cruz was one of the less popular candidates,” explains the blonde man in a cut-glass British accent, which puts Americans on edge the same way that a standard German accent can unsettle Swiss people. “Less than 40 percent of the population had heard of him,” another slide says. Cambridge Analytica had become involved in the US election campaign almost two years earlier, initially as a consultant for Republicans Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Cruz—and later Trump—was funded primarily by the secretive US software billionaire Robert Mercer who, along with his daughter Rebekah, is reported to be the largest investor in Cambridge Analytica. “So how did he do this?” Up to now, explains Nix, election campaigns have been organized based on demographic concepts. “A really ridiculous idea. The idea that all women should receive the same message because of their gender—or all African Americans because of their race.” What Nix meant is that while other campaigners so far have relied on demographics, Cambridge Analytica was using psychometrics. Though this might be true, Cambridge Analytica’s role within Cruz’s campaign isn’t undisputed. In December 2015 the Cruz team credited their rising success to psychological use of data and analytics. In Advertising Age, a political client said the embedded Cambridge staff was “like an extra wheel,” but found their core product, Cambridge’s voter data modeling, still “excellent.” The campaign would pay the company at least $5.8 million to help identify voters in the Iowa caucuses, which Cruz won, before dropping out of the race in May. Nix clicks to the next slide: five different faces, each face corresponding to a personality profile. It is the Big Five or OCEAN Model. “At Cambridge,” he said, “we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.” The hall is captivated. According to Nix, the success of Cambridge Analytica’s marketing is based on a combination of three elements: behavioral science using the OCEAN Model, Big Data analysis, and ad targeting. Ad targeting is personalized advertising, aligned as accurately as possible to the personality of an individual consumer. Nix candidly explains how his company does this. First, Cambridge Analytica buys personal data from a range of different sources, like land registries, automotive data, shopping data, bonus cards, club memberships, what magazines you read, what churches you attend. Nix displays the logos of globally active data brokers like Acxiom and Experian—in the US, almost all personal data is for sale. For example, if you want to know where Jewish women live, you can simply buy this information, phone numbers included. Now Cambridge Analytica aggregates this data with the electoral rolls of the Republican party and online data and calculates a Big Five personality profile. Digital footprints suddenly become real people with fears, needs, interests, and residential addresses. The methodology looks quite similar to the one that Michal Kosinski once developed. Cambridge Analytica also uses, Nix told us, “surveys on social media” and Facebook data. And the company does exactly what Kosinski warned of: “We have profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America—220 million people,” Nix boasts. He opens the screenshot. “This is a data dashboard that we prepared for the Cruz campaign.” A digital control center appears. On the left are diagrams; on the right, a map of Iowa, where Cruz won a surprisingly large number of votes in the primary. And on the map, there are hundreds of thousands of small red and blue dots. Nix narrows down the criteria: “Republicans”—the blue dots disappear; “not yet convinced”—more dots disappear; “male”, and so on. Finally, only one name remains, including age, address, interests, personality and political inclination. How does Cambridge Analytica now target this person with an appropriate political message?

Alexander Nix at the 2016 Concordia Summit. Image: Concordia Summit

Nix shows how psychographically categorized voters can be differently addressed, based on the example of gun rights, the 2nd Amendment: “For a highly neurotic and conscientious audience the threat of a burglary—and the insurance policy of a gun.” An image on the left shows the hand of an intruder smashing a window. The right side shows a man and a child standing in a field at sunset, both holding guns, clearly shooting ducks: “Conversely, for a closed and agreeable audience. People who care about tradition, and habits, and family.” How to keep Clinton voters away from the ballot box Trump’s striking inconsistencies, his much-criticized fickleness, and the resulting array of contradictory messages, suddenly turned out to be his great asset: a different message for every voter. The notion that Trump acted like a perfectly opportunistic algorithm following audience reactions is something the mathematician Cathy O’Neil observed in August 2016. These “dark posts”—sponsored Facebook posts that can only be seen by users with specific profiles—included videos aimed at African-Americans in which Hillary Clinton refers to black men as predators, for example. “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven,” Alexander Nix remembers. On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump’s team tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, in order to find the right versions above all via Facebook. The messages differed for the most part only in microscopic details, in order to target the recipients in the optimal psychological way: different headings, colors, captions, with a photo or video. This fine-tuning reaches all the way down to the smallest groups, Nix explained in an interview with us. “We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals.” In the Miami district of Little Haiti, for instance, Trump’s campaign provided inhabitants with news about the failure of the Clinton Foundation following the earthquake in Haiti, in order to keep them from voting for Hillary Clinton. This was one of the goals: to keep potential Clinton voters (which include wavering left-wingers, African-Americans, and young women) away from the ballot box, to “suppress” their vote, as one senior campaign official told Bloomberg in the weeks before the election. These “dark posts”—sponsored news-feed-style ads in Facebook timelines that can only be seen by users with specific profiles—included videos aimed at African-Americans in which Hillary Clinton refers to black men as predators, for example. Nix finishes his lecture at the Concordia Summit by stating that traditional blanket advertising is dead. “My children will certainly never, ever understand this concept of mass communication.” And before leaving the stage, he announced that since Cruz had left the race, the company was helping one of the remaining presidential candidates. Just how precisely the American population was being targeted by Trump’s digital troops at that moment was not visible, because they attacked less on mainstream TV and more with personalized messages on social media or digital TV. And while the Clinton team thought it was in the lead, based on demographic projections, Bloomberg journalist Sasha Issenberg was surprised to note on a visit to San Antonio—where Trump’s digital campaign was based—that a “second headquarters” was being created. The embedded Cambridge Analytica team, apparently only a dozen people, received $100,000 from Trump in July, $250,000 in August, and $5 million in September. According to Nix, the company earned over $15 million overall. (The company is incorporated in the US, where laws regarding the release of personal data are more lax than in European Union countries. Whereas European privacy laws require a person to “opt in” to a release of data, those in the US permit data to be released unless a user “opts out.”)

Groundgame, an app for election canvassing that integrates voter data with “geospatial visualization technology,” was used by Trump and Brexit. Image: L2

The measures were radical: From July 2016, Trump’s canvassers were provided with an app with which they could identify the political views and personality types of the inhabitants of a house. It was the same app provider used by Brexit campaigners. Trump’s people only rang at the doors of houses that the app rated as receptive to his messages. The canvassers came prepared with guidelines for conversations tailored to the personality type of the resident. In turn, the canvassers fed the reactions into the app, and the new data flowed back to the dashboards of the Trump campaign. Again, this is nothing new. The Democrats did similar things, but there is no evidence that they relied on psychometric profiling. Cambridge Analytica, however, divided the US population into 32 personality types, and focused on just 17 states. And just as Kosinski had established that men who like MAC cosmetics are slightly more likely to be gay, the company discovered that a preference for cars made in the US was a great indication of a potential Trump voter. Among other things, these findings now showed Trump which messages worked best and where. The decision to focus on Michigan and Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign was made on the basis of data analysis. The candidate became the instrument for implementing a big data model. What’s Next? But to what extent did psychometric methods influence the outcome of the election? When asked, Cambridge Analytica was unwilling to provide any proof of the effectiveness of its campaign. And it is quite possible that the question is impossible to answer. And yet there are clues: There is the fact of the surprising rise of Ted Cruz during the primaries. Also there was an increased number of voters in rural areas. There was the decline in the number of African-American early votes. The fact that Trump spent so little money may also be explained by the effectiveness of personality-based advertising. As does the fact that he invested far more in digital than TV campaigning compared to Hillary Clinton. Facebook proved to be the ultimate weapon and the best election campaigner, as Nix explained, and as comments by several core Trump campaigners demonstrate. Cambridge Analytica counts among its clients the U.S. State Department, and has been reported to have communicated with British Prime Minister Theresa May, pictured here with Secretary of State John Kerry on July 19, 2016. Image: U.S. Dept. of State Many voices have claimed that the statisticians lost the election because their predictions were so off the mark. But what if statisticians in fact helped win the election—but only those who were using the new method? It is an irony of history that Trump, who often grumbled about scientific research, used a highly scientific approach in his campaign. Another big winner is Cambridge Analytica. Its board member Steve Bannon, former executive chair of the right-wing online newspaper Breitbart News, has been appointed as Donald Trump’s senior counselor and chief strategist. Whilst Cambridge Analytica is not willing to comment on alleged ongoing talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Alexander Nix claims that he is building up his client base worldwide, and that he has received inquiries from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. His company is currently touring European conferences showcasing their success in the United States. This year three core countries of the EU are facing elections with resurgent populist parties: France, Holland and Germany. The electoral successes come at an opportune time, as the company is readying for a push into commercial advertising. Kosinski has observed all of this from his office at Stanford. Following the US election, the university is in turmoil. Kosinski is responding to developments with the sharpest weapon available to a researcher: a scientific analysis. Together with his research colleague Sandra Matz, he has conducted a series of tests, which will soon be published. The initial results are alarming: The study shows the effectiveness of personality targeting by showing that marketers can attract up to 63 percent more clicks and up to 1,400 more conversions in real-life advertising campaigns on Facebook when matching products and marketing messages to consumers’ personality characteristics. They further demonstrate the scalability of personality targeting by showing that the majority of Facebook Pages promoting products or brands are affected by personality and that large numbers of consumers can be accurately targeted based on a single Facebook Page. In a statement after the German publication of this article, a Cambridge Analytica spokesperson said, “Cambridge Analytica does not use data from Facebook. It has had no dealings with Dr. Michal Kosinski. It does not subcontract research. It does not use the same methodology. Psychographics was hardly used at all. Cambridge Analytica did not engage in efforts to discourage any Americans from casting their vote in the presidential election. Its efforts were solely directed towards increasing the number of voters in the election.” The world has been turned upside down. Great Britain is leaving the EU, Donald Trump is president of the United States of America. And in Stanford, Kosinski, who wanted to warn against the danger of using psychological targeting in a political setting, is once again receiving accusatory emails. “No,” says Kosinski, quietly and shaking his head. “This is not my fault. I did not build the bomb. I only showed that it exists.” Copyright 2017 by MOTHERBOARD.VICE.COM Additional research for this report was provided by Paul-Olivier Dehaye. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter. ===================================================== 3. THIS WEEK’S LINKS

NO WATER NOR WHALE HERE, JUST A HOLOGRAPHIC PROJECTION! It is a photographic process that produces images between 2 laser beams. These images are projected into a gym using a special camera. There is not a drop of water in this room, let alone a whale…



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The CTAL Newsletter – January 2017, Part 3




=================================================== January Greetings #3, Dear Friends… Churchill is often credited with Santayana’s quote from The Life of Reason in 1905:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But as far as I know, Churchill never used those words exactly. In 1948 he was worried not so much that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, but that the loss of the past would mean…

“…the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views.”

Doesn’t this describe the 2016 we’ve just lived through around the world? Isn’t this what Social Media has helped bring about with its isolated cubicles of “alternative facts”? After the Stresa Conference , a stage in the policy of “appeasement” which allowed Germany’s rearmament and supported Mussolini’s designs on Abyssinia, Churchill said:

     “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”  2 May 1935

And so, for all our sakes, one more addition to this month’s newsletter… Love, FW ===================================================




So, how is everyone’s anxiety doing? Are our coping mechanisms firing on all cylinders? Are we being mindful and living in the present moment? Great. Because we’re all going to need to be experts on it, for at least the next four years or even longer. A few years ago, I wrote about a phenomenon I called “Technology Augmented Autism.” I argued that our over-reliance on social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter has amplified the existing personality characteristics of persons who already reside on the autism spectrum, including ADD/ADHD and other socially developmental related issues, such as Asperger’s. Because so many of us that “are on the spectrum” work in technology, and so many of us use these tools for business and not just for recreational purposes, we all have to work extra hard to hone our “soft” skills, as all of these tools are not particularly helpful in developing our interpersonal relationships and how we interact with people in the real world. The more disconnected from face-to-face relationships we become, the more our soft skills atrophy. And these tools not only make the soft skills deteriorate, but they also reinforce bad habits and amplify our negative personality traits. We all know someone whose personality traits are amplified in this way. These tools can do much more than alter and distort the way we perceive our relationships with others and how others perceive us. These tools can alter our very sense of reality. How we perceive communications from public sources and so-called news outlets is very different in the age of social media than from previous decades. Mixed in with traditional news outlets, whether they lean to the right or the left — such as the legacy broadcasters and newspapers — is an entire class of publication that does not respect the mores of traditional journalism and that have a distinct and politically skewed agenda. Breitbart, for example, operates in this category. Or they may be looking simply to generate page views through flat-out prevarication and inflammatory exaggerations. In other words, fake news. There are other sites that straddle the line between entertainment/media snacking and real journalism — such as Buzzfeed. Some of the material is valuable, highly informative, well-researched, and peer reviewed by investigative journalists who have come from legacy media backgrounds. Sometimes they respect the mores of traditional journalism and sometimes they don’t. You have to accept this at face value. This graphic, which went viral on the image sharing site imgur during December of last year, was submitted by an anonymous user. While some of the quadrant placements here are certainly up for debate and by all means not all-inclusive (Buzzfeed for example is not placed here, as well as a number of other voices in conservative, moderate, and liberal new media and alternative press), it is not a bad starting point for discussion. It should be fairly straightforward to evaluate these sources. An educated reader with a general understanding of the interpretive lens of each of the news sources above is already empowered to make an informed judgment. The problem is most of us don’t just seek these sources out directly and consume them in a careful and deliberate manner. We are now living in the information age, and we’re all victims of Technology Augmented Autism. We all have tiny little attention spans, and we consume news by information snacking. In all likelihood, most people looking at this article right now probably did not get past the first 200 words. More and more Americans are using Facebook and Twitter as primary news sources. If you’ve spent any time on them, you will immediately notice that the noise-to-signal ratio on those services is unbelievably high, fed with a mix of sources ranging from the legitimate to completely fake news into a sausage casing of dubious origin and expiration date. In the case of Facebook, the service’s algorithm will ensure that you will read shared news from viewpoints similar to your own. Your feedback loop is in essence, self-curated based on what you actually “like.” And if you don’t like your friends and what they share, you can unfollow and unfriend them, thus whittling down the echo chamber to an even smaller sample size, depending on how many friends you have. With Twitter, you’re getting a raw feed. Compared to Facebook, all the information you receive is opt-in, because you are subscribing to read tweets from specific people, and you might not be aware of the biases of those people immediately. But, in a sense, it is also curated, because if you don’t like what people are saying, you just unfollow them. And thus your sample size, much like on Facebook, becomes a reflection of what you want to hear. So, everyone is seeing things through their own filter. Here’s the fun part: Your filter is also filtered. And you have no control over that whatsoever. It can be edited and changed, and you might not even realize it. If this is starting to sound like we’ve always been at war with Eastasia, well, it is. Traditionally, the legacy news outlets — that big gray circle in the middle in the above graphic — has had a working relationship with the US government, particularly the Executive Branch. It hasn’t always been rosy, but typically, they have been allowed to ask questions, and they’ve had enough access using their on-site staff at the White House to be able to accurately report, with some level of transparency, on what is exactly happening in the highest levels of our administration. That tradition looks like it is about to be discarded. The White House now appears likely to determine which sources will have access at all, and what level of scrutiny will be permitted. Which outlets are chosen for preferred access and what is to be told to them is going to greatly impact what information is relayed to us, what form it will take, and how it is consumed. Because when it comes to operating in an agile fashion on social media, the outlets in the gray circle are heavily disadvantaged. The ones that are highly agile aren’t necessarily fair and balanced either. If things continue on this path, then we have gone past simple Technology Augmented Autism, which is entirely self-inflicted, and instead into what I now call “Technology Assisted Gaslighting,” or TAG. (WIKIPEDIA: “Gaslighting is manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.[38][39] Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature.[40][41]”) And this is far more nefarious than anyone could have possibly imagined. Well, perhaps Philip K. Dick imagined it. But those were works of sci-fi. Nobody truly believed such things of dystopian nightmares would be realized in the United States of America. Through systematic and persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, and using social media as the platform for this activity, if such a scenario where traditional outlets are not given equal access, we would all be the unwitting subjects of mind control experiments. Perhaps not in a strictly North Korean or Soviet sense, where the government itself is the media. But if only the most unscrupulous outlets — those willing to conform to the will of a corrupt presidency — are the ones granted access, and those same outlets happen to be the most adept at using social media, then we need to reconsider the actual value of social media in the first place. We need to go old school. As American citizens, we need to shed our Technology Augmented Autism to become free thinkers and to choose our sources wisely. We need to read beyond the first 200 words and all become critical thinkers, question every single thing we read on social media, read the story from as many sources as possible, and learn to recognize which sources to disregard and classify as the enemies of American journalistic values, which are dividing and lying to us. I will refuse to be gaslighted through social media. And I hope my readers will as well. =================================================== =================================================== © Copyright 2017, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. ===================================================    

Newsletter Part 2 – January 2017




What follows is at least as disturbing as the unintended consequences of Social Media. Even sites I considered more trustworthy than Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., can be used to quite literally to “hijack people’s minds” for terrible purposes. The example below may have been a cause for many more of the global massacres in the last two decades. While disturbed, I am very grateful to The Southern Poverty Law Center for this and all the other work they do on behalf of humanity… FW




How did Dylann Roof go from being someone who was not raised in a racist home to someone so steeped in white supremacist propaganda that he murdered nine African Americans during a Bible study? The answer lies, at least in part, in the way that fragile minds can be shaped by the algorithm that powers Google Search. It lies in the way Google’s algorithm can promote false propaganda written by extremists at the expense of accurate information from reputable sources. Roof’s radicalization began, as he later wrote in an online manifesto, when he typed the words “black on White crime” into Google and found what he described as “pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders.” The first web pages he found were produced by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a crudely racist group that once called black people a “retrograde species of humanity.” Roof wrote that he has “never been the same since that day.” As he delved deeper, because of the way Google’s search algorithm worked, he was immersed in hate materials. Google says its algorithm takes into account how trustworthy, reputable or authoritative a source is. In Roof’s case, it clearly did not. Watch the video: Roof was convicted and sentenced to death in the June 17, 2015, massacre at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. But there are many others who may be susceptible to the kind of racist propaganda that influenced him. ===================================================== © Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =====================================================

Newsletter – January 2017





“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“The medium is the message.”

Marshall McLuhan

















January Greetings, Dear Friends…

This is such an ironic week I couldn’t delay this newsletter beyond it. In the US it begins with the celebration of a great man, Martin Luther King Jr., almost ends with the inauguration of another kind of man and concludes fittingly with the Women’s March on Washington, a name and event that brings back memories of 1963.

But this newsletter is about much more than anything American or European; it is about the new technologies of social media that hijack minds anywhere in the world — and are being more and more frequently used to do so. I offer it to you for the sakes of all our children and grandchildren born into the age of Internet, computer, cell phone and Social Media

I’ve known about propaganda and brainwashing techniques since my early teens because of Nazi Education, The Red Scare and The Manchurian Candidate. But these, while using the latest technologies available, required resources, power as well as cleverness. Radio and newspapers, the primary media until the 50’s and later, relied mainly on manipulation of language to achieve their ends. 

That’s why I was excited when I came across The Propaganda Game in the 60’s. I was teaching English at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago and realized it offered a brilliant tool for helping my students understand how they could be and were being manipulated by language. It had just been developed by Robert W. Allen and Bonanza star Lorne Greene. A part of their introduction reads…

…In a democratic society it is the role of every citizen to make decisions after evaluating many ideas. It is especially important then that a citizen be able to think clearly about the ideas that are daily presented to him. It is imperative that he be able to analyze and distinguish between the emotional aura surrounding the ideas, and the actual content of the idea. To this goal of clear thinking the game of PROPAGANDA addresses itself…

On January 12, 2017, a student from fifty years ago posted this on Facebook:

The Propaganda Game will help you become a clearer thinker, and, if you can get a copy somewhere I recommend it highly. But this newsletter is going to offer you a alternative your teenagers will find even more relevant because it focuses on the dangers of Social Media and how they’re likely getting much of their news.

But we older folks need to understand these dangers even more then the youngsters. This is because there are new, and even more subtle, forms of manipulation that don’t use the words as much as they use the technology of communicating. As Marshall McLuhan said back in those same 60’s, “The Medium Is The Message” and he was more correct than even he knew.

With the advent of technologies that make Facebooks, Twitters, Instagrams, Snapchats, Youtubes, etc., omnipresent and addictive, our children and grandchildren are in the whole new propaganda ballgame. If you don’t think so, just reflect on the fact that the iPhone was initially launched only ten years ago. It was the iPhone and it imitators that put the access to Social Media so many millions of young hands. I was 69 before there was such a thing!

Most of the adults I know do have their equivalents of iPhones, but we tend to use them as we did our early PCs and Macs in the 1980’s when no Internet was yet available. My grandchildren, who grew up with both Internet and instantaneous access to it, have a very different conditioning to communicating. Again, if you don’t think so, just notice how many young heads are glued to screens as you ride on your next bus or subway.

But this doesn’t mean that us older, less technically-conditioned types can’t become addicted, too. There have been a lot of attempted explanations of how a person like Donald Trump managed to get elected President of the United States. Probably all have some truth in them, but one I haven’t heard and offer here is that Trump’s campaign used Twitter relentlessly and Hillary’s campaign didn’t use it hardly at all.

Gossip is always seductive, and Twitter is Trump gossip-technology. I suggest that his grasp of the power of the techniques that follow was one of the major factors is this election — and if we don’t want this “medium” to be owned by only one point of view, we’d better stop thinking we’re “elitely above” such techniques and learn to use them, too.

See how you react to the article that follows, and, if you have thoughts to share, send them along to

Much love, FW




Estimated reading time: 12 minutes.

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.”  — Unknown.

I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities. That’s why I spent the last three years as a Design Ethicist at Google caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked. When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want to show you where it might do the opposite.

Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?

I learned to think this way when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.

That’s me performing sleight of hand magic at my mother’s birthday party

And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention. I want to show you how they do it.


Western Culture is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom. Millions of us fiercely defend our right to make “free” choices, while we ignore how those choices are manipulated upstream by menus we didn’t choose in the first place.

This is exactly what magicians do. They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can’t emphasize enough how deep this insight is.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:

“What’s not on the menu?”

“Why am I being given these options and not others?”

“Do I know the menu provider’s goals?”

“Is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelming array of toothpastes)

How empowering is this menu of choices for the need, “I ran out of toothpaste”?

For example, imagine you’re out with friends on a Tuesday night and want to keep the conversation going. You open Yelp to find nearby recommendations and see a list of bars. The group turns into a huddle of faces staring down at their phones comparing bars. They scrutinize the photos of each, comparing cocktail drinks. Is this menu still relevant to the original desire of the group? It’s not that bars aren’t a good choice, it’s that Yelp substituted the group’s original question (“where can we go to keep talking?”) with a different question (“what’s a bar with good photos of cocktails?”) all by shaping the menu. Moreover, the group falls for the illusion that Yelp’s menu represents a complete set of choices for where to go. While looking down at their phones, they don’t see the park across the street with a band playing live music. They miss the pop-up gallery on the other side of the street serving crepes and coffee. Neither of those show up on Yelp’s menu. The more choices technology gives us in nearly every domain of our lives (information, events, places to go, friends, dating, jobs) — the more we assume that our phone is always the most empowering and useful menu to pick from. Is it? The “most empowering” menu is different than the menu that has the most choices. But when we blindly surrender to the menus we’re given, it’s easy to lose track of the difference:

“Who’s free tonight to hang out?” becomes a menu of most recent people who texted us (who we could ping).

“What’s happening in the world?” becomes a menu of news feed stories.

“Who’s single to go on a date?” becomes a menu of faces to swipe on Tinder (instead of local events with friends, or urban adventures nearby).

“I have to respond to this email.” becomes a menu of keys to type a response (instead of empowering ways to communicate with a person).

Photo/Design by Tristan Harris

When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications — it frames the experience of “waking up in the morning” around a menu of “all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.” (for more examples, see Joe Edelman’s Empowering Design talk).

From Joe Edelman’s Empowering Design Talk

By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs. HIJACK #2:  PUT A SLOT MACHINE IN A BILLION POCKETS If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked?  Turn yourself into a slot machine. The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?

How often do you check your email per day?

One major reason why is the #1 psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards. If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable. Does this effect really work on people? Yes. Slot machines make more money in the United States than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined. Relative to other kinds of gambling, people get ‘problematically involved’ with slot machines 3–4x faster according to NYU professor Natasha Dow Schull, author of Addiction by Design. But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.

When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.

When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.

When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.

When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

Apps and websites sprinkle intermittent variable rewards all over their products because it’s good for business. But in other cases, slot machines emerge by accident. For example, there is no malicious corporation behind all of email who consciously chose to make it a slot  machine. No one profits when millions check their email and nothing’s there. Neither did Apple and Google’s designers want phones to work like slot machines. It emerged by accident. But now companies like Apple and Google have a responsibility to reduce these effects by converting intermittent variable rewards into less addictive, more predictable ones with better design. For example, they could empower people to set predictable times during the day or week for when they want to check “slot machine” apps, and correspondingly adjust when new messages are delivered to align with those times.       HIJACK #3:  FEAR OF MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT (FOMSI) Another way apps and websites hijack people’s minds is by inducing a “1% chance you could be missing something important.” If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important:

This keeps us subscribed to newsletters even after they haven’t delivered recent benefits (“what if I miss a future announcement?”)

This keeps us “friended” to people with whom we haven’t spoke in ages (“what if I miss something important from them?”)

This keeps us swiping faces on dating apps, even when we haven’t even met up with anyone in a while (“what if I miss that one hot match who likes me?”)

This keeps us using social media (“what if I miss that important news story or fall behind what my friends are talking about?”)

But if we zoom into that fear, we’ll discover that it’s unbounded: we’ll always miss something important at any point when we stop using something.

There are magic moments on Facebook we’ll miss by not using it for the 6th hour (e.g. an old friend who’s visiting town right now).

There are magic moments we’ll miss on Tinder (e.g. our dream romantic partner) by not swiping our 700th match.

There are emergency phone calls we’ll miss if we’re not connected 24/7.

But living moment to moment with the fear of missing something isn’t how we’re built to live. And it’s amazing how quickly, once we let go of that fear, we wake up from the illusion. When we unplug for more than a day, unsubscribe from those notifications, or go to Camp Grounded — the concerns we thought we’d have don’t actually happen. We don’t miss what we don’t see. The thought, “what if I miss something important?” is generated in advance of unplugging, unsubscribing, or turning off — not after. Imagine if tech companies recognized that, and helped us proactively tune our relationships with friends and businesses in terms of what we define as “time well spent” for our lives, instead of in terms of what we might miss. HIJACK #4:  SOCIAL APPROVAL Easily one of the most persuasive things a human being can receive. We’re all vulnerable to social approval. The need to belong, to be approved or appreciated by our peers is among the highest human motivations. But now our social approval is in the hands of tech companies. When I get tagged by my friend Marc, I imagine him making a conscious choice to tag me. But I don’t see how a company like Facebook orchestrated his doing that in the first place. Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat can manipulate how often people get tagged in photos by automatically suggesting all the faces people should tag (e.g. by showing a box with a 1-click confirmation, “Tag Tristan in this photo?”). So when Marc tags me, he’s actually responding to Facebook’s suggestion, not making an independent choice. But through design choices like this, Facebook controls the multiplier for how often millions of people experience their social approval on the line.

Facebook uses automatic suggestions like this  to get people to tag more people, creating more  social externalities and interruptions.

The same happens when we change our main profile photo — Facebook knows that’s a moment when we’re vulnerable to social approval: “what do my friends think of my new pic?” Facebook can rank this higher in the news feed, so it sticks around for longer and more friends will like or comment on it. Each time they like or comment on it, we’ll get pulled right back. Everyone innately responds to social approval, but some demographics (teenagers) are more vulnerable to it than others. That’s why it’s so important to recognize how powerful designers are when they exploit this vulnerability. HIJACK #5:  SOCIAL RECIPROCITY (TIT-FOR-TAT)

You do me a favor — I owe you one next time.

You say, “thank you”— I have to say “you’re welcome.”

You send me an email— it’s rude not to get back to you.

You follow me — it’s rude not to follow you back. (especially for teenagers)

We are vulnerable to needing to reciprocate others’ gestures. But as with Social Approval, tech companies now manipulate how often we experience it. In some cases, it’s by accident. Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories. But in other cases, companies exploit this vulnerability on purpose. LinkedIn is the most obvious offender. LinkedIn wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill) they have to come back to where they can get people to spend more time. Like Facebook, LinkedIn exploits an asymmetry in perception. When you receive an invitation from someone to connect, you imagine that person making a conscious choice to invite you, when in reality, they likely unconsciously responded to LinkedIn’s list of suggested contacts. In other words, LinkedIn turns your unconscious impulses (to “add” a person) into new social obligations that millions of people feel obligated to repay. All while they profit from the time people spend doing it. Imagine millions of people getting interrupted like this throughout their day, running around like chickens with their heads cut off, reciprocating each other — all designed by companies who profit from it. Welcome to social media.

After accepting an endorsement, LinkedIn takes advantage of your bias to reciprocate by offering *four* additional people for you to endorse in return.

Imagine if technology companies had a responsibility to minimize social reciprocity. Or if there was an independent organization that represented the public’s interests — an industry consortium or an FDA for tech — that monitored when technology companies abused these biases? HIJACK #6:  BOTTOMLESS BOWLS, INFINITE FEEDS & AUTOPLAY

YouTube autoplays the next video after a countdown

Another way to hijack people is to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore. How? Easy. Take an experience that was bounded and finite, and turn it into a bottomless flow that keeps going. Cornell professor Brian Wansink demonstrated this in his study showing you can trick people into keep eating soup by giving them a bottomless bowl that automatically refills as they eat. With bottomless bowls, people eat 73% more calories than those with normal bowls and underestimate how many calories they ate by 140 calories. Tech companies exploit the same principle. News feeds are purposely designed to auto-refill with reasons to keep you scrolling, and purposely eliminate any reason for you to pause, reconsider or leave. It’s also why video and social media sites like Netflix, YouTube or Facebook autoplay the next video after a countdown instead of waiting for you to make a conscious choice (in case you won’t). A huge portion of traffic on these websites is driven by autoplaying the next thing. Tech companies often claim that “we’re just making it easier for users to see the video they want to watch” when they are actually serving their business interests. And you can’t blame them, because increasing “time spent” is the currency they compete for. Instead, imagine if technology companies empowered you to consciously bound your experience to align with what would be time well spent for you. Not just bounding the quantity of time you spend, but the qualities of what would be “time well spent.” HIJACK #7:  INSTANT INTERRUPTION VS. “RESPECTFUL DELIVERY” Companies know that messages that interrupt people immediately are more persuasive at getting people to respond than messages delivered asynchronously (like email or any deferred inbox). Given the choice, Facebook Messenger (or WhatsApp, WeChat or SnapChat for that matter) would prefer to design their messaging system to interrupt recipients immediately (and show a chat box) instead of helping users respect each other’s attention. In other words, interruption is good for business. It’s also in their interest to heighten the feeling of urgency and social reciprocity. For example, Facebook automatically tells the sender when you “saw” their message, instead of letting you avoid disclosing whether you read it (“now that you know I’ve seen the message, I feel even more obligated to respond.”) By contrast, Apple more respectfully lets users toggle “Read Receipts” on or off. The problem is, maximizing interruptions in the name of business creates a tragedy of the commons, ruining global attention spans and causing billions of unnecessary interruptions each day. This is a huge problem we need to fix with shared design standards (potentially, as part of Time Well Spent). HIJACK #8:  BUNDLING YOUR REASONS WITH THEIR REASONS Another way apps hijack you is by taking your reasons for visiting the app (to perform a task) and make them inseparable from the app’s business reasons (maximizing how much we consume once we’re there). For example, in the physical world of grocery stores, the #1 and #2 most popular reasons to visit are pharmacy refills and buying milk. But grocery stores want to maximize how much people buy, so they put the pharmacy and the milk at the back of the store. In other words, they make the thing customers want (milk, pharmacy) inseparable from what the business wants. If stores were truly organized to support people, they would put the most popular items in the front. Tech companies design their websites the same way. For example, when you you want to look up a Facebook event happening tonight (your reason) the Facebook app doesn’t allow you to access it without first landing on the news feed (their reasons), and that’s on purpose. Facebook wants to convert every reason you have for using Facebook, into their reason which is to maximize the time you spend consuming things. Instead, imagine if …

Twitter gave you a separate way to post an Tweet than having to see their news feed.

Facebook gave a separate way to look up Facebook Events going on tonight, without being forced to use their news feed.

Facebook gave you a separate way to use Facebook Connect as a passport for creating new accounts on 3rd party apps and websites, without being forced to install Facebook’s entire app, news feed and notifications.

In a Time Well Spent world, there is always a direct way to get what you want separately from what businesses want. Imagine a digital “bill of rights” outlining design standards that forced the products used by billions of people to let them navigate directly to what they want without needing to go through intentionally placed distractions. Imagine if web browsers empowered you to navigate directly to what you want — especially for sites that intentionally detour you toward their reasons. HIJACK #9:  INCONVENIENT CHOICES We’re told that it’s enough for businesses to “make choices available.”

“If you don’t like it you can always use a different product.”

“If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.”

“If you’re addicted to our app, you can always uninstall it from your phone.”

Businesses naturally want to make the choices they want you to make easier, and the choices they don’t want you to make harder. Magicians do the same thing. You make it easier for a spectator to pick the thing you want them to pick, and harder to pick the thing you don’t. For example, lets you “make a free choice” to cancel your digital subscription. But instead of just doing it when you hit “Cancel Subscription,” they send you an email with information on how to cancel your account by calling a phone number that’s only open at certain times.

NYTimes claims it’s giving a free choice to cancel your account.

Instead of viewing the world in terms of availability of choices, we should view the world in terms of friction required to enact choices. Imagine a world where choices were labeled with how difficult they were to fulfill (like coefficients of friction) and there was an independent entity — an industry consortium or non-profit — that labeled these difficulties and set standards for how easy navigation should be. HIJACK #10:  FORCASTING ERRORS. ‘FOOT IN THE DOOR’ STRATEGIES

Facebook promises an easy choice to “See Photo.” Would we still click if it gave the true price tag?

Lastly, apps can exploit people’s inability to forecast the consequences of a click. People don’t intuitively forecast the true cost of a click when it’s presented to them. Sales people use “foot in the door” techniques by asking for a small innocuous request to begin with (“just one click to see which tweet got retweeted”) and escalate from there (“why don’t you stay awhile?”). Virtually all engagement websites use this trick. Imagine if web browsers and smartphones, the gateways through which people make these choices, were truly watching out for people and helped them forecast the consequences of clicks (based on real data about what benefits and costs it actually had?). That’s why I add “Estimated reading time” to the top of my posts. When you put the “true cost” of a choice in front of people, you’re treating your users or audience with dignity and respect. In a Time Well Spent internet, choices could be framed in terms of projected cost and benefit, so people were empowered to make informed choices by default, not by doing extra work.
TripAdvisor uses a “foot in the door” technique by asking for a single click review. Photo by: “How many stars?” 
SUMMARY AND HOW WE CAN FIX THIS Are you upset that technology hijacks your agency? I am too. I’ve listed a few techniques but there are literally thousands. Imagine whole bookshelves, seminars, workshops and trainings that teach aspiring tech entrepreneurs techniques like these. Imagine hundreds of engineers whose job every day is to invent new ways to keep you hooked. The ultimate freedom is a free mind, and we need technology that’s on our team to help us live, feel, think and act freely. We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights. ========== Tristan Harris was a Product Philosopher at Google until 2016 where he studied how technology affects a billion people’s attention, wellbeing and behavior. For more resources on Time Well Spent, see UPDATE: The first version of this post lacked acknowledgements to those who inspired my thinking over many years including Joe Edelman, Aza Raskin, Raph D’Amico, Jonathan Harris and Damon Horowitz. My thinking on menus and choicemaking are deeply rooted in Joe Edelman’s work on Human Values and Choicemaking. ===================================================== 3. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:     IS CANADA THE WORLD’S FIRST POST-NATIONAL COUNTRY?     WE’VE FORGOTTEN THE POWER OF HUMILITY     SUPPORTING ‘ANOTHER KIND OF MAN’?  THIS IS FOR YOU     WHAT THE AZTECS CAN TEACH US ABOUT HAPPINESS & THE GOOD LIFE ===================================================== © Copyright 2015, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam.  Please feel free to use excerpts from this blog as long as you give credit with a link to our page: Thank you!   =====================================================  

Newsletter – December 2016

============================================== THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE LEADERSHIPDECEMBER 2016 1.  FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS 2.  “NOT‑KNOWING” WISDOM 3.  YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION… 4.  DESIDERATA 5.  THIS YEAR’S LINKS ============================================== QUOTE OF THE WEEK – T.S. ELLIOT & ATUM O’KANE

We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring  Will be to arrive where we started  And know the place for the first time.”

“There’s no place to go…  no thing to do…  be here now…”


1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS New Year’s Greetings, Dear Friends… For many 2016 has been a disturbing and difficult year in many ways. How might we elders be gentler with ourselves so we can better support others with less experience? I think T.S. Elliot knew:

“…to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”

For me, this remembering I am just as I should be and have always been. As natural and simple as this sounds, it’s taken all of my seventy-eight years to begin such “arriving” — and I have no idea how many more years, or lifetimes, may be needed for my “knowing.” But that doesn’t really matter. Because just glimpsing the “knowing” lets me understand, as friend Atum O’Kane taught me years ago, “There’s no place to go, no thing to do…” How different this way of being is from the pressures I felt growing up in, and being distracted by, the external world! It seemed to be so fascinating with it’s dramas and baubles, and I certainly chased mine. But the chasing never led me to peace of mind and truly caring for myself or others.  Back in 2003 a friend wrote me about a conundrum he felt stuck in…  __________ “I have enough income to not work, and I’d like to not work, but it feels wrong to not work..” For those of us raised with the Protestant Work Ethic, feeling guilty about not working just comes with the territory.  I can’t begin to count how many times as a child I got imprinted with messages like:

“Good people work hard.” “You play after your work is done.”

These imprintings (if actually lived out) would mean we continuously exhaust ourselves with work and never play (since we always can find more work to do).  This is no way to live. If you’re one of the many caught by this double-bind (or “Knot” as psychiatrist R.D. Laing so aptly named such insanity), all is not lost.  But we can’t get out from under this nonsense by using our normal method of achievement which, of course, is “working” because this just compounds the problem.  So what do we do? We have to recognize how crazy we are to believe that the point of life is to work our butts off so “some day” we can finally “play.”  Until we really understand that this is stupidity of the first rank, there’s little hope.  (If you feel offended, you’re definitely on the right page).  So how do you transform a mistaken belief that you’ve taken seriously all your life into the joke it really is?  I find I have to combine three different approaches: First, my rational mind and ego demand evidence that they’ve been mistaken all this time, and they’re not particularly receptive.  In this case, finding out many historians believe the average workday before the Industrial Revolution was about three hours helped me greatly; I’d been misled to believe that people had worked their butts off forever.  When I put this together with the observation that most very wealthy people (the source of the propaganda that we should work all the time) were themselves working less than three hours a day, my ego and rational mind felt played for suckers, and this was very helpful in getting their cooperation. Second, developing a playful sense of humor and absurdity about the world helps immensely.  Generally this has been easy and natural for me, but I’ve had enough periods of depression and righteousness to know how hard seeing the light side can be.  My key to this humor is making fun of myself (I’ve always loved the saying.. I do think I’m funny, especially when I’m taking myself most seriously.  It’s always blown my mind that humanity could believe evolution got to us and stopped — that we are the be-all and end-all of creation.  Such self-centeredness is so extreme I can’t help but laugh at it’s absurdity, and this gives me a humorous perspective on my own significance. Third, I turn to my gut (also called intuition, self-awareness or Divine Guidance) and check out how the situation “feels.”  Doing this requires putting the noise of the world aside and going into stillness where truer voices can be heard.  There are many ways of doing this – meditation, hiking, fishing, watching a sunset, etc.  When I get into this quiet space, there’s “no place to go, no thing to do” and I can “know” what makes the most sense for me at this time.   It isn’t that I can change myself quickly, but I can see, and do, the things necessary to let the change evolve in me.  An example of this was when in 2001 I “knew” I needed to give up my consulting work and create space, perhaps for three or four years, to let go of my Second Age identity so my Third Age self could emerge (it helped my rational mind and ego to recall this was just what Carl Jung did at a similar point in his life).  I’m now about halfway through this process (I think), and even at this still uncertain point, I recommend it very highly. So my advice is — work if you want to, and don’t work if you don’t want to — it’s your life and your call.  If it matters to somebody else, that’s entirely their problem… __________ Now it’s the end of 2016, thirteen years after the exchange above took place, and it seems my Third Age self has grown into my Fourth Age self. Many of my earlier imprintings like needing to be “cool” or “popular” or “creative” or “successful” or “spiritual,” etc., etc., have been left by old roadsides and seldom interfere these days. What a blessing this sloughing off of obsolete beliefs has been! I wonder how I might have shown my younger selves the joys of a peaceful mind so natural to me now. But I see no way my younger selves could have understood or even wanted to. They would have opened to my being a non-judging witness to their “explorations,” but my younger selves were way too wrapped up in my own dramas to be of much use to anyone, including me. So how can we elders be of service to our younger generations as they do their exploring in these times? The stereotype of non-judgmental grandma or grandpa is not unhelpful here, but we each need to find our own ways of “being available.” My peace includes wanting to stay home in my solitude and not interact personally. These newsletters, emails and Skype chats are ways of giving that suit me. In contrast, Donna is a gift in person, and she spends much time being with others. We each are learning to relax into liking and  honoring who we are now, and we will try to extend this into whoever we may become in the future. But honoring ourselves is not easy in an external world that stuffs minds with sophisticated marketing images and political propaganda. The pieces that follow can help us understand how to honor ourselves in order to honor others. May we all find our own ways to balance our inner and outer experience so peace of mind fills our hours… Much love, FW ============================================== 2.  “NOT‑KNOWING” WISDOM        BY DAVID ‘LUCKY’ GOFF, THE SLOW LANE, DECEMBER 27, 2016 It’s Christmas! I’m staying in, actually I’m a shut-in, celebrating in my own way. This time of year — add being sick, and alone, amounts to slowing down. This is a wondrous time to reflect. My mind could go back to the year I’ve just lived through, or travel further back to other Christmas scenes, but instead it is riveted upon this moment, wondering what all the uncertainty I feel portends. This is ostensibly the beginning of a New Year. I wonder, will there be anything truly new about the New Year? The election continues to resonate. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air. The emotional tides are high. It seems that many of the old horrors are being warmed up. It is a time rich with feelings, fears, anxieties and apprehensions. There is an aura of teetering that colors the yuletide cheer. Going forward or going back, over the cliff or around it, becoming closer or more divided? — the moment quivers. I’ve heard so many times this is the moment to stand up. Values are on the line, possibly the planet, certainly how we feel about each other, and ourselves. So much seems to be at stake. I feel peculiarly out of step with the times. I am nervous, like many people, but I feel a sense of expectancy, like I’m participating in some kind of birth phenomena. The unknown, I sense, is delivering to us something unimaginable.  I don’t know what is here. I don’t have a name for it. I don’t know how to greet what is taking shape. Strangely, I can feel it happening in the midst of all the rehashed actions that are being called for. Evolution is taking the mess we (humans) currently are, and working us into a different shape. It is times like this that I find myself wanting to pause, like this holiday season is helping me do, and turn to that rarest of wisdom’s for guidance. Here, I’m not referring to the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of tradition and what we know, but the unknown wisdom of the present. It is the degree of bafflement in the air that arouses in me a sense of wonder, expectancy, and a desire to be open and wait. I am poised at a vibrating threshold. How I comport myself now will determine in some way what I will meet. This is a quantum moment, what I find, will be determined by my expectations, thus I want to be as open and as free of assumptions as possible. It is at times like this when I feel so strongly the pull of not-knowing. There is such a spaciousness in the unknown, a darkness that is rich with possibility, a creativity that is guided by the formless. This is what I want to stand for.  There is a miraculousness afoot, which doesn’t depend at all upon the election results, but becomes palpable when one opens up to the larger Mystery — of what is going on here.  Let’s stop pretending we really know what’s happening. All of the certainty, ideological nightmares, and historical references are apt, but insufficient to this time. They are good for stirring up fear, anxiety, and hatred, but not very good for soberly leaning into the moment. I am growing old. I’m not as interested, as I once was, in chasing my tail. Now, each moment has grown more precious, and I want to meet it, as it is. In being dragged around the block by Life, as many older folks have been, I’ve learned to open myself to each moment, to spend some time with it, to let it be, and to relish what is unknown about it. Life has introduced me to a whole set of unforeseen possibilities, I would have passed by many of them, because they looked familiar. Now, I come to this moment, with continued reverence for the Mystery that brought me here, ready to be surprised anew. Not-knowing releases me into the moment, it allows me to experience what is, and shields me from the tides of emotional upheaval that I am surrounded by. There is one other thing I want to be sure to mention before I stop for this Christmas day. Not-knowing isn’t only good for calming the emotional waters, but is essential for re-enchanting the world. Magic dwells in the spirits of those, most generally elders, who are savvy enough to know, that they know enough, to know, they don’t know very much. There is a form of elder innocence that forms late in life. It isn’t like the innocence of childhood, based upon an ignorance of the world; in elder life it is giving up on relying upon adult like certainty, and meeting the world naked in a different way. The miraculous nature of Life is obscured by too much knowing. Not-knowing wisdom frees the imagination, releases potential, and honors what does not want to be changed by fickle human emotions. To recognize the blindness knowing brings, means liberating all that has suffered the slavery of human hubris. The world is enchanting, and so is this uncertain moment in our nation’s history. Something is happening, and let’s wait and see what it is. l/d ============================================== 3.  YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION…      BY MARTHA BECK, WWW.OPRAH.COM, JANUARY 2017 

But your actions say otherwise.  Here’s help discovering what you really hope to accomplish this year.

In January, a gajillion Americans make the same resolutions, and by July, according to one study, only 46 percent are still sticking to them. Clearly, something is wrong—and if you ask me, it’s not the people, but the promises. Maybe when we “fail” to keep a resolution, it’s because deep down we know it doesn’t necessarily align with our truth. Recently, I pulled out the list of resolutions I made for 2016 (which, of course, is almost exactly the same list I made for 1987) and contemplated it from a new perspective—that of a jaded crone. I asked myself, “Do these goals resonate with me? Are they really what I want most in the entire world?” And you know what the answer was? No. So I thought about how I actually want to spend the next 12 months. Then I made brand-new resolutions: 1. GAIN WEIGHT. How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took her seat on that Alabama bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan under Taliban rule? You don’t know? That’s the right answer! Because it doesn’t matter. For so many people, January 2 is D day—diet day, that is. Losing weight can be a laudable goal, but this year I’m going to think about weightier matters—weighty as in “of great importance,” a definition that does not apply to dress size. I have found that I feel instantly lighter when I stop asking “Why are my thighs so squidgy?” and start asking “What would really make me happy right now?” Whenever body shame creeps up on me, I resolve to refocus on adding meaning to my life. 2. SPEND MORE. Saving is a virtue. But when frugality becomes extreme, it can create feelings of deprivation—which can lead to compulsive buying. I’m going to avoid the cycle of consumption by paying more. Not more money, but more positive attention to what I have. That’s what author Glennon Doyle Melton did after she posted a photo of her kitchen on her blog and readers chimed in with unsolicited decluttering and remodeling advice. Suddenly, Glennon found her cabinets and counters shabby—but instead of overhauling the room, she decided to redo her attitude. She praised the things her kitchen gives her, like cooked food and clean tap water. Under a photo of her fridge, she wrote, “This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD.” It’s energizing to be around someone who heaps positive attention on what she already has. Do it yourself and you’ll feel rich. 3. MAKE MESSES. I grew up in a topsy-turvy household, and as an adult, I’ve struggled to master basic skills like cleaning, managing finances, and remembering my kids’ names. If you’re likewise genetically disorganized, you may feel as unfit as I often do. But you may also be ignoring something that I noticed about myself: My inability to follow routines and put stuff into boxes also means I tend to combine ideas in unusual ways and come up with unconventional solutions. As a life coach, I get paid to do this—and for me, the job requires disorganization. In fact, just now I’m sitting in a nest of pens, teacups, papers, and pillows, resolving to embrace the chaos. 4. BE SELF-INVOLVED. Many people vow to be more attentive to relationships—less irritable with their kids, kinder to coworkers. But relationships are fluid, and we can’t dictate how we’ll feel as they evolve. This year I’m going to be more attentive to me. If your parents ever forced you to kiss scary Aunt Mabel with the braided chin hairs, you know that trying to force love actually destroys it. This year take a moment every so often to check in with yourself about how you’re really feeling, and let your actions match your truth. Share with people who feel welcoming. Distance yourself from the ones you don’t trust. Peacefully explain your opinion to those who anger you. You may ruffle some feathers, but in the long term, your life will be more genuinely loving. 5. FORGET WHAT I’VE LEARNED. The ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching taught me that to attain knowledge, every day you must learn something, and to attain wisdom, every day you must unlearn something. A deep intelligence lies within us, and wisdom comes from releasing misperceptions that cloud it. So this year I resolve to unlearn. I’ve noticed that when I scrutinize thoughts that create negative feelings—for instance, I never do anything right—they fall apart. (I do a lot of things right!) I pledge to steer my brain toward truer stories, until it develops new, less paralyzing thought patterns. Lesson unlearned. That’s my list. I encourage you to compile your own. You may want to underachieve. Oversleep. Fritter away more of your days. When December rolls around, you may find you’ve finally kept your resolutions—and that 2017 really was a happy new year. Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening. Illustrations by Anna Parini ============================================== 4.  DESIDERATA  ==============================================  5.  THIS YEAR’S LINKS:       100 DRONES ACCOMPANY A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA!       REMEMBERING THE GADGETS THAT CHANGED US...       LISTEN TO RADIO IN ANY DECADE & ANY PLACE       THE WORLD’S MOST CREATVE STATUES & SCUPLTURES…       SOLAR PANELS BECOME CHEAPER THAN FOSSIL FUELS ============================================== © Copyright 2015, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. Please feel free to use excerpts from this blog as long as you give credit with a link to our page: Thank you! ==============================================

Newsletter – November 2016



Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

“I do think it may be helpful to define what is “light.” It seems many people believe Trump’s presidency will falter and this will allow the “liberal/progressive” light to come back in. But the real issue is whether people will be able to see light, even if it is a different light than that which they expect. I mean, isn’t that, a different light, not the same light but a new light, what we’d expect to come out of an Unforming?

…This takes us to the notion of the provisional nature of human knowledge and keeping one’s eyes and minds open for new ideas and new light, even if it is coming from Pluto or, maybe, Trump Tower.” ================================================= 1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS November Greetings, Dear Friends… In both our family and and our country this last month has been a time of great adversity, and it seems its challenges will continue far the foreseeable future. In this darkness I want to share some rays of light that are coming through the cracks. First is by friend and mentor David “Lucky” Goff, and his experience resonates deeply with my own and many others. Lucky’s piece helps me feel both the truth of where we are and offers hope for where it might allow us to go. The second is by Maria Popova as she channels Parker Palmer via his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy. She and Parker also help me understand and accept where we are and where we might be able to go from here. And third are some thoughts about the differences between “WHAT WE WANT” and “WHAT WE NEED” from The Young Man, my lifelong friend, student and teacher. I hope the pieces in this newsletter will help you see both life’s cracks and the new light coming to and through us all… 16-11-01-light-out Much love, FW Father William’s Place ================================================= 2. ADVERSITY     BY DAVID “LUCKY” GOFF, NOVEMBER 25, 2016 The last few weeks have shaken me. I’ve been toppled, disillusioned, experienced increased uncertainty, and had many of my friends express fear and anxiety. It’s been hard to hold onto myself. I’m having to reach deep within to regain my balance. I’m discovering that doing so, is one of the hidden benefits of this time. In some way all of the fear and tumult are causing me to go inside and discover more of who I am. Instead of just reacting, I find a response forming. Social psychologists have been looking at adversity for some time now. They have discovered through their research, what I’ve known experientially through my stroke, that adversity can bring out an adaptive, better response. As they say, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” They’ve come up with a term I recognized immediately— post-traumatic growth. They have explained some of what I have experienced. Both my experience and their insights are helping me find a more creative way of responding to what I experience going on right now. To me, this is a time of great challenge and opportunity. It is too easy to just be afraid. Instead, this is a moment that asks for depth, creativity, and the will to learn. We are poised before the abyss. Our response will say more about us, than it will ever say about Trump, or any of his henchmen. Uncertainty gathers around these questions. How could bad leadership lead to a stronger union? How could the fear of demise result in the discovery of fresh strengths? How can our planet benefit from our choices? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions yet. But I do have a sense, from my own time of deep uncertainty, that when I was really hopeless, and utterly helpless, I became more malleable and available, and then new awareness and life came. I became more because I endured being made less. I am still less, and I am still more. Adversity asked something of me, I would have never asked of myself. Today, despite the suffering, I’m glad it did. And, this experience gives me a way to look at this moment, and consider the possibility, that if we can find a way to respond that isn’t just a rehashed version of past reactions — the nation can be made better. I’m considering that possibility. It’s casting new light on all of the reactions I am experiencing. I don’t know what’s happening, but I’m looking at the tumult of the times with a whole lot more curiosity, expectancy (as in, a baby is due), compassion, and wonder.


The ancient Chinese had a curse that went, “May you live in interesting times.” We do. It is important to know those same ancient Chinese, who were responsible for the ying/yang symbol, knew about paradox, and also knew, that the curse was also a blessing. Interesting times give us a chance we didn’t have before. I personally am glad to be alive now, because I know my choices mean so much more. What is being asked of me now, makes my life so much more meaningful than I would have imagined. Life, through this unexpected and unwanted turn, has enlivened me. Copyright 2016 by David ‘Lucky’ Goff ================================================== 3. HEALING THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY     BY MARIA POPOVA, BRAINPICKINGS, NOVEMBER 23, 2016 Parker Palmer on Holding the Tension of Our Differences in a Creative Way “America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without,” Walt Whitman wrote in his timeless meditation on democracy. A century and a half later, as we find ourself amid the terrifying testing ground of Whitman’s wisdom, we would do well to remember that whatever redemptions democracy may have must also come from within, not without. Leonard Cohen captured this brilliantly in his unpublished verses about democracy, which produced one of his most beloved and beautiful lyric lines: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” How to harness the redemptive light that comes through the fissures of democracy is what educator, activist, and poet laureate of the human spirit Parker Palmer (b. February 28, 1939) explores in Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (public library) — a book originally published years ago, the timelessness and timeliness of which is being proven daily.


Art by Oliver Jeffers from The Heart and the Bottle

In a sentiment that calls to mind Leonard Cohen’s wonderful insistence that “a revelation in the heart” is the only force that moves minds toward mutual understanding, Palmer considers the deeper rationale for his title:    “Heart” comes from the Latin cor and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge — intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and bodily, among others. The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human. Cor is also the Latin root from which we get the word courage. When all  that we understand of self and world comes together in the center place called the   heart, we are more likely to find the courage to act humanely on what we know. The politics of our time is the “politics of the brokenhearted” — an expression that will not be found in the analytical vocabulary of political science or in the strategic rhetoric of political organizing. Instead, it is an expression for the language of human wholeness. There are some human experiences that only the heart can comprehend and only heart-talk can convey. Among them are certain aspects of politics, by which I mean the essential and eternal human effort to craft the common life on which we all depend. This is the politics that Lincoln practiced as he led from a heart broken open to the whole of what it means to be human — simultaneously meeting the harsh demands of political reality and nurturing the seeds of new life.


Parker Palmer

Framing his central inquiry into “holding the tension of our differences in a creative way,” Palmer — who has lived through some of the past century’s most tumultuous and polarizing periods, from WWII to the Civil Rights movement to the plight of marriage equality — writes: We engage in creative tension-holding every day in every dimension of our lives, seeking and finding patches of common ground. We do it with our partners, our children, and our friends as we work to keep our relationships healthy and whole. We do it in the workplace … as we come together to solve practical problems. We’ve been doing it for ages in every academic field form the humanities to the sciences…   Human beings have a well-demonstrated capacity to hold the tension of differences in ways that lead to creative outcomes and advances. It is not an impossible dream to believe we can apply that capacity to politics. In fact, our capacity for creative tension-holding is what made the American experiment possible in the first place… America’s founders — despite the bigotry that limited their conception of who “We The People” were — had the genius to establish the first form of government in which differences, conflict, and tension were understood not as the enemies of a good social order but as the engines of a better social order.  A large part of that capacity for holding differences creatively, Palmer argues, comes down to all of us — “We The People,” in our dizzying diversity — learning to tell our own stories and listen to each other’s. (Lest we forget, Ursula K. Le Guin put it best in contemplating the magic of real human communication: “Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”) Palmer himself awakened to the power of this simple, enormously difficult act of mutual transformation when he took part in the annual three-day Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage from Birmingham to Selma, led by Congressman John Lewis. Palmer encapsulates the story of one of humanity’s greatest moral leaders: On Sunday, March 7, 1965, six hundred nonviolent protesters, many of them young, gathered at the foot of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin a fifty-mile march to the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, a protest against the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the electoral process. When they reached the other side of the bridge, the marchers were brutalized by state and local police, mounted and on foot, with billy clubs and tear gas. This atrocity, witnessed on television by millions of Americans, scandalized the nation. It also generated enough political momentum in Congress that President Lyndon Johnson was able to sign a Voting Rights Act into law five months after the march.


John Lewis leads peaceful marchers across Pettus Bridge, Selma, Alabama, 1965. Leading that historic march was 25-year-old John Lewis, one of the first to be brutalized by police, his skull fractured and his body scarred to this day. Echoing Rebecca Solnit’s increasingly timely insistence that the most hope-giving movements  of social change often begin in the shadows and the margins, Palmer writes: The twenty-five-year-old John Lewis and his age-mates in the Civil Rights movement were the descendants of generations of people who had suffered the worst America has to offer, but had not given up on the vision of freedom, justice, and equality that represents this country at its best. Those people nurtured that vision in their children and grandchildren at home, in the neighborhood, in classrooms, and especially in churches, creating a steady multigenerational stream of “underground” activity that was largely invisible to white Americans until it rose up to claim our attention in the 1950s and 1960s.


John Lewis (front, right) being beaten by police, Selma, Alabama, 1965.

Decades later, on the bus to the airport after the endpoint of that commemorative Civil Rights Pilgrimage, Palmer found himself seated behind 71-year-old Lewis — a “healer of the heart of democracy,” by then recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom — and overheard him telling a remarkable true story that stands as a powerful moral parable: In 1961, [Lewis] and a friend were at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when several young white men attacked and beat them bloody with baseball bats. Lewis and his friend “did not fight back, and they declined to press charges.” They simply treated their wounds and went on with their Civil Rights work. In 2009, forty-eight years after this event, a white man about John Lewis’s age walked into his office on Capitol Hill, accompanied by his middle-aged son. “Mr. Lewis,” he said, “my name is Elwin Wilson. I’m one of the men who beat you in that bus station back in 1961. I want to atone for the terrible thing I did, so I’ve come to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?” Lewis said, “I forgave him, we embraced, he and his son and I wept, and then we talked.” As Lewis came to the end of this remarkable and moving story, he leaned back in his seat on the bus. He gazed out the window for a while as we passed through a coutnryside that was once a killing ground for the Ku Klux Klan, of which Elwin Wilson had been a member. Then, in a very soft voice — as if speaking to himself about the story he had just told and all of the memories that must have been moving in him — Lewis said, “People can change… People can change…” Palmer reflects on the enormous legacy of Lewis’s moral leadership: During the three days of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I was reminded time and again of the themes that are key to this book: the centrality of the “habits of the heart” that we develop in the local venues of our lives; the patience it takes to stay engaged in small, often invisible ways with the American experiment in democracy; the importance of faithfully holding the tension between what is and what might be, and creating the kind of tension that might arouse “the better angels of our nature.” Palmer returns to the central premise that the act of listening to each other’s stories is our only vehicle to common ground, however small the patch. With an eye to his notion of “the politics of the brokenhearted” — a term particularly apt today — he writes: Hearing each other’s stories, which are often stories of heartbreak, can create an unexpected bond [between those with opposing political views]. When two people discover that parallel experiences led them to contrary conclusions, they are more likely to hold their differences respectfully, knowing that they have experienced similar forms of grief. The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy. tym-07-voter-anger With an eye to what is often referred to as “politics of rage” — topics of especially charged polarity — he adds: Rage is simply one of the masks that heartbreak wears. When we share the sources of our pain with each other instead of hurling our convictions like rocks at “enemies,” we heave a chance to open our hearts and connect across some of our greatest divides. In a sentiment of particular poignancy and resonance today, Palmer writes: We do violence in politics when we demonize the opposition or ignore urgent human needs in favor of politically expedient decisions. […] The democratic experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good. We can help keep the experiment alive by repairing and maintaining democracy’s neglected infrastructure… the invisible dynamics of the human heart and the visible venues of our lives in which those dynamics are formed. It is well known and widely bemoaned that we have neglected our physical infrastructure — the roads, water supplies, and power grids on which our daily lives depend. Even more dangerous is our neglect of democracy’s infrastructure, and yet it is barely noticed and rarely discussed. The heart’s dynamics and the ways in which they are shaped lack the drama and the “visuals” to make the evening news, and restoring them is slow and daunting work. Now is the time to notice, and now is the time for the restoration to begin. For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive … the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation. Half a century after Eleanor Roosevelt made her eloquent case for the  power of  personal conviction and our individual responsibility in social change, Palmer adds: Full engagement in the movement called democracy requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives. We carry the past with us, so we must understand its legacy of deep darkness as well as strong light. We can see the future only in imagination, so we must continue to dream of freedom, peace, and justice for everyone. Meanwhile, we live in the present moment, with its tedium and terror, its fears and hopes, its incomprehensible losses and its transcendent joys. It is a moment in which it often feels as if nothing we do will make a difference, and yet so much depends on us. Healing the Heart of Democracy remains an indispensable read, immensely emboldening at this particular moment in time. Complement it with Palmer on the  elusive art of inner wholeness, education as a form of spirituality, and his magnificent Naropa University commencement address about the six  pillars of the  wholehearted life, then revisit Mencken on reclaiming the spirit of democracy from  the conformity that  passes for it. Copyright 2016 by Maria Popova ================================================= 4. “WHAT YOU WANT” OR “WHAT YOU NEED”?     BY THE YOUNG MAN, NOVEMBER 30, 2016 I do think it may be helpful to define what is “light.” It seems many people believe Trump’s presidency will falter and this will allow the “liberal/progressive” light to come back in. But the real issue is whether people will be able to see light, even if it is a different light than that which they expect. I mean, isn’t that, a different light, not the same light but a new light, what we’d expect to come out of an Unforming? That, of course, was a rhetorical question. I have a friend, Bob S., and we had lunch six-eight months ago. Bob feels, very strongly, the democrats are nearly as bereft of new ideas, and new perspectives, as the republicans. Bob is certainly right, the only question is one of degree. This takes us back, I think, to endnote 1 of my essay contained in the CTAL April newsletter* and the notion of the provisional nature of human knowledge and keeping one’s eyes and minds open for new ideas and new light, even if it is coming from Pluto or, maybe, Trump Tower. With regard to it coming from Trump, he has to negotiate a different pivot based on the Bob Dylan lyric I quoted in the April newsletter essay:

16-04 3 Dylan What You Need

An’ I say, “Aw come on now

You must know about my debutante”

An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need

But I know what you want.” (Emphasis added)
Back in April, I believed Trump was going to speak the language of what the voters emotionally “wanted” while Hillary was going to speak the language of what the voters rationally “needed.” In fact, that’s what Trump did and it’s probably a big reason he won the general election against Hillary. But now, to succeed as president, Trump must see the applicability of the other side of Dylan’s lyric and come to terms with what the country truly needs. Then, he must be able to sell that to the country. This will be an extremely difficult and tall order. My hunch is, as we chatted about over the phone recently, Trump will have to come-up with his own version of FDR’s Fireside Chats. And here’s a hint, it can’t be on Twitter. And while we are making reference to FDR, let’s try to remember a few things. First, FDR had to be convinced by his advisers to engage in progressively more deficit spending; he came into office as a firm believer in a balanced budget. Second, FDR made mistakes, like in 1937, when he prematurely became overly concerned about inflation and, therefore, cut-back on deficit spending. It was only after this proved to be a huge mistake that FDR fully embraced Keynesian economics and the need for greater deficit spending in a deep recession or a depression. Whether this country will allow Trump the same privileges to fail, as it has granted other presidents, is a critical question for this critical time in our nation’s history. Copyright 2016 by The Young Man *FW recommends you read The Young Man’s April Essay in its entirety now, after the election, to see just how prescient The Young Man was very early on. Now, also available, is The Young Man’s answer to the homework assignment contained in the  April Essay.



The birds they sang

at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don't dwell on what

has passed away

or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will

be fought again

The holy dove

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again

the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood of every government
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

But they've summoned, 
they've summoned up

a thundercloud

and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts

but you won't have the sum

You can strike up the march,

there is no drum

Every heart, every heart

to love will come

but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in.

That's how the light gets in.

That's how the light gets in.

================================================= 6. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:     NOAM CHOMSKY ON A DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENCY     AN ANIMATED INTRODUCTION TO GEORGE ORWELL © Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =================================================

Newsletter – October 2016, Update 5

================================================= OLD WISDOM FROM DESIDERATA… universe-is-unfolding 32 TWEETS THAT WILL MAKE YOU DAMN PROUD TO BE A NASTY WOMAN      JESSICA SAMAKOW, MANAGING EDITOR, HUFFPOST VOICES, 10/19/2016 nasty-woman-t-shirts Donald Trump is nothing if not consistent in the way he demeans women. “Such a nasty woman,” he muttered into his microphone in the final moments of the third presidential debate while Hillary Clinton was answering a question about health care. It was a horrifying moment that should surprise nobody considering how Trump has acted in the past any time a woman has threatened his (very fragile) masculinity. But this time, the good people of Twitter decided not to be offended by Trump’s words. Instead, they took the opportunity to make some beautiful Janet Jackson references and declare that perhaps a Nasty Woman in the White House is exactly what we need.   Just minutes after the debate ended, was redirecting to  ― the handy work of Jeff Meltz, a photographer and social media producer who lives in New York. nasty-woman-for-halloween See all 32 tweets that will have you wearing Nasty Woman as a badge of honor at ================================================= © Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =================================================

Newsletter – October 2016, Update 4

================================================= DEAR GOP…      BY LIZ PLANK, DEAN PETERSON & MATTEEN MOKALLA, VOX, OCTOBER 9, 2016


CLICK HERE and go to October 9 VOX Video


© Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =================================================

Newsletter – October 2016, Update 3

================================================= THE TWEETSTORM HEARD ‘ROUND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY      BY CONOR FRIEDERSDORF, THE ATLANTIC, OCTOBER 12, 2016 Marybeth Glenn describes herself as a Coolidge Conservative who is addicted to politics, Christian apologetics, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Ravi Zacharias, and Phil Collins. She typically votes Republican, “rejects increasing government control, and will gladly rebuke either side of the aisle when they become power hungry.” Presently, she is among the women all over America who’ve fled Donald Trump’s campaign: 16-09-u3 Earlier this week, on Twitter, she told her followers why she’s fed up with Republican men who refuse to follow her out the door. Her tweetstorm went viral and attracted kind words from Senator Lindsey Graham and third party candidate Evan McMullin. It was also excerpted at The Weekly Standard. It’s worth your attention, too. See her series of 17 tweets starting here. Or if you’re not on Twitter, here’s what she said:   So let me get this straight: I, a conservative female, have spent years defending the Republican Party against claims of sexism. When I saw Republican men getting attacked I stood up for them. I came to their defense. I fought on their behalf. I fought on behalf of a movement I believed in.   I fought on behalf of my principles while other women told me I hated my own sex. Not only charges of sexism, but I defended @marcorubio during Go8, I fought in my state to stop the @ScottWalker recall, etc… Now some Trojan horse nationalist sexual predator invades the @GOP, eating it alive, and you cowards sit this one out? He treats women like dogs, and you go against everything I – and other female conservatives – said you were & back down like cowards.   Get this straight: We don’t need you to stand up for us, YOU needed to stand up for us for YOU. For YOUR dignity. For YOUR reputation. Jeff Sessions says that he wouldn’t “characterize” Trump’s unauthorized groping of women as “assault.”   Are you kidding me?!   Others try to rebuke his comments, yet STILL choose to vote for a sexual predator – because let’s be honest, that’s what he is. “What he said is wrong, and the way he treats women is wrong, but it’s not wrong enough for me to not vote for him.”   Thanks, cowards.   Various men in the movement are writing it off as normal, confirming every stereotype the left has thrown at them. So I’m done. I’m sooo done.   If you can’t stand up for women & unendorse this piece of human garbage, you deserve every charge of sexism thrown at you. I’m just one woman, you won’t even notice my lack of presence at rallies, fair booths, etc. You won’t really care that I’m offended by your silence, and your inability to take a stand. But one by one you’ll watch more women like me go, & you’ll watch men of ACTUAL character follow us out the door.   And what you’ll be left with are the corrupt masses that foam at the mouth every time you step outside the lines. Men who truly see women as lesser beings, & women without self-respect. And your “guiding faith” & “principles” will be attached to them as well. And when it’s all said and done, all you’ll have left is the party The Left always accused you of being.   Scum. These sentiments felt so familiar to me. Then I realized why. It’s how I heard Catholic women of my mom’s generation talk after the church’s child molestation scandal broke. Learning about the predatory behavior was awful in its own right. But what really caused them to lose faith, what caused many of them to never return to the Catholic Church, were the religious leaders who failed to denounce the molestation; who dishonestly minimized it in hopes of saving the institution in the short term. A bad actor can cause a scandal in any institution. The true test of core soundness or rot is how everyone else reacts to the depravity. Do they reject it or say it isn’t so bad? This election, many Republicans won’t withhold their support from an openly cruel  sexist bigot. And there is a lesson in their failure. It suggests the best way forward. If the groups that Trump targets, especially the sizable ones, like women and Latinos, turn out in large enough numbers to vote against him, handing a crushing loss to the corrupting billionaire; if other folks who usually vote Republican join in that protest, to signal that this behavior is a dealbreaker; then the GOP will likely never nominate a man like this for high office ever again. Those are the stakes in November, the rare election where the larger the margin of the GOP loss, the better the chance it will have to be reborn into something viable and constructive. It certainly cannot succeed with conservative women in swing states calling its delegation scum and even a faction of elected Republicans cheering her on. More at: ================================================= © Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =================================================

Newsletter – October 2016, Update 2

================================================= HOW YANKS ABROAD CAN EASILY VOTE IN 2016 ================================================= SENT BY CONCERNED CANADIAN FRIENDS… NOTE: This is Father William’s personal responsibility and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of The Third Age Center for Leadership. We’ve got 4 DAYS left before the first major deadlines for Americans to register to vote! There are 8 million Americans abroad, they could tip this election to stop Trump, and our awesome tool makes the process way easier! Many of us have shared on Facebook, but let’s take a second, right now, to think if we know any Americans abroad, or people who might know some, and just forward this email to them. Here’s the link where they can register to vote: Our drive to register overseas Americans to vote against Trump has gone ballistic. Our online registration tool has been viewed millions of times, and been covered in hundreds of major media outlets worldwide!! (See it on Reuters, CNN, Washington Post, and CBC!) We’ve been dancing outside of Trump Tower in Vancouver: 16-09-u2-canada Taken major reporters, members and American voters on a swing around Parliament Square in London as dozens registered to vote together: 16-09-u2-uk And we sang with a mariachi band in Mexico City: 16-09-u2-mexico But on election day, what will matter most is the numbers, and that’s why we need to get this tool in front of as many people as possible right now. Major states, like Florida — which Trump needs to win the whole game — close their doors to new voters from abroad on Tuesday. The best, most impactful thing we can do is forward this email to anyone who is or knows an American abroad. Here’s the link again where they can register to vote: We’ve got 4 days left!! Let’s do this!!! With hope, Emma Avaaz is a 44-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. To contact Avaaz, please do not reply to this email. Instead, write to us at or call us at +1-888-922-8229 (US). ================================================= © Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =================================================