Writing My Congressman: The American Health Care Act

The Honorable Scott Perry
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. Office
1207 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Perry:

Yesterday afternoon the Congressional Budget Office issued its report on the American Health Care Act.  Their conclusions on the consequences of the AHCA are shocking — 24 million Americans will lose health insurance within ten years, and older Americans will see their health insurance premiums spike by over 700 percent.  This is the very opposite of President Donald Trump’s pledge of “better health care for more people at a lesser cost.”  The American Health Care Act put forward by Speaker Paul Ryan and his Republican leadership will recklessly endanger the lives of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of your own constituents here in Pennsylvania but making the health care system financially inaccessible to them and violates President Trump’s promise of “insurance for everyone.”

Therefore, I must ask you to withhold your support from the American Health Care Act.  Instead, I suggest that you support, even cosponsor, HR 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act which would dramatically improve the quality of life for every American by making health care truly affordable and universal.  As a matter of policy, the American Health Care Act is both irresponsible and inhumane.  The Medicare for All Act is the better policy choice.


Allyn Gibson

Fifteen Influential Authors

I saw this on Facebook a few days ago, meant to answer it, and got sidetracked into other things.  That happens.

The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it.  List 15 authors (poets and comic writers included) who have influenced you and who will always stick with you.  List the first 15 you can identify in no more than 15 minutes.

All right, fifteen influential authors.  Let’s do this!

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. Berkeley Breathed
  3. Orson Scott Card
  4. Philip K. Dick
  5. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  6. Will Durant
  7. Ernest Hemingway
  8. Fritz Leiber
  9. Larry Niven
  10. Edgar Allan Poe
  11. Carl Sagan
  12. Charles Schulz
  13. JRR Tolkien
  14. Matt Wagner
  15. Howard Zinn

Some random notes.

Berkeley Breathed is, of course, the writer/artist of Bloom County, Outland, and Opus.  I had the opportunity to interview Breathed last year.

While I would not willingly buy an Orson Scott Card novel today, I cannot deny that several of his novels, among them Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Seventh Son, made an impact, and the ending of Lost Boys left me utterly gutted.

Everyone knows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his Sherlock Holmes stories, which I adore and Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite novel, but I like his Brigadier Girard stories (about a buffoonish French grenadier during the Napoleonic Wars) a whole lot.

Will Durant, with his wife Ariel, wrote The Story of Civilization, an eleven-volume history of the world, from pre-history to the Napoleonic era.  I have a set of the books — they’re on a bookshelf in my dining room — and though the books are somewhat dated (and error-prone at times), they’re also books I can pick up, flip through, and read fifty pages solely for Durant’s prose and gift of storytelling.

Fritz Leiber wrote my favorite short story of all time, “Lean Times in Lankhmar.”

While I never got into Matt Wagner‘s Mage — a curious lapse for this amateur Arthurian geek — Grendel is something I’ve loved for years.

The near misses:

  • Karen Armstrong
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Alan Grant
  • Mark Helprin
  • Nick Hornby
  • Sir Thomas Malory
  • William Shakespeare
  • H.G. Wells

Instead of writing my list of 15 influential authors on a piece of paper, I wrote them down on index cards.  Write the name down, throw the card on the pile.  “Easier to sort!” I thought.  Before I knew it, I had a stack of about twenty-five cards.  More than the fifteen, and so I had to pare them down.  I couldn’t take the first fifteen as I’d already started to sort the cards so the order in which I’d written down the names no longer held.

Karen Armstrong wrote A History of God.  I read it upon its release, and though I was pretty well certain that I was an atheist at the time (without really understanding the word), I definitely was when I’d finished the book.

As much as I wanted to fit F. Scott Fitzgerald into the 15, I couldn’t.  In the “Fitzgerald vs. Hemingway” debate, I’m always going to side with Hemingway.  Always.  And there’s no one in that 15 that I’d bump for Scott Fitzgerald.  There simply wasn’t room for him.

Alan Grant wrote Batman comics for DC Comics in the late-80s and early-90s, often writing for artist Norm Breyfogle.  British readers would probably know him better for his work on Judge Dredd and Psi-Judge Anderson.  He also wrote a graphic novel about the War of 1812 from the Canadian perspective.

I have some issues with Mark Helprin — he’s in favor of perpetual copyright, while I believe the current copyright terms are far too long and should be reduced drastically (50 years total seems like a good length of time) — but his novels, among them A Soldier of the Great War and Winter’s Tale, have stayed with me.

Like Scott Fitzgerald, I just couldn’t fit Nick Hornby into the top 15, largely because of the mixed feelings I have on his work.  I love his prose, I love reading his work, but sometimes I find his books really unsatisfying when all is said and done.  Hornby struggles with his endings.

Musings on a Water Tower

Last Saturday at Farpoint I went to dinner with some friends and their pre-school aged daughter.

As we drove up York Road, the preschooler pointed to the west.  “Look!  A water tower!  It’s so small!”

I’ve worked in the area for the past ten years.  Yet this was the first time I’d really noticed the water tower in the Timonium-Cockeysville area.  It took a preschooler to point it out, and now that I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it.

I drive to work, and I see it from the Shawan Road exit on 83.  I step out of the office’s main entrance, and I see it.  I walk to Wawa for a sandwich at lunchtime, and I see it.

It was always there, yet it never registered.  It wasn’t important.  It didn’t merit notice.

The lesson here is that as we grow up, we teach our minds to filter out the unimportant things.  Or rather, what we think are unimportant.  “This doesn’t affect me directly, so I don’t need to see this.”  It’s not just water towers.  It’s the homeless person suffering from hunger in the cold.  It’s the child from the abusive household.  It’s the elderly person who lives alone and struggles to buy groceries and maintain her home.  It’s the refugee from a war-torn land.  These things are around us every day, they’re right in front of our eyes for us to see, and yet we miss them, even me.

A preschooler sees everything automatically; to her, everything is important, and everything merits notice.  It’s all there for us to see, we just have to have the wisdom and awareness to see it, to see the world with a preschooler’s eyes.

All it took was a water tower.

Frank Delaney and Scott Simon: Their Epic Radio Friendship

After writing some words on the death of author Frank Delaney this morning, I was curious — I remembered his voice appearing on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday from time to time, so how many times did he appear?

I turned to Google.  The answer is six times.

Just six times, and not in five years.  I can remember hearing three of these stories on their original broadcast — his first appearance in 2005, the segment on “Re: Joyce” and Ulysses, and the segment with his wife.  Delaney’s easy rapport with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday from his very first appearance gave the impression that he appeared many more times than he had.  Even though he didn’t, the two men had an epic radio friendship that was clear, strong, and true.  From the very first, they talked as though they had known each other forever, and their conversations were a doorway into a heightened world of words and ideas where they invited you to keep up with them because you just might learn something.

I downloaded all six Weekend Edition Saturday segments and listened to them.  I had the thought — I must have worked the morning of his first appearance at EB Games, I must have heard the segment either on my way to the store or driving up Walnut Street to get change from the Wachovia at Cary Town Center.  That segment, which I may not have heard in full, made an impression that has stayed with me over the years.

I think I may pull Ireland off the shelf tonight.  It seems only appropriate.

Frank Delaney, A Reminiscence

The author Frank Delaney has died.  He suffered a stroke at his home in Connecticut on Tuesday, and he died on Wednesday.  He was 74.

Delaney was an occasional guest on Scott Simon’s Weekend Edition Saturday, and that was where I first encountered him.  Fifteen-ish years ago — ah, I’ve looked, it was merely twelve — he was on Weekend Edition talking about his latest novel, Ireland.  Intrigued by the segment and enchanted by Delaney’s way with words, his eloquence and his elocution, I bought the book at the Barnes & Noble in Cary, almost certainly one night after closing at EB.

Five years later, Delaney started a podcast on James Joyce’s Ulysses — “Re: Joyce.”  Once a week, for five minutes, Delaney would talk about a sentence or two of Joyce’s novel, unpacking the references, explaining the context and the background.  Delaney didn’t lecture at his listener.  He was a warm-hearted friend, inviting you into his world and, with the enthusiasm of someone less than half his age, excitedly telling you about everything you never knew about Ulysses, English literature, early 20th-century Dublin, and so on and so forth.  No reference was too obscure for Delaney, no off-color pun went unremarked.  As the years wore on, the five minute podcast grew to ten, and the ten minute podcast grew to twenty.  Delaney’s enthusiasm never flagged.  Sometimes he would mention that, after finishing Ulysses, he would turn his attention to Finnegans Wake.  Fifty years he thought that would take him.  He said it with such confidence and verve that I believed he would do it.

I would be lying if I said I discovered the podcast then, as I did not.  It wasn’t until close to the first anniversary that I was aware of it.  A few weeks later, Scott Simon brought Delaney on Weekend Edition to talk about Re: Joyce.  Delaney had been at it a year, and he had only just finished the first chapter, set at the Martello Tower on Sandymount, where Buck Mulligan and Stephen Dedalus have just woken and had breakfast.

Delaney published, about that time, a Kindle Single titled Undead, about Bram Stoker and the writing of Dracula.  (Note: Undead is non-fiction, a long-ish essay, really.) It was one of the first ebooks I bought from Amazon, and as I read it, I could “hear” Delaney’s Irish lilted voice in my head, thanks, no doubt, to listening to Re: Joyce, and it felt as though he were reading the book aloud to me personally.  (If you’re a Dracula fan, I quite recommend Undead as it goes into Stoker’s personal history and the influences on the book.)

Delaney emailed me about two years ago.  Maintaining a website and a podcast (one that now has almost 400 episodes, if I have my maths correct) costs money, and Delaney would mention, from time to time, that he was taking donations via PayPal.  I would think, “Yes, I should do that, I should make a pledge of support,” and then the thought would pass, and one particular day, my inner voice said, “If you’re going to do it, then do it,” and so I went to Delaney’s website and made a small financial contribution.  About two months later, I received an email from Delaney himself.  He wanted to thank me personally for making a contribution, he appreciated that I recommended the podcast to people on Twitter from time to time, and he remembered that I had written a blog post about Re: Joyce back when I started listening and he wanted to thank me for that, too.  In short, he wanted to thank me for spreading the word about his project and for being a fan.

I learned of Delaney’s death this morning via Twitter, thanks to a tweet from Scott Simon.  It was incoherent, uncharacteristic of Scott, but the prominence of the word “devastated” was enough.  I wonder if Scott Simon will do a segment on his friend, Frank Delaney, this Saturday morning.

I never met Delaney, I’ve only read two of his works (Ireland and Undead), yet I’ve had his voice in my ears for so long and for so many hours that this morning felt as though I, too, had lost a dear and cherished friend.

Raise a glass to one of Ireland’s finest writers.

Loving the World

I had to watch this video a few times before I really got it.

It’s a short film, created The Climate Coaltion, a UK organization that fights climate change, that features Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, and David Gyasi dramatically reciting a poem by Anthony Anaxagorou about the wonders of nature and the threat posed, not just to people but to the world itself, by a changing climate and a civilization that grows too fast and moves too far for nature to cope.

I was alerted to the film’s existence by an email from Elbow, as beneath the poem and the imagery is an underscore derived from the band’s new song, “Magnificent (She Says).”  (I wrote about the song here.)

I had to tune out the imagery — and, to some extent, the music — and focus on the words.  And I could see, especially once I’d read the poem itself, I could see what it was trying to say and how it was saying it.

Each voice is a different mood.  Charles Dance, with a voice whose timber sounds doom, speaks to what has been lost to climate change — habitats destroyed, species barely holding on or past the edge of extinction.  Miranda Richardson voices what will be if we continue on our current path, the wonders of the world that will be lost.  Jason Isaacs is the voice of hope; our path isn’t fixed, and we still have a chance to change our course.  And finally, David Gyasi is the voice of wonder — there is still magic and beauty in the world when we stop to recognize it, and we must save it so our children and grandchildren can share in it.

But there’s still time to rescue the tranquility
the fragile space between parks, pitches and sea —
the cosmos in all its wonderment and us,
a blink in its starry eye.

Once I put it all together, I found the film quite moving.

I was going to find it moving anyway — “Magnificent (She Says)” hits my emotional buttons, and the images of nature in all its wonder were quite beautiful — yet it’s better knowing what it all means.

This is the only world we have.  We owe it to ourselves and the future to leave it better than we found it.

The Travel Ban and the Steve Bannon Playbook

I didn’t go to the protest at BWI yesterday.  If I’d found out about it two hours earlier, I might have; I didn’t have anything else happening yesterday.

In the last twenty-four hours I’ve seen several writers note that the protests against Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim countries are a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s governance.  That it’s what Steve Bannon, the anarcho-nihilist behind Trump’s upholstered Oval Office chair, wants and desires.  That Trump and Bannon have found an wedge issue that will open up not just space between left and right but a chasm.  And Trump can use this wedge to secure his presidency, not just for four years but for a full eight.

Here’s the way New York Magazine‘s Ed Kilgore puts it: “Trump and his closest associates do not fear blue-state protests of the sort that swept the nation this weekend.  More likely than not, they exult in them, and have planned all along to exploit them to show Trump loyalists they are fighting disorderly and essentially unpatriotic people who value civil liberties more than national security, diversity more than national identity, and America’s enemies more than America.”  In other words, Trump loves America.  Trump’s opponents love the terrorists.  And Trump can tap into that fear and ride out any controversy because his supporters will love him for the villification he’s taking from the left.

Kevin Drum makes the same point in Mother Jones.  The travel ban wasn’t an unforced error.  It was a deliberate provocation from Bannon, one that liberals have taken in their defense of American values.  “Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation.  He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible.  He wanted the ACLU involved.  He thinks this will be a PR win.  Liberals think the same thing.  All the protests, the court judgments, the press coverage: this is something that will make middle America understand just what Trump is really all about.  And once they figure it out, they’ll turn on him.  In other words, both sides think that maximum exposure is good for them.  Liberals think middle America will be appalled at Trump’s callousness.  Bannon thinks middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists.  After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for.  Who’s going to win?”

That’s a good question, Kevin.  A very good question, indeed.

Fun With Lightbulb Replacement

Friday morning, my driver’s side headlight bulb blew on the way to work.  I noticed, stopped on Shawan Road at the stoplight there that I didn’t have two headlight reflections in the bumper of the car in front of me.  Just one.  On the passenger side.

Hum, I thought.  Hum.  At the office parking lot, I investigated.  Yes, indeed.  The low-beam light was out.

I have the tools! I thought.  I bought the special nut driver I need when the passenger side light blew!  so, to AutoZone up the street I went on my lunchbreak and, twenty-ish dollars later, I had a Sylvania H7 bulb in hand.

I thought about changing the bulb yesterday.  But it never got above thirty-five, and I thought today would be warmer.  I should have gone with my original plan.  It’s really no warmer today than it was yesterday, and at least yesterday was sunny.  Today, however, is overcast.  I’m not always the swiftest tool in the shed.

I knew the driver’s side was going to be tricky.  I didn’t realize how tricky.

The problem is the battery.  It’s right there, in the way, between me and the headlight assembly.

First, I had to find the locking nut.

I removed the battery cover for a little more working room.  Unfortunately, while I could see the pictogram instructions for the locking nut (a lock in both locked and unlocked positions, with arrows pointing which way to turn), I could not see the nut itself.  That was under a hose!  I couldn’t reach the hose to push it out of the way, and with the battery in the way I needed something of length to push it.

Why I decided on a wooden spatula I have no idea.  But when I went in the kitchen and rummaged through a drawer, it seemed like the best possible tool.  It was long, it was wooden (so it was unlikely to cause any electrical shorts), and it was a very narrow handle.  It turned out to be ideal.  I was able to use the spatula handle to nudge the hose out of the way, and with the nut exposed I then attempted to get my nut driver on the nut.

It took a few attempts, as I essentially had to do it blind; the only angle I could really see the nut from was precisely the angle I had to get the nut driver on the nut.  Once I did, there was no doubt.  Not only was it secure, but it was wedged in such an angle that the handle itself was held in placed by the battery case and the frame.  I turned the nut, and the headlamp assembly was unlocked.

Next, I had to find the release latch.

The idea is, hold the release latch and slide the assembly out.  On the passenger side, this is possible as you can see it and reach it.  On the driver side… well, on the driver side, the battery is genuinely in the way.  The latch is under the battery.  However!  If you can slide something between the battery and the air conditioning vent right behind it — we’re talking a gap of about half an inch — you can hit the very end of the latch.  And as soon as you release the latch, the latch will spring back up and the assembly will be held in place.

So I turned to my wooden spatula.

What followed was an absurd comedy of errors that lasted close to ten minutes.  I got the headlamp assembly loose rather quickly.  It was getting the whole thing out that took time.  The spatula had no force of its own, so I had to attempt to hold it in place while also attempting to pop out the assembly.

I also managed, at this point, to tear back every single one of my fingernails from the attempt.

Once the headlight assembly was out, it was time to put the new bulb in.  I thought about doing it right there, but my fingertips were numb — remember, it was only thirty-seven degrees — so I went at did it at my dining room table.

The bulb replacement was the quickest part.  Pop off the leads, unhook the spring that holds the bulb in place, pop out the bulb, pop the new one in, hook it into place, pop on the leads.

Putting the assembly back did not take anywhere near as long.  It was not, however, easy.  I had it misaligned, and then I thought I had it in place so I locked the nut and removed the driver, only to discover that it wasn’t in place at all and it didn’t work at all.

So I had to repeat all the steps — use the spatula to move the hose, try to get the nut driver in place without being able to see what I was doing, use the spatula to try to push the release lever…

To my surprise, repeating the steps was infinitely easier than discovering the steps.  I had the assembly out and back in within about two minutes.  This time, I could tell it was in place — the rubber seals around the headlight assembly were tight against the body.  And when I started up the Beetle and tested the lights, everything worked.

All told, it took about twenty-five minutes to replace the headlight bulb.  I sort of expect that I’ll have to replace the high beam bulbs within the next few months; they’re working fine, but bulbs don’t last forever.

John Hurt, a Reminisence

In the mid-90s I bought an audiobook read by John Hurt.

The book was Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I found the cassette one day at Big Lots, along with some others (Ian Fleming’s “The Living Daylights,” read by Anthony Valentine; Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Three Students,” reader unremembered), for about two dollars apiece.

The audiobook was abridged, naturally, as it ran all of about forty minutes.  I would listen to it sometimes in the car while driving, captivated as much by Stevenson’s story of a man and his inner monster as I was by the sound of Hurt’s voice.  Sometimes, on long trips by myself, such as on 29 between Lynchburg and Charlottesville, I would recite the story along with Hurt, imitating his voice as closely as possible — the accent, the timbre, the weight, the presence.  Hurt’s voice had presence.  I loved the way he enunciated his words, the way his voice could be all at once rough yet gentle, ancient yet innocent, stern yet mischievous.  In short order, I developed a decent, if unremarkable, Hurt vocal impression.  Of all the skills one can develop in life, a John Hurt impression shouldn’t rank high at all.

John Hurt — Sir John Hurt, now — died this week at the age of 77, following a two year battle with pancreatic cancer.  A friend alerted me on Twitter yesterday evening; I was playing a game of Age of Empires II, and the news came as an unwelcome and unwanted blow.

I was gutted — am gutted — at Hurt’s passing.  The way some of my friends were devastated last year by the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, that’s very much how I feel now about Hurt’s death.  Even imitating Hurt’s voice-over from Merlin‘s opening sequence — “In a land of myth and a time of magic…” — makes my eyes fill with tears and my throat constrict.

I don’t even know when I became aware of Hurt.  I have vague memories from childhood of seeing commercials on television for The Elephant Man, but I didn’t see that until I was in college.  I saw Disney’s The Black Cauldron when it came out, but I have no lasting impression of it.  My dad rented Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, Part 1 from Acme Video when I was about ten, but I wasn’t aware that Hurt voiced Aragorn until much more recently.  I think it was Spaceballs where I first saw Hurt, and the joke of his cameo in the film went over my head.  (Surprisingly, I didn’t see Ridley Scott’s Alien until the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set came out.)

Where I really noticed Hurt was in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller.  It aired, going from memory here, on NBC on Sunday nights.  Hurt, in heavy make-up, told stories — specifically, European folk tales — to a talking Muppet dog, and those tales were dramatized with more Muppet wizardry.  I was in high school when it aired, and I watched the show with my family.  When the series was released on DVD, circa 2003-ish, I bought it immediately from the Wal-Mart near my house on Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh.  The DVD transfer was terrible — all nine, hour-long episodes were compressed onto a single DVD — but I didn’t care.  I had The Storyteller.

I enjoyed seeing Hurt in things — the billionaire H.R. Hadden in Contact, Professor Bruttenholm in Hellboy, Indy’s old friend Ox in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  I loved him as the voice of the Great Dragon in Merlin.  He did radio drama, too; BBC Radio 4’s adaptation of War and Peace may have been a bit ponderous, but his portrayal of the irascible Prince Bolkonsky was a delight.

And, of course, John Hurt was the Doctor.

There came a point when I said to myself, “John Hurt should have been the Doctor.  But it’s too late now.  It’s a young man’s role, and he’s not a young man anymore.”  But then he was, cast as the forgotten (or ignored) incarnation of the Doctor, the one who fought the Time War, for Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary special.  I imagined, as a lark, what John Hurt’s era might have been like.  Though I thought “The Day of the Doctor,” the anniversary special, was flawed and Hurt’s role underwritten, I couldn’t deny that he had done a marvelous job elevating the material, as if he had always been the Doctor, as though he were born for the role.  When you ask me who my Doctor is, I used to say I didn’t have a favorite.  Now, I say John Hurt is my Doctor.

There was some ineffable quality in Hurt that made him compelling, no matter his role.  Maybe it was his fearlessness; he took roles, like Quintin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, that some said would destroy his career.  In one of his greatest roles, John Merrick in The Elephant Man, he was buried so far beneath the make-up and the prosthetics, that you have to know it’s him.  He could play villainous and depraved, he could play compassionate and sympathetic, and he could quite easily straddle the two, making his villains human and lending an hint of darkness or menace to his more heroic roles.  You couldn’t miss him — the craggy, angular features of his face, the presence of a voice that could only be his — yet he made each role different and disappeared within it.  He was always a fascinating actor to watch.

My favorite John Hurt story has nothing to do with acting, though.

Eric Clapton fell in love with George Harrison’s first wife, Pattie Boyd.  Harrison’s marriage was shaky, Clapton penned the song “Layla” as an expression of his passion for Boyd, and somehow it was decided that the two men would have a guitar duel to determine which of them would “get” Boyd.  (By “guitar duel,” I mean that they were going to settle the issue musically, with each man using their guitar and their music to make their case for he deserved Boyd’s love.) Hurt, who had been a friend of Harrison’s going back into the mid-1960s (they used to do various drugs, like acid, together, and Harrison produced one of Hurt’s early films, Little Malcolm), happened to be staying at Harrison’s mansion, and he was one of the judges for the guitar duel.

Harrison lost.

Hurt also appeared in the video for Paul McCartney’s song “Take It Away,” playing a Brian Epstein-esque band manager.

Hurt had good innings.  He had a rich, full life and a career as varied as any creator could wish for.  Our lives on Earth are short, and much of what we do will be forgotten, but John Hurt left behind a body of work that will be remembered and endure.

We should all be so lucky.

As for that cassette tape of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was lost long ago.  I have thought at times of trying to find one, but I fear it won’t be as wonderful as I remember it.

Second star on the right, sir, and straight on til morning.

Thoughts on the “Rogue” Government Twitter Accounts

In the last week Twitter has exploded with “rogue” government Twitter accounts, accounts that purport to be “employees… disgruntled by moves the [Trump] administration has made to tamp down on these agency’s abilities to spread their messages… and have taken to Twitter to resist Trump’s authoritarianism.”  There are even some (I know of three) that purport to be White House staff working in the West Wing.  If you’re on Twitter and you’re following of the “rogue” accounts, please don’t think I’m criticizing you — I’m not — and you should retweet the things you want to retweet.  But these accounts have been on my mind for a few days, and I have thoughts I want to share.

Some of these Twitter accounts could be genuine.  It’s unlikely that all of them are.  The anonymity of Twitter is to the benefit of these accounts.  There doesn’t have to have government employees behind them.  They don’t have to be an outlet from anonymous sources.  They could simply be run by enthusiastic fans of the agencies or Trump critics who are creating an anonymous account and amassing millions of followers by catching the zeitgeist of the moment.

Take some of the West Wing accounts.  Yes, the Trump White House is leaking like a bucket with a hole in the bottom, as articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post have made clear; the “papers of record” wouldn’t have run their stories about White House infighting and Trump’s mercurial moods without solid, if anonymous, sourcing.  But I haven’t seen anything out of the White House insider accounts that couldn’t have been gleaned from paying careful attention to the news over the past few months and making reasonable extrapolations based on the personalities involved.  Hell, if I had the time and the wherewithal, which I don’t, I could fake up a “White House Insider” Twitter account quite easily and quite convincingly.  Frankly, so could most of you reading this.

A healthy skepticism, in my view, is warranted, and this article from New York Magazine makes that point I’ve been feeling: “less attention has been paid to the sharing dynamic that has helped these accounts blow up in the first place.  People who share these accounts and their tweets desperately want it to be the case that some brave government staffers are tweeting their resistance to the Trump agenda.  Because they want it to be true, they don’t bother to ask the questions they would ask if the information didn’t confirm their political biases — they retweet and like and share in a way they simply wouldn’t in other cases.”

In short, the popularity of these accounts in Twitter’s political ecosystem is a function of a confirmation bias.  As I said, some percentage of them may be genuine.  Heck, even the White House insider accounts could be genuine.  But it’s also impossible to know, and that’s important to keep in mind.  What seems like it’s real and supports your ideas may, in fact, be nothing of the sort.