Breaking News: The Day After Christmas   (2015Dec26)

Saturday, December 26, 2015                                           12:33 PM

The affectionate whip has snapped and lies still—all its uncoiled energy came to a head with the crack of Christmas—and it is now hung coiled and still on a hook on the wall. We wake to the absence of holiday and the unnatural warmth of winter in a world out of balance—as if petrol prices weren’t low enough, the eastern seaboard is sporting shorts to New Year’s Eve parties.

The Stock Exchange reminds me of the Republican party—good news for humankind (the unexpectedly speedy, easy progress of conversion to alternative energy) is bad news for Wall Street—which is the same as saying it’s bad news for the fat cats. The petroleum industry, combined with the military-industrial arms-makers, make humanity’s doom the largest global profit center—what’s good for us is bad for business. You can’t pull down that kind of profit selling food or clothes or books.

The whole idea of making civilization a competition is stupid. Cooperation is the only smart thing to do—but there’s no profit in that; there’s no excitement in that; and there are no sinecures in true cooperation—nobody gets ahead. Yet if we insist on a society that allows us to get ahead, we are insisting that someone be left behind. Individual freedom is sacred to Americans—but a person without civic responsibility or a willingness to cooperate with the community is not exercising freedom—just willfulness.

We tend to include amongst our freedoms the right to be impatient—if argument goes too long or reason becomes too complex, we feel justified in cutting the Gordian Knot, throwing up our hands and saying, ‘Nuke the bastards’ or ‘Build a wall’. Being willfully stupid has become Americans’ favorite way of exercising our freedoms. I watched a beautiful program yesterday—it was a movie of new citizens being sworn in—a ceremony in each of the fifty states of the union—with interviews of newly-minted Americans extolling what they most loved about their new country. A common thread was voiced by one of them—‘Americans take their freedoms for granted—they don’t appreciate the miracle that is the United States’.

But that is only true of the loudest and sloppiest Americans—many of us are deeply appreciative, every day, to live here—and to keep vigil over our history and our ideals—and feel real pain at the words of demagogues—especially the ones who become media darlings through their outrageous subversion of our American way. Does CNN really think that the constituency that elected Obama to two terms is going to vote for John Wilkes Trump or Benedict Cruz? No, they just want ratings—and the hell with public service. We lost an important sinew of American cooperation when the news media went ‘for profit’.

We used to have champions of the public good acting as journalists and editors—now we have paparazzi and businessmen in their place—people who give a megaphone to any nitwit with a sensational way of spouting their ignorance. People like Trump and Cruz have always been with us—but the media used to keep its lenses trained on the sober, rational leaders who focused on the public good—and trusted that their honest efforts would gain them votes, without millionaires backing expensive hucksters to pump out propaganda. Sensation now substitutes for substance in the media—but the substantial challenges abide, and the sensations only distract us from the work of real change. The fourth estate used to help—now it just gets in the way, another tool of those in power.

People ask how America became so sharply divided—simple—the media made politics into a sporting event, encouraging people to pick a side and root for their team, rather than think about issues or answers. ‘Playing the devil’s advocate’ can be a useful exercise, in moderation—but when it’s the only thing you do, you’re just a rabble-rouser—a trouble-maker who profits from a fight and doesn’t care what the fight’s about.

Now The News   (2015Nov21)

Saturday, November 21, 2015                                          10:28 AM

Here we are—all together for the holidays. America, Syria, France, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Israel, Jordan, Mali, Greece, Ukraine, UK, Italy, Turkey, Afghanistan, Mexico, China, Myanmar—well, ‘countries recently in the news’ is a list too long for me to type here. And in some senses, it doesn’t matter—the places unmentioned in the news are experiencing their own difficulties—there’s just no sensational story there—or it’s too hot to report from—but you can find troubles everywhere. Trouble for the holidays—just what everybody put on their Christmas lists!

I’m tempted to stop watching the news on TV—it’s not that I don’t care—I care a lot—it’s just that I don’t approve of the way they’re telling the story. The media leaves out too much of importance and focuses too much (and for too long) on the unimportant. It’s a stupid way to tell a story—and when the story is of civilization’s progress through time, I judge it worthy of some care in the telling.

I see journalists—and whole news networks—filtering their output through self-interest and sensationalism. When the whole point of journalism is to give us ‘just the facts’, these reporters insult our intelligence and abuse our trust by reporting on a bias. News stories often focus on how the people ‘felt’—“What did it feel like to be there?”—“What are your feelings now that’s it’s over?”—that sort of thing—it’s called ‘human interest’. Human interest stories used to be what the newspapers used for filler on a slow news day, when they had no actual facts to report. But now, we’re lucky if any facts get through at all.

Do I care about how people feel? Yes, I do. In a democracy, the ‘feelings’ of the majority determine who is elected and what laws are passed (theoretically). Plus, we all want to know where we stand in relation to the views of the majority. Everyone’s feelings about everything, however, should oughta be based on what we know—and we rely on the news to inform us, not to consolidate our ‘feelings’ about our ignorance.

We have specialty news outlets that lean left or right—catering to our existing emotional biases—or confine themselves to business (the rich people channel, I call it) or confine themselves to sports (adults getting paid to play games). Here are the specialties by which I think the news should be diversified. There should be a Statistics news channel that shows graphs of data, changes over time, projections of future trends, and comparisons of one set of indices against another. There should be a Global news channel that gives the status of every country in the world, whether it’s currently a hot news spot or not—who’s in charge of each country, how their economy is doing, what their human rights status is, and what their least-represented citizens are having to endure. It should also give us a sense of which countries are cooperating with each other, which countries are opposed to each other, and whether that conflict is one of arms, jihad, genocide, economic pressure, or environmental threat.

And there should be a Political news channel—but not for a bunch of speeches and photo-ops—it should report on new legislation being passed on the federal level, the state level, and locally. The overall effect of the legislation should be examined, of good or bad potential—and it should report on which lobby pushed for the legislation and what the motives behind it are—and there should be some notice taken of the effects of any new legislation on the people who had no desire for it, but had it imposed on them. They could even have a ‘fun’ segment that listed all the lies told that day by politicians of either party—and maybe even a ‘heroes’ segment once a week that touts a politician who speaks an unpopular truth (though that may have to be just once a month, or even once a year).

I wouldn’t mind a Disenfranchised news channel, reporting on how things look from the bottom of the heap—the ad revenue for such a channel would be abysmal, but the viewership would be enormous. Science-based news would be good too—but not to report on new gadgets and spacecraft launches—it should report on the connections between scientist and funding, corporations and universities connecting, government and research being influenced by lobbyists—and all that sort of thing. You could throw in some stuff about education too—new educational methods and their implementation, or the barriers against education raised by fundamentalists, prudes, and special interests.

I could go on about all the important content that is presently ignored by the ‘news’, but you get my drift. People have been talking about the monopolization of media by the wealthy; about the surrender of journalism to capitalism, for decades—but now it’s really coming home to roost. Democracy can’t function without free speech and an informed constituency—and while free speech abides, we are no longer being properly informed. The popularity of presidential candidates with no experience in governing and no knowledge of American history gives some small indication of that.