Archive for the ‘news’ Category

The New America

February 19, 2021

Maybe Australia can be the new America. Somebody has to refuse to cave to these massive companies and their arrogant demands to dictate the terms (and exceptions) by which they should be allowed to operate simply because they’re big.

Legalized Drugs

February 15, 2021

Our state legalized marijuana several years ago. I believe it was purely a move motivated by money – the thought of tax revenues on legalized cannabis are certainly near-irresistible on paper. But legalizing drugs causes a host of problems when characterizing the crime that goes hand-in-hand with illegal drug sales.

Case in point – the murder of two college students last month in town. They were found shot in the head in their vehicle, one dead at the scene and the other dying after time in the hospital. It turns out they were probably shot when they attempted to sell half a pound of marijuana. The people allegedly buying it decided to just take it and kill the two students instead.

It’s a horrible situation to be sure. But I was appalled at how the situation was described by the county Sheriff. The victims of this terrible crime were two college students who made some bad choices and fell victim to what is often thought to be a victimless crime – the illicit sale of drugs, in this case marijuana. You see marijuana is legal here from a legalized, licensed dispensary. Buying and selling it from anyone other than a licensed dispensary is illegal, a nuance that may or may not have been lost on the two young men.

But the sheriff’s description makes it seem like a tragic happening in an otherwise rather innocent context. As though the two murdered boys really weren’t doing anything all that bad. They made bad choices and fell victim. Let’s be accurate, their bad choice was trying to illegally sell drugs. We used to have a name for those folks – drug dealers – and the understanding is that they were anything but innocent. In fact, it was common knowledge as I was growing up that however popular and accessible drugs might be, there was an inherent risk and danger in acquiring them, let alone trying to sell them. Drug dealers didn’t fall victim. They took calculated risks based on an assumption of reward. Knowing those risks, they were often prepared to defend themselves. If they failed to protect themselves, it was understood this was a reasonable risk of dealing in illegal drugs. The people involved in that line of work were understood to be dangerous and sometimes well-organized and backed by powerful gangs or criminal networks who wouldn’t take kindly to an amateur setting up shop in their territory.

But because pot is legal, it creates this confusion, as though there really aren’t still drug dealers and gangs and crime syndicates who make an obscene amount of money selling illegal drugs. Maybe not marijuana so much, but then again, maybe still. The people I know who are habitual pot users don’t always (or ever) buy from dispensaries as the prices are oftentimes higher and the quality not necessarily better. They have a network of friends and aficionados who can generally supply them what they need.

The impression of dabbling in drugs as legal or victimless clouds the whole arena considerably, creating a smoke screen (ha!) that hides the very real and brutal side of drug dealing. I have no idea if these two murdered college kids sold pot or other drugs on a regular basis. Probably not, or they might have been more cautious. But they should have known that this is what they were doing – acting as drug dealers, which is an inherently dangerous and illegal line of work. If they had thought about it in those terms they might still be alive.

Tell All the Truth

January 28, 2021

In high school I worked on the school newspaper. I wasn’t cool enough to work on the yearbook so I put my budding writing aspirations to work writing and editing news stories. It was a great experience and I moved quickly into the role of News Editor, responsible for making sure reporters got their work in on time and it was edited well, had photos with appropriate (and accurate) captions as necessary and that the copy fit the space available.

It wasn’t hard work. The essentials of good journalism as I learned them were to answer the what, when, where, why, who and how of a situation. Preferably within the first two paragraphs. Additional information could follow later in the story, but it was essential to give readers (our national literacy level is described as 8th grade) the main facts quickly so they could absorb that if they didn’t have time to read the bulk of the article. Not rocket science.

In fact, my first year on the paper I found out the staff was going to a convention of high school newspaper staff from around the state. I had never heard of such a thing but was more than happy to miss a day of school. We sat through various presentations and sessions I don’t remember a thing about. What I do remember is that I was informed there would be a contest for newswriting and I should participate. Again, nothing I had heard about. I was shown a room with dozens of typewriters (yes, I’m that old). We were apparently given some amount of information about a hypothetical event and told to write a news story about it. How unprepared was I? I had to borrow a sheet of paper from the person next to me, who was clearly disgusted with my complete lack of preparation. Mea culpa.

It took me about 15 minutes to type up the story and turn it in to the rather startled proctor, further irritating the person still typing away next to me. It wasn’t very hard. Tell the facts then fill it in. I won third place in the state. I’m sure that irritated the person who had sat next to me even more.

All that to say writing a newspaper story shouldn’t be complicated. Give the facts. But, give all the facts you have. Failure to mention facts can skew a news story into something else. Something that doesn’t just inform and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions from the data you’ve provided, but something that nudges (or shoves) the reader towards a particular response. Not necessarily an intellectual response – it can be emotional as well. Once you begin this (and it’s easy to not be conscious of it, depending on how you were taught to write a story or what the purpose of a news story as opposed to an op-ed piece or the purpose of a newspaper as a whole is) you’re not writing a news story, you’re writing something else. You’re guiding the reader towards a conclusion you either expect they already have or you think they ought to have. Sometimes the danger is confusing those two things or not seeing them as either distinct or intrinsically problematic.

I know writing for a high school newspaper doesn’t qualify me as a journalist. My top reporter went on to get her journalism degree and today writes and edits for magazines and other publications around the country. That required a lot of additional education and training. But the foundations were laid there in a high school journalism classroom, under the tutelage of a kindly and uncharacteristically patient old lady who put up with the crap routinely dished out by some of the cooler people in the class who clearly understood better than she what The Times called for in terms of journalism. She was a good teacher and as such was not properly appreciated. She taught me a lot about writing in a short period of time.

It rained here today.

It rained yesterday as well and is scheduled to rain a fair bit of tomorrow. The rain has been nice and steady and blessedly even. Only one short downpour. I live in a coastal desert so rain of this kind is pretty unusual. It’s also desperately needed. Our state was in a multi-year drought often described as the worst on record. And once the rest of the state received better rainfall levels our particular county remained drier and at greater risk longer. We reactivated a saltwater conversion facility that was built and mothballed decades ago at a cost of millions of new tax dollars. That’s how bad things were.

Then things got worse.

We received torrential rain right after a devastating, massive forest fire. A catastrophic mudslide decimated wide swaths of a community just outside town, literally washing houses off their foundations. Over twenty people died in the span of a few hours. The community is still rebuilding and recovering from that event and in places the landscape is permanently altered.

As such, some people here get nervous about large quantities of rain over prolonged periods. Understandable. But the fact remains that rain is a natural and necessary occurrence and that if we don’t get rain during our very brief November to February rainy season our water resources can run dangerously low. Rain is a good thing. A blessing from God. A necessity. Not simply a source of fear.

But you’d never know that from reading the news story about it.

The headline announced how drenched we were by heavy rainfall, and the subtitle recited flood advisories, high wind advisories, high surf advisories and beach hazards. The opening paragraphs (some of which are only a single sentence) scream out about all the possible dangers and warnings and advisories the county is under, and almost grudgingly admit that no actual problems beyond some minor road flooding have arisen. Then the story moved on to recount each of the major fires in the past four years and the unusual danger associated with those burn areas and the higher risk of debris flows and mudslides in those areas.

Then it detailed how warming centers were open and available for the homeless during this storm. Rain totals were provided but given no context (what those levels mean compared to our average annual rainfall totals). Then the story once again reiterated all the various warnings and advisories issued thus far and concluded with a summary of all the areas where flood warnings were in effect.

Now all of that is true, of course. But what’s the cumulative effect of a story like that, where the event – a natural if somewhat unusual event – is described and portrayed in nothing but negative language with nothing but warnings and alarms the topic throughout? It is an article of fear. Fear of what happened in the past. Fear of what might happen in the future. The reader should be aware, on alert, on edge.

Not a word about how badly we need this rainfall given how dry our rainy season has been thus far. Not a single observation regarding how much rain we’re getting but how gentle and gradual it is. Not a single word about how the air quality improves dramatically after a rain, or encouraging readers to appreciate the brightness and clarity of light that will follow. I know, I know, some of those things aren’t news, per se. But they are true. They provide a balance to the story that reminds people there is more to rain – even large amounts of rain – than fear.

The assumption seems to be people should be worried and afraid of this rain. The news story is validation of that assumed pre-existing fear. All these different weather advisories have been issued! Your fear is justified and healthy! No matter whether the advisories actually come to anything. Fear is appropriate! And as such the article contributes to an emotional state it presupposes or, worse yet, seeks to inculcate.

A single article on the weather may not contribute much towards this end. But couple that with all the other articles about politics, the threat of right-wing extremist terrorists, the existential dread that is COVID and the worries and concerns about whether the vaccines will be enough or will be taken by enough people.

The only positive news stories have to do with new administrations and changes of direction. There is unrestrained joy and optimism in those articles as things that a very large percentage of our country’s population apparently approved of are repudiated and gleefully dismantled.

Rain is natural. It’s uncontrollable, yes. But it’s natural. It isn’t something we do or manipulate. It is something we simply have to deal with and sometimes that means dealing with too much or too little of it. That’s fearful. Like viruses. Again, natural things. Sometimes very dangerous to us, to be sure. But things we don’t (generally) create ourselves and that our abilities to manipulate are decidedly ill-equipped for. So these things are scary as well. Live in fear of them, we are told. The only hope is that someone will come along and fix them for us. A pill or an injection – something we do and we control. That’s where our hope is. In ourselves. In what we can do and control. Anything else is fear.

Don’t live your life in fear. Live your life in a proper context. But don’t simply walk around being afraid of everyone and everything except for the narrow sliver of things and people the media claims will help and save you from your fear. They won’t. They can’t. Their intentions might be good or not, but they cannot save you from the uncontrollable. From the natural. They can’t save you from death, or from the gnawing fear and anxiety inside you they have helped create in order to ensure they retain control.

Only in understanding you are a creature and not a creator – just like the scientists and politicians and social activists so glorified in the media, and just like those same categories of people excoriated in the media for disagreeing, for contributing alternative assessments of the situation and alternative avenues of dealing with issues. All creatures. Hopefully doing the best they can, which sometimes is wonderful and sometimes completely awful. Sometimes doing the worst they can, because some people are like that, just like little pieces of ourselves are like that. Black and darkened with fear and anger and hatred and jealousy. We point the fingers and make the blames for those things inside us but they persist. And they persist in no small part because we feed them. Left or right, blue or red, we’re apt to feeding those ugly things inside of us with justifications and material that encourages them rather than weakens them.

Use the brains God gave you. Read, but also evaluate. Listen, but also reflect. Hope, but put your hope in the one place that can support it – the Creator of the Universe instead of fallible and broken creatures good and bad like yourself. And a key part of all of this is telling the truth. All the truth. As much as we’re able to see it and understand it. And in doing so reject the culture of fear that rapidly swells and grows around us at all times. Look for the details and then come to your own conclusions. A good news story should help you do that. A good community will help you do that. And a good baseline will give you the starting point to make comparisons and evaluations and conclusions.

Make sure your baseline can hold, even when the rain is heavy.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

~ Emily Dickinson ~

Forced Flu Vaccinations

October 8, 2020

Not that it’s gotten a lot of mainstream media coverage, but Massachusetts now requires flu vaccines for students attending in-person classes. There are religious exemptions, home-schoolers are also exempt from the mandatory vaccinations. Otherwise as young as six months old, children need to receive annual flu shots. The state is expected to mandate flu shots for certain workers in the state as well.

Although certain states already have mandatory vaccination requirements for students, this is the first time the seasonal flu shot has been made mandatory. Decisions like this are of keen interest to me since much focus is directed to the development and roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine. Much like the flu vaccine, concerns about COVID antibodies not persisting in the body for more than a few months at a time mean seasonal COVID vaccines could be a reality, and I have concerns about nearly all mandatory vaccination programs, let alone a mandatory vaccination program that is both unpredictable as to it’s efficacy in any given season and for an illness that for the vast majority of infected people results in relatively minor symptoms and effects.

According to case law going back over 100 years, states do have the right to mandate vaccines and impose penalties on those who refuse to get them, an issue that will become more and more pertinent as the argument that public health trumps private health decision-making rights continues to gain momentum. The specter of wide-spread mandatory vaccines is unpalatable to people (even people who believe it’s the best course of action). We don’t like the idea that people could be put in jail or fined for refusing an injection from a stranger. We prefer the more pleasant options of public shaming or exhorting people to ‘voluntarily’ receive a vaccination, but those are just pleasantries the law currently does not require.

Vaccines in and of themselves are not necessarily bad things. But I’m very uneasy with broad assertions that vaccines are more or less completely safe and that concerns to the contrary are some how indicative of a lack of common sense. My concern is less with long-established vaccines with a long-term record (even if difficult to come by) of associated side effects, and more with the avalanche of possible vaccines being developed without benefit of easily available (and readable) discussions of interactions between vaccines or long-term possible side effects. I’m also very wary of mandatory vaccine laws (such as California’s) that don’t define an exclusive list of mandated vaccines, allowing for new vaccinations to be added under the existing law without notifying constituents let alone getting their approval on it.

So I’ll keep digging through the news to see how pushes for more and more mandatory vaccines are going. I’m grateful for advances in medical science, but I’m also all-too aware that even good ideas can have unanticipated consequences and we need to be very sparing in demanding people accede to well-intentioned programs, particularly when the individuals will have to bear the brunt of any problems that develop, with notoriously little support or acknowledgement from the institutions that caused those problems in the first place.

Reporting Jesus

September 22, 2020

I don’t for a second believe this guy is legitimate in the least. That’s not the point of this post.

But in reading this news report I realized this is probably how Jesus’ death was reported by the Powers That Be. We have the underground report, the eye-witness up-close reports in the Gospels – four separate, individual reports by or of people intimately familiar with Jesus – Matthew and John, both in Jesus’ inner circle of twelve disciples, Mark’s account which is basically a retelling of Peter’s preaching and teaching about Jesus, and Peter was another of the twelve disciples, and finally Luke’s account which is a compilation of testimonies. Although modern, more liberal scholarship will try to argue that Matthew and Luke are basically just copies of Mark, careful reading argues against this assertion.

In any event, the Gospels portray Jesus by those who knew him best. But how would Jewish or even Roman reports have read, were newspaper articles a thing? The article above probably gives us a good taste.

It would describe Jesus as a cult leader, which immediately categorizes ahead of time how the reader/hearer thinks about the person. Cults are bad and dangerous, right? Fanatical at the least, abusive and evil at worst. Jesus was likely described as a cult leader claiming to be the Son of God. Cults are small and separated from the mainstream and therefore inherently suspicious.

Jesus would have faced charges for an illegal religion, perhaps, but certainly for blasphemy, and perhaps for allegations of abusive behavior. Jesus didn’t often mince words with his opponents, which I’m sure some might categorize as abusive. Certainly his stern rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16:23 could be interpreted as abusive. Without knowing context, or by misinterpreting context (either intentionally or accidentally) any number of situations could be classified under dire-sounding language. I’m sure the article might characterize Jesus as a former carpenter. Such wording lead the reader/hearer to question why the accused wasn’t still doing their former work, what prompted their shift to religious leader or spiritual teacher, and calls into question their credentials for doing so.

Like the article above, Jesus was apprehended by a special operations unit likely consisting of Roman soldiers as well as Temple police, guided by an informant. The desire to apprehend an influential figure away from his followers who might endanger themselves to protect him is nothing new.

A historical news report might cite how Jesus embarked in a radically new direction after a spiritual awakening in the Jordan River under the influence of another charlatan, John the Baptist. The sudden change in lifestyle would certainly demonstrate some level of psychological instability, or at least cause the reader/hearer to infer it.

The need to try and evaluate what is reported and how it is reported is important, as the ability to smear someone in the press is nothing new and perhaps easier than ever with ubiquitous, instant news feeds and the ability to create or locate condemning evidence of a digital nature. The particular charges will vary by circumstance and reflect those charges considered most odious in a particular context. Christians were accused early on of both being atheists as well as cannibals. Jesus was charged with blasphemy. Jewish people through the centuries have been accused of murdering Christian babies. Charges hardly need to be religious in nature. Consider the sudden disappearance and then reported arrest and conviction of a leading Chinese dissent figure, convicted of corruption, something odious in a Communist country.

It’s said that history is written by the victors and there’s truth in this. Likewise, news is written by people who control the channels of information. In both cases, truth is sometimes difficult to discern or separate from opinion!

Cold Comfort

September 21, 2020

What a relief.

If a COVID vaccine in the United States turns out to be dangerous or unsafe, we know who we can blame. Dr. Anthony Fauci has assured MSNBC and the American public that if anything goes wrong with the vaccine process, he’ll take “the heat” for it and make sure we’re kept informed.

I’m sure he will. Whether he should or not is more complicated. But not as complicated as exactly what his taking “the heat” will actually accomplish. I assume at some level it means he’s willing to fall on his sword and resign in disgrace from his position if a vaccine is approved that turns out to be dangerous. Of course, with no long-term clinical studies ahead of time, it may well not be possible to know of potential problems with the vaccine until long after Dr. Fauci has either retired peaceably or even died.

If he has to retire because of the fallout of a bad vaccine roll-out, I have no doubt there are plenty of sympathetic individuals and companies who would be happy to ensure he doesn’t end up homeless in exchange for the relative luster of even a disgraced former immunology expert on their board.

Fauci might take some level of public blame, but that hardly means much. Especially since he’s not a political figure or a political appointee in any substantive manner. Not much comfort – not if you or your child or loved one is affected for life by unanticipated side effects of a vaccine. At the very worst, Fauci can rely on the passage of time and the dustbin of history to remove his name from common parlance and disparagement. But I guess that’s what those who might suffer side effects can count on as well. Nothing lasts forever, certainly not even life itself.

I’m not faulting Dr. Fauci or even MSNBC. This is political talk and it’s expected and perhaps has some place. But let’s be clear about the limitations of such talk. Having a scapegoat hopefully won’t be necessary. But if it is, nobody’s going to be very comforted by knowing who to point the finger at, no matter how willing that person is to be pointed at.

Isaiah 55:12

September 17, 2020

Conventional wisdom divides material into animal, vegetable and mineral. Helpful at one level but perhaps damaging at another, as we tend to ascribe certain characteristics to one group more than the others, characteristics of thought, motion, feeling, etc. Frankly we’ve often relegated these things just to the narrow category of humans within the larger animal classification, though that’s finally beginning to change as we come to understand other animal life better.

But perhaps this is only the first small step in a much wider understanding of the world around us, one that might see trees and other plants viewed in a whole new light that necessitates a whole new acknowledgement of relationship between us and them.

Maybe Scripture isn’t simply using anthropmorphisms, and trees and other vegetable classifications are far more complex than we’ve assumed. Science will take credit for discovering this but Scripture has used that kind of language for a lot, lot longer.

Makes me wonder if maybe, along a similar line of reasoning, our understandings of Isaiah 55:12 and the mineral world have room to grow as well!

Yes,the Press Is Biased

September 16, 2020

Great article linking to another great article about woefully inadequate press coverage of anti-Christian vandalism and other kinds of attacks – here in the United States (obviously there’s little interest at home in the press for anti-Christian activities elsewhere – we’ve known that for a long time).

Convenience Costs

September 15, 2020

Online ordering and delivery was a Thing long before COVID-19, but I can only imagine how much more money is being poured into Internet-based shopping options instead of traditional brick and mortar stores. Correspondingly, the push for faster and faster delivery times is driving not just technology but policy as well.

Amazon has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin delivery of small (under five pounds in weight) packages to customers. It has been testing such delivery systems since 2013.

I’m curious how this might impact home designs. Could homes have designated rooftop or balcony landing spots where drones could leave packages instead of leaving them by the front door where they are more vulnerable to theft?

What Are We Emphasizing?

July 27, 2020

On Friday I blogged about curious aspects of COVID-19 numbers are local City and County updates provide. Primarily, the issue that the number of reported cases is not the same as the number of new cases or even current, active cases where a person still has the Coronavirus and could be contagious. What is emphasized in the reporting are the number of reported new cases – many of which appear to be from weeks ago because the person is no longer considered infectious.

Here’s a Monday update, with two things to note.

First, in Monday’s e-mail, there was a new explanatory note included defining active cases – a number always reported but never emphasized – as cases that are still infectious. Frankly this is the number we need to be emphasizing. Highlighting large numbers of potentially positive test results that are no longer infectious only confuses the issue, keeps people fearful, and muddies the waters in terms of what is the current risk. This is what most people (rightfully) care about – what is my current risk of contracting COVID-19 based on the number of known infected people in my area.

Between the weekend (183 new reported cases) and Monday (77 new reported cases) there were 260 new reported cases. However the number of active cases – where people are considered to still have the Coronavirus active in their systems and therefore are potentially infectious to others – decreased from 361 on Thursday/Friday to 308. That’s a 14% drop rate in current infections! You’d think that would be cause for celebration but you certainly don’t hear this statistic touted in news articles.

The only local news article reported how the number of cases and hospitalizations have increased while the number of deaths and hospitalizations requiring intensive care unit care have declined. In other words, the impression is given there are more people who are sick or getting sick, but they are not as severely affected. Since they don’t provide us with a level of detail that includes when the various reported cases were actually tested, all we can conclude reasonably is that more people were sick than we realized, but that wasn’t really too big a deal because the vast majority of them got better without requiring hospitalization. Again, demonstrating that the Coronavirus – while still a risk to the elderly and those with underlying health issues – is by and large not nearly as lethal as we initially thought back in the spring.

Don’t just read the numbers, think about them and draw your own conclusions. I’d be interested to know what the data says to you.