Friday, June 12, 2009

A different kind of bad news

Has this ever been a bad news day!

No, I’m not talking about just Iranian election results or more car bombs in Pakistan.

The bad news started with an Oregonian’s front-page story telling me that “more than 2 million households are in danger of seeing their major broadcast TV channels disappear into a fuzz of static when analog service ends Friday.”

Danger? Did I read “danger”?

What’s the danger? Suddenly 2 million people have to eat dinner together and converse. The real danger is that a reporter could write such non-sense. Try replacing “in danger of” with “will be inconvenienced by” or possibly “will be irked by.” I personally like "will be potentially enriched by."

Next it is on to my daily feed of Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. There I’m told that it is the birthday of Anne Frank and that her Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has sold more than 25 million copies, and it is “the second-best-selling nonfiction book in history, after the Bible.”

The Bible non-fiction? It certainly has its much-heralded truths, but really, non-fiction?

Parting the Red Sea, the virgin birth, feeding the multitudes, walking on water? Suddenly overheated, mythological metaphor becomes "non-fiction," and no one blinks.

Not even Garrison Keillor.

So it’s now the end of the day and I finally get to New York Times columnist David Brooks. His subject is our stampeding American debt. He writes: “The ratio of debt-to-personal-disposable income was 55 percent in 1960.” He goes on to tell us that “it” (presumably this “ratio”) grew to 133 percent in 2007.

What ratio?

Here’s one of our brainiest columnists writing in one of the world’s most respected newspapers,and he doesn’t know the difference between ratio and percentage.

Worse, neither do his New York Times editors.

All three stories had news, all right. None of it reassuring.

Maybe the food additives and pollution are finally getting to us.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blocking ads for better journalism

I’ve done something recently to make a small contribution to the future of thriving, responsible journalism.

I’ve installed Adblock Plus on my Mac. The program strips virtually all ads from my regular news sites.

If everyone installed the ad blocker program, we would wipe out a traditional revenue source available to the news business as it moves on line.

Of course the industry is struggling to come up with feasible economic models that work on the web. Unless news organizations can maneuver around ad blockers, they won’t be able to count on advertising as part of their plans.

That’s just fine with me.

I don’t feel guilty about blocking ads, including those that dance onto the screen and obscure the news.

Adblocker and I are just doing our bit to take journalism off the profit-driven treadmill that has so undercut journalism recently.

I’ve always hoped that journalism would be seen as a quasi-public utility. To serve the public interest, it should not be subject to the incentives of the commercial marketplace and the stock market.

I side with those who are looking to foundations to pay for independent, quality journalism. Among the foundations should be those that raise tax-deductible money from readers hungry for in-depth, unbiased reporting.

In this FOX News age, we need to be reminded that the goal of the news media should be to report and inform, not to harangue and create celebrity blowhards. For that reason, foundation boards should consist of journalists, not politicians, investors or others with vested interests.

If you want to help journalism, check out Adblock. And to see one way journalism could go with foundation support, visit Pro Publica.

Disclosure: My own neighborhood news site, The Hillsdale News, has sponsors that Adblock can’t touch (at least so far). The pittance I ask from local businesses pays solely for web hosting and support, about $600 a year. I volunteer my work as reporter and editor. If I were to make a non-volunteer, non-profit of The Hillsdale News, I’d switch to reader contributions and seek foundation support.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

When the Lord, not luck, guides the Powerball

When Neal Wanless of Mission, South Dakota, won $232 million in the Power Ball lottery, one of the first things he did was exude, “Thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and blessing me with this great fortune."

Those who believe in sin call this particular one "taking the Lord’s name in vain."

Young Wanless might look to the Good Book for financial and religious guidance before doling out thanks to the Lord.

"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" writes Mark.

Of course, logic suggests that Wanless’ gratitude should have gone to all those folks whose wallets were made thinner by his good fortune.

According to USA Today, the 23-year-old rancher vowed to use his wealth to help others. I suggest the "others" be the thousands who contributed to his fortune in the first place.

They, and Wanless, were, of course, duped by the state, the politicians and the odious lottery industry. The publicity surrounding the likes of Wanless only feeds the flames of ill-gotten gain.

For every Wanless story there ought to be dozens about gambling addiction and dozens more about the legions of lottery losers. And then there are legendary winners whose riches turn them into soulless losers.

But the news doesn't work that way. In the media, the fresh young face of the “Praise the Lord” cowboy will always crowd out the day-in-day-out plight of the faceless losing multitude, most of whom can ill afford to throw their money away on a remote dream.

The story of Wanless' fortune is not about the fulfilment of their dream; it is the story of the long-shot exception that proves the dream's remoteness.

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Beyond "War is NOT the Answer"

The phrase on the bumper sticker “War is NOT the answer” has always left me perplexed — bumper sticker-wise.

First, it assumes that we know what the question is. War it NOT the answer to what? Injustice, rape, pillage, invasion, dictatorship, cruelty?” If war is NEVER the answer, it should say so. (More on that in a moment.)

Second, and worse, the phrase, by focusing on the wrong answer, doesn’t get us closer to the right one. I want to know what to do, not what NOT to do.

Third, war is not only NOT the answer, it shouldn’t even be on the list of answers, ever. It should be a concept that is not conceivable to human beings.

The bumpersticker, in a backhanded way, helps make war conceivable.

Recently I’ve been reading “Going Solo,” Roald Dahl’s memoir of his time in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He’s a fighter pilot in a small, doomed squadron stationed in Greece. Everyone in the squadron knows that the German Luftwaffe has the RAF contingent, the only British planes in the Greek theater, outnumbered many times over.

And help is not on the way. In fact the pilots are ordered to remain in order to provide air cover for the retreating British troops.

The RAF aviators are, in essence, dead pilots flying. Indeed, of the 15 in the original squadron, only two survive. All the pilots can do is bemoan the hopeless absurdity of their plight and prepare to meet their doom.

But the absurdity began long before their arrival in Greece. Once they (and the Germans for that matter) accepted war as the answer, once they agreed to participate in its inhumanity, they lost any right to argue about or resist the hopelessness of their situation.

You can’t argue about the methods of war once you are at war. War is as amoral as it is immoral.

The bumper sticker “War is NOT the answer” was produced by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker-affiliated organization in Washington, D.C.

I think FCNL can do better.

My bumper sticker reads: “Make war … unthinkable.”

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