Tag Archives: Current events

Asking for answers

I read a post from A Lot from Lydia this morning. It got me thinking, yet again, about how media decides what we should know about in depth and, as a consequence, what we should ignore. I spent a rare few hours with a television yesterday and you’d never have known many of the things, all verifiable, that Lydia mentions. Why is that?

The newscasters seemed more interested in shouting one sided one liners.

I have been pondering how more moderate people have been pushed aside, on both the left and right. The word “conservative” these days seems to be what anarchists call themselves. How can we get our questions answered?

This morning, after the front page of the Seattle Times above the fold was about

  • Our former mayor’s pension,
  • How to identify gifted kids
  • Amazon’s profits

While all of these are news,  they are not, in my view, front page material. Mayor and kids are local news and Amazon is for the business section. I realize that I am unusual in that I rarely see TV news (we don’t own a television), so they probably expect people to know more than I do.

However, I decided to try something, and I’m encouraging you all to do it also: I sent a note to the editor requesting a couple of in depth articles:

Dear Sir,
I rely on the newspaper for my news and like the way it takes a less sensationalized approach to reporting that allows me to understand issues.
There are two topics I’d really like to see discussed in depth:
1) The Russian Sanctions that were not imposed. Here are some questions I’d like to see answered:
  • -Why they were called for by congress?
  • -What exactly they were supposed to be?
  • -What is the impact on both our economy and Russia’s?
  • -What was the rationale for not imposing them (in depth with both pros and cons)?
  • -What is the legal situation of a president not acting on a law passed by congress?

2) The Tax law passed right before Christmas. I’d like to have a table showing all of the parts and how they will impact individuals, businesses and the finances of the nation. Even though the law was passed some time ago I’ve never felt like I fully understood all that was in it. The background for this is that I read recently that they will have to raise the debt limit earlier than anticipated due to unexpected impact from the new law.

Respectfully yours,

Do you think if enough people request the media to provide less sensationalist content it might make a difference?

What else can one do?

I’m Puzzled.

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Random Reflection-What is real?

There was a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper that gave me that “wow”, flabbergasted feeling. I’m trying not to be silenced by that feeling. Lately it occurred to me that these flabbergasting things are really stifling communication by reasonable people. The people who are hard over one way or another have a standard set of lines to go to, relevant or not.

The article: Paying to be Popular: social media’s black market. Since anyone reading this is at least a little involved in social media it’s worth a read. Fake followers for fake news (I am talking about real fake news, not the kind of “fake news” that means someone in power doesn’t like it even though it’s true). People who are “influencers” are buying followers so they appear to be more influential than they are. This causes their postings to bubble to the top in the algorithms that decided who should see what.

There was a scary article, in a scary special report called the Future of War, in this week’s Economist as well: My truth against yours: The power of fake news and undue influence.

It is a war…on us.

Here is the last paragraph from the Economist article:

In the future, “fake news” put together with the aid of artificial intelligence will be so realistic that even the best resources and most professional news organization will be hard pressed to tell the difference between the real and the made-up sort. Official web-sites and social-media accounts will become increasingly vulnerable to hackers, who may be able not only to provoke stock market crashes and riots but even contrive crises between countries that may induce them to go to war with each other.

The two articles are talking about some similar points. In the Times article some people have had their social media identities borrowed by these outfits that provide fake followers. The article was primarily about marketers manipulating the system. In the Economist they show how this was used during the last presidential campaign to manipulate outcomes.

This brought to mind something from a couple of years ago: I was chaperoning my niece and some friends at an over-night at my dad’s house. They made popcorn, watched a movie then started to do those Facebook surveys. The ones like “What kind of princess are you?”  I was struck at how much data about the personalities of these young people Facebook was obtaining through these surveys. Enough to figure out exactly how to manipulate the people who fill them out, not just by interests based on what they post, but by creating and choosing ads that will trigger them to react.  It felt evil. The kids were just doing the surveys for fun.

I think we need to ask some serious questions of ourselves about what the purpose and scope of social media should be…or if it should exist at all.

It feels like the system has evolved to stifle and manipulate us. Is there any way to hit the reset button and turn it back into a fun way to connect with family and friends? Or maybe I was naive to think that was ever the point.

Random Reflections on Power #2

I have been studying Chinese first thing in the morning, before I get up for a while now, before my head is full of other things. This morning’s challenge was trying to make heads and tails of the difference between buy (买, mai–pronounced “my”– with a third tone) and sell (卖, mai with a fourth tone) as an almost tone deaf person. I had a bit of a headache when I arose and started reading the paper. It seemed full of Trumpery, which is often fairly bizarre. Today it seemed weirder than usual, and I don’t think it was due to my headache.

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Article in today’s Seattle Times.

The article itself was, frankly, neither news nor of particular interest: The First Family, as is traditional, borrows art from museums. Most first families make modest choices based on their individual tastes. The current one wanted a Van Gogh. In this case the requested art was old and frail and scheduled to be shown elsewhere, so the answer was “no”. Simple enough. The offer in the headline was a museum curator’s idea of making a point, perhaps inspired by Saturday Night Live. It’s funny…or at least it makes you laugh as a first response.

She was exercising her limited power. The offer was within her rights; it was also a bit tacky.

More importantly, it takes people’s attention away from the more serious actions of the day. Why talk about this today when it happened a while ago?

Other news today was things like: People on DACA are being used as hostages for the passage of ill conceived immigration and security measures. More examples of a president who has repeatedly tried to obstruct justice, both by abuse of power and by creating stories. Trade wars and devaluing the dollar.

Mention of all these were also in the paper, but the front page spread was about how Amazon’s workplace is a fancy green house. I understand this being on the first page of the local section. A more appropriate use of the column space on both the front page and this “Golden Toilet” article would have been to provide detailed information about the long term effects of the immigration and trade policies. We still haven’t seen a good description of everything that was in the tax bill passed last month.

I like to laugh as well as the next person, but it is not a good idea to let articles like this take our eyes away from the serious news of the day. Let Saturday Night Live take this one. We need to start asking newspapers to cover news.

Chinese for business is 买卖, (the second mai in this case takes the neutral, a.k.a. fifth, tone).  They won’t stop giving us the 买卖 until we stop responding favorably to it.

Isn’t apathy worse?

There has been a kerfuffle…almost a furor… in the media lately about a football player who sat during the national anthem as a way to draw attention to the on-going inequity in how black people are treated by police. The inequity is well-documented and egregious. It has often resulted in people being killed or injured.

The degree of outrage has me Perplexed: this guy didn’t brandish a gun or otherwise act outrageously. He sat through the anthem knowing that the press would interview him about why so that he could communicate his concerns.

But maybe I should give some history about where I am coming from.

I am pretty patriotic. I have traveled enough, and seen enough, to really, truly believe that the United States is a great nation. I also believe that one of the key components of that greatness is the mechanisms for change and adjustment that are built into the constitution for when things aren’t right. The flag and the national anthem are symbols, but they shouldn’t be treated as idols.

Once upon a time I was a Cub Scout leader and we invited the American Legion to come and give the boys a presentation on flag etiquette. The Commander came and by the end of the presentation I understood why some people feel pretty strongly that they shouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance to a flag. The proper etiquette, as presented by this woman, was pretty much the same as treatment of the cross in many traditional churches. That was a point of concern during the Reformation: it had the appearance of idol worship, and it was also a way to seem reverential on auto-pilot. To accord to a flag the same level of “respect” as the cross bugged me a bit.

Fast forward a few years: I was at a small town parade here in western Washington with my father and son. At the start of the parade veterans marched with flags. The only person I saw that stood to attention and put his hand on his heart was my long-haired, wanna-be-a-rock-star son. No one else in my vision took off a hat or did any acknowledgment of the flags. Including my dad, who served in the navy and is “red”. The veterans marching so erectly and proudly holding the flags might have been invisible, everyone was straining to see what came behind them: What did the local grocery store’s shopping cart drill team have in store for them? How were the vintage tractors were decorated? It made me sad.

Fast forward again…not long after it came to my consciousness (there is often a significant lag between when a football personality does something and when I cotton on to it) that the player had sat through the anthem I heard a “news” bite that some mayor of a town in western Washington had canceled a Seahawks rally, because this player had sat through the anthem. He “left the door open for future rallies”. I was outraged: why is a town using community resources to sponsor a rally for a for-profit football team?

I am feeling all mixed up:

Is it worse for a guy to peacefully use his position and constitutional right of free speech to draw attention to a real problem of equity than to hardly notice the flag going by? Isn’t that football player doing exactly what our forefathers were aiming at when they framed the Bill of Rights?

Isn’t it worse that a town is using community resources to support a for-profit football team than that the mayor cancels it, probably because he wants to get free election year publicity?

I wonder how many people in that town pay mind to the flag going by in the parade?