Pedestrians and Cars

The end-of-week news cycle is focused on the attack in London that occurred on Wednesday. A lone driver plowed his car into pedestrians on the city’s historic Westminster Bridge. The latest reports are that four people are known dead, with another 50 people receiving injuries ranging from minor to very serious.

While the media unravels details, seeking to supply motive and all the other things that have become the norm in reporting news events, real humans have been forever impacted by one man’s act. Mary and I know all-too-well how the actions of a solitary figure have the power to permanently alter one’s personal journey.

How our news is received is now ideological. No longer are most people able to simply process information and come to a conclusion. We have grown accustomed to having others tell us what events and actions mean. It’s important to frame everything in some larger narrative—terms like “terror,” “lone wolf,” and of course, the need to link it to “Islamism.”

Personally—especially since Mark was killed January 21—I no longer care to consume news that plays to the same old binary ways of framing the world and my life.  Actually, my aversion to black and white explanations dates much further back than that.

Historic Westminster Bridge, London

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Fasting From the News

I don’t enjoy this time of year. I’ll likely elaborate on my holiday melancholy next week, with a Christmas-themed post. Lack of December daylight doesn’t help, and neither does 50 degree, Seattle-type weather.  Sometimes it takes effort to ward off the gloom.

Compounding the holiday humbug I’m feeling, the news—especially the binary back-and-forth among people of good cheer this political cycle—it seems downright maniacal. In fact, if I believed in evil in the “principalities and powers” sense outlined in scripture, I might assign it to the work of the dark one.

Despite decorations, demonic spirits masquerading as politicians, and winter darkness, nothing can stop the JBE from cranking out content—whether writing for hire, or remaining true to his Tuesday/Friday blogging routine.

Sometimes when things aren’t working, it’s important to change it up. Nothing worse than maintaining routines that deliver negative results.

Beginning last Friday, I decided to limit my news consumption. Other than 5 minutes with the morning news team at WMTW-8, mainly for my daily weather fix, I’ve been in the midst of a news blackout. Dr. Andrew Weil deems these self-imposed withdrawals, “news fasts.”

The news today can't be trusted.

The news today can’t be trusted.

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Lies, or incompetence?

There were plenty of places to get news about Wednesday’s mass shooting in San Bernadino. The old-line news networks were wall-to-wall and buzzing with coverage as soon as word went out that there was yet another shooting at a workplace, this time in California. I rarely consider CBS, NBC, or ABC—save for perhaps my early-morning weather forecast for the day.

Newspapers once practiced who, what, and why journalism, but now, they’re more than likely to be peddling politicized sentiments dressed up as fact. Plenty of media sources, but which one to consider?

I don’t know why, but I kind of like the Wall Street Journal. I know—it’s a Murdoch product these days and anti-business types hate that they take the side of the owners and bosses. There is a certain style and consistency inherent in how the WSJ covers stories, though. As to the matter of “truth,” well there are few places to shop for that particular commodity, at least if we’re comparing the mainstream models.

For the purposes of this blog post, let me focus on how the Journal covered what they were calling, a “Deadly California Rampage.” Granted, the print story I read was probably “put to bed” late in the evening on Wednesday in order to get out Thursday’s paper. I don’t know what their cut-off is for news stories to be filed.

As of Thursday morning, the names of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were being offered as the suspected killers. Both had been shot and killed in a gun battle with law enforcement after a car chase ensued after the multiple shootings at the Inland Regional Center. (this information came from the Los Angeles Times, not the WSJ)

But back to the Journal.

Something jumped out at me in reading the 750 word story. Near the middle of the article, there is this.

Incompetent, or a liar?

Incompetent, or a liar?

The White House said President Barack Obama was monitoring the situation. And in what has become a ritual in the aftermath of a mass shooting, he repeated his call for stricter gun control laws. Continue reading

Papal Edict

I’m going to stay with the topical for this week’s Friday blog selection. Given that the big news this week is centered on the pope’s visit to the U.S., I’m throwing-in with that one for today.

There is the adage that religion and politics are deal-breakers for winning friends and influencing people, or something similar. Yet, both find their way into conversations, and they sure have hijacked our current news cycle. I think there’s a reason behind that, and I’ll spend some space delving into that aspect of “Pope Francis Goes to Washington.”

The president and the pope; on the same ideological page.

The president and the pope; on the same ideological page.

Did you know that Francis is only the fourth pope ever to visit our country? In fact, we were 189-years-old as a nation before Pope Paul VI dropped by in 1965. Since then, it was John Paul II in 1979, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, and now, Francis. Actually, Pope John Paul II was a regular visitor, coming back for visits in 1984, 1987, 1993, 1995, and 1999. He always scheduled an audience with the sitting president  when he came calling, too. The presidents visited were Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan (twice), and Bill Clinton (three times). Francis is the only pope to ever address the U.S. Congress, however. Continue reading

A Barrel of Monkeys

The political world is framed by surveys and polling data. You’ll hear that Candidate X is up in the polls by X percent. Or Candidate Y’s lead is “within the margin of error.” These are terms that anyone following political news, even in the most superficial manner, is familiar with.  Sometimes I think quantification is the American religion.

After last Thursday’s Fox News/Facebook debate, the one where Megan Kelly ended up “stealing the show,” and upstaging The Donald, a survey came out that made me sit up and take notice. Not because of the data, no, but given the source.

Don't end up in her cross hairs.

Don’t end up in her cross hairs.

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The News Biz

It’s nearly impossible to find unfiltered news coming from the driveby sources. The New York Times runs a story on Hillary Clinton’s emails, then the Old Gray Lady furiously backpedals from it. The Washington Post tells us that the reason that Donald Trump is surging in the polls is due to stupid, white people. So much for our vaunted “fourth estate” and its objectivity.

News isn't what it used to be.

News isn’t what it used to be.

There’s a reason why many conservatives don’t trust the media, citing its liberal bias. That suspicion of mainstream news isn’t limited entirely to those on the right, either. Continue reading

The Speed of Information

Technology, despite all the tributes, alms, as well as religious devotion delivered via never-ending paeans to its superiority and ability to make us a nation better than ever before, simply enhances our downward drift. Leading the way for the obeisant is social media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and who knows what else.

I have a 94-year-old man that I spend two mornings a week with. He suffers from macular degeneration and is legally blind. I read him the Wall Street Journal, and some local news from either the Bangor Daily News, or the Portland Press Herald. I then wrap up my visit with something history-related from a book we’re working our way through.

He was a successful businessman, heading up a company with more than 100 employees for more than 50 years with branches across the U.S. Like many men of his WWII generation, he cultivated a daily habit of reading America’s business paper. I mention all this to say that regularly consulting the WSJ is probably going to flavor an occasional blog post, or two. Like the following story. Or should I say, a hoax, a false flag, about Twitter. Continue reading


They’re in Vermont. No, they’ve made it across the border to Canada. No, wait; their scent’s been picked up by the dogs—they’re hiding out in the back of a sandwich shop, in nearby Cadyville. Apparently, escaped prisoners dig Subway.

What am I talking about? The prison escape, of course! Or should I say, “The Great Escape.”

We’re now entering Day 7, and the news media is sure that the “authorities” are narrowing in on the two escapees, Richard Matt and David Sweat. With hundreds (if not thousands) of law enforcement and even military personnel on the ground in upstate New York, it does seem highly improbable that these two prisoners have managed to remain on the lam as long as they have in a world rife with surveillance.

What’s possibly worse than law enforcement’s tracking skills however, are the media’s penchant for sensationalism and fear-fogging. Continue reading

Less United

Over the weekend, a group of Texans gathered in Bastrop (outside Austin), concerned about the possibility of the federal government declaring martial law in Texas. This was reported in this morning’s Boston Globe. What’s the basis for this fear?

Apparently media operatives like Alex Jones have been piggybacking on a large scale military operation, called Jade Helm 15, to spread fear via his daily fear-fogger, The Alex Jones Show, a syndicated radio program. Many of those gathered in Bastrop no doubt got their information about this from Jones, and others on the outer fringes of the media.

Alex Jones using the fear-fogger.

Alex Jones using the fear-fogger.

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Journalism Takes a Hit

After just eight issues, Portland’s newest alt-weekly, DigPortland, is no more. For the purposes of self-disclosure, I did write one article for the fledgling publication, and my name is listed as a contributor.

There’s always a curve and an evolution with any new publication, especially one that publishes under the alt-news banner. Each issue seemed to be building off the previous one, and it felt to me like there was a definite transition from prior issues (and prior publications) covered in town, like #Ferguson and race (the Samuel James feature, in what was the “old” Phoenix was stellar and one of my favorites), dumpster-diving, and I even got to take umbrage with an event masquerading as an energy panel that was simply promoting the build-out of natural gas, tied to fracking. Where else could a freelancer have that opportunity save for an alt-weekly that was tacking a course that allowed reporting with an edge. Continue reading