Let Them Speak

Losing a child is an experience that alters your life forever. Parents never get over it. I know this firsthand.

Last Wednesday, 17 students lost their lives in Parkland, Florida. The grief and loss that follows parents burying their adult child brings with it shock, and a host of other powerful emotions. The only solace they might feel in the days, weeks, months (and beyond) often comes from the kind and empathetic people that come alongside them and share in their loss.

When a tragedy has a public component, then this means the media comes calling. Parents, along with fellow classmates, will be asked an incessant line of questions—some of them invasive and even, just plain heartless and worse—stupid.

My son wasn’t gunned down with an assault rifle, but when the car impacted his body along U.S. 90 in Crestview, Florida, killing him immediately, he was just as dead. My wife and I have been picking up the pieces of our lives ever since—we’ve now passed the one-year anniversary, and continue counting.

I’m not going to say I know exactly what the parents of the 17 classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are feeling today and have been for a week. I will say I have a sense about what the pain feels like—for me, it felt like my heart was ripped from my chest.

When a son or daughter is murdered like their children were, and the media turns it into a circus primarily to enhance ratings (and sell advertising), anger is never too far away. In my case, I ended up telling a writer from a major newspaper to “fuck off” when all she cared about was including Mark in her story about people crossing America who had been killed after being hit by a vehicle. She was heartless.

I have been amazed by the strength and resolve of students like Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky, some of the more prominent classmates (among many), in speaking out forcefully in the aftermath of the mass shooting at their school. Not sure if the adults plan to follow their lead.

Students have become the leaders in Parkland, FL [Photo-Saul Martinez/NY Times]

Rachel Catania, 15, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland said she got a lot of non-answers from the politicians she spoke with Tuesday.

“I know it’s going to be hard, but I know we can do it,” she said. “We’re not going to be the school that got shot, we’re going to be the school that got shot and made something happen. A change is going to happen.”

Then there are those, like Bill O’Reilly, a major media figure who is obviously short on the empathy side of things, offering counsel and a critique of a media that he did his darned-well-best to run into the ditch.

Apparently now is not the time to interview students and let them have a say because “Mr. Empathy,” O’Reilly, questioned whether or not  the media should be promoting “opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”

Bill O’Reilly knows best [not!]

Yes they should, Bill. You know why? Because what they have to offer is authentic and not scripted like the talking points you trotted out for years on your program from ideological hacks that you curried favor with, most of them politicians.

Lastly, the main issue isn’t culture or mental illness. Listen to the students. The issue is guns.

Here’s some advice: if you’ve never lost a child suddenly and tragically and are like most—incapable of providing anything approximating empathy—then it’s all-too-easy to offer up Monday morning quarterbacking that’s wrong, useless, but extremely hurtful to those who are grieving and those who know something about grief and loss. How about just shutting up and letting those that know something (because they’ve earned that right through experience), speak.


Media’s Cock Roach

Living in Trump’s dystopian nation (if you haven’t ingested the Kool-Aid), sometimes you can forget that this American life sometimes delivers treats, too.

Last week, it was #InternationalClashDay. This afternoon, while listening to Maine Calling, hosted by Maine media vet, Jennifer Rooks, I found out it’s #WorldRadioDay. Hot damn! I love radio, so why not celebrate the hell out of the day? The verdict of Rooks and her guests was that radio’s still going strong and will continue to survive.

I grew up when you could still hear rock and roll on the AM dial. Now it’s the domain of conservative talk dirges and hosts positing an alternative version of America vastly different than the one I grew up in. Wanna’ make America great again? Flush Rush from the airwaves and play some music!

Happy families listen to the radio.

When I’m home and working, I stream music via several dial-based stations that I can’t pick up in Maine. This is one of the wonders of the internet and technology in my opinion. Here are my top four.

  • KEXP (Seattle, Washington)
  • WMFU (East Orange, New Jersey)
  • WMBR (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
  • WMPG (Portland, ME)

I can pull in WMPG’s signal on my stereo receiver and of course, in my car. I am a fan of their weekday afternoon “rock blocks,” especially Wednesday’s Radio Junk Drawer, with David Pence. More and more, I’m apt to be streaming KEXP most afternoons that aren’t Wednesday. Continue reading

Moving On

I was deeply affected by the events in Charlottesville. Many of the emotions I experienced in a visceral way, were flashbacks to Janaury, when Mark was killed. Another young person, with passion and concern for others, was senselessly killed by someone selfish and self-centered.

While there were a host of stories about Heather Heyer, an activist described in one as “a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised,” there was a sameness and quality to these that all made them read similarly after awhile. Her story deserved more. Too often, Heyer became an afterthought, as once again, media made it about “All Donald, all the time.”

Foolishly, I thought I could add a different context, one that was unique and personal, based upon our own journey over the past seven months since Mark’s death. Continue reading

Faking the News

I was born into a Catholic family. The Catholicism of my formative years was a totally different brand than the Catholic Worker-style practice of one’s faith (and life lived in accordance with the gospels) advocated by co-founder, Dorothy Day.

When I tried to capture (in an essay in my last book) some of the oddness of growing up Catholic in the house where I was born, it was met with considerable familial disapproval. I obviously failed in my attempt at being a poor man’s David Sedaris and mining family matters for writing material.

Today’s purpose isn’t revisiting family dysfunction, however.

Two Des Moines-based Catholic Workers, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya were arrested last week, having admitted to sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline section crossing the middle of the country and Iowa. Reznicek has a history of this type of activism, modeled after the Plowshares anti-nuclear activists of the 1980s. Both also are carrying on in the spirit of the organization co-founded by Day and Peter Maurin.

Dorothy Day, one of the 20th century’s activist giants.

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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