Two sources

This has been one hell of a week, hasn’t it?

But since I’ve been waxing rhapsodic about 30+ year old student newspapers, let me share with you something that was drilled into my head in college journalism: two sources.

Two sources, or go find a second source. Two sources, or it doesn’t see print.

This applied equally to hot-button political topics, or whether or not the school physical plant was planning on repainting the yellow stripes in the parking lots. Two sources. Get two sources, or you don’t actually have a story.

That was in the early ’90s, though, before there was universal usage of the world wide web, before the Drudge Report, before TMZ, before Fox News and Breitbart and leaning-fully-to-the-left MSNBC, and before nut cases like Alex Jones were going on about FEMA death camps and vacant big box stores being set up as concentration camp processing centers.

About a year and a half ago, I worked a brief contract job at Fort Chaffee, taking part as a civilian “prop” in some National Guard exercises. We were given robes (in the dead of summer!), headdresses, bottled water, and maybe a couple of basic phrases in Arabic, and we went to work. Oh, and we had what I called “laser tag harnesses”, sensors that would be pinged by lasers attached to the guardsmen’s weapons. If we were “shot” and injured, the harness would emit a loud, intermittent tone. If we were dead, it was a loud steady tone, as in flatlining. The point of the exercise is that: none of us were supposed to be shot at all. Opposing forces (OpFor in military lingo) were another unit from out of town, dressed more or less like us (or in camouflage), and they were badasses. By mingling with us, they got us “killed” a few times. But by and large…we were props in a shooting gallery. The wrong targets. I could write a whole book about my experiences over the five or six weeks of that exercise, because so help me, it was fun. And I hope the Guardsmen who were trying really hard not to “shoot” us are still with us as a result of that exercise.

When I tried to explain this to a few people, one acquaintance in particular got ridiculously excited about it. “You’re a crisis actor for Jade Helm ’15?” he sputtered excitedly. “That’s awesome! What else can you tell me about it?”

“Um…that’s pretty much it,” I replied. “What’s Jade Helm ’15? If this training exercise has some fancy operational name, no one’s told me.”

He then sent me about four thousand links to InfoWars, each more utterly ridiculous than the last. I then replied that I wasn’t a “crisis actor”; in fact I wouldn’t even describe it as an acting job (and I’ve had one of those before). The response was, “Yeah…well…whatever they tell you to tell people.” As if I was in on…something.

The news is supposed to keep us informed. The internet was supposed to put the sum total of human knowledge and amusingly captioned pictures of cats at our fingertips.

Somewhere at the intersection of the two, the machinery of news distribution has failed us, and we have failed to be skeptical, informed consumers of news.

Gone are the days when the people on the other side of the screen won’t go to air or print or pixel without two sources. That job is left to us.

In the wake of the 2016 election, which has put a repugnant boar of a reality TV “star” next in line to be the leader of the free world, this is more important now than ever.

I don’t doubt that hate crimes are on the rise, committed by those emboldened by the outcome of the election. Do I believe every such story that I read? No.

I don’t doubt that the president-elect is gathering a sort of StuporFriends cabal of people who have no place in public office, either appointed or elected. Do I believe every story that I read about how they’re ready to piss the very concept of freedom down the shower drain? Not without verification.

Two sources. Learn it. Live by it. Because the media has ceased to do so. It’s now up to us to do the legwork.

We will get through this. But we won’t get very far through it by being willfully ignorant and keeping our heads in an echo chamber.

Head ’em off at the past

If my kids were to ask me what had changed the most about the world around me in my lifetime, I could tell them about computers. About how a world that was one dominated by paper files is now dominated by electronically kept records. About how video games have gone from giant bloopy pixels to photorealism teetering on the edge of the uncanny valley in just 40 years. But it’s not that.

I could tell them about the internet, which has had such a seismic effect on the world that it deserves separate consideration from computers themselves. About how we’ve gone from letters, newspapers and magazines, and class/family reunions to inescapable e-mail, the worldwide web, and social media. About how the sum total of human knowledge is out there, if only one can slice through the misinformation and bullshit. But it’s not that.

I could tell them about the Cold War, and how we’ve gone from a pit-of-the-stomach stone-cold dread of Russian missiles raining down on us to a fear of lone-wolf bad actors doing something terrible from within the major population centers of the world’s greatest cities, and how the civil defense sirens that used to scare the crap out of me are now relics that are all but useless unless you’re in tornado alley. But it’s not that. (And in any case, we’re apparently worrying about Russian missiles again.)

I could tell them about the media, where firebrands like Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite once held court and demanded journalistic integrity and fairness above all else, and how, even when I was attending journalism classes in college in the early ’90s at a junior college in Arkansas, you didn’t have jack shit if you didn’t have two verifiable sources, and how TV and radio stations actually used to sign off for the night as recently as when I was working in this media. Now news is a 24 hour thing, and it’s barely news because it’s really hard to find something substantive to say for 86,500 seconds per day (minus omnipresent commercial breaks. But it’s not that.

What has changed, terrifyingly, is that it seems like it’s never been easier to dehumanized and demonize anyone, anyone, who disagrees with you, and how people has simply stopped listening, period. Somewhere during my lifetime, empathy and compassion seem to have died. No public memorial service was held; you can be forgiven for having missed the news.

But if we don’t rediscover these essential parts of being human, and soon, the end result will be a funeral pyre for all of us. The lack of empathy has culminated in what has, frankly, been an absolutely horrific election cycle that nominally ends in 48 hours’ time or so; the reality of it is that it’s likely to wind up in the courts for an extended period of time. This home has been without cable TV for many years now; I’ve never been so happy about that as I have in the past few months, with two boys growing up in an age where we have a presidential candidate – or someone playing at being one – bragging about grabbing women’s genitalia. I’ve also never been as happy no longer working in the media as I have this past year.

Somewhere in the anonymity of computers and the internet, and the switch from the Cold War to constant fear of anyone who isn’t exactly like us, and the media’s abandonment of impartiality and adoption of constantly stoking the fires of paranoia, hate has become easy. Paranoia has become all-pervading. And the other, it seems, must be utterly destroyed: we must all be armed at all times, because they, whoever they might be, are probably out to get us.

It’s not any one of those things. It’s all of them together, twisted by people who lack compassion and empathy.

And I refuse to subscribe to that worldview. I’m voting for the candidates who I think stand the best chance of doing the most good for the greatest number of people, even if some of those people live in fingers-in-ears, eyes-screwed-shut denial that they, too, may benefit from those people being in office. I’d like to think that the vast majority of voters will choose the same way.

Regardless of who wins, however, if we don’t collectively strive to rediscover compassion and empathy, we are done as a culture. Done. And we’ll deserve it.

Our kids deserve better. I wish more people were determined not to fail them. This year, British voters failed to vote for the future instead of the past. Will we repeat that mistake?

Hypotheticritical

Old Fart FishSo, let’s say there’s a hypothetical city whose hypothetical residents are convinced by a small but loud minority, who want Nothing To Change, Ever, to spend decades voting against improvements and upgrades to infrastructure, even necessary things like sanitation and sewage. Instead of incrementally and relatively painlessly introducing these things (and their costs) as needed, they vote for Nothing To Change, Ever.

Until the outside world steps in and says, no, actually, it’s not okay to have punched the pause button at 1974; these things are not optional amenities, modern life sort of demands them. So now you’ll pay for them all at once. Naturally, this is passed on to the residents, who have to foot the bill. “Boo!” scream the voters who wanted Nothing To Change, Ever. “It’s not fair that we should have to pay for the city’s mistake!”

When actually… yes, yes it is fair. Because by voting for Nothing To Change, Ever, they are actually the ones who made the mistake – they directed the city to make the mistake – and they should pay for it. Sadly, quite a few people who had spent years voting in vain for forward motion have to pay for it too… but they were the ones willing to pay for it all along, back when it would’ve cost less instead of slamming somewhat painfully into everyone’s head like an enormous haddock, inexplicably traveling through the air at approximately 40 miles per hour in precisely the way that haddocks are not known to travel. It’s just not a naturally tenable position for them. Then again, sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and hoping for Nothing To Change, Ever, is also not a naturally tenable position.

Hypothetically speaking, of course. Any resemblance to actual cities where I may have actually grown up are purely coincidental.

It’s a great pity…

…that local TV station KHBS (my former employers, so it’s not as if they don’t know a thing about me!) couldn’t think of a way to localize this story by contacting, oh, I don’t know, a local author who’s written a giant book on the subject.

Doctor Who on Channel 40!?

The above Twitter link led to this story, which was almost certainly relayed straight from the wire service.

Still, I’m highly amused at the thought of channel 40, or even their Twitter account, running a story about Doctor Who. 😆

Now, about all this Doctor Who business… Read More