Category Archives: Politics

Space – The Final Frontier

Gene Kranz–THE Flight Director

I grew up during the early days of the space program. At night, when Echo I–a satellite that was essentially a giant, shiny Mylar balloon–passed overhead, the whole family would go outside. A clear sky, the overflight time from the local newspaper, and we’d watch until we saw that tiny speck of light pass overhead.

The Mercury program gave us America’s first manned space flights when I was in grade school. For each launch, someone would bring a transistor radio–the latest thing–and the whole class would listen. Somewhere during the tail end of the Mercury program and the beginning of the Gemini program, the radio was replaced by a television. While most televisions were large and treated as a piece of furniture, some of my classmates had a smaller television that was (barely) light enough to transport to school. The picture was black and white, but then, most televisions were.

When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I sat on the couch with my girlfriend and watched, transfixed. Apollo 12 didn’t generate as much interest, but when Apollo 13 suffered a near catastrophic explosion, everybody followed coverage until the astronauts were safely home.

Later, when I lived in Florida, along the Space Coast, I could watch launches–including the space shuttles–from my driveway. One time I drove up to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch up close. First there was the sight of the liftoff, which was followed by the sonic roar and a pressure wave against my chest that attested to the power of the engines.

But, what I remember most fondly, is the final stage of the countdown as the flight director polled each section to ensure that the mission could be successfully launched .
“Medical?” “Go!”
“Range?” “Go!”
“CapCom?” “Go!”
“Flight?” “Go!”

Each function had to make sure their area of responsibility was ready. Each wanted desperately to add their affirmation–to say yes and to agree to move forward.

Contrast that with today when so many people are so eager to say “No.”

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is*

I’ve never been crazy about switching back and forth between standard time and daylight savings time. I realize that daylight savings time is worth billions of dollars to the outdoor grill and charcoal industries, the gulf courses, and–at least on Halloween, the candy manufacturers.

But why switch back and forth? Oh, I forgot, our Congress came up with that idea to save energy, even though it actually uses MORE energy and there’s a great loss of efficiency whenever we change.

Time is pretty arbitrary to begin with. If you set up a sun dial in your backyard, with precise orientation, the time at your location is very unlikely to match the time your clock/telephone/nuclear synched weather station, etc. We have time zones because the railroads needed it back in the 19th century–today I guess it’s for network television.

Take the Eastern Time Zone. It stretches from Qaanag (Thule), Greenland to Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. In Qaanag, sunrise today is at 0819 (8:19 AM) with sunset at 1912 (7:12 PM).

In Indianapolis–in the same time zone–sunrise is at 0758 (7:58 AM) and sunset at 1949 (7:49 PM). On the east coast of Virginia, sunrise is at 0719 (7:19 AM).

Since it is so arbitrary, anyway, why don’t we just stop switching back and forth. Personally, I’d prefer staying on daylight savings time–I like a little sunshine after I get off of work.

Emboldened by the News

Back in the day, one read the daily newspaper to find out about important events around the world, across the country, and in one’s local community. By the 1960’s, the source for news had shifted to the television, primarily because of its coverage of the war in Vietnam. However, newspaper readership was not eviscerated by television. Today, of course, if it’s on the Internet it has to be true and if it’s not on the Internet, well, it virtually doesn’t exist. If it’s on Twitter or Facebook (apparently depending on your age), you can take it to the bank.

Today, I learned the following from a well-known Internet source. (I almost called it “reputable” but I just couldn’t do it):

Katy Perry designs shoes.

Military “Meals Ready-to-Eat” known as MREs have a label which includes a silhouette that reminds people of President Trump.

Hong Kong is being overrun by wild boars.

American tourists do at least 20 things that the world hates.

Thanks to some tiny Pacific Ocean islands, The USA does not have the most obese children in the world.

I could go on, but armed with this knowledge, be assured that I’m much better prepared to face the world.

Twenty-First Century Customer Servcie*

In many retail stores I find several recurring themes–none of which are particularly appealing.

  1. Everything gets moved around. This is true at WalMart, the local grocery store chain, and who knows where else (I don’t shop too many other places).
  2. Once everything is moved (at least at the grocery stores), the prices are raised by about 10 percent.
  3. Of course, the idea of having employees available to answer questions, like, “Where are the clocks that used to be here?” died a long time ago.
  4. There are employees available, but they’re busy stocking shelves. Shelves are no longer stocked at night, but instead, at the peak of business activity, and giant carts loaded with merchandise are used to make passage through aisles absolutely impossible.
  5. It’s bad enough that shoppers are expected in 9 out of 10 cases to scan and bag their own purchases. However, the use of the plastic bags that defy all human efforts to open them (i.e., the front and the back stick together no matter what you do) manage to raise the bar on customer frustration to an all-time high.

Each of these practices are irritating, but since they seem so widespread, I have to ask. Did some retail guru (perhaps from Radio Shack, Sears, or J.C. Penney’s) promote these ideas? We may never know, but we are entitled to our suspicions.

 

* Yes, I know it’s misspelled. You see, it’s a sarcastic jab at poor customer service. Besides, I want to be the originator of a meme like covfefe or hamberder. So use Servcie every chance you get! Servcie! Servcie? servcie

Hey! Haven’t We Seen Him Before?

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Reg Blank, Max Headroom, William Morgan Sheppard, and . . . Sheppard as a Klingon?

Everyone–or at least everyone of my age–has heard of the six degrees of separation (from Kevin Bacon). If you don’t know->click here.

I’ve read some reasonably academic(ish) articles about how people are connected, and in the entertainment world it is not the big-name actors who are the connectors, but the character actors. Why? Sylvester Stalone, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, or (add your favorite star here) carefully choose the roles they will undertake. John Wayne, for example, was an action figure–a cowboy hero, a military hero, etc.

Character actors, on the other hand, show up in a variety of movies and television shows. They get to play all kinds of roles. They also (probably) get to go to the grocery store without being accosted.

However, character actors still have roles that leave lasting impressions. One great character actor, William Morgan Sheppard, died in early January. You can check him out on IMDB if you wish–you’ll probably find something familiar.

As for me, of all the roles he played, my favorite was on Max Headroom. There was a group of nonconformists who refused to be connected to the computerized network and were not identifiable. To the network, they merely appeared as missing data–blanks–and Blanks were what they called themselves. Sheppard played one of the key blanks who even had his own radio program. His name? Reg Blank.

Great character acting. Great concept. Frighteningly prescient for a Facebook connected world. Here’s a peek.

Bill, if I may, thanks for adding your flavor to the world of entertainment.

 

Careful Editing

Editing is the inverse of writing. When writing, one attempts to put thoughts into words. Editing, though, tends to take away as many words as possible achieve other ends.

For example, editors today are scratching out any positive features of a thought. The Democrats are stupid, but then so are the Republicans, and don’t even get me started about the independents.

We can dispense with facts, figure, and insight while we focus on the latest “Entertainers Pat Themselves On the Back Event” and evaluate which female had the most skin exposed while wearing her formal gown. Then, of course, there’s the screaming headline–based on preliminary untested data–that coffee, wine, cheese, pomegranates are gong to kill you faster than a sniper’s .50 caliber high velocity bullet.

Did I say kill? I meant that it would let you live damn near forever–and regrow hair where you want it and eliminate it where you don’t.

And then–and this is incredible–whoever doesn’t like it will call it fake news!

 

Offensive Blog

The most recent reason that I’m offended is that so many people are so easily offended. On the other hand, maybe the media just focuses on offended and offensive people.

I find it all offensive.

In defense of my being offended, I cite several recent examples:

–        I’m offended that a major topic is that the movie Love Actually is not an appropriate Christmas movie, is totally wrong,  and is offensive to some people.

–        I’m offended by the kerfuffle caused when the candy maker Hershey offended so many people because the little curl is no longer at the top of Hershey Kisses.

–        I’m offended that Vladimir Putin thinks that rap music should be guided by the government—and I don’t listen to rap. Nevertheless, it still offends me.

It’s all very offensive that people are so easily offended by minutiae when there are so many major problems in the world. I’m reasonably certain that this will offend you, but I needed to express how offended I am. And if you’re offended by my comments, that offends me.

Fair Winds and Following Seas

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George H. W. Bush’s service dog says goodbye for the final time (N.Y. Times)

I have rarely met high and lofty people, but there have been a few, very few.

During my deployment, which occurred while George W. Bush was President, his father made a trip into theater and shared some impromptu chatter with everyone present in the theater/chapel/auditorium/etc. building. The only specific I remember is that his son, “W,” had switched from jogging to riding a bicycle. He had a habit of, well, trying to be as courteous as possible, succumbing to gravity (i.e., falling down). George senior said that he and Barbara both wished he’d choose a safer physical activity.

After he made his comments from the stage, I saw him outside chatting with a number of the enlisted folks and junior officers (in desert cammies, we all looked pretty much alike). I would have liked to have joined them, but my presence would have distracted from their time with “41,” so I went about my business. He knew where he needed to spend his time and so did I. 

Among those in the Navy, the traditional, final farewell is “Fair winds and following seas.” May the wind fill your sails without threatening your ship and may the tide be favorable to your trip.

Mr. President, you were truly an officer and a gentleman; not perfect, but a very real human being. You are in a better place, with your wife and your daughter, and you deserve to be with the ones you loved.

 

 

Historical Tradition

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I’ve read and heard about the “standard procedures” of the US Congress in its early days, especially during the time leading up to the Civil War. Some members (and COngressional staffers) carried pistols and almost all had walking sticks.  Being carried unconscious form the hallowed chambers was not unheard of, since fistfights were not uncommon, they used their walking sticks as clubs, and the ubiquitous spittoon was often thrown or poured on “my distinguished colleague from [fill in the blank]” as a First Amendment protected expression of free speech.

You do know what a spittoon is?

Think about it. Ewwwwww!

While you might find their deportment while in office vile and disgusting, these are our roots, and it might be well to return to them. Don’t forget, in our early days, the Vice President came to the capital to be sworn in, then headed back home.

I propose bringing back these proud American traditions.

First, since, in the formative years of Congress, there was no television, I propose that all speeches may only occur when the Congress has a quorum. That means that a majority of the members of that house of Congress must be present even if they have to listen to a colleague’s drabble. The CSPAN cameras (God love ’em) are great, but do not constitute a quorum.

Second, elected congressmen and senators should be allowed–nay, encouraged–to bring the weapon of their choice with them, just as they did in the early to mid 1800s. Let’s see how that affects gridlock. (Don’t worry, there are damned few who would have the guts to actually use a weapon, and most couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. I’m not including those few military veterans, who would not only hit their target, but do so with a precise grouping.)

Third, insist that members of Congress experience what the FOunding Fathers did. The British do so at least to a degree in their courts. In Congress, this would call for stockings, instead of trousers, heavy woolen clothes year-round and, no screens on the windows, much less air conditioning.

I’d bet that this would have some impact on gridlock–not to mention an increase in special elections as a few members of Congress were killed or injured and many of the others fled for their lives.

Just kidding–everything is working just fine as it is.

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

The Story

I’ve been working on a story for a while, but writing it keeps getting in the way.

I’ve always admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes,” which was published as a serial in the Strand magazine, a monthly publication. My story–“The Story”–has been under development for a while. Like most writers, I d-r-a-g things out far too long as I write them. It’s a case of “Wait! It was a small dog, not a puppy!.”

As George Lucas supposedly said, “Movies are never completed, only abandoned.” The same is probably true of stories, so I’m going to publish–on this blog–at least a chapter a month. I make no promise that a particular chapter (including one that I may publish) will not be removed or eliminated.

Welcome to the wonderful??? world of writing. You may have the chance to experience my dreams, frustrations, pain, and stupidity, as I try to write a story.

I’ve already changed at least five chapters, but, interestingly, all of the characters remain, although their experiences might be different. If I share, I’ll try not to be too confusing (I’m not responsible for confusing myself).

If it’s worthwhile–I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One is coming soon.

Interesting Facts

I try to stay out of politics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a hiatal hernia and gaastro-esophogeal reflux disease. However, from time to time, I come across facts that are just too interesting to keep to myself.

However, beware, for as John Adams said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.*

Anne Frank

—–Every western nation seems to be wrestling with the issue of immigration these days. Interestingly, there was a recent discovery by the Anne Frank House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum that Anne Frank’s father had applied–twice–for permission to move his family to the United States, but was turned down due to  “American bureaucracy, war, and time.” ** As everybody is probably aware, Anne Frank spent much of the war hiding in a secret room in the attic, was eventually found, arrested, sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and died only a few weeks before the British Army liberated the camp.

911

—–NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an organization formed among western nations in 1949 for their mutual protection. Article 5 of the NATO treaty that essentially says that an attack on one member nation would be viewed as an attack on all the NATO members.  Interestingly, Article 5 has only been invoked once, with the other NATO nations coming to the aid of the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.***

 

* Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_adams_134175

** https://www.click2houston.com/news/national/anne-franks-family-tried-in-vain-to-flee-to-the-us

*** https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-attacks-alliance-for-first-time-nato-invokes-joint-defense-pact-with-us.html

 

Waiting for Something Good

bad dog

I haven’t been blogging much lately, because everything in the news, on the internet, etc., is portrayed as bad–some/much of it for cause. It makes me feel like I’ve been whapped with a rolled up newspaper and sent to my bed (subtle hint above).

I looked under my bed for a book and found several bad news stories crawling around–if there had been dust bunnies, they would have been able to hide–but unfortunately for them, there was no cover. They were out in the open. One news story involved a celebrity who is a celebrity because she is a celebrity (or is it the other way around?). I bravely grabbed that story (kicking and screaming), held it an an armslength, bypassed the trash cans, and tossed it into the creek into which the stormwater drains. That was a mistake.

I didn’t think that one small story would have an environmental impact; I heard the splash, but it was followed by a dozen paparazzi, several cable news “reporters,” and at least 200 sycophants. The surface of the creek looked like the oil slick from a supertanker leak.

Sorry about that. It was unintentional.

So, if I don’t comment on everything in the news, please don’t think I’m ignoring it. I’m probably, well, feeling like I’ve been whapped by a rolled up newspaper.

 

The Whatth of July

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The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 2 July 1776, which is why John Adams expected the celebrations to take place each year on the second.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were politicians, so the wording wasn’t finalized until the fourth of July. (If it had been the founding mothers, they would probably have been more practical, organized, and less egotistical. I’m sure the Declaration would have been completed much earlier.)

Not everyone who signed the Declaration did so on the fourth of July.  There’s no complete record as exactly who signed when. It’s probably safe to say that John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson all signed on that day (Hancock signed first and large–so King George could read it without his glasses).

The last signer was probably Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who wasn’t elected and seated in the Continental Congress until November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.

So, two things:

  1. The Declaration of Independence set us on the path of the most improbable and radical experiment in civilization. The hereditary monarchy thing failed, as did leadership by military conquest. Our experiment is still running with its ups and downs, and will take forever to perfect. However, as Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
  2. We should never be surprised if politicians do not deliver in a timely manner.

Given the importance of the event, maybe it would be better to celebrate Independence Month!

 

 

 

Ummmmmmm?

I haven’t been writing much lately because it’s hard to find an interesting topic that won’t piss off someone, somewhere.

Politics? Absolutely not!

International relations? Nope!

Helping the poor? Puhleeze!

Religion? God, no!

And so on and so forth, etc., etc., etc.*

In the musical album Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull, one of the first lines is “I can make you feel, but I can’t make you think.”

I endeavor to make people think, not to cause eruptions of angst, fear, repulsion, or whatever. Emotions are a beautiful thing and when I write stories, I count on connecting with people’s emotions. However, this blog is to elicit thought.

Why do I differentiate?

When I’m angry, concerned, anxious, stressed, or, whatever, I do not think clearly. When I can at least control those emotions, I can think clearly. I do not wish to disrupt others’ ability to think.

 

*Ben Franklin and John Adams in 1776

Good Idea Faeries

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Some of the most dangerous statements begin with the words, “All you have to do is . . . .”

This is the mark of a Good Idea Faerie. Their approach has a number of advantages:

  1. I get the responsibility off my shoulders and onto yours (sometimes referred to as “the monkey on your back,” or more crudely, “flipping a booger onto someone else.” If you’re disgusted–good.
  2. If you do it, I can take credit for it being my idea.
  3. If it doesn’t get done, I can say that I told you, but you wouldn’t listen.
  4. If it gets done, but fails, again I can say that I told you, but you wouldn’t listen.

Good Idea Faeries never lose.

There’s only one way to handle them. Respond with, “That’s a great idea!” as you take a notebook or smartphone out of your pocket and ask, “How long will it take you to do that? I’ve made a note of it for my calendar and will check with you periodically to see how you’re progressing. This will be great, and I can’t think of anyone better to make it happen. Thank you so much.” Look at your note, “How about I check back with you on [fill in the date].

At the first available opportunity, announce loudly to the rest of the group, “Hey, everybody! Let’s have a round of applause for [Insert Good Idea Faerie’s name here] who is going to [fill in their idea] and has committed to having it done by [insert date here].”

A word to the wise–don’t let them interrupt you while you’re doing this. If they try to, feign deafness, and just keep on talking.

My How Things Change

The United States Constitution is a marvelous document–a framework for what was a radically new form of government in 1787–but a living document that has changed with the times.

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And the times have so changed.

Legend has it that, during the war, a British military commander sent a note addressed to ‘Mr. George Washington.’ General Washington accepted the note and placed it in his pocket saying that he was aquainted with Mr. Washington, who was a planter in Virginia, and he would deliver the note after the war. The next day, a similar–and possibly identical note–was sent, addressed to ‘General George Washington.’

After the war, General Washington appeared before the Continental Congress to return his commission to them. He had done his duty, and no longer needed or wanted the rank of general and handed the paperwork that had made him a general back.

Initially, there was a populist movement to make Washington king. He would have no part of that. There is a place in the Capitol Building that was intended to be his crypt, but he had left clear instructions that precluded his internment there.

Often, he closed his correspondence with “Your obdt (obedient) servant, George Washington.”

Regardless of your political views, it is reassuring that our nation is not based on birthright, caste, or class, but on a set of ideals laid out in the Constitution. It is a set of ideas that bonds Americans together.

 

Louie vs Politicians

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I try to stay out of political discussions for a variety of reasons; my blood pressure, the effect of stress on other medical problems with my (rapidly) aging body, and the fact that most political stories–once the hyperbole is removed–are not interesting, and definitely not uplifting.

We adopted our dog Louie from the animal shelter about six years ago. We’ve been told that Louie is a “Walker Treeing Coon Hound,” whatever that means. To me it means that he has that distinctive combination of bark and howl that says, “Hound,” and he’s not afraid to use it.

He barks at squirrels, the garbage truck, the UPS truck, everyone walking down the street, and various imaginary threats. The doorbell immediately puts him into DEFCON ONE. He runs to the door, complete with cartoon-like running feet unaccompanied by forward motion.

He spends a lot of time in bed. In fact he has one on the back porch and one in the house just so it’s convenient for him.

He loves to eat, especially “forbidden fruit,” which has resulted in several (expensive) emergency surgeries to remove.

Nirvana, to him, is an open gate or door through which he launches like a rocket. Of course, he expects us to grab the car keys, follow him, and open the car door so that he also gets to go for a ride in the car.

In summary:

  • Louie makes a lot of noise for no good reason.
  • When he does move, most of it is for show, not action.
  • He spends a lot of time doing nothing.
  • He partakes of things that he should not.
  • He likes to travel without any particular reason.
  • He believes that we should clean up after all his mistakes.
  • When caught doing something he shouldn’t, he displays an amazing picture of innocence.

Why would I need to follow politics when I’ve got Louie?

Don’t be fooled by the innocent expression.

Ergo Not

The-Thinker-by-Auguste-Rodin

I take my role as philosopher-without-portfolio seriously. We all think all the time–things like “I’m hungry!” or “I want to go have some fun!” but I have tried to think about those things that everybody else doesn’t have time or interest for.

Ideally, thinking follows some semblance of a logical path, ultimately leading to some type of conclusion. My thoughts have led me to such a conclusion.

As near as I can tell, I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t know what’s best for you. I’m in no position to tell you what to think, do, or say. I can’t tell you which medicine you should ask your doctor about, which car you need to buy, or which detergent will get your clothes the cleanest. I can’t even advise you as to which cable news network you should watch.

On the other hand, it seems like everyone else is ready, willing, and able to advise, recommend, and whenever possible, direct your every action and reaction.

So, I apologize, but I’m that one person who doesn’t know what’s best for you. To quote Bob Dylan, “It ain’t me babe!”

Deal with it. I’m too busy thinking.

Goodbye to the Newspaper

When I was growing up, almost everybody took the local newspaper. Many cities had several competing newspapers, although Toledo’s two papers–one morning and one evening–were owned and operated by the same company.

Journalism is dead, having given way to commentary. Many newspapers are moribund. In my area, so few people subscribe to the actual news that the newspaper distributes a free weekly printing of advertisements. They probably copied the business model of the US Postal Service, which became a model of financial success when junk mail became their most profitable business.

Many papers already rely primarily on the wire services for their content, which means that in the morning paper you’ll see the same articles you read online the day before. With reliance on wire services–of which there are basically two–the entire nation receives the information as perceived by one writer. While I don’t like this, I must admit that it is an approach that has worked well for Vladimir Putin.

News is framed so as to attract everyone’s attention–in other words, it must be sensational or salacious–ideally both. This results in the media altering our perception. Travel by airplane, for example, is very safe, which is why an emergency landing on a highway with no injuries is considered nationally newsworthy and causes some people to perceive airplanes as dangerous. On the other hand, automobile accidents are so common that it must involve a self-driving vehicle, have a dozen or so fatalities, involve over 50 cars.

It’s sad that most people don’t want journalism because it requires readers to think. It’s easier to find some online source that reinforces their existing position and biases than to have to think and possibly change their minds occassionally.