December, 2017

All the News We Like to Print, Redux

December 23rd, 2017 21 Comments

 

I received some interesting comments about my fake news post. Twelve comments do not qualify as a lot, but I was intrigued and delighted that some of them came from readers I associate with another site that has nothing to do with politics, or the Second Amendment, or chance encounters with wildlife, or any of the things I write about, and—rightly or wrongly—I associate those readers with that very liberal site, so I was surprised to find some liberals were agreeing with me. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that was just my flu-meds working, because it finally occurred to me that perhaps they, like me, are conservatives who also just happen to be interested in the topic covered on that other site. Oh, well.

I actually received even more comments, all of which, ah, shall we say, disagreed with me and with those readers who had liked what I wrote, but I deleted those comments. However, since one of them (also deleted) took me to task for not posting disagreeing comments, I have decided to explain, as clearly as I can, precisely why none of those comments saw the light of day, and why certain comments will never see the light of day on this blog.

I am happy to indulge in civilized debate with any of my readers, and readers who have been kind enough to follow this blog for any length of time will know that. However, profanity does not qualify as civilized. Anger does not qualify as civilized. Ad hominem attacks do not qualify as civilized. Personal insults do not qualify as civilized. Sneering does not qualify as civilized. Contemptuous dismissals do not qualify as civilized. Those things are just the ugly venting of ugly little trolls.

But deleting ugly little trolls isn’t the only issue. In this case, there was the paucity of even the most rudimentary attempt to present an opposing point of view. There was absolutely no attempt, by any of those people, to point out a specific mistake or omission I made. And I might well have missed something; I don’t read all the papers, liberal or conservative. I don’t spend my days flipping from news channel to news channel. I don’t pore over online news sites, liberal or conservative.

If any one of those comments had politely pointed out that the New York Times had recently had to walk back their fulsome article praising Donald Trump for his heroic efforts to revive the dithyrambic verse form (don’t worry: they didn’t, and he hasn’t) I would have had to concede that all the fake news stories I cited were perhaps nothing more than legitimate journalist errors.

And even if I had chosen to clean up the frequently incoherent mangling of the English language in some of those comments, to delete the insults, and ignore the contemptuous dismissal of facts, there was a complete absence of any kind of logical argument. In fact, there was a complete absence of any kind of thought process whatsoever.

My mother was so intelligent and so well-educated that she sometimes used to be able to get away with total nonsense. Usually, but not always, and one of her efforts once reduced my stepfather and me to hysterics at the dinner table. My stepfather was a demon gardener and had cooked some kind of casserole, heavy on squash he had grown himself, and he was urging my mother to have some more. She demurred, and he persisted.

“It’s very good for you, Sydney,” he said, his face beaming with pride and bonhomie, the ladle, steaming and dripping, held in one hand as he reached for her plate with the other.

Another lady might have drawn herself up grandly at this point, but my mother didn’t need to; she was always drawn up, and she fixed him now with a look.

“Nice people,” she said, “don’t eat squash.”

There was a frozen moment of silence as my stepfather and I looked at her with our mouths open. Then our eyes met and we began to laugh, to howl, to roar so uncontrollably that after a while, to her credit, my mother began to laugh with us. And when we finally began to subside enough to be able to speak, she said, “Well, they don’t.” And off we went again.

It was just one of those lovely silly moments that occur in families, but it is also an excellent example of the kind of faulty syllogism so many people mistake for logical debate. Her thinking ran:

I am a nice person.

I don’t like squash.

Therefore, nice people do not eat squash.

It is a perfect example of the kind of nonsense that passes for political debate these days. Politically, that kind of tenuous and muddled syllogistic thinking (such as it is) comes out as:

I am intelligent and caring, and I want open borders, a socialist/communist government, gun control, and free everything for everybody.

You don’t want those things.

Therefore, you are a loathsome, selfish, hateful moron.

Unfortunately, the only true aspect of the argument is the minor premise (I don’t want those things), so the whole argument falls apart, but in any case, calling me names does not change the truth of what I wrote, nor does it advance the debate.

A good example—a brilliant example—of an opposing comment that not only advanced a debate, but my thinking on that issue as well, a comment I jumped at the chance to post, can be found here: (http://www.readjamesonparker.com/archives/date/2015/01)

I have been fortunate enough to have many other intelligent, thoughtful, well-written, and civilized comments, and they are all still up on my site, but this one is hands down the best.

There are other categories of comments you will never see posted on this blog.

I will not tolerate America bashing.

I will no longer waste my energy explaining for the millionth time that the lies—that’s lies, not misspeaking, nor exaggeration, nor hyperbole, nor any of the other euphemisms the media and politicians like to use when caught telling lies—of the Shannon Watts/Gabby Gifford/Mayor Bloomberg/Schumer/Feinstein anti-gun crowd are precisely that: lies made up out of whole cloth. If you are computer-savvy enough to read this blog, you are certainly computer-savvy enough to make your way the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (or the Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS] or the CDC National Center for Health Statistics) and look up the truth yourself. Be sure to remind yourself, as you study the actual numbers that, because of the time-lag in compiling and processing those numbers, the truth was compiled under the Obama administration.

And if you are anti-Zionist; if you are stupid, hateful, and evil enough to support the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, you are, as far as I’m concerned, an anti-Semite, and I won’t even bother acknowledging that you exist.

All the News We Like to Print

December 15th, 2017 17 Comments

Is there any news that isn’t fake these days?

In an episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore show, Mary commits some embarrassing journalistic blunder, and in an effort to console her, her gruff-but-lovable boss (is there any other kind on television?), Ed Asner, tells her of a blunder he committed during the early days after America’s entry into World War Two.

As a junior editor, alone in the newsroom late at night (he tells her), he got a frantic call from a trustworthy source telling him unbelievably horrible news about another surprise bombing by the Japanese. He had no way to confirm the story and had to make his decision completely alone: go with it, and risk making a colossal mistake; or pass, and risk losing the scoop of lifetime. He decided to go with it, and the next morning, his newspaper was the only newspaper in America to report on the surprise Japanese bombing of Cleveland.

I may have some of the details wrong (the Mary Tyler Moore show went off the air in 1977), but you get the idea.

I remembered that episode while watching the acclaimed and sometimes controversial journalist Judy Miller, who once won part of a Pulitzer Prize (it was a team effort) for her reporting, and who once spent eighty-five days in jail for refusing to reveal a confidential source involved in the Valery Plame affair during the George W. Bush administration. So no one can claim Ms. Miller’s credentials are not admirable, or that she doesn’t have the courage of her convictions. But I watched her defending the spate of recent journalistic “blunders,” otherwise known as fake news stories, by saying journalists have to be bold and have to be allowed to make mistakes in the interests of holding our government accountable. I should point out that Ms. Miller has herself made some journalistic blunders, so there may a personal bias in her argument, because she was alluding to embarrassingly stupid violations of the most fundamental rules of journalism, stories so blatantly incorrect and completely unverified they had to be later retracted by… oh, pick a news outlet, print, televised, or online. The recent list includes, but is not limited to:

Brian Ross on ABC reporting false nonsense about Gen. Michael Flynn and Donald Trump; CNN reporting false nonsense about James Comey and Donald Trump; the Washington Post reporting false nonsense about Russia hacking into Vermont’s power grid; the Washington Post reporting false nonsense about Russia’s disinformation campaign; Slate’s false nonsense about Donald Trump’s “secret email server;” Fortune’s false nonsense about the Russian hacking of C-SPAN; CNN’s false nonsense about Wikileaks and Donald Trump; Bloomberg’s and the Wall Street Journal’s false nonsense about how special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Deutsche Bank to get Donald Trump’s financial records…

The list is longer, but I’m sure you get the picture. I’m also sure you see the trend: virtually every one of those journalistic blunders, also known as fake news (some might call them lies), involves Donald Trump in a negative light, or Russia in a negative light that is linked, either directly or obliquely, to Donald Trump.

And it is that single-minded focus that makes Judy Miller’s argument indefensible: when mistakes are made, they must, by definition, be mistakes, not intentional efforts to deceive. If any news source, just one, had mistakenly reported something erroneous that reflected well on the Trump administration, I would buy the argument that these are just unintentional by-products of an overly vigilant fourth estate (or, perhaps, in our country, fourth branch of government). But there hasn’t been one story that erred the other way.

There is another, more ominous, aspect to this. All of those stories came from confidential sources, and because of the sensitive inside information involved in each of the stories, the confidential source in each case must have been a person or persons in any one of the various governmental agencies that had access to sensitive information. That fact should scare the hell out of all Americans.

Consider what we know about some of our governmental bureaucracies:

-Conservatives groups know all too well they cannot trust the IRS; just think of Lois Lerner.

-Ranchers have long known they cannot trust the BLM or its parent agency, the Department of the Interior; too many cattlemen have been run out of business and/or criminally prosecuted for you to doubt that.
-Small businesses, ranchers, and farmers have long distrusted the EPA, which has had a litany of abuses and one embarrassing catastrophe after another, from financial mismanagement of your tax money, to draconian overreach, to the devastating toxic waste spills of 2015.
-No one should trust the NSA, which was caught spying on American citizens opposed to the Vietnam War, and has more recently been caught conducting illegal surveillance on millions of American citizens, and illegally collecting data from cell phones to track the movements of millions more.

-And the FBI… Where to start? From wiretapping and surveilling Martin Luther King, to the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that may have been responsible for the murder of various black civil rights activists, including Malcolm X, to their incomprehensible actions—aided by the ATF—at Ruby Ridge, and the equally incomprehensible and mismanaged siege of the Branch Davidians, to the most recent Clinton/Lynch/Trump/Russia/DNC labyrinth of misinformation and stonewalling, practically no one trusts the FBI or its parent agency, the Department of Justice. In fact, name an agency today that has the unqualified trust of the American people.

Are any of those organizations the ones responsible for leaking false nonsense to a gullible and rabidly anti-Trump press? Or (being a child of the cold war and its use of dirty tricks) is Donald Trump’s administration deliberately leaking false information about itself and him for purposes of…? (That’s where I fall apart with that theory, because I can’t imagine how such a dangerous game would benefit him.) No one knows what the truth is. The only certainty is that while many people rightly distrust the agencies mentioned above, practically no one trusts the press, and since almost every day another piece of biased nonsense is solemnly reported as gospel truth—until it is quietly retracted—no one is likely to trust the media. The fourth estate, the supposed watchdog of our democratic system, has become even less trustworthy than the various agencies that have abused their power. And that’s about the saddest thing I can think of.

Hell, these days, I’d be encouraged just to hear the Japanese had bombed Cleveland.

Morning’s Minion

December 8th, 2017 8 Comments

 

I was driving home the other day, when I saw a Peregrine. Those of you who know anything about this most remarkable falcon will understand what I am saying is: I caught a quick glimpse of a Peregrine. I was driving one way and it was flying the other, and since the Peregrine is considered the fastest bird on earth, I didn’t really have much of a chance to study him.

I should qualify that. The Peregrine has been regularly clocked at speeds well in excess of two-hundred miles an hour during its stoop (the hunting dive a bird of prey makes when it plunges after its prey), but it doesn’t routinely fly that fast while en route from point A to point B. On the other hand, it doesn’t exactly lollygag, either, and this one was clearly a Peregrine with places to go, people to see, and things to do.

Another notable thing about the Peregrine is that while it is the most widespread raptor on earth, being found virtually everywhere except New Zealand, it is also quite rare (my 1990 edition of Roger Tory Peterson lists it as endangered), so seeing one in the wild is a big deal. I’ve only (knowingly) seen three in my lifetime, but by far the most unusual sighting was the first one I ever saw, in the Arc Dome Wilderness area of the Toiyabe Mountain Range in central Nevada.

I was deer hunting, and for reasons that have now faded from the memory bank, I was sitting with the outfitter’s wife, overlooking a very deep and rugged canyon, when she spotted a Peregrine gliding below us, presumably in search of his dinner, as I was in search of mine. I think I can safely say there are not many people in the wide world who have had the privilege of looking down on the back of this revered bird.

There are multiple subspecies of the Peregrine, and I am nowhere nearly knowledgeable enough to know which is which or how to tell them apart (my friend Steve Bodio— http://stephenbodio.blogspot.com– almost certainly can), but judging by maps of ranges, it is a safe bet that all three of the ones I have seen are the so-called American Peregrine falcon, since that’s the one found in all of the lower forty-eight states with the exception of the Pacific Northwest. (The one in the Northwest is known as a Peale’s falcon.)

Peregrines were once almost, if not completely, exterminated on the East Coast by pesticides, but after they began their comeback, New York city made a specific effort to introduce them into the canyons of Manhattan. If memory serves, this was done in part for purposes of preserving the species, but also in part to keep the pigeon population in check, pigeons in the Big Apple being as plentiful and obnoxious as pickpockets, purse snatchers, and politicians. Apparently that reintroduction effort was successful, and the average birdwatcher today is more likely to see a Peregrine in Manhattan than in the mountains. But wherever you see one, it’s a thrilling sight, just as seeing any accomplished predator is thrilling.

I know I’ve posted this before, and I know the term “windhover” refers to a kestrel, not a Peregrine, but it is still a poem well worth posting and reading over and over, especially at the beginning of this Christmas season.

 

The Windhover, by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

To Christ our Lord

 

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

 

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Wheelchairs Redux and Updated

December 2nd, 2017 11 Comments

 

“Owing to… what’s that something of circumstances you hear people talking about? Cats enter into it, if I remember correctly.”

“Would concatenation be the word for which you are groping, Sir?”

“That’s it.”

Talking my lead from Bertie Wooster and the inimitable Jeeves, owing to a concatenation of events and personal projects, I have been somewhat remiss in maintaining this dusty and disorganized blog. In fact, I have been more than somewhat remiss, not having written a word since mid-November. This may have been a source of relief and joy for some people who think I should cease and desist altogether, but too bad for them.

I was running my dogs the other day and ran into a neighbor who mentioned she had contributed to my daughter’s wheelchair-funding campaign on GoFundMe, and that chance meeting sort of brought me back to earth. To update you, my daughter reached all the funds necessary for her new wheelchair, and I want to thank everyone who contributed—either through GoFundMe or other methods—to helping her achieve her goal. I am deeply touched by and grateful for the immense generosity of so many people. Your kindness and willingness to open your hearts and wallets have helped a very remarkable young lady more than you know. Please accept my sincerest gratitude and respect for your generosity.

Thank you.

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