You Are What You “Eat”

I totally get why this country is so divided. It is really easy to hang out in a news realm that confirms what you want to believe. For every Fox News, there’s a Huffington Post. For every Breitbart there’s a Natural News. If you really want to know what’s going on in the world, you might want to consider avoiding sources with such obvious agendas.

A longtime reader whom I now consider to be a friend (waving at Linda) pointed out to me that the term “You are what you eat” also applies to food of the mind. The information you take in, after all, can change who you are and the way you look at the world. If you are spoon-fed hate speech with your pablum, is it any wonder you grow up to become a skinhead?

This concept is known on a basic level by the majority of us. It’s why cults try to control their follower’s access to information. It’s why fundamentalists of every stripe want their children to only learn what they believe, regardless of whether it’s based on fact. It’s why the present Grand Poobah is trying to get us to distrust the press. Beware of those who try to prevent the spread of facts.

Our current political climate has overtaken us at a time when digital information flow is at its height. That’s a toxic intersection. It means that misinformation from both ends of the spectrum is also running rampant.

Be careful. Question everything. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Most of all, use your common sense.

Below is a handy chart that has been floating around Facebook that gives you an idea of some of the more popular media outlets and their individual biases. I am making a concerted effort to stick to that inner circle and its upper halo whenever I can. From here on out, I’m going to try to only share Facebook fodder from these sources as well. I encourage you to do the same.

That is, unless you enjoy being the human equivalent of a genetically modified organism…

news-quality

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A National Case of Foie Gras Syndrome

Being force fed has to be the most horrible, helpless feeling on earth. I can’t believe Foie Gras isn’t outlawed. I mean, they stick these ducks in cages and then violently stuff corn down their throats to fatten their livers. It’s unimaginable to me that I’d be able to enjoy eating something that comes from such a ghoulish origin.

But force feeding isn’t just for ducks anymore. It seems we humans are getting quite accustomed to it ourselves. This most recent election campaign was the stuff of nightmares, regardless of whether the person you voted for was the one who was elected. It was nasty, brutish and looooooong. I haven’t talked to a single person who wasn’t stressed out by the entire process. And yet we sat there and took it.

We also allow the media to stir us up about crises that don’t really exist, while they fail to report on things that we really need to know. And we’ve become so addicted to our social media that taking away someone’s device can send that person into a panic attack. (When I tell a millennial that I don’t use my cell phone while driving, that I simply wait until I get home, and that in fact I can’t access the internet on my phone, they look at me in horror.) It always amuses me when people think they can’t live without something that humanity has been living without for centuries.

Is this just me getting older and more intolerant? Or is it all becoming a bit too much? Am I alone in this? I’d go live in a cave somewhere, but then I wouldn’t have internet access even at home. We can’t have that, now, can we?

Oh, and if you eat foie gras, shame on you.

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Things I Couldn’t Care Less About

Is it me, or are some scandals not particularly scandalous? Maybe it’s because things seem to be moving faster than ever before on the information highway, but it seems as though the vast majority of news these days is filler. Empty calories. Not particularly beneficial to one’s wellbeing.

Here are just a few things I’m indifferent to, annoyed by, or am just sick of hearing about:

  • Donald Trump’s Hair.
  • Anything that emerges from Donald Trump’s pie hole.
  • Who wore what where.
  • The way I ought to look and what to do about it.
  • The way I ought to feel and what to do about it.
  • How someone behaved at a party, movie set, or on a red carpet.
  • All efforts to get the one percent to behave decently.
  • Who the president neglected to salute.
  • Every single solitary commercial, advertisement, junk mail or spam.
  • Benghazi.
  • Who someone chooses to love.
  • 15 signs that you’re ___________.
  • Why your religious beliefs are superior to someone else’s.
  • Actually, your religious beliefs, full stop.
  • Anything from Fox News or CNN.
  • Who has tweeted whom and said what.
  • Descriptions of the newest product that I’m not supposed to be able to live without.
  • Anything sports related.
  • Vampires.
  • The latest determination that some type of food is unhealthy.
  • Computer virus warnings.
  • The newest release from Apple.

Sorry. You seem to have caught me in a mood.

Can we please just... not?
Can we please just… not?

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

I used to make it a point to stay informed about current events. I read newspapers, magazines, and watched the news. Then as finances got tighter and life became more hectic, I dropped my subscriptions. And at some point, probably during my billionth move in a two year period, I left my television sitting on the side of the road along with a lot of other stuff I got tired of lugging around.

And a funny thing happened. The world didn’t come to an end. In fact, my anxiety level dropped considerably. I was no longer being fed a steady diet of tragedies that I could do nothing about. And if something was urgent or actionable, somehow I always found out. Either I’d hear it on the radio or it would be trending on the internet or a friend would tell me.

Normally I would strongly discourage operating from a position of ignorance, and indeed, it’s important to be aware to a certain degree or the bad guys will win. But is it necessary to hear about panic-making theories that may or may not come to pass? Do I really care about celebrity scandals? How often do I need to be shown that the milk of human kindness seems to be drying up?

The media want you to be afraid. The more afraid you are, the more you want to know. The more you want to know, the more you seek them out. Sometimes I feel like a puppet on a string.

I’m getting older and I’m tired. I never thought I’d say this, but ignorance really is bliss. And I could use a bit more bliss.

[Image credit: fiveprime.org]
[Image credit: fiveprime.org]

Urban Legends, Falsehoods, Satire and Lies

Now that we’re all happily speeding along the cyber highway, word spreads more quickly than it ever has before. For the most part, that’s a plus. Unfortunately, just because it comes at you at a furious pace, that doesn’t guarantee that the quality of the information is high. It takes even more effort to wade through the B.S. than it used to. Sadly, not everyone makes that effort.

Here are some basic ways to weed out the stupidity before you post it on your Facebook page and look like a dope.

Consider the source. Ask yourself where this information originally came from. There are several humorous satire pages out there that report things with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks for the laugh factor. The Onion, which calls itself “America’s Finest News Source” is one of these. I actually love reading the Onion, but it’s not meant to be taken seriously. This article called Faux News will direct you to many other satire sites. Know them. Enjoy them. But don’t take them as fact.

Then there are other news sources that claim to be true and want desperately to be believed, but cannot be trusted because they’re pushing a warped agenda. If Fox News is the only one who is reporting on an issue, it’s most definitely suspect. CNN is getting to be just as bad. And I have absolutely nothing against religion, but I tend to seek outside verification for any news item from any religious news network source. There is a difference between fact and faith, and when a reporter does not know or refuses to acknowledge that difference, I find it rather scary.

Also, at the risk of incriminating myself, don’t quote blogs as fact without verification. Any fool can have a blog. I could tell you the moon is covered in a thick layer of cocaine, but I don’t recommend that you send your favorite drug mule there. He’d be pretty pissed off at you by the time he got back. (But then, he’d also have plenty of time to detox, which is a good thing.)

Another thing that should have you bobbing in a sea of red flags is any news that implies a major conspiracy. It’s human nature that a secret can’t be kept by more than two people. If a story is going around that an entire agency or organization or country has been sitting on a secret for decades, the odds are that this story is extremely exaggerated at best. For example, I used to know someone who genuinely believed that there are secret concentration camps all over America and that US Citizens are disappearing at an alarming rate. My response to that is, if so, why are no one’s friends, relatives and Facebook followers screaming bloody murder? Do you think in this day and age, when we are linked together in so many complex ways, a large number of adults could simply go poof and no one would be the wiser? Poppycock.

Also, it’s very irresponsible to pass on a product warning without being sure that it’s true. Before you go boycotting Brand XYZ, make sure it really deserves such treatment. While I’m not wild about corporate America, you have to remember that many people just like you and me depend on these companies for their livelihood, and if too many people mistakenly think there’s nuclear waste in their pie filling, it’s those everyday pie fillers who will be laid off. The corporation itself will grind happily on.

One excellent source for verification is Snopes.com. They often track down the sources of misinformation like no one else can. When all else fails, check Snopes.

Also, if you receive an e-mail full of capitalizations and spelling errors and exclamation points, warning you to do, or not do, something, such as “IF YOU GET A E-MAIL FROM XYZ, DONT OEPN IT!!!!” Don’t panic. Use your common sense. It’s stupid to open an e-mail from an unknown source under any circumstances.

If a story begins, “This is a true story,” it most likely isn’t a true story. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your inner voice. Be skeptical. Don’t pass things on without verifying them.

I just love The Onion!
I just love The Onion!

You Don’t Have to Understand

The media firestorm that’s surrounding Bruce Jenner’s gender identification is predictable. People love to scrutinize things that they don’t understand. Based on a lot of public commentary, many feel as though he’s a freak. For those people, focusing on him is the news equivalent of slowing down to check out a traffic accident. People want to know how unusual things happen, especially to public figures. They want to try to comprehend the situation, but they also secretly delight in the fact that they never will.

Here’s the thing, though. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) No one was put on this earth so that the rest of us can give him or her our seal of approval. How Bruce Jenner chooses to live life is entirely up to Bruce Jenner. (A friend of mine just pointed out that it sounds as if I believe Bruce is making a choice about being transgender. I do not mean that at all. I believe he was born the way he was born. But whether he chooses to go public or not is a choice, and, indeed, a right. ) No crimes are being committed. No one is being placed in any sort of physical danger. The pursuit of happiness is a basic human right. You don’t have to like it or approve of it or understand it.

If you find yourself obsessing over this situation, a good question to ask would be, “How is this any of my business?” If you can’t come up with an adequate response, perhaps it’s time to move on to the next news cycle. There are so many other things that need to be focused on in this world. Global warming, for example. Bruce Jenner in a dress sure isn’t going to melt the polar ice caps.

Bruce

Not All NPR Stations Are Created Equal

I am a loyal listener of National Public Radio. It is my main source of news and entertainment. It often inspires topics for this blog. Whenever I travel by car, I look up the NPR station for the area in question so that I can stay connected. It fascinates me how different one NPR station can be from another. (You can find your NPR station here.)

For example, I listen to KPLU here in Seattle, and because of that, I whenever I hear Jazz, I will always think of this city. I actually like Jazz, but KPLU kind of overdoes it. Here’s today’s schedule. Interspersed with Morning Edition and All Things Considered and Fresh Air, we have: Midnight to 4 am: Jazz 24. 9am to 3 pm: Midday Jazz. 7:30 pm to Midnight: Evening Jazz. If I hear “I Loves You Porgy” one more time, as good as it is, I may lose my mind. My kingdom for a little freakin’ variety!

The only NPR station I’ve heard that was even more monotonous was WQCS out of Fort Pierce, Florida. Classical. Once in a while, a little news. But classical, classical, classical. I could only take it in very short doses. The odd thing about this station is it’s broadcast from the local college. They seem to have overlooked that entire potential audience and have chosen instead to target people born in the 1800’s. What a waste.

On the other hand, just up the Florida Coast from WQCS is one of the best NPR stations I’ve ever heard. WFIT in Melbourne, Florida is all about variety! Yes, today they’re doing Jazz from Midnight to 5 am and Morning Edition from 5 to 9 am, but from 9 to 10 they’re doing Democracy Now, and from 10 am to 2 pm it’s Sound Waves. Sound waves is a mix of contemporary music, independent labels and rock classics. You will often hear stuff on Sound Waves that you won’t hear anywhere else. And then 2 pm to 4 pm is World Café, one of my favorites. It’s a mix of blues, rock, world music, folk, and alternative country. It’s nationally syndicated. (I can’t understand why more NPR stations don’t pick it up.) Then, from 4 to 7 pm is All Things Considered, and from 7 to 10 pm is Jazz On The Beach, and from 10 pm to Midnight is Mozart’s Attic. See? A nice variety! How hard is that? Seriously?

Another great NPR station, much to my shock, is KUSU in Salt Lake City. On any given day, they broadcast talk shows like BBC World Service, TED Radio Hour, As It Happens, Human Kind and The Zesty Garden. I have to admit this one is a bit light on the music, but it does bring hyper-conservative Salt Lake a wide variety of views and news that they probably have no other exposure to, so more power to them!

And you won’t hear me say many good things about my old hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, but I have to admit that WJCT is a fantastic station. Decades ago they were a dry, boring, classical station, but under new management they have blossomed. Not only do they carry the regular news programs, including a local one, but the music… Oh! The music in the evenings! I used to adore Electro Lounge, which was a laid-back mixed bag of delightful surprises. I also looked forward to String Theory every week, with its modern acoustic alternative vibe. Shows like Indie Endeavor, Doo Wop Revival, Country Crossroads, Blues Horizon, Lost in the Stacks, Route 66, and This Is Jazz virtually guaranteed that on this station you could never be bored. I am stunned that they don’t try to nationally syndicate these shows. They could support their station that way.

And speaking of support, if you have the means, please support your NPR station. We must keep quality news and music alive and kicking! The beauty of all these stations is you can listen to them on line from anywhere in the world. And I do, believe me. Man cannot live on Jazz alone.

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[Image credit: stellarfour.com]

Artificial Scandals

It’s really gotten to the point where I can’t watch the news on most media outlets without smacking my forehead. Omigod, President Obama shook hands with Raul Castro! Gasp! Roll down your storm shutters and stock up on canned goods, people. It’s the end of the world as we know it!

Now, I don’t think the national IQ has taken a nosedive, but it’s getting increasingly hard to tell as more and more people get sucked in by the fear mongering, real news suppressing, hate inducing, artificial scandal producing news programs that are available to the average American.

Nowadays it takes a lot more effort, a lot more cynicism, a lot more fact checking to stay accurately  informed. And yet we seem to have less time than ever to do these things. And that’s what they’re counting on. The media wants you to get your news from Facebook memes. It’s much easier to manipulate the public when they are taught to take in their information a little bit at a time with a spoonful of sugar. Once you get into that habit, then any 30 second news report is bound to sound well thought out and comprehensive even if it is coming from Fox News, even though you ought to know better.

Truth be told, I don’t care who is sleeping with whom, as long as its consensual and age appropriate. I don’t care if someone forgot to salute someone else, or who’s standing next to whom in a photograph. Can we all get a grip?

At this rate, Rush Limbaugh will soon be able to make up anything he wants while in his illegal prescription drug-induced haze and people will be repeating his talking points by nightfall.

Oh wait. That already happens.

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Spiders, Spiders, Everywhere

I dreamt of a village in a desert out west. The people had gathered around a campfire to listen to an old man tell stories. He traveled from town to town to recount the tales of their people. He told cautionary tales to teach the young ones how to behave. He told the stories of how the people came to populate this land. He sang songs to honor the ones who had gone before him. He also carried important news from one village to the next.

On this night, after the storyteller spoke for a long time, a young girl stood up. “Storyteller,” she said, “what news of my sister, Desert Flower, who went north with her husband last summer?”

Storyteller replied, “I have not seen your sister, young one, but I have heard…”

Suddenly, instead of words, hundreds of tiny spiders issued forth from his mouth. The young girl cried and ran to her mother’s arms.

The people had no words for this. The spiders ran in all directions and rapidly disappeared. The old storyteller acted as though nothing had happened.

The next morning the old man was gone, but the little spiders remained. They would show up in unexpected places, and would often pour out of the mouths of the people themselves. They went with the men on the hunt. They crawled among the corn being gathered by the women. They scampered with the children at play.

The people tried to kill the spiders, but for each one that died, it seemed as though three more tiny spiders would show up and scurry away, sounding like whispers as they went.

Finally in desperation the people went to their leader. “What should we do, Wise One?” they asked.

She told them to remain silent until the new moon became the full moon. Only then would the spiders disappear. This was hard on the people. They loved to commune with one another.

As the days passed, they began to focus more on the hunt and on the harvest, forgetting the spiders entirely. Thriving on attention but no longer receiving it, one by one the spiders disappeared.

Finally, the full moon rose, and the people came together to celebrate their freedom from the spiders. They spoke of how much they missed each other and valued one another.

There were no spiders to be seen. Oh, they would come back to visit from time to time, as spiders do, but now the people knew them for what they were, and could stop their spread through silence and neglect.

The spiders, you see, were gossip.

storyteller

[Image credit: globalneighbourhoods.net]

Get Off of my Cloud

As a blogger and a fairly intelligent person, you’d think I’d be up on current events. Not so much.

I almost never watch the news. This current trend of expecting the public to live in a world of constant fear makes me sick. And creating news out of non-events, such as what Paris Hilton’s dog is wearing these days, has limited appeal as well.

Several years ago I decided that there was really no point in getting worked up about situations over which I have little or no control, and because of that, I stopped reading newspapers and magazines, and stopped watching the news.

Now, if I have a question about something, I look it up. If it really intrigues me, I’ll read everything I can about it. And I don’t cast votes without doing my homework. Other than that, I let the news come to me. I never go to it.

You’d be amazed. If there’s something that you need to know, such as the fact that a hurricane is headed straight for you, you will find out about it one way or another. I’m never left in the dark about the major stuff, in spite of the fact that I don’t actively seek to be illuminated.

I must admit that there are distressing gaps in my knowledge of pop culture these days. I haven’t a clue as to whose record is topping the charts, what the most popular TV shows are, or who won the Super Bowl. But here’s a shocker: I seem to be able to live my life quite well without this information.

We Americans are under the mistaken impression that the entire world cares about what’s going on in this country, but I bet if you took a poll you’d discover that the vast majority of them can go days, months, and years without thinking about us at all, unless we’re threatening to drop bombs on them. So if the rest of the world can go without peering at our figurative navel, why can’t I?

This is a personal philosophy of mine that drives my boyfriend absolutely insane. He spends a great deal of time keeping up with current events. Guess which one of us has to take blood pressure medication.

So if you see me floating by on my own little cloud, humming quietly to myself to block out the onslaught of bad tidings that are coming at us all from every direction, just wave and let me drift on past.

Unless there’s a hurricane coming.

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[Image credit: glassart.org]