Saturday, March 14, 2020

News That You Can Use

This is a weekly column consisting of letters to my perspicacious progeny. I write letters to my grandchildren (who exist), and my great-grandchildren (who don't) — the Stickies — to haunt them after they become grups or I'm deleted.
Warning: This column is rated SSC — Sexy Seasoned Citizens — Perusal by kids, callowyutes, and/or grups may result in a debilitating intersectional triggering

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Erratically Appearing Hallucinatory Guest Star: Dana — A Gentlerreader

"I find having a column a very difficult form of journalism. I'm not a natural like Tom Friedman and Anna Quindlen." -Maureen Dowd

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies (& Gentlereaders),

An article I set aside, forgot about, and recently found, reminded me that I haven't written a News That You Can Use column in quite some time.

The article, a comprehensive overview from a scientific perspective, of how and why our brains have trouble separating truth from falsehood — news that everyone can use — cites several studies and was published last August in the Wall Street Journal.

The bad news, according to the article, is that our distant ancestors, prior to the development of language, formed their beliefs from objects and situations that they experienced directly.

Language is a powerful tool that enables us to network our brains together, however, "We tend to treat language as an extension of our senses, but it is much more open to manipulation."

In other words, language (and images, sounds, etceterounds) can be weaponized. We can even use it to manipulate ourselves.

"There are none so blind as those who will not see." -Unsourceable  

The good news is that a study done at Indiana University by Patricia Moravec
(and other studies have confirmed) indicates that just by finding a way to remind people to stop and consider the fact that what they believe (or are inclined to believe) might not be true, can make a significant difference.

And, that this is a skill that can be taught to kids.

Consider yourselves reminded.

Going forward, every time you're reading or watching something that trips your bonkercockie detector, remember this column and the studies I mentioned and consider buying me and mine some cheap coffee.

[Wait, what? Buy you... You can't do that! Isn't that unethical? Besides...]

See what I did there, Dana? I perpetrated a humbug just so you would kick up a kerfuffle. That little bit of drama will serve as a memory aid that helps you, and my gentlereaders, to remember to be more careful.

[So you don't actually want them to...]

Reaching back a bit further, another article I saved in the same folder, from June 2018 (I'm even further behind than I thought) is called, When is an Ad Not an Ad? written by Madhulika Sikka.

I'm thinking about making his name my pen name. 

As best I can tell Mr. Sikka works/writes for Ricardo Sandoval-Palos, the Public Broadcasting Systems public editor,  " independent internal critic within PBS".

When I originally stumbled on this article it immediately caught my interest because being an occasional watcher of PBS, who almost feels guilty about never contributing, even during a Saturday evening begathon, I smelled forgiveness and redemption. 

[What does that smell like?]

Like the sort of Catholic church made of stone, stained glass, and decades of burning candles and incense that I spent a lot of time in a very long time ago. 

I've noticed that PBS has begun running commercials which strikes me as a maximum contradiction in terms. I hadn't looked into it till I accidentally refound the article.

I speculated that, at least according to PBS, The Fedrl Gummit, and maybe even God, that these somehow weren't really commercials.

I read the article and guess what? These aren't really commercials.

The article helpfully includes six videos.

Three pairs of shameless commerce style adverts vs. the enlightened PBS versions — for the exact same product — that aren't really adverts.

At this point, I must apologize to those of my readers that someone prints out my columns for who can't link to the article or watch the video below. I owe you a description; you ain't gettin' one.

I started to write out a summary and was nearly swallowed up by the legal quicksand that saturates the article when it occurred to me that all I had to do was say:

Picture Slick Willie Clinton testifying before a grand jury about his adventures with a 22-year-old White House intern with whom he didn't have sex.

Remember his now (in)famous reply to a question. "It depends upon what the meaning of the word is, is."

That tells you everything you need to know.

Now. You've probably heard about the next article I wish to discuss, "The Perverse Panic Over Plastic" since Greta Thunberg tweeted about it before boarding a private jet and heading off for a little R&R at one of Emperor Xi's re-education resorts.

However, you may not have read it once you discovered it's very long, very detailed, and appeared in the latest issue of City Journal magazine which is published and produced by the Manhattan Institute think tank.

[Just reading the preceding paragraph makes me want to take a nap. Who's got the time to...]

Not to worry, I'm sure USA Today will soon provide a simplified, short synopsis. The cable news channels will likely devote a couple of minutes to breaking it down for the Citizens of the Republic as well.

After all, if we can't rely on our informational gatekeepers to tell us what's really going on, who can we rely on?

While we're waiting, permit me to mention just two things. First, I would posit that the subject of the article is that all the time and money that's been spent on recycling plastic has made everything worse.

The reasons why are explained clearly, logically, and are well documented.

Second, I really, really, really wanted to reproduce the following sentence.

"And if you’re worried about climate change, you’ll cherish those gossamer grocery bags once you learn the facts about plastic." 

Finally, in honor of Freeman Dyson, Matt Ridley, and Bjorg Lomborg — brilliant scientists all, who, like me (your less than brilliant correspondent) accept that global warming is probably real,


All of whom have pointed out that there are other ways to think about, maybe even resolve, climate change — I submit some very old news that you can use. It's a video from 1978 narrated by the public intellectual Leonard "Mr. Spock" Nimoy.

[You're not only not brilliant you're just a smarty-pants.]

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