Thursday, November 9, 2023

Brain Hacking / the New Dark Age

             The off-year election results make it clear what matters to inspired voters is not the same stuff the media obsesses about. Reproductive rights issues have now influenced another election though the topic is generally shoved out of news agendas by the obsession with candidate polls, a kind of idiot trail to irrelevance.

         James Fallows, an emeritus wisdom, American journalist, academic, and speech writer said last week it seems the media is more interested in predicting next year’s election than paying attention to the news. Amen!

         I’ve written here of my distress that editors and producers are being reckless in their obsession with dubious polls and the attendant horse race of presidential politics. I blame a generational irrationality. News content managers have come up in an age of click bait, social media streams and distraction. 

        There was a time when political journalism sought to examine record, policy ideas, penetrate campaign organizations and test suitability for office. It appears they now wait for the latest poll and then explain seven ways to Sunday who will win 12 months from now. There is no shortage of "experts" from the political industrial complex to help with the spin.

         Tuesday’s election results benefited those who understand most US voters are still livid about the Supreme Court’s extremist decisions, restrictive state legislatures and the rightwing loud mouth lunacy on school boards. Mom’s for Liberty got pummeled by moms with common sense and civility. 

        People are smarter than social media streams and media simplemindedness that is attracted to the loudest shouting match.

        Most of the preliminary coverage missed what was coming, because the media was too busy trying to predict winners, as Fallows observed on Washington Week

        He knows a thing or two having been a national correspondent for the Atlantic, written for the New York Times, New Yorker, was an editor of US News and World Report, authored several books including a National Book Award winner, has been an academic and a presidential speechwriter. 

         Good journalism, the kind that Fallows generation produced still exists, but you have to get past gaffes, a lack of proportionality, and the current propensity for gotcha. 

        The news media, like politics is more performative today. Less journalism occurs at a time when Americans are less well read and educated, know very little if any history, and they were not taught and so do not understand civics. 

        Many, many Americans have plenty of emotion, and a more than an ample supply of demagogues and simpletons both in politics and media. It is also an age of news and information deserts which only permits a further dumbing down. People let social media algorithms, disinformation and radicalization efforts create their reality and manipulate their behavior. It is an age of brainwashing and group think.

        Coverage of the Hamas barbarism and Israel's response and self defense is demonstrative of how far we have descended, how little critical reason is applied and how intellectually bankrupt we have become.

        Here is one tier of a deep and complicated conflict that samples public and media response:


        Criticizing Hamas is not anti Palestinian. 

        Criticizing Netanyahu and his war policy is not anti semitic and not even anti-Israeli. 

        Praising Hamas is anti semitic and is not automatically pro Palestinian.

        Being pro Palestinian is not automatically pro Hamas.

        Being broken hearted by the scenes of death and destruction is not a political position.

        Maybe that is self evident to you and maybe not. But such relatively simple analysis seems lost in most media coverage and certainly on campuses, in cities and social media.Those simple declarative statements above have become fighting words. We are divided, tribal, rancorous, ready to rage and not at all ready to reason.  And that's only the top of it.

        There is complexity, nuance, and detail in ancient adversarial relationships. The involvement of terrorism makes it even more complicated. 

        Yet American screens are filled with hatred and irrationality and very few seem to be interested in anything but expressing angry views, even if they are illegitimate. When they are thrown into the media mix reason has no chance. No one listens.

        War is an ultimate human failing. Warfare is anti human, anti life and irrational.

        I heard an interview today where a Palestinian woman described the ordeal of evacuating a hospital under orders. At no time did the interviewer ask her about the Hamas military operation that was being conducted out of the hospital, nor were there questions about the tunnels below the hospital. A listener who has not read further, heard other sources, or knew of the Hamas tactic of hiding behind civilians would have a takeaway impression that was born out of incomplete knowledge or ignorance, by another name. The interviewer, the media source was at fault for not applying scrutiny, the challenge of a neutral examination, an attempt at objective understanding. Confirm, verify, question.

        I've been to Gaza, the West Bank, into what was Palestinian "territory" and understand the historic anger and the depressed conditions.

        I sat in Jericho with former combatants, Arabs and Jews.

        I've been to a Kibbutz and spent time with man named Uzi, whose parents were original settlers of Israel. He remembers being a boy and having to lay flat on the floor as his home was shelled by enemies in the evening. 

        I met with diplomats from the Palestinian Authority and their counterparts from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. These men had spent years working on sharing roads, moving produce from one zone to another, easing border crossings, protecting water supplies, trying to manage the daily tasks of commerce and agriculture. They thought that by making business together they would not make war.

        I spent days with a Nobel Peace nominee, a Palestinian Christian who was an Israeli citizen. He build schools and a peace institute where Palestinian, Israeli, Muslim, Jew, Druze and Christian children lived and studied together.


        Leaders with agendas can wreck and stifle constructive progress. Zealots are dangerous leaders no matter how they pray.

        All of this is to say, what we seen on our screens is horrible, human failure, violence that is evil. War is hell. It has human allies. 

       What we see on screens from America is so often imprecise, without context, so brutally mis-understood and unquestioned. And too we see the way people far away from the hellish reality of Gaza and Israel shout slogans, carry banners, injure and harm other humans, invoke deep hatred and because of what?

        Ignorance, lack of knowledge, stupidity led actions are on a holiday feast in America. Intolerance, hatred, narrow-mindedness, zealotry are on the rampage. They are fed by politicians, media failures, and by people who do not think or do not reason. 

        There is a reason they are called ancient hatreds, but there was a time when journalists and analysts tried to lance the ignorance, or at least lend understanding. Now media exacerbates at worse, or wastes opportunity to bring light.

        I've used the example of the Gaza incursion response to terrorism. But modern political media shows itself to be frequently incompetent on a far less grievous though important matter, American presidential politics, where in their mind the campaign is never over.

        Rather than obsession with irrelevant political polls, that change weekly, and inside the beltway gossip, more time could be devoted to examination of policy options, deep dives into the complexity of the conflicts, the culture war, the threat of a government that cannot compromise, what to do about two set's of "truth", why has a political industrial complex turned our electoral system into a business? 

        Too often media, and it is particularly so these days and with a younger media cadre, is complicit because they are being "played" by a political industry that has learned how to manipulate and spin. Sometimes the old dogs in a news organization had the best sense of things. They'd been around.

        After nearly a half century of chasing deadlines and news I think a dose of old fashioned ethic, skepticism and standards are much needed. Cheers to the old boys and old girls who straddled the world's news from the end of a world war, through a cold war, got beaten and hosed and had dogs turned on them as they covered the struggle for civil rights, who's coverage of Asian wars shook the moorings and exposed the deceit, who investigated a corrupt presidency, challenged government foibles, tested candidates, exposed scandal, and took seriously the idea of being a watchdog of the public's right to know. 

        Edward R. Murrow, father of modern broadcast journalism said something about television that can be applied to all screens, phones and pads included and to the content we consume.


            "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference."

        See you down the trail.  


Thursday, November 2, 2023

Good Night Bob Knight

         It was Christmas night 1980 and the Indiana University Hoosiers were in the early season, preparing for the beginning of the Big 10 Season. I was working on a profile of Knight for PM magazine a syndicated television program and we knew Dan Rather of CBS was working on a piece for 60 minutes. Our competitive juices flowed and we wanted to get on the air first. I'd asked Knight to let us video tape a practice session and I wanted him to wear a wireless microphone. He was reluctant to do so, but said if we'd come down to Bloomington's Assembly Hall on Christmas night, it was a deal. I'm sure he didn't think a TV crew would agree.

    We showed up on the cold night, and being the holiday our photographer Randy  brought his steady, our producer brought her son and Lana and I brought Kristin, aged 6. We planned to have a staff gathering after the practice.

   Knight was true to his word, welcomed us, wore the wireless and continued the session. At one point, one of his stars did something wrong on a play and Knight began charging down the floor all the while shouting and cursing with such volume his purple language echoed to the roof of the cavernous Assembly Hall. I was court side with Randy and turned to look at Lana, but she didn't need a cue as she was already moving our daughter toward the tunnel and away from shouting.

    Later when we were in the car I told Kristin I was sorry she heard some bad language and said those were not words your mom or dad would ever use, nor should she. I explained he was a coach and the team were young men and they were all working hard to get better and that some coaches yelled. She looked at me and said "Daddy, would he hurt anyone?"

    Bob's temper was his toughest opponent and it got plenty of attention. So did his brilliance as a basketball strategist and the 3 national championships, including that 1980 season. 

    I covered Knight and frequently interviewed him on non sports related topics including education, discipline, military history and literacy. At IU he was a proponent and activist for the Library. We had both read Sun Tzu and would discuss the book The Art of War. He had opinions about foreign policy and politics, most of which I did not agree with.

    Bob became the nation's youngest major coach when he began at Army when he was 25. Duke's vaunted Coach K, played for Knight and spent time as his assistant. 

     He helped a lot of people in many ways, charitably. I learned of a family that he had come to the assistance of in a major and costly way and asked him about it. He asked me why I wanted to know. I told him I thought there might be a story in what he had done. He shot a steely gaze and said "If you ever publish or broadcast anything about that you'll never get in assembly hall again."

    There were many things Knight did that I thought was excessive, hot headed, ill tempered, rude and wrong. I thought he was frequently a bully. He was however a master of basketball. He had a court sense, a knowledge of where the ball and play should be that was among the all time greats. 

    He loved a good story. When I was running my production company I pitched an idea to Knight that he liked, but for reasons including 9/11 we never got it green lighted. It was to be a "dinner of champions" that featured sports heroes and major stars at a black tie and formal dinner where as the evening progressed the diners would converse, tell stories, talk about sports and regulatory bodies, team owners, great moments, jokes and old history. I suggested that he and his friend Johnny Bench could serve as the hosts and keep the conversation flowing, all the while cameras captured the evening. Later it would be edited and presented over a couple of viewings as these legends enjoyed each others company and told stories.  During the course of our development work and as my company pitched it I got a note from Knight saying about the wearing of tuxedos, "I'm not particularly knocked in the ass about that."

    He was a complex man. There was more to him than the angry, chair tossing championship coach. I count it one of the highlights of my professional life to have crossed paths with him. There were many years I loved to watch his IU team play. It was some of the most exciting and best basketball ever. 

    As I learned of his declining health, I was glad to see him return to Bloomington and to again embrace that special fandom and culture. Those who know him well said he was happiest in Bloomington, the town where he became a legend. 

    See you down the trail. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Israel As Warning...


    In the tragedy that is Israel and Gaza are implications the US should be chilled by.

    Israel's intelligence and security failures are rooted in the Netanyahu right wing coalition. His own worst intentions are abetted by extremists in his government. It's a bad mix and they've been on an authoritarian track, trying to weaken the Supreme Court, with too much fixation on West Bank settlers and those issues, as well as staving off what has been a national uprising. Serious distractions and they now recoil from slaughter. They must square it with their personal and national soul that they too are responsible for the brutality and blood bath. They lost focus.

    American Intelligence executives tried to send warnings about activity in Gaza. The Netanyahu coalition's most deadly sin is being so out of alignment with the will of the Israeli majority, caused by the unholy coalition's goal of holding onto power just to have power. Sound familiar?

    Netanyahu's corruption charges were trouble enough, but the extremists he has bedded stained and poisoned a government that more than any has fought to maintain it's existence, legitimacy and it's own worst demons. They were weakened by their own hand and failed at being resolute and alert.

    That almost sounds like a US story.

    A twice impeached, 4 time indicted insurrectionist sociopath liar, who threatens to be a "president of revenge" who will change how America government works could be in a position to be elected. That frightening possibility speaks to the inherent danger in our own nation including the crippled intellect of US citizens with the right to vote and who could find a way to work the electoral college to put a deranged and dangerous man back in office. 

    The MAGA party has poisoned the republican party and has made the US House of Representatives inoperative at a time when our own financial existence and   security demand action. They are breaking the government, with intention. They are weakening us.

     Our national security leaders talk about the instability and ignorance of Trump when he was commander in chief. 

    Scalise and Jordan are men with such repugnant personal flaws that their authoritarian and anti democracy politics have to take second place in why they are too whakadoodle to be House speaker.

    The same anti American forces are trying to undercut aid to Ukraine. I have written previously of an intelligence brief in which I participated shortly after Russia invaded. Intelligence officers from the US, UK, Canada and France said Putin's strategy would be to outlast US and western resolve. He counts on on the US giving up. His agents in the republican party, the insurrectionists and anti democracy caucus are working to stop our assistance of Ukraine. That could be deadly.

    History teaches what happens when an invading force like Russia, or a Hamas, or a Hitler led Germany are not stopped. Posts here 5 and 6 years ago, drawing parallels of the rise of German and Italian fascism to the take over of the Republican party and the rise of the MAGA cult drew criticism from some. I think more people have come around to understanding the warning.

    When we look at Israel, now at war, and at war with itself too, we should see other warning signs. 

    See you down the trail.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

No Sunshine for Kevin

        When we came to California almost 18 years ago I started watching Kevin McCarthy, said to be a rising star. We had dear friends who moved from Bakersfield, accomplished people with government and academic service. They knew Kevin at close quarters and it was solid information to help me calibrate the "man" behind the political facade.

      Well, as just about every analyst has said, McCarthy engineered his own fall by his ego, his "craving" to be Speaker at any cost, his concessions to the most radical wing of his caucus all of which made him weak and as John Heilemann noted, "Matt Gaetz knew they could roll him."

         So now no one knows what comes next for the House divided Republicans, some of whom are only nihilists. Maybe the Republicans can heal their divide and settle on a woman or man who can A) get enough votes and B) actually be able to lead. That does not seem likely now, so we could be left with a bozo food fight among Republicans while government crashes.

        Here's an interesting bit of speculation akin to doggerel. Find 10 traditional or stable Republicans who value democracy and who believe in governance. One of them nominates Hakeem Jeffries for Speaker and suddenly the House becomes a chamber where business can be done and no longer a clown show at war with itself.
        Long shot? Sure! But we are at another "never been here before" moment and the fight to save American democracy will take bold strokes. 

        There is a carnival lot of well fed, under educated, classless, clueless, locked and loaded people who are under the MAGA spell and tent. That is where truth goes to die, maybe history too. 

        As they used to say, it's "hard ball time!"

        Sam Rayburn was elected Speaker of House 3 times and worked with Senate Leader Lyndon Johnson in the in the late 50's and early 60's to get early Civil Rights legislation passed, though it meant he had to court Republicans to compensate for and/or try to persuade Dixiecrats in all three of his terms as Speaker.
        Carl Albert was elected Speaker in 71 and presided over the investigation and resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew and then the Watergate investigation that resulted in the impeachment and resignation of Richard Nixon. Even in those historic and partisan times, Albert sought the needed support of the minority caucus. 
        Both of those events were before Newt Gingrich seeded the political soil with toxins and cancer, but this Biden administration has been able to produce an historic volume of bi-partisan legislation, so there are still Republicans who are reachable, who have not drunk the MAGA kool aid.   

        It would be nice to think that of the 435 members of the House there are enough Republicans who understand a working government is better than a broken government. It would be nice to think there are enough "public servants" who recognize that a crisis exists and that deliberation and compromise are better options. 

        See you down the trail.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

...and who is the enemy?

              A favorite saying from the 1970's struck me as I commiserated this era of dysfunction, threat and exasperating stupidity.
        "We have met the enemy and he is us."

        Walt Kelly inked that line for his character Pogo and it was meant as a defeated recognition that "us" was the enemy behind pollution and environmental destruction. The cartoonist had parodied a battle report from American Naval Commander Oliver Perry to Major General William Henry Harrison after the US defeated the British Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. Perry had written "We have met the enemy and they are ours." 

        Pogo's phrase is again a fit vituperation for what has become of "us" in this time. We are our own enemy.
        To be sure, there are many variants in the epidemic of stupidity. I beg a moment of your attention to address one that I know a lot about.

        Media is off focus, out of proportion, increasingly ephemeral and wrong headed. In defense of the profession where I spent a half century laboring, there are places of excellence and too there are many reasons for the demise we witness.
        So much of broadcast news, print journalism and on-line is a waste of time and even silly. This is what happens when newspapers are killed by financial vultures, when reporting and editing staffs are thinned to ludicrous levels so profits are boosted, when broadcast and print are forced into the blender of social media, a world of platforms that do not operate by the old journalism codes of conduct, ethics or canons. The public's "right to know" is now an afterthought, if even that, and it has become part of the broil that is ratings, revenue, investment portfolios, news deserts and a who cares attitude. 

        Some things are fixable. 
        Stop obsessing about the latest opinion poll. That is not news, it is a contrivance.
         There are flaws in using polling as news, not the least of which is that most polls today are skewed, flukey, and even if they are scientific they are nothing more than a view shared on that day by a small number of people. There is no guarantee about scientific precision or weighting. 
        Many so called polls and surveys are fronts for political operators.
        Good pollsters tell you political polls this far out mean nothing more than the dental floss you will discard tonight. Yet news groups, including those who should know better, ballyhoo and hype the latest assessment of America's mindset. 
        Ask yourself, with the rampant stupidity at large, with the miserable understanding of history by most Americans who were educated in the last 40 years, with the gullibility of generations pounded by advertising and behavioral manipulation for the transactions of a consumer market of things and stuff, do you really care what this age of polled opinions have to say. Given the givens, what is the value of turning what they think into news?!  Here's the news about that, they don't know any more than you do and likely they know a lot less. So why celebrate ignorance and opinions? The story the media is missing is how poorly informed, how inarticulate and how dumb this nation is becoming.  

        There is an underpinning factor that leads the young precious news staffers of this age to care so much about opinion poll reporting, aside from the fact they have all been raised in an age of click bait, and that is the unholy belief that Presidential politics is the holy grail and be all of US News, followed closely by all electoral politics. There is an electoral/political industry that has emerged and it is huge business, a cash cow for pollsters, analysts, consultants, media specialists, speechwriters, fashion advisors, advertisers and more. This billion dollar industry relies on and manipulates its kindred news business. 
        Time was broadcast news was a loss leader, the cost of having a license to print money. Now it is a profit center and news is just a product. 

        Let's be clear, this election cycle is critical to the survival of representative democracy. One party has abandoned belief in the historical American system of government with winners and losers and transitions of power. When US media cast any reporting outside of that reality, when they engage in a false equivalency or the so called "equal" time philosophy they are being suckered in by strategy and tactics of those who seek to destroy American democracy. It is time for the news industry to reassess how to proceed on a war footing, in a time of information warfare.

       Before we depart this issue of overplaying, hyping, tying almost every story to an old fashioned political peg, if you think I am wrong, then consider the players. Examine the people and the values they display, from school boards to the US House and Senate. 

        Truth, facts, and liberty are are the abused and battered family members of our American democracy at this moment in our history. That is part of a political strategy and goal and media is an accomplice. There is an off ramp.

        Because of who and what this nation is and has been through, you have influence both on media and on the political industry. If you get organized or loud enough you can apply pressure. You can boycott, put pressure on advertisers, disconnect, avoid media, get in the face of elected representatives, call them out, vote them out. 

        Do what you can to activate your philosophy. Stick to the facts. Speak the truth. Remember both leading presidential candidates are essentially the same age, there is a 3 year difference. Would you know by media coverage?
        That's the view from the ridge, the opinion of one who thinks democracy is the best choice of any form of government.

        See you down the trail. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Meditation in Grey


        77 years ago Mary Helen gave birth to the first born of she and Karl. That was in Indianapolis. Today that boy took a walk in California.

      It was a meditation. Each step was a celebration. Each sound was praise.

    See you down the trail.

Friday, August 11, 2023


         The double rainbow, as seen from our deck last evening, was the beginning of the rain season on the California central coast. Rain season ends and begins in July, so our August .2 of an inch is an early start and a bit peculiar.

        And so is this. The other evening as I walked back from taking out some trash I spotted and and then was buzzed by the "smallest hummingbird I've seen" as I said to Lana.
        "Really?" she said, going back to what she was reading.

        Well, she saw it the next day, with our granddaughter and she was a bit more excited about it.
        It is not a hummingbird, but it has a wing flap rate as high as the hummers. It is a White-lined Sphinx Moth and grows to 2-3 inches. Speedy little creature.

        These we found on a lupine bush. They were interrupted long enough to be inspected by granddaughter and Nana, and photographed before being returned to their bliss on the lupine.

        This was a sunset cocktail companion the other evening at a Camp Ocean Pines fundraising event. 
        I frequently hear some of his cousins as they observe their nightly vespers here on the ridge.

        Time to cue the frog. Actually as I opened the spa cover yesterday a little dude had taken to napping next to the control buttons. Granddaughter and Nana got a chance to spot it, before his spoiled nap led him to leap to the step and then to dash under the spa.
        Sorry I'll vamp and quote your song, that Jim Henson helped you 

        "What's on the other side?
        Rainbows are visions, but only illusions.
        And rainbows have nothing to hide.
        So we've been told and some choose to believe it
        I know they're wrong, wait and see.
        Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
        the lovers, the dreamers and me."

        See you down the trail.