Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Safeguarding Freedom of Expression

         When awarding Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee said their journalism, safe guarding the freedom of expression, is a precondition to democracy and lasting peace.
      From the Nobel Committee announcement:
      Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is convinced that freedom of expression and freedom of information help to ensure an informed public. These rights are crucial prerequisites for democracy and protect against war and conflict. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is intended to underscore the importance of protecting and defending these fundamental rights.

Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time. This year’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize is therefore firmly anchored in the provisions of Alfred Nobel’s will.

            Ressa and Muratov have been abused and attacked by authorities. Colleagues have been killed. They are not alone.
       Journalists across the planet have suffered for their pursuit of facts. It is good these two, who faced down authoritarian dictators and government henchmen, are cited. Ressa and Muratov have been especially courageous. Thousands of others can a share a sense of pride as they too work against lies, authoritarianism, and abuse of human liberty and dignity. 

        A former news director I worked with took a mid career sabbatical to begin a process of visiting the old Soviet Union states to teach news gathering, editing, reporting and broadcasting. He helped to plant the seeds that now challenge Putin and the oligarchs. 
        I worked with and counseled visiting foreign journalists on investigative reporting and documentary work. I made it a point to work with those from authoritarian nations. 
        Bob Campbell and I were just a couple of the legion of American journalists who evangelized the robustness of strong reporting. It is odd and pathetic that practices of dictators and strongmen are now used by American politicians. These include attacks on the Constitution and its foundational principles. 
        The canons and codes of conduct of journalism's guiding institutions have been perverted by "news" services that in truth are propaganda mills and disinformation.

          I've been recalling an assignment to Brazil, after the first elected civilian government in 21 years. We were there after the military government relinquished power. Boarded up newspapers and radio stations were being re-opened and reborn. In the cafes and bars there was talk of democracy and the free press. America was a role model. That was before news by flavor, and all that followed the Rupert Murdoch virus.

telling stories 

        Working in the "news biz" is a ticket to a lifetime of stories, adventures and memorable people.

           It was well after 4:00 and Bob Hoover and I had the double package lead story on the news at 5:00. We had just returned to our cubicle in the police wing following an elevator ride from the Chief's office.
            Trying to block out the noise from the police scanner so I could hear the sound bites and then feed them back to the studio, I heard an unusual clacking competing with Bob's old school typing.
            I looked at him and saw that he'd pushed his dentures forward, out of his mouth and he was chipping them open and closed as he thought of his copy while typing. He was keeping a kind of rhythm. Bob had been a drummer. He was not amused at my chuckle and he kept pounding away. 

            I was punching in and out my Sony cassette recorder listening for the in and out edit points of the news actualities we had just gathered. Bob was at my elbow at our steel case desk, both of us jammed to the walls of our little cube. The emergency and police frequency speaker box was squawking above us as Bob jabbed his index fingers onto the keyboard of his 1920's era portable black Corona typewriter. Bob had been a reporter since the 20's and that old Corona, with it's uneven key strokes, had covered a lot of news. Now some 50 years later he and I were on deadline to report what was the biggest drug bust in Indianapolis history. Lots of money, drugs and weapons had been put on display as the IPD touted the victory. Bob and I were racing to pull it all together for the 5:00 news.

             Bob was a decade past normal retirement, but he could't give it up, the rush, the adrenaline rush that courses through the body as you write and edit on deadline. 
            He was always dressed to the nines and rarely took off his suit coat or sport jacket. After we had reported live and were off the air, Bob put his jacket on the back of his chair, loosened his tie, unlocked the top desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, which he poured in our coffee mugs. Racing the clock, telling the story, getting it right produces a particular kind of thirst. 
              So does investigative reporting, covering war, murder, child abuse, public fraud, social justice actions, government, disaster, disease, politics, banking, immigration, addiction, zoning boards and the countless other places where you'll find journalists, laboring to keep you informed. 

                            So before the moon is full, raise a toast to all of the real reporters, those whose only bias is for information, facts and who go to war and all of those other places armed only with curiosity, pens, pencils, cameras, notebooks and recorders. 

                        See you down the trail.                       

Friday, October 1, 2021

ON THE BRINK..............IF

        Approaching two years of pandemic living, humankind is the poorer for it. 

    "When your negativity bucket is full, it's full!" said the Rat as he threw neighbor Bob off the cliff in the cartoon strip Pearls Before Swine.

     We are devolving.

    Extraordinary souls have devoted themselves to others, to healing and to the common good, but almost everybody else is  worried or angry or both. 

     We've begun to understand we are a planet of grief, grievances and that pieces do not fit as they did. Life as we knew it is also a victim. 

        Those things, organizations, structure, mores, routines and all that held us together as a last tendril of civility are gone or are changed, drastically. We find ourselves on the brink emotionally, politically, and as a planet.

        Petulance has become our happy face.

       Our manner of living pays it no honor, nor even nods acknowledgement, but this growling spectacle of how we live with each other, is being measured. Standards change of course and so, in that way, we are scored by comparison. 
        History has the last word. Presently we are at war over values of culture. The battle-line is the nexus of I and we
        How do we live into and what do we expect from society? How do we get along?

        Media is the clarion. 

        Radio, television and social media have morphed story telling and journalism. It's changed reporting and our expectations. 

         Curated and aggregated information, like all things, was subject to human foibles. That is how racism, male supremacy,  cultural bias and the like got baked into normative assumptions. Though overdue and limited, old media was and is, self-correcting.               

        Now, however, we watch algorithms, products of human reasoning, maturing through data and machine learning, amass power and influence, though unrestrained by idealism, values, faith, principles and standards of decency and civility. It shows.

        No one elected the tech titans, yet their profit making platforms are addictive and they bend culture. Old media plays along. The manic pandemic lifestyle wedded us more intensely to our screens. Everything has changed as we live in a feedback loop of discordance. So much of life is like fingernails on a blackboard.

        Snark, "gotcha," and the takedown is the code of behavior and modus operandi. There is not enough probing for understanding and there is way too much lunging for the throat.

      Correspondents feed their social media streams, and maintain a "following" in addition to the work of being experts on their beat. Time was when only information and fact gathering was the job. Developing sources and contacts takes time, now devoted to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds.     

        This era of media practices "false equivalency." It is lazy, stupid and deplorable. 
      Here's how it works. A correspondent, news anchor or writer will give value to lies and deceptions, that are obvious political stunts or posturing, by how they pose a question. It is prompted by the seeking of an artificial "balance" or pretense of objectivity. 
     It's kept the Trump big lie and all of it's perverted manifestations alive. Even talking about it breaths more life into it. Raising it gives it an undeserved sort of credibility. Think  Cyber Ninja vote "recount" in Arizona, as one example.
     Republicans have no agenda. They will condemn neither the insurrection nor the Trump lies. When one of them trots out a fallacy, or an absurd claim, it is used as a kind of block and check to what Democrats or the administration say, do or propose. I am waiting for the flat earth society to get street credibility when a major news organization cites them in a story. 
    Lies are lies, crazy is crazy and bull shit is bull shit. A responsible media would call it out and not be trapped into shilling the ludicrous. 

       "News by flavor" has sharpened the edges between us. In fact it is only about business, building ratings and selling ads, but the poor fools who consume hours of the stuff end up duped and manipulated.
        Chronic news "content slant and skew," propagandizing and active disinformation is destroying us by division and diminishing the value of information. Too few seek multiple sources and verifiable credibility.
        There is no reason Mitch McConnell should be believed. He leads a party that is out to destroy a democratic republic and its time honored rules. McConnell is seen and quoted but rarely if ever challenged about dirty tricks and deception. 

        Presently he is delaying the calendar, trying to avoid a voting rights bill that could put a stop to the fraudulent voter suppression blitzkrieg of Trump's fascists. He's trying to stop passage of legislation, notably the infrastructure funding, that 70% of Americans support. He's playing brinksmanship even on government funding which is to pay for the $8 Trillion he and Trump added to the debt. He is incapable of bipartisanship, even to the benefit of his own voters.
       McConnell is playing a death match for the sake of power. What he says is given credibility by media, but he is never challenged on motive. It is spineless reporting.
        The evacuation of Afghanistan moved more humans than any time in history. More allies and friends were moved from harm than in any war. The media and republican inspired take was "a botched job."  History will cite the full story of stopping this nation's longest war, fraudulent and mismanaged from the start.    

     There is seething pressure building among many. They want to see Democrats unite, and not squander opportunity at a time of peril. Since Reagan, Republicans have tried to undo the Democrat social pact with America. 
     Republicans have given tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, cut social spending and shrunk government service at every opportunity. The nation is now crumbling, our standing in the world is slipping in categories like health, income and education. 
    The more serious challenge is more sinister than policy differences.
      Republicans are so without belief, they gave their party to Trump and he is the front man for a dumbed down populism, white supremacy, looney nationalism and dark money. Republicans aid and abet foreign enemies and enable a wealthy cabal to use Trumpism to turn our democracy into an autocracy. 
        Even in the face of such a dire and toxic scene, the Democrats again are at war with themselves unable to see the bigger picture. 
        Politics and government is damaged and a global crisis only makes it worse.

       There has been exceptional reporting and stunning revelations but that valuable information has to compete for bandwidth. Media suffers as we all do, from fatigue and pandemic depression. Fear and anger are dominant emotions.

         Deep analysis, visionary strategies, pragmatic determination still exist but they have trouble cutting through the noise and fog of a pandemic infected planet following four years of turmoil of the most incompetent and simply the most evil and divisive presidency in US history. We are exhausted. Sick and tired. It's a helluva position to be in when we face existential challenge, to our nation and to the planet. 

        If our systems are broken, if common sense no longer exists, if people don't believe science, if one of our great parties has become a cult, there is only one place to go as we stand on the brink. As beat up as we may be, we must go within, summon strength, honor our aspirations, stand on the shoulders of all who have faced adversity, embrace whatever is sacred in our life and be a light bearer whenever, wherever, and however we can.

          Stay strong! This too will pass.
          See you down the trail. 

            by Rudyard Kipling

  If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Monday, September 20, 2021



Feathered Buddha by Lana Cochrun

        How would you explain our national mood to the "greatest generation," those who endured the "great depression" and who won a World War, defeating fascism and authoritarianism?

        Why and how in the span of our lifetime have we blown it so that now most of our traditions and institutions have been degraded and our culture has been vulgarized? 

        Professional politicos have trashed public service and turned governance and the selection of leaders into warfare. 

        What percentage of folks do you think even know the meaning of civility?

     We've elevated the trivial, and so much of what passes for human interaction is petty and mean. Stupid people have masses of followers and stupid ideas have trumped knowledge   and science. The lethality of this is recounted daily on your screen, large or handheld. 

        At a time of our greatest scientific knowledge, transportation and logistics, we fail to deliver existing inventories of vaccines to hundreds of millions on the planet.

        We have known for decades that forces were aligning to threaten life even to the point of extinction, and we mostly argue about it as a global doomsday clock ticks away.

       It exasperates many because we know better, we know what needs to be to "fix and make better." Instead we watch demise stalk us and we are not unlike that creature trapped in a spider's web, afraid of what is coming but unable to extract ourselves. 

        We are headed the wrong way on a bad road.

photo by Heath Johnson  Cal Trans

        George Will the conscience of modern conservatism says that movement has been hijacked by idiots and is no longer truly classical conservative thought or philosophy.
        Liberalism has also been hijacked by zealots and the illiberal and is no longer what it used to be. 
        Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey, political philosophy professor and director of the Tocqueville program at Furman University write that classical liberalism that began with John Locke in the 17th century is dead "because it was designed to solve a different anthropological problem from the ones we're facing."
        Will says conservatives simply tired of trying to
"conserve." Conservatives had gained control of the Republican party but their languor and electoral desperation permitted one issue zealots, racists, and eventually fascists to steal the party.
         The Democrats move to the right, begun by Bill Clinton, sent their progressive wing into high gear and you get a Bernie Sanders and the less politic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trying to shove the party. The trouble as the Storey's point out, liberal ideals were set for when people committed to churches, towns, professions, families, but all of those frames and norms have been busted by rapid change and disruption.
        In a digital world, commitment means something different than it did. We are not the nation we were. 

        Change has accelerated and in most cases there has been little forethought to consequences.

        Faith is a progenitor force in the history of the republic, including among the indiginous who had their land and nations stolen from them. Today faith is on the skids and, it is telling, so too is our republic and most of western "civilization." 

        One of the reasons I bristle when I hear people spar accusing liberals or conservatives of this or that, is because, like the society or anthropology from which they sprang, they no longer exist, or have changed so much there is no veracity or credibility in the definitions. They are ghost divides.

        We are stuck with old frameworks and strap ourselves to tired categories, but they are empty and meaningless. 
        We have abandoned values, virtues, and disciplines that served us well, until recently. It is intellectual laziness, on a mass scale, clouding our ability to see new horizons.

           The 20th century third rate romance between politicos and television, now social media has produced a bastard spawn that abuses the aspirations of our constitutional bones and the patience of the increasingly diminishing population of thinking citizens. Stress point is "thinking."

         We've even elevated the powerful tool of changing your mind into a kind of dunce cap calling people "flip floppers." To be sure there are politicians who flip flop for expediency, Kevin McCarthy for example on the topic of his party boss, or the insurrection and such. 
        Hucksters like that are disingenuous. But all people should be able to learn, adjust their thinking by new information, science, or experience and not be subjected to the sophomoric peals of mindless media.

        A future post will examine current media practices including the very damaging and even dangerous false equivalency. 
        Suffice it to say you need to be your own editor. If you have found a "news by flavor" favorite, you should pay attention to an opposite "flavor."  Better to get your information from multiple sources and still think about what you see, hear and read.
        Until we get unstuck from our echo chamber or silo form of news consumption, we are going to stay silly, and continue our slide away from greatness.

        Real analysis is not commentary, opinion nor snark. There is very little of the former and more than we need of the latter.

    We doom ourselves by our chronic feuding while a significant number of potential voters live in a fantasy of lies. They appear to be impervious to not only truth and history, but to help for their own survivability. Again refer to the Covid mortality tables.
    The only cure is to wipe them out electorally and to go about the work of disinfecting with reason, rational debate, political negotiation and abandoning the death maiden's embrace of a winner take all or zero sum game theory.     
    Politics is about the art of compromise, and statesmanship. 

        It's a tough chop out there. I consider my own sense of being at this age and can't begin to imagine the daily reality of being President of the US at this time. Pandemic, economy, the Republican devolution to running dog fascists, rebuilding foreign policy, stridency in his own party, stopping an endless war, anarchy and insurrection, domestic terrorism, cyber attacks, and an electorate that is increasingly divided between urban and rural, educated and ignorant, those who trust science and those who take horse dewormer, those who know the truth and those who believe in fairy tales and lies. 
        While he is moving strategically to deal with China he blew it by not notifying our ally France that the new Australian initiative was coming. France has every right to be angry, not only were they left out of the protocol, but US defense contractors just took some 66 $ billion off the French table. The move was handled stupidly and it is surprising coming from an administration with as much foreign policy experience.
        Chief of Staff Ron Klain and the boss need a mountain top one on one. This administration should not make such boneheaded mistakes.
        They also need to include a conversation about the Covid mandates. While we are in unusual and even emergency times, there is a genuine debate about the authority to do so. Should have been better finessed. 
        Yes, they have a lot on the agenda, but we are at an existential passage in the republic. There is little room for errors, especially stupid mistakes. 
        It is also time for the Republicans to heal themselves and divorce the fascist mindset that has robbed them of principle and a belief in America. There have been a few peeps from some in the Senate, but they need to rise up and act with integrity. It is time for a movement, more than a media blitz from the Lincoln project. It is time to put into action a movement to restore the party to worthiness. Until then the republican party will remain a party of Trump's whores and cowards. 

        I mean no disrespect because the Buddhist concept of Nirvana is akin to the aspirations and inner spirit of other faith practices, prayers, disciplines and states. But as bipeds on this blue marble, fixed with brains, and souls we seem to be tripping ourselves up. 
        We seem to be looking down and not inward or up. 
        We seem to be thumbing and stabbing our way through screens, and not seeing the reality of the world, and not lending a hand. 
        I'm curious what wisdom are we seeking to live by.

        There was a time when people of differing philosophy, politics and belief systems could either share or respect a wisdom. There was a time. Can we make it so again?

now, for something entirely different

       This is just a recent daily presentation from Lana's crop. They are not large, disappointing to her, but they are tasty. 
          She's already begun planning a new spot for next year's crop. 
        The yellow/orange cherries are off the chart delicious.
        I've used the San Marzano and red variety in sauces. Great flavor, but the skins are a little tough. 
        The large yellow in mid frame is an heirloom Kentucky Beefsteak. It's a new variety to us.  This years crop is small by Indiana standards in size, and even to last years. But everyday such a sight appears in the kitchen.  I'm not complaining.

        See you down the trail.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Making a Difference

         Rare is the city or village where some are not unhoused, homeless, or living on the margin.
      In San Francisco we saw something transformative, and it is on the way to Los Angeles. All cities should take note.

        The gentlemen in the vest is part of something making a difference, Urban Alchemy

        Founder Dr. Lena Miller calls it a workforce development program that is a transforming force as a social enterprise.

        Men and women wearing the Urban Alchemy colors are visible in several neighborhoods.

        In three years Miller's "troops" have turned around once troubled neighborhoods through attention to detail and a full on presence.
Photo from SF Weekly

        When an area begins to look like the frame above,  beset with crime, filth, drug dealers and or homelessness, Urban Alchemy takes it on.
     Miller says it where a job meets the homeless, mental illness, addiction, merchants, residents and tourists.

            Urban Alchemy teams tend to the needs of the unhoused, do CPR, rescue drug overdoses, and assist those with mental crises.
        Other teams hit the alleys and streets, cleaning up, getting rid of needles, trash, human waste. 
        They've developed and care for public toilets and rest stations.
        They have created safe zones, safe walking areas and even parks.

        As one of the urban alchemists told me they are "here for everyone, just making it good for everyone."
        They try, as they say, "to hold the space" so it is safe and clean. They are guardians, clean up crews, ambassadors.
photo Upshot Stories

Photo San Francisco Examiner

        Urban Alchemy hires long time offenders, released on completion of sentences. Millar says they are people "with barriers to employment."
        They are men and women with street smarts who are given a job and income with the ability to earn an honest living and provide for themselves and families. She says she has seen many success stories in people who might have ended up homeless too. Her staff has a special relationship with the homeless.
        "They feel a special bond. They know what it means to be dismissed and disrespected."

        The Urban Alchemists evince a pride in the work they do. As they transform neighborhoods, bringing civility, caring, cleanliness, Miller says they too are transformed. She says there is a sense of mission and a kind of spirituality in this mix.

       As unhoused people try to survive in cities, living rough, it creates challenges and changes in the chemistry of urban life and commerce. Urban Alchemy has a balm for that.

        See you down the trail. 


Saturday, September 11, 2021


        Our destiny changed that day and we've see an endless media loop exhausting how many ways that is so.
     None of us who saw it can erase the image. But today 1 in 4 in America were not alive then. History and education should be  the guardian of the memory. 
    A piece of the once "angry young man" has stirred in this old boomer, but not perhaps as you might think. To quote Ed Murrow again, "This just might do nobody any good." I'll pick up his next line too,  "...some just might accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest..."

     A Marine, counsel for the Commandant, a strong man of enduring courage wept and was overwhelmed as he remembered the day the plane struck near his office in the Pentagon.
     A brother recalls seeing his twin return to a tower to help with evacuation, minutes before he is lost in the collapse. 
    A man tells how he saw a video of a woman in flight dropping past the building on the way to her death, he recognized the clothing as that of his wife. 
    If you've been near radio, television, or a screen you too have no doubt heard more, much more, of the same. It is heart breaking. It is unfiltered tragedy. It is also excessive, and exploitive.

    The honest emotion is undeniable. Its expression is painful, horribly painful. But there is a place for it and there are reasons these humans should need dredge up such pain and heartbreak. I don't think that reason is because a network, or media enterprise thinks it should be.
    I'm sorry my father is not here to hear me say that. He was also an absolutist on the first amendment and press freedom but was not without his criticism of media's tendency to hype. As a practitioner of the craft I'd bristle and we'd have a good chat.

        The attack on Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination,
and before that the end of the Civil War and World War I would draw newspaper attention to those anniversary date,  "look- backs."
      There may be value in those historic reflections, but what makes the date of the 20th Anniversary any more appropriate or relevant to plumb the history than 6 weeks before that, for example. The hook, is anniversary; 5, 10, 15, 25, 50, until there are no survivors and few alive who endured the history.
       There is nothing in the study of history, the psychology of the brain, or compassion for victims that needs to be exercised on an anniversary date. Scholarship is ongoing while media hits get clicks or ratings. 
        I get the history, the importance of remembering and teaching and understanding, and learning. But for heavens sake we need not put these suffering people through the anguish of loss, and broken hearts so we can put together a television program or pod cast to cash in on and exploit the emotion.

        History courses, museums, memorials, family gatherings, tributes, and such is the decent and civilized place for the expressions of those thoughts and feelings. 
        Making people sit for cameras and then range through hurt and loss seems hurtful, wrong and crass.
        This point of view is probably as popular today as it was when I raised in newsrooms and pushed back against such arbitrary enterprises, "back in the day." There was a ghastly triple homicide that local stations and newspapers always trudged out around the anniversary date. Nothing new, no changes, just a replay of gore and sad stories. What's gained?

        There have been a couple of pieces in the blizzard of production that attempted to measure how we have changed, and how we have been affected. They were long on analysis and probing and short on the emotional sound bites and forced memories. 

        On September 10 I was shuttling between Washington and New York. I had meetings near the Towers and at the Pentagon and just across the river. We were working on a nuclear arms project. We were scheduled for a night flight back to Indianapolis, but one of our contacts had been delayed by weather out west. We made plans to fly back to New York, stay in Manhattan and meet him the next day and then shuttle back and take another meeting in Washington. He called to say he was stuck in Chicago and we should reschedule when timing was better. We flew home on the late flight.
        I remember a moment walking in New York, the sky was blue and it was a beautiful day, and I made note of how nice it was and how young those on the streets suddenly seemed. On most previous assignments or trips every thing seemed more of a hassle, gritty and the people were less friendly than they were on September 10, or so I remembered. 
        Several of the tortured souls I saw interviewed in the last week, mentioned what a beautiful fall day September 11 was. Somehow that touched me.

        See you down the trail.