The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category

THE SPOKEN AND UNPUBLISHED WORD

It’s been about three weeks since I’ve had the opportunity to add a post to this blog.  I was not abducted by extraterrestrials (though sometimes I feel I’m living among them).  I have been actively adding my thoughts to the Huffington Post community in response both to stories they’ve published, in response to comments left by other readers and by responding to their critique of my comments.  This has become an exhausting effort.  The total number of these is now approaching five hundred.

In the process I’ve met some wonderful people who may not share my vision but who have the intellectual honesty to be willing to debate by using facts rather than hyperbole.  Of the 65 who are now “fans” they form a small coterie.  I suspect that many of the rest are only “fans” so that, given the opportunity, they can have the chance to leave a disparaging remark.  Fortunately, while I might have been an overly-sensitive child, my skin has thickened with the passage of time.

One of those, whose views are diametrically different than mine and with whom I have engaged in vigorous debate, was kind enough to respond to the snarky comment left by another reader, “What planet are you from? Uranus?” He advised, “Pay not attention to idiots.  I have your back.”  That comment literally caused my eyes to tear.

There are some decent people in the world – irrespective of whether we share the same political viewpoint.  But if we take the stand that we are the sole possessor or recipient of “truth” and anyone who disagrees is, by definition, “wrong” we will never reach any consensus or move toward a more prosperous future.  Sadly, that seems to be the majority view of those who comment on the Huffington Post and, in fairness, probably reflects much the same attitude one would find in an ultra-right publication as well.

One of the brief comments I left, which generated far more activity than I would have expected, pertained to the vote to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress.  The rhetoric and hyperbole flowed fast and furiously (no pun intended).  The overwhelming majority of those focused on my being “un-American;” “having no concept of the Constitution – particularly the Fifth Amendment;” or simply pointed to this event as little more than a “Republican witch hunt.”

To summarize my three sentence comment I said, “I didn’t know whether Ms. Lerner had done anything illegal or whether the IRS had engaged in illegal or political activity but that it would be in all of our best interests to get to the truth and, if there were impropriety, to make sure it didn’t happen again.”

If I had a list of statements that I had made over the years which I personally considered “controversial,” this one wouldn’t have qualified.  That was not the reaction of HP readers, twenty-two of whom “faved” my comment – and thirty-eight of whom explained that I was a blithering idiot.  But at least this comment was allowed to stand by the “editorial board” at HP.

Another comment which also generated a lot of interest did not survive the censorship process.  That comment, which follows, was in response to a story which made fun of Brit Hume and FOX News (the greatest evil since Hitler discovered the gas chamber), over the social media effort to rescue the abducted Nigerian school girls by launching a hash tag campaign.

“There’s probably no one in the “civilized world” who doesn’t hope for the safe return of the abducted Christian Nigerian girls. (By civilized world I refer to those who are not members of Boko Haram or any other fundamentalist extreme Islamic terrorist organization).

But this incident is hardly without precedent since in late February, fifty-nine male students were attacked in their Nigerian school and were either shot or burned to death by the same outfit. Where was the outrage; where were the hash tags; where was the love?

Treating symptoms doesn’t cure diseases. And until we admit the real source of these problems and stamp it out as we did with smallpox, we’re all likely candidates for infection – with or without hash tags.

The story here isn’t FOX News. It’s medieval Islamic extremists.”

I can only guess why that comment was deemed as “too outrageous for publication” but I suspect that it was either by using the words, “Islam,” “extremism,” “terrorists,” or some combination of those which caused the deletion.

I would have liked to have had the opportunity to both read and respond to the twenty-two comments that other readers took the trouble to leave.  Sadly, my comment and their responses were deleted before I had the chance to do that.  That is both a discourtesy to me – but more so to those who wanted to share their thoughts.  And it does remind me that what was true more than two hundred years ago is just as true today.

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”
― Benjamin Franklin

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

A graveyard.

Some believe it is a testament to the end.  Others believe it is the marker of a new beginning.    Without doubt, in the wink of an eye, we will all find out the truth, or not, depending on which view is correct.  In this matter there is uncertainty.

But about one thing there is no such lack of clarity.

History teaches us that when a people and those in political power abandon principle and virtue and morality; when common courtesy and compassion have no bearing on the way they conduct themselves; when truth is something that can be manipulated and falsehood is something that falls from everyone’s lips, it is a sign of the beginning of the end.

It happened in Rome, the Byzantine and Ottoman and Mogul Empires.  And now is it happening in America?

That is a disturbing question and not one that I pose easily.  It is or at least should be disquieting to every thoughtful American.  Indeed, I believe that every thoughtful American recognizes the potential for disaster should we continue down our present path.  But how many among us are there who consider the perils ahead – and how many simply go through their lives, persuaded by the mass psychology and desire to be part of the group and, like the lemmings follow each other over the cliff – taking down the rest of us with them?

There is a specific phenomenon which caused me to write this post.  That is the campaign ads which are currently being broadcast – specifically, some of the President’s ads.

I realize that in any campaign the opponents are going to manipulate facts to their own personal advantage.  Although I don’t like that I do expect it.  But when outright lies about an opponent are broadcast it is time for any and every person of conscience to cry out – STOP!  THIS IS TOO MUCH.

Sadly, there are very few in the Peanut Gallery shouting that.

There is a reason for that – a sad reason.  We elect people whom we think of as being like ourselves – who thus will be able to represent us and our interests.  So if we as individuals have abandoned principle and decency – if that is how we conduct our personal lives – it is only reasonable to expect that we will vote for people of the same ilk.  And we have.

The President’s camp quickly distanced itself from a PAC ad which accused Governor Romney of indirectly causing the death of a woman to cancer by denying her health insurance benefits.

(First fact, we lose thousands of people a year to cancer who are fully covered with insurance benefits).

“The Obama campaign didn’t write that ad or have knowledge of it.”

(Second fact, they met with the husband of the deceased several months earlier and heard his story – which has changed a few times in the telling).

Is there no longer a requirement to report news events honestly?

(Third fact, this is one of the worst examples of “yellow journalism” and any reporter who published this sort of unsubstantiated story would well deserve to be fired by the editor of his newspaper).

This sort of campaign is one that small, spiteful people, bullies conduct.  Find a victim, run in and throw a few stones and then run back into hiding, denying any knowledge of how the victim got her bruises.

It is the same response we would expect from a person at a party to exhibit who suffered from flatulence, releasing the gas in his body and then looking around the room to see who is the source of the odor.

This is not the campaign of a statesman.  It might not even qualify to meet the low standards of a politician.  It is the campaign of a self-absorbed thug who has no greater goal than to achieve his own objectives, whatever the cost or by whatever the means.  It is unworthy of a person who either holds or aspires to the office of President of the United States.

Rome, the Byzantine, Ottoman and Mogul Empires and now, perhaps, America?

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for you and me.”

ON CRITICS

Scarcely a person alive hasn’t at some time been the subject of criticism.  Critics abound with the frequency that flies lite on cow pies in the dead heat of a blistering day in Yuma, Arizona.  They are our personal gadflies – sent as a scourge by a lesser deity.  But it is not to these I refer in this post.

No, the critics of whom I speak are those who have made a profession of it.  They are the ultimate arbiters (the Enlightened Ones) of what passes for good taste and have been placed on this earth to inform the rest of us (The Un-enlightened Ones) what we should read, hear, and enjoy – and conversely what we should not pick up, listen to and abhor.  It is a noble profession – and one for which there is really no professional training.  (This might be a possible career choice for those in the OWS movement as it carries with it no baggage such as student loans).

There was a memorable critic in Chicago by the name of Claudia Cassidy.  If it is true that “only the good die young”, Ms. Cassidy went on to live to be 96 years of age – but I have always disputed the validity of that aphorism.  She was indeed an influence in the development (and retardation) of art in Chicago.  Her moniker, “acidy Cassidy” would be understood by anyone who read or heard a typical reiew.

For years she worked as a critic for The Chicago Tribune, submitting freelance offerings.  But I came to know her through her regular half hour Sunday broadcast on Chicago’s classical music station, WFMT.  I can attest to her impact by saying that in order not to miss one of these broadcasts which spanned fifteen years, I attended an earlier service at church to be sure I would be home to hear this famed critic.

If I could think of a way to describe the persona that she projected, I would have to say that the words she spoke reminded me of a nasty and vitriolic Oscar Wilde, delivered through the gravelly voice of a whiskey-downing cigarette-smoking Edith Piaf.  Her delivery and her ability to turn a phrase (usually against the artist she was reviewing) were truly classic.  Listening to her was a bit like playing with a loose tooth – a combination of pleasure and pain.

Ms. Cassidy abruptly passed from the milieu of Chicago’s cultural scene.  One day she reviewed a concert which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra had given under the leadership of guest conductor Thomas Schippers.  She took apart both the Maestro’s ability to lead an orchestra, the orchestra’s performance of Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and went on to further impugn the Austrian people as a whole for having produced such a “monstrous composer” and inflicting him on the world.

Sadly, Maestro Schippers had decided that he didn’t like the rehearsals of the piece and, at the last moment, had substituted Dvorak’s Symphony “From the New World” in its place.  And so ended a vainglorious career.

If there is a moral in this it can have been expressed no better than by Polonius in “Hamlet” when he said, “To thine own self be true.”  As in relationships and in art, you are your own best critic.

TWO DEAD PRIESTS

This morning after Gracie and I had completed our early morning walk I brought up my home page to see whether the world outside our neighborhood had held together for yet another night. I was pleased that it had. As my coffee was brewing downstairs I briefly glanced over the stories that Yahoo News thought was worthy of inclusion.

As I looked over the items that were listed I saw one about two priests in Colombia who had been shot to death a little more than a year ago. Apparently, they had hired the hit men who killed them because one of the two priests discovered that he had AIDS.

The article was very brief and I could hear my coffee maker beeping that it had done its job and “x’d” out of the article to enjoy the java and give Gracie her morning chicken jerky treats.

As I sat in the backyard sipping my brew I started thinking about how I might craft this story into a post for this blog. I had a few ideas but in order to develop them I wanted to re-read the story and see if there were any others out there which had fleshed out more details about it.

My thinking was that I might write about the theological basis that the Roman Catholic church has on homosexuality – and how the psychology of having to teach their flock a doctrine that undermined themselves might have played into the decisions of these two priests to hire the hit men who killed them.

I pondered talking about how these two men had decided that suicide (even assisted-suicide) which is viewed as a mortal sin, was preferable to dealing with their homosexuality.

I considered discussing how homosexuality is so counter-cultural to the Latin and Hispanic community and the difficulties that the two Hispanic gay men I know experienced in being shunned and cut off from their families.

I wasn’t quite certain where I was going to take this but I wanted to pursue it.

I was surprised that in a half hour, the story had disappeared from the Yahoo News page. Despite my best efforts to retrieve it I couldn’t find a way to do that within Yahoo. So I went to Google and typed in “Gay Colombian Priests’ Deaths.” Google did the effective job that it normally does and brought up a page of listings which directed me to the material I was seeking.

What I found in looking at the three stories really shocked me more than the subject matter and changed my direction and thinking about what I would post. If you’ve ever played that picture puzzle game where two similar, but not identical images are placed side by side – and your job is to find the differences – you will understand my reason for surprise if you visit each of the three links below which covered this story

 

http://news.yahoo.com/colombian-priests-hire-hitmen-alleged-suicide-152936007.html

 

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2101457/Colombian-priests-hired-hitmen-kill-themselves.html

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/colombia-priests-hitmen-suicide_n_1276289.html

Did you notice as I did that under the guise of presenting “news” three separate sources reported the exact same story – including identical verbiage! Is this reporting? What would the people who wrote these stories have done if the Copy and Paste functions didn’t exist within our world of word processing?

Yes there are some cosmetic differences between the three articles – but these pale in comparison to the similarities – like our little puzzle game. And what should concern all of us is that if we rely on un-thinking writers and un-thinking sources for our news – what is it that we are really getting?

There is no doubt that today more than ever our thoughts and ideas are molded by the media. And when all of those media are saying the same thing it is only natural that if we don’t examine our sources critically we can easily be manipulated into believing that what we read or see is the truth.

One of the early magnates in the media business, William Randolph Hearst understood the power that his newspaper empire had when he said,

“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

 

ON TELEPHONE SOLICITATION

 Once upon a time in the Dark Ages when I was in college, I spent three months doing telephone solicitation for “The Chicago’s American” newspaper. The paper was owned by the Chicago Tribune and was the evening edition of that publication.

I remember answering an ad in the Trib which promised wealth and glory for those who “liked people, had a good phone voice and possessed a compelling ability to sell.” Well – in my opinion, that was me. So I applied for the position and was hired.

My school schedule only allowed me two nights a week when I would be able to engage in my new activity and the first Tuesday that I was free, I dutifully reported to the newspaper’s phone room to begin my new career. Their office was in the Chicago Tribune’s impressive Gothic building at 401 N. Michigan Avenue.

When I went into the room I had the impression that I had gone into a “language lab,” with little cubicles all facing a wall, a head set and a telephone key pad. In addition there was a script that we were supposed to use in selling the public on the virtues of this publication.

In the center of the room sat our supervisor, Harold – who was physically handicapped and needed a wheelchair to navigate. On the far wall from my assigned station was a very large chalkboard on which had been written the “telephone names” of the other people who were involved in solicitation.

By telephone names I mean that each of us was assigned a moniker – in my case I became “Jumping J.” But there were others such as “Rapid Rosie,” “Never Say No Nathan” and “Fearless Freddy.”

The room comprised the greatest collection of misfits that had ever been assembled on planet Earth. I felt right at home there.

While I could only work for a few hours in the evening, quite a number of the solicitors worked a normal eight hour day. Rapid Rosie, a woman in her sixties was one of those. In fact she was the maven for the room having survived at this enterprise for over two years so that she could support her invalid mother.

When I first walked into the room my opening night on the job, Harold explained that I had my choice of “working” three different populations of Chicagoans.

The first were inner city people. If I sold them a trial subscription I would be paid $2.50 for my efforts – once their subscription was confirmed by the individual who would call back after the sale to verify they had agreed to it. The reason that these subscriptions paid $2.50 was that the subscriber  would probably not renew as they would seldom receive their paper which would typically be stolen from their doorstep or apartment door.

The second were people who lived in “middle-class” areas. For sales to these people I would receive $3.50 per subscription. The paper figured that about half of these people would continue their subscriptions beyond the trial period – and the other half would cancel after having made an assessment of the philosophy behind the newspaper’s content.

The third were people in the suburbs. For these people I would receive $4.50 per trial subscription. They would receive the paper with a great deal of regularity – and probably subscribed to the political and philosophical leanings that the paper represented.

At the time I was risk-averse so I opted for the second group. Harold handed me a reverse directory printout and I was on my way back to my cubicle to conquer the world.

That first night I religiously followed the somewhat stale script. “Hello, this is J. calling from Chicago’s American. I hope you have a moment to (click).”

Hello, this is J. calling from Chicago’s American. I hope that you have a moment to hear about an exciting offer. (No click). The reason for my call is to let you know that if you accept a thirteen week subscription (click).

Hello, this is J. calling from Chicago’s American. I hope that you have a moment to hear about an exciting offer. The reason for my call is to let you know that if you accept a thirteen week subscription to the paper, we would be pleased to send you either a beautiful lamp or a wonderful Orlon blanket. (Still no click). Which of these two gifts would you prefer?

That call resulted in the first of my four sales that night in my four hour shift. A whopping $14.00 in earnings (less deductions and the $1.50 in carfare). This was the massive hourly amount of $3.13 – far in excess of the then minimum wage. I was on my way.

I have to admit to a certain distaste for what happened after each sale. The “verifier” would call back the new subscriber to make sure that they had indeed agreed to accepting the paper. Once verified, he would come in with the completed paperwork and hand it to Harold who would then furiously ring the little school ma’arm bell on his desk and announce to the room that “Rapid Rosie” or “Jumping J.” had sold a $3.50 subscription.

Harold then wheeled himself in his chair over to the blackboard and would add an “X” next to the name of the successful solicitor. (The reason for keeping track was three fold).

First,there was a weekly $20 contest for the person who sold the greatest number of subscriptions to the paper.

Second, it gave the person who sold the subscription a little bit of recognition and momentary glory.

Third, it let the people who were not selling well that they were slackers and should be about this important task before they found themselves out of a job.

After my first week (and $35.00 in earnings) I decided that I had a goal. Despite my very limited work schedule, I was determined to win the weekly prize. But I realized that doing so following the script was going to be an impossibility. I decided to re-write my conversations with potential future clients. (Doing so was not in accordance with the paper’s rules).

I wrote out my own presentation and when I went back to work the next Tuesday I showed it to Harold. He immediately “tut-tutted” it as it was a “deviant change” – as he put it – from a formula that was tried and true. But I said to him, “Let me try it today and see how it works. It’s not going to cost the paper anything because if I make no sales you’re paying me no commission – and if it works – it can only help the level of our subscriptions.” He thought about that for a moment and agreed to let me try it that night.

Here was my presentation:

Hello Mrs. B. My name is J. and I’m calling you from the newspaper, Chicago’s American and I’m one of those people we all dread – a telephone solicitor. But I’m also a student and I’m trying to help pay my way through school. Like you, I’m trying to earn a living. Would you have a moment to listen to the offer that the paper is making to new subscribers?”

Great. I’m only going to take a couple of minutes of your time and I hope that I’m calling when you have a little bit of time to listen.”

As you may know the Chicago’s American is published by the Chicago Tribune. It’s our evening edition. If you like to keep current on what’s happening in our city and the country, a subscription to an evening paper might be something you would consider. And if you take the paper for a thirteen week trial period as an expression of our thanks, Chicago’s American will send you either a free lamp or a blanket. Either of these free gifts would be a nice addition to your home.”

Thank you so much Mrs. B. for your subscription. We at Chicago’s American welcome you to our family as a new subscriber. Another of my team members will be calling you back in a moment to verify your subscription and then we will get the paper started for you in two business days.”

I hope you enjoy reading the paper and your free gift. And you and your family have a great evening. Thank you so much for your time.”

Harold was impressed that the first time I used this presentation I sold twelve subscriptions to the paper. That was the largest number of any of the solicitors who had been on the phone during the eight years of his tenure. My next night, two days hence, I sold a similar number. But I fell two short of being the biggest seller and winning the weekly prize.

It took me seven weeks before I finally eked out the prize. And I was earning enough to pay my college tuition during my two night a week stint at the paper. It was pretty lucrative – if horrifically repetitive.

I would have continued but for the night that I reached a lady, made my presentation and she replied, “Thank you for your call, J. But I have to tell you that neither my husband nor I could use the paper since we are both blind.”

I remember sitting in my cubicle for a few moments after I hung up from speaking with this lady and then unplugging my earphones from their jack. I turned them in to Harold and said that “circumstances beyond my control had intervened and I had to resign my post.”

I left that evening only to return one more time to pick up my final paycheck which I donated to The Lighthouse for the Blind.

In the days before we had cell phones which told us who was calling and every call was a mystery, I received many phone solicitations. Even though I had no interest in the majority of the “offers” they presented, I was always polite to them. I knew from personal experience that it’s a hard job – filled with rejection. Sometimes I would share some of my own experiences with them – and I always wished them well.

In those days I respected anyone who was trying to make an honest living. And I still do.

 

Tag Cloud