Category Archives: Opinion

Right to Privacy

George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 described the Government of Oceania, a country of perpetual war, around the clock government surveillance, and citizen mind control. It was a place watched over by Big Brother where you could be imprisoned for thought crimes. It’s a society of socialism where propaganda rules the airways and everyday is a lie. No right to privacy.

It’s nearly 30 years beyond 1984. You might think in a free society such as the USA constant government monitoring an a total loss of personal freedom is not possible.

Is it?

A blog ran at MSNBC yesterday, a  frightening report of privacy invasion and violation of our fundamental rights living in a free society. It is possibly an early volley in our journey to Oceania.

The headline read:

[box] Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants’ Facebook passwords[/box]

It’s becoming common practice for employers and colleges to demand that applicants reveal their Social Media passwords during the interview process. In Maryland, applicants to the Department of Corrections are sat in front of a computer, told to access their Facebook account and allow the interviewer to look over their shoulder as they scan through wall postings, photos, videos and friend list.

Before the ACLU filed a complaint last year the Maryland DOC was asking applicants for their user name and passwords so they could scan your account at their leisure.

It seems the government isn’t letting something as simple as constitutional rights stand in the way of their thirst to invade your privacy.

It’s amazing to me that any free thinking American would think for a minute this was acceptable. I’m not convinced it’s even legal. There is such a thing as the First Amendment, right to privacy and free speech.

I’m going to be watching this one closely. The Patriot Act was just the beginning and the question is – where does it end?

Before it’s over I could be at the Minitrue rewriting history with Winston Smith at my side.

Pick and Choose Journalism

WatchdogI like to refer to Webster’s dictionary when I see something evolving away from its original intent, becoming something very different.

For example, take the word journalism.

According to Webster it is: the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business.

I suppose you could say most news outlets are doing that. They are editing and reporting the news. In today’s society news outlets are the chief purveyor of information and events to the public. The pool of outlets is larger than it has ever been.

A hundred years ago the primary source of news came from newspapers. Reporters in those times, for the most part, stuck with the facts, the who-what-when-where-how of any particular event.

Today you have the big networks and their news engines – CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, CNN, etc… Add to that the talk show crowd, the Becks and Shultz’s of the world. Then you have hundreds of thousands of bloggers (like me) with views as diverse as books sold on Amazon.

Journalism in the 21st century has taken a stop backwards and not in a good way. Reporters are no longer the source of facts. The facts are being filtered through the political lens of the outlet reporting them.

What I find very interesting on a regular basis is how differently a story gets told between the different outlets or stories considered newsworthy on one outlet doesn’t warrant one single drop of ink on another.

As bad as it is during normal times it jams into another gear in an election year. It makes me crazy and not in a good way (as if there is a good way to be made crazy.) It gets to where you don’t know what to believe.

Perhaps I’m just getting cynical but I am beginning to believe there is no such thing as good news. At least that’s what the mainstream media would have you believe.

The question I ask myself when I skip through the news outlets of the day is: “Just how news worthy is this, or continue to be?”

Like I have had it up to here with Rush Limbaugh. I get it. The guy is an extraordinary idiot. He overstepped civility when he used the S word to describe the Georgetown U student. He’s a bad, bad man. I get that.

But considering everything wrong in the world and the issues at our collective throats, it amazes me that news outlets have invested more time in reporting RushGate than the Kennedy assassination. I think there are plenty of other real issues deserving of close external scrutiny. Huffington Post still had at least three news items related to Limboob on their front page today. Fortunately most other outlets have moved on to more critical issues like Lindsey Lohan’s SNL hosting debacle and Super Tuesday.

I’m starting to believe we are becoming a country of Lemmings, blindly following the mass media down the paths they want to take us. The hook is being set and we are getting closer and closer to the boat… hook, line, and sinker.

Don’t believe everything you read. Investigate on your own. Draw your own conclusions. Separate fact from fiction, spin from truth, dissent from destruction. An opinion shaped by falsehood is as dangerous as the lie that created it.

Ask yourself this… Who’s watching the watchdogs?

Perspective and Agenda

Occupy OaklandI have simple beliefs. I believe context matters and the omission of truth to sway a certain perspective is as much a lie as an untruth.

I believe a journalist’s job is to report the news not craft it. When I say crafting I’m talking about reporting the news and presenting a perspective that only shows bits and pieces of the story to support or defend the slant of whatever news outlet is doing the reporting .

Two of the biggest offenders on either side of the political spectrum are Fox News to the right and Huffington Post to the left. You could make the argument that HP is is a blog therefore not a news outlet and to a degree you would be right. Huffington has become so mainstream and the voice of so many it’s hard to ignore.

Here is a story put out by the Associated Press today. The AP Feed is found here which shows the full context of the AP story as it went out on the wire service.

The headline of the AP story read:

300 arrested in daylong Occupy Oakland protests

So, this story goes out on the wire and the news outlets get it and work their magic on it. They write new headlines and massage the story to fit their publication and put it out to their consumers.

Here’s the Fox News headline:

Police arrest about 300 Occupy Oakland protesters

The change is subtle but it shifts the focus from the protest to the protesters. It also makes sure you understand it was the police who was doing the arresting as if the assumption presented in the AP title was not good enough

Here’s the Huffington Post headline:

Occupy Oakland: Police Teargas Protestors, Use Flash Grenades

Nothing very subtle about the shift here. In this title the Police is presented as the bad guy. There is no way to tell how many protesters were involved. It could have been thousands. The fact that the police used grenades against the protesters seems to punctuate that the police were the aggressors.

In all three cases there was nothing to tell us anything about the protesters. For that information we would have to go to the news story. The opening paragraph of any news item tends to tell us a lot about the content. Let’s look at each of the three.

[box] AP Release:

Dozens of police maintained a late-night guard around City Hall following daylong protests that resulted in 300 arrests. Occupy Oakland demonstrators broke into the historic building and burned a U.S. flag, as officers earlier fired tear gas to disperse people throwing rocks and tearing down fencing at a convention center.[/box]

[box] Fox News:

Oakland police said they arrested about 300 people Saturday as protesters spent a portion of the day trying to get into a vacant convention center, and later broke into City Hall and tried to occupy a YMCA.[/box]

[box] Huffington Post:

Police were in the process of arresting about 100 Occupy protesters for failing to disperse Saturday night, hours after officers used tear gas on a rowdy group of demonstrators who threw rocks and flares at them and tore down fences.[/box]

If we consider the AP report is factual or at least a pretty accurate account of what happened, how are the other two stories being framed in their opening paragraph? The AP story is not presenting the Occupy Oakland protesters in the best light when reporting the demonstrators were “throwing rocks and tearing down fences.”

Fox News seems to give the protesters a little slack here by leaving out the rock throwing and fence tearing. Huffington on the other hand presented that fact. They also cut the crowd from 300 to 100. Why would they do that? Maybe it’s to present the police as the heavy handed player. It sounds worse when you say the police used tear gas on 100 people than on 300 people. They also presented “Throwing rocks and tearing down fences” as being rowdy.

I suppose throwing rocks at police and tearing down fences could be described as rough and disorderly.

Then there’s the things that are left out.

[box] AP Release:

Quan [Oakland Mayor] said that at one point, many protesters forced their way into City Hall, where they burned flags, broke an electrical box and damaged several art structures, including a recycled art exhibit created by children.

She blamed the destruction on a small “very radical, violent” splinter group within Occupy Oakland.[/box]

[box] Fox News:

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan during a news briefing late Saturday said protesters had forced their way into City Hall, where they burned flags, broke into an electrical box and damaged several art structures, including a recycled art exhibit created by children.

The nighttime arrests came after 19 people were taken into custody in Occupy Oakland protests hours earlier.[/box]

[box] Huffington Post:

There was nothing about breaking into electrical boxes, flag burning, or damaging art in the Huffington piece.

What was there – “In a statement Friday, Oakland City Administrator Deanna Santana said the city would not be “bullied by threats of violence or illegal activity.” Interim police Chief Howard Jordan also warned that officers would arrest those carrying out illegal actions.

These statements were not in the AP piece.[/box]

So you can see how perspective and agenda can drive the way news is being reported. Foxes “Fair and Balanced” is a perspective skewed by the right-leaning politics of the network. Huffington Post, MSNBC, The NY Times and many others is massaged with the liberal slant.

Right, wrong, or indifferent I’ve never seen it this bad in a time when we need the cold hard truth. I’d rather hear bad truth than a good lie any day.

So to wrap things up with my perspective of viewpoint and agenda, let’s close with a look at which AP images the outlets selected to headline their respective stories.

[box] Fox News:

Fox Occupy Oakland[/box]

[box] Huffington Post:

Huffington-OCCUPY-OAKLAND[/box]

That’s a very telling contrast and testament to exactly what I was talking about– Perspective and Agenda. Context matters and viewpoint defines content. That’s not really the role of journalist but that’s where we are.

Oh yeah, I almost missed. What was the image used on the AP feed?

[box] AP Release:

AP-Occupy Oakland[/box]

I’ve learned this and accept it as fact. There are three sides to every story. One side, the other side, and the truth. Is the AP image the truth? It’s the truth for those people at that moment but in context it neither defines or represents the movement. It’s one persons perspective of the moment. The message is much bigger than that.

[box type=”info”] I will also add this. I’m the author. I write from my perspective. I think every writer does. Politically I consider myself a shade right of center and my viewpoint likely reflects that.[/box]

Never Underestimate the Power of a Good Fedora

Bogart FedoraMen used to wear hats – all the time. Men in all fields, every working class stiff wore a hat. There were welding hats, baseball caps, driving hats, beanies, and an assortment of lids to fit every head on the planet. From Turbans to Top Hats it was all about the style.

And nobody styled and profiled any better than Humphrey Bogart. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

Bogie’s Fedora is a classic look that has been often imitated and never duplicated.

I’ve been thinking lately I need a Fedora. Maybe I can single-handedly bring hats back into vogue. Well, not alone. I’ll need help. I’ll need other men ready to throw back to a different age and show their Chapeau to the world.

“Here’s looking at you, lid.”

Boys Will Be Boys

That used to mean something rather benign. It meant you stomped through mud or played with frogs. It meant you got into a tussle with your best friend right before (or after) you laughed together at a pack of little girls. At worst ‘boys being boys’ meant cutting school to go to a movie or stealing candy from a store shelf.

As Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changing.”

stop the violenceIn the news, two 12 year old boys dropped a shopping cart four stories unto a shopper below. She remains in critical condition. A 10 year old pulled a pistol on a woman threatening to take his Halloween candy. A 12 year old sits in a Florida jail, the youngest person ever charged in that state with capital murder. He killed his two year-old brother. In Indiana an 11 year-old shot and killed his 6 year-old brother.

These stories just go on and one. It makes me wonder where we are going. What will it be like in 20 years if it keeps getting worse. What is the solution? Better parenting? Stable environment? Is it found in the schools or the home? The problem is so complex I’m not sure anyone really knows where to begin to stop the flow of violence by our children.

I’m going to offer an opinion here, something I typically hesitate to do. I think our children are getting programmed to violence by the things they see around them, on TV, in the news, in movies and video games.

When you are a 6-grader sense of right and wrong is a very fragile thing. That has to start at home. The schools can’t be responsible for instilling values in our children. That must be done by the parents. It has to start somewhere.

Marion Salmon Hedges, the victim of the shopping cart incident lies in a hospital bed clinging to life. Her family and the boy’s families have their lives upended by a stupid prank. A community is shocked and bewildered at how something like this could happen. Police report that the boys were laughing and telling jokes as they were being taken into custody. The arresting officer repeated that the boys were just “Doing it for fun.” I suspect the fun ended when the steel doors slammed shut and the prospect of years locked away started to creep in.

My fear is this issue is a symptom of a much bigger problem, a society so immune to stories like this that people can’t even see the problem much less admit there is one. The status-quo is not good enough and if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.

Food for thought—this is not someone else’s problem. We all own it.

Casey Anthony Returns to Florida

Casey Anthony

Casey Anthony

The trial is over with an unpopular verdict. The most hated woman in America remains under the microscope, her every move subject to media attention. Today’s headline read:

Casey Anthony Reports for Probation in Florida

Anthony spent a good portion of Wednesday going over the terms of her probation with Florida Probation and Parole officials. The department originally stated they had no plans to make special provisions for Anthony. That was almost true. Under the terms of her probation she does not have to seek employment. Instead, Anthony will be going to school full-time online.

This is one of those things I have tried to not have an opinion about. Way too many people seemed to get way too emotional about this Casey Anthony verdict. Many of these people carrying, “Kill Casey Anthony” signs are probably nice, stable members of the community. The emotion and assumed miscarriage of justice was too much to swallow and it came out in a lynch mob mentality. In ways it was a reflection of the tragedy that got us to that Florida courtroom. Sadly, there is no justice for little Caylee and what’s funny is… after the not guilty verdict I haven’t heard one single person scream to find the real killer.

I like what the one juror said, “Not guilty does not mean innocent.”

If she was treated just like every other probationer in the system and had to find work, I don’t think she’d have a problem. I bet she would be the most popular stripper in the state.

Casey Athony

Speaking of Murderers

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, more commonly known as the Lockerbie Bomber, came back to his Libyan home a hero, two years ago, on the 20th of August 2009, .

Sources in Scotland said this was a release on compassionate grounds. Doctors said al-Megrahi had weeks to live and should be allowed to die on his home soil.

Weeks to live, eh? So far that’s 104 weeks and counting.

On 26 July 2011, Megrahi was shown on Libyan state television attending a pro-Gaddafi rally of members of his tribe, appearing frail and seated in a wheelchair. More alive than dead, I would say.

It’s likely this person killed 109 Americans on December 21, 1988. In all probability he was acting under direct order of Muammar Gaddafi. I think when the coward Gaddafi has to flee Libya seeking escape from the same people he dominated for so many years, we could put them both up at Guantánamo for awhile. Maybe for weeks as the Scottish would say.

Weirdo Wednesday – August 17, 2011

From the comfort of my computer and the safety of terra firma I watched the drama unfold in Tulsa, where 25 year-old William Boyd Sturdivant II, perched high on a TV tower watching the powerless police, fire and citizenry below for over 127 hours.

First things first. I am not calling William a weirdo. He’s a man who obviously succumbed to the pressures of life and found himself in a situation he didn’t know how to resolve. But for the grace of God, go I.

The weirdness is more about a society that seems helpless in the face of financial, economic, emotional and human tragedy, and is ill equipped to help the less fortunate in their greatest time of need. William’s story goes way beyond the three inch steel beams that became his refuge in the sky. As with most human tragedies, the media transfixes on the event rather than the person and Sturdivant’s six days on the tower is no different.

What I was happy to see is when William climbed aboard the rescue bucket he wasn’t handcuffed and tossed to the floor. His rescuer patted him on the back as if to say, “It’s going to be okay.” It gives me hope that there are times the authorities recognize situations where a soft hand has more power than a semi-automatic weapon.

Man rescued from Tulsa TV Tower

Sturdivant rescue Tuesday evening.

Tulsa police spokesman Leland Ashley made the following statement: “Sturdivant was taken to a hospital to be treated for dehydration and was expected to be transferred to a mental health facility for observation.”

For his part, William Sturdivant faces trespassing charges. To the other man in the bucket, police negotiator Tyrone Lynn, I say, “Bravo and well done.”

Interview with hero of the day, negotiator Tyrone Lynn.

Observations of a Royal Wedding

Prince William and Kate

I think I know who wears the pants suit in that family. Although… Prince William does carry the sword.

It’s somewhat unfortunate that the royals planned the wedding to coincide with “Wear an Ugly Hat to a Wedding” day. (I wonder if Aunt Clara knows her hats have been stolen?)

The rear license plate on the Aston-Martin that the Prince drove his new bride from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House read — JU5T WED… How quaint!

U.K Crime did not take a holiday in reverence to the royal nuptials.  According to the Telegraph, the total number of arrests is now 52. Of those, 13 arrested were held at Charing Cross and Covent Garden after being found in possession of climbing equipment – helmets – and anti-monarchy placards, suggesting that they planned to climb a building and unfurl banners.

I was very surprised to see Prince William paying homage to that wonderfully camp puppet show, The Thunderbirds, with his uniform selection. The resemblance is uncanny!

As Wedding fever sweeps the nation, I have to wonder how much ale will be hoisted in the name of the Royal Couple, the cake, the dress, the car, the Queen, and what ever else the throng can find to hoist an ale over.

Nice dress… Big Cake… National holiday… What’s not to love about a wedding bash of this scope.

It truly is the sign of the times when the Royal Wedding has its own official website. Not to mention the hundreds of other, non-official sites: http://www.officialroyalwedding2011.org/

Even Google got into the mix with their official “Google Doodle” of the day.

Lookin’ Kinda Silly with a Hole in Your Plane

Statistically speaking, flying is safe. The odds of being on a plane that has some kind of catastrophic failure mid-flight is minuscule. Or, if you happened to be one of the 118 people on Southwest Flight 812 (a Boeing 737-300) headed to Sacramento this past Saturday morning… 100%.

The airline industry only has to do one thing to maintain passengers confidence. Promote an appearance of safe flight. So when a gaping hole opened up along the top of the 737, flying seemed to be not as safe as it was just a few minutes prior.

You have to admire Southwest Airlines for grabbing the plane by the fuselage and getting pro-active with the situation. In response to the event, SWA grounded 81 other 737s for immediate inspection.

In its statement on the inspections, Southwest said Sunday that two planes were found with cracks similar to those in the stricken aircraft. These will be evaluated and repaired before they are returned to service. A National Transportation Safety Board member told The Associated Press later that a third plane had been found with cracks developing.

Southwest has been systematically replacing the 737-300 as it takes deliveries on new aircraft. This is the oldest model in their fleet comprising 170 of 548 planes. All 81 of the grounded aircraft are this model. Some of the SWA 737-300s have had their fuselage retrofitted in recent years. These planes were not grounded.

As airlines deal with an aging fleet it will be interesting to watch how this incident impacts that effort. Planes are expensive and profits are thin. Southwest is fortunate the flight crew got this plane on the ground safely. Until live are lost as a result of fatigued aircraft, I’m afraid airlines worldwide will be somewhat cavalier about getting serious with this problem.