A dreary walk in the woods … then magic

Saturday dawned gray, cold, and wet. A light mist eased through the forest at my university. But a day walking in the woods with a camera is a good day, no matter the weather, right?

The university was on holiday break. Students had fled home to give thanks with family and friends. I did, too, but returned early.

The deeply overcast sky dictated a flat, low-contrast aspect to the trees and trails in the forest. I looked down. At least I can shoot leaves, now wet and trodden. I like to shoot leaves. A little Photoshop would add hue and color contrast to them, I thought.

But the gray and the cold and the mist cut into my coat and mind. I shivered. Bummer. A dark day growing darker. Melancholy arrived and tapped on my shoulder. I turned and shuffled back onto the main trail, intent on returning to my truck. My Canon hung unused from its strap around my neck. I hate the interregnum between seasons: no leaves on the trees, no snow on the ground.

Franciscans have walked through these woods for more than a century and a half. Franciscans like nature and apparently thrive in it. They have, over the life of the university, constructed stations of the cross on a circular trail in this forest — Bob’s Woods, named after Fr. Bob Stewart, who died of cancer shortly after my arrival at the university.

I am not a Franciscan. I am not as hopeful as they appear to be. Dank, dark weather like this day’s further eroded my ability to detect hope.

Then I saw …
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Energy

Despite campaign promises, Donald can’t revive the American coal industry

President Donald wants to revive America’s coal industry. He says regulations, most notably from the Environmental Protection Agency, have forced coal plants to close. So he wants to do away with those damn unfriendly regulations (such as the mercury and air toxics standards, the proposed cross-state pollution standard and the proposed limitations of carbon dioxide emissions). After that, Appalachian coal will again be riven from the earth, reviving the industry.

Nope. Won’t happen. Coal lost. Natural gas, thanks to fracking, won. Continue reading

Image Credit: Getty

Next time, ask the Reagan question before you vote

On January 1, 2019, as President Trump approaches his third state of the union address, people in America should pop the Reagan question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

Those in the United States should ask, for example:

“Is my health insurance costing me more out of pocket than under Obama? Am I getting better, more affordable benefits?”

“Can I still get health insurance?”

“Have work restrictions been placed on my Medicare benefits? Has my state limited Medicare benefits?”

“Has my property tax bill gone up or down?”

“Has the rusty bridge carrying my daughter’s school bus been fixed?”

“I live in a city. Has my child developed asthma in the past year?”

“What’s the interest rate on a new car now?”

“Do I have to pay more for my prescription medications?”
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The war over words

Politicians have always sought the power to control the meaning of language. But now this open warfare has raced past reprehensible to dangerous for democracy.

language-has-powerIn the vicious descent to American unexceptionalism that politicians and their rich supporters are hellbent on winning (common folk and consequences be damned), the election has become a continuing chase for the authority to control language.

That’s what modern power has become: the ability to define a word, and to prevent others from doing so. Politicians rarely make coherent arguments any more; they instead try to co-opt the meanings of words. That’s why debates have been nonsensical: Candidates may utter the same words, but the meanings they assign to those words are vastly different.

Consider just one particular word. Continue reading

Journalism

In just a decade, ‘content’ trumped ‘news’ (and those who reported it)

 Ten years has seen the evisceration of newsrooms; the alteration of form, function, and distribution of information; and the emergence of a distorted public discourse. Oh, joy.

Since 2007, I’ve written about the stark reductions in numbers of reporters and editors in America’s daily print newsrooms. During that time, I’ve witnessed more than 20,000 newsroom jobs vanish. Now, it seems, only about 30,000 men and women toil in those newsrooms.

MediaI chose toil deliberately. First, those who remain have had to meet the continued and unchanged corporate demand for product or content once produced by twice their number. Second, the job has changed: In addition to the still-present demand for print content, those 20,000 face the imposition of onerous digital deadlines and unbelievable expectations of quantity. Post so many stories a day, or an hour, they’re told. That, of course, has impacts on the quality of those stories.

For many, those who remain even have different titles — they are no longer reporters or editors. They have become “community content editors,” “content coaches,” “presentation team members,” “engagement editors,” “headline optimizers,” “story scientists,” or “curators in chief.”

Yes, the operations of those places once known as “newsrooms” are rapidly and radically changing. But that obvious observation obscures a few emerging realities about how information (once known as “news”) is crafted and distributed.

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Journalism

CNN (and others) and its overuse of anonymity: There’s more to the story …

First, there’s this headline:

Secret Service spoke to Trump campaign about 2nd Amendment comment

CATEGORY: Journalism Then there’s this lede graf:

(CNN) — A US Secret Service official confirms to CNN that the USSS has spoken to the Trump campaign regarding his Second Amendment comments.

Then there’s this second graf that does not identify “the official”:

“There has been more than one conversation’ on the topic, the official told CNN.

Then there’s this fifth graf: Continue reading

aging-infrastructure

Clinton, Trump proposals to rebuild nation’s infrastructure do too little

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, says she wants to spend $275 billion over five years to rebuild American roads and bridges. As noted here last year, that’s nowhere near enough money. Donald “I am your voice” Trump, the GOP nominee, says he’ll spend twice as much.

Neither candidate is overly specific on the details of how to fund those repairs.

But the amounts suggested are piddling. Take Clinton’s $275 billion, for example. What will that buy?

aging-infrastructureAccording to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the United States has “4.12 million miles of road in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration, including Alaska and Hawaii. The core of the nation’s highway system is the 47,575 miles of Interstate Highways, which comprise just over 1 percent of highway mileage but carry one-quarter of all highway traffic.” [emphasis added]

The association provides a variety of estimates for road construction and reconstruction, varying by number of lanes, urban vs. rural, rebuilding vs. milling and repaving, and so on.

Using a middle-of-the-road (an appropriate cliché here, I suppose) figure of $5 million per mile, Clinton’s proposed spending would buy reconstruction of about 45,000 miles of highways — only 1 percent of America’s traffic-bearing byways.

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Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Congressional honor? A breeder of hope? Hold not your breath …

As honor dwindles, so does hope.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 10.02.11 AMIs hope a descendant of honor?

If if is, perhaps a little hope can be derived from recent statements of members of Congress in response to the lunacy of the GOP candidate for president. Donald “I am your voice” Trump has rashly criticized two Americans who lost their son to combat in a foreign land. Trump did this, apparently, because Khizr and Ghazala Khan are Muslim Americans from Pakistan.

Some Republican members of Congress have repudiated Trump’s remarks.

From Sen. John McCain of Arizona: “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”

From Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is seeking re-election: “I am appalled that Donald Trump would disparage [the Khans] and that he had the gall to compare his own sacrifices to those of a Gold Star family.”

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An American president under age 35? Oh, my …

Captain Morgan’s real campaign premise here is just to increase its share of the rum market.

Tcm_logo_image-e1427478632990rump (age 70) vs. Clinton (age 68)? This is the best choice the vaunted two-party system can provide for Americans?

If they’d like better, they ought to begin drinking rum. Especially Captain Morgan, a brand owned by Diageo, which bills itself as “the world’s leading premium drinks business.”

Captain Morgan will campaign for a constitutional change — allowing American residents under 35 years old to serve as president.  A petition is already parked at the White House, hopeful of attracting at least 100,000 signees.

According to AdAge, “The effort will get significant paid support, including a print ad running in Tuesday’s New York Times.” Continue reading