no news is good news

I don’t sleep too well these days. I think it’s because I’m a news junkie. I am addicted to news. I have bookmarked thirty-five online newspapers (current favorites include the North Korean News Agency and the Moose Jaw Times-Herald ) and on cable I’m usually flipping between Headline News and MSNBC. I’m also pretty sure that my news addiction is to blame for my astounding lack of productivity–yeah, I may not have updated my blog in a week, but I sure know a lot of random facts about Uzbekhistan.

The news makes me edgy, because on the 24 hour news channels, they make you process everything at once. I swear CNN should be called ADD–on the screen is the guy telling the story, a caption underneath the guy telling you what the guy is telling you, the weather for forty-seven cities, basketball scores, and I’m pretty sure I saw someone in a small box doing an interpretive dance about the story.

Network news is worse—especially the teaser ads. See, the media needs the public to be afraid, otherwise we might not need them. I heard a news anchor say “Coming up at ten, we’ll tell you about a common household substance that can kill”…no…… TELL US NOW! There are people dying in their kitchens and your sitting on a story! And reporters on the scene aren’t any more Pulitzer-worthy. The other night, a reporter at the scene of an accident said “details are sketchy.” THEN THEY’RE NOT…DETAILS!!!

I lived in L.A. during the Rodney King nightmare, and it led me to this conclusion. The next time L.A. burns (because it will happen again), I hope the first buildings torched are tv news studios, because that’s where the accelerant. is. I would love to see some smug, insulated anchorman sitting at his desk reading off the teleprompter “We’ve got reports of a fire at–MY DESK! MY DESK IS ON FIRE!”

Seems like there are two extremes in broadcast journalism. There are talking heads that yell a lot and interrupt each other, and there’s Charlie Rose. I think Charlie is great. He never seems fazed by a subject–frankly, he never seems all that interested, either. Every time he puts his chin in his hand and leans forward, I’m worried he’ll nod off,. But I’ll take that  over the yelling any day.

As if it’s not bad enough that stories on tv news are all too short to be useful (Now I understand fundamentalist Islam, thanks to that sixty second feature) , time that could be used for thoughtful analysis is given instead to entertainment news. When you only have thirty minutes to give a rundown of the news of the entire world, maybe you should prioritize. I’m guessing the day Charlie Sheen kidnapped a hooker, there were at least one or two extra things that could have been mentioned about Darfur, or Iran.

As a nation, our priorities are a little out-of-whack. For instance, I love animals, but it seems like some people would step over a homeless person to get to an animal-rights meeting. MSNBC yesterday announced that scientists have isolated the cause of…gray hair. Really? You know, maybe we should organize a big scientist meeting and give them a to-do list…sure, spend some time working on the scourge that is premature graying but let’s do that AFTER we cure AIDS.

Prioritize, people! I hate to sound like a Luddite here, but when the banks are failing and nobody’s working, is it the best time to give NASA a billion dollars MORE than they got last year? Well, at least we’ll get amazing pictures from space of where that money should have been spent on Earth.

Ultimately, it’s the dumbing down of news that irks me. Like the whole ‘red state/blue state’ notion. Reducing the complicated dynamics of national politics to primary colors. It reminds me too much of USA Today, with all its colors ,pie graphs and simple headlines, like it’s edited by Dr. Seuss. I really imagine that if a nuclear bomb killed millions of people in this country, their headline would be “Lots of Us Still Left–And We’re Shopping More!”

We reached another nadir when I saw Katie Couric on Letterman. I think one of the inviolable rules of journalism is that an anchor’s credibility is inversely proportional to the amount of giggling said anchor does. Yegads! It was like listening to Dave interview Mylie Cyrus. And when asked about her interview with Alex Rodriguez, she actually said she’s a “glass-half-full kinda person” who, when people tell her things, “tends to believe them.” Katie, I hate to tell you this, but that’s actually the opposite of journalism.

Growing up, I got a lot of news from talk radio. It used to be like a neighborhood of the airwaves–just people talking over the metaphorical back fence about things that mattered to the community. I gave up on the medium when it got co-opted by fire-breathing right-wing hatemongers, but lately, since I’m not sleeping too well, I’ve started to tune in again.

Sure, there are still plenty of xenophobes and reactionaries on the air, but they’re my neighbors too, and I might as well be neighborly and listen. Like Mike Gallagher, the popular host who once explained why he felt the guy who threw the shoe at Bush should have been shot to death by the Secret Service. Seriously. Yeah, what better way to show Iraqis what democracy means than a little disproportionate whup-ass without due process.

Speaking of talk radio, I was sad when Paul Harvey died. I realize on some level that he was a right-wing flag-waving shill, but there was a certain integrity about him, too. He seemed genuine. And you have to admire that he was still broadcasting at ninety years old, after seventy-five years in the biz. I can’t imagine doing standup for seventy-five years, but I will say that if I’m still doing one-nighters in crappy bars in the year 2056 someone should put a bullet in my head.

Now Paul’s signature phrase was ”and now you know…the rest of the story.” After thousand of stories, I kept hoping he’d get bored and mess with his listeners just once…give a long, historically detailed introduction and then say “There is no…rest of the story. That’s all I got.”

The other night, I was pretty sure Paul had lost his mind, because he gave his usual setup that was all positivity and patriotism, and then the ‘rest of the story’ went on to describe how some of the first settlers of the Mayflower colony…were… cannibals. WHAT? You can’t do that! That’s like your grandpa telling one of his war stories and all of a sudden mentioning in an avuncular voice that “well, you know, we were in a foxhole and ran out of food, so we had to eat Private Jones.” But whether you liked Paul Harvey’s style or not, you had to admit one thing–he never giggled.

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the real cause of the financial crisis

AS BUDGET CUTS LOOMED, ONE AGENCY TRIED TO SURVIVE

When the global economic crisis began, most average Americans had difficulty comprehending the numbers being tossed around like so much ticker tape. In our day to day lives, we find it hard to make sense of the fact that, as a nation, we could be (according to the Office of Management and Budget) 1.3 kajillion dollars in debt.

Listen to Dorothy, a waitress at the Bacon N’ Lard in Ottumwa, Iowa:

“Look, if me and Ernie miss one payment on our Discover card, we get all sorts of phone calls and letters letting us know, you know, that we owe some money. How could the government get over a kajillion dollars behind? How could they keep spending when they weren’t making enough money? Where did all the money go? Do you want to see a couple of menus?”

These are the questions which prompted a three month investigation, involving both Google and Wikipedia, into the inner workings of the American economy. What we found was astonishing.

One nondescript building in Northern Virginia, hardly visible frome the street,  houses an agency which was formed in the heady days after World War II, when the American economy was a global behemoth. The agency, which prior to this investigation had been shrouded in mystery, has apparently had an unlimited budget under every administration since Truman. The agency is officially known as the Council for Wasteful Spending, but as with all government agencies, this name obscures the Council’s true mission.

It was apparent at the main security desk that this was not a typical government office. The concierge led me to my meeting with the head of the CWS, where we were to have a no-holds-barred interview regarding his agency’s purpose, as we try to find the root cause of the country’s financial meltdown. What follows is a transcript of the meeting between our reporter and the head of the CWS:

CWS Guy: Come in. Would you like a menu?

Reporter: Uh…no thanks.

CWS: Some caviar? Chilean Sea Bass crudite? Maybe a muffin? Seriously, we’re just gonna toss all this when the interview is over.

Rep: Fine–I’ll have a muffin. First, why don’t you tell me about the Council on Wasteful Spending. When it was founded, your mission…

CWS: Gladly. Well, this agency was founded initially (grabs a solid gold plaque off the wall behind him and reads inscription) “to find ridiculous ways to spend taxpayer dollars in these heady times after World War II”. What we do essentially, is try to come up with projects the cost of which far outweighs any possible benefits.

Rep: So the actual purpose of this agency is to waste taxpayers’ money?

CWS: That’s right.

Rep: …but…ok…um…you see the thing is…it’s just–the economy is in probably its worst shape since the Great Depression. How can you reconcile your agency’s mission with the fact that the United States is in the midst of a potentially devastating crisis?

CWS: Well that’s the beauty part. We don’t have to–what was your word?–reconcile anything. We just have to keep spending the money–(phone rings) hold on I need to take this…”yeah, bring it to the loading dock like usual”…sorry, one of our delivery trucks.

Rep: What kind of shipment are you getting?

CWS: Oh, it’s a couple pallettes of money. New driver I guess. Anyway, why don’t I tell you about some of our current projects so you can better understand what we do here.

Rep:……Sure.

CWS: (hands folder to reporter) This is something we’ve been working on for several years. Our scientists are attempting to…oh what’s the techical term…transmute–that’s it–transmute lead into gold. So we would be able to take piles of lead and, if our theories are correct, turn those into piles of gold.

Rep: This used to be called alchemy. In the Middle Ages. And it was proven impossible.

CWS: Just open the folder.

Rep: There’s nothing in here.

CWS: That’s right–because so far, we have not been able to accomplish the goal. The alchemy thing. But, we were able to spend over $800,000 last year alone to show that we couldn’t do it. Now here’s another project we’re very excited about. Remember as a child learning that dolphins are highly intelligent and can actually communicate with each other in a complex language? Well we have established an underground oceanographic institute here–filled with 100 million gallons of actual ocean water–to try to decode the dolphin’s secret language.

Rep: And….

CWS: Not much at this point. The only things we’ve been able to translate so far are the phrases “let’s swim over there for a while” and “I think I’ll jump out of the water for a second”, but we just were approved for more funding, so who knows.

Rep: It seems like you’re just throwing money away here.

CWS: Oh we do that too–fiscal year 1987–we actually couldn’t spend all of our funding and had to throw out 2.5 million dollars.

Rep: So you have no qualms about taking the money of hard-working Americans and just…wasting it?

CWS: It’s what we do. Besides, it’s not like this country was gonna use that money for anything truly important. Universal health care? C’mon that’s been a non-starter for years–what are we, Scandinavia? A free and competetive public school system where teachers are compensated with high wages? Please! Infrastructure upgrades to create high-speed rail networks? Oh yeah, conservatives in Nebraska will be all over that. Nah, we’re better off spending our money on projects that we know won’t go anywhere. Like this new kind of gun with a special sensor that allows you to shoot only endangered species.

Rep: Well–thank you for your time.

CWS: No problem. All in the interest of transparency. Sure you don’t want take a couple of muffins with you?

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