Archive | November, 2012

Cloaking a bright holiday in darkness

28 Nov

The little catch phrase I use as the top of this blog is, “Speaking, because it is allowed.”

The phrase carries some irony for me because I believe society discourages uncomfortable speech and attempts to silence it.

There are two basic kinds of offensive talk. The first is false; the second true.

Regarding the first: Lies hurt, and large numbers take great offense when someone slurs a race or a people. For me, I prefer it when everyone fully expresses themselves. It reveals their hearts.

Regarding the second: The truth often hurts more than the lies, especially if it reveals us as monsters.

One such truth is the genocide by Americans of Native Americans.

Last week a University of Texas journalism professor named Robert Jensen published an opinion piece about Thanksgiving. In the Daily Texan, his university’s newspaper, he associated the holiday with this genocide and implicated our founding fathers.

Reacting quickly, UT president Larry R. Faulkner wrote the Houston Chronicle a letter in which he calls Jensen “a fountain of undiluted foolishness on issues of public policy.” He was “disgusted” by Jensen’s article, he added.

In his article, Jensen quotes several U.S. presidents in a grand show of ill will toward Native Americans. He has Theodore Roosevelt saying, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

Jensen later asks: “How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis?”

I hope all good and informed American know that perhaps 30 million buffalo were slaughtered by white hunting parties (some sitting in trains) in an attempt to deny food to the Plains Indians. I find that as haunting as gas chambers.

This is our heritage, uncomfortable as it is.

Professor Jensen deserves credit for bringing forth what usually is unspoken.

I suggest we all follow his example in these times when it can be done. If we do, we may develop the courage to continue when and if society tries to ensure that it can’t.

–By Lanny Morgnanesi

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A Super disappointment for journalism — or a new beginning?

25 Nov

He was unhappy at his newspaper so he quit. Superman did. Clark Kent no longer works at the Daily Planet.

Instead, he may blog.

According to the comics, Superman now believes that news has become entertainment and reporters are nothing more than stenographers. So he moved on.

Connie Schultz, writing for Parade Magazine, warned Superman to be careful of the Social Media trap that awaits him. She called it the “new Kryptonite” and worried that the great and noble Man of Steel could end up tweeting X-ray pictures of sexy woman to gain followers.

Superman’s decision was a jolt to traditional journalism. In my mind, a second jolt came when it was revealed that seven members of Navy SEAL Team 6 leaked classified information. They didn’t leak to a newspaper. They leaked to a video game maker.

While newspapers are only a wisp of what they once were, people still get the information they need. They just get it in different ways. And it’s everywhere, in unlimited quantities and styles.

Traditional journalists won’t admit it, but journalism is flourishing. Because of technology and the accessible, enticing new methods of communication, more people may be practicing journalism that ever before. Talented, intelligent reporters who would never have gone to journalism school or applied to a newspaper have become experts and opinion leaders through blogs and social media. Some make good money; many don’t.

In spite of the poor success rate, media and media-related startups abound. What works is a mystery, but uncertainty hasn’t stopped people from bringing forth an endless variety of information concoctions.

In the September / October issue of the Columbia Journalism Review there is a package of stories labeled: “The future of media (this minute, at least).” Numerous topics are discussed. Prominently mentioned are the web sites and apps that aid reporters in their work. They represent small miracles.

I got dizzy reading about the likes of:

Cir.ca

News.me

Paper.li

Storyful

Storify

Upworthy

#waywireSync.in

Timeline JS

Many Eyes

visual.ly

Sync.in

Etherpad

Evernote

Vyclone

Is that enough for you?

It’s too much for me, but I’m certain there are people using all of these and more.

Rumor has it that in the next Superman comic Clark Kent will use Vyclone to cover a cyclone. He’ll get help from Lois via Evernote while hoping Jimmy can come up with something good and graphic using visual.ly.

As this team operates from some cheap little apartment, Perry White, the once great and powerful editor, will stomp around his vast but unfilled newsroom screaming and cursing – his strongest editorial qualities – and wondering how he can compete with all that.

–By Lanny Morgnanesi

Smart pills may be in your future

21 Nov

The young man hoping to attend medical school explained that Adderall doesn’t make you smarter; it just lets you focus.

“But it won’t be long before there are drugs that do make you smarter,” he said. “The ethical questions will be: do you take them or not?”

Other issues may quickly overshadow this one. For example, can and should employers require the use of this new artificial intelligence?

Will users be held in higher or lower regard? Do we respect them or mock them? Should an asterisk be placed after the names of Nobel Prize winners who juiced?

It would seem more beneficial to life and career if those on the medication announced it. Doctors, lawyers and other professionals could put it in their ads.

Society might slowly form two strata, those who do and those who don’t. Or will we all eventually use – just as we all eat?

In the end, will we be better off or worse?

Such things will be decided much later.

For now, there is Adderall.

Adderall and drugs like it originally were used for something called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, A.D.H.D. Then they were used to calm down unruly children. Now they are used to make inadequate schools look better.

An Oct. 9 article in the New York Times by Alan Schwarz cites examples of family physicians giving Adderall to children who are struggling in elementary school.

Schwarz interviews Dr. Michael Anderson, a pediatrician in a poor area of Georgia who claims A.D.H.D is an imaginary syndrome used to mask poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

He gives out the drug so students do better.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” he said. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

It is difficult to say how many doctors do this, but their numbers must be growing. Parents of A.D.H.D. children say they can no longer get adequate supplies of Adderall because so many others now take it.

Well, Adderall won’t be in much demand when the real stuff hits the market. I hope they come up with a more descriptive name than Adderall, something like Instant Einstein or Bottle Smarts. And I hope I have stock in the company that gets the first patent. What I really look forward to is writing a very good novel while on this drug. There may not be a novel in me, but there surely is one in those pills.

Of course, it will be hard to sell a good novel when everyone is capable of writing one. Perhaps I need a different plan.

I’ll have to think this over . . . if you can call such an unassisted exercise thinking.

 — By Lanny Morgnanesi

They only stone you if you confess

14 Nov

One of the worst qualities of the human species is its dastardly view of competing tribes.

For some reason, there is comfort in thinking that those outside the circle are monstrous barbarians capable of and responsible for numerous and unspeakable atrocities.

Get in close with these devils, however, and you generally find they are just like you; decent, with families and a respect for routine, calmness and peace.

To see things clearly, it helps to remember there are monstrous barbarians among all groups, but they are misfits who do not represent the norm.

A foreigner reading history may learn about the epidemic of lynching in America, but if he visited my town he would find no one there was involved in such things, or even capable of them.

Would he be surprised?

Recently I read an article that a group in Egypt is clamoring for sharia law. In random thought I wondered how many who advocate this form of Islamic governance really want to cut off someone’s hand for stealing bread. Most Americans, I’m sure, will think everyone who wants sharia supports cutting off the hands of thieves, as well as death by stoning for women who have committed adultery.

Perhaps I am both ignorant and naïve, but I would guess they don’t.

My guess is sharia brings comfort, predictability and harmony to the lives of devout Muslims; just as the 10 Commandments and Biblical law do for reverent Christians. I do know that in secular countries, Muslims use sharia on their own to settle family and business matters – without hurting anyone.

From what I now understand, sharia – like our own laws – is open to interpretation. In other words, there are ways around stoning and dismemberment.

And even if there is to be stoning and dismemberment, they cannot be administered on a whim.  There are rules and conditions.

For example, a Muslim woman can only be stoned for adultery if she either confesses or there are four male witnesses who saw the act being committed.

Is either likely?

The hand of a thief cannot be cut off if public property was taken, or if he stole because he was hungry or under duress. The stolen items cannot belong to his or her family, must be over a minimum value, and cannot have been taken from a public place. Also there must be reliable witnesses.

In short, there are fudge factors here.

I believe in secular law. Still, I’d like to understand how Islamic culture works among civilized people. I don’t understand sharia but am open to learning more.

Aside from the rare man willing to kill or maim his wife on any given day – and we have plenty of them in the U.S. – I don’t think Muslims routinely seek blood for justice.

Does anyone agree?

–By Lanny Morgnanesi

Something I Learned Today

12 Nov

At a Veterans Day service, members from each branch of the military spoke. Each read from a military code then stood erect while the song of their particular service played.

The person from the Coast Guard said his branch is perhaps the least understood. He told the audience that the Coast Guard began as two separate, unrelated units and then later united.

One unit’s role was rescue. Members would row out to sinking ships and pick up sailors. The ships usually were caught in a storm, so the rowing was not all that easy. A great deal of bravery was involved.

The second unit used fast sailing vessels to catch smugglers and people trying to beat the government out of tariffs and duties.

When the Coast Guard formed, two very distinct and different missions were combined – life saving and law enforcement.

To this day, when you enlist in the Coast Guard, you immediately are empowered as a federal agent.

And that’s what I learned today.

–By Lanny Morgnanesi

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