The Death of the Daily Newspaper?

In a word, yes.  I read the Boston Globe on a daily basis.  I truly enjoy reading it and look forward to those minutes.  For as long as I can remember I have read the daily newspaper.  Back when I was just a kid, my father bought the Sunday Boston Herald, then a premier daily newspaper in the city.  We also received the other six days of the week, the local newspaper, The Lawrence Eagle Tribune.  For two years, when I was 12 and 13, I delivered that paper.  That paper did not in those days have a Sunday edition, as it does now, but there was another local paper that filled that need, The Lawrence Sunday Sun.  The Sun was heavily invested in the greater Lawrence community.  It allowed for the area high schools to have one of its teen journalists provide a column.  Those columns were merely a popularity who’s who of the local high schools, but it did get us teens reading the paper, if only for that vanity.  Importantly, it put a newspaper in front of us on a regular basis.  It made us want to have that newspaper regularly.

My last two years of high school were spent in Bordentown New Jersey.  The school there encouraged us to read one of the New York dailies, the Times or the Herald Tribune.  I chose the Herald Tribune and enjoyed it very much.  But somewhere in the earl 1970s it fell victim to economic forces and it went out of business.  This, as it turned out, was just the opening round of many such events, some of which included one newspaper buying out its competition.  But I digress a little early.

In the 1960s I can remember the Boston papers on Mondays through Friday having at least two editions a day.  The Boston Globe had a morning and an evening edition.  The Boston Record American, had a morning edition, a racing edition, a baseball edition, among others.  Again, the 1970s saw the end to most such extra editions.  Newspaper subscriptions and readership was declining.

The 1980s saw the beginning of increasing newspaper prices.  Did the increase in price lead to the decline in readership?  I rather doubt it.  In the 1980s television exploded with the beginnings of cable television, and with that, the ability of the individual to get his news fix at almost any hour of the day.  People began to opt to watch the news rather than read the news.  There is something to be said for video news, it is usually much more timely than anything you can read in a newspaper. But the downside of video news, in my opinion, is you also frequently get far fewer details about any single event.  To this day, the newspaper still does a superior job, as a rule, to video journalism.

Broadcast journalism, in my opinion, emphasises what used to be called “yellow journalism.”  Yellow journalism is the use of pictures and phrases that quickly evoke an emotional response for the reader, or in today’s parlance, the viewer.  Such news is not well researched, not scientific, and is truly only interested in capturing an audience for that moment in time.  Today’s video news tends to focus on tragic incidents ad nauseam.  I find myself talking to the television and saying, “what about the rest of the news?  Certainly something else happened today!”  But you would never know it because the news stations conveniently leave out the rest of the news.  But they know that people are drawn to these dramatic events and even though they cannot reasonably provide anything new to the story, they will play up even the smallest portion in their unending quest to keep people watching them.

The things on the news I would like to see on a daily basis, and a little long than a 10 second snippet, is a daily economic report, a daily political report of what happened in Washington DC today, a political report on the state, and follow-up news reports on those events that are likely to impact our lives.  The Michael Jackson trial, the Casey Anthony Trial, and all other such events, while interesting, do not deserve the air-time they received.  None of those event directly affect us.

Newspapers, on the other hand, cannot afford to devote the space for such drama.  But they are also victim to their own devices.  Newspapers, for whatever reason, have become increasingly poor at fact checking.  For quite a number of years I worked in an area that made the news, aviation.  My boss, a particularly bright man, could frequently be heard bemoaning the improper assertions the newspapers had made.  His attempt to correct them fell on deaf ears, even though he was an acknowledged authority.

The thing is, newspaper are going to die simply because the number of people who read anything at all is falling.  Our society has made it too easy to capture information in pictures.  People, for whatever reason, are less and less inclined to read about what is going on around them.  It has become so bad that a friend of mine, who is a retired journalist, has himself forsaken the daily newspaper.  The bottom line is, people are finding more than enough reasons, regardless of how illogical, to not read.  This is a sad commentary on our society, I believe, but a true one.

I have become a bit of a victim to this myself.  I do still read a newspaper every day of the week, but I no longer buy the paper version of books.  I have come to enjoy reading my books on my Kindle.  Even so, I miss the tactile feel of paper and even as I read my Kindle, I cannot help but miss that paper volume.

I do not think the daily newspaper will cease to exist in my life time, but I do believe it will cease to exist in this century.  As I write this, more and more newspapers are offering electronic versions you can download on your Kindle or that you can subscribe to on the Internet.  But I don’t believe that will be enough.  It is a stopgap measure forestalling the inevitable.  What I fear most is that we are quickly becoming a society of illiterates.  What else can happen to a society that forgoes reading for watching videos?


American Socialism

I was watching the news last night when a political attack ad was shown.  The ad claimed that Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts senatorial candidate, is a radical leftist of dubious motives.  This sort of attack is nothing new on the American political scene.  The ad also contends that people like Warren are trying to make our government socialist in style.  Again, nothing new with such a charge.

If you think the political attack ads you see today are nasty, let me assure you, they pale in comparison to 19th Century rhetoric from that century.  Remember, Aaron Burr felt his honor had been challenged when a letter to a newspaper claimed he was a “dangerous man.”  Even though dueling was illegal, Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century socialism was a new economic philosophy that had  taken root in eastern Europe.  This socialist movement was embraced by the poor of those various countries.  They had suffered under the tyranny of various governments.  When those same people emigrated to the United States they brought socialism with them.  It had worked and that was all they needed to know.

In 1907 a new labor union was started, the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World).  At its head was a man who was an avowed socialist, William “Big Bill” Haywood.  Haywood was firmly in the American memory because of his involvement in the violent strikes in which the Western Federation of Miners was involved.  At the time Haywood was the president of that union.  But even more, Haywood was arrested  for the murder of Idaho Governor  Steunenberg.  It was an obvious ploy by Haywood detractors and Haywood was acquitted.  But  the  spectre  of  violence followed Haywood.  Even more, because of its then radical ideas and ideals, the IWW attracted many self-proclaimed anarchists.  Emma Goldman was an extremely outspoken socialist and anarchist who frequented IWW strike gatherings.  But history showed Goldman to be if anything, a peaceful woman.

America had been stunned  when President William McKinley was assassinated by a self-proclaimed anarchist in 1901.  Even though that man never had anything to  do with the IWW, the perception was that all things to do with the  IWW were  socialist and violent.

In 1912 the IWW oversaw the largest strike America had ever seen in a single city, the Lawrence Textile Strike.  Newspapers, politicians, and people of power an influence made certain the perception of this IWW  strike was negative.  To that end, the owner of one of the mills involved acquired dynamite and had it hidden in a boarding  house.  The police were informed of its existence and that its intended use was to be against one of the mills.  The dynamite was quickly discovered and the newspaper  ran with the idea that violence was imminent.  As it turned out, the only violence that ever happened was precipitated by either the police or state militia.  The leaders of the strike, Big Bill Haywood being one, we labeled  as a threat to the American way.  But in the end the strikers, headed by the IWW, won.  A mere two years later, however, the popularity of socialism in Lawrence had waned.  One final thing, at a US Congressional hearing was a socialist representative from Wisconsin.

For over 100 years now conservatives have been yelling wolf about perceptions of socialism creeping into the American scene.  In the early 1920s when the USSR was formed the scare was strong.  But when it became obvious that the USSR had too many internal problems to be of any threat to the US, that  scare died out.  Then again, in the mid-1950s, Sen Joseph McCarthy saw to it that this communistic socialistic scare was front and center yet again.  Thousands of people’s lives were ruined by unfounded charges.

It tires me when powerful  people  point towards that far left or far right and claim that those people pose an imminent threat to our American way of life.  They do not and they never have.  Our country has never known a people that a small fringe group did make loud noises.  The only validity such groups have is that  which we allow.  I find it reprehensible for mainstream conservatives and liberals to use such tactics.  There are far more important things we need to be talking about.  Elizabeth Warren is not some sort of a radical extremist.  I am not fully aware of the politics of everyone in our Congress, but I think it fair to assume that most, if not all, of our Congress is not extremist or radical.

The Bible — A Second Look

I was going to entitle this “Debunking the Bible” but changed my mind.  It is not that I consider the Bible a lot of bunk, I do not, but that I think it truly lacks for good definition in many places, and really has a lot of things in it which can be categorized as debatable at best.  I am not trying to offend anyone nor am I trying to make an argument that it is wrong.  I think people of faith are wonderful and they should hang on to their faith regardless of what I or anyone else thinks.  Faith is a really good thing.  For my part, I am a real skeptic.

What got me started on all this?  Long ago when I was visiting Lebanon, July 1971, I was reading a book by Isaac Azimov in which he challenged many of the modern notions of what was written in the Bible.  For example, he pointed out that the Aramaic word for “virgin” is the identical word for “young girl.”  He first explained that the Aramaic language had about one tenth as many words as Greek, into which the Bible was translated, or modern English.  That simple fact calls into question anything that was translated from Aramaic to other languages.  This prompted me to rethink all the ideas that my Roman Catholic upbringing had taught.

Anyway, in the book of Genesis we can find the story of creation.  I have long been a fan of the idea of combining “intelligent design” with science and seeing what comes out of it.  According to the Bible, on day one God created the heavens, my translation, the universe.  It says the Earth was basically a wasteland.  All right, that puts the time from “the Big Bang” to that beginnings of the Earth at about 11 billion years in length.  We know, with a fair amount of scientific certainty, that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, and the Earth is about 4.7 billion years old.

On day two God puts water on the Earth.  Well, that happened at about one billion years into the Earth’s age.  On day three God brings land out of the water.  Not bad, because we know that the Earth was pretty much covered in water back in those early years.  And on that dry land plants and animals rise up and the third day ends.

Now the real problem arises.  On day four, God supposedly creates light and time.  That actually happened back on day one when the stars were created.  All right, so Moses goofed up on this one.  I can give him a pass for that.

Then on day five, God supposedly created all the living creatures.  Can’t be, because that happened back on day three.  Remember, life gets created back then, and life existed everywhere and in all forms right for the start.  This is a scientific certainty too.

Now if you read closely, you will find that on day six God really didn’t do anything at all, save blessing everything that was created.  Then it says He took the seventh day off.
Well, actually, he took two days off and created the weekend.

Anyway, the point in all this is the measurement of a “day” and what happened in which order.  And this is only the beginning of the scientifically provable problems.

Then next big problem comes with Adam and Eve and their incestuous children.  Yes!  I said it because it needed saying.  If you take the Bible as written you have an immediate reproductive problems, and you have to allow for incest being acceptable.  For the record, this is far from that final time incestuously acceptable relations show up.

By the fifth chapter of the book of Genesis you have people living to 800 years, Adam, 807 years, Seth, and that was only after the birth of a son named Enosh so he is obviously much older than 807.  Methuselah, whose name is now synonymous with being old, lived to be a paltry 182 years old.

The thing is, we know for fact that people in those days had a tough time living past the age of 40.  After all, it was certainly a tough life they had to live, and they did not have the advantage of medicine to help them out.

It seems that not only did Moses have a tough time getting things in any sort of logical order, he was really poor with the concepts of time and age.  To be sure, when he lived there was a calendar that farmers used for planting and harvesting.  Seasons were well established and the concept of a year was already in use and not that different from what we now use.  Why then, you ask, would he write, or more likely dictate, such fantastic tales?  That is the easy one, he needed his followers to believe as he did, in a monotheistic fashion that was in line with the other beliefs of the day.  What galls me is how people today swear by what is written there rather than using it simply as a source of faith.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Bible is a great book.  There is a lot that can be learned from it and it certainly does not lack for wisdom that is entirely useful in today’s modern world.  The bottom line is, God did not give us brains so we could blindly follow whoever put themselves up as His interpreter, as knowing exactly what He desires, or what He thinks.  I would like it a whole lot better if the Bible started out with a disclaimer that admonished people to read the book as a starting place, not as an answer to the mysteries of man and the universe.  What greater sin could there to be than to have a brain and refuse to think and decide for ourselves?

Veterans Day 2011

Today is my day, our day.  It a little over 43 years ago that I joined the army.  I was only 18, a month away from being 19, but the army was a choice I had made for two reasons, to get my life together, and because I had a strong feeling of patriotism.

My father was a veteran of World War 2.  He served in North Africa, Italy, and France as a part of the 319th Bomb Group, 335th Bomb Squadron (B-26s).  He was a corporal in the armament section.  I remember as a kid asking him to tell me of his experience in that war but he was heavily resistant to saying much of anything.  When he died in 1970, I knew very little of his experience.  Over the years and mostly because of the Internet, I know a lot of the details of his experience.  I have also come to understand why combat veterans give details of their experience begrudgingly.

In late 1968 I was assigned to a signal company in Korea, a short distance north of Seoul.  I was one of the fortunate few who did not receive a Vietnam assignment, although I have a sort of “survivor’s guilt” about that.  I was told by a sergeant major in 1974 that I had been in a combat zone myself.  He said that all troops north of the Han River in Korea were in a combat zone.  I don’t know.

It must seem curious today to people that there was any combat in Korea after the peace treaty of 1953, but there was.  Early in 1968 the Naval ship USS Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans and its crew was held hostage for a year.  In 1969 an Air Force EC-121, an intelligence gathering aircraft, was shot down over North Korea.  I was in Korea at that time.  I remember our battalion commander coming into my area.  I was in charge of a portion of the communications for the 8th Army Headquarters although I was not attached to those HQ.  He looked scared.  We were receiving messages that were identified as “Red Rockets.”  That meant they were messages of the highest priority coming from either the White House or the Pentagon.  We learned that one of the two Infantry Divisions stationed in Korea had been moved from its more southerly position toward the DMZ (demilitarized zone).  STRIKE Command at McDill AFB in Florida had been scrambled and was en route as were squadrons stationed in Japan.  So to were western Pacific naval forces.  From a neighbor I had in Italy in 1972 I learned that at least a portion of the McDill group was nuclear capable.  Fortunately we did not know this.  My communications center was locked down, no one in or out, and machine guns were set up around it.  I knew then, and now in better detail, that we were preparing for war.

At the time, the South Koreans wanted a war to start.  They were still convinced that they could retake the north and be reunited with their relatives.  South Korea at the time, had one of the largest standing armies in the world, and from my own observation, were extremely well-trained and highly motivated.  They were a great ally and formidable foe.

That crisis was averted but troops stationed at or near the DMZ were always on alert.  It was not unusual for the North Koreans to lob some artillery shells towards the south.  I do not know if the troops in South Korea responded in kind.  But there were deaths, not daily like in Vietnam, but still as a result of hostile forces.  I remember one day a lieutenant, who was inspecting the actual DMZ, was attacked by North Korean forces and within eyesight of fellow troops, was macheted to death.  Those troops were obviously in a combat zone although I have never heard any recognition of their efforts by anyone, save this day when all veterans are recognized for their service.

I am intensely proud of my service.  I was on active duty from February 1968 until November 1979.  From November 1979 until April 1984 I served in the Massachusetts National Guard.  I still have two of my uniforms, one summer and one winter, with their ribbons in tact.  Over the past several years, upon request, I have worn my uniform to the elementary school where I have been teaching on the day they recognize Veterans Day.

As veterans, we all understood that at any moment we could be told to put our life on the line and we accepted this as part of the job.  Although most of us experience regular work hours during our duty, most of us also experienced varying lengths of time when our work hours went on for days or weeks on end without end.  We were happy to do it.  We did not always want to do it, but that was irrelevant.  We had to learn how to clean up out of our helmet, eat C and K rations, deal with lack of sleep, lack of comfort, the cold, loneliness, and constant alert that comes with such duty.

I always knew why I was doing it, although we often joked that we did not have a clue.  I was always proud to be wearing the soldier’s uniform, and at the end of every day I was happy to be serving.   If I could, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.  Even though it was a job unlike any other, it was still a job and I knew it was my duty to see it through.  It was an honor to have served, and I am thankful to my nation for having allowed me to serve.

The People of the World

I have had the good fortune during my life to have visited a fair number of foreign countries.  The first time I left the continental United States was in 1968 when while in the army I was sent to Korea.  I was only 19 when I arrived and to say I experienced a culture shock is something of an understatement.

It was early December 1968 when I flew from Seattle to Seoul Korea.  Immediately upon disembarking from the airplane there was a decidedly different scent in the air from any I had known before.  I cannot tell you exactly what it was, or even how to describe it, except to say it was different.  It was not a bad scent but it was the first of a long line of experiences.

The two most obvious things, to everyone, is that it is a different language and a different culture.  The Korean people in 1969 were still recovering from a war that had ended 16 years before.  Korea at the time was a country of a very small upper class, a slightly larger middle class, and a huge poor class.  The poverty these people experienced was, and probably is, unknown in the west.  It was not unusual for a poor family to say that they had at one time or another had to eat rat to survive.  It was an accepted way of life.  Fish and cabbage were the mainstays of daily life and you could hardly go a block without smelling one or the other in the air.  The cabbage was fermented into what is known as kimchi.

What I found extremely endearing about the Korean people was their generosity.  On a number of occasions I was invited to supper at the house of one of the poor people.  Invariably they put out a spread that there was no doubt in my mind was more than they could afford.  But that is just how they were.

The next time I came into contact with a group of Koreans was when I was at the army’s air defense artillery school at Ft. Bliss.  I was chief of maintenance there and oversaw the equipment the students practiced on.  One time a class off mixed foreign students came in.  Between them, the Korean students worked the hardest and were the most studious.  I had seen some of that while I was in Korea but it really came out at Ft. Bliss.

In 1971 I was stationed in Italy.  I decided that summer that I should take the opportunity to visit Lebanon.  I got that idea from the Danny Thomas Show.  He was Lebanese and also spoke highly of the cedars of Lebanon and its beauty, so I decided to find out for myself.  When I arrived in Beirut I had no idea of what to expect.  I stayed in one of the best hotels in Beirut at truly bargain prices.  My stay in Beirut included a trip to Damascus Syria.  I was not supposed to go to any country that the U.S. did not maintain an embassy and such was the situation in Syria.  But the desire to go to the ancient city of Damascus won out.

While in Damascus, as part of a tour from Beirut, we were guided by a fellow who was a Muslim and gave us lots of insights into his religion.  We visit the central mosque which was a former Christian cathedral that had been converted.  He told us that the majority of Christian holy places in the middle east had the same status in the Moslem world.  He took us to a gold cage that was in left front portion of the mosque.  He said this was the place that they believed the head of John the Baptist lay.  I had witnessed many Syrian soldiers going to the cage, kneel and pray.  I was very struck by this.

My experience in both Lebanon and Syria was that the people of these countries are friendly and did not really care that we were westerners.  They were all very courteous and friendly.  They always made me feel comfortable and welcome.

My last experience with a very foreign culture was with Pacific Islanders of the Marshall Islands, the Marshallese.  Again, these people were always friendly and welcoming.  Their culture could not be more different from ours but as long as I did not make that an issue, they did not either.

I have also experience the cultures of Poland and Greece, among other countries.  While these cultures are decidedly western, they certain do not mimic American culture, nor should they.  Invariably I found the people of the countryside not so very different in their ideas and desires from anyone in America.  They want to be happy and to enjoy their family.  They are mostly disinterested in politics and even religion.  They know we are different but they really do not care about that.  For the most part, they treated me better than I could have guessed.

It is always a mistake to categorize a nation’s people as a reflection of its leadership.  The truth is, that is seldom the case.  Most of the worlds’ governments are vastly different from the people they represent.  At the time of my visit to  Syria, the Syrian government was decidedly not friendly towards the U.S. and yet the people did not reflect that at all.  I think it fine to hate the leadership of any country, but it is wrong to lump the people of the country with its leadership.

Disturbing Holiday Trends

In the next sixty days we celebrate four holidays, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year.  Even though I am a veteran, Veterans Day is not a favorite.  I am old enough to remember when it was called Armistice Day, the end to World War 1.  Somewhere in the 1950s it was changed to Veterans Day, and I am very happy they did.  But back when it was a true holiday, it was a day most people did not work.  They enjoyed the local parade, there always was one, and enjoyed a day off.  Somewhere along the way some genius decided it should be an optional holiday.  I am offended, as a veteran, by that because it says to me that making money is more important than having a true holiday for everyone who has served, or is serving, this country.

Other holidays became optional as well, Columbus Day and Washington’s birthday, which was combined with Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12, and renamed Presidents Day.  It is not difficult to figure out who wanted these days co-opted.  And after all, what’s so wrong about wanting to make money?  It is after all, what America is all about, is it not?  And that is the scariest question of all.  Is that what America is all about?  Does that mean at some future date days like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day will also become optional?  Thanksgiving and Christmas are likely to stay as they are, and there is no possibility that New Year’s Day will change because football is really big business and advertisers and the companies they represent make a lot of hay on that day.

The only holiday on our calendar that seems relatively uncorrupted is Thanksgiving.  Yes there are a few commercials that encourage us to buy the foods associated with the day, but other than that, there is nothing really commercial about the day.  I love Thanksgiving.  It is one of my two favorite holidays.  To me it represents a day when families come together, a day when we are thankful for all that we have.  I also love turkey and cranberry sauce, so that could be another reason.

Then there is Christmas.  The Federal Government recognizes Christmas for the day that it is.  So what you ask?  Well, the second part of the first Amendment says that Congress shall make no law respecting religion, and so I am a little surprised that they do not call the day something else but Federal law 5 U.S.C. 6103 says it is Christmas.  I don’t want this holiday to go away in any respect but why would the Fed keep the name unless it is contrary to the interests of other parties?  What if the Federal Government changed the name of the December 25 holiday to the “Winter Solstice” holiday?  Then people could argue that they day should occur on the 3rd Monday in December which would put it in relative context to the solstice and also be more in line with our Constitution.

The reason why is really simple.  Corporate America loves the holiday, and Americans, 85% who are Christian, would be up in arms at any attempt to change things.  Even so, corporate America has largely hijacked the holiday.  It is not unusual for companies to withhold releasing a new product until the season is relatively near.  With high demand they can enjoy a relatively high price.  And they are also really good a creating a good demand where there had previously been little through advertising campaigns.

The commercialization of a religious holiday seems to be the ultimate wrong.  Kids are heavily influenced by advertising, and frustrated parents are wont to discuss the true spirit of the season, giving.  When I am in front of a class of elementary school kids, I try to get in the story, “The Gift of the Magi.”  To me, it exemplifies what we should be all about, and not what we seem to be about.

Well, that is my rant for today.  I want my holidays back and unmolested.

Ten Questions That Need Answering

I tried to create a poll to find out what you think but it only allows me to ask a single question.  I don’t understand why it won’t let me ask ten but that could simply be my lack of understanding.  Here are the ten questions, and I would love to hear what all of you think.

1.  Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or other

2. Oreos or Hydrox

3. Coke, Pepsi, or RC

4.  vanilla, stawberry, or chocolate

5.  Colgate or Crest

6.  bacon or sausage

7.  Ford, Chrysler, or Chevy

8.  cheese puffs or cheesits

9.  plain or peanut M&Ms

10.  cat or dog