Daylight Is Always Better: Climate Change, Racism, Oligarchy, Sexual Harassment/Assault, Guns, Etc.

daylight-thru-windowListen, I’m not totally anti-darkness.

For instance, I used to be an orthodox night owl, and once my age/health and career rendered my nightowlism unsustainable, I learned that I sleep better in a room that is totally dark.

However, set aside those few quirky exceptions, and shifting from this ridiculous introduction to my primary point:

Daylight is Always Better

Scoundrels hide in the dark, they meet with each other and scheme, some are scared of getting caught, others are simply waiting to be emboldened to step out into the light, either by recruiting co-conspirators and building strength by numbers, and/or by some mouthpiece or another who succeeds in dignifying the existence of scoundrels and arguing that they have a right to be heard.

The one thing in common between a variety of contemporary phenomenon — climate change, racism, oligarchy, sexual harassment, gun violence, etc. — is that daylight — in the form of environmentalists, groups like Black Lives Matter and Occupy, brave victims of sexual harassment/assault going public with their stories, gun control advocates, etc. — is shining more consistently and revealingly than it has in a long time, maybe more than ever.

The most immediate result of this daylight is media saturation, which has a profoundly demoralizing impact at first. It’s simply harsh to see horrors everywhere you look.

But, on my better days, when I can muster a modicum of optimism, I can just about reach for and try to embrace the possibility that with more daylight on these issues the more chance there is that a critical mass of concerned human beings will demand and eventually achieve badly needed change.

The villains in these situations range from clueless and passively participating, to truly diabolical.

They won’t give up without a fight, and we have to be prepared for that.

 

On Choosing Gloom

IMG_7495

Now, Fish & Bicycles, from its inception, was intended as light fare.

In my very first post, in October 2009, I mentioned how my previous, now-defunct and unlinkable blog, was almost entirely political, which means it almost always featured heavy, often disturbing subjects, and feeling as I did and still do, that there are already plenty of political blogs out there, that the news media in general is dominated by bad news, I was determined to stay focused on things that I really like, including: current local events, snippets of daily life experiences, art, design, music, film, theater, the written word, technology, travel, sustainability, spirituality, fatherhood, etc.

And ever since, when I’m faced with a wave of gloom, like the wave mentioned above, I either struggle mightily to keep my commitment, to find something positive to post, or I find myself paralyzed, unable to post anything (this is my first in over a week), feeling it disingenuous and unauthentic to pretend that the gloom is not there.

And, at that thought, I’m reminded of something I read on the first topic I mentioned above, last week’s racial hate speech and threats incident at Western Washington University (WWU), an incident that has spawned a series of public forums and facilitated listening and discussion sessions.

Of the very first of these sessions, a town hall, the Bellingham Herald wrote:

In response to the question about the hopes for the university, panelist and graduate student Alex Ng advised that these conversations should make people feel uncomfortable.

“As we go forward as an entire community and as individuals, what we’re asking people to do is choose to be uncomfortable, which is kind of crazy, but it’s so important that we do that and we have to have the courage to do that together,” Ng said.

So, here I am, feeling gloomy but still writing, trying to make sense of the senseless, trying to be honest, even at the risk of being morose, choosing to be uncomfortable so that denial doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate that which I could choose to deny.

 

Cognitive Dissonance Hurts My Brain

headache-smileyNot much else to say about this, other than what my post title suggests.

The cognitive dissonance in a piece this morning at NPR.org hurts my brain (emphasis added by me in bold):

A vigil was held in Roseburg, Ore., last night, hours after a man killed nine people at the local community college. Investigators say the man behind Thursday’s shooting is also dead — and the local sheriff says he’ll never say that man’s name in public. Seven people were wounded in the attack.

“I will not give him the credit he probably sought, prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” Sheriff John Hanlin said in a briefing about the shooting at Umpqua Community College.

Hanlin later told CNN that he doesn’t want “to glorify his name or his cause.”

The alleged gunman is 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, who lived in a town near Roseburg, a logging community with around 22,000 residents.

If My Home Is Ever Raided By The FBI, Can I Be Treated Like Jared?

jared-eating-subwayWhether it’s white privilege, our country’s soft-on-white-collar-crime tendencies, or something else entirely, in all my years of reading the news I’ve never seen anything like the softball coverage of the FBI raid on the home of now-former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

Oh, it starts off alright, getting directly to what you’d think the point would and should be:

NEW YORK — Subway said Tuesday it mutually agreed with Jared Fogle to suspend their relationship after the home of the chain’s longtime pitchman was raided by federal and state investigators.

But then…the article continues for another 730 words over 19 more paragraphs reading more like a Wikipedia entry on the history of the Jared-Subway ad campaign, never mentioning the FBI — much less mentioning that the raid was tied to a child pornography investigation — until paragraph 18!

It goes from that appropriate opening paragraph right into:

The separation was jarring because the 37-year-old everyman has become a familiar face around the world. To many, he’s known simply as “the Subway guy” who shed a massive amount of weight by eating the chain’s sandwiches. His story is perhaps the biggest reason for Subway’s image over the years as a healthy place to eat.

“That story played a huge role in (Subway’s) growth,” said Mary Chapman, senior director of product innovation at Technomic, a market research firm. “It’s not just Jared the man, it’s what it represents.”

See, there’s something terribly wrong when a celebrity receives this kind of treatment, while ordinary John & Jane Doe will simply be reported as suspects in a child pornography ring and appropriately scrutinized by investigative journalists who recognize that child pornography, not “play[ing] a huge role” in the growth of a corporation, is the actual story.

Yes, I’m talking to you, Associated Press, source of the article quoted above, and you, Washington Post, with your article titled:

Why Jared Fogle was — and still might be — the perfect Subway spokesman

…and you, Los Angeles Times, with yours, titled:

The Subway guy: How Jared Fogle went from overweight student to cultural icon

…as if there weren’t any possibility that the title of the story might actually end up being:

The Subway guy: How Jared Fogle went from overweight student to cultural icon to child pornographer

Of course, very few details are known at this time, but instead of holding off reporting further until more information is available, there are all of those column inches to fill!

Ugh.

Has TalkingPointsMemo.com Jumped The Shark, Or Am I Not Reading It Correctly?

When I first discovered Talking Points Memo (TPM), sometime around 2001, it was solely the political blog of Josh Marshall, and it looked like this:

TPM-screenshot-old

One blogger, one very narrow column with blog posts, an even narrower sidebar with some navigation, a call for donations, book recommendations, and a short list of links to other recommended sites.

That’s it, I loved it, and it would be one of my primary inspirations for becoming a blogger several years later, in 2004, at my now-defunct first blog Transcendental Floss. (No relation to any currently existing websites using that name.)

Now TPM is called TPM Media, it has a full staff of writers, two bureaus, in New York City and Washington, D.C. respectively, 13 sections of their website, and it looks like this:

TPM-screenshot-new

This transformation took place gradually over the past 10 years or so, and for the most part I enjoyed the growth, as it allowed for broader coverage of the political topics I was most interested in.

More recently, over the past few years, with the rise in popularity of political comedy TV shows — The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, etc. — along with the sad new reality that these were some of the only shows on television adequately sounding the alarm on the deplorable things our government and politicians do on a regular basis, TPM, like most other political blogs/websites, began posting clips from these shows.

This, too, was ok with me. I don’t have TV at home, and so having these clips cherry picked for me and handily available on a website I already visited on a regular basis was welcome.

Enter The Slice, the newest section, rolled out two weeks ago, and described thusly:

Think of it as TPM’s magazine—deeper takes, more crafted writing. The Slice gets to the thorny, human, gut level of a broader range of issues than TPM has tackled before. We’ll be exploring everything from money and sex to identity and pop culture, from politics and family to those harbingers of modern life you keep noticing but can’t quite parse out.

When I first read that, I didn’t have any immediate negative reaction to it.

Then, today, I saw this on the TPM home page:

TPM-screenshot-slice

I’ll give you a moment to spot the story from The Slice

Yeah, jarring isn’t it? It’s like one of those “which one doesn’t belong” activities for school children.

In the comments section for this Slice piece with the clickbait title What I Learned From Going to the Adult Film Oscars With the King of Porn, two TPM readers echoed my exact immediate thoughts:

Commenter # 1: Am I at the Huffington Post?

Commenter # 2: Or Salon?

I have a love-hate relationship with both The Huffington Post and Salon for this very reason. Both sites have excellent coverage of news and politics, and both offer this jarring mix of content, with articles of substance on important matters posted side-by-side with trivialities.

From just a brief scan of the two home pages just now, I found these annoyingly incongruent headlines:

Huffington Post

Hezbollah Launches Deadliest Attack On Israel Since ’06
The Common Cooking Mistake That Ruins Everything

Salon

White Virginia politician calls African American reporter “boy”
“Ghostbusters” reboot: Let’s weigh the pros and cons of the new cast

So, I was all ready to declare, as the title of my post suggests, that TPM, the self-described “premier digital native political news organization in the United States”, the 2007 winner of the prestigious George Polk award for Journalism, had jumped the shark, but…

…before I could write a word I imagined what Josh Marshall would likely say in response: “We’re not the problem. You are!”

And, arguably he’d be right.

You see, I don’t HAVE to see the content that I don’t want to see. If what I’m looking for is news and politics, then all I really have to do is change my browser bookmarks so that the TPM bookmark takes me to the Editor’s Blog, which aggregates the best news and politics posts from the various other sections. Likewise, at Huffington Post and Salon, I could go directly to their news and politics sections.

I happen to work with a team of web developers, and they have a saying that they use to guide them in developing user-focused software and websites, a saying that reminds them to factor into their work a variety of different user-types in order to make their products as user-friendly possible:

As a [user type], I need to [action], so that I can [goal].

In this case, it could easily be argued that, while the TPM home page does not work well for me [user type], the fact that I have the option to navigate directly [action] to the sections that I want to read [goal] would indicate that their design is still user-friendly by definition.

Now, excuse my while I go and edit my bookmarks.

Happy 2015: Defending Resolutions

New-Year-resolutions-30000Have you noticed that New Year’s resolutions are getting a REALLY bad rap?

Around this time last year, many media outlets reported on findings from University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology that only 8% of Americans achieve their resolutions.

Time.com contributor Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, a couple of days ago, while referencing the Journal of Clinical Psychology stats, went so far as to claim that New Year’s resolutions are actually bad for you!

When you tie your behavioral change to a specific date, you rob yourself of an opportunity to fail and recover, to “fail better.” If you believe that you can only change on the New Year — the inherent message of New Year’s resolutions — you will have to wait a whole year before you get another shot…

She also quotes Steve Salerno, author of Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless:

My concern is that the resolution takes the place of the action, as is also true with so many millions of people who sign up for an endless succession of self-help programs: They think some magic words, some avowed promise, will magically transform their lives, when we all know that the real transformational work is tough, grueling, and usually involves sacrifice and unpleasant choices.”

I’m sorry, I just don’t see the making of resolutions and “real transformational work” as being mutually exclusive, and yet Salerno and Lamb-Shapiro base their entire argument on this being the case.

Read carefully, it seems to me that Lamb-Shapiro’s piece doesn’t actually support the sensationalist claim that resolutions are bad for you, as much as it points out that it’s how you go after trying to achieve your resolutions that matters the most.

It’s self-serving — they both have written books criticizing the so-called self-help industry — and deeply cynical.

Ironically, Lamb-Shapiro concludes, sounding just like the self-help gurus she holds in such contempt:

Here’s a better idea. Instead of listing an abstract goal like “lose weight,” think of specific small steps you can take, every day, that will have the same result. If you fail at any of these small steps — which you inevitably will — brush it off, and realize that failure and recovery is part of any process.

I believe that it is an inherently good thing that people live intentionally, set goals, and work toward personal growth, and it’s even a deeply optimistic thing that people continue to make resolutions despite an 8% success rate.

So, great ideas, Jessica! Very helpful! Thanks for giving me a better chance of achieving my New Year’s resolutions!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Adventures In Graph Innuendo

Listen, either I’m the biggest pervert in the world, or many, many minds should be blown by the fact that the following graph actually made it past the editors of Forbes.com and onto the interwebs, accompanying an article titled How Successful People Squash Stress.

stressgraph

How does this happen?!

How can anyone look at that graph and not see what I see, and I’m not even on the staff of a fairly prestigious publication, where people get paid good money to know stuff about the power of imagery, symbolism, and suggestiveness?

I mean, even with my rudimentary Photoshop skills, it was obvious to me that all I had to do was remove the erect penis in order for this to be a perfectly respectable visual aide for the article!

stressgraph2

The most unfortunate thing, of course, is that what Travis Bradberry writes in this piece is actually quite good and contains very helpful information that could increase the wellbeing of a lot of people.

Hopefully, it still will, once we’ve all stopped laughing.