Archive for August, 2011

A Dick’s World Reader Comments on the State of Television News

August 30, 2011

By Susan Stephenson

This post was sent as a comment on the previous Dick’s World post about television reporting of Hurricane Irene.  Since it is longer than most comments, makes interesting points, and is well-written, I decided to run it as a featured post. That doesn’t mean I endorse everything she says, or that I don’t.  It means she gets her say.

Unfortunately, people in the TV news biz these days know how to set up a shot visually, but all too frequently they are woefully uninformed on virtually ANYTHING else. They have no background knowledge in anything, therefore can present nothing in context or in depth.  And it shows.

Given the resources available on the internet, why do our local reporters mispronounce so many words, and the names of places and people? Especially, names that have been in the news on a national or international level? It’s a ridiculous lack of professionalism.

It would be an interesting experiment to sit down with a stop watch to time how much actual news is in our telecasts. After you take out the teasers on what they plan to tell us after the next commercial, the promos for other network shows, the recaps of what took place on previous network shows, and the “happy talk” between presenters, I bet ten minutes of real news would be a stretch.

An informed citizenry is critical to our nation. What passes for journalism in the 21st century is a travesty.

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Hyping Disaster

August 29, 2011

It was hard for me to believe that  television news outlets were being so hysterical when reporting on Hurricane Irene.   When something is exciting all a reporter has to do is report what is happening, he or she doesn’t have to make it exciting.  As I watched one report I thought, well, that focuses the problem quite well. The reporter was almost apologizing because the wind was not howling when she was on camera.  She even said that it had been strong before the anchors cut to  her, but it seemed every time they did, there was a calm.  In other words, she knew that she wasn’t delivering on the hype that preceded her report and felt she needed to explain.

Yes, the hurricane took lives and caused a lot of damage and the flooding is still causing damage, but reporters shouting to the tops of their lungs and doing everything  they could to make their reports exciting was an embarrassment to broadcast journalism.  I have had people tell me over the years that they liked getting their  news from someone was calm in the face of disasters or pending disasters. Guess the news folks of today don’t view it that way.

Thursday Special at the Friends Bookstore: “The Help”

August 22, 2011

Some rare times movies are actually better than the books from which they were adapted. That was not the case, in my view, as far as The Help is concerned. Not that the movie wasn’t good. To me, it was very well done.  I never expect a movie to be exactly like the book. Each has its own appeal in its own way. 

The biggest difference to me was that the book, brilliantly written by Kathryn Stockett, was more subtle.  The movie was anything but subtle. Another big difference was the way the  story was told.  Sections of the book are narrated by the main characters.  In a way, Stockett’s technique reminds me of Mark Twain’s telling of Huckleberry Finn, arguably the  Great American Novel, through  the words  of Huck.  I thought  she did an excellent job with the dialects.

When I heard the movie was coming out, I rushed to Barnes and Noble and got my copy because I always prefer reading the book before I see the movie.  To me, books usually offer so much more detail and, quite often, insight than movies, but movies, when done well, bring books to life.

Quite often when I see the movie first, I don’t read the book. But, sometimes I do. In this case, I would recommend that you do. As I said, it is brilliantly written. I think you’ll be glad. I’ll even make it easy for you. I’ll bring my copy with me Thursday when I start my Friends of Libraries Bookstore shift at 2 p.m. the Columbus Public Library.  The cover price is $16.  You can buy my copy for $4. First come, first serve

Fortunately, there is a little controversy about the book. It’s hard to get around that when you write about the Jim Crow South.  I say fortunately, because controversy sells, and this book is a runaway best  seller.  That’s as it should be.

The Sky is NOT Falling

August 14, 2011

By Hal Midgette

Hal Midgette, science instructor at Brookstone School, retired Lt. Col. in U.S. Army Military Intelligence, and friend of mine, delivered a thought provoking talk that I thought you might find interesting. He makes a very good case for the times in which we live not being “the worst of times.”  Here is most of what he told members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus on Sunday, August 14.

Those of you who know me will be surprised to learn that the inspiration for my topic today came from a book titled “Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.   The book was loaned to me several months ago by a fellow Brookstone teacher who is a Presbyterian minister.  We had had a discussion in the teachers’ lounge about whether King David was a good guy or a bad guy, so she offered the book as a good source of spiritual readings. But the sermons in the book did not hold my attention as much as did a quote by pastor, author and activist William Sloane Coffin.  The quote, which appears on the book jacket,  is as follows: “These sermons and poetic prayers are lucid and passionate, tough-minded and tender-hearted, full of the hope and biblical insights so critically needed in these nightmarish times.”

“Nightmarish times?” Really?  Could a well-educated and spiritual leader such as Rev. Coffin honestly believe that we are living in nightmarish times?  The words appearing on the book  jacket were intended Presume to influence book sales, but I wondered how many ministers  might share his opinion that these are nightmarish times.  I hope there are more ministers who believe, as I do, that the sky is Not falling, so I thank Barry White for asking me to be a speaker in August and giving me this opportunity to calm Chicken Little with what I believe to be the truth:  The sky is Not falling.

While not being an expert on fear, I am aware of its use in history, and today, by political and religious groups to influence or motivate the populace to achieve or at least attempt to achieve specific goals. Fear-mongering is a self-serving tactic of those who would deceive the masses as if they are sheep to be shepherded, rather than individuals with free will.  I don’t doubt that many, to include Rev. Coffin, are true believers that these times are, to them, nightmarish.  I strongly disagree. I also object to the prophecies of doomsayers, end of days proponents, and to those who believe the best of times were the so-called good-old-days of times gone by.  Although disaster and what can only be described as nightmarish conditions do certainly exist in various pockets throughout the world at various times, it is not the general condition of the world. And these times, our 21st Century times,  are most definitely not the worst of times.

Just a brief review of terrible times in the history of the world…..with a much smaller population…reveals that in fact, we are living in good times, maybe not individually, or in every country, or even in our own country every day,  but for mankind in general.

About 70,000 years ago super volcano, Mount Toba, awoke in what is today Indonesia and visited death on a newly arisen species…us, Homo sapiens, and by some scientists’ account, knocked us down to about 5,000 individuals for the total world population. NOW, those were bad times, and the sky was literally falling.  Well, our species survived that, even thought left us with very constricted genetic variation.

The “Black Death” during the 1300’s reduced the world’s population from 450 million to about 350 million.  It was not just a European thing, but also ravaged Asia. Sadly, the victims didn’t have a clue that the disease was transmitted by fleas on rats.  It took its toll for decades.

Next, beginning in the1400s with European explorers sent across the Atlantic to find gold, claim land, and spread Christianity in the name of their countries, the completely vulnerable indigenous populations were introduced to small pox and measles.   This inadvertent, and totally unwanted, cultural exchange resulted in an estimated 30 million dying in the first 30years.  Of course, the ironic revenge, also totally unintended, was the introduction of tobacco to the Europeans.

Between 1850  and 1864 in China, a Chinese Christian led theta ping Rebellion known as the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace…..    The rebellion resulted in the death of between20 and 50 million people along the Yangtze River Valley, rendering what had been the most densely populated area on Earth nearly desolate.  I suspect most of the world didn’t know this was taking place.  China has certainly rebounded with its current population of 1.3 billion.  With the current standard of living in China and its new found economic position in the world, most Chinese would not be longing for the past.

The Spanish Influenza of1918 killed between 20 and 60 million. Because it was a pandemic, and communications ensured the word spread….the whole world was frightened, and it came at the end of the world’s 6thdeadliest conflict, World War I, in which approximately 14 million military and civilians were killed. 

Then in World War II, between 40 and 70 million died, depending on which source you use for statistics. At the time, that represented  1 – 3% of the world population.  In comparison, the Black Death of the 1300’s  killed about 30% of the world population.

How can someone with any knowledge of history look around and call today nightmarish?  The sky is not falling! Why then do so many long for “the good old days”?

On this journey to understanding, I  found some literature indicating  studies have shown that badness either travels faster than or has a greater impact than good news.  In one book, it justified this as part of a survival mechanism that our species has incorporated.   Example: Your read in the Centurion Times that Flavius was run over by a chariot while crossing the Apian Way….mental note to self….look both ways when crossing highways. So bad news helps us to avoid the same mistake.  Let’s face it, we all love to know what’s going on, and a lot of it is….how to phrase this….BAD NEWS.  As one airline executive commented the other day:  Of the 80,000 successful aircraft take offs and landings, the news only wants to focus on the one that did Not go so well.  Unfortunately, because of our penchant for or even craving for bad news, many people forget that there is a lot of good going on here and around the world.

Though we maybe genetically inclined to focus on bad news as a survival mechanism, we are also hardwired for optimism. According to an article on the Science of Optimism in Time Magazine on June 6th of this year, studies show that  people generally think they are better off than they really are and this is a good thing. We look for silver linings when actually confronted with catastrophe or misfortune.  Optimism is a form of planning for the future. So if someone tells us these are nightmarish times or if we believe that a particular day or year is nightmarish, we need to rely on our instincts, wake up from the nightmare and let our optimism lead us to a course of action or at least an attitude adjustment that opens our minds to the possibility of a better day.  And when you wake up you can realize how many good things are in our lives.

Since the 1960’s, we have doubled the Earth’s population, from 3.5 billion to almost 7 billion.  If we look around the world, more people are…in general….living longer lives, having greater access to educational opportunities, and having the ability to seek happiness for themselves and their families.  Yes, of course there are areas that continue to suffer from famine and tyrannical leaders.  But, the percentage of the total is smaller than in the past.

Let’s consider some of the  great things that continue to make life better. On average, worldwide, we live longer today.  This in itself presents some challenges, but it is so much better than when my father was young, and out of twelve children, four died as infants. In 1900 the average life span in the United States was 47years.  In 1950, which so many Americans view as a great time to be alive, the average person died at 69.  Today the average American can expect to live78  years.  And of course, many are living much longer. In fact, the 2010 U. S. Census reveals  5.5 million Americans are over 85 years old.  That’s almost double the amount of people over 85 in 1990. Let’s consider longevity for the whole world.  In 1950 the average life span in the entire world was 46 years.  Today the average life span of people in the world is 67. 

What else is good about these days we live in?  Well, particularly in medicine, these are amazing times.  I remember in the early 70’s playing racquet ball with a friend when his knee gave way and he collapsed.    Then, it took extensive surgery and months of recuperation to get back to walking…and then, with a limp.  Today, the same surgery is done arthroscopically….and is relatively pain free, and the patient can often walk without crutches within a few days.

Let’s not forget about the medical breakthroughs that brought us antibiotics, immunizations, organ transplants, and  cell cloning.  Smallpox, humanity’s scourge ever since we domesticated the cow, is not loose upon us anymore, but locked up in a few vials in liquid nitrogen held by the U.S. and Russia. Polio, tuberculosis, measles, chicken pox are some of the many diseases that have been brought under control.  Even AIDS, a worldwide threat, has been harnessed, with greater prospect for bringing it under control.  Cancer patients are living longer with better quality of life thanks to improved medicines and treatments. Every year there are better hearing aides, contact lenses, glasses, wheel chairs, artificial limbs and research underway with so much promise.

I think back on my father having a stroke and the lack of medications to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.  Today, we have a multitude of preventive procedures and medicines not just to keep people alive, but to enable them to feel better and lead productive lives. And for the terminally ill or the chronically afflicted, pain medications have alleviated much of their suffering.

Any mention of what’s good about our times would have to include the enormous impact of communications technology on our lives. Cell phones and the Internet have significantly changed the world, providing  information, entertainment,  business ,personal and group communication to even remote areas where people  were once isolated and powerless. Despite the unfortunate criminal activity of some Internet users, the Internet has enriched our lives and literally revolutionized some countries, as evidenced by the recent and continuing Arab Spring.

In addition to improvements in our life spans, health care, and communications,  there have been great strides in society, resulting in more people around the world having opportunities that once were limited to only the privileged classes or only to some races or ethnic groups. When I was in high school, the schools here and throughout the South were segregated so that Black students were deprived of the best opportunities for learning.  Now the law and our society demand equal opportunity for education and for employment.  Just think how many lives were wasted handmade miserable and at what cost to society in the so-called “good old days“. People who long for the past tend to overlook how bad the past was for so many people. But the good news is that equal opportunity and basic human rights are no longer enjoyed only by the developed countries in the world. Thanks to human rights organizations,  diplomatic efforts of democratic countries, and the power of the Internet, the word has spread that all human beings are entitled to those same rights that our Unitarian principles promote, such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice equity and compassion in human relations; and the use of the democratic process in society.

As the standard of living has increased for the newly industrialized countries, such as India and China, it is simply a fact that there is more competition for world resources, such as oil, and more competition too for marketing goods.  Clearly, our piece of the pie may not be as big as it was when more people in other countries were living in poverty.  Depending on your worldview, this may or may not be a bad thing.  If we, as Unitarians, believe in the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, then we should not be frightened by the rise of other economies because peace, liberty and justice are certainly more attainable in societies where there is a decent standard of living.

Finally, in order to reject the notion that we live in nightmarish times, it is essential to keep things in perspective. While the media are of great value to a democracy, our24-hour media sources tend to keep us wired and frantic about every negative situation at home and abroad. After all, hype sells ads and news is big business. Our country has weathered greater storms than the current economic quagmire.  Have a little faith.  Our government may be run by people of conflicting views, stubbornly devoted to their own parties and re-election campaigns, but do you really believe they don’t love this great country?  Or that they will fail to do what is necessary to keep the ship of state afloat? Let’s not be misled by the tunnel vision of doomsayers and fanatics who frighten themselves with nightmarish scenarios. Let’s open both eyes, take stock of where we were, where we are, and where sacrifice, hard work or creativity may lead us.  Then we can see that the sky is not falling.  It’s only raining.

Thursday Special at Friends Bookstore: The Kingdom by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood

August 11, 2011

  When I start my Friends of Libraries Bookstore shift this afternoon at 2, I’m bringing my  copy of  Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood’s  latest thriller The Kingdom.  This copy is almost new since it has been read one time… by me.  Yours for $5. Come and get it. First come, first served.

SEE YOU AT THE FRIENDS BOOKSTORE AT THE COLUMBUS PUBLIC LIBRARY.

New Life for 35mm Slides

August 8, 2011

Like millions of others alive before digital cameras came along, I shot hundreds of film slides.  Since almost no one owns a 35mm slide projector any more, I figured if I wanted people, especially my family, to be able to see those slides, I had better transfer them to digital images.  I was delighted to learn that a 33mm slide scanner is available, and purchased one.

On the blog post I wrote about my grandson Benjamin going into the Air Force, I referred to my visits to some famous places in Europe while I was in the Army between 1954 and 1956. Risking the natural resistance to looking at other folks personal slides, I’m going to show you a few. That means it’s OK if you show me some of yours.

First of all, a look at  your photographer.

This was taken by a 30th Army Band buddy at a small post (don’t remember the name) in the Bavarian Alps, where we had gone to play for a parade.  Being the headquarters’ band for the Munich, Germany area, we played for a lot of  small posts that had no band, which meant we made a lot of trips up some interesting mountain roads.  My brother Elbert, who had toured Germany at the end of World War II, had told me what a beautiful countryside Germany possessed.  He was right.  To be honest, this is not one of the pictures I scanned. I had this one done a few years ago at Columbus Tape and Video, the only place I could find that would print a 35mm slide. They did it, if I remember correctly, by projecting it on a screen and taking a picture of it that could be printed.

Here’s one that I scanned with the $70 scanner I found online.

This is a shot of the Isar River that flows through Munich. It was taken late in the late afternoon, I think.  Munich did have a lot of overcast days, especially in the winter, one, we were told at  the  time, was one of the coldest on record.  One morning a DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Network said, “If you want to vacation somewhere that’s warmer today, let me suggest the North Pole.” I chose it because I read  it’s used now for white-water sports, just as we are about to do on the Chattahoochee at Columbus.

Now, here’s one that’s lit a little better.  It’s a picture of…well…you’ll know.

Now you can show me yours. That’s only fair. Just  hit the comment button and give me your URL so I find them

Thursday Special at Friends: David McCullogh’s “The Greater Journey”

August 2, 2011

This book is on the New York Times Non-fiction Best Seller list right now.  The USA price: $37.50.  Yours for $12.oo in the Friends of Libraries Bookstore at the Columbus Public Library. It goes on sale Thursday, 8/4/2011, at 2 p.m., which is when I begin my two-hour shift.

I know this because I am bringing it with me.  How new is this copy? It has been read once. By me. Do I recommend it? If you care about American history, yes.  When a book by McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the outstanding Lincoln history Team of Rivals,  comes out, I buy it.  It doesn’t matter which subject they write about.  To me, they are that good. They know how to bring history to life.

As the cover flap reads, “The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring – and until now, untold – story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work.”

What I liked about it most was the new information it gave me. For instance, I didn’t know that Samuel F,.B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, an invention that changed the world, was a celebrated American painter who spent a great deal of his time painting in the Louvre,  the most famous art museum in the world.  I was there on my trip to Paris in 1955.  I spent probably a half-hour checking out the timeless masterpieces. I was young and things more exciting to the young appealed to me at that time.

I heard McCullough say on C-span’s weekend non-fiction books program that history is not just about wars and politicians, though it seems that is what most history books are about. There need to be more histories about the other great moments in history, and that was one thing that inspired him to write this book.  I thought the same thing about too much attention given to wars years ago.

So if you want a great deal on the latest book by the author of the Pulitzer Prize  winning Truman and John Adams, and other acclaimed books such as 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, and the Johnstown Flood, come to the Friends bookstore Thursday when it goes on sale at 2 p.m.  Of course, while there you can pick up some other great bargains since most hardbacks run between $1 to $3, and all paperbacks are $.50.   The proceeds go to Chattahoochee Valley Libraries. See you at the bookstore.

Off He Goes into the Wild Blue Yonder

August 1, 2011

This is a personal blog, the most common type .  And today I’m getting really personal.

Ben McMichael, my grandson, who took time out from his going-away party at his parent's home in Cumming to pose for this picture..

The wars America is fighting right now have lost their abstractness. I am a member of a very small percentage of our country’s population, people who have a relative in the armed forces. My really fine (yes, when it comes to my progeny, I am biased) grandson Benjamin McMichael heads for San Antonio, Texas tomorrow to begin his United States Air Force basic training.

Just as I told my step-granddaughter Caitlin Champion, when she joined the U.S. Army, that her life would  never be the same, I know that the same is true for Benjamin, and for anyone who goes into the military.  Life in the barracks is definitely different from being at home with mom and dad, as anyone who has ever been in the service can tell you.  I wasn’t in for very long myself since I was a two-year draftee, but that was long enough to have some understanding of the military experience. It does , to different degrees for different people, toughen one, but it also gives insight into what the term “band of brothers” means.  My late brother Elbert, a World War II draftee, loved the Army. As we were standing in line at a cafeteria one day, we noticed a group of young soldiers in the line talking  and laughing with one another, and Elbert said, “The Army is the world’s biggest fraternity.”

There is a lot fo truth to that, I believe. On most of my trips to see some of the great European cities, places like Venice, Rome, Naples, Isle of Capri, Lucerne, Zürich, Augsburg, I went with some of my Munich, Germany Army buddies.  However, I decided to go to Paris by myself.  But, I wasn’t by myself for long.  When I got on the train, I sat in the compartment with three other young soldiers who I had never seen before in my life. By the time we got to Paris, we were all friends and did most things together. They were really fine young men. We had a great  time. Paris lived up to its party-town reputation.  Every now and then I then I reflect on how the three of them, all in the same unit, accepted me, who was not only not in the same unit, but not even in the same town.  But, we were in the same wonderful fraternity. Of course, people are people, and even fraternity brothers don’t always get along. That’s true anywhere.  However, for me, the good experiences outweighed the bad.

Now, it is my grandson’s turn.  Like those three Airborne guys, Ben is a fine person, always outgoing, friendly and witty, but, underneath his sunny personality there is steel.  He has always possessed a quiet confidence.  But, most of all, and the thing that makes me really proud of him, he is simply a good man. And why wouldn’t he be? His father, mother, and older brother are all good people. Then, there is me. Well, four out of five ain’t bad.