Friday, July 21, 2017

The truth as I see it

I've been writing this blog for several years starting after I was laid off by the New Haven Register where I was science editor for a period of years. I spent more time interviewing scientists, doctors, meteorologists, physicists, astronomers, entomologists, botanists,  molecular biologists, geneticists, cancer specialists, physicists of all kinds, archeologists, and many, many, many people, than most undergraduates at Yale, the University of Connecticut, Southern Connecticut State University, and to a lesser extent, Wesleyan, and Connecticut College, that I used to think, humorously, that perhaps I deserved an Ivy League degree.

I was also pretty good at all manner of other reporting on fires, homicides, car crashes, explosions, nuclear accidents, cold cases, and general assignments. My real forte was knowing about weather and climate, how the body metabolizes food, the truths about gluten and low frequency electromagnetic waves, arboviruses, West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, other tick-borne diseases, transplant medicine, and a considerable amount of knowledge on gunshot wounds and firearms.

I enjoyed my job, asking questions, and translating complicated  subjects into easier-to-understand words. I would have done that until I was in my 90s, had not the Journal Register Company (no longer exists) decided that I was too old and too well paid. I along with several other experienced and older people at the Register was let go in 2008.

Since then I have volunteer tutored reading, taught a writing class at Quinnipac University, sold a few free-lance pieces, and kept a much lower profile. Now I read the New York Times carefully everyday and the weekend Register on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

I have seen many changes since I began as a reporter in 1978. The newspaper industry contracted and dozens of journalists were left looking for work.  The Register sold its presses (for scrap, I heard) and tried to convert to a digital platform. Recently Hearst purchased the Register. Details of the sale are unclear.

Here are some items, opinions and things that I believe are facts:

* The newspaper industry experienced upheaval when increasing numbers of women entered the news workplace as reporters and editors. Some of the best reporters and editors are women, true. But the influx of even lower paid workers complicated efforts to unionize, and took some jobs away from men, When I started, no women typically worked in editorial. They were restricted to obituaries, weddings and so on. Women journalism school graduates complicated nearly everything. Now, the screwy men who became reporters, were joined by equally screwy women. Bringing weird men and women together always seemed like a recipe for problems.

* Climate change, I fear, is developing into a global catastrophe. If the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica slides into the ocean, sea levels around the world will rise by an average of, perhaps, 16 feet. That puts parts of major cities and some entire countries under water. Millions or billions of people will be unpleasantly displaced. So, are countries responding to the problem? Yes, many are. Is the United States? Yes, but in a less organized way because the current administration and both houses of congress rabidly support the vanishing coal industry and fossil fuels in general, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. The U.S. seems ready to build a useless wall along the Mexican border for at least 1 trillion dollars. The money should by spent paying shore dwellers to move inland and start mitigation projects in New York, Boston, New Orleans, Miami, Los Angeles and many other shoreline cities in the US.  Is that likely to happen? No, not until a major city is inundated.

* The Republican administration is gathering intrusive data on all registered voters in the country, or at least, trying to. This is part of a political search for voter fraud, which experts of both parties say is virtually non-existent in this country. This dubious process is being undertaken because our president apparently smarts at the fact that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. The collecting of voter information, which several states are resisting, is clearly intended to dissuade or prevent minority  voters from voting. A majority of them are likely to vote for Democrats and the Republican  nativist extremists want to minimize the Democratic vote.

* In Google news, teens somewhere sat by and ridiculed a drowning man who was calling for help. No one called 911. And they videoed themselves. The man did drown. This is extremely disturbing. Do younger people see the world as a video game? Literally? Do they not have a conscience? A toddler playing in a MacDonald's somewhere went down a slide covered with another playmate's feces. The toddler went down the slide and was covered with feces. His mother asked employees for help and they demurred, acting like they were on break and generally being unhelpful. The bathrooms did not have soap. A couple somewhere else teased one of their children with food, as the child starved to death. A woman talked a man online into asphyxiating himself.  Does any of this make sense? What has this country produced? A whole subpopulation of sociopaths?

* Gun violence. There are more guns in the United States than people. In other words, many people own more than one or two guns. The Second Amendment to the Constitution is oddly written and can be parsed in several ways. Its intent seems to support the idea of an armed government militia, not the prevalent idea that every person has the right to own hunting rifles, semi-automatic hunting rifles, assault rifles, and semi-automatic pistols. What is an assault rifle? A semi-automatic long gun that fires ammunition larger than pistol and smaller then rifle. The stock extends straight back to the shoulder to minimize the effects of recoil. The only purpose of assault rifles, as the name suggests, is on a battlefield. Why do people snap and then kill droves of others? The answer is complicated and elusive. The answer is obvious: slowly confiscate all guns and melt them down. This may take decades and be met with violent protests, but it is the only path to peace. The National Rifle Association, contrary to most of the US population, favors arming teachers, carrying concealed weapons and openly carrying semi-auto rifles. Gun owners, some of them, want to have the right to carry guns into bars. Meanwhile, a large percentage of gun owners use the weapons ultimately to kill themselves, either on purpose or by accident. Put the gun industry to work making something else.

* The National Security Agency, among others, is probably reading all emails and tapping all telephone calls to allegedly gain information on terrorist plots. This is like trying to catch minows going over a huge waterfall, like Niagara Falls. The NSA et al undoubtedly uses complex algorithms to gather relevant information. Terrorists who use unprotected email, if there are any, are probably  smart enough to communicate in code. So the NSA and whoever, must also perform code breaking while sifting. Every time you email "Our show bombed in Shelton" or "I'd rather die than go out with him/her" "The use of finger fidgets exploded" and so on, must be analyzed and discarded, or stored in some anonymous building somewhere.  We would not know about any of this, except that Edward Snowden, now living in Russia, revealed it.

* It seems clear that Trump colluded with Russian intelligence and Putin to tilt the presidential election in 2016. Can he destroy all social programs and the economy in the next three years? We can only wait and see. Do Americans realize that they must vote to keep people like Trump out of office? One would hope so. Paul Ryan, Mitch O'Connell. Mike Pence, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVoss, et al, are determined to jettison all environmental law, all public education, all help to poor and middle class citizens, basically, anything good or useful that the federal government does. Franklin Roosevelt instituted many great programs when he took office in the midst of the Great Depression. He started programs to put artists and writers to work, built massive public works projects, and helped defeat Nazism and Imperial Japan.

* Will any future president, or his or her speech writer, approach Abraham Lincoln's language? That seems unlikely, but why? People are not stupider than they used to be. Had people been equipped with smart phones, computers, and PlayStations in the 19th century, would presidential candidates sunk into dull, turbid, cliche-ridden speech? We will, or shall, never know.

* Intelligent Design, homeopathy, and many other pseudo or non-science are gathering credence. Maybe we are, some of us, getting stupider, more gullible, less able to think or reason, or use logic, or know how to use mathematics.  I'm convinced that reading on a screen and reading on a page are fundamentally different, and that the brain responds differently to computer screens and paper books.
We have seen that most people will not pay for online news. They will pay for pornography, hook-up software, and not much else. Eventually, paper will be rediscovered as a miracle product that can be written on with a variety of implements, folded, torn, stuffed into pockets, copied,  and written on.
Meanwhile, the Library of Congress is gradually converting its books into optical disks, which start to disintegrate a few years after they are produced. Books from the 15th century, however, are delicate yet still easily readable. We know how to preserve paper. We do not know how to preserve digital information.

I could go on and on. But you get the gist.