Mass Death, Critical Thinking, and Media Distortion

There is a digital sign, very close to where I live, that lets the passerby know that 457 people have been killed on Texas roads this year.  That is 457 people killed on the roads in the state of Texas only, in just over three months of one year.  There were 2,877 victims during 911.  So roughly one sixth of all of the people that were killed as the result of 911 have been killed through traffic accidents in the state of Texas this year from January 1st to March 24th.

Yet, no one is particularly troubled by this, unless of course they have been some how touched by one of these accidents in a personal way.  Meanwhile when 911 happened we lost our collective shit, resulting in the invasion of a country that in no way was related to 911.  That invasion led to far more death and destruction than 911 did.  I am not saying 911 was not a horrible event.  I am not saying that no response was necessary.  I am only saying that if you compare the results of 911 to the results of what happen all the time, it didn’t warrant the kind of response that it created.  We did not need to change every law in the land, drop bombs on other people, etc.  We should have gone after the people directly responsible, mourned the dead in the way that we should mourn all people that have fallen before their time, and gotten back to business as usual.

I would imagine that most people would agree with this now, especially in concern with our ill advised adventure into Iraq.  So why am I bringing this up?  (And I’m even bringing it up again as I have touched upon this idea before.  I am constantly reminded of this idea from the sign that I see every time I leave my house to go out into greater Austin.)  Today over at Huffington Post the headline is about a plane crash in the Alps where right now 150 are feared dead.  This number is less than a third of all the people that have been killed in Texas highways this year, and it is far away, so the chance of us knowing someone that died is even less.  Yet, this is the HEADLINE at Huffington Post.  I can only imagine what cable news is going to do with a story like this.  I assume, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am, that cable news is going to have a fucking field day with it!

We live in a democracy.  To have a democracy that functions efficiently, it is important that the citizens of the democracy can assess what’s going on and make educated choices concerning problems.  Yet here in America, a sort of tabloid lizard brain runs the show in determining what is important to focus on.  That is if you take the view that things aren’t being actively manipulated to keep us afraid and in the dark.

When horrible events occur, which with news cameras in almost every part of the globe, they are going on consistently in some form or fashion on a daily basis, we must try to maintain some kind of perspective on things.  As citizens of the United States and as citizens of the greater world, what actually concerns us?  What is a tragedy and what is a threat?  Given that we as humans only have so much time in a day to devote to understanding the world around us, what is really important for us to know and what is not?  When is something blown out of proportion to where it actually prevents us from making wise decisions?  This does not meant that we should be callous to suffering.  It only means that we should not let suffering blind us into creating other suffering in the world.

The way that our news media operates actually causes us to be less informed, as we are overloaded with the horrific and the sensational.  Anytime a news story comes on one should ask, “Does this affect me and my life in anyway?  Does this increase the likelihood that I am going to make better decisions about the world?  If it does not, can I acknowledge that I am watching this for mere entertainment or escapism?”

I would prefer that all Americans quit watching TV news.  If they can’t, I would at least prefer that they limited the amount of time they spent viewing it.  TV news, even though I mentioned Huffington Post up above, is the worst at pumping up false threats, while ignoring real events that we should be learning about.  However, if one is not going to stop watching TV news, I think people should at least take the right set of tools with them, as they try to sort through the insanity of the day.

Critical thinking is more important than ever.  In a world full of information, it is those that understand how to interpret information that are going to stand the best of thriving in this world.  Unfortunately our schools are moving more towards standardized testing, more towards rewarding the unthinking worker bee.  These are the exact opposite of the skills that are truly needed in the modern world.

Netanyahu Rival Widens Lead in Israeli Election

Netanyahu Rival Widens Lead in Israeli Election

The above headline says it all.  I am just reading about this for the first time.  This is great news indeed.  Hopefully the power-hungry Netanyahu has finally overstepped his bounds with his recent foray into U.S. politics.  Anyone that hopes for peace in the Middle East should greet this news with joy.  I’ll be stroking my lucky rabbit foot hoping that Netanyahu’s ill fortune continues!

Florida Bans Climate Change

Florida Bans Climate Change

I meant to post this the other day, but I forgot, or I couldn’t make myself because of the astounding stupidity involved.  Florida officials, once Rick Scott came into power, were told to not include the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in any official reports.  If this wasn’t so insane and depressing, this would actually be hilarious.  Florida is a state that is going to be in an especially dire situation due to climate change related problems.  Here is just one article about one part of Florida that is going to face catastrophe due to climate change:

Why the City of Miami is Doomed to Drown

Do we really need leaders who not only don’t act in their constituents best interests, but don’t even allow debate about things that may affect those same constituents?

Pimp My Ride Was Fake

Pimp_my_ride_by_DoMiGFX

Pimp My Ride Was Fake

Huffington Post just put out an article that makes the claim that many of the revisions made to cars on the MTV reality show Pimp My Ride were made just for the TV cameras.  It’s long been known that reality TV is not very real.  I have no personal interest in that show or almost any reality show.  I do think that they are a drain on our culture as they blur the line between fact and fiction, they create meaningless public figures, champion consumerist values, and they entertain with the lowest common denominator.

Black Site Discovered in Chicago

Chicago Black Site Discovered

The Guardian has just put out an article, one which Huffington Post is also headlining with, that claims that there is a secret black site used by the Chicago Police to interrogate U.S. citizens.  This site is being compared to CIA black sites that are used overseas in the War on Terror.  I find this scary, but not surprising.  This seems to me to be the endgame of years of fighting a war in which the boundaries haven’t been clear.  All throughout our War on Terror our police here at home have become more militarized.  A lot of the gear that has been used overseas in the War on Terror has made its way stateside.  There are also tactics that have made it home from these wars.  But while soldiers main job is to subdue a hostile population, unless they are on a peacekeeping or humanitarian mission, the police should be working alongside the community.

I think that there are two additional things one should keep in mind.  The first is that there is a history of law enforcement abuse in this country.  A great place to read about this is in Tim Weiner’s book Enemies: A History of the FBI.  Obviously there is a difference between the Chicago Police and the FBI.  However, both are domestic law enforcement, and the book will give you an idea of how those in power abuse the law for political purposes.  The other book that I keep recommending is Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, a book that examines the way that justice is applied differently to people depending on their economic background.  I think the fact that there is a history of abuse is important.  J. Edgar Hoover often punished people he viewed as “communists and subversives”.  (left wing)  If you know that history and combine it with what Taibbi says about modern times, while looking at this new information in light of the overall War on Terror, it’s not that hard to see how we ended up here.

Obama Secretly Supported Gay Marriage In First Presidential Run

Obama Secretly Supported Gay Marriage All Along

Was just reading the above article over at Huffington Post that features an excerpt from David Axlerod’s new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.  In the excerpt Axlerod claims that Obama supported gay marriage all along, even while he claimed that he favored the more politically popular civil unions during his first run for the presidency.

I’m sure this will make some heads on the right explode.  I am also sure that even some of his supporters will claim this shows a lack of character.  However, this is really not out of step with politics in general.  Having been reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals about Lincoln, even our greatest president engaged in this kind of thing.  (Well, I was reading it until my Kindle exploded!  I will finish it as soon as possible.)  Lincoln was often told by the left wing of his party that he was not moving fast enough on slavery, even though he eventually was the president that put an end to slavery.

The idea is that leaders have to take the temperature of the populace on issues.  A good leader will be out front of the public on issues, “leading” them to do the right thing, but they can’t be too out front of the general population.  If they are too out front they risk a backlash and giving the opposition a chance to make political inroads.  So they have to have enough courage to move the ball down the field, but enough smarts to do it in a way where they don’t risk creating a situation where they don’t have enough political capital to get things done.

On top of this political leaders, especially at a national level, have a many other issues that they also need to treat in this same manner.  It’s a complex puzzle that is not an enviable task.  This is not to say that the general public should not express outrage if they believe a politician is acting against their interests.  It is expressly this growing political “heat” that will eventually give a leader enough cover to make it politically expedient to act.  Those that try to change the national dialogue through protests and other forms of peaceful serve a very important role in democracy, one that has often been ridiculously belittled in the mainstream media, but it is not the same role that a leader elected by popular vote has.

This is not to say that one can not criticize Obama on his decisions.  It is fair to say that Obama was not far enough in front of the general population.  If someone wants to make the argument that he lacked the courage to act in a timely manner, I don’t know if I would agree given all of the other issues at stake when he took the presidency, but it is again a fair criticism.  However, I think history shows that a political leader who has a different opinion in private and in public is not out of the ordinary, and might even be smart politics when trying to accomplish a larger goal.  Although it is too early to tell, and I am more willing to hear arguments against this belief, I think the gains that gay couples have made during Obama’s presidency will leave Obama looking favorably on this issue in the history books.  Change, important change, and I do believe that gay marriage is an important issue as everyone deserves the chance to find love and happiness, is not always pretty.  To change the way people think takes real people doing real work.  It requires those that are willing to stand up for justice on the front lines and, yes sometimes, it also requires political leaders that are willing to bend political will in using the often unseemly machinations of politics.

Koch Brother’s Advocacy Groups Projected to Spend Nearly $1 Billion in Next Election

Koch Back Network Aims to Spend Nearly $1 Billion in 2016

The above article is a Huffington Post about how political advocacy groups connected to the Koch brothers are projected to spend nearly a billion dollars on the 2016 election.  If you wonder how we can have a Senate where almost 50% of Senators believe that human behavior does not contribute to climate change, among other senseless beliefs, look no further.  It is fucking troubling…