A Tale of Two Stories

Dropped your sandwich? As long as you pick it up in five seconds, go ahead and eat it. That’s what science says. (Photo by pixabay.com/p-298762)

Dropped your sandwich? As long as you pick it up in five seconds, go ahead and eat it. That’s what science says. (Photo by pixabay.com/p-298762)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of information, it was the age of ignorance. The emergence last week of two news stories, and the story of how they did or did not flourish, casts harsh light on the state of journalism and our democratic republic. One story was funded by NASA, conducted with rigorous standards of research, reviewed by peer scientists and published in a legitimate scientific journal. Its subject was the end of the world as we know it. The other was tossed off by a handful of students in a science class, observed few scientific standards, was reviewed by no one and published nowhere in the academic press. It was about dropping food on the floor. So you guess: Which one went viral around the world, generated tons of newsprint and oceans of comment in every medium of communication; and which one was virtually ignored except when it was attacked as misleading? Continue reading

Snowpocalypse Now? No? Maybe Later?


When snow comes to DC, the capital of the Free World falls to its knees. When snow is forecast, by anybody, likewise. (Photo by Al Jazeera)

Two weeks ago Monday, the first person in the door in the morning couldn’t wait to share: “Did you hear? We’re going to have a monster snowstorm this weekend. They say we should be prepared for power outages and blizzard conditions!” All day long, from the UPS driver to the grocery clerk, “Did you hear? They say…” As is my habit, I asked who “they” was. The furthest I could get into the terrible vagueness of being “they” was a couple of remarks about somebody somebody knew reading it somewhere on Facebook. Continue reading

Top-Tier Financiers Jumping from Buildings: Should We Be Worried?

The Buck Stops Here: diagram of the last journey of J.P. Morgan VP Gabriel Magee.

The Buck Stops Here: diagram of the last journey of J.P. Morgan VP Gabriel Magee.

Four top-level financial analysts and managers apparently committed suicide last week. The dead include an investment economist in Washington State, a former Deutsche Bank executive in London, a Tata Motors executive in Bangkok and a J.P. Morgan employee in London. These events have not yet been conclusively connected. However, like the elevated suicide rates among farmers in India and US military veterans, these folks might be canaries, and their deaths might signify far more than individual misfortunes. Continue reading

The Silence on the Bees. And the Bats.

This brown bat is lucky -- he's just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he'd be dead. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

This brown bat is lucky — he’s just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he’d be dead. And then he would be a canary. Let me explain. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

It bears repeating one more time: When the canary in the cage at the mine face drops dead, the lesson is not that we need to take better care of canaries. The lesson is that we need to get our asses out of that mine before it blows up. If, on the other hand, the miners are dumb enough to watch canary after canary drop lifeless to the bottom of the cage, and do absolutely nothing, well, then, maybe the right thing is to let natural selection run its course.

We are surrounded by dying canaries. Okay, they are not, strictly speaking, canaries, but they are playing the mine-face canaries’ role. The conditions that kill them are coming for us. And the funny thing is that, while it is news of a certain, not-quite-legitimate kind (“environmentalists are concerned that…”) when we notice the first of them dying, their continued dying — an indication that conditions in our mine are getting worse — is not news. Or, worse, it’s “old news,” an oxymoron. Continue reading

Leading US Publications Mislead on Climate Change. Together.

Does journalism get more lame than this? Increasingly, yes.

Does journalism get more lame than this? Increasingly, yes.

In just one week, TIME Magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have published pieces that say, respectively, that the earth might be cooling, not warming; that there is no limit to how many humans can live on earth; that there is no “scientific” connection between global warming and extreme weather; and that “most experts” believe that the benefits of global warming will outweigh the harm. What are we to make of the fact that these colossi of traditional journalism (not to mention Britain’s Daily Mail and Rupert Murdoch’s Australian papers) are all singing from the same sheet music, on virtually the same day? Has there been some epic paradigm shift away from global climate change? Or is the rising tide of destruction and human suffering around the world driving the industrialists — industrial journalists included — closer to panic? Continue reading

The Latest (1988) News on Global Warming

Twenty-five years ago this spring, the following words appeared in National Wildlife Magazine (I know because I wrote them):

“…scientists now generally agree that the average temperature of the global atmosphere has been increasing for a century, and will likely continue to do so throughout the next…the apparent cause of this temperature increase is human activity…most climatologists now agree, a manmade buildup of carbon dioxide and other gases (methane and chlorofluorocarbons in particular) has increased the amount of solar heat retained in the lower atmosphere

“Thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers could cause sea levels to rise five feet during the next century, inundating coastal wetlands and developments. If substantial heating were to continue, partial melting of the south polar ice cap could eventually flood entire cities. Altered rainfall patterns, the inevitable consequence of the temperature changes, could make much of the North American grain belt too dry for normal agriculture…the current prognosis is that the average temperature will continue to climb between three and eight more degrees during the next century, possibly during the next 50 years.”

Those were the points on which most climatologists agreed in 1988. Today, the Congressional subcommittee on climate is chaired by someone who professes not to believe a single one of the points made above. Fox News would not allow one of those statements to go unchallenged by a representative of some flat-earth, religion-first, fossil-foolish organization with a dozen members.

A quarter of a century into the Age of Information, and this is where we are.  To read the original article and weep, click here.



Choosing a New Captain for the Titanic

Never mind the iceberg. Should we steer mostly to the left, or to the right?

The Titanic has struck the iceberg and is down at the bow, so we passengers are conducting a feverish election to select a new captain. There are two evenly matched candidates, the incumbent captain, who wears a blue uniform, and the challenger who wears a red one. In the campaign thus far, neither has mentioned the fact that the ship is sinking. The closest they have come to bringing it up is when the challenger avows that he does not believe in icebergs, and the incumbent points out that he was not on the bridge when the collision occurred.

Continue reading

Sunday School: What TV Taught Me on the Sabbath

Pretty much the only experiences we share as a nation come to us via television. But what is it, exactly, that we’re sharing in the commercial breaks?

In the olden times, when the world was young, we would gather around fires and listen to the elders tell us about how the world was made, and how the people came to be the way they are. It was a way of teaching the children, and reminding the grownups, how to live in the world, and how to be one of the people. Later, when we had churches and town halls, we would go there to talk about what was happening, and how it had come to be that way, and what we should do. Now, there is only one place where the people learn what is happening to them and what the elders think of it. Television. Especially Sunday morning television. Continue reading

From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Wal Mart

In the Temple of Black Friday, Occupy Wall Street is just a dim memory. (Photo by tshein/Flickr)

After a brief flirtation with Occupy Wall Street, the American people returned this week to Occupy Wal Mart, a movement with which they are vastly more comfortable. Notions of closing the gap between the country’s financial overlords and the sinking 99.9 per cent vaporized as it came time for the annual orgy of gorging that celebrates the highest American values: over-consumption and football. By Friday, Zucotti Square on Wall Street was empty of people exercising their Constitutional right of free assembly. Herald Square in front of Macy’s department store, on the other hand, was jammed with six thousand people exercising their right to buy cheap stuff.

Continue reading

La Niňa: In English, it Means Scapegoat

This drought, in Texas, was caused by La Niňa, off Peru. But don't worry, the tooth fairy will fix it.

It was one of those articles that subtracted from the sum total of human knowledge. It appeared on the respected Reuters news service, and began: “The dreaded La Niňa weather anomaly, blamed for both drought and record snowfall in the U.S., has returned and will garner strength during the coming winter, the Climate Prediction Center forecast Thursday.” The logical equivalent would be you — on finding your car doesn’t start in the morning — taking your ignition key to the shop and demanding that it be fixed. Because you “blame” it for the problem. Continue reading