“I’m Mad as Hell!” or “Why Civilization Is on the Verge of Collapse”

As you know, Heathrow is the world’s largest and busiest airport, second only to Schiphol in Amsterdam and JFK in New York. All three are eclipsed, of course, by O’Hare in Chicago and Minneapolis/Saint Paul airport in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Speaking of Minneapolis, I just learned today that the state of Minnesota is the second bikiest in the nation, second only to Portland, Oregon. There are more bikes per capita in Portland, but Minneapolis is a close second. I think we fell behind a week ago when it hit 11 degrees below zero and Lizzie stopped biking to work and bought a 27-year-old Ford 150 pickup.

Also, did you know that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the melodies for “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” AND the alphabet song AND “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” when he was five? All three tunes, which are identical, are based on an identical preexisting French tune “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman,” with obscure beginnings.

My source for all this information: Stuff I heard somewhere and in at least one case, the original edition of Trivial Pursuit. Which I think I accidentally memorized.

How can so many airports be the biggest, or the busiest, or serve the most connections, or whatever? Obviously there are different ways to measure, and in addition, these measures change over time. It is possible that JFK was the physically largest airport while at the same time O’Hare served more transfers while at the same time more people went in and out of Heathrow and some other airport had the largest number of aircraft even though a large percentage of them were mail and freight. Or whatever. But then, as each airport is designated as the “X”-est, that designation sticks. Forever. This is a little like saying that every time a person beaks the record for running the mile, that person is now the fastest person in the world forever, even after someone else breaks the record.

But that is not what happens, is it? People who follow a sport easily keep track of the changes over time in what athlete or what team has accomplished what feat. And this can be rather complex. I watched all of the Vikings games this year, and I don’t think there was a single game in which somebody didn’t break some record, with that event noted in passing by the announcers and commentators who were keeping track.

“Oh, that’s his 100th completed pass received. That’s a record. Oh, he just threw his 4,000th yard of completion for the season. Team record. Oh, he just scratched his butt for the ninth time before the end of the two-minute warning at the half. That has never been done before.” And so on.

It bothers me…a lot…when I can observe sportscasters and commentators keeping track of, and speaking lucidly about, and being accurate in regards to, what must be a thousand statistics, the health and injury status of hundreds of players, and the status of dozens of teams, while at the same time Contessa Brewer, newscaster of MSNBC (to randomly pick a news person who happens to be blathering in my direction as I write this), can’t keep two facts straight at the same time. Seriously. If you observe sports and really think about what is involved, what the commentators know and the level of information that is being processed (and it is not all trivial facts), it is actually quite impressive. But if you look at all but the absolutely top echelon of newscasters and commentators for the “regular” news, they are incapable of counting to three without screwing it up.

What is most important is this: In sports, getting it wrong is simply not allowed. It is part of the culture of sports that you get the facts straight. No questions asked. Just get it right, and if you get it wrong, fix that.In contrast, in the news, there is no such thing. There is no proscription against getting it wrong.

Yes, yes, I was actually watching the TV in a tavern in the vicinity of Taunton, Massachusetts, one afternoon, just after Ronald Reagan was shot, and I saw Frank Reynolds’ tirade. “Let’s just get this thing right!” he screamed from his seat at the anchor desk after finding out that Jim Brady (of the Brady Bill) was dead, then finding out that he was alive.

And then there was the time that Dan Rather resigned because his news agency, under his direction, had made a mistake.

But that’s it, man. Two times ever. All the rest of the time the “news” agencies have been blathering, failing to provide sources, failing to check facts, and most importantly, failing to kick themselves in the ass when they get it wrong. And the result of this is that our entire society does not care even a little if it gets something wrong.

Thus, teabaggers can not only exist but they can be reported by the press as though they were worthy of anything but immediate dismissal.

Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly about how often the press fails to police itself. But not much. Try this: Think of an example where a particular news agency…your favorite local news station, or one of the national networks…got something wrong and never corrected or admitted it, and then think of ten examples of them getting something wrong and following that error with a statement that fully acknowledged that they had made a mistake, made reference to the fact that they should have not made the mistake, and discussed some positive action that would be taken to avoid the mistake being made again in the future.

One to ten. That would be a barely acceptable ratio of unacknowledged goof to goof that leads to acknowledgment, apology, and improvement. And you won’t find anything like that. You’ll find official retractions, soul searching, self-critique leading to real improvement a handful of times in your entire lifetime. In contrast you will find mistakes (how many people really died in an incident being reported live, what really happened at the airport that shut down some flights, who actually said or did what about something that matters) several times a day, ongoing, as a ubiquitous part of process of “reporting” the “news.”

And this is precisely why civilization is on the verge of collapse. Again. And it pisses me off:

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25 Responses to ““I’m Mad as Hell!” or “Why Civilization Is on the Verge of Collapse””

  1. January 6th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    JefFlyingV says:

    Is part of the News problem due to most news being rumor?

    I stopped watching 60 minutes years ago when they did that Ford Truck explosion report. It didn’t take much time for 60 minutes to regain it’s credibility after that.

  2. January 6th, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Lorax says:

    Wait, I though civilization was on the verge of collapse because we were feeding christians to lions again?!?! I mean after waging war on christmas and oppressing them all year, we must be feeding them to lions right?

  3. January 6th, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    tm says:

    Hey Greg,
    You should rent the movie “Absence of Malice”, but be sure to take your meds first.


  4. January 6th, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Sparky Clarkson says:

    @JefFlyingV: Ironically, the report you seem to be referring to aired on Dateline NBC, not 60 Minutes.

  5. January 6th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    david says:

    I quit watching TV period. I’ve never regretted it.

  6. January 6th, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Bryan says:

    But that’s it, man. Two times ever. All the rest of the time the “news” agencies have been blathering, failing to provide sources, failing to check facts, and most importantly, failing to kick themselves in the ass when they get it wrong. And the result of this is that our entire society does not care even a little if it gets something wrong.

    Dat’s irony!

    FYI: Minnesota ranks:

    5th in global well-being;
    14th in lack of fundamentalist religious belief
    10th in crime
    9th in education
    3rd in health
    7th in Income per capita, and
    5th in IQ.

    low numbers = better well-being.

  7. January 6th, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Lorax says:

    low numbers = better well-being

    and poor math skills.

    algebra, geometry, and calculas = poor well-being

  8. January 6th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Moose says:

    @ Bryan:

    When you say 5th in global well-being, I assume you mean well-being in the US, and not *actually* globally?

  9. January 6th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Dave says:

    LOL at “Jim Bradley”. I think you did that on purpose. Of course, you meant “Jim Brady” of the “Brady Bill”

  10. January 6th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    DuWayne says:

    Yeah, I quit watching television too. I can’t stand it and never ever watch it anymore…Except on very rare occasions when I watch it with my dad. Or when I watch PBS kids with the boys – sometimes NickJunior. But yeah, other than that – I have totally quit tv altogether – though I do like to watch Numb3rs and NCIS online with minimal commercials – I am not even sure that counts – but if it does, that is totally the last exception to having completely quit tee vee…

  11. January 6th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    DuWayne, do you watch the news ever?

  12. January 6th, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Jim Thomrson says:

    The things we consider important, we get right. We figure the other stuff doesn’t matter much. So as you say, civilization down the tube. But, of course, we will all be watching the Texas vs Alabama game tomorrow night.

  13. January 6th, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    DuWayne says:

    Absolutely not – unless it is in a embedded clip on blogs…And there I am actually pretty sure I don’t, because that is almost always punditry…

    I am a huge believer in public radio, if I really must endure commercial news…

  14. January 6th, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Albatross says:

    The problem, of course, is with your basic assumption, that the news is the news.

    The news is NOT the news. How do I know this? Simple: if the news were the news, then whenever someone made an egregious factual error, or when a news reporter editorialized or slanted a report, they would suffer a consequence. They do not suffer a consequence, in fact the most egregious broadcasters are often the most successful, therefore the news is not the news, Q.E.D.

    Due to the abandonment of anti-trust legislation, and the infiltration and overthrow of the FCC by representatives of the broadcast industry, news, and in fact all the media, has become pure statist, corporatist propaganda. The news is not the news: the news is now the communications division of the parent corporation which owns it.

    Modern multinational corporations are replacing the State as the primary institution of governance. They buy and control the media, they buy and control the Congress, and they empty the public coffers of the old governmental system into their own banks through fraud, anticompetitive practices, and as we saw in late 2008, simply by purchasing the legislation to make it happen.

    The media is the marketing division of the corporations, the news is the communications division, and Congress is the political arm. These organizations are largely free of taxation and regulation, they are usually controlled by a few wealthy and powerful individuals from the same socioeconomic class that owns every other multinational corporation, and their primary activity is converting natural resources into wealth in their pockets as fast as they possibly can. They are immortal, amoral, answerable to no one, antidemocratic, and extremely conservative. They pander to the population with token and modest social liberalism while maintaining an autocratic economic conservatism. And they play race off against class to keep the lowest classes fighting each other, and attention off the abuses of their own class. They are usually able to get a good portion of the lowest classes to fight their battles for them, even if the lowest classes end up working against their own best interests.

    This is the world of the 21st century. It’s about time we faced it clearly and honestly. It’s about time we stopped wringing our hands and bemoaning the fact that “the news” just doesn’t measure up to the news of our grandpappy’s day. There IS no news, there is ONLY propaganda designed to control the population, and with that mission in mind, it’s not a problem for the chyron editor to label a disgraced Republican as a Democrat (http://tinyurl.com/n6jc82 for one example of many). He or she will not be punished, and will in fact likely be rewarded.

    The news is dead. Representative democracy is dead. And yes, civilization IS on the verge of collapse, because the multinational corporations care much more about quarterly profits than they do about what will happen to Europe when Greenland melts.

  15. January 6th, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    a daughter's mother says:

    I must be weird. I have NOT stopped watching TV. After 12 hours of MPR during the day, I need some mentally unchallenging entertainment, with my feet propped up and my blankie on my lap, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. And hey, the local news is great for…. well, the radar weather is mostly accurate, though I live out where it can’t really tell whether it’s wet or dry over my head and whatever they say I have to check out the window, but other than that….. Well, anyway, I have at least stopped watching commercials. Love my DVR box!

  16. January 6th, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Thanks, Dave. Fixed.

  17. January 6th, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Oh yeah, Brady. Not Bradley. Ooops.

  18. January 7th, 2010 at 1:08 am

    Azkyroth says:

    It is possible that JFK was the physically largest airport while at the same time O’Hare served more transfers

    O’Hare is the world’s biggest clusterfuck. I’ve been there.

  19. January 7th, 2010 at 7:14 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Also, did you know that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the melodies for “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” AND the alphabet song AND “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” when he was five?

    I didn’t know that, and it depresses me, because it was that last little shred of evidence I had to support Erich von Daniken’s Ancient Astronauts story. I was convinced that the only way that the alphabet song had to have come from a people from space and they whistled it while carving out the runes of the planes of South America.

  20. January 7th, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Bryan says:

    Moose– global well-being is a single score / ranking based on a factor analysis using all the other measures. So, global means “covers em all” but it’s based on only the 50 states.

    Lorax–Ranks usually go low to high. The number one team in college football is ranked number 1, etc.

  21. January 7th, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Lorax says:

    Byran…I was joking. If you only work with small numbers then chances are your math skills will not be as advanced as one working with large numbers.

    Now, could you explain this fascinating concept of the number one team in college football being ranked number 1?

  22. January 8th, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Deen says:

    Of course, civilization has been on the verge of collapse for centuries now. I’m sure we can continue keeping it on the verge for a while longer.

    On a more serious note, there’s something terribly wrong with your media when a comedy news show like the Daily Show with Jon Steward is one of the most trusted news sources on TV.

  23. January 8th, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Yeah, that’s usually what happens just before … the collapse.

  24. January 8th, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Deen says:

    @23 Greg: shouldn’t that be “the Collapse”, or even “the COLLAPSE”?

  25. January 9th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    …. or Teh Coplapsealips!!!11!!!

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