Thursday, May 27, 2010

News Channels Have too Much Time to Fill

Having so many full-time news networks is not necessarily a good thing. To fill all this time, they focus on "breaking news" with reporters on the spot to follow events as they happen. The result is that frequently trivial occurrences are noted with a solemnity that far exceeds  newsworthiness.

When a catastrophe occurs, every boo-boo is captured, every failure noted. The current oil spill is a good example.
The assumption of journalists seems to be that immediately upon a catastrophe, all relevant institutions should be so perfectly prepared and organized that all the right things begin to happen at once without any gaps  and proceed without error until every issue is resolved. Unfortunately, the world does not operate like that. Institutions are imperfect, and leadership is fallible and sometimes incompetent  and often negligent. Having this pointed out twenty fours hours a day does not necessarily serve the public good, given the excesses that so much time allows.

Commentators demand explanation for every perceived failure and often seem to know infallibly what ought to be happening and what everybody should be doing to correct things. No mercy is shown and the recognition that some problems are complex and difficult to resolve is almost totally absent. Journalists appear to lack any comprehension of their own fallibility and ignorance.

The gaps in time between  "breaking news" events are filled with commentary from an innumerable host of folks who presumably  but frequently do not have something worthwhile to say. Political critics are omnipresent, though they are as often wrong as right and are sometimes silly. Gov. Jindal of Louisiana who thinks we have too much government and too many regulations is getting air time to criticize Obama for not doing enough.

Some of the critics sound as if they think Obama should be out there on the rig shouting orders to engineer and executives and directing every move. They seem deaf to the rejoinder that the government does not have the know how or the equipment to stop the oil flow. The only sense I can make of all this is that they want him to be louder and angrier.

 The  larger context is that too much attention is paid to ephemeral events that pass quickly into the trivia of history. The worst example is when all else is dropped to focus attention on a police chase in California followed by helicopters for an hour until the culprit is stopped, runs out of gas, or crashes.

Maybe the news channels should be forced to show Bugs Bunny cartoons half the time. The world would be no worse off and might even get along better. It certainly would be more high-class entertainment and much less boring than a constant diet of  "breaking news."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Misplaced Anger at the Tea Party

The Tea Party is right be to mad. We all ought to be, but it is important to be mad at the right things. The are mad about the bailout of the huge banks. I am too, although I was convinced that it was necessary to save all our hides. But too small a price was demanded from the banks, and too little has been done to reform the practices that let to the mess we had to rescue them from.

They want less government and less spending

Private Splendor, Public Squalor

Roger Cohen's column today noted that there are more "cellphones in India than toilets. Almost half the Indian population, 563.7 million people, is hooked up to modern communications, while just 366 million have access to modern sanitation, according to a United Nations study."

This reminded me of John Kenneth Galbraith's 1958 book The Affluent Society.  He pointed out that post-World War  II America had become rich in private goods but poor in public goods. This describes precisely the nature of present-day politics and cultural values. We value clever private cell phones more than child care support for working-class parents with low incomes. Our roads, bridges, and infrastructure generally crumble while ever more advanced cell phones are put in the hands of kids as soon as they can push the buttons and lift the device to their ears.

We have the latest electronic technology, splendid cars and television sets,  the most advanced medical care  and an abundance of private consumer goods without end available for those who have money but no universal health care to which every citizen is entitled from birth regardless of economic circumstances.

Is there something wrong here?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Babel, Pentecost, and Politics

I have always been struck by the contrast between Babel  (Genesis 11:1-9) and Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). In the former, all people spoke one language but ended up in confusion, unable to understand one another. In the latter, diverse people who spoke  in different ways all could make sense of what the others were saying.

Which is the current state of American  politics most like?  Problem: How can we make political speech more like Pentecost and less like Babel?

Mail your answers on a postcard attached to a 2010 Lexus. Winner will be given a free meal at Cracker Barrel.