The Red Pill
One of the things that’s bothered me since I first started travelling outside the US is how US-centric our news is. Granted, if you live in the US, you might assume that’s normal, but the extent to which our news media ignores the rest of the world is pretty incredible. You hear barely anything of substance about the rest of the world, and you certainly hear quite little about the opinions of other countries with respect to our policies – unless it’s in a piece bad-mouthing France for not kowtowing to Bush.
When travelling to Europe, or Japan, I’ve always found it incredibly refreshing to hear about the rest of our planet, and to listen to the perspectives of people who are not steeped in the opinions of news cognoscenti from US television.
When staying in London or Paris I’ve found news from Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, and many other locations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They actually seem interested in hearing what other people think about and value, perhaps because they’re surrounded by people with different opinions. Each time I’ve returned from a trip abroad, I’ve felt like a snail that has had its eyestalks cut off – or a blind man whose dog has been taken away – or, okay, these are all really horrible analogies, sorry. 🙂 Basically, all I could again see upon returning was what was immediately surrounding me here in the US.
When I first began watching CNN I felt like the world had at least opened up a crack. I wasn’t getting a ton of information, but at least now I wasn’t stuck in the world of soundbititis and infotainment. Unfortunately, since September 11 2001, with Fox News slowly kicking its ass, CNN has been steering its programming more toward “Inside Edition” and “Crossfire”, and away from actual information. The turning point for me was hearing Soledad O’Brien berate Michael Moore about his latest book on the morning talk show – with a pretty damned clear conservative pissed-off edge in her voice and questions. If I want a political bias from my morning news hosts, I’ll watch Fox, thanks!
That’s why I’m happy over the past year to increasingly be finding alternative news sources. I guess I can thank the Bush administration for that, in some ways – people here in San Francisco and other urban areas in the US are so pissed off at the current administration that they’re creating alternative ways to get and spread information, and the popularity of those sources continues to increase.
This morning I watched Newsworld International and got to see some of the news from NHK Japan (they just had a huge earthquake near Niigata). Last week I stumbled across a show on Link TV, “Mosaic”, that was an hour-long summary of the news from many of the major news stations in the Arab world – amazing! During the week I bounce between the local NPR station (KQED) and Pacifica (KPFA), particularly Democracy Now! in the morning.
Unfortunately, all of these programs are either pay-TV (DirecTV) or public radio (pay-radio?). Why is it so easy to find garbage for free, but to get something I’m interested in, I have to pay? I suppose with respect to media, it’s because the media is so geared toward entertainment, and advertising. Each channel wants to lure you to its station, its site, and to do that they focus less on information and more on shiny objects – beautiful people, entertainment news, amusing soundbites, petty wars of words between Kerry and Bush, regurgitated press releases – these are all so much cheaper and easier to produce, and keep people watching because they don’t make people feel BAD. Talking about the war in Iraq and what an f’ed-up mess it is, the genocide in Sudan, and poverty and disenfranchisement around the world are total downers, and won’t keep your viewers watching!
But this pay-per-play aspect of useful US news is just one aspect of a larger trend here in the US. Many people I know won’t now drink their tap water – they buy bottled water or run the tap water through a filter. More and more folks are buying those Sharper Image air purifiers, or their allergies and asthma are so awful that they run HEPA filters of some type at home. It isn’t that these are people who have disposable income and buy these items as a luxury, it’s that the tap water and air are increasingly bad for us, and if we DON’T purify them ourselves we face the consequences.
When did we in the US decide that people should be forced to pay for a baseline – for air, for water, for straight talk? When did we decide that people who can’t afford to pay to clean their OWN air and their OWN water should be left to become sick? Why is it that to learn what’s actually going on in the world, I can’t trust the major US news media? Is this a free-market economy run amok? Is this capitalism at its finest? Where is the invisible hand? Where is the rising tide that raises all boats?
When people are distracted by shiny objects, I suppose it’s easy to ignore these issues. People want to be happy, and will naturally be drawn toward things that make them feel good. But isn’t happiness built on ignorance a complete sham? How can we get people to take the red pill? What would happen if more people did?
Great post, Mark. Lots of informative sites to check out too.
That’s a good question…will capitalism rise beyond and give us the news back? I’m not sure, but I think so. I tend to think that the current state of affairs with our political system is just a bump in the road, and that our overall world-view and process are great, and that with time, we will generally improve (even if we’re kind of in the dumps in the short-term).
Though I can’t pretend to know enough about the forces involved to say so with any confidence, so maybe it’s just the eternal optimist-programmer in me.
Oh man, LinkTV appears to be awesome. Check out this special:
On the news: Amen. Forget going as far as europe & japan. Just check out the news next time you are in canada and you’ll see the same thing. And then the “well, european countries have so many neighbors that…” excuse goes away.
On the air/water thing: Oh come on. Yes, they have too much disposable income. And they are hypocondriacs too. The bulk of the populace drinks their tap water and is just fine with it. It’s the vegan/organic food/hepa filter/natural fiber/no-additive-soap/name your other trend/ crowds that perpetuate the same myths that they are subject to. That these people gripe about that and then drink or smoke a gram of weed on the weekend… gimme a break. And bah humbug while I’m at it!
One more comment on the news thing. It’s not really the media’s fault. It’s a vicious circle. They are ratings driven and they put on what people want to see: fear mongering (“Is your tap water killing you? FInd out at 11!”), smut/violence laden (“she was an 11-year old hooker, her story at 10”), MTV style news is what people tune to. Those of us that want more are the minority.
Thanks for the link to that program, Charlie. That was great!
Kim, good point on Canada. Same thing, really. Guess it’s just the wacky U.S., with our heads in the sand. :-/
Perhaps on the air/water thing I’m extrapolating my experiences in metro areas to the general populace, which is not a fair assumption. However, if you see the smoggy air in the SF Bay after a few weeks of sunshine, or you’ve taken a swig of SF’s finest Hetch Hetchy tap water (avec chlorine and other assorted miscellaneous crap), you’ll understand what I’m driving at. It was not so different in Seattle, either – it just rained more frequently.
This document (http://www.calasthma.org/uploads/resources/r4_outdoor_air_rev_with_cafa_name_at_bottom.pdf ) has links to a bunch of references regarding the effect of environmental pollution, with specific regard to asthma. This document (http://www.ehib.org/cma/papers/California_Asthma_Facts_Disparities.pdf ) indicates the asthma hospitalization rates per 10,000 in California for kids aged 0-17 – a 3.71:1 ratio for African-American males vs Non-hispanic white males. Sure, I suppose it could be related to genetics, but it seems more likely this discrepancy is due to the areas where African-Americans live being generally poorer and more polluted. Here in the SF Bay, Alameda County (where Oakland is, and where the breezes through the Golden Gate blow most of our pollution) had the highest number of asthma-related mortalities between 1990 and 1997.
On water, I’ll grant you that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water. In an NRDC report (http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/bw/exesum.asp ) they point out that 1/5 to 1/3 of bottled waters violate federal water standards, whereas just 1/10 of tap water systems violate EPA contaminant standards. In fact they pointed out that many bottled waters are simply tap water. Of course there’s a fair bit of info out there bitching about chlorine and fluorine in tap water being bad for you, but none that I can find in a quick search that I would consider credible. So perhaps getting that crappy chlorine taste out of our water is more of a personal preference. 🙂
After our conversation over sushi the other night you got me interested to dig around a bit on organics, because I am a firm believer in organics for a wide variety of reasons. But first, to address your point (over dinner) of organic labelling not being monitored, as per http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/organics101.cfm (granted, a not-impartial source), all farms and products claiming to be organic must be guaranteed by a USDA-approved independent agency, as per Oct 21, 2002. Now, as to whether organics are better for you nutritionally, it’s hard to find a source that isn’t biased, but it appears that the answer is no. However, there is a recent University of Washington study (http://depts.washington.edu/envhlth/news/abstract04/abstracts_toepel.html ) which determined feeding kids organic fruits and veggies instead of conventionally-grown fruits and veggies reduces pesticide exposure which seems correlated to cancer in children. Further, I would argue that the sustainability of organic growing methods is healthier for the environment, and as evidence I would point to the increasing number of low-oxygen algal blooms you find in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Erie, and off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. These appear to be related to runoff of conventional fertilizers and the resultant overnutrition of the resident algae. (It should be noted that some algal blooms are naturally-occurring events, but the kind of low-oxygen algal blooms I’m referring to are specifically a result of fertilizer runoff.)
It occurs to me that while I am annoyed at what feels like a necessity for people to locally filter their air and water and pay more for organic foods, I actually believe that moving our economy to a more distributed network would be beneficial for the country as a whole. Having people in local control of air and water filtration, energy creation (through solar energy production, turbines, or hydrogen-based power plants), and food creation (local gardening like Seattle P-Patches) would reduce heavy demands on small portions of our environment and also reduce risk from possible terror attacks.
I’ve got to say, writing this response and the original post made it remarkably clear how easy it is for Bush to dispute science put out by supposed non-partisan sources of research. For every University of Washington or NRDC study, there’s a think tank like Hudson coming out with a well-reasoned opposing view. Makes it easy to see how Bush can ignore science on global warming and the like. But given the choice, I’ll go with global scientists over think tanks every time. 🙂
Thanks for your response Kim! You made me think, and I always appreciate that.
I wish I could contribute something else meaningful here, but can’t really. All I can say is I can confirm the Canada news bit, I couldn’t believe how much the U.S. was in Canadian news, and it made me come to the same conclusion (and this is just over the border in Vancouver).
I’ve been on both sides of the organic debate, and all I can say is, for the movement to be treated seriously, it needs to be officially regulated, federally. Last I knew we were trying to pass a law that allowed vegetables grown in sewage sludge and nuclear waste (I kid you not) to be labelled “organic”. We need uniform standards, clear labelling, and non-biased research to find out what, if any effects there are from not eating trace amounts of poisonous chemicals on a regular basis. The problem is, the USDA and UDF have been extremely biased towards their lobby-interest groups in the past, so I’m not sure why we should trust them now (Four food groups anyone?).
My feeling is that it is probably another small risk, but probably in a small way, the same way that living in a city increases your risk of lung cancer. One to know about and act on (if you can afford it!), but not one to base your life around. I am completely offended at the price of organic food and am swinging around and refuse to pay for it (at least until I’m rich!).
Hey Kim, small world. Next thing you know, Hersh will pop in here.