THE WORLD AS SEEN, READ ABOUT, LISTENED TO, AND INTERPRETED
Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University,
Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.
“Fates and Furies” shows how men are not from Mars, and women are not from Venus. Lauren Groff shows how “Adams Rib” is a joke played on women by men who have a false sense of gender superiority.
Groff artfully illustrates how men and women are equal. They are equal in every respect, but particularly Groff shows how they are equal in drive, ambition, ability, and fallibility.
Groff’s artistry is in the beauty and cogency of her writing. She tells the story of a husband and wife’s lives from cradle to adulthood.
Groff shows how little difference there is between the sexes when new life is hatched but not borne by parents. (This is not to say parents are not important but parents and culture often fail children by training them to be unequal–for example–the picture of marriage shown above.) The first half of her book is told from a husband’s view of himself in the world; the second half is told from a wife’s view of herself in the world.
Every reader/listener will draw their own conclusion about Groff’s view of sexual equality. Her story may not be your story, but it will give every person pause, if not enlightenment.
Power plays a role in every human’s life. Gender is immaterial. Groff shows how a man and woman exercise power between each other and among family, friends, and acquaintances.
Groff focuses attention on one couple, a husband and wife, and their personal relationship. Groff reflects on each of their histories to explain, in part, how they became who they are.
The couple, and outsiders of the couple’s relationship, have little understanding of who they are or why they act as they do.
The beauty of Groff’s writing adds dimension to the truth that men and women are equal. Lancelot (aka Lotto) Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder (Lotto’s wife) are creative geniuses. One might argue both have character flaws, as all humans do, but that is not the story.
Lotto is a narcissist who thinks the world revolves around him. Mathilde is a narcissist who lets Lotto think the world revolves around him. Both are trapped in their own delusions.
From delusion to reality, Groff shows how deep love can be, even between two narcissists.
Lotto and Mathilde merry, graduate from Vasser (a liberal arts college in New York) and begin their lives together. Lotto is a struggling actor and Mathilde works for an art gallery. In their early years of marriage, Mathilde works to make money they need to keep their household together. Groff changes that condition when Lotto abandons acting to become a playwright. In that change, Groff reveals more of Lotto’s life in flashbacks.
Lotto’s life experience leads him to fame and, to a degree, fortune. In Lotto’s telling-that success is different from the telling given by Mathilde in the second half of Groff’s book.
Lotto and Mathilde are very much alike, aside from gender. Both are abandoned by their parents. Both learn how to cope with life alone. Each draw on their experience as children to learn how to survive in a world driven by money, power, and prestige.
After Lotto’s death, Groff uses flash backs to explain Mathilde’s childhood. In that telling, Mathilde is shown to be an equal to Lotto. Lotto’s mother, who dislikes Mathilde, disowns Lotto from a family fortune. Lotto’s mother plans to rescind the disownment upon her death. As fate (luck) would have it, Lotto’s mother dies before Lotto’s passing. Mathilde inherits her husband’s estate.
The hardship of Lotto’s and Mathilde’s childhoods prepares them to use their gifts of intelligence and sex to survive.
Groff shows little difference in their drive, ambition, and ability to make their way in the world. None of that makes any difference with life’s luck (or, if you wish, fate). That is one of many points Groff makes in “Fates and Furies”. Life is a matter of fate (luck), and fury.
Groff shows how men and women are equal. They have different strengths but equal drive, ambition, ability, and fallibility.
The missing ingredients are equal pay for equal work, self-understanding, and public acceptance.
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
By: Nancy MacLean
Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
Nancy MacLean (American author, historian, professor at Duke University)
Labeling people is mind numbing. Labeling of political and economic interests is a crime against reason. Democrat, Republican, conservative, liberal, libertarian, Tea Partier, right-wing, and left-wing are some of the most common political labels. In the light of reason, none of these labels make consistent sense.
In politics, labels attach themselves to people like Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Sarah Palin, and the Koch Brothers.
In economic theory, political labels attach themselves to Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, and others.
The only common characteristic of these representatives is that they are human’. Their labels only speak of partial truths about what they believe and what economic policies they support. Nancy MacLean uses most of these labels to make her case for “Democracy in Chains”.
Depending on one’s point of view, MacLean enlightens one side of her argument that, indeed, democracy is in chains. The chains of which she writes are manufactured, distributed, and applied by corporate America. MacLean identifies Noble Prize winner in Economics, James Buchanan, as the theorist that gave momentum to the Koch brothers’ political drive for unfettered free-enterprise.
Humans, even historians, are not omniscient. They are burdened with personal experiences that shape their beliefs and often compound their biases.
Beliefs are not objective. They are right and wrong within the boundaries of facts and societal norms. Facts are facts, but norms are accepted behaviors that conform to a group, community, or culture.
Societal norms change with time and human experience. Facts do not change but their interpretation is changed by new societal norms.
A prime example of facts that change, based on social norms, is the fact of world misogyny. “Me Too” has changed the meaning of the fact. Harvey Weinstein is now in prison and Jeffrey Epstein killed himself.
That part of the American Constitution’s preamble that says the purpose of government is to provide for “general welfare” of all, is at issue with political and economic labels.
MacLean creates an argument that sounds like a conspiracy theory, a cabal of rich benefactors and political zealots who collude to reinterpret the American Constitution.
The principals of this conspiracy are the Koch brothers based on a theory grounded on an interpretation of von Mises’ economics.
Ludwig von Mise’s economic theory is artfully resurrected by the economist James Buchanan, modified by Friedrich Hayek, and reinforced by Milton Friedman.
Buchanan’s fundamental argument is that free enterprise should be free. He argues that the profit motive outweighs the negative consequence of social inequity by offering equal opportunity.
In Buchanan’s opinion, the only purpose of government is to provide for the common defense of the country. Education should be financed by private ownership of schools. Buchanan argues government financing of social service interferes with the benefits of a free market.
Buchanan reinforces a Spencerian belief in a “survival of the fittest”, a beggar thy neighbor distortion of Darwinian evolution. MacLean suggests the Koch brothers adopt Buchanan’s economic theory and implement it through clandestine proselytizing of others, and financial support for candidates who will vote for maximal unregulated free enterprise.
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) conflates Darwinian evolution with free enterprise.
MacLean points to the folly of Buchanan’s economic policy in his consultation with President Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Buchanan recommends creation of a constitution that establishes and enforces Buchanan’s free-enterprise theories that forbade trade unions and encourage privatized social security. Unlike America, Pinochet’s free-enterprise government had no checks and balances.
Augusto Pinochet (Junta leader, military Commander and Chief, and then President of Chile from 1974-1990, died in 2006.)
With military oversight and control, Pinochet’s government victimized its citizens in the guise of a government that supposedly embraced libertarian free-enterprise. In fact, Pinochet’s constitutional government enriched a small minority and victimized (both economically and physically) the majority of the Chilean population.
Ludwig von Mises, an economics professor of the Austrian school, is the teacher of Friedrich Hayek. MacLean reviews papers written by James Buchanan who endorses von Mises economic theory; without any acknowledgement of Hayek’s tempering of von Mises’ “no quarter” for the poor or disabled. Buchanan becomes a theorist who motivates the Koch brothers to spend millions of dollars to undermine Government regulation of free enterprise.
MacLean explains how the Koch brothers create a non-profit foundation to elect Senators and Representatives to undermine unionization, government support of public health, public education, social security, and other public services supported by government tax dollars. This cabal is formed in the 1960s, particularly after Johnson’s “Great Society” movement. The cabal is built on belief that health, education, and welfare are best served by free enterprise, not government programs.
MacLean notes how this cabal fights increased taxes on the rich to pay for public services that subsidized public health, education, and welfare. Buchanan identifies federal taxes as a form of confiscatory government action, tantamount to a tyranny of the majority over a rich minority.
The cabals’ argument is that private enterprise is the real engine of improved public health, education, and welfare for all Americans. Their supporting evidence is the rising wealth of the economy, and the general health of the American population.
The “libertarian” Koch followers imply the gap between rich and poor is a motivation for climbing the ladder of American opportunity.
Though MacLean labels this cabal as Libertarian in motive, it hides behind a cloak of Republicanism. MacLean argues that Republicans who fight this secret organization either change their tune or lose their public office. Her evidence is Republicans who have lost their seat in Congress, like John Boehner, or switched their tune, like Orrin Hatch, who retired after 42 years as a Republican Senator from Utah.
Putting aside labels, “Democracy in Chains” is simply about self-interest. Human nature is to seek one’s own interest whatever one’s political or economic label. Until self-interest becomes care for all Americans, there will be opposition to government tax dollars for public health, education, and welfare.
MacLean implies American Democracy is chained by the self-interest of the rich and industry lobbyists who feed the electoral process. The issue of government competence is deeply affected by dollars spent by corporations and the rich to elect sycophants.
The election process in America needs reform. Government competence in providing public welfare is distorted by lobbyists pursuing their own agenda.
Only competent government can deal with the complex causes of homelessness, a failing public education system, international conflict, pandemics, and environmental disasters.
When homelessness, poor education, crime, a pandemic, or physical disaster directly affects the self-interest of the many, even the …Radical Right…will turn to government for help.
An irony of MacLean’s labeling of the Koch cabal is Donald Trump’s election as the President of the United States. Trump is his own label, neither Republican, conservative, libertarian, or liberal.
Trump is a carnival barker trying to attract patrons to an entertainment venue. He has no particular philosophical underpinning. That may explain why he became the President of the United States. America has lost its way.
Toward the end of MacLean’s book, the libertarian attack on social security is shown as a penultimate example of the threat of ideas in the United States. The irony of that statement is that the U.S. is a monumental beneficiary of ideas in its Constitution.
MacLean explains how Buchanan recognizes how social security in the United States is an election killer for anyone who argues it should be privatized. Buchanan, and presumably the Kochs and their followers, devise a scheme to split the electorate that supports social security.
Co-opt those nearing retirement by making them exempt from any changes in the social security benefit.
Offer IRA’s as an attractive alternative to government subsidized social security.
Enlist the finance industry into a campaign for privatization of social security as a benefit to them for more private investment through their investment houses.
Emphasize the frail financial viability of social security for the younger generation by suggesting it will go bankrupt before they are eligible.
Explain the potential for increase in taxes on the rich to maintain social security when now their contribution is limited to the same payroll contribution as the poor and middle class.
If this divide and conquer scheme works, opposition to privatization of social security becomes less of a problem for “libertarians” who wish to be elected. The principle of divide and conquer exemplifies a nation founded on self-interest. To true believers-everyone needs to fend for themselves. Only the strong (the relatively rich, and/or clever) will survive in Buchanan’s world.
As Supreme Court’ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” That may be liberal jargon, but private enterprise would have foundered, and society would have been less civil without checks and balances written into the Constitution. MacLean makes a strong case for reducing corporate influence in the American electoral process.
All the Single Ladies (Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation)
By: Rebecca Traister
Narrated by Candace Thaxton, Rebecca Traister-introduction
Rebecca Traister (American author.)
In a broad context, “All the Single Ladies” is about freedom’s two edges. One edge lets people be themselves. The other edge makes people conform to societies’ rules.
Rebecca Traister begins by summarizing the history of unequal treatment of women. The truth rings loudest because of today’s “Me To” movement.
“Me Too” is a movement long delayed, and figuratively disfigured by a sharp edge of male’ power, domination, and social conformity.
Freedom is a function of power. No one is free. All nations have rules that limit freedom.
America’s founding fathers recognized freedom is defined by power. That is why government “checks and balances” were created.
The weakness of “checks and balances” is that they continue to be influenced by the power of human (principally male) rationalization.
Human beings do not see themselves as others see them. In that light, Traister notes one of Patrick Moynihan’s blind spots.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003, NY State Senator, author of The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.)
Moynihan affixed “The Negro Family” break-down as a cause of ghetto poverty. The cause of poverty is not single-parent homes. Poverty is a consequence of discrimination.
Singlemom homes are a choice for some mothers. Sometimes for reasons of independence, as explained by the women interviewed by Traister. But also because of a history of misogyny, and dysfunctional marriages or partnerships.
Too often it seems the choice of single-parent homes is because of abuse, loneliness, loss of emotional commitment, adultery, financial crises, or some other extrinsic cause.
Single-parent homes are not a cause of poverty. If women are employed and compensated at the same rate as men, they could afford child care for their children while they work. Like some low wage workers, women may have to take two jobs. (Of course, what’s new?–Working women have always had two jobs. Working at home and working at a job.)
The cause of poverty is systematic discrimination. Discrimination denies educational opportunity. Discrimination denies equal pay for equal work.
The rules of freedom are based on power, not science, not truth, but on human rationalization. Traister indicts male domination of the rules of freedom. She also notes societies’ discrimination based on race.
Discrimination against women may have begun with male domination when physical strength meant survival (not suggested or inferred by the author).
The growth of society, and the ascendance of religion, reinforced gender roles. Gender roles may have had some validity in the stone age, but they became rationalizations as humanity and society developed. Here is where Traister strikes at the heart of gender inequality.
Traister interviews many single women, some high achievers, others just making a living. What she finds is that some women choose to be single because of a lifestyle that offers freedom. It is the freedom of choice.
Freedom requires no cooperation from another to do whatever one wants, with the caveat of doing no harm to others.
With freedom, Traister is not saying single women choose to be anti-social. On the contrary, she argues single women are likely to be more socially connected than married women. In her interviews, Traister notes that single women are likely to have more social contact because they are not constrained by a life-partner’s interest or attention.
An irony of Traister’s observation about the consequence of marriage in “reducing social contacts” is that Traister chooses to marry. Her book is not meant to be anti-marriage, but to recognize the difference between single-hood and life partnership. Her unspoken belief is that both have equal potential for happiness and fulfillment. Her intent is to explain how happiness and fulfillment can be equally satisfied by single-hood.
Traister identifies a social construct that might be labeled “slammed relationships” that are not necessarily sexual but deeply, emotionally connected.
A great number of “…the Single Ladies” interviewed by Traister recount slammed relationships.
Though not suggested by Traister, a slammed relationship between men seems less likely because of the gravitational pull of “power”.
To many humans, the sexual act is pursuit of power over another, not emotional connection.
Real intimacy is not about a player’s control, or an actor’s act. A truly slammed relationship is not about power. A slammed relationship is about common interests and emotional connection.
Traister gives the example of a single lady in Boston that has a slammed relationship with another woman that chooses to move to California because of a job. Their emotional connection is so close that the woman who stays in Boston feels abandoned.
The Bostonian is told, by acquaintances of both people, that her friend will return and their slammed relationship will resume. But, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can’t go home again”. Her friend does return from California. They renew their friendship, but they never reconnect at the same slammed friendship level.
Interestingly, the slammed relationships Traister writes about are between women, not men.
That raises the question of whether men can have slammed relationships, but that is not the subject of Traister’s book.
(From this reviewer’s perspective, most men are unlikely to develop slammed relationships. They have little reason to–because society has been dominated by men since the stone age. Men have power; most women do not. Men have little need for slammed relationships.)
Traister notes many of today’s women gravitate to singlehood because of its freedom. The freedom to stay or leave, to be alone, or to be with someone.
The freedom to choose has consequence. It has the potential of destroying the value of slammed relationships. Losing emotional connection is a criticism of society. One might conclude from Traister’s book, the world needs more “…Single Ladies”. “…Single Ladies” have the tools for slammed relationships.
Men can hugely benefit from women that take control of their lives. It is liberating for a driven man to be married to a driven woman because each takes responsibility for themselves.
Traister acknowledges; from her personal experience and interviews of single women, that there are consequences for choosing single-hood. All singles have vulnerabilities. They are vulnerable to loneliness.
Being single makes one vulnerable to accidents without help from someone living with them. People who are alone have less financial support when they become ill. However, all of these vulnerabilities are common to both sexes. The difference is women receive 73% of what a man gets for the same work. The difference is power of employment, advancement, and financial opportunity remain disproportionately in the hands of men.
Traister notes that loneliness can be equally present in marriage as in single-hood. Vulnerabilities are a consequence of living life whether with someone or no one. The difference is that today’s society has more men than women with power–power that aids or obstructs equality of opportunity for all.
Equality of opportunity is what every man and woman deserve. Life takes care of itself.
There is an increasing lack of empathy from world leaders because they are mostly men. Losing emotional connection is one of the reasons America is unable to eliminate homelessness. This book offers praise to “All the Single Ladies” of the world. Women seem better at emotional connection. It may be why America needs a woman for President.
As many know, the City of Las Vegas is different from the Las Vegas Strip. The City is the city. The Strip is outside the city but in the same county, connected by extensions of north/south streets.
ON THE LEFT IS THE FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE. IT IS IN THE CITY OF LAS VEGAS. ON THE RIGHT IS LAS VEGAS BOULEVARD WHICH RUNS THE FULL LENGTH OF THE STRIP. BOTH DESTINATIONS ARE IN CLARK COUNTY.
During the pandemic, some take a walk through the city. With Covid19, some residents visit the park.
Like the Strip in Clark County, Fremont Street is deserted. (The distance from the Strip to Fremont Street is 5.4 miles.)
Not far from the City is Sammy Davis Jr. Park. Sammy Davis Jr. Park is 3.2 miles from Fremont Street.
Las Vegas is a destination city for the world. How long it will remain a capital of entertainment is solely based on belief in personal safety. Las Vegas is the capital of the gambling industry in America but few want to risk their lives on Covid19 in April of 2020.
Robert Greenberg (American composer, pianist, and musicologist.)
Robert Greenberg offers an introduction to the history of classical music and opera. Its appeal is to a wide audience of dilettantes that know a little but not a lot about anything. Greenberg argues classical music’ and opera’ composition is a creation of its time. (Undoubtedly true of all music and theatre.)
However, Greenberg supports his argument with a fascinating critique of classical composers and events of history that influence composers’ work. Greenberg argues that one can better understand classical “Music as a Mirror of History”.
In reflecting on the history of music, Greenberg offers his perception of the era in which music is composed. He makes wry comments about each era with the hindsight of an obviously well-read consumer of history. At the same time, Greenberg offers expert analysis of classical music and its composers. With snippets of each composer’s work, an Audiobook is a perfect venue for his presentation.
English religion wavered back and forth between Roman Catholicism’s control by the Pope and the Church of England’s control by the King of England. English King Henry the VIII demands control of Catholicism (particularly the church’s land assets and taxes collected on those assets).
After two failed royals (after King Henry VIII’s death), Elizabeth stabilizes England’s governance. She reigns from 1558-1603. Greenberg explains the many challenges facing Queen Elizabeth before she gains the throne.
Greenberg notes Queen Elizabeth’s reign is a perceived golden era, in spite of the squalor of 16th century London living.
Greenberg notes that Queen Elizabeth is the first English monarch, after two predecessors, to sustain Henry VIII’s Church of England. With Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the King, not the Pope, controls the role of Catholicism in England.
Greenberg begins by explaining how madrigals reflect the myths of nationalism. He defines a madrigal as a song for several voices, without instrumental accompaniment. Madrigals began in the 14th century in Italy but Greenberg introduces Thomas Morley, a composer in the 16th century.
Thomas Morley’s Piaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1557)
Morley is a 16th century composer. He composes a madrigal to Elizabeth I. As is typical of this form of music, it idealizes England’s suzerainty and Elizabeth’s reign as Queen of England.
Greenberg moves on to the 18th century. He introduces George Frideric Handel. Though Handel is German, he chooses to move to London, after successfully touring Italy. Greenberg notes Handel tells his Prussian patron (King Frederick I) that his sojourn to London is only temporary, but Handel’s intent is to stay.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1959)
King Frederick I of Prussia (1657-1713)
Handel persuades the King of Prussia to allow him to stay in England by dedicating the three suites of “The Water Music” to him.
Ironically, Handel becomes renowned in London for his “Water Music”, even though its dedicated to a foreign monarch. Greenberg offers a snippet of the 1717 “Water Music” which makes one interested in hearing more.
Handel composes the opera Rinaldo that makes him the toast of London in 1719. His most famous work is “Messiah”, an oratorio (an orchestra and voices production) composed in 1741. He becomes an English citizen in 1727, goes blind in 1751, and dies in London, in 1759.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Moving on, Greenberg introduces Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As one may remember from the movie, Mozart is a phenom with an unusual predilection for risqué ideas. Greenberg notes this is the time of the rise of the Ottoman empire.
Turkish influence is widely adopted in the late 18th century. Mozart capitalizes on its popularity with the opera called “The Abduction from the Harem”. In spite of Mozart’s introduction of Turkish influence in music, Greenberg explains Mozart is fatally affected by the rise of the Ottoman empire because of its economic impact on Europe.
Mozart falls ill in Prague and dies in poverty in Vienna, at the age of 35. Greenberg suggests Mozart brings Turkish influence into opera’s mainstream with the Ottoman Empire’s expansion.
Greenberg reflects on the Napoleonic era and its affect on Haydn and Beethoven who were great composers of their time, and ours. Greenberg’s characterization of these composer’s view Napoleon with “ambivalence”.
Napoleon began his conquests with an image as liberator (from religious persecution, royalty, and social inequality), but when he crowned himself as Emperor, many felt betrayed. The betrayal was Napoleon’s pact with the Roman Catholic Church and his assumption of the throne as Emperor of France.
As Austrians, both Haydn and Beethoven reviled Napoleon’s royal ascension. Haydn composed “Mass in the Time of War” that memorialized Napoleon’s creation of a war machine that threatened Vienna.
Beethoven composed “Wellington’s Victory” in 1813 that became his most successful composition. Ironically, Greenberg suggests that “Wellington’s Victory” is one of Beethoven’s lesser musical achievements. He argues that Beethoven creates a bombastic rather than melodic tribute to the English general that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
This is only a small part of what Greenberg covers in this 24-lecture series. He analyzes Russian composers and their early disdain for European musical traditions. Greenberg observes Russia is shown to be a “…riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”, as referred to by Winston Churchill.
Greenberg touches on the histories of the Straus family (a father and son who competed against each other), Brahms, Gottschalk (an American composer surprisingly unknown by many), Verdi, Wagner, Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Holst, Berg (who composed an opera reflecting on the madness of war), Shostakovich, Copland, Gorecki, and Crumb.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883, German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor.)
Of interest is Greenberg’s analysis of Richard Wagner because of Wagner’s repugnant philosophy, but incredibly inventive and beautiful operas.
“The Ring of the Nibelung” reminds one of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. Greenberg explains “The Ring…” is a critique of 19th century European society and its self-interested pursuit of capitalist wealth. Greenberg infers the subject is ironic because Wagner pursues wealth as diligently as any European of that era. The repugnant part is the horrendous and false accusations made against people of the Jewish faith by Wagner and his acolytes (one of which becomes Adolph Hitler).
Of note is recognition of Rimsky-Korsakov as one of Opera’s greatest composers.
Greenberg notes that anti-European sentiment of earlier Russian composers is still present but Rimsky-Korsakov studies much of what is practiced by European composers. “The Golden Cockeral” is Rimsky-Korsakov’s last opera. It is based on a Pushkin’ poem but staged as a parody of the failure of Russian Royal’ leadership.
Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918, assassinated by the Bolsheviks.)
To the Russian Tsar’s dismay, it is an opera that satirizes the autocracy of Russian imperialism and Russia’s inept war with Japan in 1904-05.
Greenberg shows Rimsky-Korsadov’s life as example of how current times mirror a composer’s work. Tsar Nicholas II is not pleased with “The Golden Cockeral”. Rimsky-Korsakov retires, but one wonders if his last opera is not a forewarning of 1917.
(Greenberg notes that Rimsky-Korsakov draws some of his operatic ideas from fairy tales).
One wonders what he could have composed if “Animal Farm” (published in 1945) had been written in his life time.
Greenberg finishes music’s mirror of history in the 1970s with a review of Gorecki and Crumb. This is an enlightening tour of classical music. It offers many reasons for modern audiences to attend symphony and opera performances.
Merchants of Truth (The Business of News and the Fight for Facts)
By: Jill Abramson
Narrated by January LaVoy
Jill Abramson (American author and journalist, first female executive editor of the NYT serving from 2011-2014.)
Jill Abramson describes a “near death” experience for print media in “Merchants of Truth”. She begins with the rise of BuzzFeed and Vice, with a newspaper reporter’s view of YouTube, and a vignette about Jackass. Then, she zeroes in on the “New York Times” and “Washington Post” and how their news coverage has changed. Abramson explores the principles of the new “Merchants of Truth”.
It is disappointing to see “click bate” competing with a news’s fight for verifiable facts.
To some, Abramson’s brief history of BuzzFeed and Vice is a cringe worthy exploration of how vapid we are and how easily we are distracted by titillating, often idiotic, and sometimes false facts. However, Abramson shows that BuzzFeed and Vice make a contribution to news gathering that appeals to a wide audience, particularly a younger audience.
The criticism Abramson launches against BuzzFeed, and particularly Vice, is that both slip into Gonzo (exaggerated and fictionalized) reporting. The public is titillated but not accurately informed.
BuzzFeed and Vice are becoming bigger players in the media news business. The key to their success is public attention but advertising revenue is its vehicle for growth. Pleasing advertisers encroaches on the objectivity of news.
BuzzFeed and Vice have reduced the barrier between advertising and news. That barrier breach is exhibited by Abramson’s story of The New York Times apology to China, and the Washington Post’s turn to the metrics of popular news coverage.
Abramson pulls no punches in her judgement of The New York Times’ bow to economic necessity in kowtowing to China when a reporter’s story is critical of Chinese suppression. She recounts Arthur Ochs Sulzberger’s letter apologizing to President Xi for a reporter’s story about Chinese government repression. Abramson implies the apology is for potential loss of revenue.
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. (Publisher of The New York Times.)
The implication is advertising revenue influences NYT’s and Washington Post’s reporting in the same way as BuzzFeed and Vice. The concern is in the bending and blending of news to please advertisers.
On the other hand, Sulzberger may have been concerned about losing a foreign outpost for the paper’s news reporters. One suspects, it is a little of both. There has always been a tacit concern about advertising revenue and news reporting in the media. One might recall “60 Minutes” initial rejection of an expose on smoking. They eventually aired the episode, but fear of loss from a major advertiser was in play.
Vice reporting of a trip to North Korea with Rodman (the former Bull’s basketball player) is one of several examples of click bate reporting. It offers titillation but hides the brutality of a murderous government regime.
As a fossil (oldster), one might read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, a local paper, the Economist, and Foreign Affairs. The reason for variety is perspective. Each covers every aspect of news (culture, business, local and international).
Abramson explains reputable media outlets have checks and balances. They try to insure objectivity and accuracy in their reporting. The checks and balances sometimes fail as they did with the NYT’s Jason Blair. However, BuzzFeed, Vice, YouTube, Facebook, and other newcomers are just beginning to establish checks and balances.
Jayson Blair (Former journalist with The New York Times, fired for fabrication and plagiarism.).
New media argues that all societal beliefs should have equal expression. It is the same distortion some Americans claim for freedom. Americans have regulated freedom, just as they have regulated free speech. Freedom is to “do no harm to others”.
Another failure Abramson notes is the paucity of critical reporting by the New York Times and Washington Post of WMD in Iraq. Checks and balances did not work in either paper because of investigative failure.
All news media fight for facts. However, for many reasons, the facts chosen create spin.
With the addition of BuzzFeed, Vice, and YouTube the inherent bias of chosen facts is accelerated and amplified by emotion. Abramson implies spin is not the intent of reputable media like the New York Times and the Washington Post. One might disagree because all facts are not included in every report that is posted. All news reporting has some level of distortion.
Every merchant might report facts, but a listener/reader comes away with subtly, and sometimes, widely different understandings of the same story. It is not that facts are necessarily untrue, but choice of facts and the addition of emotion infects the story.
Additionally, there is inbred bias in the mind of listeners and readers of the news. Those listed as liberals, conservatives, or libertarians bring their personal beliefs into everything they read, hear, and say.
The difference between traditional news sources, and BuzzFeed or Vice, is elicited emotion. There is less fight for facts with BuzzFeed and Vice. Their fight is for attention whether the facts are correct or not.
Abramson shows how BuzzFeed and Vice, and similar “news” gatherers are willing to manufacture facts to get attention. BuzzFeed measures public expression and interest. BuzzFeed tailors’ articles to magnify whatever is popular. BuzzFeed’s and Vice’s objective is to get the reader to click their feed. It has less to do with a fight for facts than what Big Data tells these new “Merchants of Truth” is the public’s interest.
Videos, like Jackass that play on YouTube, fit into the titillation genre. However, as a merchant of truth, YouTube’s platform generates often useful information. Its platform offers do-it-yourself help, from people who demonstrate how they did it themselves.
YouTube also offers educational programming on current events, history, and science. As a “Merchant of Truth”, it is not fighting for facts. It, like BuzzFeed and Vice, is looking for clicks to increase advertising revenue.
BuzzFeed and Vice fight for attention, not facts. They make money for clicks whether facts are right or wrong. Advertisers are interested because attention drives sales.
Like BuzzFeed, it resists control of content to increase popularity under the cloak of freedom of speech. Both BuzzFeed and Facebook are struggling to keep hate out of their content without acting as Big Brother monitors of vitriol. Neither are focused on a fight for facts or truthful news. Both seek user clicks to give interest to vendors that will pay to advertise.
Facebook is a ubiquitous forum meant to connect society. In actuality, it appears Facebook is a forum that often reinforces and magnifies difference in society.
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Economist, and Foreign Affairs have video and online feeds. Most offer those feeds to subscribers. Some, like Foreign Affairs want an additional fee for the online service. The degree of adoption of emotion by traditional media varies, but it creeps into all “Merchants of Truth”. All media serves what big data shows the public wants.
Abramson shows that national TV and newspaper coverage of the news have adopted some of the characteristics of BuzzFeed, Vice, and YouTube to improve their income, and economic viability.
Somewhat more ominously, Abramson explains how traditional media is adopting measurement metrics that tell publishers how many clicks or engagements reporters get from their writing. If news reports do not achieve a certain level of interest, the reporter’s continued employment and/or compensation becomes a topic for discussion. News is in danger of being measured by popularity, not substance.
Getting back to Abramson’s personal experience at The New York Times, she acknowledges not having much management experience when she became the Executive Editor of the paper. She notes former employers never offered management graduate courses for her to broaden her education. Undoubtedly, she was an excellent employee that got things done.
Abramson devotes a part of her book to air grievances about an “old boys club” in the news business. Other writers, as well as Abramson, have reported a double standard for women in the media industry. Women are viewed differently when they exhibit the same aggressiveness that men show as managers.
Abramson acknowledges she does not listen as carefully as she should when confronted with opposition. That is a characteristic of both men and women who have come up through the ranks of an organization. They are superstars. They get things done and are promoted to become managers.
In well managed companies, mentor-ships or management development programs are offered rising stars. They offer employees an opportunity to see the difference between doing things yourself to having things done through others, a skill set that can be taught.
Women and men rise in organizations to become managers by getting things done. Abramson notes that aggressiveness is judged differently in women. Women are called pushy while men are called forceful and effective.
Becoming a manager is a difficult transition because it involves ceding control that is the hallmark of an employee’s success as a doer of things. A manager needs to trust others to do the things that need to be done. One suspects it is more difficult for women to develop trust in others because of generations of unequal treatment. Whether a man or woman, when an employee becomes valuable as a person who gets things done, it is difficult to give up one’s control to others.
Being a manager requires trust in employees that may not do their jobs exactly the way a new manager (a former “doer of things”) believes they should be done. This is where skill-set adjustment is needed.
If an employee fails at a task, a new manager needs to help the employee overcome the failure. If the employee continues to fail, he/she will eventually be fired. If the employee succeeds, he/she goes on to the next task. Abramson’s dismissal may have been as much a function of unequal treatment as inadequate training. Her analytic and reporting skill is proven by her history and her analysis of media news in “Merchants of Truth”.
In a fight for facts, what a consumer can take from Abramson’s analysis is how important it is to read and listen to more than one “Merchant of Truth”. Finding truth is what Americans of conscience seek.
Freedom of speech cannot be an excuse for unvetted news.
Much of what Abramson’s personal experience is at The New York Times is reinforced by her analysis of the evolution of the Washington Post. This century has not been kind to traditional news media. It is in a state of transition. Some of us hope it evolves, and is not relegated to the trash bin of history.
The media for this generation is changing. What one hopes is that the best of each is eventually adopted. Every news source must be measured against truth. Determining truth is made up of true facts that no singular news outlet is capable of compiling.
“All the news that is fit to print” is an apt logo for the New York Times but it is misleading. History is continually revised because new facts are discovered, and the perspective of society changes. Americans need to be diligent in seeking the truth. The truth does not lie in one source.