Author: backuphill

Redundant Headline

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Click bait? No not really, but maybe in the way it was written.

It’s a sad story and says a lot about the state of our society in general. Obviously, not a situation anyone would like a relative or friend to be in.

Poorly written, yes, definitely.

“Drown to death” is redundant. It may be grammatically correct, but when using the word drown, death is already understood. There is no need to put the definition in the headline, unless of course you are trying to get more clicks, because then it is more dramatic.

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Spicer: Inarticulate and Ineloquent

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Many of you won’t want to hear this, but Sean Spicer was TECHNICALLY correct.

Press Secretary Pressure

Before we get into that though, let’s pause for a second and think about this guy and his very difficult job. How many of you would be able to stand up in front of a hostile crowd of reporters, get asked questions you haven’t prepared for, about subjects you aren’t totally knowledgeable about? What if those questions were about something you knew well, like your job? Would you be able to produce thoughtful and coherent responses on the spot, as you are grilled by the press? My guess would be no, probably not. That is a lot of pressure!

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I am not a fan of Sean Spicer. I haven’t been impressed with his performance thus far and there have been many other press secretaries who have impressed me by doing a much better job. When I say much better, I mean they were articulate and eloquent, nearly always. Remember, this is a tough job! So, who comes to mind? To name just a few during my “knowingly aware” time paying attention to politics, I would say Dee Dee Myers and George Stephanopoulos (both for Clinton), Ari Fleischer, Scott McClellan, and Dana Perino (all for G.W. Bush), as well as Robert Gibbs and Jay Carney (both for Obama). All of these former press secretaries stand out in my mind because they handled the job well, articulately and eloquently. The press secretary shouldn’t be the story, which Spicer clearly doesn’t seem to grasp.

Difficult Comparison

The subject at hand, however, are Spicer’s comments regarding a comparison of Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons amidst his civil war and Hitler’s use of chemical weapons during WWII and the Holocaust. He was TECHNICALLY correct when he said, originally, and in other interviews as clarification, “[Hitler] didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons…[Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing…[I was] trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers.”

Granted, this is a tough comparison without some context. Context, as journalists should know, is important but many in the room that day (and many others for a week or so thereafter) jumped into the fray and condemned the remarks Spicer made, whether they had done their research for context or not. Therein lies the problem, many (especially in social media circles) jumped on a bandwagon they knew very little about or cared to get clarification about because they were shouting from the mountain tops about how gross an injustice his statements were. And, like usual, there was enough public outcry to cause yet another person to come back with their tail between their legs and offer an apology for something that didn’t really need to be apologized for.

It’s a sensitive subject, I know that. I had taught for years, very passionately, about the WWII and the Holocaust in my own history classroom. My students knew very well about the Holocaust and the personal stories of Jews killed by the Nazis, as well as survivors of the Holocaust. I even included some personal family history in my class. My students would often make comments about how much they learned and how the subject impacted them, about how reading personal accounts and watching movies or viewing images made them feel. Many expressed confusion about how the world could let something like the Holocaust happen, let alone not take direct action to stop it.

So, when I heard Spicer’s comments, I had some context and I knew he was TECHNICALLY correct.

Context, TECHNICALLY Speaking

Context is always important. Taking something out of context can really exacerbate an issue if people don’t understand the topic. This is one of those cases.

Yes, the Nazis and Hitler used chemicals to exterminate Jews. Again, no dispute there. It is well documented history. However, chemical weapons were never used in open combat, to kill combatants or civilians indiscriminately (see the CWC link below or visit A Brief History of Chemical Warfare: Timeline). This is the context to which Spicer was referring. I don’t believe, in any way, was he trying to downplay what was done to the Jews nor was he denying chemicals weren’t used on them.

The Jews were captives, rounded up for the express purpose of killing them in large quantities. Under the liberal and broad definition of chemical weapons, as defined by the Chemical Weapons Convention (signed in 1993 and enforced in 1997), the extermination could be seen as using chemical weapons. However, the CWC is based on the first understanding of what chemical weapons were, as defined by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. To be clear, the standards by which we define chemical weapons today, didn’t exist during WWII. The extermination of Jews wasn’t open combat. It was targeted, deliberate, controlled, and contained. It was horrible and can’t/shouldn’t be forgotten, but it shouldn’t be judged using the same standards as to what Spicer was actually referring to.

Fact Checking

Fact checking has become a must today, not only for politics/politicians but it seems it is seriously needed for media outlets as well. The fact is, not all fact checkers are equal and media outlets that provide fact checking should be suspect from the start. Context : fact checkers pick and choose which facts to check and thus can add to biased information. In general, only one source has been reliably reliable – Factcheck.org . When looking into this issue I found that two fact checking websites that I use often addressed the issue. While one offered a mostly unbiased assessment, the other did not. Fact checking should only present the facts and not offer opinions in order to skew the reader’s opinion.

Unfortunately, what I found when I visited politifact.com left me flummoxed and irritated. What I found was a fact checking sight that seemed to be swayed by public opinion and bandwagon riding. It was spinning the facts in order to join the errant public outcry. Their claim of “Pants On Fire” is a misuse of historical record and their standard for such a claim is based on a definition that didn’t exist at the time of crime.

On the other hand, Factcheck.org addressed the issue with more in-depth research and historical review, as well as more context. In “Hitler and Chemical Weapons” they didn’t say Spicer was wrong, per se, but (probably for fear of liberal backlash) they didn’t say he was right either. Instead, they merely tried to explain why Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in combat.

Searing Double Standard in the Media

While doing research on this topic, I discovered an incident I didn’t recall or ever even remember hearing about. Interestingly enough, it came from a member of the liberal media while talking on a notoriously liberal media outlet. Also not so surprisingly, I can’t find anything showing he faced a backlash because of his comments. To his credit, however, he stood by his comments and defended Spicer.

The original incident was from Chris Matthews on MSNBC. As far as I can tell, he is still employed (NBCUniversal and Comcast) and there were no calls for his dismissal at the time of his statement. As such, there have not been any calls from the liberal media to fire him as a result of his defending of Spicer either. There have been cries from conservatives for him to be fired, but only to show the double standard the media has when one of the people is their own. He hasn’t been fired, but then neither has Spicer. It would appear the biggest reason for the outcry would be because of the dislike for the president and anything or anyone associated with him, not because someone was disrespecting the victims of the Holocaust or that he got his facts incorrect.

Final Thought

Thankfully, Spicer wasn’t fired over this episode and cooler heads prevailed. He is likely being pushed out of the press secretary’s seat because, as I said at the beginning, of his inarticulate and ineloquent handling of his job. He clearly wasn’t suited for the job from the beginning.

Care should be taken to not redefine and rewrite history simply because it doesn’t fit into today’s newest interpretation of the facts. History is messy and sometimes even offensive. We should be wary of people who try to make it fit their agenda so they can browbeat the unsuspecting into their point of view. Social media is the favorite avenue these days, but the media seems to be participating wholeheartedly.  This needs to stop. Verify, and report. That is all.

NOTE: I realize this blog isn’t being posted in a timely manner (I have been working on it for a long while) and the topic has likely passed from the minds of most readers, but I wanted to get it out there any way.

 

 

 

America’s Failed Spelling Test

Misspelled

America, you have some work to do in the spelling department. Some of you, more so than others!

Wisconsin…I don’t think there is a single excuse for you…too much cheese maybe?

Most of these words are middle school level and should have been learned a long time ago, while others are at worst twelfth grade level.

If you know these words without looking them up in Google, A+ for you!

 

Anonymous and Unaccountable

The news media, apparently, doesn’t need to be held accountable these days. There is a lot of writing, publishing, reporting, and broadcasting based solely on “anonymous” sources. This is a troubling trend that has taken hold and has become acceptable, whether it is good practice or not. It appears that we, the consumer, have gotten so far away from a reliable media that we rarely question where the information came from and the motives behind the release or reporting? We just assume now that it’s true and that’s that?

It’s been happening for a long time, but two recent stories have dominated the never-ending news cycle these days. The stories pertain to a meeting between President Trump and some Russians, as well as a memo written by former director of the FBI, James Comey, after a meeting with President Trump.  (Yeah, yeah, I can hear all the eye rolls from the people with an ax to grind for one reason or another against Trump. This isn’t to defend him so much as to question the integrity of the information we are being spoon fed…)

What we know about the Russian meeting:

(1) A meeting took place between some high level Russian officials and some high level American officials in the Oval Office. (2) There were a very limited number of people, from both delegations, who attended said meeting. (3) We don’t know what was discussed at the meeting.

We don’t know what was discussed? Wait, what, how can that be? But the people who first reported it, the Washington Post, and the people who have highly cited that original article, The New York Times (and every other news agency), say we know what was said at that meeting. How can you say we don’t know what was said?

The original article published by the Washington Post cites two people, both of whom were not at the meeting. The article’s cited sources were “current and former U.S. officials…” and they said “‘This is code-word information,’ said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies.” These supposed sources were never named and thus can’t readily be held accountable nor can the information be verified to any degree. Simply relating there were two sources doesn’t simply mean the information is true and we shouldn’t believe it as such.

Based on what was reported, we are to assume that these “sources” talked to people who were at the meeting. If that is the case, as they are having us believe, then that would mean someone from the small group of people who DID attend the meeting is talking outside of the meeting. This seems like a rather small group of people to track down and found out who talked. However, everyone who attended the meeting, has said what was leaked to the media wasn’t actually discussed at the meeting.

Additionally, that would lead us to believe the people leaking the information were fully briefed and fully knew for themselves the information President Trump shared was highly classified. Should that happen to be the case, well, then you have people who are not authorized to share classified information sharing classified information (a crime). If the president chooses to share something, the president can choose to do so if he wishes.

What we know about the Comey memo:

(1) Comey was the director of the FBI. (2) He made several controversial moves before the election. (3) Trump is the president and has the ability to fire government officials within the Executive Branch if he deems it necessary. (4) There was a meeting between Comey and Trump after Trump became president.

Again, like the previous meeting, we don’t know what exactly was discussed. We don’t know the tenor of the meeting. We don’t even know the understandings that may or may not have been taken from the meeting. The only thing we supposedly have from that meeting is a memo (or personal notes), supposedly written by Comey, about his interpretation of the meeting. And, again, like the previous issue we have people who have no direct knowledge of the meeting (because they were no there) talking about something they have no firsthand knowledge of.

This time it was reported in a New York Times article. The NYT article reports “…according to two people who read the memo…Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.” The article makes several other assertions with only “…the two people said” and “…according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.”

Did these “associates” write this stuff down? Take a copy? If not, we’re just going off of their recollection. The quote above says the associate read part of it to a times reporter. Why? If the memo existed, why not just hand it over so it could be published in its entirety? Was this person just cherry picking portions? Again, we have NO IDEA if the memo even exists!

The REAL issue(s) at stake

Reporters/journalist/the media reporting with little to no verification or hard facts.

The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” just so happens to be contributing to the death of democracy as well by hiding many of it’s sources in the dark, not allowing for scrutiny of the source or the motives of the source.

These days it seems pretty easy for a reporter to find someone who has an ax to grind, promise said person anonymity, and then publish whatever the person says, sometimes with minimal to no corroboration. As long as it generates site visits (hits or clicks), sells advertising, or generates viewership, the integrity of reporting is lost. We should never accept reporting based solely on anonymous sources, ever. What we have instead is a lack of accountability, both from the source and the reporter.

The video, “Can You Trust the Press?,” is a great video about journalistic integrity and standards, discussing how they have steadily gone downhill from past best practice. This is a good place to start to see the problem Americans are facing these days. We can’t just wholly accept information, from any source, as truth without questioning it and then holding that source accountable for making sure the information is both accurate and complete.

Another issue, which is again showing what was discussed above, is the leaking of classified information simply to justify someone’s point of view, grind an ax, or just because they disagree with policies of the government. Some media outlets are starting to get the picture on this one, but it there hasn’t been much said about it with either of the subjects mentioned previously. The media seems to want to ignore the issue since it is generating increased exposure for their outlets.

Just today, the NYT has published yet another article that involves sensitive information and the questionable citing of sources. This time the article involves both the Russians and Comey. This new article should be questioned because it uses anonymous sources, “…according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official…” and the leaking of internal documents, “The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.”

We need to hold our press/media/journalists/reporters to a higher standard than we have been and we need to do it soon.

 

History: In Living Color

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Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?

I Wish I Could Impose My Will on Everybody Else

A great perspective on the issue and worth the read.

Fencing With Ink

If I could force everybody to adhere to the things I believe are right, life would be so much easier. It’d be more convenient, cleaner, and free of discomfort.

Sadly, I am not a tyrannical dictator. Neither do I possess the divinity needed to call my will “moral” and another’s will “amoral.” Thus, I have to find ways to cope with changes that do not require my approval. Changes that may make me uneasy or at the very least confused.

Changes such as Target’s decision to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their chosen identity.

Right, Wrong, and Everybody Else

I am a Christian.

You just judged me. As a friend or an enemy, I don’t know, but you’ve already placed your experiences and biases on my shoulders. I politely request that we both set those things aside for a moment. I’m doing my best to listen and I…

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The Day Independence Didn’t Begin

While many in the United States celebrate Independence Day today, one thing we need to remember is that July 4, 1776, was only one day in the long struggle for freedom. In fact, it was closer to the end of the struggle instead of the beginning, as most people think.

Americans (known as British subjects back then) began the struggle for independence while they were fighting next to British troops in the countryside against the French (we know this conflict as the “French & Indian War”, the Brits know it as the “Seven Years War”: 1754-1763) It was during this conflict that many of our future nation’s leaders were born. For they saw the policies and practices of the British and realized then that they were going to be treated unfairly, even if they won the war. George Washington became our nation’s first leader because of the failures, which in some cases were horrendous, and successes. This conflict was his training ground! After the war was over, it was the actions of the British parliament that led to the American leaders protesting the unfair taxes placed/forced on them to pay for the war. It was through these protests that our pursuit of freedom really began.

July 4, 1776, was the culmination of our frustrations with the British. What most American forget is that we almost “kissed and made up” with the British in 1775. Had the British government accepted the “Olive Branch Petition” from the colonies, we could very likely still be subjects of the crown. Oh how different our lives would be, right?

The Revolutionary War ended in 1783, almost 10 years after it began. So, let’s not take our freedom for granted on this day. The battle wasn’t won during a short fight, it was won over a long period of time. Many sacrificed all – both then and now. There are many who are sacrificing even now so that we might remain free. Don’t let us take it for granted!

I want to end with a smattering of quotes. I end this post this way because I feel we, as a nation, are headed into dark times if we continue to dishonor our heritage and the sacrifices of those who came before us. We are giving up on the ideals and principles that our country was founded on. Maybe we aren’t giving up on them, maybe we are just ignoring them. Or maybe we just don’t care because we have become too selfish and too apathetic, I don’t know for sure. But what I fear is that the road we are on will not perpetuate the greatness we have known in the past. Ben Franklin is famous for saying after the ratification of the Constitution in 1787, in response to a question about the kind of government we would have, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Today, I think he may be right. The challenge is to maintain it and those WE have elected over the years are eroding the foundations of our house. Let me be clear, WE the people are the problem, not our politicians. WE put them in office and, unfortunately, they do what WE want them to (even if is seems dysfunctional).

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
–Ronald Reagan

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
–George Washington

“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
–Woodrow Wilson

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
–Benjamin Franklin

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
–James Madison

“I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”
–Malcolm X

If we don’t hold onto the freedoms and traditions we have been given, they will slowly be taken away. Like cooking a frog in a pot, it won’t jump out of the pot if the water warms slowly. Our environment in the US these days is a lot like the pot…

Missing the Good Stuff Sucks

Missing the good stuff in life isn’t something I relish, especially when it involves my kids. I want to be there for the things they do, whether it be sports or drama or choir or a community function or major things like graduation and moving up ceremonies. Those things are important and the support of knowing your parents are there to support you is one of the best things to help your kids feel safe and secure in this world. I know I really appreciated that my parents made it to as many things as possible when I was a kid. I didn’t always express my appreciation like I should have, but it did mean a lot.

Today is tough for me because I am missing something I feel I should be at. Instead, because of my job, I am missing it. So, instead of doing what I should be doing I am taking a moment to vent my frustration. I doubt it will help me feel better, but I just can’t help it. What’s worse about this whole thing is that it is because of my job that I am missing it and it is my profession that makes it more difficult on people, specifically parents.

You see, today my son is “graduating” from the 8th grade. It is really just a moving up ceremony and in the grand scheme of educational things it isn’t that important. BUT, it is important to him! Unfortunately, I am missing it. Missing the good stuff sucks.

Why am I missing it? Well, I am a teacher and work for a completely different school district than both of my school aged children. What that means is that I end up missing many of their school related activities. Parent/teacher conferences, concerts or performances that take place during the school day, celebrations at school, graduations/moving-up ceremonies…you name it, I probably have missed it because I was fulfilling my teacher duties somewhere else. I am not sure why school districts schedule things during the work day. It doesn’t make sense to me and I am sure there are reasons I don’t know of, but either way it is frustrating. I am sure there are many parents who are missing the ceremony today because they have work obligations, that is the unfortunate thing schools do.

Anyway, all that to say I am proud of you, son. You have grown up so much over the last few years and this transition will be a big one for you. You worked hard this year, made some mistakes and grew from them. You worked hard this year, learned some new things about yourself and the subjects you were studying. You worked hard this year and experienced some great successes as well. You have tried new things, some you liked and some you didn’t. You are moving up in this world and I can’t wait to see where life continues to take you.

Congratulations, and I love you.

Change Is In The Air

Sometimes, you just get tired of doing things the way you have always done them.

Sometimes, you realize nothing will change if you don’t have the guts to risk something hard.

Sometimes, you’re just tired.

Change is in the air. Not something as simple as moving the furniture around the living room, going to bed earlier to get more rest, or working out more to lose some weight. No, this change is intended to put my (our) family and future in a better place.

Sure there will be people who say it isn’t smart, or wise. There will probably even be people who say I’m (or we’re) stupid for even trying. But, what about those people in history who didn’t listen to the people around them, even the ones they respected and looked up to the most? What if those people never made a decision to step out and risk something in order to get to something greater? Where would we be without them? How different would our lives be then?

So, for now some encouragement to take hard, positive steps and make harder long-term decisions. In the end, the road may be long but anything worth having is worth working for, right? At least that’s what our parents told us when we were kids and wanted something right NOW. Time to put those words into action and see if mom and dad were right…oh, and they were. I am not where I am today without listening to them once in a while. However, we need reminders of these things once in a while and now is as good as any.

There is more to come…

PS: If you needed some encouragement today to do something hard, then you can take some from me. You’re welcome!

A Forever Family Needs Help!

Help bring Chloe home!  *Regulations say I can't show you her face yet*

Help bring Chloe home!
*Regulations say I can’t show you her face yet*

The beautiful little girl above has the opportunity to go home to her forever family this year! But, she needs help. FAST!

I have written about this adoption before, If Ever There Was A Good Cause, but that was before there was an actual, real face and child to think about. The idea was there and there was a goal, but it was just so unreal and seemingly intangible. Well, things have changed and there is now a very real, very tangible goal in mind. But time is short, so anything you can do (no matter how small it may be) helps bring this pretty little girl one step closer to her new home in Hawaii with an amazing family.

They are trying to raise funds in a very short amount of time to help defray the costs of the adoption, which includes traveling to China to meet her for the first time and bring her home. With about two months to go, they could use some help, like right now!!

I am including the links to their fundraising efforts so that you can help them be successful! But most of all, for a little child of God to come home to a family that has loved her for a long time without even knowing her. Again, there can be no greater cause than this.

GoFundMe

MyThirtyOne.com

purecharity.com

Thanks so much for considering this as a way to change the world, one life at a time. Be the difference in one life.