Author: backuphill

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

Lincoln-reddit.jpg

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.

Dollar Shave Club: Review

The old adage holds true: “You get what you pay for.”

Let’s face it, we all probably spend a lot of money each year on shaving supplies, from handles and razor blades to shaving cream and aftershave. There are all sorts of different choices out there and sometimes trying to decide can be rather difficult. Do I just go cheap and get the basic stuff or do I spend a little extra and hope it doesn’t tear my face to hell like the cheap stuff?

Not only do these things get used on our faces, but our wives often have similar needs to us. Only, they use the products on their legs and other parts…so they like to have their own tools too. If your wife is like mine, she probably goes through blades like crazy and it gets rather expensive when you are spending $20 (maybe more) a month on titanium blades (or some other advertised rendition).

So, we have seen the advertisements from and about DollarShaveClub.com. They were entertaining, somewhat irreverent, and a bit tongue-n-cheek catchy. We started to talk about a possible solution to our monthly hair removal expense. This seemed like a good idea so we went to their website. We looked at the different models and decided that we should not go for the cheapest one, but opt for the middle option because we didn’t want it to be TOO cheap.

As you can see, there are three options: “The Humble Twin,” “The 4X,” and “The Executive.” The $6 a month looks like it is fairly affordable. With an additional handle, another $4 at the start, we thought we were set to go. We were thinking for less than $80 a year we wouldn’t need to do anything else when it came to shaving equipment. Plus, it is delivered so no shopping needed!

So far that plan hasn’t worked yet. We have been subscribed to this service for less than a year and already we have spent more per month, on average, than anticipated. While it still might be less than we would be spending on more pricey razors, the product lives up to its cheap billing. Durability is an issue even with “The 4X” handle AND the razor heads too.

The Best Laid Plans

Once we received the initial shipment my wife was excited to try out the new razors right away. She had been waiting a few days for it to arrive. On the second use of the razor head the thing started to fall apart. It appears to be a problem with construction and materials. It’s plastic, so I guess that is to be somewhat expected. However, the piece that broke should be designed to be more durable than it is.

Within the first week after getting the newly delivered razor heads, two were broken. Both broken in the same manner and in the same place. This doesn’t seem to be a coincidence, rather poor construction and design. The razor handle is inserted and attached at this point. It slides in and “grips” the piece that is hanging out in the picture below. A weak piece of plastic at the point where the two main parts of shaving components come together. If this part is going to break on a regular basis, then there is a problem in design for sure. (Or is there? Maybe that is all part of their evil plan in this “disposable world.”)

A very thin, piece of plastic that takes a lot of pressure.

A very thin, plastic piece which breaks easily.

Needless to say, this was a rather disappointing start. The actual blades themselves seem to be fine but they don’t last through more than about 4 uses. The blades do clean out fairly well and don’t clog up much so that is nice. There are a few redeeming factors of the cheap(ish), middle group razors but that’s about it.

Unfortunately, the handle for this particular set of razor heads hasn’t fared much better and again falls victim to poor design and cheap material. In the case of the razor handle, on the surface it appears to be pretty “beefy.” It is made of solid metal and has a rubber coating/handle on it to make it feel substantial. But, the feel and appearance fall apart, quite literally, where the handle and the razor connect. The plastic that is supposed to contain the pivot point also happens to be its weakest point.

LEFT: broken   -   RIGHT: not broken

LEFT: broken – RIGHT: not broken

Because this tiny little plastic piece is the only piece that keeps the razor head from over rotating, it has to take a lot of pressure from the razor as it slides across the surface of the skin. Seeing as how it is thin plastic and that it is just barely attached to the black plastic “belly” of the razor handle, there is no way that it can withstand long-term usage. As such, we have now had to purchase four of these handles and the third purchase has already suffered this similar fate as the first two. That doesn’t give us much hope for the fourth handle.

I am not involved in the production and assembly of these things but it seems like a fairly easy fix. The bottom part of the razor handle (as seen in the photo above) should be made of metal. This point in the functionality of the razor is vitally important because the pressure from the razor head is constantly on it. The little plastic piece is not the best way to keep the razor head from over-pivoting. Once it is broken out, the razor has to be used in a very awkward position to make it still functional. Obviously, this is not ideal and makes it very difficult to get an acceptable shave.

Final Analysis

The Dollar Shave Club, on the surface, offers an affordable and convenient approach to buying shaving equipment and accessories. The affordability is hard to pass up when you are constantly having to buy this stuff at even big box store prices. Not having to think about making a trip to the store on a regular basis to buy this stuff is rather convenient because you sign up for an automatic shipment each month and it comes straight to your mailbox.

While the product may still be more cost-effective in the long run (that still remains to be seen), the functionality and durability of the product can’t be overlooked. Both pieces that get used on a regular basis, the razor head and handle, have some rather obviously glaring weaknesses making the product only marginally worthwhile. Until these weak points are addressed and fixed to make the products more durable, the Dollar Shave Club can only be deemed moderately affordable. Unfortunately, affordability is what they are selling and it doesn’t hold up under real world usage.

FINAL GRADE:  C+

What the Legislators Aren’t Doing

This is a great visual representation of what the Washington state legislature IS NOT doing in regards to funding schools in Washington. The state supreme court found the state legislature in “contempt of court” in September of 2014, yet the state legislature continues to make little progress towards the goal they set in their testimony during the trial. This chart shows, quite obviously, that the state isn’t living up to their promises and that ANY money being added to education this year is only “catch up” money, NOT additional funds as they claim in their press releases and speeches to the media.

Don’t you think it’s about time to fund education fully?