Friday, November 29, 2013

Editorial Bias of Newspapers

Claims by newspaper editors and editorial boards that they seek to be politically balanced needs to be taken with grain of salt. Sometimes the nature and degree of a paper’s political bias is evident after reading a half-dozen or so editorials whereas for others whose editorials are nuanced it may take as many as three dozen editorials to detect their political bias. Bias is also reflected in the editorials but also in the columnists they publish over the course of a week.

Having lived in various places over the years in reading a diversity of editorial pages, I’ve noticed that the paper tends to reflect the nature of the community in which it is published and their primary audience. The more nuanced papers tend to be in communities that tend to be more centrist where they sometimes elect a person leaning more towards the political left and other times a person who leans more towards the political right.

Why do so many have a clear bias which their community’s voting pattern rather the balanced approach they claim?  Options:  A) The paper’s editorial bias permeates the community to the degree that its opinion shapes the electoral outcomes. This view cannot be sustained as I’m not aware of any paper held in such high regard that people follow its thinking.  B) The community’s political posture and views are what shapes the editorial page’s content. I can’t agree with this view for it leaves the paper and its editor merely pandering to the community and not helping shaping its opinion.   C)  The paper’s owner hires editors whose viewpoints are akin with the nature of community and/or primary audience. I believe that this is the more likely option. Newspapers are sales driven and it is not wise to be alienated from those who consume your product.

Hence it’s not that the paper and its editor lack a defined opinion, or think through issues as would be suggested by option “b”. Rather the owner hires editors with biases that reflect the community, ensuring that the starting point for the editorials will tend to align with those of the given community.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

You Know You're From Northern Virginia If...

I recently received an email entitled, “You Know You’re From Northern Virginia If…” There were fifty-two items on the list I received which I’ve distilled down to the more significant thirty before adding two. Enjoy.

You’re from Northern Virginia if,

1.           You know two teens who have no idea what their parents do because whatever they do its “top secret” government work.

2.           You never tell someone that you are from “Virginia” without putting “northern” in front of it.

3.           Despite Virginia having succeeded from the Union and fought for the Confederacy, not under ANY circumstance are you a “southerner.”

4.          When people from other states or countries ask where you are from you’re from, you tell them Washington DC because it’s simpler to explain.

5.          You know that no matter where you walk, shop or drive, a good part of your journey is recorded across a range of governmental and private surveillance cameras.  

6.          Speed limits are taken as just suggestions.

7.         You measure trips to shop, visit friends or work not by distance traveled, but by travel time.

8.          It frequently takes you 30 minutes to drive five miles during non-rush hours.

9.          You dread going to the DMV and when you do so, you take the day as a personal or vacation day.

10.       It’s not actually tailgating unless your bumper is touching the car in front of you.

11.       You actually know what the black boxes at stoplights are for.

12.       Someone in your family drives 30 miles or more each way to work.

13.       When you’re driving on the beltway or interstate highway at 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday you still expect traffic.

14.       A slow driver is someone who is not going at least 10 mph over the speed limit.

15.       You not only know what is a Smart Tag but either you or someone in your family has one.

16.       At least 50% of your graduating class went to either Mason, JMU, UVA or Tech.

17.       Your local news is part of the national news.

18.       You do a good part of your Christmas shopping online because the shopping malls are like parking lots.

19.       You know that each high school in the region has its own corresponding McDonald’s.

20.       You know at least three people who drive a Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Audi, etc.

21.       The values of the cars in the local high school’s student parking lot are worth three times those in the teacher’s parking lot.

22.       You are amused by friends and family who are actually excited to see Washington DC.

23.       There are at least 6 Starbucks within two miles of your house and work.

24.       When you get an inch of snow, you miss three days of work.

25.       When you book a flight you have choice of three airports.

26.       You call something “ghetto” even though that thing in most of the rest of the country it would be viewed as high class.

27.       You understand the meaning of “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”

28.       Subway is a fast food place. The public transportation system is known as Metro, and only Metro.

29.       If you can easily name more than twelve law enforcement agencies, excluding the various Sheriff’s departments, operating within twelve miles of the White House.

30.       Military helicopters, F-15s and other military aircraft flying over your neighborhood are common occurrences.

31.       For the cost of your home you could buy a small town in Iowa.

32.       You are amazed when you travel out of town and the people at McDonalds speak English.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Washington's NFL Football Team

This year Washington’s NFL football team has been the focal point over its name, “Redskins”.  Daniel Snyder the team’s owner has not only remains adamant that the team’s historic name should remain, but he is firm that it will never change as long as he owns the team. He states that it is a cherished historic name and one that honors Native Americans.

Initially I was ambivalent when the debate first started, not taking a position either way. The advocates for the name change argue “Redskins” was a racial and derogatory name, akin the racial slurs used to speak negatively of Italians, African Americans, Mexicans, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, etc.  Though the name doesn’t carry the same racial overtones as in the mid 1800s to early 1900s, the overtones are a part of the name regardless how we wish to deny it coupled with claims that the name honors the Native Americans.

Racism is not as blatant as it was in the past, but it continues into the present in more refined and subtle tones. While we must not quickly put honest disagreements and mistakes through a racial filter, we must not be quick to dismiss it when it arises in its subtle and not so subtle forms. I hope that one day the team will change its name. Hopefully that day will come in the next year or two rather than a decade or more.

I will no longer use the team name, or purchase any merchandise or wear any item with the team name on it.  I will be referring to the team as either “Washington” or “the Washington Football Team.”

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vancouver Bans Doorknobs!

Vancouver British Columbia has banned doorknobs and the round water facets. New construction and renovations are to have leavers on doors and facets, with public space progressively switching to levers in the coming years and businesses being encouraged to do so too.

My libertarian side decries such legislation as both an unnecessary governmental overreach, and an unnecessary expense forced upon businesses and the public. That’s my reactionary self focused side coming to the fore as in my every day life such ergonomic friendly devices provide me little value to my life, do not give me any greater freedom and mobility. That’s me being centered upon my own life, my current needs and protecting my pocketbook without giving any thought to how such handicap and senior friendly levers provide the elderly and those with physical handicaps with a greater level of mobility and independence.

When I think of my parents and mother-in-law, the value of levers becomes increasingly apparent. When I think of the minor touches of arthritis I feel on damp days may well become more serious out twenty years, the levers become more attractive.

My short-term self interest and that quieter bent against governmental interference argues that if I need such levers, then I should be free to install them in my home but I should not regulate their installation elsewhere. Then pausing I realize that my argument against such a law is arguing against my future self-interest. While my home could have levers, if they are not commonly found elsewhere then I start to become a prisoner in my own home, for while I could move readily around my own private space, going into the public space to move visit government facilities, medical facilities, churches, businesses and friends would be another matter. If I lacked the muscle dexterity required to turn a doorknob I could not open doors and thereby my mobility and independence is undermined. So functionally places with round knobs would not be places I could readily visit.

So when my community minded side pushes to the fore, my less self-centered side, I start to think about the overall value to the community, to my aging parents and for my ultimate self-interest, I view of Vancouver’s law more warmly. When I note that the dexterity and mobility of myself and friends will be far less in two decades, I wish other jurisdictions would take similar steps for our overall collective good. The cost differential between the traditional knob system and a lever system is minimal. Vancouver’s law is not unwarranted government intrusion. Rather it is a proactive law helping the community to become more senior and handicap friendly.