I’ve been using the headlines from NPR news programs as writing and research prompts to get me out of my social media algorithm echo chamber. It has only been a few days, but I can already feel the effects of learning about the world around me. It is a good feeling to dig deeper into things that you don’t understand. Every time you look up a word you don’t know, a writer gets their wings.
1. Week in politics: What last night’s Supreme Court order means for abortion access. It is a sad time for women in this country. There is no good reason that their rights should be in jeopardy. When it comes to the abortion question, I am firmly on the side of women to make their own choice. If you want to help women who are in precarious positions to be in a better position so that they will choose to have a baby instead of an abortion, there is no reason that can’t be done without changing the laws. That logical conclusion belies the false front of the organizations striving to end abortion, who claim that most women do not want abortion but lack the proper support to have children. Outlawing abortion is not the solution, and in my opinion, it is only going to make the situation worse and more abortions likely. I’m sure this has been a stressful time for doctors and women who need an abortion. I also want to say something to the people who would accuse me of virtue signaling. I don’t think that my position on abortion makes me better than you. I’m not trying to gain favor from women. It is simply how I believe, and because the conservative right is attempting to take that right away, I feel it is only responsible to speak up against their attempt.
2. International officials meet in Germany to coordinate weapons deliveries for Ukraine. How much longer will this conflict continue? It is strange that the conservatives have begun to question our involvement in supplying Ukraine with weapons. They are under attack by Russia, our recent adversary. I grew up with the U.S.S.R. being a real threat to our future. Now, MGT is trying to question our opposition to their belligerence. This is maybe because she is attracted to belligerent men who ride topless on horseback. There’s nothing funny about war, but it seems impossible to avoid the absurd today. It tells us something important about our culture, though. People like to mock supporters of Ukraine, just like they mocked people who supported the Black Lives Matter movement. They seem to think that these allegiances are nothing more than virtue signaling without bothering any analysis of the actual situation unfolding. Stopping Russia from invading Ukraine is in our best interests. Even if you thought that we should not do things just because they are morally correct, this is a case where the outcome could become so horrific if Putin is not stopped, we must participate. It’s not a question. Is Putin acting now because he perceives Biden as a weak commander in chief? It doesn’t matter why Putin is choosing this moment. What matters is that we stop him.
3. Opinion: The highest duty of a citizen. What is the duty of a citizen, the highest? This is a great question. In my opinion, it is our duty to participate in the progress of our culture and our nation. If you belong to a group, your duty is to do your part, to participate. How this is done matters less. Hopefully, you participate in a meaningful way that matches your talents and desires with a real need. I believe that we need a civil discourse on our most pressing problems, and we need to resolve our conflicts in a productive manner. I believe that we should approach this country as co-parents. We don’t need a divorce. We are already separated. I’m not sure we were ever married. We do have a responsibility to our children, though. We need to learn how to co-parent, and the first rule of co-parenting is that you have to learn to communicate civilly and refuse to demean or disparage your co-parent. It is a fundamental skill we must develop.
4. In Sudan, efforts are underway to evacuate thousands of international workers. It seems sad that we learn about countries because they are in crisis. That is kind of the nature of the news, though. We don’t have enough time to figure out everything or to understand all cultures equally. We focus on the places in crisis because they are the ones that need the most help. They are countries and cultures where our attention can make a difference. That is our duty as citizens of the world.
5. Inside the Taiwan chip incubator the U.S. is trying to emulate. Tech rules the world’s economy. We are facing serious concerns about AI, but we continue to chase after dominance in the tech world. It’s as though we have received some serious health diagnosis but continue to try and be the biggest dealer of the drug that is causing our symptoms. It’s madness, but maybe there is no easy way out of this problem.
6. NPR’s climate reporters on how climate change is causing ice caps to disappear. Things are starting to look dire on the ice cap melting front. What we need to figure out first is how to help the animals and people who have traditionally survived in regions with ice. The Polar Bears are only the beginning. Many people and animals will be displaced and will have to find new ways of surviving. We would do well to start the process of figuring out how to help them now. If we are not going to do anything to stop this process, we had better get organizing the support that is going to be needed. Or are we just going to let them fend for themselves?
7. Two men shot at a group of migrants in West Texas. Residents still don’t have answers. Delving deeper into the news forces me to confront the fact that I know so little about the world. I’ve never even been to Texas. I chose a life of art and literature, but I have not traveled extensively. I would like to visit Texas and see what people are like there and what it is like for people. Another story about violence and conflict showcases the problems we have in this country with guns. Another thing this exercise is doing for me is revealing the preponderancy of repetition in the news. It takes a lot of labor to report every day on the main stories happening around the nation and the world. What kinds of editorial shortcomings does a daily news show create? This model has to be better than the 24-hr news cycle that some stations feature. Two men shot at a group of migrants.
8. Dennis Lehane on his new novel ‘Small Mercies’. I know that there is a world of readers out there. The role of the author is not finished in our culture. Someone can still move the needle with a powerful body of work. That is entirely within the realm of the possible. It is worth studying literature and practicing writing. I try to encourage everyone in my life to write poetry or essays in one way or another. Most of the world discourages writing, makes it difficult if not impossible. A writer publishing a novel is antithetical to two men shooting at a group of migrants. It can be as powerful as a mass shooting, but in a positive direction. This is what we need to remember. Writing still matters.
9. He was diagnosed with colon cancer 7 years ago. He’s barely taken a day off since. The human spirit is a mighty force. Not all people are able to respond to tragedy in this way, but in this case, it sounds like a triumph of the will. The thing that always amazes me about a story like this is the mental resolve. There is a part of me that tries to hide in dreams, that wants a moment of peace, that justifies rest as a form of recovery. I feel that I should always be working and never have a moment of rest. I wish that I had that kind of resolve. I’m a workaholic who goes easy on the sauce. I’m trying to increase my productivity, but my job is not something that I can do unless I have my full powers of creativity. I am trying to shoot more and in different circumstances so that I learn to stay productive no matter what else is happening. This writing exercise has been helping me, because instead of writing about myself it is about the world.
10. Supreme Court blocks lower court decision in case on FDA approval of abortion pill. Our system of governance is full of theater and dramatic language. This is to instill a sense of power in the people who are making decisions that affect the rest of us. Supreme is a word that belongs in poetry, but we use it to describe a group of nine judges. We also call them justices, attempting through figure of speech to imbue them with a higher power. They are still human however and are subject to the foibles of our kind. In this case, the visibility is so strong the way they handle this case will set precedent for generations to come. These justices know that their legacy is on the line, so acting in a conservative way seems the most likely. They blocked a lower court’s attempt to override the FDA’s assertion that this pill is safe. For now, the Supreme Court has stopped the assault on women’s rights, but it is more about preserving the power of the FDA than anything else.
11. Members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus on the plan for raising the debt ceiling. This story brought to my attention the existence of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group formed in 2017 they are, “committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation.” When I ask people how they feel about the news, there is a common refrain that they don’t trust much of what anyone says. I don’t see the news as an end point, but as an opening up of knowledge. You must read the news actively as well as critically. Being skeptical has become a fad, but being active is not exactly common practice. When you read and you don’t know about something, your job is to look it up. I believe that we have a long way to go just to understand how our system works and until we do a better job of that it is going to be hard to expect things to change. If you see the news not as a statement of truth, but as an invitation to learn more about your world, then you can get more out of it.
12. How do you get equal health care for all? A huge new database holds clues. If there is an answer to this question, then let’s hear it. It is easy to be cynical and without hope in today’s culture, but it is a choice. Optimism is not the same thing as being hopeful. Optimism suggests that you think things will turn out in a positive way, while hopefulness is an active act of wishing for the best. If we are going to work to create a better world for all, then we must have some kind of hopefulness to motivate our actions. Nihilism gains in popularity during times like these, but that is the easy and corrupt way to think.
13. Wastewater surveillance could be a new way to track trends for illnesses like COVID. There is a positive side and a negative side to living in the data age. We are undeniably small parts of a larger system. Our information is valuable to decipher the larger patterns. I believe that there are more positive potentials for the use of data than negative ones, but the way we talk and think about it matters. I’m not sure that surveillance is the best way to phrase this idea, since it implies being spied on by our own government. Instead, if it were described as farming data from wastewater, it would seem less invasive. There are limits to all good things.
14. Saturday Sports: Oakland A’s; Chicago Cubs; Tom Goldman says goodbye. I stopped following sports when I was in my early 20s. For a short period of time when I was in San Diego operating a pool cleaning business, I checked the stats on baseball every day. It was immediately following 9/11 and for some reason the statistics of baseball brought me a sense of stability and normalcy in a city that was responding to terrorism with extreme anger and xenophobia. Sports provides a common language, a neutral subject to channel our fighting energy. That’s the real appeal of sports if you ask me. It gives us something to root for and against that is not political. I’m not sure if it is an outlet or a gym, however. I feel this way for a lot of things. You could see it as a way of getting negative energy out or of building up the strength of our hate.
15. Barry Humphries dies at age 89. We revisit a conversation with his iconic character Dame Edna. People talk about the news as creating an echo chamber. I guess that means when we receive news passively through social media algorithms. That’s part of what this exercise is working to resolve. NPR does not have anything to do with my social media algorithms. As such, I find stories about people I normally would not encounter. I didn’t know anything about Dame Edna, but it is obvious that she is a character that many people loved. Barry Humphries has passed away taking with them their beloved comical characters. In a time when gender has become a battleground, there is something refreshing about remembering that gender is a form of cultural expression. It is a character that we play.
16. Ramona Ausubel on her novel ‘The Last Animal’. Two stories about novels in Saturday’s news. I want to write plays, but I also admire novels and would certainly consider writing a few of them as well. The great thing about novels is that they do not require a large budget. There is no team needed to produce a novel, simply a writer and an editor and a press. Also, they are democratic in that a person can read a novel for free. We have some gorgeous public libraries here in Santa Cruz County, and you can check out a novel and read it without paying a dime. Ramona Ausubel looks like a fascinating author, too.
17. Singer Blake Rose on his new EP ‘You’ll Get It When You’re Older’. Education is a word that should be a verb even when it is a noun. An education is never static, it is an ongoing process of learning, forgetting, remembering, revising, and figuring. The world keeps proliferating new songs, new ways of feeling about old events, and the best we can possibly do is stay interested in learning more. Perhaps there is a point when “You’ll Get It When You’re Older,” but something tells me you will have to continue getting it till you can’t. Looking forward to hearing more about this young star and their recent work.