Sunday, April 29, 2007

Back from the beach

Well, today I had to go. I wanted to go, in one sense. It's been something like nine days since I left my daughters at home and that's a long time to be gone. And my new puppy was waiting for me at home (see my 365 blog for a photo) so that was a draw. But in my opinion the only thing that could have possibly made the time better was to have a couple of folks there that couldn't come. But the time was great. If there was discord, I was oblivious to it and that's amazing with fourteen women in such a limited area. Of course, there was always the beach to go walk on if you felt hemmed in, so that was a good thing.
Laura won the prize for making best use of the beach. Karen gets the prize for the most daring (though I must say, Laura was right there with her), Carol the most enthusiastic about the hot tub, I don't know who would win the earring contest.
I really couldn't have asked for a better weekend. There was laughter, theology, sharing, book talk, an interesting dvd that I had never heard of (of course there's nothing unusual there!) and the chance to know some incredible women better. In case you can't tell, I had a great time! I found out I was an ENTP instead of an I/ENTJ. My sister figured it out, and I have to say, the description definitely fits. I have about a dozen new books to read and I came home with a couple of books that I've wanted for a long time. Sigh. It's okay that the retreat is over. That's part of life. But I am looking forward to next year's already!

I got my dog!

But I haven't seen him yet. Last night my husband drove up to the Philly area to pick him up. I kept asking if he was cute and the answer I got was, "The night's dark and he's black...I can't see him." Since he's a puppy, I'm going to assume he's cute!
But now I have the hard job of deciding on a name. It's a much harder decision than one would think. For me, the name has to have a reason for being chosen. These dogs are believed to have come from Norway originally so a Norwegian name would be good. But many Norwegian names, that have wonderful meanings, such as 'Son of the eternal king' aren't pleasant to the ear. The name that corresponds to that meaning is 'Arkin'. Then I would consider a historical name. Churchill was suggested, and I like it, but it doesn't roll off of my tongue easily...I just can't see yelling 'Churchill' to have him come. Then a name might be good that depicted his size, which will probably be over 150 pounds. But there isn't really much to choose from...Big? Monster? Bear?
So names I have considered seriously are Jackson (for Stonewall), Ole, a Norwegian name, Loki, the equivalent of a Norse Puck, Bjorne, Norwegian for 'bear', Hobbes or Luther, to go with our old dog, Calvin and actually countless more. I haven't reached a decision though. Hopefully when I see him, I'll recognize him and know who he is!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Beach house babes

I'm at the beach house with thirteen friends from my internet community. It's been fun. I was actually a bit worried because I often need to withdraw when with a large group for an extended period of time but it's really been okay, even good, this time. I think maybe being in my own home instead of someone elses somehow makes a difference. But these ladies are also very easy to be around, and interesting to boot.
I wish I had more time to get to know them, individually instead of in large groups but I'm thankful for this. I like it when I meet someone and I think, "If we lived closer, she'd be my good friend." It makes me feel like there are undiscovered riches out there. Of course, interenet friendships are great, but for me at least, they still don't have the same commitment as a friendship irl. I can simply not log onto the interenet for days at a time. If I'm going through a rough spot, no one need know, and if it's a time I feel like I have nothing left to give, I can simply not engage. Life, at one time anyway, was not like that. Folks lives intertwined whether they liked it or not. Secrets were known by the family and the community and that carried with it both blessings and curses. Even enemies were familiar and there is an extent to which the familiar is comfortable, even if disliked.
But our world today keeps us at a safe distance from all but the most intimate relationships. To practice commitment is a discipline, not a necessity. I don't need, in a physical sense, any of these ladies, and so every day I have to decide, as do they, whether to make the effort to engage or not. Our lives don't naturally entertwine. In a place like suburban DC you see that so clearly. Even those you know irl make contact with only one facet of your life. Gone are the days of the local school, the community church, the small town diner. Instead we have a wealth of choices, each of which takes us into a different sphere of people. And though that gives us variety and the ability to find just what we want in any given area, it also robs us of the dimensionality and depth of seeing people and knowing them in the different aspects of their lives. And it seems to me that we are poorer for it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I was just reading a book on the irony that the more freedom we have in choices, the more of a burden it is. I think I have known that instinctively for a long time. I have two different commisaries I can shop at. One is large and has almost everything you can imagine. The other is small with limited choices. I almost always go to the small one, it's easier for me. I don't have to make as many decisions, weigh as many options, have as many doubts on my final selection. But there are so many good points in this book. Some of them I have done, some I need to practice and some were new to me.
Unfortunately, it was a library book. I'm going to have to buy my own copy so that I can underline and make notes to my hearts content. Reading a book that I can't mark up I lose countless profound, wise and insightful thoughts. : ) And then of course, I never think of them again. I did make mental notes...pages 26, 61 and 103 all had something I wanted to talk about. But now that I look back on those pages, I'm not sure what it was. Aah, the mind is a terrible thing to lose!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Randomness and the bigness of God

I was walking on the beach today sorta, kinda gathering shells. It wasn't so much of a determined hunt as a casual look. Anyway, it was interesting how the shells sort of congregate in certain places. They are stretched along the shoreline where they have been left by high tide, but there are also places where beds of them have been built up. I thought about how we can predict high and low tide and even when to expect big waves but we can't really predict where shells will end up. But, then I thought about it a bit more and realized that really we could if we had more infomation. If we knew where the shells were on the ocean floor, and what the currents would be and what force they would move with then we would know exactly where those shell beds would be.
But, then I thought about a shell, carried by the waves for it's predetermined spot and a dolphin swimming by and that particular shell hitting the dolphin and it's course being changed. So it's trajectory has been changed. But was the dolphin also following laws that appear random but really aren't?
So...what I came to is that what may appear random really isn''s just that I don't have enough knowledge to understand what is at work. And then there are things that can change even the results of those laws.
In respect to God, it helps me in a sense. What looks unexplicable may not be, there just may just be such a vast body of knowledge that I don't understand that I can't find the meaning or the reasoning that is really there. And though God does follow His own laws, there are also ways that the outcome can be changed. There is more than one set of rules at work.
Anyway, those were my beach thoughts. Not very developed, just sort of random. : )

Friday, April 6, 2007

Prayer and gratitude

Last night I walked out on the pier with my husband. I asked if they ever saw dolphins up close out there and they said yes but not usually that time of night. So inside, I just said "God, if you want to give me some dolphins that would sort of be a 'freebie' for You. I mean it wouldn't change history or anything or even have to effect anyone else." And wouldn't you know it, a whole pod of dolphins came in really close.
Then, this afternoon, walking on the beach, I found a huge shark's tooth. I didn't pray about that one. So I began thinking about prayer, gifts from God and thankful hearts. Did God cause me to find the shark's tooth? I don't know. But what I do know is that whether He caused it, or allowed it, or didn't really care one way or the other, my heart should still be thankful. Because whether He had anything to do with the shark's tooth or the dolphins, I have eyes to see, and legs that let me walk on the beach and hands with which to pick up shells and focus my camera. And none of that is because I deserve it. And whether I find what I'm looking for or not, I have so much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Global warmning and the media

My son wrote this paper on how the media is handling the issue of global warming. I thought it interesting. (Of course, being his mom and all, there is no prejudice!)

The mainstream media outlets in America have received much criticism for their pre-invasion coverage of the conflict with Iraq. Critics believe that the vast majority of U.S. news organizations did not fulfill their role in challenging arguments for war. Gilbert Cranberg a former Editor and now Professor of Journalism provided this critique and challenge in an article posted on the Nieman Watchdog web site, “An explanation is due also for how the U.S. press helped pave the way for war. An independent and thorough inquiry of pre-war press coverage would be a public service. Not least of the beneficiaries would be the press itself, which could be helped to understand its behavior and avoid a replay.”
Despite this and other criticisms, the mainstream press, particularly newspapers, face the risk of repeating many of these same mistakes in their coverage of global warming. The function of the press as critic is a non-partisan function. A critical and rational analysis of evidence, motivations and history before the invasion of Iraq would have served the needs of all Americans, regardless of politics or ideology. This is not because better pre-invasion coverage would have necessarily prevented the war. While that may have been the outcome, it more certain that it would have tempered expectations, it would have forced better discussion of outcomes and it might have better prepared the public for the full difficulty of the effort. The same is true of the global warming issue. As with the issue of Iraq, the purpose of the essay is not to determine which side of the global warming debate is correct. The purpose of this essay is to draw lessons from the pre-Iraq war debate, to critique current press coverage of the global warming debate, and to highlight specific areas that might benefit from more critical reporting.
The Lessons of Iraq
Polls have demonstrated that most Americans entered the war with Iraq with very incorrect impressions of our actual motivations. Many protestors of the war have accused the Bush administration of lying about why we entered the war. But American’s misunderstandings went well beyond even the most specious claims of the Bush administration. Ari Berman, in a New York Opinion article cited a Knight Ridder/Princeton Research poll in which “44% of respondents said they thought ‘most’ or ‘some’ of the Sept. 11, 2001, highjackers were Iraqi citizens.” This poll and others have revealed the great extent of public misconceptions about our fundamental motivations for the war. Better knowledge of the exact reasons we entered the war would have, at the least, dispelled the misconceptions that many of the early supporters of the war held.
While the simple charge of war critics is “Bush Lied, People Died,” perhaps, and most likely, the reality of the situation is more complex. It seems apparent, that no matter the veracity of the administration’s claims, that had the press been more critical and informative it would now be held in higher esteem among the general population. Instead, many feel that the mainstream newspapers became caught up in the public fervor for invasion, and failed to fully perform their watchdog function. The lesson is important. The press is the primary and most powerful agent of critique in our society, and as such holds great responsibility to provide critical evaluation of social movements and expert claims. This is a powerful and challenging responsibility. It is easy, with perfect 20/20 hindsight to criticize the actions of the press in the case of Iraq. In reality, performing such a challenging societal mission is overwhelming. This makes the importance of learning from past experiences all the more critical. This is why I argue that the American press once again faces the risk of succumbing to a herd mentality in the debate over global warming.
Justifying the Comparison
I must briefly justify my comparison of Iraq and global warming. Yes, the “war in Iraq” differs greatly from the “war on global warming,” however, the two do have several important similarities. Both were long-dormant issues that suddenly surged in the public consciousness. Both were billed by assertive advocates as having potentially catastrophic consequences for all Americans, unless dealt with immediately. Advocates of each have resorted to similar rhetorical techniques. I am not alone in making this observation. Washington Post staff writer Colum Lynch made a similar comparison in a March 2nd article, where he wrote: “In outlining his concerns, Ban [the U.N. Secretary General] described global warming as a ‘grave and growing problem,’ echoing language used by Bush to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.” I don’t want to make any judgment as to whether the claims about Iraq or the claims about global warming are true or false. I do believe that they have a similar nature.
The solution to both problems requires vast economic, political and global resources. Both efforts depend greatly on long term public support. Both of these issues bear great potential consequences for the entire U.S. population. Finally, both are highly complex issues in which decisions must be based on both a partial knowledge of the truth and projections about the future. Events such as these require special care on the part of journalists. I argue that on such critical issues, journalists can best serve the public by delaying judgment as long as possible and promoting the maximum debate.
Critique of Current Reporting
This is not an argument for or against theories of anthropogenic global warming. I recognize that such a determination on complex scientific issue of this magnitude is beyond the scope of this essay. Unfortunately, many reporters don’t seem to share a similarly hesitant approach to forming a strong opinion. Many trends in the current reporting suggest that the majority of mainstream reporters have already and prematurely, formed consensus in favor of global warming as scientific fact. At some level, this is not surprising. In his book, Reporters and Officials, Leon Sigal discussed conventions in reporting that cause consensus forming, “Reporters and editors…almost imperceptibly forge a consensus about what is news…reporters do not work alone, but in groups; and in the course of events, the group subtly molds individual values into group judgement.” (p. 39). Time and temperature may eventually bear out the current dominant perspective, but premature consensus risks weakening the reputation of the field. Even if this apparent consensus among journalists is proven correct, there is value in protecting the integrity of journalism by ensuring that debate is enhanced by reporters. If the Iraq war provided a lesson to journalists, it is that even a sure thing is not a sure thing, and that even expert opinions should not be taken at face value. The public and policy makers rely heavily on journalists to provide them with important facts upon which important and costly decisions are made. Global warming is no exception.
The mainstream press faces increasing competition from internet sources, online magazines, and blogs. Relevance for newspapers lies in their ability to provide verification as well as news. Many consumers recognize the danger of uncorroborated online reports. Thus, to maintain their status, newspapers must be the most trustworthy source of news available and relied upon to provide high editing and fact checking standards. The debate over global warming that is so often ignored by reporters will not be ignored by questioning readers. Instead, they will turn in even greater numbers to the plethora of informative, if unverified, web sources. By failing to promote debate, failing to question those that claim the mainstream and relying too heavily on “expert” sources, the traditional newspapers miss the opportunity to cement their role as reliable and critical facilitators of debate.
My primary criticism is that too many reporters have reached consensus on the incredibly complex policy issue of global warming. Research has long shown that reporters form internal consensus based on shared sources, and that their reporting often reflects this internal consensus. This is reflected in the narrow scope of global warming reports. Increasingly, articles refuse to question statements that assume global warming and claims of minor proofs. Many journalists have begun to treat the scientific confirmation of global warming as fait accompli even though much about the theory is still undetermined. Few articles even question the silliest and most absurd claims of global warming evidence. Note these less-than rigorous reporting implied by these headlines from recent Washington Post articles found online:
-“Scientists Start Polar Study Amid Global Warming”
-“Global Warming Effects Hunting”
-“Global Warming Hits World’s Largest Tiger Reserve”
-“Mild Weather Takes Edge Off Chinese Ice Festival: Residents of Tourist City Blame Global Warming”
Even the recent, and controversial, International Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) report summary claims only a half a degree Celsius change in temperature over the last 100 years. This is hardly the sort of global change that would introduce the apparently sudden and visible environmental effects highlighted in some of these articles. The perpetuation of what appear to be no more than local myths has reduced a potentially serious phenomenon to a boogey-man, responsible for all quirks of weather and nature. Too many reporters have made light of the issue. If true, global warming and the efforts against it are anything but minor or simple. They are potentially devastating and costly. Yet as this next headline demonstrates, many reporters don’t see it that way:
-“Al Gore, Rock Star: Oscar Hopeful May Be America’s Coolest Ex-Vice President Ever”
This issue is far too serious for such light journalism. The environmental and economic consequences of global warming, if true, would dwarf the cost of the Iraq war. Yet an ex-vice president pushing for a war and warning of potential nuclear attack would not be billed as “the coolest ex-vice president ever.” Articles about global warming should fight the misunderstandings about the evidence for global warming, the popular myths about global warming and the hip attitudes that blur the issues. The nature articles listed above don’t probe the science behind the claims they make, instead, they are justified with anecdotal tales from indigenous residents. In the article about declining hunting, by Beth Druff-Brown, links to global warming are supported by stories such as this, “Simon Nattaq lost both feet to frostbite when his snowmobile crashed through the ice, made thin by rising Artic temperatures.” As tragic as this story is, it reduces complex science to what is essentially almanac style weather predictions. In fact, these stories seem to contradict what real science reveals about the Greenland glaciers. A NY Times blog by John Tierney highlights a recent discovery that the glaciers are melting more slowly than the last several years, not more quickly. This story does not mean that global warming isn’t taking place, but it does point out the difficulty in making projections and predictions. Even the IPCC report, which many claim is too radical, paints a picture of slow change, not the dramatized version of overnight environmental chaos that so many perpetuate. Certainly, there is no evidence to support many of the local claims of evidence of global warming, that seem to be so obvious that no scientific instrumentation is needed.
Let’s assume, for a moment, that the earth is warming. Journalists still have an important role to play as critics. An issue this chic is wide open for abuse. Popular social movements of this magnitude are invariably manipulated by opportunists for financial or political gain. Note recent New York Times articles that identify the various new advocates of global warming:
- “As the Climate Heats Up, Lawyers Sharpen Their Wits”
- “Evangelical’s Focus on Climate Draws Fire of Christian Right”
- “Warm Winters Upset Rhythms of Maple Sugar”
- “Political Money and the Oscar Aisle”
- “A Coal Executive with a Cleanup Mission”
If the lawyers at the top of the list don’t demonstrate that global warming is becoming a financial issue, maybe the coal executives do. Even if global warming is to be assumed, journalists still have a critical role to play in clarifying what impact it actually has, and in downplaying the hype and profiteering. Realism and debate will lead to good decisions by the public, less fear and better policy decisions by the politicians.
Redefining the Role
There are three primary areas the press should address in the global warming debate. First, Journalists must dig into and present the evidence for and against anthropogenic global warming. While John McCain’s recently claimed that the debate on global warming is “over,” such a pronouncement should not be sufficient grounds for reporters to stop reporting on real science. As legitimate as McCain’s opinion is, I would consider Richard Lindzen, a Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at least as legitimate a source, as is Dr. S. Fred Singer, of George Mason University, both of whom disagree with Mr. McCain.
While many reporters have increasingly marginalized skeptics as outside of the “mainstream” or outside of the “consensus,” they are mistakenly expressing opinion, not reporting fact. Global warming must be presented as the complex issue that it is, and the science behind it is very critical to good policy making. There are many legitimate questions about the science behind global warming, the causes of global warming and even the predicted effects of global warming. A recent Washington Times article by Al Webb included this insightful quote from scientist Philip Stott, “The [climate] system is too complex to say exactly what the effect of cutting back on [carbon dioxide] production would be or, indeed, of continuing to produce [carbon dioxide].”
Journalists should be the last to accept any position as beyond criticism, particularly on issues so complex as weather systems. The global consensus on intelligence was what led to the invasion of Iraq, and yet in that case, the consensus turned out to be wrong. The failure of the press to challenge this consensus and to document dissenting opinions led to many social myths and popular misconceptions about what the intelligence really supported. The same will happen with global warming if reporters marginalize skeptics and others who are out of line with the perceived “mainstream.” Surprisingly, it is not U.S. newspapers that are providing a forum for dissent and debate. It is in places like the Czech Republic and in Britain that real debate is being fostered in the newspapers, television, and among politicians.
I don’t believe that many decision makers or members of the public understand all the science behind the debate, so they need to be able to read reliable sources that more fully explain it. They need to know about the accuracy of the predictions and the models used to test global warming. How can they account for systems that weathermen can’t predict three days into the future? Why were widespread predictions that 2006 would be a record setting year for hurricanes so dramatically incorrect? It is difficult for many to believe that predictions 100 to 200 years in the future would be any more accurate. This is where an active and independently minded press can make a real contribution. While National Geographic News reporter Kate Ravilious has reported on evidence that the Sun may be contributing greatly to the earth’s recent rise in temperature, most of the press in such papers as the New York Times and the Washington Post seem to have ignored or belittled such alternative theories. While it is legitimate to question these outside views, and even to cite their relative lack of scientific support, they should not be disregarded completely.
Second, journalists should investigate what groups and individuals are driving the surge in this debate. Has there actually been a tectonic shift in scientific consensus over the last few months, or are there ideological, political, financial or power agendas driving this sudden surge in concern. Who are the forces behind the science, what groups fund it? Skeptics, for example, point out that the IPCC is not a scientific body, but a political body. I would like to see a quality article that examines this claim. I have read claims from at least one scientist who claims that many scientists’ names were used in an IPCC report that they didn’t support. Many political groups have joined the global warming movement. Probably, many of them have joined because they truly believe that global warming is a threat that must be stopped. There are probably also other groups that have different political motivations. It doesn’t seem impossible that the political implications of global warming would greatly enhance the cause of anti-capitalist groups and others. This is a charge that has been bandied about the internet, yet I have not seen any treatment of this accusation in the primary newspapers.
Why have so many politicians recently endorsed theories of anthropogenic global warming? Are they truly convinced or are they (as politicians are prone to do) riding the tide of social concern? Fear is a powerful political tool. Journalists have an important role to play in challenging fear mongering. Just as threats of nuclear attack should be treated seriously but not blown out of proportion, neither should threats of global environmental collapse. This debate can never be about pure science, there is too much at stake and too many non-scientific parties involved. Journalists, however, can help to keep other interests in their place, and help filter the distractions from the legitimate scientific issues of climate control.
Third, with every major social movement there have been opportunists who have looked to promote fear to make a buck. Journalists have an important role in identifying profiteers to seek self-promotion with meaningless “green” efforts. What are the consequences of global warming and how can Americans make sense of the efforts to prevent it. We need to know the difference between pandering and meaningful and effective efforts to implement change. Is global warming something that can reasonably be prevented by everyday efforts, or will we require new technology to reduce greenhouse gasses. As lawyers, corporations and rock concerts increasingly bill themselves as “green,” it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the activities of profiteers from the efforts which are sincere and valuable. Criticism should be equally applied to proponents and dissidents of global warming theory. True power and the solutions to this threat lie in robust public discussion and excellent critical news reporting. Journalists have an important role to play in illuminating the profiteers and those who cheapen the issue.
Finally, reporters must help the public determine the consequences of global warming and we can actually do about it if it is happening. This is perhaps the most important role of the press on this issue, providing perspective and context. We, as citizens need to know what all of this discussion means. With all of the debate over details flying about, Americans cannot put it all in perspective if not aided by the press. If we decide that we must prevent global warming, we must know what the economic costs will be. We must develop an understanding of how to begin addressing the problem. We need to better understand the role that developing nations like China and India play. Fortunately, there have been some articles that model perspective yielding reporting. Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post recently provided insight in his article, “Global Warming and Hot Air,” which points out the extreme difficulty we face in doing anything to stop global warming. He writes, “You should treat the pious exhortations to ‘do something’ with skepticism, disbelief or contempt.” He goes on to explain the motives of politicians, companies and editors, calling them image conscious and superficial and explains the harsh reality of global warming responses. In his mind, there is very little that individuals can do. We need more reporting that will help us begin to build a realistic understanding of the problem.
While we may decide we want to stop global warming, reporters need to also explain the costs outside of the U.S. To slow or stop emission would seemingly mean to slow or stop third world development. Some reporters have begun to highlight some of these costs. An example of an excellent article is in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled “How Green is Nuclear Power?” The article, written by Mark Clayton, goes beyond claims that nuclear power is carbon-free and looks at the overall environmental and financial costs of nuclear power as an answer to global warming. The article evenhandedly details the positions of proponents and opponents of nuclear power in a way that should serve as a model for other written treatments of global warming issues. This is the sort of perspective that journalists should provide to the citizenry. We need to know all of the risks, all of the costs and all of the projections before we as Americans can tell our political and corporate leadership what we want them to do. This perspective can best be provided by the U.S. media, by traditional newspapers that have the credentials to examine the speculation, to verify the sources and to challenge the claims with the facts.
I don’t know with any assurance if global warming is taking place or ever will take place. If it will, I really don’t know what it will look like, or what it will mean. I don’t want reporters to try to sum it all up in a simple answer, either. Journalists have an opportunity to ask the hard questions, the probing questions on this issue that most citizens don’t get to ask. Good journalists will buck the social trends, commit to finding the factual answers and resist the easy reliance on spokesmen representing various interests. To do anything less is to become the pawns of the most persuasive rhetoricians. Like anyone else, reporters face peer pressure and restrictive professional conventions. It demands great fearlessness to challenge convention. Unfortunately, many of the headlines that I have highlighted in this essay are anything but fearless. Perhaps, though, in this case reporters will resist social momentum and challenge the myths to find the scientific reality.
While many reporters continue to provide good, critical articles on the many issues of global warming, many more seem to have relaxed their skepticism. Reasonable, questioning reporting must not be allowed to diminish if journalists hope to demonstrate a better performance on global warming than many Americans feel they provided prior to the invasion of Iraq.
We as Americans don’t need more people to tell us their personal opinions. We have more than sufficient politicians, pundits and bloggers doing that already. We do need reporters who will ask tough questions, who will challenge the conventional wisdom, who will reveal hidden motivations behind the sources, and who will serve as bulwarks against excesses of popular consensus.