Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How To "insert anything here"

In my writings, I’ve stumbled upon and have written for whose tag line is “How to do just about everything.” First, let me assure you that I’ve only opted to author articles that I know something about. And secondly, the articles are reviewed by an editorial staff prior to their publication online. So someone’s checking although I’m not certain to what extent they’re fact checking or simply checking to determine that the submission meets their style guidelines (i.e. every sentence starts with a verb... creative writing, it is not).

I’m still on my soapbox about participatory journalism, so, please, allow me to cite a few examples. I recently saw the following titles as available assignments for members who have signed up to write for the site.

“How to make a stapler” which leads to my next question (probably yours too): Why would anyone want to? I can write that article in one sentence, starting, of course, with a verb: Go to your office supply store or the stationery aisle of any department store and buy one.

“How to build a house on piers.” Now I can appreciate that someone with coastal property might want to build a house on piers. The interesting spin on this title was its category. It was listed under “careers and advancement” and not “home improvements.” I suppose if you were in the construction business, you might consider the ability to build a pier-supported house a career advancement. I’m certain it takes more skill than building a house on a regular foundation.

“How to build a bowling alley in your garage” listed under “business.” First of all, I haven’t seen any garages in my life that are the length of a standard bowling alley. Have you? I guess if I extended my garage to accommodate a bowling alley, I’d want to make some money to recoup the expense thereby putting this title in the business section.

“How to create a nursing certificate.” Seems fishy to me right off the bat. To make it more suspicious it was listed under “crafts.” It's crafty all right.

Here are two of my favorites:
“How to make an ankle holster for a gloc” and “How to make a taser gun out of a lighter.” With a tip of my hat to Dave Barry: “I swear I’m not making any of this up.”

Finally, I saw this title: “How long does an arrest warrant stay active?” Probably longer than you’d like. I wonder if the person requesting this title read the two before it, and that’s when the trouble started.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who’s in Charge, Anyway?

It’s time to circle back to where I started with this blog and question the value of all this online content other than providing me and anyone else with a very public soapbox. As long as we all grasp that idea, it’s fine. Truly a global sharing of opinion.

Got that? O-p-i-n-i-o-n! Maybe there are some facts thrown in, but you can’t really count on it. And I fear there’s too much acceptance of most of what’s found on the internet.

Here’s a scary phrase that I saw the other day: “participatory journalism.” Getting news that’s relevant to you. To me, that’s just this side of being oxymoronic. For starters, relevant, schmelevant. First, I want to know: is it accurate? The fact that it’s participatory makes me question how true it may be. Accuracy first, please; then I’ll worry about relevant. I don’t know about you, but if I had to pick one or the other… please, give me accurate and let me worry about what I may or may not find relevant.

Besides, the news is news. How sheltered would I be if I only received articles that I pre-determined to be relevant by subject or location? The search engine that makes that determination is still artificial intelligence and lacks judgment. How much would I be missing? How much would any of us miss? How many participatory front pages would consist of: who’s voted off American Idol, booted off the island, found on Lost, and the local weather?

At least with traditional media, I believe there’s some foundation based in fact… that some editor somewhere is reviewing stories and information for truth and demanding that journalists have solid, reliable sources. Although that said, I’m sensing that foundation is starting to crumble or, at the very least, crack. Too often, the grammarian in me sees misspellings and other errors in assorted publications. I hope we don’t get to the point where texting abbreviations and emoticons become the norm in our news stories.

No one’s got to cite a source to publish online, and good copy can persuade some folks to believe just about anything. I suppose Wikipedia is the ultimate participatory information experience, but it’s a little frightening to me. “He’s like Wikipedia: he’s got all the answers, but they’re not always right.” Can Wikipedia change reality? It’s got the potential to change history, so why not?

Even a good journalist has to fight the urge now and then not to let the facts get in the way of a good story… so what’s to stop me or any other blogger out there from convincing the world of our expertise on anything or everything? The answer’s simple: not a thing, my friend, not a thing.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Carbon Confusion… Carbon Corruption

Oh, where to start? Let’s start with one fact: the planet is warmer than it was 200 years ago. That’s about where black and white ends and innumerable shades of gray begin.

The next question, the big, gray one is: Why? Two very mainstream and respectable content providers, National Geographic and The Associated Press, recently asserted:

”Scientists have reported recently that the world is heating up even faster than predicted only a few years ago, and that the consequences could be severe if we don't keep reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in our atmosphere.” National Geographic, April 2009
“Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – is the chief cause of global warming.” The Associated Press as published in the Reading Eagle, May 1, 2009

But what about that big, yellow thing in the sky? Doesn’t that contribute to climate change? What about the scientific thinking that climate change is a normal planetary trend occurring every 1500 years? And what about the evidence that the warming trend we’re in right now began about 1850 and that Earth is starting to cool again? Why don’t I ever see that in the mainstream media? If we can all agree that there was an ice age, why did it end? Wouldn’t the end of the ice age have been caused by planetary warming? If it happened a million years ago, why can’t it happen again?

Those are just a few of my questions, so I’m not buying the out-and-out assertion that fossil fuels and human impact are the sole causes of global warming. Don’t get me wrong: I think we’ve done a ridiculously poor job of caring for our environment. As a society, conservationists we are not. And what we have done is downright shameful. I’m simply not convinced that what we’ve done is the sole cause of climate change.

The National Geographic quote above came from an article which included a carbon footprint calculator:
100 cubic feet of natural gas = 12 lbs. of CO2 emissions
1 kWh of electric = 1.5 lbs. of CO2 emissions
Each gallon of gas = 19.6 lbs. of CO2 emissions
Because, apparently, I have nothing else to do, I calculated my carbon footprint based on those three categories and determined that I output 10.78 metric tons of carbon annually. Sounds like a lot, but the average is 19. Granted, I’m a household of one and occasionally two… less than the average as well. And admittedly, I did not factor airplane travel into my calculation. I’m good for a couple flights a year.

Now, I could feel even better about my carbon footprint if I purchased carbon offsets. Buying carbon offsets? That’s right, I send my money to some organization who promises to invest it in reforestation, renewable energy R&D, etc. and that relieves me of my guilt about emitting too much CO2. I checked and for $11.33, I can be guilt-free about my flights earlier this year.

I’m all for reforestation and renewal energy, but have we all lost our minds? The first time I heard about buying carbon offsets, I immediately thought about the parallel between that and the corruption in the early church surrounding the selling of indulgences. Indulgences replaced the severe penances of the early church and were granted for specific good works and prayers. So someone figured out, human nature being what it was (and still is), that you could make a buck by selling an indulgence rather than requiring good works and prayers. Cash to the easy route of forgiveness. Seeing the similarity to selling carbon offsets yet?

Now might be a completely worthwhile and above-board organization. I don’t know. But I do know that “there’s a sucker born every minute”… and snake oil salesmen abound. As for me, I’ll keeping turning off the lights, turning down the heat and doing everything possible to reduce my consumption on every level. As for my monetary contributions, they’ll continue to go to the Dolphin Research Center and the Nature Conservancy – two organizations I know are doing good things for the planet. And I have to get my sweatshirt. It feels chilly to me.