Why You Should Care About Journalism (And How To Not Get Bamboozled By Bad Stories)

It can all be a little overwhelming at times, can’t it.
Source: CaptureYourInfo.com

So, there’s been a lot of crappy news coming down the pipelines lately and 2017 looks set to go down in history books as, “The Age of Excrement: The Year Everything Went To S***.” It’s become so bad that I had to take last week off from writing to recover from sensory overload and was giving real consideration to giving up entirely.

That is to say, I was until I went to work that night and explained my plight to a co-worker. To wit, she responded with, “I don’t ever bother listening to news ever.”

It was then that I learned something about myself that I never knew about myself; I am legitimately disgusted when people say they don’t listen to the news.

I mean, REALLY? How do you function in society if you don’t have a clue what’s going on in the world? How do you contribute to improving your city, your state, your country, and your planet if you don’t know where and what the problems are?

Look, I get it; the constant stream of news media is overwhelming. You occasionally need to remove yourself from the chaos and politics so you can just be you and live your life. That’s LITERALLY the definition of a ‘Safe Space.’ But, if you actually want any of those problems to improve, you have to step out of the safe space and engage with news and politics to fight for a better world.

And if your issue is that, “so many media outlets lie, I can’t trust any of them,” then, sad to say, the problem isn’t just the media; it’s you.

The amount of information available to us in an Information Age society requires each of us to do a little legwork to filter out misinformation and fluff stories. And while I like to believe were getting better about it, the simple fact is that some of us could stand to be more critical of what we read, hear, and watch.

It’s actually surprisingly easy to fact check news stories; so much so that it’s kind of insulting when independent comedy news sources like Nash Bozard at Radio Dead Air are better at it than the big budget ones playing it straight. Here, I’ll speed through some of the easiest ways to smell bulls*** from a mile away.

Look at the URL: Most credible news sources have a .com or .org address to their names. Anyone else is likely not a professional news source and should be questioned. It’s also worth noting that us WordPress bloggers can be equally dubious. Hence why I make it clear that this is an Opinion/Editorial blog dedicated to my personal reflections on the world and not proper news.

Judge the Headline: How much do you learn from the headline alone? Is it more interested in trying to shock you than inform you? If so, best to overlook it. They just want your attention because it gives them money. Don’t even share it with your friends as that will just spread the plague.

Know your satire from your news: The Onion, Buzzfeed, Cracked and similar sources are good for laughs; that’s what they specialize in. But, They aren’t actual news. They can occasionally lead to better information, but should never be your primary source.

Follow their sources: News sites will often link to or cite other news sources for their information. If they trace back to a questionable source like shown above or all cite the exact same article, they may just be the victim of a viral meme that damages their credibility.

Compare and contrast multiple sources: Most sources have a political leaning that skews facts in their favor. By putting them up against each other, you can identify the ‘he said/she said’ garbage easier.

Do your own research: My parents freaked out then they saw a video of soda supposedly reacting to the same kind of hydrochloric acid found in our stomachs. That is until I pointed them in the right direction and explained that a reaction that generates enough heat to create smoke would kill you if the volatile nature of the acid didn’t off you from birth. It was obviously a classic Sulfuric Acid/Sugar reaction made goopy by the water in the Cola. The hell of it is that I found this out via a light Google search for ‘Cola Stomach Acid.’

Stop the spread of false information: In addition to not sharing bogus stories, some social media networks have the option to report fake claims trying to pass themselves off as legitimate news.

So I beseech you, don’t just switch off the news. Be more critical and call bulls*** on bad journalism while learning from the real reporters. That way, we can be properly informed enough to make this place a comfortable place to live.

The Agent on YouTube’s Restricted Mode and The Value Of Uncensored Debate

“This video is restricted because some people can’t handle a mature critical discussion on some topics. Sorry about that.”
Source: The Independent

What is this; the third – maybe fourth time I’ve had to weigh in on a YouTube policy change? You guys could circumvent a lot of this bulls*** if you just gave us some details before you made the change.

Anyway, for those of you not keeping up with the new media, YouTube recently went live with a new ‘Restricted Mode’ feature that had some, shall we call it, unforeseen effects.

The goal of Restricted Mode is to give viewers the option to hide content that some may deem as questionable such as violence, profanity or sexual situations. And believe it or not, I totally understand why they would want to do this.

Let’s not forget, YouTube is a business first and foremost. Their first priority is to placate their advertisers, shareholders, and viewers. So, anything that might be counter-intuitive to an advertiser/viewer’s interests – say having their ad for a new children’s movie just before a video of a particularly foul-mouthed Let’s Player who uses f-bombs like vocal punctuation or having their five-year-old stumble upon the same – might scare them away.

But, the problem arises from what kind of content gets blocked when Restricted Mode is active; namely people weighing in on LGBT politics. Most of them are not even talking about gay sex, mind you; They’re just chiming in on the politics of queer culture.

I think the problem is pretty obvious and it’s a problem that asexuals like myself encounter routinely – people conflating relationships with sex. YouTube saw the phrase ‘LGBT’ show up and just ASSUMED it was about sex without actually checking the content. I assure you, talking about romance or being in love doesn’t AUTOMATICLY imply someone is bumping uglies and we need to stop think like it does.

Of course, this wave of (very likely) accidental anti-LGBT censorship is endemic of a bigger problem that I have with YouTube’s Restricted Mode and censorship in general. Simply put, I’m against censorship because is restricts discourse from both sides of a debate and thereby halts social progress. It’s a pretty simple chain of logic to follow; if neither side is allowed to talk about something, how can they debate it in order to solve any problems with it?

It’s for this reason that I support YouTubers like Count Jackula who dedicate regular live-streams to debates with fans and fellow creators or Armored Skeptic who often makes debunking videos pointing out logical fallacies in other people’s arguments. Yes, things often get very heated, people will get offended, and I frequently disagree with them on at least one point. But at the end of the day, they offer a perspective that made me think and that surge of critical thought is what we need more than anything else in this societal landscape.

That having been said, I can still see where YouTube is coming from in terms of business. It needs some kind of system to please the people that make them money. So, what we need is a common ground… and I think I have it.

Firstly, STOP CONFLATING RELATIONSHIPS WITH SEX. I will scream this 24/7 until I go mute from the scar tissue building up on my larynx.

Secondly, I suggest giving more control to what shows up in viewer searches by employing a sort of ‘ADVANCED Restricted Mode’ that allows the user to select what kind of content gets filtered out based on what they personally don’t want to see. It’s not ideal and those people will still be very likely to miss out on mind-expanding discussions, but it’s probably the best we can do until we can build that utopian society where people’s anuses don’t slam shut like steel security vault doors everytime they hear something that threatens their fragile reality.

The Dying Art of Debate and Why We Need To Save It

See these dumbasses? They're doing it wrong. Source: Eligible Magazine

See these dumbasses? They’re doing it wrong.
Source: Eligible Magazine

Just a quick one while I’m bouncing back from a nasty cold.

Unsurprisingly, given the recent string of political events around the world, my Twitter and Facebook news feeds have been clogged with a depressing amount of posts calling other people stupid with little to no facts given – Just a seemingly endless stream of name-calling and bile-spitting.

That’s when I stopped to ask myself, “why don’t people debate anymore?”

I touched on this lightly on my Thanksgiving vacation announcement, but I wanted to go into it more here. It seems that people are genuinely afraid to debate back and forth on issues and fall back on schoolyard taunting these days and I want it to stop.

This is just me spitballing ideas based on my own experiences, but I feel the problem is that people look a debate as a win-lose game rather than a combination mutual education session and problem-solving process. Each side is convinced that they have to win because the other is ignorant, evil, or worse. So rather than work things out in a civil manner, they demonize each other to avoid debate and achieve easy success by shaming each other.

We see it every day; Democrats think Republicans are under-educated buffoons clinging to guns and religion when they’re just honestly worried about how deviation from tradition will affect them. Republicans think Democrats are spineless children crying over how everything offends them when they just want a country that anyone could be happy and honored to live in. People keep turning to broad generalizations of the opposing side rather than actually getting to know what they want.

Look, I get it; debating is hard work. I know; I had to do it to graduate college. But it’s honestly the best system we have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We need to stop seeing it as a battle and understand that debate should be an intellectual growth event for all parties involved. If one or both people have left a debate unchanged from the time they started, then they both failed to do their job.

That’s why I say not to shy away from a debate when it comes your way. It’s a chance to edify yourself as well as someone else. Who knows, the two of you may stumble upon a way to fix the world.

Remember; the chaos of debate may be uncomfortable and intimidating, but those choppy waters never go stagnant.

YouTube Decency Standards or Controlling Creators?

Why do you hate the people making you money, YouTube?

Okay, that’s an admittedly abrupt way to start an article. But after the long string of problems we’ve seen coming out of YouTube – including their archaic automatic copyright strike system that’s still a problem today – we seeing garbage like this.

The short version of the story goes as follows; YouTube has made a new set of guidelines allowing them to pull monetization rights from videos that they feel may too violent, sexual, or controversial for advertisers. For those like me who are strictly anti-censorship, this would be bad enough. But, they had to make it even worse by defining the guidelines in such vague terms that they could pull ad revenue from videos at random and arbitrarily.

In fact, I don’t really need to say anything as one of my favorite Youtubers, James “Caddicarus” Caddick, said everything that needed to be said in the above video demonstrating the hypocrisy of the new guidelines (bonus points for giving Nicki Minaj’s garbage music a proper thrashing as well).

Look, I know this is going to be the shortest article I’ve ever written, but I just don’t have the strength to keep up with this sort of thing and there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said before. So, I’m just going to say this and be done with it – YouTube corporate, you need to understand that this is not a hobby on the web anymore; it’s a job and people are going to treat it as a job. All of the attempts to control content will only serve to place enmity between you and your creators.

If you’re that worried about how your advertisers feel about placing their product next to Nicki’s jiggling ass, maybe you should try letting THEM decide where their ads go instead of making a blanket statement that you can (and likely will, if corporate greed acts its part) use as a blank check to destroy a channel that rubs you the wrong way.

And if that’s just too much work for you, then stop whining and learn to live the fact that the world will always have a bunch of dreary crap in it and you will never stop people from talking about it.

Bottom Line: If Steven Universe can get away with having Garnet and Amethyst’s sexy fusion dance on cable T.V. (huh, more Nicki Minaj. Weird), we should too.

Regarding the Anthem and Colin Kaepernick

Now if it were me, I’d be sorely tempted to use a different finger.
Source: trunkweed.com

So, right off the bat, I know nothing about most sports. I don’t follow football because seeing a bunch of oversized people covered in sweat slamming into each other a full speed is too brutish for my tastes.

That said, what I do know is social commentary on current events. I know a controversy when I see it. And what’s going down right now with Colin Kaepernick is just another media circus.

For those not in the know, Kaepernick is the quarterback for the San Fransisco 49ers who has been making headlines lately for opting to remain seated during the national anthem in protest of the recent string of police violence against African-Americans and other people of color. In interviews, he seems well aware that what he did doesn’t sit well with some people. However, he expresses no regret in, “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” and that he’s, “not looking for approval. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Now, we could throw around police statistics about crime and violence as it relates to ethnicity all day. But I want to focus on this moment – this single action.

Let’s start with the obvious fact; no one forced Kaepernick to stand nor could they force him to. He was, and should be, allowed to freely express himself in the manner of his choosing (provided said expression does no lasting damage to people or property) as granted my the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

I actually had one friend (who, out of honor and respect, shall remain nameless) question me saying, “How do you hide behind the First Amendment, but don’t respect the flag that guarantees it?” My answer was simple; “By recognizing that the flag didn’t give us that freedom; hard working, determined people did.”

… Which brings me to the bulk of argument.

I have not stood for the anthem or the pledge of allegiance since I was 15 years old. I’ve caught a lot of flack for being disrespectful and unpatriotic in the past for that choice. But there’s a reason why I don’t do it; that flag and the government it represents didn’t guarantee my freedom before and they don’t guarantee it now. That honor goes to people.

Strong people, brave people, people who risk their lives for decent men and women that can’t guarantee their freedom on their own, people like my own father – a sergeant first class who served in the army for years; these are the people you should be standing for; not some colored cloth on a pole that a cold, unfeeling, corporately driven government uses to blindfold you so you can’t see the shady things they do behind your back.

I reserve my respect for people on an individual basis based on the actions they have taken and what motivated those actions. I will recognize a group for doing some good, but I will not blindly throw blanket praise over the whole of them. And I will certainly not give that respect to a glorified sheet flapping in the breeze that did nothing but serve as a symbol of the people that profited the most from their effort.

The flag, the anthem, and all of their ilk are unfeeling symbols and, as a great man once said, “I leave symbols to the symbol-minded.”

The Agent On Guns (or “I Don’t Want To Ban Them; I Just Don’t Want The Wrong People To Have Them”)

I have no jokes here – this article hurt me to write.
Source: The New York Times

Field Operatives… I am SO sorry to drag you into this.

I know there are tons of people that are fatigued by gun control debate to the point that the discussion offends them, but that’s kind of the reason we need to keep talking about it. It’s a serious issue and ignoring it just because it makes you angry or uncomfortable is just plain childish. In fact, the reason I didn’t immediately jump on this topic is because I was so shocked by the recent Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando that, in a disgustingly uncharacteristic move for me, I was actively trying to NOT think because it made me physically ill to do so.

But, I’m beyond that now. I’ve taken to long to say what’s on my mind as it is and I need to say it.

Here’s the simple fact that we need to understand; a man who was on an FBI watchlist on two separate occasions, had a long history of violent behavior dating back to 3rd grade, and came from a religious background known for its intolerance towards a group of people that he personally identified with (Omar Mateen was revealed to be a closet gay man) was given access to tools designed SPECIFICALLY for the purpose of killing.

I can’t help but feel like SOMEONE should have been able to predict something like this would happen.

Now, as I’m sure you gathered from the title of this little rant, I’m not one of those people who are staunchly anti-gun. I believe that we all have the right to defend ourselves from the cruel, the psychotic, and the tyrannical. If it came down to killing a madman or watching him kill the people I love, I would take up arms against him every time.

But, I’m also the kind of person that doesn’t want to fight in the first place if it can be helped. That pressure that I feel on my finger and wrist as I pull the trigger; to me, that’s the weight of someone’s life barring down on me.

I try to think of it in terms of if I was a police officer. As an officer, my duty would be, “to protect and serve.” That protection covers EVERYONE – even the most lost souls among us. That’s why the best officers try to end a standoff as peacefully as possible; if someone – absolutely anyone – dies, then they’ve failed their duty.

Basically, I’m trying to get you to understand my thinking in why I support, not the banning of guns, but the introduction of stricter gun laws. We have enough people looking for better ways to win a fight; it’s time to find better ways to avoid having to fight.

I understand that stricter laws and lengthy background checks can be a nuisance to gun owners, but you have to think about it in terms of every other safety procedure. We have to take tests in order to pilot speedy vehicles. We need approval from doctors for medications with dangerous side effects. We need training in order to operate heavy industrial equipment. Doesn’t it make sense that something designed with the intent to destroy whatever it’s aimed at should have a screening process just as, if not more rigorous than any of those potential killers?

And yes, people who want to kill will find a way to kill; I get that. But the goal here isn’t to prevent murder (that’s practically impossible), it’s to keep the emotionally unstable from killing more efficiently. If you were a homicidal person that was denied a gun due to having a history of violent behavior, do you think you could get similar results with, for example, a knife? Unless you have the speed of The Flash, then of course not.

All I’m saying is that if it weren’t easier for me to get a gun than it was to get approved for my new car loan, then clearly disturbed people like Omar Mateen would be far less likely to ruin as many innocent lives as they do.

Why Anti-Transgender Bathroom Laws Need To DIE

Would having something amputated be a valid choice?
Source: PrideLife

Yeah, you read that title right. Not ‘stop’. Not ‘go away’. They need to F***ING DIE. It’s rare for me to get THIS angry about something. But then again, it’s rare for me to see an argument for something so damaging that’s THIS poorly informed and ignorant.

This one’s going to be a short and sweet week because, in all honesty, arguing this point is so easy that it feels like I just challenged a jellyfish with a severe learning disability to a life-or-death game of chess; a battle of wits with and unarmed soul. That said, I have to say something in the hopes that the word will find a way to spread and end this madness once and for all.

To catch you all up to the times, several places – North Carolina and Tennessee being the big ones – are pushing for laws that will prevent transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity; forcing them to use the room of their birth gender.

The main argument from supporters of these laws is that they want to protect women and children from sexual predators who would disguise themselves as women to get closer to their intended targets. There are several reasons why this doesn’t work as a logical argument.

Firstly, the vast majority of convicted sexual predators are straight, white men, not transgender women. In fact, it’s the LGBT community that’s most often the victims of sexual violence. You are LITERALLY blaming the victims, people.

Secondly, allow me to tell you a personal story from my own experience. In my four years as a stage actor for my college drama club, we never had our own dedicated changing rooms or even separate rooms for men and women. Instead, we would have to change in a studio behind the backstage area. What’s more, we all had to change clothes together; meaning everybody saw everything.

In those four years, not to mention for years prior to my arrival and after my graduation, there has never been a sexual assault or rape in the club. Do you know why? It’s because that NO ONE IS SO BLINDLY HORNY THAT THEY WOULD RAPE SOMEONE WITH OTHER PEOPLE WATCHING THAT WOULD KICK HIS ASS IF HE TRIED!

Seriously, it’s a PUBLIC restroom; I.E., everyone can see/hear everything that goes on inside. A rapist usually acts in secluded areas later at night and target people that know them because the victims falsely trust them and no one is present to stop them. A public restroom is practically a miniature panopticon and the exact opposite of what a sexual predator would want.

Let’s just be honest – if you support anti-trans bathroom laws, it has nothing to do with you wanting to protect women and children. It has everything to do with the fact that you’re freaked out by someone that you don’t understand and are unwilling to accept. You are an ass-backwards, regressive wart on the ass-crack of humanity that can’t get over the fact that their way of thinking is outdated and not only doesn’t work anymore but is actually damaging to society. May you burn along your oppressive laws, you slimy, festering carbuncles on the planet’s face.