Archive for September, 2009

One Year Ago, Something Happened

News happens every day. Somedays, it is life-changing, such as a Moon landing, the start of a war, or terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Some days, it is horrible tragedy that reminds us how often humans are at the mercy of nature.  And some days, it is just news.

There has to be front page stories every day.  That’s a simple fact.  And one year after that front page story, it will be the one year anniversary of that story.  So what do most people do?  Read the news of the day, not the news about the news one year ago.

More and more, however, that news from one year ago, or five or ten years, is becoming the news. It’s an insipid trend, especially at the local level.  On an almost weekly basis, there are stories about stories from the past billed as current news. (Note: Instead of holding one story out as example, I have decided to paint a broader swath. My intent is to not implicate any particular people or specific story, but to condemn pretty much every anniversary story).

Until August, I was an editor at the Deseret News, and yes, I edited some of these anniversary stories. The creep of these stories, however, was noticeable this year, a symptom I blamed on the reduction of the news staff. While it may seem counter-intuitive to devote time to anniversary stories when actual news is not being covered, it makes sense from a management stand-point.

With a dwindling staff, beats are spread more widely, and reporters have a tough time really delving into an issue they cover in a way that pushes the conversation forward. So to get a grasp on a big issue, they look backwards to try to gather lessons learned. Editors, who are usually stretched thin as well, tend to not complain much about these stories because they have the luxury of time when handling them. Photographers like them because, no matter what the story, a good photographer can shoot a great picture. Designers like them because the page can be laid out in advance, and copy editors like them because they can read them well before deadline. In short, these anniversary stories are crutches used by every single person putting together a paper.

This is especially true for the Sunday paper’s front page, the weekly money shot for journalists. This used to be the slot reserved for investigative pieces, issue stories written by beat reporters with a deep knowledge of a current debate, or actual big news from the previous day. But now, papers have basically eliminated investigative journalism, employ skeleton (and often inexperienced) staffs on Saturdays, and lack beat reporters with the ability and time to really delve into a story. So, they foist anniversary stories on an unknowing reader, hoping the semblance of news fills the void created by the lack of real news.

The problem, however, is that these stories are almost never legitimate news. Instead, they are puff pastries, filled with pretty words and decorated with pretty pictures that are, in the end, empty calories.

End note: This post was inspired by #1 on a great list by Don Gilmour at the Mediactive blog. For the most part, I agree with every suggestion of his, and I really like the idea of rewarding commenters who will identify themselves.


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3b42140tWhen I first started home brewing beer, I vaguely understood the legal and illegal aspects of the craft. For one, I knew there was no state law prohibiting the sale of home brewing equipment,  and that there were federal laws limiting the amount of beer that could be brewed without taxation. There was no state law allowing home brewing, although the prohibitions on it in Utah were never enforced and, if they ever were to enforce them, would likely be trumped by federal law.  And over the past two years, Utah has actually clarified their state laws to mirror federal law, just to avoid confusion.

What I have never tried is distilling my own liquor, and quite frankly, part of the deterrent was that making your own liquor is a felony, and a federal one at that. Also, I’ve tried homemade moonshine, and it’s pretty foul. Part of what got me really excited about brewing my own beer was tasting other home brew, which was very good. Moonshine, however, seemed to be nothing more than homemade liquor that, if made commercially, would be sold in a plastic bottle.  Thus, when my choices come down to a) spending $20-$40 for a great bottle of bourbon or b) investing a lot of money into a still and running the risk of a felony conviction for shitty liquor, well, the answer was easy.

And it sill is, quite frankly, at least for me.  But not for others, according to this Salon article. I understand these people and their desire for homemade. It’s why I made my own cider last year, and while it would have never won any awards, it was quite tasty and provided a nice buzz. It’s why I like to brew my own beer, why I’ve attempted to make wine, why I love to eat a meal cooked with ingredients solely from my garden. It’s why tonight I am boiling peach preserves to can.  I love something that, almost entirely from start to finish, was my creation.  And honestly, I would love to serve somebody a vodka and tonic or bourbon on the rocks using liquor I distilled myself.

But I won’t, not until things change on the legal front. There is a certain level of responsibility I have always had, even at my wildest, that pushed me away from things that were felonious.  And as the article points out, things will probably not change anytime soon because of the amount of money involved. Considering the small amounts of moonshine needed to profitably sell, it could be tough to police. But why not try?  In this day of embracing all things local, why not encourage small batch and local distillers?  There has to be some sort of workable compromise.

But as I said, until there is, I’ll be sticking to my home made beer and leave the distilling to those who can afford the legality.

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Rain On The Scarecrow

Agrarian Grrl's farm

Agrarian Grrl's farm

Preaching is hard. Farming is hard. Preaching as a farmer is especially hard.

For years, I have dreamed of owning a tiny farm that would provide enough food for my family to eat well and enough income so that, at worst, only side jobs would be needed to support our lifestyle.  I always dreamed of making it, even while fully aware that it was probably not reality.  It could be, of course, with certain sacrifices, such as no more of this or this or this.

This dream generally received one of two responses. Either people thought it sounded amazing, or more often, people would regale me with stories of friends or relatives who had gone broke as farmers.  I never listened to them, and I still won’t, primarily because it’s a dream, not my (current) reality.  But also, I won’t listen to them because I want to believe in the small, independent farmer, just like I want to believe in the small, independent bookstore, coffee shop, restaurant, or _____.

As part of the dream, I follow a number of small farm blogs. They range from the practical, such as Tiny Farm Blog, to the philosophical, such as The Raw and the Cook. There are also those that are evangelical farmers, the ones who seem to be doing it because operating a small farm without pesticides and GMO crops and with minimal mechanical equipment is serving a higher purpose than just damn tasty food. The best of those blogs was from Agrarian Grrl, a Canadian farmer.

Her posts, which came pretty regular, ranged from market updates to contemplative essays to rants against evil corporate agri-biz, especially everything Monsanto. Even when they were too heavy to really digest or nothing more than a hammer to a head (and there were a couple), they were thought-provoking, educational, and very much needed.  But a post two days ago hit the hardest, because it read like a farewell note. In short, the practical burdens of farming and weight bore on the shoulder of an evangelical farmer seem to heavy, and so she is going to focus on raising crops so she can, hopefully, make it.

Within that post, she gives a pretty good list of everything that is wrong with the current food system, most of which can be directly pinned on individuals, not corporations. But, enough: go read it yourself.  Thankfully, she has put up a couple of posts since this one, but even the thought that it is too much for even the most passionate person is, well, something I’m going to refuse to believe.

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Obama The Condom

blog2004nalPresident Barack Obama gains the same special status as condoms, cavemen, and Baudelaire.

If poison, arson, sex, narcotics, knives have not yet ruined us, then surely President Barack Obama will. The socialist dictator of the once United States has decided to speak to students in a national broadcast, pushing his agenda as the head of the Liberal Socialist Communist Pinko Fascist Gay Hippie community organizers.

How dare he?

Thankfully, school districts have rushed to the defense of their students, who they fear might actually be educated by things like a presidential speech and the ensuing debate. And education is certainly not something any upstanding American would support, which makes the purpose of his speech even more disturbing:

During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school.

My. God. It’s insidious, this president’s insistence on speaking to children. If we allow this to happen, the fall-out will be horrendous. Right off the bat, C-Span’s audience share will jump, which is obviously a primary motivation for this speech because better C-Span ratings means more opportunity for them to air debates hosted by a Democratic Congress. Oh, and if he’s really successful, he might actually demand a prime time slot, which would then bump the latest iteration of the completely American heterosexual Dancing With… show.

But, as I said, thankfully schools have rushed in to save their children. With a type of foresight unseen since sex ed or evolution debates, multiple districts in Utah have issued letters to parents offering to allow their children to opt out of the speech. Thank. God.

Myself, the whole controversy brings back a college memory, when a professor had us read a poem by Baudelaire that contained the word “fuck.” After letting the class know that poem included the word “fuck,” he then said that if anybody was offended by the word “fuck,” he had an alternative assignment for them: explain the difference, in literary terms, between “fuck” and its sugar-free substitutes for Mormons, “freak” and “fetch.”

Hopefully, the “other meaningful work” that can be assigned, as described in a Jordan School District memo, is something along those same lines. Personally, I would suggest an essay on convenient patriotism.

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