Sunday, February 7, 2016

No more denial: Bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

So much for rose-colored glasses; this calls for prescription specs.
I didn't want to write this post. I really didn't want to write this post. But I can't live in denial any longer: the news business isn't what it used to be -- and that needs to change.

I was quite the idealist in college, and in my early years as a reporter. I took pride in being a member of the vaunted Fourth Estate, the final check-and-balance on the three branches of government enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of the press was guaranteed by the First Amendment, right beside freedom of speech. Numero uno, baby!

The press is supposed to be the ultimate whistleblower -- the institution that keeps an eagle eye out for unfairness and corruption, in government as well as in other facets of society. And when unfairness and corruption are found, the press is supposed to be the first institution to raise a stink about it, to hold officials' feet to the fire, to demand explanations, and to keep making noise until the problem is fixed.

I got my first job in broadcast news in late 1978, at a time when broadcasters still took that mission seriously. They had to. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission and its Fairness Doctrine, local radio and television stations had to operate in the public interest -- or lose their licenses. "Public interest" involved keeping listeners and viewers apprised of what was going on in their cities and towns -- not just crimes, but also stuff like what the city council and the county zoning board were up to. Those meetings were as dry as dust for a reporter to cover, usually, but local regulations affect people far more directly than the actions of the federal bureaucracy. The Fairness Doctrine also required stations to provide airtime for opposing viewpoints.

The Doctrine was instituted in 1949, at a time when the big broadcast networks controlled such a large chunk of the airwaves that public discourse might have been in danger of being stifled. It was still in place when I graduated from college. But by 1987, pro-business, Reagan appointees were running the FCC. They argued that with the advent of cable, the broadcasting "marketplace of ideas" had become sufficiently diverse and the Fairness Doctrine was therefore obsolete. So the FCC repealed it.

And over the past thirty-ish years, broadcast news operations have become ever more polarized, while at the same time there has been a frenzy of mergers and ownership changes. Today, according to Freepress.net, ten companies own a huge chunk of the information and entertainment industry:

  • CBS Corporation, which owns Showtime and Simon & Schuster, among others;
  • Comcast Corporation, which owns NBCUniversal, MSNBC, and Fandango, as well as chunks of other media companies;
  • Gannett Corporation, which owns USA Today and a bunch of websites, including Careerbuilder.com;
  • News Corp., which owns Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and HarperCollins; among others;
  • Time Warner, which owns a bunch of magazines (including Time and People), HBO, CNN, and DC Comics, to name a few; 
  • Tribune Corporation, which owns the Chicago Tribune, WGN, and the Food Network, among others; 
  • Viacom, which owns MTV, Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon, and more:
  • Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, ESPN, and the Marvel Universe, as well as the Disney theme parks and other companies;
  • The Washington Post Company, which owns the Washington Post, Slate, Kaplan (the educational test prep people) -- and which, in turn, is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns a little internet sales site called Amazon; and
  • A couple of venture capital companies, which currently own Clear Channel, the largest radio station owner in the United States. Clear Channel owns more than 850 radio stations nationwide, as well as Premiere Radio Networks, which distributes the Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity shows.
Ten huge corporations own so much of what we see, hear, and read every day -- including news operations. So there's nobody left to hold their feet to the fire. "News" has become all about the ratings. And when other big corporations send jobs overseas and give all their profits to shareholders and the guys in the C-suites, who's to blow the whistle on them?

Once again, I'm grateful that I got out of the news business when I did. But more importantly, I think it's time to enact a new Fairness Doctrine.

***
This call for bloggy fairness has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Of Dreambirds and Ojos de Dios and other knitted things.

I thought I'd done a knitting post fairly recently, but then I did a search. Holy cats -- the last one I did was in July? Surely I've finished something since then...

So, um, yeah. I've finished several somethings, the most recent one today. But I like things in chronological order, so let's start where we left off in the summer.

I mentioned I was interested in making a Dreambird shawl -- and I did. Here's how it turned out. The pattern called for making 17 feathers. Maybe it was 22. It was some crazy number, anyway. I had no interest in making a shawl long enough to wrap around my middle multiple times, so I measured another shawl of a similar shape and decided eleven feathers would be sufficient for my purposes. Now that I've worn it a few times, I kind of wish I'd made one more feather, or maybe two. I still could -- I have plenty of yarn left over -- but since I haven't done it yet, I'm guessing it's not ever going to happen.

Next, I tackled a cowl for my friend Kim. (That's her, wearing the cowl.) She gave me several skeins of yarn when she was packing up to move from the Washington, DC, area to Michigan, and I used one of deep purple to make the cowl for her -- figuring she would need it because it's so much colder and snowier in Michigan than it is here (oh haha, see last week's Snowzilla post). The pattern is called Millwater, and it's pretty simple except for the 24-stitch cable up the middle. See, to make a cable, you move a certain number of stitches to another needle and drop it either in front of, or behind, the work in progress, depending on which way you want the cable to cross. Then you knit an equal number of the stitches from the original needle, and then you do this sort of awkward, hey-presto thing to bring the needle holding the set-aside stitches into line so you can knit the stitches off that needle. A four-stitch cable is pretty easy -- set aside two stitches, knit the next two, and knit two off the cable needle. But the wider the cable, the more awkward the maneuver gets. And 24 is pretty wide.

At least I only had to do the cable crossing row 17 times. You're welcome, Kim.

Next up in our Gods, Whatever Was I Thinking category: The Tuscan Sunflower. This is the summer shawl/table-topper in my seasonal series. The pattern in the brown is a spiral, which was challenging because I wasn't exactly sure how it was supposed to look. Once I got to the golden petals, it went very quickly. Honest.

Technically, this is a lace pattern, and knitting that brown section in the center reminded me why I hate doing lace.

After that, I needed something stupid easy. Behold: the Dangling Conversation. I picked up the yarn and pattern in Virginia Beach, VA, while on a self-designed yarn crawl with my pal Melody. She was on vacation with her family, and I came down to hang out with them for a couple of days. The yarn I used comes in a cake with the colors in order. You do stockinette stitch 'til the yarn changes color, then throw in a row of eyelets and keep going 'til the next color change, when you do another row of eyelets and keep going again. The pattern calls for knitting in beads along one edge, but I decided instead to lace big, wooden beads onto the tie ends. I've been wearing this one to work a lot.

I also mentioned in July that I planned to make an Ojo de Dios shawl. I got that one done, too.

The way you make it is to knit a triangle from the outside to the middle; then pick up stitches along one edge of the triangle and knit another; and so on, until you have 17 triangles. Then you pick up stitches and do garter-stitch short rows to fill in the rest. I didn't like the way the pattern called for joining the triangles, so I got a little fancy, and consequently ran out of yarn a few rows short of the top. But I've been wearing it a fair amount because it goes with a bunch of stuff in my wardrobe -- and also because at Yule, Kitty gave me a cool silver shawl pin that features a three-sided Celtic knot.

After I finished the Ojo de Dios shawl, other things began to take priority -- NaNoWriMo, the holidays, and so on -- and the knitting kind of got bogged down. I did cast on a cowl called the Black Forest once I'd finished NaNo, but it featured lace panels on relatively skinny needles, and it seemed to take forever to do a single pattern repeat.

Finally last weekend, I got sick of looking at it and decided to power through and get it done. I finished knitting it last night and steam-blocked it this morning. I'm calling mine the Blue Forest for obvious reasons.

I still have two other works-in-progress: a garter-stitch afghan so I can use up a bunch of leftovers from various projects; and a braid of roving that I intend to finish spinning with my drop spindle any day now. Did I ever do a post on spinning? Maybe I'll do that next week.

Anyway, back to the Tuscan Sunflower. I now have three of the four seasonal table toppers done, leaving only spring to knit. I plan to use this pattern with this yarn in the Green Apple colorway. We'll see how it turns out. Stay tuned...

***
Speaking of NaNo, don't forget: I'm offering 50 percent off my usual editing rate through the end of March. Email me at lynne.cantwell@hearth-myth.com if you're interested.

***
These moments of knitting-frenzied blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Monday, January 25, 2016

#Snowzilla edition.

This past week, my attention has been consumed mostly by snow and threats of snow.

Washington, D.C., where I live (or near enough, anyway), has always considered itself a Southern city. Which means that local officials kid themselves about the region's need for snow removal equipment. Sure, there are some years when we don't get any snow -- but most years, we get a snowstorm or two. When the first hint of snow enters the weather forecast here, people lose their minds and run to the grocery store for bread, milk, and toilet paper. Why? I got nuthin'. I've heard that the bread and milk are for making French toast -- but why don't people buy eggs, then, too? And what's the deal with the toilet paper? How much do you use, if you need to stock up when you're going to be stuck at home for two days, max?

Anyway.

The drumbeat began last weekend about this weekend's big storm. As the week progressed, forecasts called for ever-increasing amounts of snow -- to the point where the forecast for the little clipper system that came through Wednesday was largely ignored. Local transportation departments blew it off, and didn't bother to pre-treat the roads with chemicals. What they forgot was that the ground was cold, the roads were cold, and every flake of the inch of snow that fell, stuck. It caused a commuting nightmare. Some people spent six hours getting home. It made all of us wonder how bad Friday's commute was going to be. Although maybe Wednesday's rehearsal helped the powers-that-be focus, because by noon Friday, governments and businesses were shutting down and sending their employees home.

The Weather Channel has decided big winter storms need names, just like hurricanes have. So they dubbed our weekend storm Jonas. Jonas? Seriously? The Capital Weather Gang here in D.C. had their own contest and came up with a much better name: Snowzilla.

Better, and more appropriate. By the time Snowzilla moved north to hassle New York City, it had dumped between 18 and 30 inches of snow in the immediate DC area. (We got about 22 inches here.) It also spawned this GIF, which I wish I could take credit for:


The storm ended Saturday night here, so now we get to dig out. I will skip my usual and customary rant about how pathetic Mid-Atlantic snow removal efforts are. Instead, I will simply say that when I heard Metro would operate tomorrow, but with service so limited as to be nearly useless, I knew it was a matter of time before the whole region surrendered and decided to close for at least one more day.

Snow days give us time to relax and get to some things we don't normally have time to do. I made soup yesterday, and I also sorted through the clothes in the back of my closet. Today, I made brownies from scratch. The brownies were a bit of a fail; I tried to use up some leftover peppermint-candy chips by sprinkling them on top of the brownies before putting them in the microwave. (Yes, the microwave. They bake in seven minutes in a square glass pan -- perfect for when you need brownies right now.) Instead of nestling in, the chips melted, joined together, and even made craters in the brownies. The brownies taste fine, but I won't be doing that again.

***
My latest editing pass on Spider's Lifeline turned out much better than the brownies. I finished it today, and so the book will be going to my editors shortly. I'm aiming for publication in March. Stay tuned...

Other news: 

* I had a great time staying up past my bedtime Thursday night to be a guest on the Deadly Reads podcast. I appeared together with Indies Unlimited administrator K.S. Brooks and my fellow minions Laurie Boris, Shawn Inmon, Gordon Long, and Martin Crosbie, chatting about IU and indie publishing. You can listen to the show at the link. Warning: it's two hours long.

* The latest 559 Publishing anthology is out. It's called I Heard It on the Radio, and I'm pleased to have a story in it. Each author used a song title as a springboard, so the resulting story may not have anything to do with the song (mine doesn't). But it makes for interesting and engaging reading. Plus the cover is awesome. 

***
These moments of snowbound blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The big C.

This week's post is a little more serious than usual, guys. Sorry in advance.

We were forcefully reminded this week of one of the scourges of modern life: cancer.

Last Sunday, rock-and-roll superstar David Bowie died of cancer at the age of 69. Then on Thursday, actor Alan Rickman died of cancer at the age of 69.

Their ages caught my attention because in 1984, my father died of cancer at the age of 69.

My mother lived into her early 90s, and although she didn't die of cancer, she went under the knife for cancer surgery three times in the last ten or so years of her life.

Of course, younger people get it, too. I'd be willing to wager that most of us know someone who has had cancer. I had dinner with a friend tonight who is a breast cancer survivor. An indie author friend just lost her sister to the same disease. Even children get cancer.

Did you know that the United States declared war on cancer 44 years ago? I wasn't paying a lot of attention to cancer in 1971, but that was the year President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act. Forty years. And yet today, we can declare only small victories: lower death rates, new treatments. Improvements, sure, and not to be denigrated. But still, the scourge is with us.

We have learned some important things about cancer over the course of the past 44 years. For one thing, cancer is not a single disease, but a whole host of diseases. Some of them may be caused by bacteria or viruses; many have environmental causes; some have a genetic component. Some drugs work against certain cancers, but not others. All of those bits of knowledge advance the fight against cancer. But still, the scourge is with us.

During his State of the Union address this week, President Obama mentioned that Vice President Biden is spearheading an effort to speed up progress toward a cure. Biden -- who lost his 46-year-old son to cancer less than a year ago -- says part of the problem is that cancer research efforts are compartmentalized, and competition and territorialism within the field are preventing researchers from sharing their results. It's not just the researchers, he says, who are keeping their data to themselves; oncologists and those who fund research aren't encouraging the flow of information, either.

Somehow, that doesn't surprise me. I promised not to get political on this blog, but my cynical side can't help but think about the size of the industry that surrounds cancer. The National Cancer Institute has spent close to $100 billion on research since 1971, and something like 260 organizations are dedicated to raising money for cancer research (although given what we know about some of those organizations, much of that cash may be enriching the fundraisers themselves). Then there are the oncologists, the pharmaceutical companies, and the health insurance companies. The vast majority of these people are trying to help, I know, and I'm certain they would be delighted if a breakthrough allowed them to turn to some other line of work. But it does strike me that an awful lot of people make a living from this disease, one way or another.

And still the scourge is with us.

Spider's Lifeline, the book I'm working on now, is set in 2051. Webb Curtis, who narrates the novel, talks about how the gods have done their best to remove the scourge of cancer:
Most cancers had been eradicated not long after the Second Coming, when a select few pharmaceutical company CEOs and researchers received visits from the gods, who told them where their priorities would be directed henceforth.
Unfortunately, Vice President Biden won't have the gods' help -- at least, not as directly. But I hope he can convince those involved in cancer research and treatment to cooperate with one another, and to remember that the point of the exercise is to end the scourge.

***
These moments of serious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.