What Qualifies Someone To Be A Cable News “Expert”?

In the past, I know I’ve taken good-natured jabs at U.S. morning television, especially ABC’s Good Morning America:

Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

One minute of frenzied “news” every half hour. Darting from Story A to Story B to Story C in seconds. Bells and whistles. Flashing graphics. Hurrying to get to the latest cat video.

We understand why. The more we have at our wifi’ed, iPad’ed fingertips, the tougher it’s assumed to be to hold all of our attention. That belief’s no doubt now impacting even how novels are written.

U.S. 24 hour cable news is in its way worse in that regard than even network morning TV. For it purports to be able to provide grounding and more in-depth “analysis.” Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders this came out of the mouth [starting at about 1 min 15 sec] of a Fox News “expert”:

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq, Kashmir, India. At times it [Paris] felt like that.”

L.A. resident Parisian cook and food writer, Cécile Delarue, ridicules his take. (I had never heard of him before reading her tweet.) And reasonably so: image

In a full response to that “expert,” Muslim Parisian Sened DHAB composed an actually serious and thoughtful analysis. If you’re interested, have a click over.

Fox may have apologized for that “expert’s” comments by now. They seem to be apologizing all over themselves during the last couple of weeks. But it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll be confronted with a mile wide and a quarter inch deep being passed off by cable news as “expertise.”

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His “expertise” is apparently amply demonstrated to us viewers by his offering the most basic of factual errors. An egregious example: he states France is “10-12 percent” Muslim. Almost no one reputable believes the percentage goes that high. Okay, perhaps that’s debatable. Yet he himself also notes it having “5 million Muslims.” Presumably, he also knows its total population is about 66 million, so simple arithmetic therefore tells us that’s nowhere near “10-12 percent.”

If an “expert” gets something so elementary so wrong right in front of us, frankly I’m going to be very suspicious of just about everything else he has to say. We all should be. And that’s even leaving aside his opening by ridiculously stumbling over a vital – in the realm in which he is sharing his “expertise” – French word, which as an “expert” surely he should have been able to pronounce without having to apologize for possibly mispronouncing it.

Watching the video, I wanted to turn down the volume and look away. He’s like an undergrad doing a weakly prepared presentation in a Politics of Western Europe class. I found myself almost feeling sorry for him, and wishing someone would please get the hook and pull him off the global stage because he’s embarrassing himself.

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Moreover he’s also greatly embarrassing that news channel; but evidently that channel isn’t easily embarrassed. It is also exceedingly fond recently of citing a July 2014 ICM survey that claimed some “16 percent” of French citizens supported the terror group Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL in English-speaking lands; in France, it’s referred to mostly by its derogatory shorthand in Arabic: Daesh). That poll is, unsurprisingly, dutifully once again referred to during his segment.

However, the accuracy of that poll has also been reasonably questioned elsewhere. Fox News here, perhaps unsurprisingly also, says nothing about that. Neither does its “expert.”

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Sadly ignorance, exaggeration and errors do not make that “expert” unique on U.S. cable TV news. There’s just too much airtime to fill and all channels (even my preferred CNN) seem to rely heavily on way too many “talking heads” whom harried producers know are readily available to rush before cameras within the next hour. (Full disclosure: a relation of mine is a producer on a well-known U.S. news program.) Yet what truly forms the underpinning for their expertise is often anyone’s guess. Sometimes you suspect you would learn more from a well-sourced Wikipedia entry or two.

It’s no laughing matter either. Disinformation and ignorance enters routine discourse all too easily. Suddenly someone has a new “fact” which gets shared and shared and re-shared: “Darling, my father was watching Fox yesterday. He said they had an expert on who explained how Paris is now almost run by ISIS. The girls want to go there on vacation?”

A rule I try to live by in our media-saturated world: if it sounds outlandish, count to ten. As viewers, we don’t have to have an opinion immediately. Seek a “second” or “third” unrelated source before quoting it to anyone else, because what you just heard may well have been sloppy half-truths at best, and quite possibly outright garbage.

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To end on a lighthearted note, Cécile is “French and perfect” …. you understand. She is also self-deprecating, witty and entertaining. This is one of her YouTube videos, in which she demonstrates how to make mousse au chocolat:

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Hope you are having a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

I Was Having An Argument….

….with myself.

Specifically, yesterday I was working on a scene that sees two characters disagreeing strongly and moving towards an “explosion,” while a third witnesses the rising tension. This morning, I thought on yesterday’s post. I suppose I could now reply to this question:

6. When did you last talk to yourself? When did you last berate yourself to the point of tears?

It wasn’t merely “talk.” As I was writing yesterday, I was often having a real go. It got pretty heated.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of the Louvre Pyramid
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of the Louvre Pyramid

I do write occasionally while talking out loud – particularly when it comes to stretches of extended dialogue, and especially when there are multiple participants. I find it helps me to listen to how it reads to “the ear” as realistic chatter. Good thing I was alone in this case, as the “last third” of me tried several times to step in and calm the increasingly nasty and confrontational other “two-thirds”:

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Ah, our loving families. That’s only part of the exchange – which is also the first “sneak peek” I will share into the rough draft for the third (as yet unnamed) novel in the series.

By the way, none of the, uh, “three” of me got teary or berated myself.

Have a good Thursday, wherever you are in the world. ;-)

“Oh, God, not my mother?”

I’ve you’ve ever written about romance and relationships, you know it’s a minefield. We are all full of foibles. For those of us who pen fiction, trying to capture humans in print in order to bring characters of both sexes realistically to life is never simple.

Then there’s caricature. And humo(u)r. Recently, courtesy of Twitter, I came across this:

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Those questions come from a woman. Therefore, as a man, I tread here lightly. I will say this, though: they are mostly hilarious. A few choice examples:

13. Tell me in which ways I remind you of your mother.

Yep, that’ll frighten off most guys for sure. That’s a keeper. If in need, try that on any man.

14. If you had to murder one of your closest friends in cold blood, which one would you choose?

On the surface, that also seems a winner. But be careful. Before trying to answer, quite a few men might also be thinking, ‘Wow, that clearly deranged mind of hers makes me fancy her even more.’ (Not me, of course. I wouldn’t have thought that.)

15. Who on Earth wears Crocs to a dinner date? In the winter, no less?

This couldn’t be directed at me. I’ve never owned a pair. I thought they were for five year olds?

30. Imagine you slept with my best friend. How was it?

Now, for a man, here’s where marital status matters greatly. Coming at you from a girlfriend, well, that question’s one thing. But if comes at you from your wife…. it has now become MUCH scarier.

32. Share the last time you faked a British accent to sound smarter.

This has to be from an American web site. For has the author actually been to certain, uh, intellectual locales here in the United Kingdom? Or ever even watched EastEnders?

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. That’s enough now. Everyone off the internet. Back to work! :-)

No Hugging, Please, We’re French

It has become the hug cringed at around the world. The Lebanese news site Naharnet has a nice summation of what went, uh, wrong:

….The towering John Kerry was meters from Hollande, striding fast, when he first opened his arms.

In turn, the French leader stretched out his, clasping Kerry’s hands. Kerry pulled him into a brief hug to his right, at which time Hollande appeared to go back in for “la bise”. [The kisses to cheeks.]

Kerry caught up, accepted the kiss on his right cheek, before they clasped hands again, awkwardly placing their arms around each other as they walked side by side up the stairs into the Elysee Palace.

Half-hug, half-bise, it was a moving clash of cultures….

It’s a surprise Kerry didn’t realize Hollande would be baffled. But the Secretary of State had signaled beforehand that he was going to go all “American” in terms of sympathy and give Paris “a hug.” Yet the French president obviously didn’t get what Kerry meant, or didn’t think it would be demonstrated, umm, “literally,” and so was clearly unprepared for an American-style, “Come here, pal.”

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My feeling is former president (2007-2012) Nicolas Sarkozy, who reputedly has a solid sense of “Americanisms,” might have handled it better.

One can imagine the fun media and bloggers around the world might be having now had Ségolène Royal been standing there as president instead. Then again I don’t believe that had she been that Kerry would have tried to hug her that way. Kerry was doing an “American guy thing” with Hollande – and Hollande didn’t understand it.

Younger French of both sexes – especially those who’ve been to the U.S. for any substantive length of time beyond a vacation – are more attuned to Americans’ “curious” behaviors. But middle-aged and older French men on meeting even in emotional circumstances, such as offering condolences, as a rule don’t open by hugging each other like that. French men don’t do American-style “bromance.”

Compared to Americans, the French on the whole are simply far less into demonstrative displays of physical closeness between acquaintances, even friends. But they are not alone in that. Other Europeans, including the British (of course), are similar.

Still, it was a lighthearted moment after a week and a half of at times incredible ugliness and sadness. We all needed it. It provided a badly needed chuckle.

A Danish close friend of ours, and her English husband of two years, are coming for a stay-over visit with us tonight.

We’ve known her for ages. I get kisses to both cheeks, and she lets me hug her. She even hugs me back.

However, if I ever moved to hug him, he’d probably think I’d lost my mind. Or I was going all “American” on him. A firm handshake between us men is all that’s needed. ;-)

Have a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. :-)

On Location: Long Island And The Catskills

It’s finally back here in Britain. Last night, we watched the second episode of Revenge for 2014-2015. (We saw the opener last week.) I’ve written about that escapist show before, although not in this context.

The program does accurately reflect aspects of the incredible wealth (often “weekend wealth”) seen on Suffolk County’s “South Fork” – in east end towns such as Southampton and East Hampton. But when I write of “Long Island” in the novels, it’s about the “middle class” island. In one exchange in Passports between Uncle Bill and Joanne (James’s mother), I decided to slip in this reference to the dramatic difference in lifestyles:

As her brother gave her a long look, Joanne added caustically, “You know, we were always imagining Lake Ronkonkoma as the sublime setting.”

“Really? What? Not East Hampton?” he joked.

“Oh, yeh, us Brookhaven billionaires,” she smirked.

Brookhaven is a large town (that would probably be better described as a “township” – encompassing many hamlets and villages) in central Suffolk that runs the width of the island from north shore to south shore.

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I Admit It: I Like Sara Bareilles

Yesterday, ending their nearly week-long, post-Christmas visit, we drove my in-laws home to Enfield. After depositing them, and a quick lunch, we returned to Wiltshire. It’s about a 2 hour, 15 min drive each way.

So Mrs. Nello drove to London and I drove back. During the day, she began to develop a bit of a cold. No surprise: her parents had them too. Half of England seems to have the sniffles at the moment. (I’m still okay, but fully expect now to get sick also within days.)

The weather had been great, but cold (by English standards) – clear and frosty:

Frosty Wiltshire farmland, not far from our house. Photographed earlier in the week. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Frosty Wiltshire farmland, not far from our house. Photographed earlier in the week. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Friday was warmer, sunny and pleasant; but that was apparently a blip. Wednesday into Thursday, frost gave way to the rain. It is rainy again this morning. (I can hear it hitting the house. It’s about 7 AM as I write this.) Everyone has been mostly inside, sharing germs.

At one point, I glanced over at Mrs. Nello as I drove; and I saw she was snoozing. Much of the M4 is long, straight and dull – especially in the dark of an early evening. Tired of the radio, I decided to play a Christmas gift CD.

That’s right: it was a Sara Bareilles CD.

And I like it. “The Blessed Unrest.” That one.

Eh, men reading this: don’t judge me. I like her music and her voice. I especially like “Brave”:

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In one of her other songs on that CD, she sings about Queens, New York too.

Okay, yeh, another song happens to be entitled “Little Black Dress.” Never mind that. I didn’t know that song existed until I got the CD.

Wait. Why am I justifying myself? I have nothing to be guilty about!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re smirking. But I can prove I’m a man. Here. Look. These are the books I received for Christmas. Here’s the list:

A Subaltern on the Somme.”
The Battle of Kursk.”
Wellington: The Iron Duke.”
War and Remembrance” (for after I finish “The Winds Of War”).
General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel.”
Trajan: Optimus Princeps.”

Does it get any more “guy” than the likes of those?

Hmm. Suddenly I also remember attending an Alison Moyet concert (longer ago than I now care to recall) with a girlfriend. At some point, it hit me that I was one of about the “50 guys” in the audience of a few thousand. Or so it seemed anyway.

[Shrug.] I suppose we never really change. As a teen, and in college, I always gravitated more toward “girl friends” than “guy friends.” I had guy pals, but I always preferred hanging out with women.

There were guys who made fun of that tendency. Somehow, you’re supposed to want to do lots of “guys only” stuff – with no women around.

I’ve never understood that. “Men’s only” clubs? Seriously? Why the hell would you – as a man – not want women around?

Probably to feel freer to lie about the women you don’t actually know, that’s why.

Eventually, those same “guys only” types also end up wondering how you know the cool girls you do.

It’s not rocket science. Younger men, take note. ;-)

Have a good – and healthy – Saturday, wherever in the world you are reading this. :-)

Santa’s Political Leanings

Always politics. Everything’s political. Now, there’s evidently a debate in the U.S. over whether Santa Claus is a Republican or a Democrat:

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Hold on. Actually, that question is immaterial until we ascertain his citizenship. Is he even a U.S. citizen?

If he is, he may be registered to vote in his last state of residency, which would prove his political leanings easily. Unless he’s an independent. It would seem his only possible place of U.S. residency might have been Alaska; there is a town outside Fairbanks named North Pole.

That’s conjecture of course. We do know he is domiciled abroad now at the North Pole. If he is a U.S. citizen, that makes him an expat.

If so, we know he enters the country only one day a year. Does he bank abroad? (Presumably he doesn’t have accounts in tax havens, like Luxembourg?) Does he regularly file U.S. income taxes, and pay taxes owed on monies earned above the yearly $100,000 or so earned income exclusion threshold?

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of Santa Claus
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of Santa Claus

And what about Mrs. Claus? Is she a U.S. citizen too? Or an alien? If the latter, does she have a U.S. Taxpayer Identification Number? And do they have minor children who were born abroad? Children born abroad to U.S. citizens are usually entitled to a U.S. passport; but the children must have been issued with a Consular Report of Birth Abroad by a U.S. embassy or consulate in the foreign country of birth.

If Santa Claus isn’t a U.S. citizen, based on competing international claims to sovereignty regarding the North Pole, Santa seems likely either of Canadian, Danish or Russian nationality. It appears he enters the U.S. and leaves outside of normal U.S. Customs and Border Protection admittance procedures. That’s bad enough, but if he’s also Russian, as we know this year there may be sanctions issues for him due to the U.S. position on Russian intervention in Ukraine. Can he continue to do business as usual in the U.S.?

So before we ask about his preferred U.S. political party, we need to know a lot more about him first.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. ;-)

On The New York Subway

My father – he’s feeling excellent now, post-surgery; the implant is working well – sent me these photos that were supposedly taken on the New York City Subway. They’re obviously making the rounds. Some appear to be from other mass transit sources, but most do appear to be from New York.

I have no idea who owns them, and reproduce them here only for a laugh. (We all no doubt sure could use one given ugly events of late in my birth city.) As you scroll down (click on them to make them larger), smile and enjoy:

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But Don’t Mix Cold Medication With Wine

I’ve come down with a massive cold. Have felt terrible all day. Dosed up heavily. Slept lots.

Finally got around to watching some TV news and reading some news sites – and much out there is (as usual) awful stuff.

I hadn’t done some iPad updates for a few days either. I noticed this one in the queue as I okayed a bunch of them. I also don’t think this was meant to read quite as it does:

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So that’s that. It’s now official. NPR (National Public Radio) *will* cure insomnia.

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All kidding aside, this is actually unsettling. I happened to see this yesterday. It’s from October, courtesy of Pew Research (if you click over, you’ll see there are a few more below Bloomberg I’ve cropped off below):

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Only 53% of Americans have even heard of NPR? True, much of its listenership is rural. Still, I would’ve thought even if one didn’t listen to it, at least it registered somewhere on the media horizon for most of the population.

Yet 64% have heard of “the Daily Show?” If you’re one of the roughly one-third who’d not until now, it’s a half-hour satire nightly TV program. It’s hosted by the guy we all went to high school with who sits in the back of every class and pulls funny faces at the teacher over whatever he deems worth making fun of.

Sounds depressing, but on closer inspection the upside is while so many have heard of “the Daily Show,” only 16% reportedly trust it as a “news source.” Thus we have proof most people are smart enough to discern the difference between actual news and throwing paper airplanes. Perhaps there is hope for the world?

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Looking at the list, note one of the omissions:

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Wait. What? Where’s France 24?

If you don’t get it on cable or satellite, it streams on the internet. It is perhaps the most genteel 24 hour news channel on television. For example, in its “debate” programs, no one yells at each other. And, afterwards, everyone has a glass of wine. ;-)

Sorta a different approach compared to Fox and MSNBC. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday….

Bits And Pieces

The title of this post has to do with clearing up a few loose ends. Hopefully, that will also not be what our sofas are reduced to by the end of today. Why?

On short notice, our friend desperately needed someone to watch her Devon Rex cats for 24 hours. And guess who she thought of? Why, us, of course:

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Obviously I’m not there. So the Mrs. has the entire cat-sitting responsibility. She sent me those photos yesterday after the pair were dropped off.

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We also talked via FaceTime last night about my Dad’s hospital release. At the very end of our chat, knowing my mother was in hearing distance, but couldn’t see the iPad, my wife mischievously dropped in, “What was that about some nurse?” [She then winked at me, knowing she was stirring the pot and would get my mother going.]

“Oh, it was nothing,” I said. “Just silliness.”

My mother turned all uptight at hearing that, and blurted out, “She knows?”

Quickly I looked across the room at Mom and added, “I told her [my wife] before. It was funny.”

My mother rushed behind me and got in frame to see her daughter-in-law in England. Mom then proceeded to let loose: “Well, I was gonna smack her! I was thinking, ‘In my 72 years, I’ve seen your type lots before, cookie. Forget it. You should see my daughter-in-law. She’s a helluva lot more attractive than you!'”

* * *

Yes, Dad is now home. He looks really well. Long may it continue.

The implanted device sits just below his breast bone, on his left side above his heart. In the hospital, my mother was able to see where it is briefly without the temporary bandage that now covers the incision. The device outline is slightly visible beneath the skin.

He has been told that for the next five weeks he is not to move his left arm above his chest, and not pick up anything with his left hand that’s heavier than a cup of coffee.

When recuperation finishes, his life should be pretty normal. He will have only one major “no, no”: No contact sport. So playing for the Dallas Cowboys will be definitely out. ;-)

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world.