Saturday, March 18, 2017

MAKING AMERICA GRATE AGAIN




Today, I visited the blog of William Briggs, author of the new "Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability, & Statistics," and climate change skeptic with the perspective of a statistician/antiphilosopher.  Interesting fellow, and if you enjoy heady Thomist theology, or just want to debate climate change, or a priore "evidence," his is the blog for that.

Today, he took on the sound of the "music" we hear around us in the public sphere these days, which he amusingly described:
Ever been to one of those antique engine shows? Or maybe heard a factory pressing widgets. Chickatidah-chickatidah-chickatidah or maybe Eree-eee-kurchunk-chunk-chunk-clink, Eree-eee-kurchunk-chunk-chunk-clink. Those of monotonous droning machines is what we’re after.
Keep that sound going in your head and add to it to the output of a soft jazz synthesizer programmed by a community college Computers-For-Dummies student after a long night bingeing on cold General Tso’s chicken and warm beer.
Have it? Let it ooze through your mind a little. Now infect the whole shebang with the ebola virus, let it bleed and fester a while, then kick it down a hill and into traffic on a busy Los Angeles freeway.
He's not addressing the substance of the music, per se, but as he points out...
The music was full of echos, and occasional voices were heard in the distance, but they weren’t plain voices. They were filtered, warbling, ever fading, with indistinguishable words;
If you can't ascertain the substance, the point is moot.  It's already substanceless.  But, as Briggs often does, he got me thinking.  I know that the sound of popular music these days has it's detractors, with a spectrum of critiques.  There is much to be said on the subject of the sound, but any sound can be music, and be pleasing to the ear, if pared with a moving message or imagery that fits that sound.  So, what about the substance of today's music?  Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" may be really a loud heavy metal song, but the lyrics and message are clear, and the aggressive sound pares well with the subject matter.  Grand Master Flash's "The Message" may sound primitive and clunky, but the message is very clear and important, and again, the sound pares well with it.   Both songs were recorded in 1982, 35 years ago.

Here's the current Billboard Top 100.  If you can stand it, try listening for a minute to any of the songs.  Take the current top single, Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You."  It's cute.  The kind of thing you'd expect a love-lorn teenager to appreciate and forget about in week.  But here's the thing... keep going through the list, just randomly pick songs and plug them into YouTube and listen.  Notice something?  It's ALL like something only a love-lorn teenager would enjoy and forget about in a week.  You would be hard-pressed to find one or two songs on that ENTIRE list of 100 SONGS that offer anything of any deeper artistic value whatsoever.

Go through the Country, Rock, even the Christian charts.  Notice something?  It's most ALL just silly nonsense for kids.  Barely a worthwhile listen in ALL those HUNDREDS of songs.  Now, go to the Billboard Charts Archive.  Take a little trip back in time and look at the top singles throughout the years.  Notice something?  The artistic value of the songs compared to today?  Sure, there are plenty of silly teenager ditties, as usual, but in 1968 we had "Mrs. Robinson" and "Hey Jude."  In 1974 we have "Cat's in the Cradle" and "Time in a Bottle."  By the mid-1980's?  It looks just like today.  You would be very hard-pressed to find songs of the intellectual, spiritual, cultural value of "The Boxer" or "American Pie" from the mid-80's on.  If music taste is a cultural indicator you like, we haven't matured a day over the course of two generations.

Take television or the movies.  Sure, there are some quality programs and movies out there.  But think about this - when's the last time you saw a movie that moved you like "Ordinary People," or bared the tragic-comedy of the powers that be in "Dr. Strangelove," or made serious critique of laizzez faire capitalism like "The Grapes of Wrath?"  Can you compare any television show on today with "All in the Family" or "M.A.S.H.?"  And again, sure, there was plenty of crap back then too, but yet somehow, with far fewer choices and venues, there was so much more culturally valuable movies and television then. 

There's nothing particularly new about marketing crap.  In the pop culture biz the target audience has long been young people.  They consume more pop culture than older people, and they buy more stuff that is advertised with it.  It's a business, after all.  But today we have "niche-marketing," programming targeted for most every demographic you can describe, yet we still can't find an "All in the Family" or a "M.A.S.H." in any of it.  It's as if the demographic, "intelligent," is assumed to no longer exist.  But again, we're talking about a business - and intelligent, cultured consumers don't buy crap.  It's not that they don't exist.  It's just that they aren't consuming the popular culture products.

One of the few bastions of quality programming of the arts, news and educational programming is public broadcasting, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which brings us PBS, NPR, PRI, etc.  The highest quality news show on television?  The NewsHour on PBS.  The best science-news show?  "Science Friday" on NPR.  The best science show?  NOVA.  The best in-depth news studies?  Frontline.  The best music and arts show?  Masterpiece Theater.  The best young-children's educational programming?  Sesame Street.  Teaching children to read?  Reading Rainbow.  New and controversial subject matter in a thoughtful and digestible form?  Independent Lens.  Nature?  NATURE.  The best children's educational programming, higher arts and culture, documentaries, foreign culture, science, stage, you name it, it comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting ("and the support of viewers like you").  Because the audience for PBS and NPR and such are by definition not teenagerish silly pop consumers, it requires a public investment to make them so.  And it costs $1.35 a year of your per capita federal taxes.  Without it?  We'd be an even dumber society.  There would be even less substance.

Critics of the CPB make arguments ranging from my good pal FreeThinke's position that we should be wary of government-funded arts and news, to those who flatly assert, "Well, if there's a market for it, it will come."  To wit I say, "If there was a market for quality private schools for poor children, we'd have it already."  (The irony of demanding tax payer money for private schools is lost on the "School Choice" movement.)  Just because something isn't a viable private market endeavor, does not mean that it has no value.  And just because something sells, that doesn't mean it is substantive, meaningful, educational, or spiritual, that it is valuable beyond a week for a love-lorn teenager.  President Donald Trump, though, is apparently one the latter type of CPB's critics.  "Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!"

So now, the President wants to eliminate funding for the CPB.  How's that for irony?  We can't force people to watch PBS or listen to NPR, but at least it's out there.  At least, when you're flipping the dial, you can come across something that can teach you, elevate you, broaden your horizons, something that has real substance and life-long value.  It may not be reaching the audience it once did, what with all this niche-marketing and the internet, but I would suggest the CPB get more funding, advertise it's presence a lot more, get the word out that it is out there, and explain that it is something we desperately need as a culture.  We are not going to have new, quality, substantive arts if the people are not exposed to anything but the same substance of the past or no substance at all.  And we're going to dumb down our society even more without it.  Think about this - Donald Trump is now the President of the United States.  What about that suggests to you we do not desperately, more than ever, need the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

JMJ

66 comments:

  1. Must be a trumpanzee in the header pic. Didn't conservatives always talk about librals dumbing down America? I seem to recall Bill Bennett talk about that from time to time.

    Trump is the natural result of the dumbing down process

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  2. I love my two NPR stations WTMD and WBJC. Of course, when they do the news, it's right from the NPR folks... and THAT is where it breaks down. The bias is so think, you need a knife to cut it with. They'd be fully funded if they did balanced reporting. But they don't. That's why they'll be de-funded. It's their own fault for creating a liberal echo chamber.

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  3. When all your news reports are derogatory towards Republicans, and all questions are framed as to what "help's Democrats"... you can't expect the Republicans in the audience to enthusiastically support you. Really, get rid of the bias.

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  4. There exsits no one who if free from bias. No one. When all one listens to and reads is FOX/Brietbart or MSNBC/HuffPo they will be seriously biased.

    Polarization in American politics has steadily increased. Divisiveness has grown with it. It has to some degree been by design. With the 2016 election Trump took it to the next level.

    America, and perhaps the world, could well be big losers as a result.

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    1. There exsits no one who if free from bias. No one.

      Nor should we be. Choose a side, fergodsake! ;-)

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    2. Oh, I have a side. Truth. Whichever side happens to hold it at any given time. ☺

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  5. At what point, Thersites, do you think to yourself perhaps it's not bias? What if they're just doing their jobs, and conservatives are doing really bad, newsworthy-bad, things? Is it ALWAYS bias? Can you give me an example?

    JMJ

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    1. Oh it's bias. It's all the "unasked" questions to the liberal candidate and all the stupid "Russia" questions demanded of Trump.

      When they start asking the question, "What does Donald Trump (or Republicans) need to do to win..." with a straight face, no winks, and seek an honest answer as if with a "desire" for it to happen, w/o fear, dread, or a need to ridicule.

      They seem to believe that they are "storytellers" with a narrative... not news reporters. Why else label your segmnent "Codeswitch" if you're NOT trying to push "Identity Politics"?

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    2. The day they turn the table on Black Lives Matter and seriously ask the question, "Do blacks commit more crime that Asians/Whites" and then cite actual statistics, they'll actually prove themselves "unbiased". But much like the Swedes, they'll never "seek" (or publish) the data that would establish the statistic.

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    3. and all the stupid "Russia" questions demanded of Trump.

      And still they keep coming with that CRAPOLA. :=(

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    4. If you can, watch this:

      http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/putin-russia/

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    5. Thersities, it's not the job of the press to ask, "What does Trump need to do to "win."" The job of the press would be to tell us how he "won" and what he "won." And you can't blame the press for their initial impression of Trump (or that it remains). Trump was not your typical candidate and is not your typical President. He's a JOKE. The press failed to understand just how ignorant and vulnerable the American people had become.

      And the black lives matter thing... a responsible press wouldn't ask such a vacuous question. Black have been marginalized, left behind in post-industrial cities after fleeing the scum of the white South, and generally treated like shit. What do you expect? Here's a list of murder rates by country - http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate - notice black countries or countries with high black populations are not over-represented at all! IT IS BULLSHIT. WHAT YOU BELIEVE ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE IS PROVABLY BULLSHIT. YOU ARE REMOVING ALL CONTEXT EXCEPT THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN - THE DEFINITION OF RACISM.

      IT IS NOT THE JOB OF THE PRESS TO MAKE CONSERVATIVES FEEL GOOD OR TO TELL THEM THAT THEIR BLATANT RACISM IS OKAY.

      JMJ

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    6. Let me have some of what you're smokin' Jersey. Read the FBI crime report once in a while.

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    7. It's not the Klan or police targetting blacks for termination.

      https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/14/us/Baltimore-homicides-record.html?_r=0

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    8. Thersites, did you look at the link I provided?

      JMJ

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    9. What do country murder rates have to do with anything?

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    10. Should I assume that the USA is a "White" country whose murder rate represents that of White people?

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    11. "What do country murder rates have to do with anything?"

      Oh, c'mon. I have to explain that to you?

      JMJ

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    12. Nationality is an accurate proxy for race? When you going to tell MLK's descendants that they're "White"?

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    13. Silliness. You can see, clearly, there are plenty of essentially black countries with very low crime rates. But this going nowhere. You are obviously of a mind that black people are more prone to criminal behavior, and refuse to allow for anything other context.

      JMJ

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    14. You are obviously of a mind that black people are more prone to criminal behavior, and refuse to allow for anything other context.

      That's not the Farmer I've learned to like and love!

      ;-)

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    15. I'm not sure that your so-called "black" countries are as concerned about collecting crime statistics as many First World countries are. They don't have the manpower to "waste" on bureacratic trivia.

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  6. Well, Thersites hits the nail on the head - certain people don't like what is on NPR and PBS so they want it ended. Take music. Do you think the music industry wants people listening to complex, or difficult music to perform? No! They want simple shit. People with rare talent can demand high prices. Any common schmuck can perform most of what passes for music these days. Notice how the high-powered, wide-ranged vocalists of the classic rock and metal days are gone now? Notice talent like Zappa, Tull, Yes, ELP, you just don't see anymore? The dumber and easier the music, the easier the industry to control the "talent."

    JMJ

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  7. So what your saying is that musical talent and journalistic talent have both been dumbed down because that's what folks want?

    There is plenty of serious long form journalism if one looks for it. Much without being agenda driven and low in bias. It does take effort as well as time. Followed by serious consideration.

    Cable news is profit driven and FOX in particular has done a remarkably good job of marketing their brand of news. They give a huge audience what they want to hear, thus saving them time. And, it confirms their biases as being truth. MSNBC is the opposite side of that same news coin.

    So yeah you're probably right Jersey. If we're smart we won't fall into the trap. BTW, it has become politically motivated and politically driven.

    I continue to maintain the right has perfected the game and it has served them well. Think DJT.

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    1. one word. Baltimore.

      Das two words to me. But I've had a few Chimays. Hips...

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  8. Thanks JMJ... good post. Sorry to hear you're struggling again with more health issues.

    Hang tough...

    I loved the question... "what if conservatives are just bad?" Is that even a realistic option for some to consider? But I suppose the same could be asked of progressives/liberals...

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    1. Thanks man! It's a tough time, but "I'll get by with a little help from my friends!"

      I don't think it's so much liberals or conservatives are bad people, but more that the application of liberalism and conservatism have real life effects and it's the job of the press to report on those effects. If the press is reporting bad things that come out of conservatism, or liberalism, that is not the fault of some bias of the press.

      JMJ

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  9. Without it? We'd be an even dumber society. There would be even less substance.

    Absolutamente!

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  10. "Do blacks commit more crime that Asians/Whites" and then cite actual statistics, they'll actually prove themselves "unbiased".

    Adjusted for socio-economic status? ;-)

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    1. You wouldn't be able to find the numbers to compare with. The FBI defines Hispanics as "whites" when they're counting perpetrators, but "Hispanic" if they're a victim of a crime. Does that make sense? How?

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    2. Race and Ethnicity: The UCR tracks crime for the racial category of "White" to include both Hispanic and non-Hispanic ethnicities. According to the ACLU, with over 50 million Latinos residing in the United States, this hides the incarceration rates for Latinos vis-à-vis marijuana-related offenses, as they are considered "White" with respect to the UCR.[10]
      As a response to these and other limitations, a new system of crime data collection was established in 1988 as an outgrowth of the UCR system. The National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is an incident-based reporting system that will collect more comprehensive and detailed data on crime from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. As it is still under development, NIBRS coverage is not yet nationwide.[11]


      1988 they identified the "problem". Its been 29 years "under development". I wish I worked on that contract.... I'd retire soon.

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    3. Does that make sense? How?

      About as much sene as the Soth African 'race classification'!

      Or Israel defining 'who is a Jew'...

      Go on then, gizyer FBI report, We could all do with a laugh! ;-)

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    4. No need. There's no data there worth looking at... at least none that an "officialist" couldn't deny. In other words, if it wasn't calculated by a civil servant, the data means cr*p.

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    5. So the liberals make sure that it's never calculated.

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    6. Oh no, Thersites. It's not liberals doing that. In the case of a host of these sorts of non-classifying, it's most always Republicans stopping the data collection. We saw this in the last census, and will see it again in he next census (remember, the census counts people in jail and too. I think this is because if we could directly connect socio-economic conditions to certain types of crime, or if we could more clearly see the direction of certain laws enforcement to certain races, it could make our draconian, self-defeating, conservative criminal laws look bad!

      JMJ

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    7. So the liberals make sure that it's never calculated.

      I thought we gone past Bad libruls, Good Cons!

      LOL.

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    8. Can I ask you a question, Jersey. Be honest. Who do you think it is in Sweden that refuses to classify the immigrants separately, Swedish liberals or Swedish conservatives?

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    9. I see conservative after conservative trying to parse the crime statistic data by race. I see ZERO liberals attempting likewise.

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    10. 'Race' is a human construct.

      Lalallalalallalllallalal...lalallalal...

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    11. ALL language (words) are a human construct...

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  12. "yet we still can't find an "All in the Family" or a "M.A.S.H." in any of it." Not to mention All in the Family approached subjects that they would never tackle today for fear of being non politically correct.

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    1. I don't think it's a fear of tackling the subject matter. Comedians all over cable are doing it every day. Theirs are some of the best programming out there today, too. It was the way, artistically, "All in the Family" approached the subject matter. Archie was a genuinely good and sympathetic person. He was just terribly ignorant, a product of the old days. He didn't know any better. As the show went on over the years, his character became more and more open and liberated. The show itself - the writing, the jokes, the message - was brilliant.

      I think some of these memes we have today - political correctness, liberal media bias, blacks are somehow more prone to crime than whites - are a real problem. They are over-simplified and usually terribly misdirected. Just.Plain.Stupid.

      JMJ

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  13. Get well soon! I've had a horrible medical 2 years myself. But 95 % better now...

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    1. Hey, that's encouraging! I'm still looking at about a year before I'm back to anything like "normal" (I'm a very physical, high-energy guy, so "normal" for me is demanding a lot), but I should be at least able to get around and visit friends and stuff within the next 6 months. Good to hear you're winning the fight!

      JMJ

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    2. It takes time Brother, you'll be fine in the end!

      Protips from Mr Platitude: 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!'

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    3. 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger!'

      Except for cyanide, that really doe kill you. Ask Himmler!

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    4. LOL! I think, when all is said and done, I will be both emotionally and physically stronger than I've been in quite a while. Apparently, I was sick a long time before I even knew it! With all the injuries and surgeries and all I've had through my life, I just thought I was in the usual pain I always have! Goes to show, pain serves a purpose. Escaping it, even if just by learning to put it out of your mind, is all well and fine, but addressing it must always be the first priority. Now, I'll be more careful. If this thing doesn't kill me (so far, so good on that), it certainly will make me smarter!

      JMJ

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    5. What's that they say... No pain know gain? Pain does serve a purpose. Without it we could not know or understand pleasure or joy.

      Keep up the fight my friend. You will win and yes you'll be stronger for the fight and having won the battle.

      My personal experiences with pain, physical as well as emotional have taught me this.

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    6. Thanks Les. I always figured you were a tough dude. I'll keep on being tough like you!

      JMJ

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    7. Apparently, I was sick a long time before I even knew it!

      Me too. Took 4 months of morphine to find the damn thing!

      Love the NHS, u know?

      ;-)

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    8. I wasn't even informed of it for two months after it was discovered.

      Love the... well... nothing, ya' know! ;) USA!USA!USA! (Duuuhhhhh)

      JMJ

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    9. Health as a bizness! Hate the idea.

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    10. USA!USA!USA!

      Git a life, Moaran!

      LOL.

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  14. Bloddy Marons! Get a brian! Hips...

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  15. Music heard only on Huxley's "Island" AND NPR

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    1. Aldous Huxley, "Island"

      “Attention”, a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate. “Attention”, it repeated in the same high, nasal monotone. “Attention” (…)

      “Is that your bird?” Will asked.

      She shook her head.

      Mynahs are like the electric light”, she said. “They don’t belong to anybody.”

      Why does he say those things?

      “Because somebody taught him”, she answered patiently…

      But why did they teach him those things? Why ‘Attention’? Why ‘Here and now?’

      “Well …” She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. “That’s what you always forget, isn’t it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what’s happening. And that’s the same as not being here and now.”

      “And the mynahs fly about reminding you—is that it?”

      She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.

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    2. You'd probably only hear Huxley quotes on NPR too...

      JMJ

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    3. Huxley, Plato, Hauerwas, Niebuhr, Buckley and a great many philosophers, thinkers, theologians and others.

      JMJ... you are correct in that for the most part, folks like this are seldom featured on the networks and cable outlets, because it takes longer than a two minute segment to get through their material.

      Sadly, only a small fraction will sit still long enough to learn from people, some of you agree with, others not.

      And that is why PBS and NPR will not survive intact on just public support. There are not enough people who value thoughtful, long form journalism that is mostly fact based and again, mostly, equally biased.

      Many say they want unbiased reporting. What they really crave is reporting that affirms their worldview. PBS and NPR are certainly not that, for either side.

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    4. And the mynahs fly about reminding you—is that it?

      Mammals!

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