What a Discriminating Reader Needs to Know

 

One of the reasons modern news media, in all its forms, has such a strong presence of bias is due to the forced attempts at balance. While Balance it meant to give both sides on any given issue a voice, it also has the unwanted effect of cluttering issues with opinions. Objectivity, then, should be the first characteristics a discriminating consumer of news media should look for in any given reporting. Reliable and credible news reporting should, in theory, give more weight to identifying facts, rather than appeasing opinion. One method of searching for facts in any form of media, and by default hinting to objectivity, is a reliance on the source material. Instead of reporting on what a political pundit thinks of a law, a credible news source should present excerpts and analysis of the new law itself.

However, achieving objectivity isn’t easy. Even the best and most trusted news sources struggle with the views and ratings that commentary brings. PBS Newshour, by most standards, is a great example of sincere reporting attempt at keep issues first and opinions second. However, more and more commentary by professionals is used, with a degrading downside. Some big and real issues that threaten the integrity of society don’t have two sides to them. Issues like the metoo movement where women stand as victims on one end and attackers or attacker supporters on the other, lead to bizarre commentary panels. “Balanced” sides lead to opposing desks stocked with inevitably aggressive opinions.

Because of the nature of language, it is impossible to remove all bias from any type of news report. However, an active, discriminating consumer of media should seek reports that are as objective as possible by seeking news that prioritizes source material over opinion.

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2018

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How is today different from yesterday? How can I remember this year from any other of the past two decades? The changes aren’t apparent on our streets. Looking out my window, my neighborhood could be confused with 2002, 2008, 2014, 2018. The first two decades of our second millennium flow indistinguishable from one another.

From my yard, a small fenced off patch of grass in front of my apartment, little of the street around me hints at the year. To the untrained eye, the old people’s home next door looks as it has since its creation in the early seventies. The house across the street is a single story with a dish on top. A church with a high steeple hovers in the distance, the cross on top reaches me, as do the grey shingles of the megachurch roof.

To the untrained eye, a time traveler perhaps, would find it possible to judge the era based on its surroundings. The changes are here, but as everything about the new millennium, they are subtle and hidden. Software has overtaken hardware. The asphalt mixture of the roads is new, a combination that resists sun bleaching and the heavy load of a million cars passing a million times. Only one house has a satellite dish. Early in the millennium, it was all houses and apartments. Yet today, at the beginning of 2018, only one house on my entire street has one. The software inside has been upgraded. WiFi doesn’t require a ludicrous bubble on a roof.

The only indicator that has consistently carried my generation is the automobile.

The buildings, the city, it mostly stay the static. So few buildings have been erected, and the few that have imitate the past. But the mixture in the asphalt is new, and so are the cars. We move faster and sleeker, weaving in and out of what already exists. Not changing it. No, we change little. It scares us. Instead, we add on, a drive through on this building, another one there. That is who we are in the first two decades of the millennium, creatures choosing to update oneself instead of the surroundings.

And because of this, America is best described by its cars. In Los Angeles, the rich and conscientious drive Teslas. Statements are made and maintained instinctively. Conscientious and okay drive Priuses. Rich and don’t care rove in land rovers and sports cars. Okay and don’t care speed in Audis and Volkswagens. The poor immigrant drives Toyota. It doesn’t matter where the immigrant is from, if they are poor they drive a Toyota: Mexican, Armenian, everyone from everywhere. Rich immigrants drive BMW.

And with each passing year, the cars get collectively sleeker. Chrome is added mid-decade and removed by its end. Smaller. Faster. New cars drive hard and reckless between old buildings that watch them pass and change with outstanding speed. By the end of the second-decade cars are big and ludacris again.

I’ve often said the if all cars were removed from the streets, living in the city would be indistinguishable from 2002 to now, 2018. Same people same styles. Same city same issues. Nothing has changed in American society in the last twenty years, nothing but our cars to separate us.

I don’t know if this is a positive post or not. We’re so caught up in the software, in our phones, that we don’t notice the lack of progress, physically, around us because of the quick pace of “new” information.

Maybe as new money changed the old money of the past, America will again have a decade in the twenties that will change everything… Or nothing. To be fair, unless a historian is asked, there’s no palpable distinction from the 1900’s and the 1910’s ( it’s all the age of the great war).

Here’s hoping the memes are right and there will be a new golden age.

Spanish

The air still smells of ash. I’m sitting next to an IN-N-OUT, so the scent changes with the breeze. When the wind is strong, smoke takes center stage and I have to fight the urge to huff tiny breaths. But when the wind settles, all I take in is the smell of Burgers and fries. I don’t know what I’m doing outside. The smart thing would be to stay indoors, except I’ve done that for the past week and now I feel crazy; like I need to go outside even if it’s just to walk around the block. I finally know how my cat feels in the evenings when I come home from studying and she’s clawing at the door begging for me to open it. I thought it was funny that she literally argued at the door as if willing it to open with the threat of sharp claws, only to fall asleep beneath a bush when the door finally gave. After a week of sealed doors and windows, I felt like my cat. I walked around the valley and took a bunch of buses nowhere just because I could. I eventually ended up here, on the patio of a Starbucks adjacent to in-n-out. It’s a busy place called the plant, a site that used to have a giant car manufacturer that left in the eighties. Retail has taken over, the same as most of Los Angeles, transformed into a strip mall. I’m not complaining though. There is a lot of traffic here, both foot and vehicle. My clustered soul feels like it can finally breathe-in freedom even though I still have my nostrils full of ash.

I had a job interview Monday, on the eve of the fires. I thought it went well, but now I doubt I’ll get an answer soon. Why? Because the place I interviewed in is currently being evacuated because of the creek fire. I’ve long stopped trying to change the things I have no control over, so I’m not bummed, just tickled. Is that okay to say? Things tickle me, make me chuckle not at myself or at the world with cynicism, but in general. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I freak and slap hands away when I’m being tickled, life can tickle me too. It sounds weird and kind of gross, but that’s the only way I can explain my relationship with the world. Good or bad, things just tickle me, pull my attention enough for me to say, well that was something.

I’m going to watch Coco soon. I’m lucky in that there’s a Spanish dubbed screening near me, at the Plant – you know you’re from the valley when people say I’ll meet you at the plant and you understand. I’m meeting up with my parents. There aren’t many movies they can see in theatres because it’s usually better to wait for the DVD or Netflix version with Spanish options. But times, they are changing. I feel like theatres are only just realizing there are so many Spanish speaking people in the valley, enough to carry their own market. The Plant has had Spanish only movies for a few years and is thriving again. Other theatres choose to upgrade, like the Cinemark on Coldwater. They installed wicked new seats the recline. Don’t get me wrong, I love those seats, but upgrading hardware isn’t the only option to improve a product – the software is just as important.

There are parts of Louisiana that speak Creole, so much so that street and freeway signs are both in English and a French patois. Some parts of Maine are the same with plain old french. There are sections of Orange County with Vietnamese lettering everywhere. I’d like to live in the part of California where everything is in Spanish and English, an area all its own known not just for its people and language, but for its success. I don’t know if adding Spanish options will improve the economy, but from my own experience, it seems an untapped medium. I mean, in my home we have ditched all forms of cable because Sling TV has this Spanish only option. Instead of paying $100 plus a year from any of the local providers, we pay $10 for the twenty or so channels my parents like.

I guess I’m just trying to make my community thrive like I see other communities around me do so already. I like pointing to the Armenian community in Glendale. I just read an article in the Atlantic that detailed a beautiful segment of the Armenian culture and community, one where the subjects of the article boast about never needing to learn English because he can survive there just fine speaking only Armenian.

I know I think differently from most Americans. I’m positive a few readers will take this as an affront to English. I speak English, it’s my first language and I have a degree in English too. Yet, it’s because of my intimate understanding of the language that I realize languages are insufficient at conveying meaning, truly. That’s why some things are lost in translation and others murdered. I personally think cities grow, not die, by having more languages spoken. It would be nice to have a section of the city my parents can go to and be understood, more so than the chopped up “Hablamos Espanol.”

Maybe next time I’ll talk about assimilation.

What’s funny is that I meant this post to be about music, but things change once you actually start writing. This is the first post I write on my computer. For some reason, I only feel intimate enough to write personal stuff on my phone. Maybe it’s because my phone lets me lay in bed and type with one hand while the other pets my cat. Maybe it’s the purring of my British shorthaired, a skinny thing that demands attention with claw pokes to the face, that allows me to say what I mean. This post feels a bit more analytical than my other entries. I blame my cat.

Fire

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No fancy talk today, I have nothing clever to say. The world is on fire. There’s so much ash in the air that I’ve felt like sneezing all morning; and when I do sneeze, my snot stains brown. I’m lucky, no evacuation, not even close. But I can see the red in the distance. I CAN SEE THE RED IN THE DISTANCE.

What scares me most isn’t breathing through a face mask in my own home, it’s comprehending the possibility that the ash I’m breathing in was someone else’s home, bike, bedroom. A friend who’s house actually burned down hasn’t found their cat. Ash.

Living in Los Angeles, there are a lot of things I fear innately. I fear the police because I’m tall and brown. I fear driving down main streets at night on weekends because of drunk drivers. I fear I’ll be on the toilet when the big earthquake finally hits. But this was the first time I woke up thinking the world was ending. This was the first time I woke up coughing and thinking I’d hack myself to death. To be fair, I sleep with the windows open. Stale air depresses me. Bad idea; my sheets and blankets were covered in grey dust that scattered when I moved.

There is still a thick layer of ash beneath each lattice.

My community college is taking in horses whos stables burned down. My university closed early. Me, I stayed in bed all day beneath the covers. No shame, I can’t breathe.

Space

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I want to go to space for the views. These are my fantasies: waking to stars brighter than anything we imagine.

Stars don’t twinkle in space, they glow hot energy almost endlessly.

Almost.

I have a theory I’d write more in space. There would be no need to loop space engines in the background. And most of my muses visit after midnight, encouraged by the quiet. Space is quiet, I think.

I have no pretentions, travel is out of the question. I went through a phase last year where I was obsessed with Antarctica. Its beauty, its solitude. But most bases are science focused. Because of food rations and seclusion, everyone on an Antarctica base, or ship, is essential. I don’t think they’d take kindly to me tagging along just because the penguins help me write haikus.

My mind is avoiding home. Another job interview, another set of shrugged shoulders. Space won’t judge me, neither will Antarctica, so I’ll escape to them tonight.

Open Water

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
― Werner Herzog

“I don’t know about this,” I say again. Something in my gut doesn’t want me going back in the water. I glance at the dock above hoping a lifeguard or worker spots us. But when Lance tugs me along into the sinister looking waves, I follow obediently. I can’t say no to him. He smiles back and tells me not to worry; so I don’t. We swim the length of the dock until we’re next to the piled high garbage barge.

Lance lifts me on deck, sinking as he does. Manny and Sophie are already on board, crouching behind piles of glad trash bags. They reach out and pull me the rest of the way. Out of the water, I take a moment to rest, lying on my stomach with a cheek pressed on a hard surface as rough as cement. My eyes close, tired, only to snap open with the weight of the day. Lance flops on board next to me and smiles. “See, nothing to worry about.”

We walk hunched over towards the front of the barge, away from the control room. It’s slow moving, sidestepping giant roaches that call the boat home and hiding whenever the voices of men working on the dock get too close. “Isn’t this crazy” whispers Sophie next to me. Riding the barge back to the mainland was her idea. Her strawberry blond hair, short bangs, and giddy smile make her look more like a model boarding a cruise ship than a twenty-something stowing away on a floating garbage truck. I nod back, but not in agreement. I’m still mad at her. Her wanting a funnel cake is the reason we missed the last boat home. But Sophie’s giddiness is infectious, and I really am happy to be getting off the island.

We reach the front of the barge and sit, Lance falling next to me. He lets his legs dangle over the edge and puts an arm around my shoulder. I nuzzle my face into his chest and inhale the lingering scent of sand and sweat wafting off him and mixing with the sea breeze. I feel instantly better, calmer. His presence, the feeling of his weight on my shoulders, grounds me, distracts me from my own floating thoughts. I try to think of him and not of what I saw today. Swimming, together, with snorkels, we dove beneath Lover’s cove and fed fish of every color – blue fish that disappeared if they stopped moving, red fish that looked like flecks of embers, and yellow fish like tiny suns beneath the water. But my wonder led me too far and I swam further than the rest. I hit open water and something in me changed. The sea floor dropped away and I found myself staring into an abyss. I floated uselessly over a void so profound, so full of depth that I didn’t know if I was above or below it. I felt as if it were watching me, the emptiness, the void, pulling me in as if it were alive. And from its deepest reaches, a gurgle of bubbles emerged like a growl. I raced for shore and stayed on land the rest of the day. But as much as I want to forget, the emptiness I witnessed is all I can think about, even as sleep begins to press on me.

I’m afraid to sleep. I know I’ll dream I’m back under, staring at the daunting weight of nothingness. But finally my eyelids surrender to the heat around my eyes, and the last thing I see before sleep lulls over me is Manny and Sophie holding each other Titanic style as the barge pulls away from Catalina Island.

◊◊◊

Sophie’s shrieks wake me. I couldn’t have been asleep long, but already night has fallen. I can barely see through the darkness. I blink a few times and my eyes adjust enough to make out Sophie reaching over the barge yelling for Manny.

“Did he fall in?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” answers Lance next to me, “He was there and then he wasn’t.”

Sophie reaches over the ship’s edge, ready to jump. I hold onto Sophie to stop her, but she’s bigger than me and I can feel her struggling free. Lance is frozen, standing as if watching from far away. His stillness makes me panic more and I lose it. “Lance, help” I scream. He nods once as if only now noticing us and helps pull Sophie back on deck.

“We need help Lance, now,” I say trying to keep from shutting down. “Yeah, yeah, yes, okay,” he says and together we drag a kicking Sophie to the back of the ship.

◊◊◊

The control room is empty. It takes me a minute to understand. The entire barge is empty. I stare down at the glowing navigation panel thinking that maybe, just maybe I can steer us to land. How hard can it be? But which way is land? I wish Sophie would stop that gurgling; this was all her idea anyway. My breathing gets hard and shallow and it feels as if something hard is squeezing my throat. My panic makes me frantic and I start smashing every button I see. A whirring fills the room as bright floodlights flicker on over the barge’s deck. “I’ve never been so happy to see garbage,” says Lance with a sigh of relief. Sophie looks out on the deck calmer and quieter, but I can still hear something gurgling.

Beyond the trash, near the front where we were sitting, a body floats in the water. “Manny,” says Sophie, in a whisper. The body bobs, almost as if waving, before disappearing. We all watch, waiting for it to resurface. My eyes are so fixed on the spot where the body disappeared that I don’t notice the barge sinking until I see water creep over the deck. Sophie starts yelling for Manny again.

The ship sinks quickly. In the few seconds it takes to waddle to the door, the water is at my waist.

“We have to swim,” says Lance, his skin so pale he looks dead.

“Which way” I spit with more venom than I mean. I can barely keep the panic out.

“It doesn’t matter, just swim.”

Lance opens the door and floating bags of waste flood in. We waddle together, hand in hand. I can feel the barge fall away with every step until it’s gone completely and I’m left treading water in a sea of waste. The floodlights flicker beneath the surface for a second before going out completely. In the darkness panic takes me; I can feel the pull of emptiness beneath. Lance pushes a large floating bag of garbage under me and tugs me along.

I reach out for Sophie, but she’s gone.

“Help,” Sophie calls out. But before I can yell back I hear a gurgling, a splash, and then nothing at all. “Soph-” Lance calls out, but I stop him. “Shh, Listen,” I say. From the darkness below we hear a gurgling sound. I feel the pull of water beneath me as I’m dragged under. I feel the void, black and cold, surround me as I become a part of it. I feel the pull of water dragging me down, then I feel nothing at all.

◊◊◊

When the garbage barge pulls into San Pedro Pier it sounds a long horn that wakes all of us. Both Manny and Sophie get up from where they collapsed and disentangle their limbs. Lance nudges his chin into my hair and rubs my shoulders. “Almost home,” he murmurs. I reach out and pull his legs from over the ship’s edge.

“Look,” points Sophie as we pass under the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It’s green and lit with blue lights. Spanning the distance between Los Angeles Harbor and Long Beach, its middle is almost a mile above our heads when we pass under it. Still, I wish we were higher. In contrast to the harbor lights, the water below looks murky like black ooze.

“We jump before the ship docks and just swim to one of the piers,” Manny says to Lance.

“No. No more water.” I don’t mean to shout, but even the sound of waves crashing into the barge’s low haul reminds me of the gurgling. “Please, let’s just get off once the ship pulls in. What’s the worst they can do?”

“Yeah okay, sure,” says Sophie standing next to me and nodding at Manny to agree. Lance looks at me worried, but Manny just shrugs.

The barge pulls into the southwest slip of the harbor, next to a tugboat painted bright red. We wait until the ship stills before walking its length as casually as four stowaways can. Only an old man with a hooked nose and high rain boots standing on the tugboat watches us step off the thin gangplank and onto the dock. I can only imagine what we look like to him, beautiful Sophie in a yellow bikini and sweater, shirtless Manny with glowing brown skin, Lance, tall, also shirtless, and me, wearing a one piece that can’t be seen beneath Lance’s shirt. The old man looks at us then back at the garbage barge as if expecting more women in bathing suits to step off.

I look back too, feeling like I’ve left something beneath the water while simultaneously deciding never to go near the ocean again.

– Published in The Island Fox Literary Journal

What the City Hides

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Red, luminous glow of stop lights

green, grass that’s supposed to grow

where yellow weeds break concrete.

See the graffiti sprayed streets –

the writing of tombstones only locals can read.

Brown boy, here, there,

dead

no one grieves.

Their territorial claims all that remain

beneath the red glow of stop lights, and

above the promised green grass.

Yellow tags mark their epitaphs.

– Published in The Island Fox Literary Journal