Saturday, February 25

Path to prosperity




I'm a journalist, so it's a given that I respect newspapers for the stories and news they provide each day. But let's be blunt. Newspapers of all sizes, by informing the community and presenting a first draft of history, also outline a path to prosperity.

Information is key to investing and pursuing relationships. The most useful details and analysis on the internet often expand upon or respond to newspaper reports. As an editor of an online publication, I suspect that the internet would struggle to inform without the world's rich supply of newspapers.

There is a reason newspaper journalists and their regular readers, even those who might earn relatively low salaries, tend to live comfortably and happily. They stay informed, learning to detect value and avoid risks. They minimize unpleasant surprises by quickly discovering which managers in their community are likely competent and which are inefficient bullsh--ters. Newspaper readers come to understand community trends and discern which accomplishments, whether their own or from others, are a result of good luck versus hard work. By balancing a range of opinions and reports, these readers practice critical thinking on a daily basis.

Reading about a community, learning multiple points of view about every aspect of life, is invaluable before making what is for most the largest purchase they will make - their home. Newspapers offer insights about community schools, businesses, resources, courts, governance, economic climate, art and culture, crime, opinions and values and so much more.

Reading about other people - accomplishments and mistakes - offers lessons for how to live. I recall numerous specific ideas picked up from newspapers and, no doubt, countless more left an influence that I do not even realize. One small example was in 1995, I had just moved to New Haven and subscribed to the New Haven Register, reading it religiously from front page to back. A guest opinion column caught my eye. A freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to attend New Haven Public Schools even though his family had lived in the suburbs.

City schools generally have a  reputation for low test scores and inadequate resources - the median income for families in NHPS is just under $36,000 - but this writer  was passionate about his high school, the opportunities available in the city including enrollment in college classes and the rich diversity of the student body that delivered daily lessons in motivation, resilience and the power of education not readily found in textbooks.

Though my son was in third grade, that opinion essay exposed a perspective that shaped our family's decisions on education for years to come. My son, like that guest columnist, attended New Haven Public Schools, thriving and going on to attend Yale to study biology and later degrees in mechanical and civil engineering. While one can never be certain about choices not taken, the teachers and staff were caring, and I'm confident he could not have done better in a suburban setting.

Newspapers accounts likewise shaped my decisions on purchasing homes as well as selecting graduate school (an article in the Anchorage Daily News about Harvard’s Kennedy School), investments (the Wall Street Journal and Boston Business Journal), contractors, activities, and more (thank you, the Boston Globe, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Lansing State Journal and Guilford Courier). With newspapers, I have discovered ideas for decorating, cooking, reading, and preparing for any sort of event at home or work. A police blotter item from The Daily Sentinel triggered the idea for my first novel.

A good newspaper saves readers money, lots of money, and I'm grateful. The media - especially the New York Times and the major broadcasters - are not an enemy for the American people, anything but. But the media do threaten the charlatans and fraudsters in any community. Journalists, covering the police blotter or the highest levels of government, learn this time and time again.

Newspaper readers typically don't have to be warned about those who issue blanket warnings against journalists and, for that matter teachers, librarians, scientists, and others who inform and educate. The fraudulent can't afford to let their marks analyze details or think for themselves.


Photo of the couple by an unknown photographer in Hungary and the engraving by W. Taylor, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Wellcome Images.


Wednesday, February 1

Guilty

USA Today reviewed audio recordings of the Breitbart radio show and comments made by Trump adviser Steve Bannon. He is exposed as an insecure and cowardly man:

"Bannon told his listeners that the United States and the Western world are engaged in a 'global existential war,' and he entertained claims that a 'fifth column' of Islamist sympathizers had infiltrated the U.S. government and news media," report Steve Reilly and Brad Heath.

So we can imagine what someone like Bannon might think of Fear of Beauty and its protagonist Sofi. Fear of Beauty is the story of a Muslim woman who lives in a remote village in Afghanistan, how she yearns to learn how to read after the murder of her oldest son. Her family and village are comfortable due to a crop she plants in secret on a nearby hillside, and no, the crop is not heroin. This woman is thoughtful, resourceful and devout, but also an independent thinker who does not allow religion or the men in her life to impose controls. She is quiet and constant in resisting those who attempt such controls.

One of the great rewards of writing this novel was how US readers responded to Sofi as an Afghan woman. "For readers numbed by a decade of news reports from war-torn Afghanistan, Froetschel provides a fascinating glimpse into life in a humble village," wrote Cynthia Sebalius for Calliope. "More importantly, she lets us spend time in Sofi's mind and heart. The magic of reading this book is that we become Sofi, and we leave better for the experience." 

Fear of Beauty is a story about Afghans as individuals who work hard and love their families and communities, and not as terrorists, and Bannon probably would regard the novel and character part and parcel of his fifth column of Islamist sympathizers.

If feeling empathy for women on the other side of the world, if developing a thinking, caring, resourceful, independent and courageous Muslim woman as an admirable character, is the work of a sympathizer, then this author is guilty as charged. Bannon is defying everything the US military has worked for in Afghanistan. He is a bully who exaggerates and seeks conflict, terrified of the beauty of this world and incapable of understanding why others don't share his world view, much like Jahangir, the antagonist of Fear of Beauty. 

Fear of Beauty and the stories from Afghanistan carry a warning. Societies can go backwards.

Photo courtesy of SPC Kristina Truluck and Wikimedia Commons.

Loaded

"There's some upset in The Wall Street Journal newsroom over a directive from editor in chief Gerry Baker to stop using the phrase "seven majority Muslim countries" in coverage of President Trump's immigration order," reports Joe Pompeo for Politico. Pompeo quotes Baker's email to editors: "Can we stop saying 'seven majority Muslim countries'? It's very loaded."

Welcome to the land of "alternative facts" and realities.

Loaded? Let's go the CIA World Factbook and check the demographics for the seven countries from which travel and entry to the United States is banned:

Iraq - 99 percent Muslim
Iran - 99.4 percent Muslim
Somalia - 99.8 percent Muslim
Libya - 96.6 percent Muslim
Yemen - 99.1 percent Muslim
Sudan -  97 percent Muslim
Syria  - 87 percent Muslim

The ban comes from a president who promised as candidate to ban Muslims from entering the country until US officials could figure out what the hell is going on. His supporters cheered him on wildly.

Now plenty of people in the world are trying to figure out what's going on in the United States.  And anyone in a position of power should understand that their emails and directives on these issues will be forwarded to the world at large.

Get a spine, editors.

Photo of Blue Mosque in Iran, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.