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Truth in the age of fake news PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 22 November 2016 19:18

The truth hurts.

That ancient aphorism helps explain the loathing in some quarters for the mainstream media.

That term referring to traditional newspaper and broadcast news organizations is now commonly used in the pejorative sense. Criticism of journalists rose to a fevered pitch during the run-up to the presidential election. At Trump rallies, both the candidate and some of his admirers voiced outright hatred for the mainstream media.

This contempt for professional journalists is based on the notion that they represent a sinister cabal conspiring to influence issues and elections with slanted reporting. Several regular writers of letters to the editor published in Ozaukee Press are fond of describing the mainstream media as “enablers” of liberal politicians.

There is about as much truth in that as in the report that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for president. That absurdity was only one of many fake news reports that were taken as fact by the growing ranks of the gullible in the so-called age of information.

The rise of fake news—false reports accepted as fact for no more reason than that they were repeated on the likes of Facebook or Twitter or by cable television talkers dispensing opinion as truth—should be taken as evidence that the mainstream media are needed more than ever.

Legitimate journalists are trained to uncover facts and report them to the public. It is their mission, their reason for existence. 

Buying into the idea that the mainstream media is a cohesive amalgamation of journalists who knowingly report false information in furtherance of some sort of agenda requires about the same level of gullibility as believing Barack Obama is a gay, African-born Muslim with a history of drug dealing, another widely read fake news item.

Reporters are fiercely competitive, as are their bosses on the business side of news organizations. The chances that they would work together toward some political end are nil. But beyond that, the claim that the mainstream media has an agenda to somehow subvert the political process is nonsense per se because the core of journalism is a commitment to reporting facts.

The practitioners of journalism are human, and thus perfection is out of reach. Lazy, incompetent or biased reporting exists, but it is not tolerated in responsible news organizations. 

The mainstream media’s commitment to facts is both its saving grace and its problem—some people don’t want facts or prefer their own versions of facts. Despisal of the mainstream media has much in common with the medieval practice of killing the messenger who delivers bad news.

Politicians have been condemning the messenger for delivering news that puts them in a bad light for ages, though in the 2016 presidential election the practice generated a volume of vitriol that exceeded historical standards. 

For partisans in one camp or the other, it was painful to read or hear news about Trump’s bragging of sexual assaults or Clinton’s State Department emails turning up on the computer of a disgraced, sex-obsessed former congressman.

Which proves the adage: The truth hurts.

It hurts, but like an effective medicine, it’s good for us. It’s the antidote for fake news.

 
A win for the dirtiest fuel PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 November 2016 18:43

Old King Coal was not restored to its throne in last week’s presidential election, but it got a boost toward that goal from the outcome. 

The winner promised to push America to burn more coal.

If the new president keeps that campaign promise, more coal will be used to generate electricity instead of clean-burning natural gas and renewable energy sources, air quality will worsen, and the worldwide effort to stave off the most dangerous predictable impacts of global warming will be set back. 

Coal is the dirtiest power-plant fuel, a fact that is ingrained—as in grains of soot—in Port Washington’s history.

The coal-fired power plant that operated on the city’s lakefront for 70 years exhausted into the air thousands of tons of carbon dioxide, soot and fly ash laden with heavy metals and poisonous chemicals.

The pollution was bad for the earth’s atmosphere, but it was particularly harmful to the air over Port Washington and the surrounding area. The noxious emissions could be seen, smelled and tasted. 

On some days, the sky downwind from the power plant stacks (as many as five during one period in the plant’s history) was stained yellow. In some atmospheric conditions, laundry hung outside to dry was turned gray, as was white siding on houses. Boat owners attracted to the city’s newly opened marina found decks stained with soot and rust from the metals falling from the power plant smoke.

The health effects of the Port power plant’s pollution were not carefully documented during the plant’s tenure, but based on what medical science knows today, it can be assumed that long-term breathing of the air contaminated by the coal plant’s emissions caused illness and premature death.

 
Lake effect conundrum PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 November 2016 20:42

Movers and shakers of Port Washington once preached that the city was condemned to slow growth because its unfortunate place on the Lake Michigan shore prevented it from developing to the east. 

No kidding. We’re not making this up.

Fast forward a few decades to 2016 and you will have trouble finding anyone in Port Washington who doesn’t think that concept of the lake effect was utter nonsense.

Today everyone gets it that the city’s place on the littoral of a Great Lake is a gift that is driving the city’s robust economic development. 

The downtown is full of people, including smiling merchants and restaurateurs. Fnishing touches are being put on the $7.5 million Harbour Lights condo development overlooking the harbor that will bring new residents, a restaurant and retail business to town. Meanwhile, plans are in the works for multiple millions of dollars’ worth of residential and commercial investment in the marina district and along the lake bluff. Credit the new lake effect for all of it.

City elected officials, led by Mayor Tom Mlada, deserve credit for pushing three public initiatives that have further empowered the lake effect. Outstanding among these has been making Port Washington the part-time home port of the tall ship Denis Sullivan, Wisconsin’s flagship.

The green-hulled, 137-foot recreation of a 19th century Great Lakes schooner brought visitors to town, gave them and many residents the experience of sailing on the rolling seas of Lake Michigan and was a perfect complement to the downtown’s maritime atmosphere. 

The sight of the Sullivan in her berth, banners snapping in the breeze on masts towering over the lakefront, her 40-foot bowsprit soaring over the water of the harbor, surely printed on the minds of all who saw her an image that proclaimed: This is a seafaring town.

Some public funds were spent on the Sullivan visits, as were sizable contributions from the Port Washington Tourism Council, the Business Improvement District and several business sponsors. In all cases, it was money well spent.

The challenge now is to keep the tall ship coming to Port in the future. It’s a costly proposition; however, it is one that pays off not only in city promotion, but in the fact that the tall ship’s presence has renewed the commercial-port status of the harbor, which has opened the door to federal funding for harbor improvements.

Thanks to that funding, as well as some grants, another of the those lake-related city initiatives, the north breakwater, is no longer merely a protective arm of the harbor, but has been rebuilt as a safe and easy-to-use attraction for visitors who crave proximity to the lake.

The breakwater leads to the third initiative, the historic pierhead lighthouse that is the city’s most recognizable icon, the symbol that defines the community’s relationship with the water. With the federal government intent on divesting the structure, it was imperative that the city acquire it, and with the mayor again leading the way, that has been accomplished.

These efforts propelled by the city government have in common that they all add to the public’s visual and physical access to the lake.

Which leads to the question: How can city officials who support these initiatives justify carrying on their campaign to force an unpopular, financially risky commercial development called the Blues Factory onto public land at the edge of the downtown harbor?

The Blues Factory entertainment complex, a graceless factorylike building whose brick walls would block lake views, has no place on a lakefront admired for its nautical beauty.

Perhaps answering the following question would help the mayor and aldermen understand that their insistence on this development counteracts the good they have achieved in enriching Port Washington’s lake effect:

What word or pair of words in this list doesn’t belong in the same group?

Tall ship

Breakwater 

Lighthouse

Blues Factory 

The question is a variation of a standard IQ test question, but it doesn’t take a genius to get the correct answer.

 
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