Category Archives: News

News, Fake or Real

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA) for a panel discussion hosted by its Senior College and the College of Arts & Sciences. The topic, as indicated in this post’s title, was News, Fake or Real. The panel consisted of Bill Nemitz, a noted Maine journalist and columnist; Mal Leary, a senior political correspondent for Maine Public Radio; and Jessica Lowell, a journalist at the Kennebec Journal.

Fake news is an issue very dear to my heart. Indeed, the notion that facts do matter is a central theme in my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything.

It is my guess that as soon as humans acquired language, despotic leaders have told lies to maintain power and stroke their egos. However, in the United States, the current administration has brought lying to a new high—or low, depending on your point of view. On Meet the Press, Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s advisors, even came up with a term—“alternative facts”—that many of us had never heard before. When Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press, insisted that alternative facts were falsehoods, Conway did not even have the grace to look ashamed and instead barrelled on with her talking points.

At yesterday’s forum, Marilyn Canavan, the moderator, ended her introduction by asking, how are we to distinguish between news and opinion? How will we know if news is fake?

Jessica Lowell suggested that readers need to think critically to separate news from opinion. And fact from fiction. She noted how easy it was to share things on Facebook without knowing where the news was coming from and even admitted to having done this herself. (So have I.) Now, Lowell is more careful, and she stressed how important it was to stop and pause before sharing anything, to check the source.

Mal Leary spoke of how fake news often has a sliver of truth. As an example, he used a recent story about chocolate becoming extinct.  The bombastic headline was designed to draw people in, providing the site with lots of clicks, which in turn gives data and potential customers to advertisers. As it turned out, the article explained how climate change might affect chocolate production at some time in the future. But right now, there is no reason to hoard Hershey Chocolate Bars. Leary warned the audience to beware of websites that have weird endings such as .co. For example, Newsweek.com.co is not the same as Newsweek.com. Leary also warned us to beware of websites with no “About” section and of single-source stories.

Bill Nemitz told an amusing but sobering tale of how his publicity photo was stolen by “T.S. Hunter”—most certainly not the author’s real name—whose website was putting out information to disparage a victim of a police shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma. T.S. Hunter had even constructed a snappy bio that described how he was a poet, the owner of a health food store, had two goldendoodles, and was in love with a muse with a guitar. (I must admit that as a writer, I was impressed by these specific details.) Nemitz pursued the matter, and eventually the blog was taken off the Internet.

Nemitz then defined fake news. First, it was news that was 100% false, such as many of the stories found in supermarket tabloids. Second, there was a gray area, which included news with a slant or a bias but had a grain of truth. Third, fake news could be pure propaganda. Fourth, it could be pieces that misuse data or scientific evidence. Fifth, it could come about because of sloppy or imprecise writing. Sixth, and perhaps most important, fake news is not news with which you disagree.

A Q & A followed the panel discussion, and many good points were raised and discussed. This forum started at 2:00 p.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m. Such a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon and such a relevant topic. Many thanks, UMA.

To end this piece, I am posting some pictures of UMA’s small but lovely campus in winter. And readers, not one of these pictures is fake.

 

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Liam Update

Yesterday, readers expressed concern about Liam’s swollen nose, which probably happened when he ran into a fallen branch in the backyard. Today, he is looking much, much better. Here’s a shot of his handsome face, and the nose is hardly swollen at all.

However, on his nose, there are a few specks of snow, and they are there because Liam likes to do this:

Liam has always been a dog who has loved the snow, and blindness has not diminished his enthusiasm for crunching on snow when it is crusty or sticking his head in the snow when it is fluffy.

After all, he is Liam, Dog of the North.

(This picture was taken several years ago, and long-time readers will recognize it. An oldie but goodie, just like our dog buddy. )

The Bomb Cyclone Cometh

Here we go again. Miserable weather is coming to Maine. This time it’s a blizzard, a northeaster, a big, bad storm that has been tagged as a “bomb cyclone” by the meteorologists. (According to the New York Times, a bomb cyclone is a storm that has a sharp drop in barometric pressure.) But as Nestor Ramas from the Boston Globe put it, this term “seems designed to evoke maximum terror.”

“Terror” might be too strong a word to describe our reaction, but bomb cyclone, with its potential high wind and resultant destruction, certainly got our attention. We have sprung into action. Pots of water sit on our stove, we bought extra lamp oil, and we have canned soup in the cupboard. For the third time in three weeks, we are ready for a power outage. And, yes, readers, this is getting old.

I love the natural world, and I love living in the woods, but I also love heat and power and movies and other gifts that technology brings. A pioneer woman I am not. As it so happens, I am reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. Let’s just say that Pa and the pioneers were not the exemplary citizens portrayed in the Little House books. For me, this makes Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story richer and more interesting, and I am not bitterly disappointed by these revelations. But I digress, and I will write more about this book in another post.

Back to the weather. In central Maine, the forecast is for twelve to sixteen inches of snow, nothing we can’t handle. The wind is projected to peak at 20 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph. This is more worrying as the high winds might cause power outages.

But for now anyway, we are warm and snug. We had our big meal—turkey burritos with corn—at noon, which gave us plenty of time to wash up the dirty dishes. (No power means no water.)

Midafternoon, Clif will go out with Little Green to clear the snow from the driveway, the area around the woodpile, and the paths to the bird feeders. For readers new to this blog, here is a picture of Clif and Little Green from the last storm on Christmas Day. (Little Green is electrically run, so when the power is out, we must shovel by hand.)

Onward ho, Clif and Little Green!

 

A Roller Coaster of a Week

The past thirty-four days have been quite a whirl of ups and downs, starting with the wind storm that knocked out our power for a week, which caused us to lose much of our frozen food. Then it took us another week to get things back to normal. On the upside, there were the wonderful fairs where we sold lots of books and met some dedicated readers, both young and old.

Last week all those highs and lows came together for a concentrated burst that left us scratching our heads. Something in the stars? The Supermoon? Who knows? But on Tuesday, after the presentation at our library, Clif got food poisoning from a local restaurant. At least we think it was food poisoning as he had all the classic symptoms.  When he wasn’t running to the bathroom, Clif was flat on his back for three days. Poor guy!

There’s nothing like having a husband who is out of commission to make a wife appreciate all that he does. Holy guacamole, what a hectic week as I folded his chores into my chores. And, as luck would have it, we had another craft fair scheduled for the weekend, this time in the charming little town of Wayne, Maine. (I know. They rhyme. How cool is that?)

So on Saturday, after loading the car the night before, off I went by myself to Wayne, Maine. I realize I’m a little spoiled by having a husband who is happy and willing to go with me to the various events. But it is so great to have another person at the table, to take care of making change, to be there for bathroom breaks, to help with set-up and break down.

So that was the low of the week.

The high? The Wayne craft fair, which turned out to be small but mighty, with a steady stream of customers who, as it turned, were in the mood to buy books. It seems that like Brunswick, Wayne is a community that likes to read. By noon, I only had one book left. By the end of the fair, I had sold out. Wowsah!

As if that weren’t enough, there were two comments that certainly qualified as the cherry on the sundae. First, a woman stopped by and bought a book to send to her granddaughter for Christmas, and the granddaughter lives in Australia. Maya is going to Australia, about as far as she can go from Maine!

Second, a young teen stopped by my table and said, “My friend has this book, and she is going to let me borrow it. She said it’s really good!” And I didn’t know either the young teen or her friend. Oh, that made my day to have an enthusiastic young teen sharing my book!

After all that excitement, Sunday was a good day to sleep late, do some housework, and take a few pictures.  The day was very fine indeed, and off to the little park by the lake I went.

There were more empty benches,

A splendid white birch against a blue sky,

and a classic New England scene.

No more craft fairs or events until next year. Now, I have to organize my Christmas cooking, the cleaning of the house, and the wrapping of the presents. In between, I hope to get some work done on Library Lost, the second book in the series.

And I sure hope that life settles down, at least a little bit.

A Ray of Hope

I know. I said I wasn’t going to post this week, and this will be a short one. But the recent election has made me so hopeful that I just needed to write a little blurb about it. In Maine, voters approved a Medicaid expansion, which will provide health care to low-income folks who cannot afford it on their own. And, as the New York Times put it, Trump and his ilk were whupped big time in states such as Virginia and New Jersey.

I know. The tide can turn again. But for this one day, I am going to allow myself a ray of hope.

And here’s a picture that captures the way I feel right now, bright and full of color.

We’ve Got the Power!

After almost a full week without power, it came back last night at around 7:00 p.m. Oh, how happy we were. Unfortunately, we lost quite a bit of food, and the house is a mess. Slowly, we are putting things back in order, but to borrow from Bilbo Baggins, we feel like butter scraped thin on too much bread.

Because of the work of getting the house back together along with other commitments, I will be taking next week off from blogging.

However, to end on an upbeat note… yesterday, we had a table at a craft fair at the Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary School in Brunswick. We did very, very well. So well, in fact, that we nearly sold out of books. As one mother put it, Brunswick is a community of readers.

That’s what I love to hear, that is sure.