"A primer on how to navigate the news"

Most of an Opinion piece by Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post, Sep 2018

Consider actually reading that story before you share it on social media. It's astonishingly common to see a story hit Twitter and see it retweeted with outraged commentary even before it could possibly be digested. Headlines are only a hint, after all, and the fine print in the 19th paragraph may change your mind about what you think, or what you say to your Facebook friends in your next blistering post. 

Know your source. When you see the names June Mayer and Ronan Farrow -- two of the most careful, disciplined reporters in America -- it's reasonable to take them seriously. (Although even with reporters of this caliber, it's important not to overstate what their New Yorker story really says and to pay close attention to what it doesn't say.) When you see declarations by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, about representing a third Kavanaugh accuser -- without naming names or providing details -- doubtful hesitation is in order. 

Trust the stories you like less than those you want to believe. At the very least, it's a good exercise in critical thinking to employ extreme skepticism to fight the confirmation bias we're all guilty of. Seek out reaction and commentary from the other side of the situation; you don't have to believe it, but you ought to consider it. 

Wait and see. Know that cable news anchors -- and all who deliver breaking news -- may be scrambling in the first hours of a development. On Sunday night, CNN's Ana Cabrera -- grappling with the just-dropped New Yorker story, seemed never to have heard of the estimable Mayer, whom she referred to as Farrow's co-author before consulting her notes and mispronouncing her name. CNN's Brian Stelter took pains in his Sunday-night newsletter to backtrack on something he had said spontaneously on air earlier: That "frat boy" behavior is forgivable. (He clarified to say that's not true when it allegedly involves sexual assault.)

Know who is paid to say what on cable. Remember that cable commentators -- particularly Trump surrogates -- are paid to bring a particular point of view to the table. They may be legally constrained by nondisclosure agreements from doing anything other than gushing positively. Take this, therefore, with a few extra pounds of salt. 

Compare and contrast. Those who were quick to disparage the Time's Rod Rosenstein story when it first appeared had to recalibrate their angry disbelief as other news organizations, including the Washingon Post, were able to match the story with their own sources. In some cases, the follow-up reporting from other places had a different tone or emphasis, making more, for example, of the possibility that Rosenstein had been speaking sarcastically.

Take a break. The news never stops, so put down your phone, turn off your TV, and do something else for a few hours. Cook a meal, take a walk, go to yoga class, read a 19th Century novel. 

Of course, there's a downside.

Chances are that when you come back, some fresh hell will have hit the fan. But at least your heart rate will be lower -- for a minute -- while you catch up. 

Authenticity?

So many things are sold today as "authentic" or "artisan" that these words have become almost meaningless.

Are we enjoying an authentic experience when a pop star lip-syncs at a concert and pretends to play instruments?

Are we enjoying an artisan product at Burger King where your selection may be served on an artisan-style bun? What does that even mean, "artisan-style?"

I'm not optimistic that we will ever feel confident in simply accepting something offered as as authentic and / or artisan as special.

I do have a few words I'd use to test any experience or offering to see if it meets my need for "authentic" or "artisan." A group of "P" words ... 

Place ... Is it of a real place? A place I can go to and find the things offered?

Person ... Is there a real person, or people, who can be identified, who I can meet and talk to, about their offering?

Passion ... Is there passion, something more than just a job or profit-opportunity, inspriting the offering?

Permanence ... OK, not really "forever," but "sustainable" ... does the offering deliver without doing harm?

Promise ... Does what the offering delivers live up to the initial promises used to gain my attention?

Some will argue that if the offering satisfies the receiver, that none of these Ps matter. 

For me, that offering would have to be very inexpensive indeed, to satisfy without these Ps.

DAH is me. David Anthony Hance. dah@dahance.com

The more you learn the more you care

I'm knowledgeable about wine, and I often suggest to friends that certain mass retailers have few wines that interest me. 

"But they must have a thousand different wines!" they protest.

"And they almost all come from a small number of large wine companies. Their identities are largely just window dressing," I reply.

"But they taste good!" they persist.

"They probably do, but that alone doesn't make them interesting to me," I say. 

I'm reminded of a very good friend, a skilled and talented quilter, who competes nationally in art-quilt competitions. 

She once said to me, "I don't get the big deal about wine. They either taste good, or they don't."

I said, "I don't get the big deal about quilts. They either keep you warm, or they don't."

She looked shocked, but I think she got my point.

The more you learn about most things, the more you come to care about them. And there's a lot to learn about most things. Thus, much potential caring … understanding something enhances appreciation and inspires interest. 

I prefer things that have something to reveal, beneath the surface veneer.

DAH is me, David Anthony Hance. dah@dahance.com

Bent and Broken Connections to the Inspired Real

1990 was an interesting year for things that aren't real. Milli Vanilli won a Grammy award, which was later rescinded when it was revealed that Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus hadn't actually performed the music for which they were recognized.

1990 was also the year that Charles Shaw lost his eponymously named Napa winery, the result of a challenging business situation and a divorce.

Milli Vanilli is gone, but Charles Shaw lives on, as a wine brand if not a winery in Napa. Bronco wine company purchased the Charles Shaw name and it became the "Two Buck Chuck" of Trader Joe's fame. Nothing to do with the real Charles Shaw. 

I want to be clear from the start that I'm not addressing the hedonistic qualities of these products. I'm only observing that they carry trappings that have nothing to do with their current reality. But they do (or did) trade on the quality heritage established by the "real."

Today's Charles Shaw wines have nothing to do with the real person, Charles Shaw. 

Today's Robert Mondavi wines are not made or marketed, operated or owned  by any member of the Mondavi family. The Robert Mondavi winery is owned and operated by Constellation Brands, the largest wine producer in the world. 

Ben & Jerry's ice cream is owned by Unilever, one of the world's oldest multi-national firms, which owns more than 400 brands sold in some 190 countries.

A couple of brands I saw born (because I was there and knew the founder-parents) …

Mendocino Brewing Company founded by a group of friends opening a brewpub in Hopland, California, is now owned by the UB Group, the world's third-largest spirits company (United Brewers was a Scottish company, but it's now an India-based multi-national). 

Paul Dolan Vineyards trades on the "sustainable" reputation of Paul Dolan, although he was dismissed from his position as president of Mendocino Wine Company, which continues to make and market wines under his name.

None of this is wrong or illegal (well, maybe Milli Vanilli). And the products (and music) may still be delicious. And I'm sure that (in some cases) the "spirit" of the founders is still called upon to bless the current products. 

But I believe that something important is lost when the connection to reality is bent or broken. Of course, there are business realities that justify these occurrences. I just don't like those business realities, and I'm uncomfortable with the slightly fake feeling these products now inspire in me. I don't like that the root passion and drive that birthed these brands is now being used as high-tone window-dressing by big business. 

Will I buy them and enjoy them? Maybe. Especially if they are a really good deal and deliver hedonistic satisfaction. But I can't crave them, or care about them, as deeply as I can something still intimately connected to the real. 

DAH is David Anthony Hance. dah@dahance.com

Made By Hand

Made By Hand: Contemporary Makers. Traditional Practices (Black Dog Publishing, 2014)

Another angle on my authenticity thinking: bespokeness (I think I may have just coined that word! For the "state of being bespoke"). 

From the introduction to this very cool book: 

"In a society of widespread homogeneity, where you often see someone wearing an outfit identical to your own, where your most prized possessions were probably made by the underpaid and overworked several thousand miles away, it feels exciting to have something different, something unique, and something 'clean'. We are engaged and entertained by the notion that we can actually meet, face-to-face, the maker of our suit, bike or shoes; that we might discuss with them how the product will be made ... (T)here are several things that unite the disparate contributors in Made by Hand: their exquisite craft, their undying loyalty to their discipline, and their absolute commitment to using traditional methods and traditional techniques to help push contemporary design in new directions."

DAH is me, David Anthony Hance. dah@dahance.com