By Paul

With the ever-increasing use of the Internet and all manner of social media, it seems to me of late that we have become inundated with news bits of every description, and in fact that we are in danger of becoming so overwhelmed as to find it difficult to distinguish between what actually may be important and what is not.

In an attempt to filter and to prioritize for myself, I have come up with five categories that assist me in (informally) deciding between those things that seem to be of vital importance and, by the process of exclusion I suppose, those things which appear to be less so.

Here, for your perusal, are the categories I have come up with, and a few words about each

  • The Survival of the Earth

What in fact could be more important than this category?  I virtually always read or listen to what is reported on this topic.  Upon it quite literally depends all else, because without a physical home we have nothing to act from, as it were.  Just recently, for example, my friend and fellow blogger Kevin sent me an article entitled “Methane Outbreak Alert!” by Robert Hunziker, published in an on-line magazine called “Dissident Voice” (see http://dissidentvoice.org).  The purport of the article has to do with newly identified methane emissions coming from deep in the Arctic Ocean, and on the devastating effects methane has on the climate.  According to scientists quoted in the article, if we have not yet reached the tipping point, we soon will do so, unless stringent action is taken immediately.  Methane in the atmosphere, as they describe it, is far more harmful even than carbon dioxide.  And there are vast reservoirs of methane gas in the arctic region, both undersea and beneath the tundra.  The rapid warming of the planet in the last 100 years, but even more so in the past 20 to 30 years, is releasing more and more of the methane that had been trapped for millennia beneath the water and the land.  The more methane released, the more it affects the atmosphere, and the more it affects the atmosphere, the more methane is released, creating a vicious cycle that will soon cause the complete meltdown of the arctic region.  The result will be a total disruption of global weather patterns, which itself will engender either devastating drought or catastrophic flooding, and the consequent disruption of world agriculture.  The article goes on to describe what it refers to as a potential “mass extinction event,” otherwise known as “The Great Dying.” These are not pleasant things to read about, it goes without saying, but I believe it is necessary to consider them as real possibilities, given our recalcitrance and inaction in the face of the continual warming of the globe.  Perhaps scientists can save us from ourselves by coming up with ideas to geo-engineer a cooling of the planet.  One such concept that has already been proposed is the injection of large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, essentially mimicking vocalic blasts, which in the past have had a cooling effect on temperatures.  Let us hope that this is not what we will be reduced to, but we shall see.  Who knows what unintended consequences could come about as a result of such deliberate massive human intervention into world weather patterns, even if we could get the nations of the world to agree to it?

  • Equality vs. Inequality

I suppose inequality has ever been with us pretty much from the beginning, when one group of hunter-gatherers got the jump on another and was more successful in feeding and clothing itself than its rivals.  In that sense, it could be argued, we aren’t doing anything that our ancestors didn’t do when we live in our current world where the “haves” possess so much more than the “have nots.”  But lamenting that it has always been so does not mean that it always should be.  The question, I suppose, really is what can anyone do about it?  One thing, as is always the case, is to keep ourselves informed.  And there is plenty to be informed about, everything (in the recent news) from the terrible collapse of the garment factory building in Bangladesh, to issues of homelessness, lack of jobs, problems with the minimum wage, inequality in pay between women and men in the workplace, racism, sexism of every stripe, scurrilous and scandalous language about the LBGT community on the part of certain politico-religious leaders (not just Christian, but Muslim and Orthodox Jewish, as well), the right to marry whom you please, and on and on.  Not a single day goes by when at very least one, and more frequently several, of the above topics is not discussed in some respected news source.

  • Help Those In Need

Just taking a look at the front page of the Los Angeles Times for Thursday, May 2, 2013, we see articles on both the “nasty side effects” of the new health care laws coming into being, and one entitled “Misery in the Sinai,” having to do with a man from Eritrea who had gone to the Sudan to look for work and who was subsequently kidnapped and held for ransom.  It could hardly be clearer that both have to do with people in grave need, in the former case, all those who want to work for themselves and their families, and who are then limited to just under the cut-off point in terms of hours before getting mandated health insurance.  One example given is the city of Long Beach, CA., where I happen to live, which limits part-timers to 27 hours a week, specifically so as to avoid providing health care insurance for them.  As one employee said, “It’s ridiculous that the city is skirting the law,” and who could disagree with her?  In the case of the kidnapped Eritrean migrant worker, his captors are demanding $33,000 in ransom money from his family.  As the man’s father said, “That amount is bigger than our dreams.”  And should it not be the dream of all of us to help such people in need?

  • Do No Harm

This is truly a motto for the ages.  Westerners probably first heard of it in the Hippocratic Oath.  Doctors are enjoined, first of all, not to harm patients, and then after that to do what they can to heal them.  “Primum non nocere”(first, do no harm), as they say.  We also know of it from Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and his insistence on non-violence, from the great Mohandas Gandhi in attempting to rid India of British rule, and from Martin Luther King, in all of his efforts to bring justice and equality to a people who have been discriminated against for centuries.  But “ahimsa,” as it is called in India, where it is practiced not only by some Hindus, but also by Buddhists and Jains, is not only a relic of the past.  Can we not see its effects in almost any news story current today?  All we have to do is take a look at what terrorists have done the world over (and only recently in Boston) in the name of ideology, or what is happening in Guantanamo Bay, or the bullying of gay children in the school yards of our own nation, or the death of over 130,000 young children in Somalia because Islamist rebels banned the delivery of food, or the devastating harm done to the earth itself in the terrible practice of so-called fracking, to remember all of the harm that is being done these days both on and to the earth.  Let us, therefore, as much as possible not participate, and let us inform ourselves of instances of it and do what we can to prevent it.

  • Freedom (to Act Responsibly)

We Americans frequently pat ourselves on the back, and rightly so, for all of the freedoms we enjoy.  Surely, in spite of all of our problems and, yes, even our defects, it is a great privilege to live in a democracy, and a thing for which we all ought to be enormously grateful.  But let us also remember that not everyone enjoys the same rights and privileges.  There are dictatorships abroad, for example, some of which we have at times lamentably propped up for our own gain.  There are horrendous civil wars, such as the one currently raging in Syria, where tens of thousands of innocents have been killed by a brutal dictator.  Kim Jong Un crushes his own people practically on a daily basis, and threatens the world with nuclear warheads, and no one seems willing or able to do much about it.  Closer to home, millions of immigrants, whose only crime is having entered the country without proper papers, live a marginalized and frightened existence.  We are subject to the most vile and disgusting hate speech by religious extremists of every stripe.  The Westboro Baptist Church, for example, proclaims at every funeral they can manage to picket that “God hates Fags!”  Only slightly less hatefilled speech comes from groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, or from the former, now emeritus, pope who is on record as having said that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” and that gay marriage is contrary to God’s plan and “objectively sinful.”  Millions of Americans own guns in the erroneous belief that more guns will make them safer, and Congress itself does not have the backbone to pass the meagerest of gun-control legislation.

These, then, are five of the general categories that I use in order to distill the onslaught of information that comes at each of us everyday from every direction.  Not everything is important, and some topics rise, or ought to rise, to the top, lest we become quickly overwhelmed and buried in data.

It’s not that such items as “Funds for Raises in Mayor’s budget,” Tech Tackles Cheating,” “Measure Would Go After Bad Doctors,” or “Depression Era Film Starlet Dies” are not interesting or even important to some in their own right (all, by the way, can be found in the Thursday, May 2, 2013 edition of the LA Times).  It’s just that no one has unlimited time.  And so, in the end, all of us are obliged in one way or another to sift through and strain out what we cannot, are not willing to, or choose not to handle.

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