Living La Vida Cordcutter

Apple's TV App is a Game Changer

I can’t say when, but at some point, the cable companies broke my will to accept their horrible service. Was it when I took time off from work and the service guy never showed? Was it sitting in their office with a little tag displaying a number that would take 45 minutes to be called?

Yet, I know there is something to be said for the value of watching TV via cable. For one thing, one never has to change apps to watch a different channel. There is no distinction between broadcast and cable channels. They all appear in the same guide. With all the mistakes that the cable companies made, that was one thing they got entirely right.

Comcast, with its, Xfinity service started to move in the right direction. You could schedule the DVR from any device and watch your channels on any device. But if you want to cancel or change your subscription, there is equipment to return and automated answering systems to work through. They will make you pay for your disloyalty in royal inconvenience.

Spectrum offers streaming local channels where I live. I tried their service with the hidden fee (what’s a cable company without hidden fees). It was so buggy I quickly gave it up and went back to my antennas.

And we really can’t emphasize enough that, after that first promotional rate year, cable TV is stinking expensive.

Here is my dream. I have one channel guide for everything that is live now – over the top (OTT) cable channels or broadcast. That guide can also serve to schedule recording programs. Recording includes the options of new episodes only or includes repeats or just the one episode. For sports events the scheduling includes padding the beginning and end times.

There is also a Watch Next section that shows me which of my favorite shows I have not yet viewed. I can edit this list when I decide that show is no longer a favorite. This list includes recorded programs and programs that stream whether from Hulu, CBS All Access, Vue, Sling, DirecTV or another source. The Followshows app Tracker tab is a good example of how this would work.

One Guide to Rule Them All

To my knowledge none of the OTT services besides Sling integrates antenna channels with cable channels in their channel guide. As a work around, Sling coordinates with the AirTV or AirTV Player and an HD antenna. Why isn’t this the most exciting news in this article?

The AirTV guide only integrates with the Sling TV guide on mobile devices or the AirTV Player which connects directly to a solitary TV. It doesn’t work with Sling TV on your Roku or Apple TV (although both devices do support an AirTV freestanding app). If they worked on these big screen devices, the universal guide would have been their biggest selling point.

With all OTT services on a Roku or Apple TV, one has to change inputs on their TV or apps on their device to watch OTA TV. There is no unified guide except with Sling and AirTV and that is only mobile devices or the AirTV Player, which works with only one TV at a time requiring a Player and an antenna for every TV in the house.

Watch Next

Sling has My TV which includes recorded shows but not series you stream on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon etc. Other OTT providers have some means to see which of your favorite shows you have yet to watch. The catch is that you need to open each of their apps to see which of the shows specific to that app are coming up.

Apple TV tries to fill this gap with their class leading and still flawed Apple TV App. Their ‘Up Next’ shows programs from Hulu, CBS All Access, PBS, CW and Amazon that are series you have watched in the past. Sadly, Netflix is absent from here. What’s missing besides Netflix? Shows from your OTT provider (e.g., Sling TV, DirecTV, Hulu Live, Vue, etc.).

Bonus: Use Movies Anywhere to bring all of your Vudu and Google Play movie and TV purchases into the Apple TV App alongside your iTunes purchased movies and TV episodes.

Roku’s My Feed is a much weaker compendium of shows available through your Roku channels or to buy or rent. Unlike the TV app, it does not offer movie previews to help you to decide if you want to follow an upcoming movie.

Neither the Apple TV App or My Feed include shows what you have on your OTT or OTA DVR.

OTA DVR

There are a number of ways to enjoy broadcast TV. Typically, I watch only news, award shows, and sports live. CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox I watch commercial free through CBS All Access and Hulu Plus. That leaves the CW and PBS which each have their own app. But if you’re not inclined to pay for CBS and Hulu or to change apps to watch CW or PBS or to change inputs to watch live TV, what’s a viewer to do?

For OTA DVR, one could use a Tivo Roamio ($400) and change inputs on the TV to see what is on the DVR. Or, one could use a SiliconDust network tuner and NAS or always-on-computer, a Tablo network tuner, or a less known system. Most over the air (OTA) DVR services require a subscription if you want to have the kind of DVR options mentioned above. These services require an additional app to those already on your device in order to use them.

My preferred versions of the above network tuners are the SiliconDust Connect Quattro($150) paired with a WD My Cloud NAS or a Tablo 4 Tuner DVR ($250) paired with USB storage. The Quattro needs a $35 per year guide subscription to work best. The Tablo offers a $5 per month, $50 per year, or $150 lifetime guide subscription. Both of these can stream to smart TVs, set top boxes, or mobile devices.

There is no SiliconDust app for Roku or Apple TV. You could watch using the Plex app with a Plex Pass subscription ($5/month, $40/year, or $120/lifetime). The live TV and DVR Plex Pass approach only works with Android TV and iOS devices – not Roku or Apple TV, however. The even more costly Channels app ($25 plus an $8/month subscription) does allow one to watch live or recorded OTA programs from a SiliconDust network tuner on the Apple TV. The initial cost for that approach would be $175 for the tuner and the Channels app and then $35 per year for SiliconDust DVR service and $8 per month for the Channels app subscription. The subscriptions alone run about $131 per year – for now.

Tablo has both a Roku and Apple TV app that allows streaming live OTA channels as well as an OTA DVR. Is that worth an extra $100 and more expensive subscription?

If I only had a one TV household, I would add for consideration the Tivo Roamio which includes a lifetime guide subscription, but few people only have one TV. And even if you only have one TV the AirTV Player would beat out the Tivo because the AirTV Player integrates the Sling and AirTV program guides. (Tivo Roamio doesn’t work with any of the OTT services.)

If you’re paying $23.54 per month for CBS All Access and Hulu Plus commercial free, you are paying $282 each year. You would pay off the Tablo with a lifetime subscription ($400) in 17 months. After that it would be free. The SiliconDust and Channels app approach has a lower initial cost but ongoing subscription costs. The cumulative cost for this approach becomes cheaper than CBS and Hulu in about 10 months. (But with either the Tablo or SiliconDust DVRs you have to skip through commercials.)

Apple’s TV app cannot keep track of what you watch on the Channels, Plex, nor Tablo apps. It works beautifully with the Hulu and CBS apps. None of the OTA program guides integrate with your OTT channel guide either.

Summary

As much as I like putzing around with electronics, I don’t want to manage a set top box and a tuner and a DVR.

I wish that Apple TV offered YouTube in 4K. It’s just lame that doesn’t do so. However, the TV app more than compensates for this. With its hooks into CBS All Access, Hulu, the CW and PBS I can watch all of my time-delayed broadcast shows from one App. What I can’t do is record the evening news or late night ball games. On rare occasion I would like to do that.

Having said all of this, my sweet spot is the Apple TV 4K, with its awesome Apple TV App which integrates with the CBS All Access, Hulu, CW, and PBS apps for shows from broadcast TV. I only need to leave the Apple TV App to watch Sling, Netflix, or YouTube or to start watching a new-to-me television series. If I were on cable I would still have to leave my cable box to watch Netflix or YouTube, so mostly I’ve lost the unified program guide and having to change between Apple’s TV app and the Sling TV app. That’s a price I’m willing to pay to never wait on the cable guy, stand in line at the cable store, or go through all of the hoops of dealing with their customer service calling tree on the phone. Even though it is more expensive than using Tablo or SiliconDust, I save about $50 a month over what I was paying Spectrum for cable.

I have to admit the thought of ditching the need for an antenna at every TV is enough to make me consider buying a network tuner, too. I could put the antenna where I get the best reception and the network tuner somewhere out of sight. If I get the not-yet-widely-released AirTV, my Sling and AirTV program guides will be unified (possibly on Roku but definitely not on Apple TV) and I can stream to a device that is not on my home WiFi network. As an alternative, if I got a Hauppauge Cord Cutter, I could pause live TV or record broadcast TV straight to my Apple TV. Viewing the Cord Cutter outside its home network is a planned software upgrade for this year, but it isn’t yet available.

Or maybe I’ll just put Linux on an old Windows computer, use one of my old tuners, and setup a Plex Server. 

Stay tuned to find out what I choose. (See what I did there?)

Fellow cord cutters, I would love to know how you handle simplifying your cable TV replacement. Feel free to reach me on Twitter (@tom4surfing).

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Tom’s Top Tech of 2017

Welcome to my sixth annual roundup of the top 10 consumer tech products of the past year. My criteria are entirely subjective. My goal is to identify tech products that provide consumers a great user experience with bonus points for being a great value.

Apple TV 4K

I have just about every set top device out there, but my Apple TV is the one I use regularly. I don’t do this because it has the most apps (tip of the hat to Roku). I don’t do it because I can see YouTube in its 4K glory. I do it because it is smooth and easy. The Apple TV 4K promises more of the same just at a higher resolution. Sadly, I still can’t use it to watch YouTube in 4K. That’s too bad because it is my second favorite source of 4K video after Netflix. Way pricier than the competition, starting at $179, but I still want one.

DJI Spark

You already have a great camera in your phone. Maybe you even have a “real” camera. You have an action camera you can strap to your mountain bike, snorkel mask, or other thrill-seeking apparatus. But what about making an establishing aerial view? The drone that breaks the barrier from requiring you to be a drone hobbyist to easy for the serious selfie-ist is the DJI Spark. So simple to operate that you can both fly it and take still or video selfies with nothing but hand gestures. It is way cool. I want a blue one. Starting at $499.

Sony’s 2017 Full Frame Cameras

With its A7 series of cameras, Sony put the camera world on notice that there was a new player in town. Although the controls weren’t as ergonomic as those of a Nikon or Canon, the battery-life was relatively pitiful, and there was no second memory card slot, the power of the OS and the quality of the images began to outstrip the competition.

Now, in 2017, Sony has delivered the A9 for professionals that has solved almost every issue (although still leaving room to improve in the menu system). With a big buffer and a monster 20 fps, I totally expect to see a lot more Sonys on the sidelines of NFL games. Arguably the best camera money can buy. At $4,500, I would still consider it to be a bargain.

But Sony also introduced the best value in a full frame camera, the Sony A7R III. A sort of baby brother to the A9, A7R III rings in at “only” $3,200. It ups the resolution to 42.4 MP, to boot. Even with the mechanical shutter, it will shoot at 8 fps. Sony has also finally included shooting in 4K on a high resolution camera making this camera a jack of all trades. The only downside is that you loose the Sony apps. That means there is no intervelometer for time lapse photography unless one purchases an external one. Sony, why this step backward? Hopefully, this will be resolved in a future firmware update.

Sonos One

Why pay $200 for a Sonos One when you get all the brains of Alexa in an Amazon Dot for $50? Because you love a great sounding speaker. Like chocolate and peanut butter, Sonos has married great speakers with a great personal assistant. (Ever notice how much “trite and true” sounds like “tried and true”?) Sonos leads the pack in wireless speaker sound. Preliminary testing indicates that the sound profile is similar to the popular Play:1. They’re fidgety to obnoxious to set up, but once you tune them the sound will blow you away. When I finished tuning my sister’s Play:1, the quality of the sound literally gave me goose pimples.

Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE

From the introduction of the Apple Watch, it has taken the wearable market by storm. But the Series 3, has moved the Apple Watch from a fun toy for tech-forward rich people to something so convenient and useful that anyone with the wherewithal and an iPhone should strongly consider it. Why? What if, leaving your phone at home, you could paddle board and still take phone calls? Jog and still listen to your tunes with your Air Pods? The addition of LTE gives us the opportunity to go unfettered from our phones for brief periods during the day.

Onboard storage stayed the same for the GPS-only version, but the LTE version doubles storage to 16GB.

One reason I went from iPhone to Nexus then Pixel was that there was no easy way to have my steps on the screen with an iPhone. The Apple Watch solves that problem with the Pedometer++ app providing a step “complication” (watch face feature). As my old surf watch begins to die, I’m also keeping a sharp eye on emerging surf apps for the Apple Watch (which is rated to 50 meters underwater).

The biggest limitation, is that it only works with an iPhone. Otherwise, Apple Watch would own the world.

Fossil Q Activist Hybrid Smart Watch

The Fossil Q Activist is no substitute for the features of an app wielding smartwatch (like an Apple Watch). The “hybrid” in the title means that it links with your phone to count steps, monitor your sleep, and nudges you with your phone notifications. You can shower or swim with it, but it won’t count laps or log how far you swim. So there are some things you sacrifice, but at only $155 it is a great value that looks stunning on one’s wrist. Also, you don’t need to charge it every night. Just change the battery every six months or so.

LG OLED55B7A OLED 4K HDR Smart TV

If you’re looking for the best TV display money can buy, LG uses the same glass on their B-series TV’s as they do on their top of the line. If you’re serious about image quality, this $1600 beauty is the gateway to the OLED drug. Watch for the $1500 Black Friday pricing. It has been amazing to watch the OLED pricing come down so dramatically. This TV costs about what I paid for my old plasma HD TV nine years ago. And back in 2014, when I first put an OLED TV on this list it cost $3500 to get one in HD!

TCL 55″ 55P607 4K UHD DOLBY VISION HDR ROKU SMART TV

There are those who argue that HDR is more important than 4K when viewing a TV from a normal distance. This little $650 gem provides HDR in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. While some expensive sets are literally omitting the TV tuner, essentially enslaving you to the cable company or an over the top (OTT) service, TCL hasn’t cheaped out there either. You can still hook up an antenna and watch TV for free. With 3 HDMI inputs, this is a value packed entertainment package. Roku doesn’t have the slick interface that Apple TV provides, but it does support all of the major apps including 4K YouTube, which the Apple TV lacks. (The Apple TV displays 4K YouTube videos in HD.) It may not have the highest rated display on the market, but from what I’ve seen it is pretty darn good and will put to shame the HD TV it is replacing in your home.

iPhone X

iPhone X has arrived in time for Christmas and it is the real deal. It has been a while since I could argue that Apple made the best cell phone money could buy. In fact, last year Apple failed to make my top 10 list at all. But the iPhone X is the best phone money can buy. It is Apple, so we are talking a butt load of money here with prices starting at $999. So, yeah, you will have to fork over the price of a pretty fine computer to get one but I believe that it is worth every penny. The camera didn’t score quite as high as the Pixel 2 in the DxOMark ratings, but most people won’t see the difference and the scores of the two phones were very close.

What about the awful notch, you ask? I choose not to think of it as a notch, but as a viewing area with ears where extra info can be displayed. I’ve played with it and it just doesn’t bother me. Using gestures instead of a home button also came to me very quickly and I don’t miss my old homey a bit. But what about the continued lack of an earphone jack? Okay, you got me on that one.

Samsung can match or even surpass the iPhone on features, but good luck getting one of those to last you a year before the battery won’t hold a charge and the performance slows to a crawl. The Pixel 2 XL is pretty but the screen is a disaster. The Pixel 2 looks like something from three years ago (or an iPhone 8). If you’re looking for the best phone money can buy and a purchase that won’t fill you with regret before it’s time for your next upgrade, this is the one to buy.

Well, that’s it. While many electronic products are maturing and not quite as revolutionary as they once were, 2017 still introduced us to some great new products. Go forth and shop!

Note: I make no money when you buy items from this page and was paid no money to endorse these products.

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Is iPhone X the Real Deal?

iPhone X

Engadget had a nice spreadsheet comparing the specs of the iPhone X with other flagship smartphones. I have translated this into pros and cons to help me think through whether this will be my next phone.

iPhone X Pros

  • It is the most compact of the flagship phones, but competes in screen size. Apple has lagged in this area for many years compared to Android and now they take the lead.
  • Battery life. Android phones may start out well, like my Pixel, but are notorious for getting worse as they age. The iPhone typically is as good years later as the day one buys it.
  • Camera. DxOMark recently ousted the Pixel as the smartphone with the best image quality. The new holder of that distinction is the iPhone 8 Plus. There is no reason to think the iPhone X would have a worse camera than the 8. Also, Androids lack the portrait mode that blurs the background and suits the iPhone to artistic use. UPDATE (10/03/2017): The Galaxy Note 8 has tied the iPhone 8 Plus DxOMark score of 94.
  • Video. The ability to shoot 1080p at 240 fps means you can do action scenes in super smooth slow motion. Of course, it also shoots 4K.
  • Screen quality. The True Tone Apple display is one of the best on any device for viewing photographs.
  • Integration with the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS+LTE. For me having a watch that shares my phone’s number so I don’t always need to carry my phone is awesome. This and the battery longevity are the two factors most likely to cause me to switch back to an iPhone.
  • Aesthetics. The new flagship Android phones are long and skinny giving them a goofy look. This phone is pretty enough to lay on a wireless charger on the same desk as my iMac.
  • According to leaks of Google’s upcoming flagship, the iPhone X is priced competitively with the Pixel 2 XL. After a year, my Pixel battery seems to be shot. It doesn’t make it through the workday. I had the same issue with my Galaxy Note 4 before that. The new Note 8 is $60 less. So, yes, $50 or $60 more for a phone that doesn’t crap out in a year seems pretty reasonable to me.

iPhone X Cons (not that the iPhone is an ex-con)

  • The pixel density lags the competition. However, it is still extremely good and the difference to the eye will be barely detectable if at all.
  • There is no external storage. Because this is a phone that will last, I would spring for the 256 gb memory. Even if you don’t need it today, you will in a couple of years. 4k video takes up a lot of space.
  • It is only IP67, which is splash proof. Many Android phones are IP68, which can be taken swimming. Previous iPhones have survived submersion when tested by reviewers, but who wants to gamble with a $1149 phone? If it were waterproof, the iPhone X would be safe from obsolescence for years. I suspect in the next couple of years they will move to IP68.
  • The ability to integrate Google services like Google Maps, Assistant, Calendar, Voice, etc. is clunky and these services are in general superior to those provided by Apple.
  • While the iPhone works with some VR headsets, it doesn’t work with a universal controller. (Some app developers sell controllers for their apps.) This reduces the amount of interaction one can have in VR. This is also where the lesser pixel density will be most apparent.

TBD

  • We don’t yet know the amount of RAM. Apple has traditionally lagged behind Android in this area, but their integrated engineering has allowed them to still perform multi-tasking very smoothly.
  • Face ID has not been proven in the field, but Apple seldom introduces half-baked technology, especially when it relates to security. But then again there was Apple maps.

The Elephant in Your Face

  • At this point, the jury of tech reviewers is pretty unanimous in their condemnation of that ugly notch that disrupts the beautiful edge-to-edge screen.
  • The main issue to me is that the notch covers part of panoramic pictures. I’m guessing an iOS update will eventually fix that, though. At least a quick tap shrinks videos so that they aren’t covered.
  • We’ll see whether it becomes one of those niggling little annoyances that somehow manages to rob us of the joy of ownership.

Going for it?

  • Mark October 27, 2017 on your calendar. That’s the date on which we can pre-order, if we decide the pros outweigh the cons. Keep in mind that there are reportedly supply chain issues that will cause the iPhone X to sell out quickly. Is an iPhone X in your future?
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Fake Media – Watching the Death of Journalism

I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite, the Huntley-Brinkley Report, and later the reporters who broke the Watergate story, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. It may offend our modern sense that crowdsourcing is always better than curated, but I appreciated what journalists did back then. There was a sense of duty to the public. Find the stories that people ought to know about and share them in their order of relevance. Journalists took the initiative to look beneath the surface and uncover information the public needed to hear about. The Associated Press and United Press International fed stories into the newsroom from around the world, presenting the facts on the ground. Each news group selected from those stories and/or the stories of their own journalists and decided what deserved air time, space on the frontpage, or inclusion in the magazine. Consumers of the news would select the news outlet that best reflected the way their own values would prioritize the news.

Maybe their choices of what was and wasn’t newsworthy were questionable. Were they right to hide Roosevelt’s disability from view or Kennedy’s affairs? But I think their stories were selected on the fairly noble basis of what was in the public’s interest to know.
Now, let’s compare and contrast that with the ways in which we receive our news today. For purposes of convenience let’s break those sources into three categories: mainstream media, Fox “news”, and social media.

Mainstream or the established media has often descended from the news media giants of yesteryear. Examples would include ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Fox “news” was truly a complete break from historic outlets. Riffing off of the success of CNN, Fox “news” was a cable network with a mission to support purveyors of conservatism at any cost – even when it meant hiding parts of a story, ignoring a story, or, on occasion, manufacturing a story. Finally, we have social media like Facebook and Twitter. Social media quickly evolved from where we find out from our friends what they are doing that day to a disintermediated source of news.

In my years of development, there was a sense that television news was for the common person and newspapers were for the thinking person. Today, influencers read and watch the news as well as consuming propaganda from those who share their own established perspectives. These influencers then flood social media with disintermediated news which the common person uses as their primary means of news gathering.

Let’s break this down a little further. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to speak in broad strokes and there will be some generalizations.
First let’s look more deeply at the mainstream news outlets. Once bastions of investigative journalism and authoritative news, ABC, CBS, and NBC have wandered far from their roots. A half hour news broadcast has about 22 minutes of content. Approximately half of that content will be the kind of news stories that their predecessors would have recognized as news. The other half is a combination of public service announcements (like changes in the recommended age a man should begin to have his PSA checked) and fluff pieces. This part of the news looks strangely like what you found on YouTube Trending the week before – often they are exactly the same.

The mainstream outlets that once curated news with apparent concern for the public good has been supplanted. Modern media curates the news on what will increase their number of viewers – particularly in the younger demographic most attractive to advertisers. To accomplish this, mainstream news relies on three primary tools: fear mongering, sensationalism, and warm fuzzies. News is only a ruse and not at the core of their mission.

As you watch the evening news tonight, as each story ends ask yourself which of the three categories did it fit into. How many were purely useful information?

The good news about mainstream media is that they take the facts seriously. If you don’t believe me, ask Dan Rather or Brian Jennings. They might use the facts to scare you or sensationalize how important they are, but they do work with facts. When President Trump refers to media that doesn’t represent his alt-right base as ‘fake media’ it is usually this group that he is targeting. Despite his plethora of tweets and leading rallies in chants, he has never mentioned an instance in which the mainstream media got a fact wrong. There was the mistaken removal of the King bust and smaller number of the Patriots at the White House stories, but both of those were promptly corrected by their outlets.

But the duty of the fourth estate goes well past fact checking and garnering high Nielson ratings. They are the ‘fourth estate’ because they are to be the watch dogs over the activities of the three branches of our government and to call to our attention any of their abuses of the democratic process. Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation into Watergate is a prime example of journalism as the fourth estate protecting democracy. Murrey Marder of the Washington Post investigated McCarthy’s claim that Army personnel in New Jersey were involved in espionage and showed that his claims were false. Seymour Hersch uncovered the My Lai massacre. These are just a few high profile examples of how courageous and committed journalists provided the public with information that they would not otherwise have had and which strengthened our democracy. Note that it wasn’t until well after the Republican primaries were over that journalists began to do their job of looking into Donald Trump’s crooked business dealings, bankruptcies and alleged sexual assaults. Journalists still haven’t determined the extent of Trump’s financial entanglements with Russian financiers. A cynical person might think that the media wanted to stretch his candidacy out for as long as possible because Trump was good for ratings (advertising revenue).

I have presented traditional journalism and mainstream journalism as being different entirely. It would be more accurate to say that the preponderance of emphasis has changed from providing useful information to the electorate to baiting viewers for their advertisers. The New York Times estimates that then-candidate Trump received 2 billion dollars worth of free media coverage in comparison to other candidates. Trump brought eyeballs to advertisers. He didn’t do it by discussing policy that informed voters, but by fostering fear, sensationalizing facts, and channeling a latent anger among those in the electorate who felt otherwise neglected. By the equal-time-for-each-candidate mindset of yesteryear, it is highly doubtful he would be president today. FCC rules allow a disproportionate amount of time to be given to only one candidate if it is done in the context of an interview. Clearly, giving one voice disproportionate exposure in an election is not fair. It represents a breakdown of the role of the press as envisioned in the First Amendment. It is my opinion that mainstream media is not fake news in the sense of disseminating false information. They are fake news because they have deteriorated to the point of being little more than an infomercial disguised as a news broadcast.
I do want to mention that some newspapers, like the New York Times and Washington Post appear to be continuing many of the virtues of traditional journalism. But we are in an age where the discussion among journalists is whether newspapers are on the verge of extinction. Fortunately, the President’s criticism of the media, and the New York Times in particular, appears to have given the real newspapers a whiff of new life.

Now, let’s look at what has been until recently the leading cable news network, Fox News. Until Trump starting abusing CNN, Fox News often outperformed both CNN and MSNBC combined. But by so publicly subjecting his critics to churlish ridicule, President Trump has fed them the viewers they needed to stage a comeback of sorts. Of course, the news that Fox has paid several women who alleged sexual abuse and harassment millions of dollars in settlements hasn’t helped their popularity. Nor, has the news that Fox hid these liabilities from their investors.

Fox News invented the ill-mannered-host-shouting-over-his-guests-with-neck-veins-popping genre. They leave out facts that don’t support their alt-right agenda. For example, in reporting the story of Jimmy Kimmel’s baby’s health issues, they omitted the part where he made a plea for affordable health care. They make up false news, like Judge Napolitano’s claim that Obama was wiretapping Trump. When those fake news stories are shown to be fake, there is no news correction. According to PuditFact, CNN has the fewest false or mostly false statements of the cable news networks followed by MSNBC, which is more of an opinion network than a news network. They claim that a full 60% of Fox News “news” is either wrong or mostly false.

So, the question must be asked, if Fox News tells more lies than facts, why is it so popular? I think the answer lies in what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’. There is a psychological stress that occurs when our beliefs are challenged by our perceptions. If we bought a car and then read in Consumer Reports that the model we bought has reliability issues or depreciates rapidly we experience stress. It is only human to avoid pain. If we are far left, we don’t want to watch Fox News because their perspective is inconsistent with our beliefs. If we are alt-right, we don’t want to watch CNN for the same reason. The alt-right view is based on gender, race, religious, and cultural bias. Bias is hard to sustain when presented with facts. Facts cause bigots pain. Where can they go for reassurance that their anger and hate is justified? The “news” on Fox News fills the bill.

Now, let’s make no mistake about it. There are more than a few bigots in the United States. The fight for justice made great progress. But we have also backed the devil into the corner. Jesus describes Satan as a Deceiver, Killer, and a Destroyer. Those ignoble aspects of our nature that are fed by the Breitbarts and Fox News of the world have yet to inflict the last of their devilish damage.

Donald Trump sees the more accurate media outlets as a threat to his America, because facts stress him and his followers out. Truth will not lie down with hate. As our judiciary and legislative branches have drawn his attacks for limiting his power, it is no surprise that he has so vigorously opposed the truth-tellers. Based on his tweets, it would appear that he spends many of his non-golfing hours glued to Fox News and reading Breitbart.

I encourage all of us to expose ourselves to cognitive dissonance as much as we can stand it. It is important to understand how others think and how they feel. Whether it was Nazis convincing working people that their problem was the success of Jews or Republicans convincing working people that their problems were due to minorities, immigrants or treaties, it comes back in large part to feelings. From the time Adam pointed the finger at Eve who pointed her finger at the serpent, humans have only improved at passing blame. It is always easier to pass the blame to someone else – even when it isn’t their fault. We have a psychological need for a concrete place to place blame that isn’t us. Like cognitive dissonance, self-blame or grasping for a cause for misfortune is psychologically stressful. Oh, look, there is someone who is a different gender, color, religion, or culture. How handy. It’s their fault.

The alt-right is enabled by the misinformation that dodges cognitive dissonance and blame shifting that feeds bigotry. Fox News isn’t going anywhere. They will be lying and hating until Jesus returns. It concerns me how many Christians are feeding the devil with a swift click of their remote.

UPDATE 2017-05-14 13:20: I should repeat that these are generalizations. Even Fox News has people like Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith, who exhibit journalistic integrity.

Both mainstream media and Fox have moved dramatically away from serving the public to pandering to the public. A major contributor to that trend has been social media. As a college student, I had access to the AP wire as part of my journalism class on copy editing. As a soldier working in intelligence, I had access to classified information. In both cases, I found it intoxicating to have such unfettered access to what was going on in the world. In fact, that was one of the hardest parts about leaving the Army. One of the reasons frequently cited for the addictive nature of social media is the fear of missing out (FOMO). If there is an uprising in Turkey or Egypt it is not surprising that we first hear of it directly from the people involved by Twitter or Facebook. No need to wait for tomorrow’s paper or even the broadcast news. Just open the Twitter app while you walk to your next meeting. I have friends with varied interests who obsessively vomit links to the stories they find interesting into their Facebook feeds. People who use social media can feel that they “know enough” about what is going on from what they see in their social media feeds. Websites quickly learned that the best way to get people to click on those links was to have topics and headlines that have come to be known as clickbait. “Woman dies after opening the trunk in her grandmother’s attic. Find out why.”

Mainstream media and Fox both felt the pressure from social media’s immediacy, lack of scruples in generating clickbait, and appeal to the lowest common denominator among the public. The new normal in news is largely driven by this.

How do you make money as a “news” agency in three easy steps?
1. Compete with the immediacy of social media by reporting stories before you have confirmed your sources or understand what is happening. What is important is to be first. We’ll worry about being right later, but only if we get caught.
2. Compete with the internet’s clickbait stories by either re-sharing them or sensationalizing the ones you already had.
3. Appeal to the lowest common denominator by turning away from investigative journalism and enabling the avoidance of cognitive dissonance and blame shifting. Tell them everything they want to hear and help target some scapegoat with hate and fear.

This three-pronged approach will work whether your organization targets the alt-right or far left. It is very flexible. Of course, democracy loses when journalism takes this approach because it depends on an informed electorate. But, hey, when was the last time democracy put money in your pocket?

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Another Pillar Falls – the Senate

United States Constitution Page 1 (Wikipedia)

There are times when I think that perhaps I am witnessing the end of the American epoch. Riding to victory on the shoulders of our country’s white, less educated, males (Pew Research), Trump has ushered in a typhoon of chaos that is wiping away the weakened vestiges of the pillars of our forefathers’ democratic experiment. In my lifetime, the groups that once defined the fringe of each political party has become “the base”. And the base of the two parties has moved increasingly further apart (The Rise of Partisanship).

Although our current president has usurped the adage, “America First”, he apparently means for ‘America’ only to apply to those who would serve to further his political power and the value of his business. This hyper-partisan approach to governing is the natural evolution of the changes in our political landscape.

Last week, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate. Let’s look at how that came to pass as a case study in the current state of U.S. government. Senate rules state that Senators can speak on a pending decision for as long as they wish. It requires a three-fifths vote of the Senate in order to bring that debate to a close. Using that right in order to obstruct progress toward a vote, is what is known as a ‘filibuster’. Like many of our traditions, including the electoral college, these rules were designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority. The requirement for 60 votes meant that members of the majority party were under pressure to garner support from the minority party before a bill would be federal law or a candidate would become a federal judge or ambassador. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate, with its longer terms, was to be less partisan and to give greater weight to the good of the country than the Senator would give to her own state’s constituency. The greater number and more frequent elections of the Representatives was designed for each of them to give greater care to the interests of their relatively tiny districts. No one was to be forgotten or lack representation, but in the end the nation’s greater good was to outweigh the interests of any individual or tiny district.

The Constitution is wise and beautiful in this regard. The realization of its promise has never been complete and the degree of realization has been more or less substantial in different periods of history. I have to wonder if its fabric has been stressed to this extent at at any time since the end of the Civil War.

How did a highly qualified nonpartisan judge, come to be the breaking point for the Senate’s rule designed to encourage the Senators to reach across the aisle? Was it Chuck Shumer’s abuse of the filibuster? Was it the Mitch McConnell’s refusal to work with colleagues across the aisle?

There can be some debate about what constitutes a filibuster. Just because a Senator talks, it doesn’t mean that they are trying to delay a vote. One suggested metric is that a filibuster is defined as talking long enough that there is a motion for cloture. From 1967 until now the Congressional Research Service noted 86 motions for cloture on debate about judicial nominees. 50 of those 86 occurred before Obama. Another way to look at this is that there were 36 justices before Obama who were subjected to filibuster. If you do the math, that means that some of them had votes for cloture more than once. During Obama’s term, the exact same number of nominees, 36,  were filibustered.

At this point it becomes clear that, under President Obama, Senate Republicans used the filibuster at a feverish pace. Perhaps they appropriated the strategy from Shumer who had used the filibuster against President Bush’s nominees. In 2013, Shumer became so fed up with Republican filibusters of judicial nominations that he changed the rule with regard to non-SCOTUS judicial nominations so that the motion for cloture would only require a simple majority. It should also be noted that the Republican-led Senate refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s last nominee for SCOTUS. Arguably, this was the greatest dereliction of the Senate’s constitutional duties. Article II, Section 2 states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court”.

As partisanship in America worsened, the filibuster became more common. Before 1967, there was no record of one having occurred. As beautiful as our constitution may be it does not appear to have been composed with the possibility that those governing would be so polarized that they would abrogate the role of the Senate to be a voice of nonpartisan considered advice and consent of the President’s judicial nominees. But McConnell and Shumer have managed to drag that once proud institution to this historic low point to appease their respective, and polar opposite, fringe party “bases”.

One hopes that our electorate will awaken and realize that the American political process, based on the wisdom of our constitution, is not a reality TV show. It is not a wrestling match in which our little group struggles to wrest what we want out of the hands of our fellow countrymen for personal gain. It is the process by which a balance should be struck between the will of the many and the rights of the few.

America will never be great as long as we insist on excluding those with a different view from our definition of America. I have a dream that we will again see a day where cooperation across the party aisle is not equated with collaborating with the enemy.

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