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Long Story Short: If the news fits



Turkey and football

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving, the official start of the holiday season, although most stores had announced the start of the Yuletide season before Halloween. Wednesday, as my back was being “adjusted,” my chiropractor blithely commented that Thanksgiving is the most chauvinistic holiday. “The women spend it in the kitchen,” he said, “while the men watch football all day.” I pointed out that this isn’t the case in my house, because I do the cooking, and don’t watch football, to which he was stunned into silence. “Or baseball,” I added, “or hockey, racecar driving, horseracing, or anything outside of women’s gymnastics every four years, and occasionally downhill skiing and bobsled.”


This is all true, but I did watch the Bills when they were Superbowl contenders. (It’s been a while.) And I’ve watched several Superbowl halftime shows. Lady Gaga, Madonna, Beyoncé, and Prince all made the cut, if that counts as a sport.  


A small gathering

Most of my extended family was off to various places this year, so it was just my wife, older son, brother, and me at Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, I made two turkeys. White meat on large birds with their long cooking times tends to take on the consistency of Styrofoam, requiring gravy or another fluid just to wash it down. It’s easier to cook two small turkeys to perfection, said one website I consulted, which seemed like a good idea, if somewhat lacking the picturesqueness of a Norman Rockwell painting. Besides, turkeys are so cheap around Thanksgiving: you can get one at Tops and one at Wegmans for less money than one of those tofurkey abominations. If you’re going to be a vegetarian, for heaven’s sake, eat vegetables and stop trying to make them taste like meat.


Size matters

My two birds totaled thirty-six pounds, with one four pounds heavier than the other. It was Thanksgiving morning before I wondered if two roasting pans would even fit on the same oven rack. I tested them, discovering that they just made it, tight against each wall. I did some math to determine when to start the larger one so the two would finish at the same time (hitting it almost perfectly).


An hour later, I shoehorned the second pan in, and attempted to close the oven door, which is when I realized that I had tested the pan width, but not the length. The door was ajar by about a half-inch, and I considered leaving it that way, cooking the turkey and heating the house at the same time. But I’ve accumulated a backup roster of roasting pans over the years. I always say that you can never have too many roasting pans. They’re like old prescription glasses; you never know when you will need one. In football terms, this is called having a deep bench. I took the too-long pan out of the game and sent shorty in.  


The meal was a success, if I do say so myself.


The game was on

We had dinner in the afternoon to accommodate my brother, who is a Bills fan. He had made watching the game a condition of coming to dinner, and since I was short on family, I sidelined my football apathy and watched it with him. More accurately, my brother watched while I napped on and off, occasionally lifting my head to catch a play or two. There was a score early on, and I asked whether it was the Bills. “No, dad,” replied my son somewhat patronizingly, “it was the Star Helmets.” The boy knows football.


Spoiler: we won

In the fourth quarter, I woke to discover that our team was far ahead and were just stalling. Stalling is probably the most significant part of a football game. The average game has just eleven minutes of play. The rest consists of various stalling tactics. You add your huddles, time outs, penalty flags, commercials, endzone dances, halftime analysis, and all the other filler, and the game actually lasts just over a month. So, the Bills stalled until they won, as I felt my beard grow in.


The Star Helmets are also known as America’s team, so I guess if your city doesn’t have their own team, at least you have them to cheer on. We have the Bills though, and they are doing well this year, which is generating a lot of civic excitement. So, we’re all getting something for the 227 million taxpayer dollars we paid in 2012 to spruce up the stadium and keep the team in Buffalo for eight more years.


And they call the bird we ate at dinner a turkey.      



Fighting fake news: start by doubting yourself

I’ve read a few social media posts lately, urging readers to beware of fake news. It’s a good idea, but not so easily carried out, no matter how smart you are. Fake news comes in many forms: friends who quote things they hear somewhere, a meme comprising “facts and data,” an article from an unreliable source, a picture or video clip taken out of context, and even deepfakes. It’s easy to fall for fake news when it’s something you want to believe. And politics is not the only place where such fakery resides. Science is fraught with fake news, as is education and religion. Hate speech is shored up by fake news. Even when a source provides real facts, but only ones that support one philosophy, it creates false perceptions. I watch MSNBC, for instance, but remain aware that even when the pundits tell the truth, it’s a skewed perspective that doesn’t represent a balanced view. I depend on a variety of balanced sources.


What to do?

Some countries are enacting laws against fake news, which concerns free speech advocates. In the US, it’s largely up to readers to spot and factcheck suspicious claims. Some call this being media literate. I call it exhibiting healthy skepticism. I’ve been an avowed skeptic for as long as I can remember, and I speak with experience when I say that people resent having their “facts” challenged. But challenge you must, and that includes anything you read, see, or hear that you want to believe.


To start, doubt all extreme statements. Big important stories that are true are not confined to obscure websites. If, for instance, scientists discover intelligent life on Mars, it will be widely covered by every mainstream media source. It will be the front-page story, lead the nightly news, and pop up on the newsfeeds of every phone. It won’t be announced on Facebook.


If you read something that seems shocking or important, and you haven’t heard about it in the mainstream media, it’s likely fake. Here’s why: real journalists live to break accurate news. They sometimes make mistakes—for which they are disgraced or even punished—but another reliable source will correct those errors. These guys want to be accurate. They win coveted prizes for accurately uncovering important stories. So, for instance, if the World Trade center was destroyed by the US government, the real news media would expose it, not college kids on a YouTube channel.  


How to factcheck

•Even things that seem plausible must be checked. Statements in articles or posts without citations or sources must be dismissed offhand, no matter how much you like what they say, unless you can dig up your own supporting evidence. If there are quotes, google the person being quoted to learn about their potential bias and level of authority, not to mention the context of the quotes.

•If news comes to you in something that seems like chainmail, it’s fake. If you are urged to pass on a message, it’s fake.

•Headlines sometimes mislead. You must read the story to find out if the click-bait is supported in the article by verifiable sources. Often, it’s not. Sometimes in the body of the story, the headline is revealed to be an unattributed rumor or unverified statement. You have to read the story with a critical eye.

•If a source quotes an earlier source, you must check that too. Nonsense has a way of being requoted endlessly, making it seem reliable.

•Find out if a source is credible. You can refer to the highly researched Interactive Media Bias Chart 5.0.  It takes a little effort to understand how the chart works, but it’s worth it. How biased is your news source? You probably won’t agree with this chart explains how this resource came to be, and why it’s important. It’s interesting to note, that a media source can be biased—in that it focuses on a particular political view, but still be accurate. On the other hand, you’ll notice that as you go further down the chart in reliability, the bias generally becomes much wider. Click on the chart multiple times, and eventually media sources appear one at a time, showing their level of bias and reliability.

•Another way to check credibility, is to read “about us” on a website, which often gives clues to the website’s perspective. Or google the name of the source and see what Wikipedia and others say about it. Wikipedia, by the way, has been found to be as reliable as traditional encyclopedias.

Understanding & Evaluating Sources provides several factcheck websites you can use to confirm stories. Snopes.com does a great job of checking rumors, memes, and other questionable facts. Some people argue that Snopes is biased, which is demonstrably untrue. Snopes cites its sources, so you can verify their factchecking.

•Watch for funky domains and URLs. For instance, anything ending with “.com.co” is suspect.

•You can check the validity of pictures by doing a reverse image search. There’s a couple ways to do this. Google “reverse image search” and you’ll find several sites that do this, including Google itself.   


NPR (a reliable source that slightly skews left) published Fake News: How To Spot Misinformation, which includes five excellent tips on catching unreliable information, and how to think about it.  


Another story by NPR called We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned is a must read (or a 7-minute abbreviated listen). They employed an expert to track down an anonymous website owner to find the source of one fake story that was shared a half-million times. They find him and go to his house; it’s not what you might expect. "The whole idea from the start was to build a site that could kind of infiltrate the echo chambers of the alt-right, publish blatantly or fictional stories and then be able to publicly denounce those stories and point out the fact that they were fiction," the guy explains. He succeeds beyond his expectations, in one case causing a Congressman to propose legislation to protect against something that wasn’t happening. It’s pretty shocking, with an accompanying interview that provides numerous insights and makes you want to stop being a sucker. There’s one provocative quote in the story: “Coler [the website owner] says his writers have tried to write fake news for liberals—but they just never take the bait.”


However, according to a major study, Liberals and Conservatives Are Both Susceptible to Fake News, but for Different Reasons. This too is good reading.


Be willing to change your mind

In order to avoid falling prey to fake news, or even honest news that may change with new information, you must keep an open mind. Here’s a simple example: For many years, if anyone showed signs of having a winter cold, people would say, “It’s this cold weather,” and I would point out that research has shown that cold weather has nothing to do with colds. I said this because it was true, and because I like debunking popular myths.


Then in 2015, a major study from Yale University demonstrated that cold weather increases the speed at which rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, multiply in lab mice. Scientific knowledge changed, and my beliefs had to change with them. It isn’t easy to change your mind about something you strongly believe. There is a tendency to dismiss opposing evidence. This inclination is greater the more invested you are in your belief. Right now, everyone is highly invested in political beliefs.


Cognitive dissonance

Every now and then, I share an opinion on social media with people I’m politically aligned with, which doesn’t toe the party line. Even though we are on the same “side” of the divide, I become the enemy. I have at times been branded with pejorative labels, because that’s easier than the cognitive dissonance it would cause to consider that what I’m saying might have merit. It even happened recently on an Instagram post of a work by a famous feminist artist whom I admire, that everyone was fawning over, because I suggested this particular work might not be all that. I think this because I’m a man, I was finally told. Most people exist in the echo chamber of their own beliefs, filtering out what does not belong. I say, doubt everything, especially your own beliefs. 



Pop, soda, or coke?

Robert is a thirty-one-year-old Buffalo native, who appeared last Tuesday on The Price is Right, the gameshow where you win money by guessing product prices while behaving irrationally excited. When Robert selected the Dr. Pepper twelve pack, which was labeled “soda,” he referred to it as “the pop.” Host Drew Carey responded, “I can tell you’re from Buffalo.” This was caught on video and put on Twitter by @BUFFALO_LOSS.


The Buffalo News picked up the story but made a couple errors reporting it. And host Carey made an error of his own.


Buffalo is a pop city

"Pop! I can tell you're from Buffalo," the News correctly reports Carey saying, then incorrectly adding, “before mentioning that people call it soda in his native Cleveland.” No Drew, you can’t tell a person is from Buffalo because they say pop. And what Carey actually said was, “That’s what people in Cleveland call it, pop; yeah, we’re gonna have a pop.” After getting that wrong, the News wrote, “Carey got a kick out of Robert's regional name for what most of the country calls soda.” Also, not true: most of the country does not call it soda, at least not geographically speaking.


As you can see by clicking on this link, the word soda is confined largely to the extreme North-East and California. They say pop all across the Northern United States, from Western New York to the Pacific Ocean. What seems particularly strange to people in the Northern states, is that, throughout the South, all carbonated beverages are called Coke. Coca Cola was invented by a Confederate Colonel in Atlanta Georgia, and it was the first soft drink (though originally sold as medicine). Like Kleenex and Xerox, the word became synonymous with all similar products, in this case all soft drinks. In the South, you can get a Mountain Dew Coke, or a Sprite Coke, or a Canadian Dry Coke, but not soda or pop.  


The takeaway:

If you say pop, you’re likely from one of eighteen states where it is the predominant term in use, or six more—including New York—where it dominates part of the state. You can read an explanation for the three different terms, and why they’re found in certain regions here. And you can see pop-drinker Robert win $31,088 by clicking here.



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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