Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Abraham Lincoln is the New President!

Three weeks ago tomorrow was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. When Jeralynne asked me what I was giving up for Lent, I quickly answered "political media". It is something I spend a lot of time with and obsess over so I figured that going without would be a good act of discipline. After three weeks, I have realized that it wasn't a big deal. In fact, I don't feel deprived at all. Maybe I'll have to think of something else.

But it's more than that -- it's just not that I'm not deprived. I"M BETTER OFF.

I'm still reading the morning paper, scanning headlines and digging deeper if the story grabs me. And the opinion writers for the NY Times and Washington Post are folks I admire, so I keep up with what they're saying.

I've been pondering that a longer view of the news helps create a better sense of perspective. The incessant updates, concerns, opinions, and propagandas of the 24 hour news cycle seem to destroy perspective. Yesterday the story was that the rebels in Libya were rapidly advancing Westward. Today the story is that Kadahfi's forces have repelled the rebels. Yesterday, there was radioactive water in Japan and reports of 10 million times the normal level. By late in the day, that had been corrected to 1,000 miliverts per hour -- still high but nowhere near the original claim. The US budget impasse is going to cause a government shutdown one day. The next another Continuing Resolution has passed.

Add to that the problem of pundits, who feel obliged to share their views on everything whether informed or previously disproven. Katrina vanden Huevel, liberal editor of The Nation, wrote today about conservative pundits who trot out old ideas to inform current events. I'm certain the same claim can be made about liberal punditry.

So this is what I've been missing (not so much).

My attempt to take a "longer view" got me thinking about how news traveled before the modern era. Sure, we had telegraph lines to major cities, but sometime news simply took a long time. In looking into this reality yesterday, I came across an interesting piece of history from Port Townsend, Washington. Port Townsend is located at the Northwest tip of the Olympic peninsula and is on the Western shore of Puget Sound.

A Google search on news of Lincoln's election in 1860 turned up this wonderful little story in Wikipedia about a steamship, the PS Eliza Anderson, that operated out of Port Townsend in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Here's the entry about Lincoln:

In the early 1860s, there was no telegraph in Puget Sound, and mail carried by steamboat was the fastest way of transmitting news. Thus, on November 27, 1860, the Anderson brought to Port Townsend news that Abraham Lincoln had been elected president of the United States on November 4, 1860, even though the news had reached Olympia on November 22.

So Lincoln had been president for over Three Weeks when the residents of Port Townsend learned of his election. What did this delay change? Lincoln was still president. PT residents could cheer or jeer, as would be their preference, when they got the news. And their news wouldn't be colored by all the opinion leaders who were telling them what Lincoln's election might or might not mean for folks living in the Northwest.

I'm not willing to go to a three week rule as of yet, but taking the long view of still-developing stories has made me calmer and more circumspect. That's a good thing in any season of the year.

Maybe next year for Lent, I'll find something that really costs me. I know it's supposed to be coffee but my discipline isn't that strong yet!

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