The Beeb

I’m writing this on a nippy Friday afternoon in Staunton.  At 1 p.m., temperatures had soared to 16 degrees outside, but it’s not likely to get much balmier today.

This weekend, it’s supposed to nudge above freezing, but, by the time this sees print, we’ll be heading down into the single digits again.   

Which is why I’ll be happy to be flying to Seattle again on the 29th.  Yes, it might snow in Seattle while I’m there, but – as it probably won’t stick – I’ll be ahead of the game.

Meanwhile, here in the Commonwealth, winter has already overstayed its welcome.  Our second experience with what climatologists call the polar vortex has locked in the results of a snowfall which would normally have closed schools for, at most, a day.  

Instead, I read the online grumbling of a good friend – the mother of several – who writes that, greatly as she admired Dr. King, a nine-day school holiday is a bit much.  

Note: My friend has never been a teacher.

Being stuck indoors has given me the chance to do a lot of reading.  At present, I’m moving back and forth between The Grand Alliance, Volume III of Churchill’s magnificent history of World War II, and Duty, the excellent new memoir by former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of public radio.  We have a wealth of stations here in the Shenandoah Valley, which gives me a choice of music, talk, and two brands of news – NPR and BBC.

More and more, lately, I find myself tuning in to “the Beeb.”  It’s a small world – but a big planet – and it’s interesting to know what’s going on in the rest of it. 

I like NPR, but its current news staff seems obsessed with topics such as the latest technological gizmos, pop culture, and identity politics.  

Which gets tiresome.

As I’ve recently made clear, in this space, I respect the potential of technology to change our lives – but I’m not big on the toys.  NPR loves ‘em.  

With regard to “pop culture”, the phrase strikes me as an oxymoron.  I could spend the rest of my life reading only books, watching only plays and movies, and listening only to music dating from before my thirtieth birthday.

If absolutely necessary, I could do quite nicely with cultural products dating from before I was born.

On the other hand, if I had to limit myself to the output of the past two decades, I’d consider moving to upstate Idaho to join the survivalists.

And please, don’t get me started on identity politics.  

If you vote as a member of a tribe – racial, ethnic, gender, gender-preference, ideological or religious – that’s your choice.  

It’s not mine.  

My identity, as a voter, consists of three basic components:  I’m an individual, with a habit of thinking for myself; I’m an American citizen, with a strong sense of loyalty to a nation which – whatever its current follies – has a magnificent history and the chance still to prove worthy of it; and I’m a resident of this planet.

That makes my choice of news sources particularly difficult.

As a thinking person, I don’t want to get my news from sources which assume I’ve joined some particular club.  I want information that allows me to make up my own mind.

As a resident of Planet Earth, I’m deeply interested in the survival of life – and not just human life – on our ever-more-endangered planet.  Good luck learning much about that from increasingly corporate-sponsored NPR.

As an American, while I’m deeply interested in my own country, I’m not necessarily seeking in an inside-out view of it.  American media often look at the world through incredibly America-centered lenses.

For example, in covering the latest snowstorm, every report I heard or read talked of snow blanketing an area from Virginia to Maine.  I’m almost certain that

it also blanketed New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland – but you’d never know.

It’s often instructive to get reporting on America from non-American sources, though – to be sure – there are aspects of this country which outsiders have a difficult time grasping.  

For example, in 2008, the world media missed the boat on Barack Obama.  Not understanding the remarkable powers – and surprising limitations – of the American presidency, they assumed that the election of an intelligent, young, attractive African-American man guaranteed real, substantive change.  

Turns out the job requires things like political experience and a bit of ruthlessness.  The world media missed that.

But then, so did NPR.

Still, I find the BBC wonderfully refreshing.  Its world includes America, Europe, China, and whatever countries the US has recently invaded – or might soon invade.

But it also includes such outlandish places as sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Pacific Rim.  

You know, places where something other than a snowstorm happened last week.


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