Getting Facts, Analysis, and Opinion

Where do you get your “news” and what are you believing?

My Twitter profile is a simple list of the things that make me me.

In my Twitter profile, you’ll find the phrase truth seeker. I’m occasionally ribbed by far right Twitter users who don’t like my one-liners, often at the expense of people they support, including Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Sean Hanity, Bill O’Reilly, and Ted Cruz. These people, who cry “fake news” whenever they hear something they don’t like, wouldn’t know the truth if it hit them with a baseball bat.

But I take truth seriously. I want to know the truth about things. I want to be able to form my own opinions based on facts. I try to be yet another phrase in my profile: independent thinker.

And that’s why I’m so frustrated when people share inaccurate information, including links to false or seriously biased news stories on social media. It was enough to drive me off Facebook and it keeps me fine-tuning the list of people I follow on Twitter.

But what are good, reliable sources of information? Back in February, I blogged about an article in Forbes that attempted to identify some of them. For the most part, I agreed with the list. But it was limited and it failed to indicate any biases or whether the source presented facts, analysis, or opinion.

Some Definitions

Let me take a moment to define each of these, because it’s very important to understand.

  • Facts are truthful statements of what is or was. This is black and white stuff that can be proven and is not questioned (except maybe by people who cannot accept the truth).
  • Analysis puts facts into context in an attempt to explain why they matter. This can be extremely helpful for folks trying to understand the impact of past and current events and why they should care. Although knowledgable people can often make their own analysis, when there are too many facts that impact a situation for the average person to understand, fact-based analysis can be vital for the average person to make an informed decision. Bias can come into play in analysis, but the best analysis sticks to facts and avoids bias.
  • Bias, Defined
    The definition of bias.

    Opinion is what one person or organization thinks about a situation. Opinion can be well-reasoned, based on solid facts and good, informed analysis. It can also be based on false information and similarly flawed analysis. Most often, it’s falls somewhere in between with a mixture of good and bad information and analysis. But it always includes bias, which can seriously degrade the value of the opinion — especially for someone able to think for herself.

So what am I looking for in my news sources? Facts and unbiased analysis so I can make my own opinion.

The Chart

A while back, I came upon an infographic that listed news media sources on a chart. On the Y (vertical) axis was how factual the source was. Higher was more factual. On the X (horizontal) axis was how biased the source was. Middle was unbiased, left was liberally biased and right was conservative biased. The original version of this chart listed quite a few news sources. In answer to a question a Twitter friend asked the other day, I went looking for it online. I found version 3.0, which I’m reproducing in a reduced size here:

Media Chart 3.0
Version 3.0 of the chart by Vanessa Otero. (I highly recommend that you click the chart to view a larger size and the article that explains it.) This is an extremely handy tool for evaluating news sources — so handy that I’ve printed out a copy for future reference and will be looking for updates.

Understanding the Chart

No chart is perfect and if you read the comments on the post that explains this version of the chart, you’ll see that people have argued with its author. In most instances, they’re claiming that various sources should be shifted left or right from their current positions.

If you accept that it’s at least 95% representative of reality — which is where I stand — if you’re looking for facts, you should be most interested in the news sources inside the green box. That actually makes me feel pretty good because that’s where most of the news sources I listed the other day reside: the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and NPR. In fact, my main source of news is NPR, which is minimally biased fact reporting. I listen to NPR on the radio all day most days when I’m working at home.

If you want analysis, look for sources inside the yellow box. Ideally, you’d want something in the middle of the yellow box, which is nearly empty. One of my favored news sources, the Guardian, falls slightly left in the top of that box; another, the New Yorker, is slightly down and slightly more left. This isn’t terribly surprising since I lean more liberal than conservative in most of my views. Still, neither source is either “hyper-partisan liberal” or “liberal utter garbage/conspiracy theories.” Whew.

The orange and red boxes contain sources that are light on facts, and high on biased opinion. Unsurprisingly most of the news sources listed are either far left or far right. The red box sources are especially troubling in that they include misleading information and/or inaccurate or fabricated information geared toward either far left or far right media consumers. This is where you’ll find Occupy Democrats and the Palmer Report on the left and Fox News and Breitbart on the right. The chart notes that they are damaging to public discourse. (Duh.)

Using the Chart

How do I use this chart? First of all, it’s made me want to spend more time with sources like Bloomberg, Time, and the Economist. These look like they might be good sources of fact and unbiased analysis.

Next, when faced with a “news” story from an unfamiliar source, I’ll look it up on this chart. If it’s in the red box, I’ll basically disregard it. Why should I waste my time trying to figure out what part, if any, in the story is factual? I certainly won’t share it — and I’ll downgrade my opinion of the reliability and judgement of anyone who does.

If it’s in the orange box, I may or may not disregard it, depending on the topic and the availability of corroborating stories. But again, why should I waste my time trying to figure out what to believe in a story?

Instead, I’ll focus on what’s in the green and yellow boxes, as close to the middle of the X axis as possible.

What about You?

What do you think? I’m not talking about the accuracy of the chart here — if you have comments about that, leave them for the chart’s author and she’ll address them. I’m just curious about where people get their news, what they’re looking for, and what they share. Let us know what you think.

And please — do your best to fight real fake news. Don’t share links to unreliable or heavily biased “news” sources.

Shouldn’t We All Be Able to Get Affordable Health Care?

A quick addendum to an earlier post.

I’m one of many Americans who is glad the Trump/Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA or TrumpCare) failed to come to a vote. I didn’t think it was in the best interest for people like me and I really believe it would be catastrophic for folks in lower income situations who are struggling to afford health care.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that the people who support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) are those who don’t benefit from it. These are people with decent incomes who, most likely, get health insurance from their employers. In their mind, they shouldn’t be “subsidizing” health care for those who don’t get it from their employers — mostly because they think these people are unemployed or otherwise sponging off the system.

That isn’t true. Millions of people who benefit from the ACA are hardworking people who don’t have insurance benefits through an employer — including self-employed individuals like me.

While people who work for big companies can get health insurance as easily as filling out a form and handing it in to their employer’s Human Resources department, the rest of us have to literally shop for insurance to find policies that meet our needs with a premium we can afford. Then we have to fill out forms and submit them for approval. In the old days, we might have to connect insurance companies with our doctors so they could look through health records. That’s how I got denied insurance coverage for a “pre-existing condition” that didn’t exist, as I blogged last week.

ACA LogoThe ACA made it easier to shop for insurance by setting up a marketplace. It prevented insurers from denying coverage or setting unreasonable rates for people with pre-existing conditions. It required insurers to provide a list of basic coverages that a person might need. It covered, at no additional cost to insured people, annual well-care visits to help prevent illnesses or to catch them before they became serious problems. It required more employers to offer health care benefits to employees. It encouraged everyone to get health insurance coverage to increase the pool of insured individuals, thus reducing the overall cost of coverage for each of us. It prevented insurers from taking obscene profits on healthcare coverage by setting maximum profit levels that actually refunded premiums to customers. These are all benefits that help those of us who don’t work for big companies that offer health insurance in a benefits package.

The people who think the provisions of the ACA aren’t needed are either mistaken, ignorant, or just plain selfish.

Why should only those people who sign up with a big employer get affordable health care insurance? Why shouldn’t small business owners like me be able to get it? Why shouldn’t the 58-year-old former banker with a BBA who’s lucky to have a part-time job as an aircraft refueler at the local airport be able to get it? Why shouldn’t the single mother cleaning offices on the night shift be able to get it?

What pissed me off this morning was a Trump supporter named Linda Caudill who, when interviewed by NPR, said:

Frankly, health care is not a constitutional right. But I really would like personally that government get our of health care altogether and let the free market take care of it.

Wow. Just wow.

Health care might not be a “constitutional right,” but isn’t it a human right? Shouldn’t we all be able to get the care we need to stay healthy, productive, and happy?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness isn’t in the Constitution either, but our country’s existence was based on those “unalienable rights” for all of us. Isn’t the ability to get affordable health care part of this?

I’d love to hear how this woman’s song would change if she or her husband suddenly lost the job that’s obviously providing them with the health care they need. No one in the middle class who has to buy health insurance on the open market would share her point of view. No one.

What these people need is a dose of reality. How about a health care plan that does not allow employers to offer health insurance plans? One that forces everyone to be on the same playing field, buying insurance on the open market. Then we’ll see how Trump supporters feel about “free market” insurance.

Until then, I’m glad the ACA has survived to help me get the insurance I need for my health and and peace of mind.

Thriving in Midlife

Tired of my tips? Take some from the folks at NPR.

[Note: How weird is this? I was going through a list of unfinished and unpublished blog posts on my desktop computer in November 2017 and found this post from September 2016. It sure looks finished to me — why didn’t I publish it? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to teach so here it is, slotted into the blog chronology with its original date.]

8 Tips from author Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Want an idea of what the article says? Here’s the gist; I refer to these points throughout this blog post. I recommend reading it and thinking about how it might apply in your life.

  1. Aim for long-term meaning.
  2. Choose what matters most.
  3. Lean into fear, not boredom.
  4. Always be a rookie at something.
  5. Add punctuation to your life.
  6. A few setbacks are what the doctor ordered.
  7. Don’t left boredom and neglect threaten a marriage.
  8. Happiness is love.

This is a quick blog post to showcase an article posted by NPR — that’s National Public Radio — on its website.

I’m a big NPR listener (and supporter) and usually have the radio tuned in at home when I’m working around the house or in my shop/garage. Conservative Americans will tell you that NPR is a left wing propaganda machine, but I think they do a good job of staying in the center — too good, at times. But beyond politics — which are difficult to get away from these days — NPR offers a lot of programming on general topics of interest. I especially recommend All Things Considered, which airs in the afternoons here.

The article I want to recommend came out way back in March 2016. I missed it then but, for some reason, NPR tweeted a link to it the other day and I caught it. Titled “8 Ways You Can Survive — And Thrive In — Midlife,” It’s a brief piece with numbered tips. I can’t tell you how absolutely on target this article is.

But I’ll try.

This List and My Life

As regular readers know, I went through an extremely difficult time in my life back in 2012 and 2013. The short version is that the man I’d spent 29 years of my life with and had made the mistake of marrying back in 2006 lost his mind, left me for a woman old enough to be my mother, and attempted to use the divorce court to separate me from everything I’d worked hard for my whole life. He dragged us through an ugly and expensive divorce and then — believe it or not — an appeal. Along the way, he harassed me regularly with legal action and unreasonable demands and made a lot of stupid decisions that made him look like a selfish idiot. In the end, I won (twice) and got to keep what was mine. That’s the short version.

Out My Window
How can I not be happy when this is outside my window every day?

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I can vouch for that. I came away from a really crazy and sometimes painful experience feeling better than ever about myself. I rebooted my life in a new place with lots of new friends. And because I was now fully in charge of my destiny, I made decisions that enabled me to build a home that was perfect for me in a place I loved and to grow my flying business bigger than I ever thought possible. I now have the lifestyle I’d once envisioned for myself and my wasband — I tend to business responsibilities five months a year and play/travel the rest of the year. I started my seven month “vacation” on August 1 this year and don’t need to get back to work until late February.

A few more words about my crazy divorce…

Although I listened to divorce-related advice from friends and family members, I also consulted with my lawyers and made decisions that made good legal sense. And despite the abuse my wasband and his old whore threw my way, I didn’t lower myself to their level and give them a few doses of the same. I did blog a lot about what was going on, but even then I minimized what I shared.

After a while, their harassment became a real source of amusement for me, my family, and my friends — especially when they did idiotic things like trying to get an injunction against harassment on me (which I fought in court alone and won; I still wonder how many thousands of dollars they wasted on a lawyer for that) or sent a private investigator to photograph my neighbor’s home under construction, claiming it was mine and I’d lied about it in court (more money comically wasted).

After all, it wasn’t my goal to make them suffer; once I realized my wasband was a lost cause I only cared about keeping what was rightfully mine and getting on with my life. Even today, more than four years after it all started, I don’t hate them. Instead, I pity them — especially my wasband, who could have shared the amazing life I’ve made for myself. And how can you not pity an old woman who uses 30-year-old lingerie photos to seduce men she meets online? Another reason to pity my wasband, perhaps?

I’ve written numerous times in this blog about my thoughts and feelings related to my success, most recently here. I’m proud of myself and what I’ve achieved and I want readers who visit this blog to see how they can succeed, too. I believe that each person is in charge of his or her own destiny; our decisions and efforts will mold our lives and futures. One stupid decision can really screw things up; I’m sure you know at least one person who will regretfully agree. My mistake was getting married and it cost me dearly. I was able to pull myself back up from what seemed at the time like an abyss because I was financially secure, had a decent brain in my head, and was able to make decisions and take actions that moved me in a positive direction.

That’s where some of this NPR article’s advice comes into play. I wasn’t looking just at the short-term goal of ending my marriage quickly with minimal financial loses. I was also looking at the big picture: my next home, my new friends, the future of my business. Long-term meaning? I’d been thinking about that since 2008 when my friend Erik got sick. That’s when I started planning for the future — a future that originally included my wasband, fueled with his input and promises. Fortunately, I was able to salvage and rebuild those plans when he left my life and the crazy started in 2012.

I also realized that what matters most is my time. Other people will say family, but I have no kids and my family, which is small, lives on the other side of the country. My friends are important — some more than others — but I’ve learned that friends come and go and even the ones you thought were good friends sometimes change and fall from your life. But time — well, that’s a valuable commodity. Being able to spend as much of my time doing the things I wanted to do became a real driving force in how I shaped my work and business. A perfect example: starting in 1998, I wrote Quicken: The Official Guide for Osborne/McGraw-Hill. It was a bestseller and, along with another bestseller I wrote around that time, helped me put a lot of money away for retirement and invest in my future career as a helicopter owner/operator/pilot. The book was revised annually and became, over the years, a bit of a frustrating grind. After the 11th edition, I threw in the towel and asked them to find another author, which they did. The simple truth is that I wanted my summers back. And on a micro level, ask my wasband what I often wanted for my birthday when I spent summers at home; if he’s honest (which is unlikely), he’ll admit that I wanted the day for myself, to do whatever I wanted to do. (He never did understand that.)

If there’s anything on the NPR article’s list that really pops out for me, it’s the third and fourth points, which talk about getting out of your comfort zone and exploring new things. I think I began doing this when I first struck out as a freelancer in 1990, leaving a good-paying job in corporate America for an uncertain career as a writer. Talk about leaving your comfort zone! It would have been easy to stick with that job and continue my climb up the corporate ladder, but I wasn’t happy. Making the change was risky and tough, but I did it better than I expected. As for learning new things, well, I’m often accused of being an overachiever (as if that’s a bad thing) and a lot of people notice my hobbies, like beekeeping and photography. I’ve been fiddling these days with up cycling glass, making wine and cider (and possibly more potent potables), mushroom hunting, astrophotography, and dying fabric using natural materials like lichen and flower petals. I’m a rookie at all of these things and I love learning from them from the ground up! Maybe that’s part of the punctuation referred to in the sixth point, too? The courses I take to learn about mushrooms and photography and wine? The dance lessons I took last year? Soloing in a gyro two winters ago even though I know I’ll never own one?

Setbacks are what make life interesting. Obviously, my divorce was a huge setback, especially with the amount of time and money it took to finally conclude. But as I said earlier, what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. Working through setbacks help us learn to work with others and solve problems. They also help us appreciate the days when we don’t have troubles clouding our world.

And it’s pretty clear that I failed completely at the seventh point. My marriage went downhill almost from the moment we exchanged vows. After 23 years together, did he really expect things to change? For me to settle down and be the homebody wife and mommy he apparently wanted and needed? I didn’t want a change; hell, I didn’t even want to get married. (Long story there.) In any case, there was plenty of boredom and neglect on both sides. I felt as if I was perpetually in a holding pattern, waiting for him to keep promises he’d made to me to move forward in our future together. He likely felt that I was neglecting him by going off to my summer job in Washington every year. I’ll never know, though, since he lacked the courage to talk to me about it, even after the marriage counsellor he wanted us to see recommended it. Honest conversation probably could have saved what was once an amazing relationship, but some people respect the value of truth and others don’t. Enough said.

Happiness is love. Hmm. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. I do know that I’m happier now than I have been in a very long time. There’s no new love in my life and frankly, after all I’ve been through, I don’t think I want one. Some people are meant to be part of a pair and others aren’t. Unless I find someone with the same outlook in life that I have — a real love of the outdoors, a desire to try and learn new things, an understanding of the value of time, and a willingness to drop everything for a spur-of-the-moment adventure — I’ll stay single and be very happy that way. I’ve learned that I’d much rather be single than in a relationship with the wrong partner. I’ll take the happiness; you can keep the love.

If there’s one thing on this topic I’ve learned in my life, it’s this: Happiness might be love, but love isn’t necessarily happiness.

Now Look at Your Life

But I didn’t share this article to talk about my life. I shared it to help you — the people who read this blog, many of whom have contacted me privately to tell me how I’ve inspired them. (A special thanks to Meghan, who emailed me just past weekend to tell me I was “rad.” You’re rad, too; work hard and smart and you’ll be even radder.) It’s within your power to survive and thrive not only your midlife years, but the years leading up to them and those beyond.

Read the article. It’s short. Or better yet, read the book it’s extracted from, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. Think about how its advice might apply to your life. Make the changes you might need to move forward and be happy.

It’s not always easy, but it is so worth it.

And if you get a chance, use the comments to share how the tips listed above might apply in your life to make you happier. I’m sure we could all learn from your experience, too!