This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight…
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Happy 40th to the Staggers Rail Act, Which Deregulated and Saved the U.S. Rail Industry

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight rail and saved it from looming oblivion.

At the time of passage, the U.S. economy muddled along amid ongoing malaise, and our rail industry teetered due to decades of overly bureaucratic sclerosis.  Many other domestic U.S. industries had disappeared, and our railroads faced the same fate.  But by passing the Staggers Rail Act, Congress restored a deregulatory approach that in the 1980s allowed other U.S. industries to thrive.  No longer would government determine what services railroads could offer, their rates or their routes, instead restoring greater authority to the railroads themselves based upon cost-efficiency.

Today, U.S. rail flourishes even amid the coronavirus pandemic…[more]

October 13, 2020 • 11:09 PM

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For Sanity’s Sake, Remember the Ray Bradbury Rule Print
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, December 10 2015
Why bother with television news media if that is all they have to offer?

When disaster strikes, to where do people turn? Usually, the television. Earthquakes, wildfires, shootings, terrorist attacks — the cameras are there, feeding pictures of devastation and death, passing along bits and pieces of information. And when there is no real news to share? Not to worry, experts are standing by to offer their best educated guesses based on the shreds of data they have.

Last week’s terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California was just the latest example of why television news is so useless.

Play-by-play reporting of the police manhunt for what turned out to be a husband and wife team of jihadists was more confusing than edifying. Authorities had first thought they were looking for one gunman, then three. Police chased down dozens of leads and responded to several reported sightings throughout the afternoon, including one report of a truck loaded with guns on the public golf course across the street from the building where the shootings occurred, and another that led to the evacuation of a discount shopping mall about a quarter of a mile from the crime scene. All of them turned out to be false.

Which just goes to show, for at least the hundredth time this year, that early reports are almost always wrong or incomplete, that media commentators speaking or writing on the fly generally don’t know much more than their audience does and that, apart from a few basic details such as where and when the shooting took place, TV can’t offer much more than that until the authorities have everything under control. Useful information — such as the terrorists’ names — didn’t come out until hours later.

The news commentary was even worse. The nadir, arguably, came the day after the shootings, when CNN’s Erin Burnett wondered if the woman terrorist could have snapped as a result of “postpartum psychosis.” The two former FBI agents she was interviewing at the time broke the news to her gently. 

Why bother with television news media if that is all they have to offer?

What if people simply switched off the television and waited? Or at least learned when to say when?

A tall order — perhaps. But not impossible.

About 10 years ago, I stopped watching cable and network news regularly, and then altogether. I rarely if ever watch local news, and then only for the weather. Fifteen years before that, I heard a lecture by Ray Bradbury, the late, great novelist and author of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. I don’t remember what the lecture was about, but one digression stuck with me. “Never, ever watch television news,” Bradbury said. “Especially local news. You’ll think the world is coming to an end.”

Bradbury had a gift for exaggerating for effect, but it worked. I later discovered that he made the same point in almost all of his lectures and many of his interviews. It didn’t matter the subject. And even though he would change up his language, the lesson couldn’t have been clearer.

As he told an interviewer with Playboy magazine in 1996: “The news is all rapes and murders we didn't commit, funerals we don't attend, AIDS we don't want to catch. All crammed into a quarter of a minute! But at least we still have a hand with which to switch channels or turn off altogether.”

Or this excellent admonition, from an interview a few years earlier: “The main problem is the idiot TV. If you watch local news, your head will turn to mush.”

“The problem is not with our national full-coverage news, which can be mildly depressing,” Bradbury wrote in a 1998 essay. “It is with the assault of your local TV paparazzi who machine-gun you with forty decapitations, sexual harassments, gangster executions, in fifteen-second explosions for the full half-hour.”

Bradbury wasn’t quite correct about national news. In the same essay — delightfully titled, “The Affluence of Despair: America Through the Looking Glass” — he cited several scandals and scares (remember the alarm over alar on apples?) that seized hold of Americans’ psyches for days and weeks at a time.

“The bottom line is, if you stare like stunned deer in the midroad, blinded by the lights that rush to run you down, you must expect that a thousand and one such nights in such a brutal harem that the end of the world is at hand, that America is bestial, and that suicide, murder, rape, and AIDS are the fashion of the day.”

Bradbury called it “the Big Lie” of our time.

“We are not as bad as they say we are,” he wrote, “but we feel this despair because they have somehow proved that the razored wrist is our metaphor and the slit throat a lesson in linguistics.”

Bradbury’s rule has been vindicated every day over the past week, and every day before that, after a deranged man shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and wounded nine others. It’s vindicated with every nightly newscast and every sweeps week “exposé.”

We can be our own worst enemy at times. But is there any way out of the despair Bradbury diagnosed?

“We have condemned ourselves. Now we must save ourselves. No one else can. Shut off the set. Write your local TV newspeople. Tell them to go to hell. Take a shower. Go sit on the lawn with friends.” Amen. 

Question of the Week   
Which one of the following was the first 20th century presidential candidate to call for a Presidential Debate?
More Questions
Quote of the Day   
 
"In nominating Barrett to the Supreme Court, [President Trump] kept his promise by choosing an undaunted originalist -- someone who interprets the Constitution based on the understanding held by its ratifiers.Trump's most profound effect on the Constitution will come when she and the other Trump Justices apply that originalism to the questions of liberty and equality."Read entire article here.…[more]
 
 
—John C. Yoo, Heller Professor Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law
— John C. Yoo, Heller Professor Law at U.C. Berkeley School of Law
 
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