Dreams and Dreams Lost in La-La Land.

Los Angeles has been the city of stars, city of dreams, for over 150 years.

This past Spring, I saw the movie La La Land, and began this post. Nearly 3 months have elapsed – life gets in the way, as it does in the movie. The movie hearkens back to the days of the great musicals. (By now, most people who want to see this movie have already done so. Regardless, I will try to avoid any spoilers.)

Those of a certain age remember those days. Those outside of Los Angeles may not realize that la-la land has a dual meaning (Merriam-Webster):

1. The mental state of someone who is not aware of what is really happening.
2. A nickname for Los Angeles, California.

Ah, Los Angeles, my hometown, the city that is as well known by its initials as its official name – shortened from its original name from its founding in 1781: “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula” (in English, “The town of our lady the Queen of the Angels of the River Porciúncula”).

La-La Land’s dual (and now triple, without the dash) meaning could not be more apt. Los Angeles has been the City of Stars, city of dreams – often broken dreams – for over well over 150 years. Even before the film industry began here, there was oil wealth to be had and before that gold. Gold was found in 1842 in Placerita Canyon, just north of Los Angeles (Placerita means “little placer” after placer gold deposits found in the canyon) years before the discovery at Sutter’s Mill precipitated the California Gold Rush. People came, people still come to search for fulfillment of their dreams.

The main characters in the movie La La Land are Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). Mia dreams of becoming a movie star. Sebastian dreams of owning a jazz club. Near the end of the movie is a fantasy/dream scene. Whose dream was it? At first it seemed it was Mia’s dream. By the end of the fantasy sequence, it seemed it was Sebastian’s dream. As I left the theater, I realized it was really the audience’s dream – all those romantic dreamers who want happily ever after, with all dreams realized for all persons involved. At that point in the story, there was no way for everyone to have all their dreams, past and present, realized. Yes, we are all dreamers. Life is not fair, it is real, and as I tell my kids you can’t always get what you want.

Featured Image: Poster from City of Stars

City of Stars, by Justin Hurwitz, sung by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, sung by The Rolling Stones

Fake news or false news?

The prevalence of “fake news” on the internet has been a hot topic recently. We often take for granted what we read in newspapers or hear on radio or TV. Is it really any better?

Fake news or false news?

Ken Piper, June 7, 2017

The prevalence of “fake news” on the internet has been a hot topic recently. We have learned to be wary of so-called news that we read on the internet, as we are with sensationalist tabloid stories. However, we often take for granted what we read in newspapers or magazines, or hear on the radio or television. Is it really any better? “If it’s on TV, it must be true!”

Over the years, I have noticed that the news I read in newspapers or news magazines is full of factual errors. Nearly every article that is about something I know, is wrong in some way. Radio and television news is the same, not just minor details, but major omissions and factual errors. In some cases, it is apparently because the writer and the editor are not subject matter experts. I notice this in scientific or technical articles in subject areas with which I am familiar. In other cases, it is factual errors about an event that has happened, or about a person I know. This may be because of misinformation the writer received and didn’t verify, false assumptions about the who and what of an event, or just plain sloppy reporting. The editors often make this worse by giving the article a title that contradicts the information in the article itself.

Let me emphasize, this is almost every news report that is about something that I know absolutely! So, what does this mean about everything else in the news – the articles on something I don’t already know about? Without having done a public survey of news accuracy, I can only assume that all news is chock-full of falsehoods – why would it be limited to my areas of expertise?

Is this fake news or false news? If it is intentionally wrong, with the purpose of misleading the reader, as is the case in many internet articles or tabloids sold at the grocery store checkout counter, then it is obviously fake news. If it is honest mistakes, even from sloppy reporting, it is false news. What if it is dissemination of information by someone who is seen as an expert, or claims to be an expert, but is not?

Bill Nye the “Science Guy” comes to mind. He seems to know a lot about science (could be his writers), but he is not really a scientist and besides, can’t be an expert in all the areas of science he talks about. He was a mechanical engineer, and Wikipedia (correctly, in my view) labels him a “science communicator.” So, when he says something that is either factually wrong, or presents something as a certainty that is still under debate, is that fake news or false news?

The president regularly tweets about “fake news.” In some cases it may be fake news; more commonly it is probably false news, or just something he doesn’t agree with. When a political party pays people to agitate at an adversary’s campaign rally, is that fake news? The event really happened, but the real news is that it was a fake protest.

Can we even trust peer-reviewed scientific journals? As scientists have become advocates for their personal beliefs, it is becoming obvious that the reviewers and editors are often becoming censors of things they don’t agree with or that don’t fit their social agenda. Because of this, some researchers are advocating self-publishing on the internet as a way around the problem. But without the prestige of a known journal, it is hard to get anyone to even find your work on the internet, let alone bother to read it.

So, how can we know the truth about anything? We can’t trust the news, and maybe not even the scientific literature, so should we just not read or listen to it? Many people only watch news channels that fit their political point of view. So, they are missing out on opposing viewpoints. Maybe it doesn’t matter. If they can’t get really true news, false news is the best they can get and they don’t trust the other stations anyway. After all, they are just “fake news.”