APCD fines Butchertown’s JBS Swift plant nearly $100,000 for air quality violations

jbs swift

As we wrote about last month, many residents in Butchertown are fed up not just with the odors coming from the JBS Swift plant that slaughters up to 10,000 hogs per day in the burgeoning neighborhood, but the inability of Metro Government to do anything about it.

However, last week the Metro Air Pollution Control District sent a notice of violation letter to JBS Swift for a long list of air quality violations dating from 2009 to December of last year, fining them $98,750. The NOV is below:

APCD JBS Swift

The NOV lists over 40 incidents where residents called APCD to complain about objectionable odors coming from the plant, which were confirmed by APCD employees. The NOV also claims that JBS Swift was late on permiting, failed to report particulate and greenhouse gas emissions, failed to monitor its odor control equipment, and failed to keep monitoring records.

In APCD’s letter, JBS Swift was informed that they could settle the matter for $74,050 if they submitted a plan to control livestock odor in the future by March 28. APCD held out the possibility of fining JBS $10,000 for each day that the plant continued to be in violation.

A press release sent out by the Butchertown Neighborhood Association — who has battled the JBS over the plant’s odors and permits for years — ripped JBS over their continued violations and inability to control odors:

“The alleged violations come as no surprise to anyone who lives or works in any neighborhoods surrounding the JBS/Swift slaughterhouse,” said Butchertown Neighborhood Association President, Andy Cornelius.  “JBS/Swift should be held accountable for refusing to follow the law and required to take all steps necessary to keep its animal slaughtering odors out of our homes, businesses and schools.”
 


The District’s Notice of Violation Letter comes on the heels of a special Courier-Journal report on chemical “Danger Zones” in Louisville.  That article noted that JBS/Swift has previously run afoul of District regulations related to its risk management plan for catastrophic chemical releases.  The report went on to note that in 2011, just days after paying a fine to the District, JBS/Swift was responsible for an anhydrous ammonia leak that forced workers to evacuate and local residents to shelter in place. 
 


“JBS/Swift’s refusal to play by the rules doesn’t just affect Butchertown.” said Bill Marzian, a NuLu property owner.  “The smell of the plant comes right down East Market Street and into our businesses.  It should be pretty obvious to anyone that the smell of a slaughterhouse doesn’t encourage foot traffic.  As a property owner, I know that if I don’t follow the law, I’m at risk of being shut down by the appropriate authorities.  It’s only fair that JBS/Swift should have to control its awful smells or face the same consequences.” 

We’ll reach out to JBS Swift and update with their comments on the NOV.


Spy in McConnell campaign produces yet another video gem for our amusement/terror (UPDATE)

mitch gif 2

Look into my eyes

The campaign of incomprehensible Auto-Tune rhymes, murdering the Harlem Shake meme, Lucas Baiano laugh-fests, and Mitch McConnell: Hair Band Gun Warrior has gone ahead and outdone themselves with their latest WTF moment, below:

If you’re just now discovering this video, I’m sure your first thought is, “Well, that’s a parody video, look at the first 13 seconds!” But no, that’s an honest to God real video put up last night by Mitch McConnell’s Senate campaign.

Is this an attempt to show the kids that McConnell is just a nice fellow like you, pretending to sign important documents and lead very important board room discussions (filmed during his 2008 campaign), while occasionally peering into your soul? That seems like a possibility, but unlikely.

I’m not saying there’s a spy in the McConnell campaign deliberately putting out ridiculous videos simply to entertain or terrify us. All I’m saying is that it’s too soon to rule that theory out.

mitch gif 3

Always watching, smiling

***** UPDATE *****

OK, so it’s not a spy in their campaign, nor is it a legitimate attempt to make Mitch look like a kind and gentle humanoid. Instead, it’s just a ploy to coordinate with Super PACs so that they can use the campaign’s B-roll footage without explicitly breaking the law.

But other folks can also use the footage for their own purposes. Like this Full House remix:

And Hardcore Mitch:

And perhaps my personal favorite, Dramatic Mitch:


Mitch McConnell, a big gun and Bon Jovi

mitch gun cpac zoom

This morning, Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke at the CPAC Benghazi conference in Washington, D.C., telling the far-right crowd how he and Republicans are standing up for the little guy in America and the media is covering up the truth about Benghazi in order to elect Hillary Clinton.

However the greatest part about McConnell’s appearance was the entrance:

This Senate campaign has had plenty of ridiculous and hilarious moments, but I seriously doubt if any has topped this, or ever will.

Keep living on a prayer, Mitch. And don’t let Obama tear that gun from your old, red hands.

His full speech — which received a very lukewarm and awkward response from the crowd — is below:


It’s finally official: Hal Heiner and KC Crosbie jump into the 2015 KY gubernatorial race

heiner crosbie 2

Last week it became common knowledge that Republican Louisville businessman and former Metro Louisville councilman Hal Heiner would enter the 2015 gubernatorial primary today, with former Lexington councilwoman KC Crosbie as his running mate. An announcement by Heiner is scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning in Lexington, with one to follow in Louisville at 5:30.

But via KC Crosbie’s Facebook page, here’s the first official confirmation of that news:

This morning, the Crosbies join with the Heiner family on a campaign. At our Lexington announcement beginning at 10:00 a.m. (Star Manufacturing,1200 Russell Cave Road, Lexington), I will have the honor of introducing the next Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Without question, Hal is the most authentic and successful man that I have worked with in my many years in public service. He has the intellect, experience and maturity to lead Kentucky in a new direction. I have the privilege of being his running mate as his Lt. Governor and am excited about what the future holds. For those of you who may not know Hal, I look forward to you meeting him over the next several months.

I ask for your thoughts and prayers for both of our families as we begin this long and challenging campaign.

Crosbie also posted the Heiner/Crosbie logo, above.

We already have punches being thrown between Republicans in the US Senate primary, but now it looks like we’ll have about 20 more months worth of the same in the gubernatorial race between Heiner and — eventually — James Comer. And unlike the Senate race, the punches won’t be between the Kentucky GOP establishment and the Tea Party outsiders, but between the establishment itself.

We’ll be at the Louisville announcement at 5:30, which you can follow along with live on our Twitter feed here. We’ll be taking Republican roll…


Anonymous pollster looking at 2015 KY Democratic gubernatorial primary, Heyburn ruling (UPDATES)

We received word tonight from a Democrat in Kentucky (who chooses not to be named) who just received an automated telephone survey asking questions about potential Democratic candidates for governor in 2015, as well as the final ruling today by Judge Heyburn striking down Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The pollster did not reveal their identity in the call.

Here were the questions (not word for word, but the gist):

1. Gubernatorial horse race question between Crit Luallen, Jack Conway, Adam Edelen, Greg Stumbo and Dan Mongiardo.

2. Head-to-head Jack Conway vs. Crit Luallen.

3. Support for gay marriage.

4. Should Conway use tax dollars to appeal the Heyburn decision?

5. If Conway does appeal, would that make you more or less likely to support him in the gubernatorial race?

Fascinating. So who paid for that poll? Random pollster interested in Kentucky’s dynamics? Kentucky Democratic Party? Jack Conway allies (with finger waving in the wind)? Another potential 2015 candidate?

There’s a lot riding on Jack Conway’s decision on the Heyburn ruling, and not just the equality of all same-sex couples in the state looking for equal protection under the law. It’s easy to say that an appeal by Conway would strengthen his appeal to general election voters — at least for right now, times are changing fast — but it’s just as easy to say that fighting the Heyburn ruling could seriously harm him in a competitive primary race, as most Democrats will firmly stand on the side of equality by this time next year. The Bluegrass Poll showed that Democrats already support it by a 45 to 43 percent margin. Adam Edelen, for one, came out in favor of same-sex marriage rights last year, but the other four listed in the horse race question have not.

Stay tuned, and keep those eyes on Conway’s decision, which should be coming somewhat soon…

***** UPDATE #1 *****

This morning, Adam Edelen’s spokesperson told LEO that he flatly denies having anything to do with last night’s poll.

We also just received an email from Jack Conway’s spokeswoman Allison Martin, who says that the attorney general also denies any involvement with the poll.

“He is aware of it after reading reports,” wrote Martin. “No he is not conducting and he does not know who is conducting it. He said this decision will be made based on the law and the appropriate role of the Office of the Attorney General, not polling.”

We left a phone message for Crit Luallen this morning, and have not heard back from her.

Will update as we hear more…

***** UPDATE #2 (Saturday, March 1) *****

Two more denials of involvement came to us last night from Greg Stumbo and Crit Luallen.

Matt Erwin from Stumbo’s office says the Speaker of the House “had nothing to do with this – first we’ve seen of it.”

Crit Luallen also told LEO that she had nothing to do with the poll and does not know who conducted it. For those of you who suspect the poll is the figment of someone’s imagination, Crit also said that a friend called her Thursday night to say that she had received the same survey.

We just sent out an email this morning to Kim Geveden, Dan Mongiardo’s point person, asking the same of him.

One other note: The person who got the call checked the caller ID to find the number it came from, but it was blocked.

The case continues…

***** UPDATE #3 *****

And now we have a denial from the last of the five candidates in the horse race question, Dan Mongiardo.

Here’s the email we just received from Kim Geveden:

Just talked to Daniel. First he heard about it was just now when I told him and asked if he had any involvement.

Daniel catagorically denies any involvement – directly or indirectly. 

BTW … Daniel made the point that he’s focused on helping ALG against McConnell.  Could care less about the political jockeying for 2015 Governor’s race.

We just sent the same question along to the KDP and Gov. Beshear’s office. Stay tuned…

***** UPDATE #4 *****

KDP chairman Dan Logsdon just called back and says that the KDP and Gov. Beshear had no involvement in or knowledge of the poll.

“The KDP didn’t do a poll,” says Logsdon. “The governor didn’t do a poll. I don’t know anything about the poll. And I’m confident the governor doesn’t know anything about the poll, because he would have told me.”

***** UPDATE #5 *****

R. Wayne Stratton — the treasurer for Jack Conway’s “Jack PAC,” formed in late 2012 — denied that Jack PAC did the poll, and says he had no idea who did.

“No, I do not,” answered Stratton. “And honestly, I’ve been in the Caribbean, so I’m not even sure what Heyburn’s ruling did or was. All I can tell you is we have not paid any money for any polling for Jack PAC.”

Asked if anyone else does work for the PAC on a volunteer basis — it has no official employees — Stratton said that another volunteer in the office writes check, but declined to reveal her identity to LEO.

“No. It’s part of a contract that we have. She’s not in the office today. But as treasurer I have the ultimate responsibility and I just feel like I would need to answer all of those questions.”

The hunt continues…

***** UPDATE #6 (Sunday, March 2) *****

Yet another update, this time from the opposite side of the aisle.

Joe Burgan — adviser to Republican Hal Heiner, whom everyone assumes will announce his run for governor early this week — also categorically denies that Heiner had any knowledge of or involvement with the poll. Scratch another one off the list.

LEO sent the same question to the Republican Party of Kentucky and Scott Jennings (of RunSwitch and Kentuckians for Strong Leadership) this morning and have not heard back from them yet. We’ll let you know when they do.

***** UPDATE #7 *****

Kelsey Cooper, spokeswoman for the RPK, says: “No one at the Republican Party of Kentucky had anything to do with this poll, and we do not have any idea as to who conducted it.”

***** UPDATE #8 *****

Scott Jennings denies, too.

“We don’t know who conducted the survey, and we aren’t involved with it.”

***** UPDATE #9 *****

A very interesting possible development on the poll tonight. The Herald Leader ran a story about a new poll from GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies showing James Comer beating Hal Heiner in the 2015 Republican gubernatorial primary 42 to 14 percent. People close to Heiner suspect that Comer was behind the poll, but their pollster says “the poll was not paid for by any candidate, prospective candidate or political action committee.”

The really interesting news about this poll? It was conducted on March 26 and 27, meaning they were in the field on the same day that the mystery Democrats/Conway/Heyburn poll was (last Thursday).

That certainly raises an eyebrow, but via email, Robert Blizzard of POS denied to LEO tonight that they asked any questions about Democrats, gay marriage, or the Heyburn ruling, answering: “Wasn’t me.”

Blizzard followed up by stating he “did a 400 sample of GOP primary voters with live callers (we don’t do robo polls). So, that should take me out of the running on a Democratic primary survey poll.”

I thought for a second that the case was finally cracked, but the mystery remains.

Someone is almost certainly lying about this poll, the only question is who…


More updates on Metro Council Democratic Caucus drama

Here are some updates on the escalating story of infighting among the Metro Council Democratic Caucus, particularly focused around Caucus Chair Vicki Aubrey Welch’s investigation into Councilman David James‘ staffer Wanda Mitchell-Smith allegedly campaigning against fellow Council Democrat Attica Scott.

The following emails were obtained by an open records request by LEO Weekly to the Council.

On January 29, two weeks before Welch announced her investigation to the Caucus, Welch replied to an email from Majority Caucus Director Elizabeth Hoffman asking for items to add to the following day’s Caucus agenda with this request: “Caucus rules on campaigns.” This was not brought up in that meeting, but was first addressed by Welch on Feb. 13.

As WFPL broke yesterday, Attica Scott first brought these allegations against James’ staffer to Welch’s attention. Here is the text of James’ email to Welch on the evening of Feb. 13:

“Madam Chair,

This evening, CM Johnson advised me that the person you were speaking of today in caucs was my Legislative Aid Mrs. Smith ad that seh was assisting Jessica Green in her bid for D1.

I asked Mrs. Smith if she was assisting Ms. Green against CW Scott. She assured me No, she wasn’t and had not and would not do such a thing.

We stand ready to answer any questions your investigation team have. It is our goal to put these rumors to rest as quickly as possible and move forward with caucus business.”

There was no email reply to James, and that was the extent of their written communication.

This Monday, Feb. 24, Caucus spokesperson Tony Hyatt emailed Welch complaining about miscommunication with Caucus staff on the distribution of media stories to Caucus members about her investigation. Welch replied:

“Tony,

We can talk about this tomorrow afternoon when I get into the office.

There is a lot going on with the media right now. We all need to be alert to what is being said out there.”

Again, today’s Caucus meeting is at 4 p.m., follow along here.


Jefferson County Attorney takes return fire from David James, primary opponent

As we noted yesterday, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell sent out a letter arguing that Councilman David James should not cast any more votes until he ends his position as an officer with the University of Louisville, claiming that the two oaths James took under the two jobs are “incompatible” under Kentucky law.

Today, Councilman James fired back at O’Connell, saying that his move was political payback for endorsing O’Connell’s Democratic primary opponent, Karen Faulkner. From WFPL’s Phillip Bailey:

“I’m highly suspicious that it boils down to politics,” he says. “It smells a lot like it but I would like to think better of our county attorney. But when I look at some of the things that he’s been involved in it causes me to have some questions.”

O’Connell says James’ allegation of political payback is “dead wrong.”

“This is part of my responsibility as the county attorney and as the attorney for Metro Council and the people of this community, that this matter was addressed,” says O’Connell.

*****

James is seeking legal advice to get the situation resolved, but says he’ll conduct business as usual at Thursday’s council meeting.

“The county attorney doesn’t have the authority to tell an elected official he can’t carry out his duties that he is sworn to do, which would be voting at Metro Council meetings and representing the constituency that’s elected to put me there,” he says. “So I plan on going there to vote.”

Faulkner — a former public defender who now serves as a court-appointed Family Court attorney and an adjunct professor at the University of Louisville — told LEO today she agrees that O’Connell’s actions are “suspicious.”

“I definitely disagree with O’Connell’s actions,” says Faulkner. “Councilman James feels that I’m the best candidate for the job, and it is very ironic that these allegations are coming out now. O’Connell is essentially asking for his constituents not to have a voice on Council. My understanding is that Councilman James has abstained from every vote that has been taken regarding U of L. And it’s also important to note that he has been in this position for years. And this is just now coming out after he comes out and supports me. It’s suspicious.”

Faulkner also says that O’Connell’s legal argument is off base.

“No, I don’t think he’s correct,” says Faulkner. “I think this is a suspicious move, and potentially a political attack.”

Today’s Metro Council Democratic Caucus meeting is today at 4 p.m., and we would certainly expect more drama to come. Follow along live with our Twitter feed here.


Judge Heyburn makes ruling final on KY same-sex marriage ban, Conway asks for 90-day stay

United States District Court Judge John Heyburn today made his ruling final on Bourke v. Beshear, declaring that Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and is therefore void and unenforceable.

Hours before the Heyburn’s final ruling was announced, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway filed a motion asking for this ruling to be stayed for 90 days, in order to “give Defendants time to determine if they will appeal the order, and the Executive Branch time to determine what actions must be taken to implement this Court’s Order if no appeal is taken.”

Conway’s decision to ask for a stay isn’t surprising — it was even suggested by Judge Heyburn at yesterday’s hearing — but these are the big questions going forward:

1) Will Judge Heyburn grant Conway’s request for a 90-day stay, or will it be for a shorter period of time (or none at all)?

2) Will Conway decide to appeal this ruling, or will he concede defeat — saving lots of time and money on a rather hopeless court battle — and allow the Beshear administration to go forward in figuring out a way to implement the law.

3) If Conway does appeal, will Judge Heyburn grant the stay for the duration of the appeal, or for a shorter amount of time, if at all. (Based on the precedent of what happened recently in Utah, Heyburn would be very likely to grant the stay throughout an appeal, meaning the ban would still stay in effect for a while.)

All eyes on you, Mr. Conway.


More drama swirling around Metro Council Democrats, David James

david james

There’s high drama amongst Metro Council Democrats these days. First, an investigation was announced by Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch threatening to remove Councilman David James from the Caucus because his staffer allegedly was campaigning against a fellow Caucus member. The following week, WFPL broke that FBI agents are probing Metro Council, particularly focused on a Metro Ethics Commission complaint making big accusations against Council President Jim King.

This afternoon, two more stories came out centered around David James that only throw more gasoline on the drama fire.

First, WDRB reported that County Attorney Mike O’Connell sent a letter today to Attorney General Jack Conway (also forwarded to Metro Council members) stating that Councilman James’ job as a security officer at the University of Louisville was “incompatible” with position as a Council member, and that he should not be allowed to vote as a Council member until he clears gives up his job with the university.

County Attorney spokesperson Jessie Halladay informed LEO today that they first became aware of James’ situation in January, after fielding questions on two Metro police officers’ legal ability to run for public office. Halladay said that one of the researchers asked about Councilman James’ status at that time, which initiated their focus on the alleged “incompatible” nature of his jobs. Halladay also forwarded correspondence between James’ attorney Bill Warner and O’Connell, in which Warner accuses O’Connell of improperly threatening James with an ultimatum to leave his U of L job, and said that action could violate the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct and be reported to the Kentucky Bar Association. From Warner’s January 31 letter:

“Councilman James has instructed me that he wants this matter handled and resolved professionally and in full accord with the law, and not as some churlish political vendetta which, unfortunately, it now smacks of.

There is one condition. It is that you immediately withdraw your ultimatum to “take action” against Councilman James. Doing that will not only erase an unfortunate wrong on your part, it will enable all of us to get on with the business of resolving the matter at issue — again, as professionals which we are all supposed to be, and not like a back alley knife fight.”

An outside attorney, Charles Middleton, replied to Warner, saying that he had been retained by O’Connell and denied any wrongdoing by the County Attorney.

Councilman David James’ office referred us to Caucus spokesperson Tony Hyatt, who told us that the County Attorney’s actions surprised James, considering everyone knew his position at U of L, and that the councilman is working to resolve the situation.

We’ll add that the timing of this sudden interest in James’ apparent conflict certainly raises some eyebrows, to say the least.

But that brings us to the next big story of the day from WFPL, concerning the aforementioned investigation into one of James’ staffers working against a fellow Council Democrat. While the most prominent rumor surrounding city hall involved another Council member’s race, Councilwoman Attica Scott says that she has been told that James’ staff member Wanda Mitchell-Smith was targeting her, which started Welch’s investigation:

In a Feb. 13 email obtained by WFPL News, James confronted Welch about the accusation, saying Caucus Vice Chair Dan Johnson told him the probe was looking at the District 1 primary race between challenger Jessica Green over incumbent Attica Scott specifically.

Scott says she did approach Welch about launching the investigation after a number of supporters and labor union members told her Mitchell-Smith was backing Green publicly.

“I had an individual who approached me who is a member of a labor union saying to other labor leaders that she was not supporting me and that they should not as well,” she says. “I don’t know if she’s working on behalf of my opponent, but I know it’s in opposition to me. This is from multiple sources.”

Green denies ever speaking with Mitchell-Smith. James and Mitchell-Smith both say their is no validity to such a charge.

We’re just going to assume at this point that all of the different pieces of drama from the past month are intricately related to one other, whomever the guilty or innocent parties might be. This is most certainly a back alley knife fight happening in the middle of Metro Government.

Be sure to follow the LEO Weekly News Twitter feed tomorrow at 4:00 for the Metro Council Democratic Caucus meeting. Knives are optional.


More with Alain de Botton, author of ‘The News: A User’s Manual’

Here’s more from our interview with Alain de Botton, which appears in this week’s issue of LEO.

LEO: What made you decide to tackle the issue of news media?

Alain de Botton: There’s no more powerful force in modern society than the news. It shapes how we see the world, what we judge to be good and bad, important or silly, right or wrong. And yet too often, we don’t see the extent to which the news is forming our mentalities.

No one teaches you this at school. It is deemed more important for us to know how to make sense of the plot of Othello than how to decode the front page of the New York Post. We are more likely to hear about the significance of Matisse’s use of color than to be taken through the effects of the celebrity photo section of the Daily Mail. We aren’t encouraged to consider what might happen to our outlooks after immersion in Bild or OK! magazine, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or the  Hokkaido Shimbun, the Tehran Times or the Sun. We are never systematically inducted into the extraordinary capacity of news outlets to influence our sense of reality and to mold the state of what we might as well – with no supernatural associations – call our souls.

For all their talk of education, modern societies neglect to examine by far the most influential means by which their populations are educated. Whatever happens in our classrooms, the more potent and ongoing kind of education takes place on the airwaves and on our screens. Cocooned in classrooms for only our first twenty years or so, we effectively spend the rest of our lives under the tutelage of news entities which wield infinitely greater influence over us than any academic institution can. Once our formal education is over, the news is the teacher. It is the single most significant force setting the tone of public life and shaping our impressions of the community beyond our own walls. It is the prime creator of political and social reality. As revolutionaries well know, if you want to change the mentality of a country, you don’t head to the art gallery, the department of education or the homes of famous novelists; you drive the tanks straight to the nerve center of the body politic, the news HQ.

That helps to explain why I wrote the book: to make sense of one of the most powerful sources at work in the world today.

LEO: What are your biggest concerns with the news?

AB: I’d say there were three things. Firstly, we’ve got a real problem popularizing important news. Serious journalists often think that what is central to their jobs is to go out and find out ‘the truth’, then everything in society will change. But in my view, in this distracted, sensation hungry age, the real task is subtly but importantly different. There are lots of truths out there already that people don’t care much about at all. This is really fatal in a democracy, because politicians have to rely on people caring about issues in order that they can have the popular mandate to change things. So in my eyes, a really important task for journalists is to learn how to make what’s important seem interesting – to a large audience. We have too many stories that are ‘important’ but entirely boring to us, because journalists haven’t worked hard enough to connect them to our own interests.

Secondly, it’s so hard to focus on what matters, because we have a news agenda which deluges us with information, but makes it extremely unlikely that we can track an issue across time and keep an eye on it. It’s almost as if there were two ways to render a society supine, apolitical and resigned to the status quo: either you censor all news, or else you flood people with so much news, they can’t focus on anything. We’re in danger of this latter scenario.

Thirdly, we have political news that is obsessed with a Watergate style of journalism which identifies what’s wrong in society with active skullduggery: it’s always looking out for crooks. The problem with this is that a lot of what’s wrong in society is the work not of crooks, but just people who have the wrong ideas, or a lack of imagination or have grown stale and uninspired. The point of journalism shouldn’t always to hunt out scandal because errors don’t crop up in ‘scandal’ shaped forms all the time. What’s important is to look for errors in more subtle, pervasive but invisible forms.

LEO: What’s scarier—what the news does to our brains, or people who don’t actively consumer the news at all?

AB: I’m sympathetic to thoughtful people who have opted out of news, not out of ignorance, but out of conscious choice.

Every day the news gives us stuff that is both interesting for some people and irrelevant to you. So one reads a very insightful article on the prospects for political reform in Pakistan, meaning that if you were wondering whether Pakistan was a good place to locate a new factory you’d be able to make a better informed decision. Or there are revelations that tensions in the cabinet are more serious than previously supposed. So if you were wondering whether this might be a good time to launch your leadership bid, this would be a good piece to read. But otherwise…?

The modern idea of news is pleasantly flattering. Yet it’s really quite strange. We keep getting information that isn’t really for us to know what to do with. No wonder we’re sometimes a bit bored. It’s not our fault.

The news is also rather jealous. It wants to distract you from a private sense of purpose. It would be dangerous if hardly anyone paid attention to what the government was doing, or what was happening to the environment or events in Kiev. But it is not right to go from this to the demand that everyone should be interested in every item at the very moment when the news machine requests their attention.

Indeed, we badly need people whose attention is not caught up in the trends of the moment and who are not looking in the same direction as everyone else. We need people scanning the less familiar parts of the horizon. There was a time when a particular country in crisis hadn’t reached the headlines, when the approved legislation hadn’t even been formulated, when few people were interested in coral reefs… These things had to get going, and to do so, they needed a pool of independent thinkers of a kind who turn today’s unpromising themes into tomorrow’s mainstream, ‘obvious’ topics of interest.

Indifference to big banner events can be churlish. But it can also be the mark of deep and important originality. Let’s treat the phenomenon of not being interested in some stories with cautious respect.