Thursday, August 31, 2006

One Member of MSM Responds to Rummy's Anti-Democracy Rant

AT LAST!!! A commentator for the Main Stream Media SPEAKS! Don't know how much you heard about Rummy speech to the American Legion convention in Salt Lake City yesterday but the gist of it was that all critics of the white house administration are fascists. I kid you not. Finally, this spurred a commentator (Keith Olbermann) to speak up. Wonder how long he'll remain on the airwaves - maybe another month? At least he got this speech in before he gets silenced.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Katrina seen as Green Acres

Today I was reading the excellent Sunday talkshow summary over at Liberal Oasis. It seems the designated spinner, Don Powell, was 'splainin' to us all that the Katrina reconstruction fund is really like a checking account. It's very simple why the money hasn't been spent on reconstruction over the past year. Why, those good subcontractors just haven't submitted their bills for payment yet, that's all. For some reason while reading this, an image washed into my mind.

Some of you may remember the old TV show, Green Acres. The city slicker Oliver Douglas could never understand the how and why of daily life in bucolic Green Acres.

Eustace Haney would come over and explain it to him, in a way certain to make a tidy profit for Mr. Haney. There was never anything for Mr. Douglas to worry about. It would all come out just fine, as long as everything was paid for in advance. You know how it is, Mr. Douglas.

Mr. Haney also helpfully tried to explain Arnold the pig's actions to the bemused Mr. Douglas. Arnold had to have things just so. Everyone in Green Acres exactly understood what Arnold wanted, except Mr. Douglas. And they understood why Arnold was so powerful in Green Acres. Mr. Douglas exclaimed when baffled, "What difference does it make what a pig thinks?"

But by the end of the show, Mr. Douglas would say "Oh for heaven's sake just get the job done" and pay whatever was needed to pacify Mr. Haney, Mr. Ziffel, and anyone else required.

So on our Sunday talkshow, we have Mr. Haney (oops I mean Mr. Powell) explaining to Mr. Douglas (oops I mean the audience) why it's really very simple. The pig (oops I mean the administration) will make everything just fine and everything is going just fine right now. Mr. Douglas (oops I mean the public) will just have to pay in advance and sit back and wait. Arnold will get everything taken care of in good time. Why are we having such a hard time understanding Arnold now that we're living in Green Acres?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Spring's early, fall's late. What to do?

And so it has begun as reported today by the BBC. The evidence is in, IMHO. Here's the link to the scientific study in an online preview of next month's issue of Global Change Biology. Here and here are places you can try to do something about it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

And return him safely to the earth...

Just back from a few days dealing with children's issues and a short vacation to the Outer Banks, I find these details on the BBC website discussing NASA's new Orion spacecraft. (First, it's interesting that the US papers I perused while out just talked about the really exciting news - THE NAME. As we all know, in the US only the image counts. Who gives a shit if the thing actually works, what it costs, what it really does, how it's designed, etc. Fortunately, the BBC is still under the impression that people who bother reading the news also think about the news.)

I have no scientific background with which to comment. I have only the boomer's experience of watching the first moon landing on TV, growing up fascinated by space and all its new technologies, the initial excitement of the space shuttle. I followed my dreams into a career in the world of computers. Looking with these eyes at the infographic description of Orion this morning, I'm shaking my head.

It appears that the original moon landing mission has been modified. The mission was landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. Orion seems to skip the subordinate clause about that trivial safety issue. Seems like there are so many points of failure in this new methodology - multiple pinpoint dockings required on each flight, numerous complex components all required to operate perfectly, exact timing for each of these components, reliance on 100% computer operated vehicles. The other thing bothering me is the waste - so many of these components are disposable, again. The shuttle was all about learning to reuse hardware in space. We learned nothing from that? Speaking of which, where are the engineers? The 'new' components look like updates to 60's era technology - the rocketry looks pretty much like the same basic launch technology. Aren't there any alternatives worth researching? Space tether anyone? And the triangular crew module which thuds onto dry land is old Soviet technology. This is probably the most reliable return method - if the astronauts can get back to the reentry vehicle. But it's sure nothing new.

Overall, instead of being excited by the next phase of the space program I'm left wondering what the heck is the point.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I'm a Superhero, You're a Superhero

E-vigilantes. Here I thought I was just another opinionated blogger but I can be a new superhero, Dennis Rogers' e-vigilante. What a great idea!

Vigilantes in real life can be somewhat of a hazard. Hauling suspects out of jails and hanging them is frowned on these days. I think we can all agree that behavior has no place in civil society.

But an e-vigilante - what kind of individual would that be? Well, the person in question would have to be very sure of their convictions, like the real world vigilante. And this person would want to take an action based on their convictions. And this person would try to persuade others of the rightness of their ideas. And this person would be operating in the virtual world of the internet, giving the 'e' prefix. Hmm, so no actual harm would come to anyone from this person's actions, but he or she would be forcefully expressing opinions in a public forum...Holy keyboards, Batman! It's free speech! With a new action hero label!

Like Superman, E-vigilante seems to have arrived just in time. As main stream newspapers are turning to fluff pieces on the front page and limited reporting of hard news with little fact checking, our new hero saves the day. He or she asks hard questions, is skeptical of official and government announcements, participates in online debates with others of opposite opinions, challenges sources of information, seeks out and provides conflicting information while looking for answers, proposes new theories for discussion, and more. Everyone can read these ideas and is free to respond.

Welcome to the blogosphere, also called netroots. It's a free for all. You'll find unscrupulous vendors trying to disguise a sales pitch as an ordinary person's comment. Idiots post insulting comments, usually resulting in administrators banning them from future discussion. Conspiracy theorists suggest the most outrageous connections and plots. As the man said, bring it on. This is the greatest town hall/barbershop/street corner discussion ever invented. Someone suggested that I shut off my computer? That really would be like crawling into a dark cave and getting out of the light of limitless information. In blogs and online forums are people just like you asking questions and having discussion. Typically, folks provide links to online information they've used in forming their opinions. If you want to look it up, you can decide for yourself how accurate or reliable the source. Note that retractions on the internet are printed in the same size typefont as the original information - not always the case with blaring newspaper headlines. And if you don't put out a retraction of wrong information, someone else will point out your error for you.

From LittleGreenFootballs to DailyKos, a wide spectrum of political ideology provides commentary on all the important news of the day. Then, the discussion takes off - with netizens providing related stories or information, questioning the party line, and the older members among us giving historical background. In the 20th century, we looked to the news media, the fourth estate, for its ability to frame political issues. But current journalism has turned away from objectivity as a goal in news reporting. The focus of today's main stream media is entertainment and audience share. I feel our community and consumer watchdog has been neutered. Fortunately, rescue is online. E-vigilantes of the virtual world, proliferate!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who is The Enemy?

So many to choose from. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. However, we have met the enemy and he is us. Both statements are right.

No one can side with terrorists - whose goal is to kill civilians and instill fear in them, to disrupt daily life and tear down progress towards peace. Who does these things? Certainly we can recognize attackers such as Hezbollah and Al Queda who target civilians with deadly force as enemies of peace. What or who is helping them? I would argue that those who instill fear and tear down progress are also against us. When we do these things to ourselves we inadvertently assist our enemies. Here's a recent example.

Our watered down news organizations seek only to entertain - and Hollywood has shown us that violence and fear are entertaining. The 24 hour news channels sensationalize every event to draw maximum viewership, not to inform the public. More viewers will pay attention to government security alerts than to cold facts. News that an airplane was bombed with a liquid explosive in 1994 was buried inside a middle page of my local paper. So for the last 12 years, this threat was known but not addressed? Now, we are willing to put up with interminable delays in national commerce for searches that still don't clearly target hazards in air travel. This hastily enforced change in airport security seems almost designed to require personal sacrifice from travelers. Thus, we can all genuflect to 'the public safety.' As in, I'm doing my saintly patient best to make us all safe by meekly standing in this line. It's almost a religious duty - so many travelers interviewed said they are willing to endure anything to make us all safe. Anything? Effective safety measures aren't the same as effective policy measures - those policy measures being designed to unify us in our patriotic zeal to protect each other from that nameless foe, the medium macroscopic phase of matter known as liquid.

Strangely, fear has been transferred from humans to runny inanimate blobs. And this is good policy because liquids have no consituency. Liquids have no religious adherents in our culture to offend. And we won't restrict these insensate objects from certain people but from everyone - who could object? Except those of us who would like to travel in safety rather than in a false sense of security.

Update: Here's a great analysis of the most likely story behind the 'British terrorist plot.'

Friday, August 11, 2006

Reality vs. Fiction

Today, I'm just sickened. It's a local newsitem - a common one repeated all over the country daily no doubt. Makes me ill anyway - a local teacher, coach, and boy scout leader for over 20 years in our community was jailed yesterday for soliciting sex from a minor over the internet. The details of the case in the paper today confirmed my guess that he'd been doing this for some time with other kids. Definitely more information than I wanted to know but had to read - his victims were young boys in our town. Yes, I know him. Yes, my son was in that scout troop for 2 years. No, he wasn't affected. Which of his friends were?

What's got me transfixed today is the juxtaposition of this real news with the content of a book I'm reading for my book club. The same kind of sex perversion is almost de rigeur in current novels. These are books by Nobel prize winning authors, not beach trash - Half a Life by VS Naipaul, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez, just to name a couple of my recent reads. It seems as if 'good quality' literature has to have something violently or sexually shocking in order to be really serious - such as treating incest or sex with children as if it were normal or just a cultural difference. You have to numb yourself to it in order to finish the book. I'm not a professional literary critic but much of the shocking content doesn't seem necessary to the story. Weren't great novels written where sex and violence either weren't relevant or were treated less casually and coarsely? It's like movies and TV also - lots of gratuitous sex and violence which we get used to seeing. Just the advertisements for these shows are way over the line for me.

I'm not a prude. I'm just glad that I'm still sickened by reality and that I still wonder when starting a new book what new travesty will assault me before I turn the last page.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fear is the Goal

Reports that the British police have thwarted a terrorist plot in the UK are very encouraging. Hooray the bad guys were foiled again. Seriously wonderful news.

For some reason, I'm shaking my head. I think it's the pictures of Heathrow airport and this morning's announcement by Secretary Chertoff causing it. No bomb went off; everyone is safer this morning than yesterday. So we are at red or orange alert status. Thousands of people are affected by new search regulations. And they will continue to be delayed...indefinitely by these new regulations? Travel, commerce, business will all be slowed down - by fear.

I think my chances of being blown up on a plane are really small, and thanks to Scotland Yard, just got even smaller. My fear is less but my wait will be longer.

What if the next bomb plot shapes the explosive to look like a T shirt or jeans? It might be kind of fun to have all planes be nudist colonies, I guess. But then I wouldn't eat any in flight snacks, to be sure I didn't get crumbs in my lap.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fat is good for you

Yet another article saying that what was considered bad is really good sometimes. In case you don't subscribe to the WSJ (I don't), the article outlines a study showing that the body absorbs more nutrients from fruits and vegetables when some soluble fats are present. So now, some fat is good. I think I've seen this newsy-flip-flop happen with eggs, salt, meat, carbohydrates and just about every other food. The problem in my view is rarely the science. It's the way it's presented by non-scientific writers in the media, including the author of the WSJ article today.

Try looking here for better information about fats in your diet. Net - all things in moderation, including ice cream.

Pyrrhic Victory for Lamont

Good on political newcomer Ned Lamont for winning the Connecticut primary yesterday. It's great to see democracy can still work. The people of the Democratic party have spoken and Joe Lieberman isn't listening.

What to make of Joe's new move to independent status in order to run in the fall election? It certainly seems right that anyone should be able to run in an election. Complaints that our country has become stagnated by a two party system might be legitimate; maybe having multiple parties would be better. More independents and moderates in office sounds like a good thing - the ideal result being more bipartisanship and moderate compromises in legislation.

There's another issue to consider here - party membership. Lieberman has been a Democrat for 30 years, benefiting from party support. What's his obligation to remain loyal to the party and support the candidate chosen by the party? Any? No, instead he picks up his marbles and goes home. He'll just run by his-self then, so there. Lieberman says he's for "a new politics of unity and purpose". Hmm, that would be the kind of politics where you support your political party and its candidates and work within it to present a unified front for change?

I think Lieberman will win in the fall because he'll pick up votes from both parties - from Republicans who support the war and from Democrats who want an experienced senior senator representing their state. So, while Lamont's win is a big win for the Democratic party (as it tries to define its stance on the Iraq war) it will ultimately cost a senate seat. This reduction in Democratic seats, at a time when the party is trying to regain the majority, makes Joe's poor sportsmanship truly a stab in the back.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Not Quite Slander but the Effect was the Same

Today's retraction was on page 1, at least, though the typeface was a lot smaller. My local paper, the News and Observer, decided to wallow in mud yesterday by printing an article on the front page which was based entirely on false information.

OK, mistakes happen. However. What seemed extremely lame to me was the sentence in the retraction saying that the paper couldn't reach the subject of the article for a comment because he is on vacation. Well, why didn't they try to contact him or his office the previous day? Was it ethical to go to print without checking the facts? I understand that they couldn't comment due to the pending court case, but they could have verified the dates - which was the central point of the article. The print version, which included a picture of the notes taken, made it appear that the DA's office was reckless and incompetent or may have been trying to mislead the grand jury.

Let me be clear that am not for or against the actions of the district attorney in the court case mentioned. What concerns me is the journalistic standard of the newspaper reporting this story or lack thereof.

Public radio airs propaganda?

It's sometimes hard to follow a radio article. You might tune in late, miss parts due to loud noises, not pay attention due to some driver cutting you off... So I'm guessing when I say that I heard an opinion piece on public radio this morning. Maybe it was supposed to be hard news? Either way, the gist of the article said that during the Carter administration, folks lost their jobs and got new jobs at a rate of about 3%. Today that rate is 2% which is an improvement. So the person on the radio wondered why people have the perception that 'lifetime' employment was available at some time in the past but is no longer available today. He said the media are responsible for promoting this myth.

At this point, I was outraged so I snapped off the radio. I'm easily outraged, as you know. Maybe he should go talk to folks in Detroit or Gary, Indiana or former textile and furniture workers here in the South or IT folks from Silicon Valley and the Northeast whose jobs have been and are being outsourced to India and China. And what's this idea of 'lifetime' employment? I'm not sure anyone ever expects that nor that they ever did. I've been laid off from a job - haven't you? In what way does the statistic cited measure that anyway? An annual turnover rate doesn't measure the number of people who have held jobs for a 'lifetime.' Who created this statistic and what exactly does it mean? I've contacted NPR to find out and I'll put the link here if they send it to me. The intent of the piece seemed to be to chastise the public for their perception that things are worse than they are - which sure sounds like rah rah government propaganda to me.

Update: NPR responded that the piece was neither produced nor distributed by NPR. I'm now checking with my local affiliate WUNC.

Well, civil war this, civil war that.

I have to comment on yet another erudite remark from the person occupying the White House, among other parts of the planet.

Does anyone else remember when Ronald Reagan was president? This was the origin of bottom-of-the-well expectations for the leader of the free world. One of the leading news anchors, Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings or someone, went to a small town in the South. He interviewed a group of good old boys - they were senior citizens, I'm sure - about their opinion of the president. He met with this group a few times over a couple of years. These guys were the salt of the earth type people and I don't think any of them had a college education. I believe they were mostly Republicans. And I'll never forget the answer one of them gave to the news anchor in response to a question. He said, "Well, no one ever said that this president represents the intelligensia of our nation."

I can't help but wonder what he would say now. Take a look at today's quote at Note John Amato's entry of 11:25 AM - PDT. Well, civil war this, civil war that. I just don't know - 30,000 dead Iraqis and growing at 100 per day. "Well, no one ever said this president represents compassionate conservatism" ??

Welcome to Daily Bemusement

Every day I find myself shaking my head with amazement, shock, dismay or outrage.

There are many good sources on the net for the amazing, shocking, dismaying, and outrageous. Another good source is the soggy mass of printed material thrown in my driveway every morning containing a laughably edited version of 'news.' So I don't hope to add new material. Bloggers everywhere are doing this country and the world a tremendous service by uncovering and reporting valuable gems of information for mass consumption. I started consuming them about a year ago and when I did, I felt a lot less alone.

My purpose is to comment, in one place, on outrageous things I've seen, heard or read. I'll include links and sources when I can. Sometimes, I'll be inaccurate or wrong or just on an unreasonable rant - to err is human, such is life, and all that. My goal is to point out things that I find which would (should) be illogical to any ordinary citizen and wonder in bemusement how they came to be so.