bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, July 30, 2010

WORD AROUND THE NET

"When [President Obama] makes a statement that we are going to fundamentally transform the United States, what does that mean? We're learning what it means, and it scares people."

Last week's WATN wrapup included a note that Senator Kerry (D-MA) was using Delaware to hide his Yacht and avoid Massachusetts taxes on the purchase. When confronted by reporters about the issue, he was abrupt, angry, and said there was "nothing more to say" about the issue. Finally, however, Senator Kerry has agreed to pay the taxes on his yacht. I don't blame him wanting to avoid the absurdly high taxes in Massachusetts, I just can't help note that he keeps wanting to raise taxes on everyone else.

Snowfall is a good piece of evidence of warming. If its too warm to snow, the climate has changed, and that's happened in the past. When its so cold it snows in places like Texas and Florida, you know something is up. Which is why when Dennis Avery writes at Right Wing News that snowfall in California overall has been unchanged for a century, that is something to consider:
Christy reconstructed snowfall records at Huntington Lake, CA, from 1916–2009. The station’s data since 1972 had been missing, but Christy found two nearby stations had very high correlations with Huntington Lake. That allowed him to assess southern Sierra snowfall over nearly the past century.

The station’s annual snowfall averaged 624 centimeters per year, with a non-significant trend of +0.5 cm per decade. He found similar positive-but-insignificant trends for spring snowfall, annual stream flow, and precipitation. Nor did he find any trend in the published regional temperatures.
One more piece of hard evidence for the alarmists to consider.

Representative Barney Frank has been known for being corrupt, annoying, and reliably leftist, he's known for being one of the main forces behind blocking any work to prevent the housing and financial market meltdown from being prevented. But he's not known for being especially arrogant and stingy. The New York Post reports on a little incident:
Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank caused a scene when he demanded a $1 senior discount on his ferry fare to Fire Island's popular gay haunt, The Pines, last Friday. Frank was turned down by ticket clerks at the dock in Sayville because he didn't have the required Suffolk County Senior Citizens ID.
Sure, he's arrogant, condescending and stingy. Just not especially more so than the average congressman, I fear.

Sadly, Michigan continues to suffer economic distress, largely driven by Detroit's slow collapse. Still, events like this one in the capital do not help matters:
The debate in Ann Arbor, where firefighters are being laid off due to a multimillion dollar budget deficit, is over an $850,000 piece of art.

That’s how much the city has agreed to pay German artist Herbert Dreiseitl for a three-piece water sculpture that would go in front of the new police and courts building right by the City Hall.
Sure, the city set aside money for art in 2007 as part of an agreement to beautify the area. And sure, its only $850,000 for the new sculpture. While the sculpture will probably be some ugly art moderne piece of scrap, I'm all for art in public works. The problem is they're laying off firefighters and claiming poverty. Hey, maybe that art can be put on hold a while, maybe?

Deficits. When it comes to economics and politics, deficits are no fun to talk about. The deficit is the amount of money in the federal budget we do not have the money to pay for, and do not know how we'll pay for. So when the White House admitted that the 2010 deficit was going to run about 1.47 trillion dollars (that's $1,470,000,000,000.00), you know they weren't happy about having to say so. And, given the way everything economic from the Obama Administration is later adjusted to their detriment later on, that's probably a lowball figure. To put that gigantic sum into perspective, that is 10% of the entire US Gross Domestic Product. Every dollar of federal spending is paid for by 41 cents of borrowing from other sources, mostly China. To put it another way, federal spending has reached $36,000 per US household; $12,000 more than the already too-huge spending under President Bush.

Another Inspector General is making trouble for the federal government. This time its Neil Barofsky, special Inspector General for the Treasury Department. Daniel Wagner writes for AP:
...the program has not "put an appreciable dent in foreclosure filings," during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the $700 billion bank bailout. He also said the Treasury Department has ignored earlier demands that it set clearer goals for the program.
...
The homeownership program aims to reduce mortgage payments for millions of homeowners who can't afford their monthly bills. Recent data suggest it has helped about 400,000 households avoid foreclosure. About 530,000 have fallen out of the program.
Oh, and we don't have the money to spend on this program. Minor problem.

Wireless is facing a crisis, according to some. There's just not enough space on the 30 MHz to 3000 MHz spectrum to handle the demand for wireless, particularly in very large, congested cities. The problem, however, isn't the lack of "space" on the airwaves, but rather the poor use of it. Christopher Mims writes at Technology Review:
A 2005 study by the NSF found that only 5.2% of the wireless spectrum from 30 MHz to 3000 MHz was in use at any one time. And yet a study from the same year of the wireless spectrum devoted to cell phone signals in New York City found that almost half of that spectrum was in use.

The problem is that we're all locked into the spectrum offered by a single cell phone carrier, and our phones can't even access most of the wifi hotspots that are in range, much less use them to make calls.
The next generation of phones and technology is going to have to be able to hunt for free airwaves if we're going to keep expanding the use of wireless. Even then, eventually there will still be too much traffic. What then?

Its difficult to trust the word of a convicted mass murderer, but one of the DC Snipers, John Malvo, claims that there were more involved in the sniper shootings than just them. An Associated Press report at NPR notes:
"There was supposed to be three to four snipers with silenced weapons," said Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the shootings. "In this way we could do a lot more damage along the entire Eastern Seaboard."

Blumberg said Malvo told him Muhammad made him shoot two of the co-conspirators once they backed out of the plan. Malvo told Shatner only one of the men was killed, and that Muhammad did it.

While I wouldn't at all be surprised to find out this was true - nor that this was part of a larger effort by Muslim radicals or Middle Eastern governments (possibly Iran or even Saddam Hussein's Iraq), there's no apparent evidence for any of this, and its been long enough that I can't imagine any will be found.
Musical phenom and pop star Lady Gaga crossed the line from outrageous into crime recently when she kidnapped Commissioner Gordon. The Onion reports:
Known for her outlandish costumes and geometric polygon hair, the criminal madwoman made a daring escape from Arkham Asylum last week and has been taunting authorities by interrupting television broadcasts ever since. "If you ever want to see Commissioner Gordon again, you'll do exactly as I say," Lady Gaga said from her secret lair, adjusting her angular yellow Tyvek and spandex dress as henchmen danced menacingly around the bound commissioner.
OK fine, that's Onion news and not real but still... you gotta wonder, in a slightly different universe. There really is something Batman-villainesque about Lady Gaga.

Amnesty. That's the theme of a memo released on National Review Online by Robert VerBruggen. Someone or some people at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services is trying to find a way to extend amnesty to illegals without the trouble of going through congress and the law. VerBruggen writes:
Many of the memo’s proposals are technical and fine-grained; for example, it suggests clarifying the immigration laws for “unaccompanied minors, and for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence, and other criminal activities.” It also proposes extending the “grace period” H-1B visa holders have between the expiration of their visa and the date they’re expected to leave the country.

With other ideas, however, USCIS is aiming big. Perhaps the most egregious suggestion is to “Increase the Use of Deferred Action.” “Deferred action,” as the memo defines it, “is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to pursue removal from the U.S. of a particular individual for a specific period of time.” For example, after Hurricane Katrina, the government decided not to remove illegal immigrants who’d been affected by the disaster.
A link to actual text of the memo is available in the NRO article. Well if there's one thing you can rely on at the Obama administration: if they can't get congress to do something, they'll try to find a way to do it through bureaucracy and executive order.

Classes on the US Constitution are becoming more popular - and I can attest that hits on my essays about the constitution are higher lately than they've ever been. The Washington Post is apparently dismayed at this trend, and Krissah Thompson writes:
Since the nation’s earliest years, some Americans have revered the Constitution as a bulwark against government expansion. In George Washington’s Cabinet, the debate played out between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. In the mid-1960s, conservatives pushed for a return to limited government and a literal interpretation of the Constitution amid Barry Goldwater’s failed run for president.

Today, reverence for the Constitution and the Founding Fathers is an important part of the militia movement.
She goes out of her way to note that all the people at this class were white and mostly men - horrors - mostly middle aged, and none of them Democrats. That is not a good sign, from my perspective; shouldn't Democrats want to know more about the constitution, too? Or does that simply not factor into their ideology and concerns for the future? Bill Dupray at LibertyPundits writes":
The other point is her statement that reverence for the Constitution is an important part of the militia movement. You see, Tim McVeigh probably took a class on the Constitution, and look how he turned out. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to faux-journalist Krissah Thompson that every single last elected official in Washington swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, it is not only important to militias, it is important to all politicians and, through them, to the rest of the American people.
Too bad none of them seem to take it seriously.

Writer Anne Rice, who inflicted hip, day walking, sexy vampires on the public and started a sad trend claimed to have become a Christian a few years back. Coincidentally, she began writing a series of books about the life of Jesus Christ based almost exclusively upon her imagination. Relying little on the only actual biographical accounts of Jesus (the Bible), she wrote 3 books in the series. Now, she's writing books about angels with only slight, incidental Biblical content, and says she's not a Christian any longer. Her problem with the faith? Its anti secular-humanist, among other things such as "anti-Democrat" (which would come as news to the Christian Democrats out there). She still claims to love Jesus and follow him, just not the one actually in the Bible. Well I guess when you create your own version. At least she's not worshipping Lestat.

Democrat Steny Hoyer (D-MD) claims that the Democrats won't let the Bush Tax Cuts expire, and in a curious attempt at spin blames Republicans for the vast tax increase that would happen if they did. His logic is that since the GOP could only pass the tax cuts with Democrat support by putting an expiration date on them, then the failure of Democrats to stop that is a Republican tax increase. However, he was careful to define who he meant by the tax cuts not expiring: only for the middle class.

After canceling the voucher program which allowed some poor families in Washington DC to send their kids to better schools, President Obama made a speech about his dedication to better education for poor students. In the place of the very successful voucher program, President Obama is offering another spending program that is supposed to help schools teach better by giving them money. Fred Lucas writes at CNS News:
On Thursday, Obama said education reform is a top priority for his administration because the “status quo is morally inexcusable, it’s economically indefensible, and all of us are going to have to roll up our sleeves to change it.”
...
The administration ended funding for the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget. But, after protests from parents and school choice advocates, the administration eventually relented, agreeing to let children already receiving scholarships continue to do so until they graduate from high school.
Obama told an emotionally manipulative story about kids in Chicago who'd never make it to their dreams, then blamed a lack of funding while not even mentioning the huge demand of poor and minority parents for a voucher system. Well, let's be honest: they'll probably vote for him anyway and he needs that sweet teacher's union money.

And that's the Word Around The Net for July 30, 2010

THE CASE OF THE DISAPPEARING OIL

"This is the greatest environmental disaster of its kind"
-EPA Official

Where has all the oil gone? That's what pundits and news anchors are buzzing about this week. For almost three months, the Deepwater Horizon oil leak has dominated the news, with the vast spread of oil moving ever closer to land and wreaking environmental damage. Opponents of oil drilling secretly gloated over how this will help their cause, locals cringed over the cost to their economies and the loss of jobs, and President Obama dithered, uncertain what to do beyond make speeches. In the end, the oil appears to have simply dispersed. That gigantic puddle is not visible any longer. Where did it go?

Experts aren't exactly sure. Some think that the dispersants and chemicals BP dumped in the water have done their job. Others believe that naturally-occurring bacterial attracted to the gulf area by the leaks in the ocean floor had a major bloom and ate the oil. Others say that natural evaporation and oxidation took care of much of the oil. Still others say that the oil dispersed on its own due to tide, wind, and current, and spread around the ocean.

I simply sit back and note that my theme of "this isn't as horrendous as people keep saying" and notes about how the oil spill isn't as big as it seems (oil floats on water) and the damage isn't as bad as people believe were all true. I took a lot of heat for those thoughts in comments around the net. I'm not gloating, just hoping people will look back and think a bit before panicking. I didn't originate these ideas, I was simply repeating what others had said and noting their validity. In the end, this didn't end up even one of the top 10 oil leaks in history in terms of oil volume (nor does Exxon Valdez, for that matter).

Next time a huge disaster like this comes up, maybe at least some can think in terms of logic, science, and reality rather than what's politically most useful or what their fears drive them to. This isn't entirely over yet. The original leak is only temporarily capped, there's still some oil "plumes" in the water, and there's still a bit of the stuff floating around out there which will be washing ashore for years, if the Ixtoc 1 leak is any guide.

And the oil that did reach the shore already is going to be there a very long time, usually under the sand making things nasty. There's still cleanup work to do. Let's just all be grateful for how this has turned out so far. And maybe we can dial back the anger at BP a little while being glad the Obama administration's incompetence and hesitation didn't cost us more.

*UPDATE: Michael Grunwald at Time Magazine writes that the damage was much less than expected, such as only 1% the bird deaths and cleanups compared to Exxon Valdez and the swamp damage in Louisiana a fraction of the loss every year to erosion.

INSTANT REALITY

"Get me a nobody and pay them cheap!"

Survivor Logo
I've noticed something about television that I think is fascinating. Almost every single show I think is worth watching is on cable channels, not the big three original networks. ABC, NBC, CBS; I care about almost nothing they put on. The shows I enjoy such as The Glades, Burn Notice, Good Eats, Holmes On Holmes, and so on all are on cable networks. NCIS, CSI and CSI New York are the only network shows I even care to watch - and I watch them on cable reruns.

I'm certain almost all of these shows were pitched at one point to a regular network, and they all were turned down. Now they are big time money makers for smaller networks like USA and A&E. Good for us, bad for the networks. But why would they be turned down? Was it the clever writing, the good acting, the interesting concepts?

Brian Cherry at Big Hollywood has what I think is the bulk of the answer. He starts by looking at one show from the old days, when Network television ruled and the prime time show was king: Magnum PI. Tom Sellek made $50,000 per episode, which in today's economy is closer to $100,000 each. That's a lot of money to lay out for a star, but Magnum would capture a rating of 22.4. When he was up against shows like Trauma Center and Gimme A Break, Magnum ruled.

However, today is a different situation for networks. Their biggest shows average around a 10 share, because there's so much competition. With on-demand shows, pay-per-view, and hundreds of cable networks, network just gets buried in the alternatives. Three And A Half Men gets good ratings but nothing like what Magnum PI used to. That makes Charlie Sheen's $2 million per episode pretty expensive compared to Sellek's, even with inflation.

So they turn to "reality" shows, which cost less than a night time drama to produce and you can pay the cast a fraction of what a real star runs. Brian Cherry writes:
Dancing with the Stars, on average, scores a Nielson rating of 13.2 or higher. This thumps the best rating that Two and a Half Men can deliver, but it is a much cheaper show to produce. It was revealed that Kate Gosselin was receiving $100,000 per episode of DWTS that she appeared on. If this was true of the rest of the cast and hosts, the entire show combined is paid less per episode than Charlie Sheen. Seeing as every week a star, and their salary is eliminated from DWTS, the costs per episode go down. Also, as the number of contestants goes down and the drama goes up, and the ratings get higher. By the time the finale rolls around the show is costing less to produce, but raking in more money.
If you get into a contract dispute with one member of a reality show, dump them and replace them; its the zany situations, obnoxious personalities, and personal conflicts people tune in for, not the actual people involved. Its not exactly hard to find some annoying twerp to put a camera on and watch them cause trouble. In terms of earnings, the networks see "reality" shows as far better money than any sitcom or drama. So when the the producers of Burn Notice came to a network and pitched it, the network probably saw expense and little return, and told them to try somewhere else.

Yet there's a basic problem with that approach. The networks probably do rake in good money on shows like Survivor and America's Got Talent. Yet how many people want to buy DVDs of these shows? Survivor has been on for a decade. Three seasons is enough to get a successful show on to reruns, but nobody is putting it into syndication. Why would anyone want to watch old Survivor shows? Who'd want to buy a DVD of Jersey Shore? There's no rewatch value in these shows, so once they've shown, they're gone.

Sure, Reality TV is showing some old reruns, but only until they can create their own battery of replacement programming. In other words, the networks who rely on "reality" shows to bring in the money are actually hurting their earnings in the long run. Yes, it would take a lot of DVD sales and reruns of Three And A Half Men to make up the difference in cost between it and Dancing With The Stars, but shows as old as The Honeymooners are still being rerun and sold on DVD, making the original network more money.

This short-term money making strategy is not helping the networks do anything but survive, which is a pretty poor way to run a company. Reality shows will, sadly, probably always be with us. For that, MTV has a lot to answer for (thank you Real World). Yet in time the networks are going to have to find a different structure of programming to make it beyond subsistence, particularly as fewer and fewer people turn to old network channels for their news and entertainment.

*UPDATE: My brother noted that NCIS is a network show, so I had to do some rewriting for the article to make sense.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Quote of the Day

"An opinion should be the result of thought, not a substitute for it."
-Jef Mallett

Thursday, July 29, 2010

SCIENCE AND SCIENCEINESS

Scientists need to come out every time some politician says, 'The science says we must…' and reply, 'Science only tells us what is. It does not, and can never tell us what we should or must do.'"

There's an article about science and the attitudes that have shifted over time regarding scientific declarations and people's perception of the field which is powerful, correct in its observations, and sums up a lot of things I've been mulling around in my head but couldn't get to gel into a single article. Its by Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian at the American Enterprise Institute called Science Turns Authoritarian.

A lot of people have complained that science is getting bashed a lot lately and that people's trust in scientists and their work has declined. They offer a lot of possible reasons (lunatic conservatives, god-fearing evangelicals, corporate propaganda, even poor public relations) but the one major area they miss is the one that this pair highlights in the article:
In the past, scientists were generally neutral on questions of what to do. Instead, they just told people what they found, such as “we have discovered that smoking vastly increases your risk of lung cancer” or “we have discovered that some people will have adverse health effects from consuming high levels of salt.” Or “we have found that obesity increases your risk of coronary heart disease.” Those were simply neutral observations that people could find empowering, useful, interesting, etc., but did not place demands on them. In fact, this kind of objectivity was the entire basis for trusting scientific claims.

But along the way, an assortment of publicity-seeking, and often socially activist, scientists stopped saying, “Here are our findings. Read it and believe.” Instead, activist scientists such as NASA’s James Hansen, heads of quasi-scientific governmental organizations such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, editors of major scientific journals, and heads of the various national scientific academies are more inclined to say, “Here are our findings, and those findings say that you must change your life in this way, that way, or the other way.”
See, science isn't about policy or telling people how to live their lives. That's another area entirely, mostly political or ethical. Science is about testing hypotheses and trying to understand facts and empirical reality.

But for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is funding, scientists crossed the line from doing science into politics and ethics, telling people what they then must do and how we should be governed. And as a result people started to trust science less.

Groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other activist organizations put a really bad name to the word "science" by abusing the trust people had in the profession and its processes for their agenda. The whole global warming scam has been the final straw, though. People want to be concerned about the environment and have a nice place to live, but when you take advantage of that - the boy crying wolf - then people start to turn against you.

Whose fault is that? Well its not the fault of genuine scientists doing honest work. The people who understand the job of science and do it well for its own sake are still the majority, I suspect, and they're working hard at it. The problem is a loud, small minority who, as the article points out:
Assemble two groups of spokespeople, one made up of scientists and the other of celebrity ambassadors. Then deploy them to reach the public wherever they are, from online social networks to “The Today Show.” Researchers need to tell personal stories, tug at the heartstrings of people who don’t have PhD’s. And the celebrities can go on “Oprah” to describe how climate change is affecting them—and by extension, Oprah’s legions of viewers.
Here's the thing. That was written by the head of a PR firm as a suggestion on how to sell climate change alarmism. Except that's already what's happening. And that's why people are becoming skeptical, because its not science. And, as it turns out, its deceptive and manipulative for political ends.

Science does not compel us to do anything. In its proper role, properly executed, all it does is find out facts and then we are compelled by ethics, concerns, responsibility, and political reality to take action. So how did we end up with repeated lines like "science says we must," "science says we should," "science tells us we must," "science tells us we should," "science commands," "science requires," "science dictates," and "science compels?"

Because the western culture we live in has successfully wiped out almost all all guiding authorities and objective standards of behavior and ethics. Without faith-based principles and objective, absolute standards by which we must live and must not behave, there's nothing to compel people or even give them guidance. So mighty science is rolled up to the curb and used as a replacement. In the place of the golden calf we have the golden guy in a lab coat, holding a test tube high. All kneel before the scientist, he will lead the way to glory and utopia.

By abusing science in this way, activists and even well-meaning concerned people have ruined the profession in the perspective of the public. Because 6 times out of 9, a later scientific statement contradicts the previous one. Bran is good for you, bran might cause you troubles. Milk is good food. Milk is fattening. Popcorn can help you lose weight. Popcorn will kill you. On and on it goes, and the primary cause of this is activist science, with people more interested in the end goal of manipulating society toward a specific goal than finding facts and evidence.

Certainly sensationalistic and ignorant reporting doesn't help any. I wrote about this in my series on media bias:
Lack of real scientific knowledge most often takes effect by the reporters “jazzing up” a report, or dropping critical qualifiers and information to “sex up” a story. When a scientist tells the press conference something like this:
“it appears with the most recent evidence and computer modeling that a meteor that is big and dense enough to significantly damage the earth may strike within the next 100 years. We believe that if this impact is from a sufficiently massive meteor it could result in climactic change and if it hits a major population area the deaths of millions.”
The Headline and story often ends up like this:
“KILLER METEOR TARGETS EARTH, MILLIONS MAY DIE”

Recently at a press conference, Dr Knowitall of the Studying Things Institute said that “a meteor that is big and dense enough to significantly damage the earth" could "result in climactic change" and cause the deaths of millions...
It isn't just that they want exciting copy, but that most journalists took maybe a semester or two of science and few had the slightest interest in the field to begin with. So when confronted with something they don't really understand the significance and meaning of, they try to make it fit what they do understand.

As a result, people start distrusting what they hear and read. It took a long time to get here, from the 1950s where the guy in the lab coat was going to fix everything and was the most trusted man in America to today where people read a headline about science and say "I wonder if that's true?" Its going to take a long time to repair that damage, assuming the press and scientists change their attitude right now. And I just don't see that happening any time soon.

Hat tip to Bruce McQuain at Q & O, go read his article.

TRASH DAM

“An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.”
-Confucius

China has been suffering from unusually high rainfall and some flooding. The result of this is that runoff has tested the new Three Rivers Dam built to provide power and replace some of the coal-burning plants the country relies on for electricity. It also has washed so much trash and debris into the rivers that the dam's normal functioning is being threatened.



China's communist government has never held environmental cleanliness high on their list of priorities, its down with democracy, freedom of religion and so on. Perhaps this might convince them of the need to work a bit harder on waste management. Then maybe scenes like this one in a Hubei village wouldn't be taking place.


There's a lot of trash being built up, but no system to deal with it, so the villagers just pile it all by the river. And when it rains hard or floods....

Granted, the villagers should be finding ways to deal with the problem other than "hey, lets make a pile and burn it once in a while," but that's what happens when you have such an overwhelming top-down power structure for centuries of generations. People's initiative and personal sense of responsibility tends to become corroded.

THE DEATH OF WISDOM

"I have also had to warn them I believe social workers will enter the labor suite when their new baby arrives next month."

Not long ago, the New York 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC's policy regarding obscenity was unconstitutionally vague. Judge Rosemary S. Pooler (a Clinton appointee) ruled that the ban on accidental or spontaneous foul language or offensive behavior did not define or explain obscenity clearly enough, forcing networks to bleep or censor everything in advance just to avoid the large fines which might result.

The reason this sort of court case comes up is that obscenity is so difficult to define, since it seems to be different to each person. Something that might be pornographic in one setting is perfectly innocent in another. Take a picture of your wife giving your baby a bath in the sink, and you have a cute picture to embarrass your child with when they grow up. Another picture of that same naked baby in another setting or taken by another person might be child pornography. Since obscenity is an abstraction rather than an easily defined concrete concept such as the speed limit, laws struggle at dealing with the issue.

That difficulty is the basis behind a lot of problems with modern society; the substitution of law for wisdom. Consider the "zero tolerance" rules that schools have regarding weapons. In Virginia, and 8 year old boy was suspended for a week because his mom packed a butter knife in his lunch so he could make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In Orlando, Florida, two boys were arrested after they drew stick figures of their classmates being hung and run through with swords.

These "zero tolerance" schemes were put in place by well-meaning people trying to prevent horrors such as knifings and shootings in schools. Yet their existence presumes that law and rule can replace judgment and wisdom. The fact of having a knife in the lunch box replaces the truth of why its there in such a scheme, taking the leadership out of the hands of teachers and parents and turning it into management by lawyers and judges. Instead of teaching the child and leading it to behave wisely and properly, the child is legislated into not doing anything which might be harmful or dangerous, regardless of the context or situation.

The genesis of this is the rejection of absolute, objective standards and ethics by which we may, as a culture, make wise decisions in each given situation. Instead of having the wisdom of elders and tradition to help guide our future, all of that was rejected as old and outdated. The basic shared ethos of western culture, primarily Judeo-Christian in its origin, has been rejected. That hasn't made the world a better, more advanced and progressive place, it has simply left a vacuum which cultures need filled to have order and cohesion.

So in the place of this ethic laws are implemented. Instead of using common sense and wisdom shared from one generation to another, we have rules and laws given us by managers who know best. This is the origin of seat belt laws and rules about children wearing helmets and padding while riding a bicycle. It is where legislators get the idea they can tell businesses how much sugar to put in food or what toys to pack in a child's fast food meal. This is where the government gets the idea it can tell people their children are too fat and their cars are too dangerous to the environment. And most of all, its why parents go along with this without protesting too much.

In England, the health care system has authorities taking children away from their parents because the state decides they've become too overweight. For the children, of course. The parents are upset by this but they let the state take their child. Why? Because the very idea of leaving people up their judgment to raise their own children and handle the situation without the state is unthinkable.

Rather than having a structure in which families help each other, neighbors lean on each other, and the community is a local resource, we've largely abandoned that for the easier option: let the state handle everything. Replacing wisdom with law means abandoning personal responsibility and the hard choices of leadership. Replacing leaders with managers means that everything has to be reduced to a quantifiable, legally definable specific.

Judges who are forced by law to use minimum sentencing for court cases are suffering from this effect. The ability to judge a case by its merits and the situation of the perpetrator is wrested from their hands by a specific, quantifiable rule: this crime = this punishment. But the judges forced this situation by not using judgment to begin with. Had there been greater wisdom in sentencing and greater discernment in dealing with criminals, voters would not feel compelled to force judges to act more strictly.

Schools are forced to give children tests to determine their learning. Standardized tests are implemented because children are coming out of school without even basic skills such as reading and basic arithmetic. The tests miss more subtle concepts such as wisdom, beauty, and goodness because these are abstractions which cannot be given a quantifiable test. Yet teaching abandoned such basic principles already, forcing parents to demand a standard by which schools may be held accountable.

And it all comes back to the abandonment of wisdom and a worldview which gives principles by which situations and people may be judged. When wisdom dies, all we have left is the law, and instead of the individual doing right, we have the most powerful forcing people to do what they think is good. C.S. Lewis once said that the more laws a culture has, the more lawless you can tell it has become. Without societal pressure to do good and avoid evil, without shame to discourage bad behavior, cultures are reduced to an ever expanding set of rules to try to cover every single situation, until the state makes lawbreakers of us all.

*This originally was posted on the Examiner Opinion Zone.

Quote of the Day

"Because if she proves to be a popular choice who doesn’t screw up too badly, she could be really, really dangerous in the years to come."
-Kathleen Geier of Talking Points Memo on Sarah Palin, on Journoist

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

MAD REPORTERS

"The people on JournoList claim they were just social networking, so let’s start calling it SociaList"
-Jim Treacher

When the Hadley CRU emails were leaked to the public, revealing Michael "Piltdown" Mann's shame and Hadley chief Phillip Jones' complicity in covering up contrary data, trying to crush anyone who dared disagree, and creating an incestuous circle of assured agreement in the peer review process, one of the things I immediately thought about was how much this would frustrate me as a genuine scientist. As I wrote not long after:
Now those scientists are starting to read the reports. They are reading the emails and they know about the controversy. This isn't interesting to CNN or the New York Times, but it is interesting to the men who work in the profession, because they read about everything. And this is a huge scandal for scientists and science. They read this and it angers and frustrates them even more than it does you or I. Because this smears the entire profession. This makes them all look like asses, fair or not. And that means their professional credibility and even funding is on the line.
Some scientists actually stood up and said as much, and although there's been a ferocious effort to cover up the emails, downplay their damage and pretend nothing at all happened here with whitewash after whitewash, the damage was done and the credibility of climate change and the alarmists involve has taken a serious hit.

In a similar way, its hard not to look at the Journolist scandal and not imagine that serious journalists would be upset and annoyed by these events. Real journalism is not just competitive - you want to scoop the other guy and pull in readers at their expense - it is about truth and facts, not what you can get people to believe. Real journalists have to look at the Journolist and cringe at how bad it makes them look and how awful the job these hacks were doing.

Journalism is taught with a list of ethics, things you should not do and should do while in the job of reporting and editing. These ethics are pretty clear-cut, according to the Society of Professional Journalists:
Seek the truth and report it (use reliable, confirmed sources, identify sources when possible, question their motives, never distort images or information, support the open exchange of views, etc)
Minimize harm (Show compassion for those negative affected by coverage, show good taste, etc)
Act independently (Avoid conflict of interest and associations which damage integrity, hold those in power accountable, etc)
Be accountable (sign your work, invite dialog over journalistic conduct, admit mistakes and correct them promptly, etc)
I recommend reading the entire document, its pretty easy reading and short. If only we had a news profession that followed these ethical guidelines, eh? What's repulsive about the entire Journolist scandal is that they totally abandoned every shred of these journalistic ethics in the frenzied push to get Republicans out of power. Every bit of them. Every single basic ethic, they have during the list's existence or after its revelation violated utterly and completely.

That ought to be a stain on someone's career forever, making them shunned by real journalists and reviled by customers. You can't really fire someone for violating ethical standards, but you can sure give them less work no promotions and cut back on their access.

Real journalists should despise these 107 people and their radical leftist scheming. There's some sign that they are dismayed by Journolist. Roger Simon mentions at one such journalist at Politico:
Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News, who was not part of Journolist, told me this:

“I am sure Ezra had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don’t practice activist journalism.

“Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

“This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It’s very depressing.”

The thing is, they may very well be dismayed and feel awful about it, they might be losing sleep, but the only tangible thing that's been done so far is to move on to the next story (the amazingly uninteresting and Wikileaks Afghanistan intel dump which apparently has nothing new to reveal). That's it. They aren't taking any action against these people, they aren't vowing to be more ethical. They aren't even repudiating the stories, talking points, or viewpoints of the Journolistas.

The sad fact is, the legacy media in general might be aghast at how the Journolistas did things and even more that the sausage factory was revealed, but not why or what they said. As someone noted, Pavlov's dogs would have salivated when that bell rang whether they got together and discussed it before hand or not. Journolist didn't represent people coming to a previously unconsidered conclusion or tactic, but the mere discussion of things they already believed.

Journolist's response to Reverend Wright, Sarah Palin, and so on weren't examples of sudden, unprecedented ideas as a result of collusion but the collusion of like-thinking people who would write this way anyhow. And that's the real scandal. Journolist is embarrassing because it confirms everything the right has been grumbling about reporters and the legacy media for decades, but it didn't result in anything happening that would not have anyway. This is the kind of thing the legacy media drones were talking about over lunch and at work already.

And that's what it comes down to. The state of the present legacy media is so lacking in honor, integrity, trustworthiness, and professional ethics that this isn't so much a concern over what's happened to the news media as at what damage it does to their cause. This hurts President Obama and the Democrats, and that's what matters.

Far too many mainstream journalists are upset not at what the Journolistas said and did so much as that they put it on record and got caught. The response has largely been "Shut up."

If you look at the background of the members we know of in Journolist several things pop out. First, they're almost all white as driven snow, lacking the diversity they all demand of others. Seond, most of them are actually Jewish, something that Oliver Stone probably would find confirmation of his lunatic rantings about Joo control of the media... were it not for the fact that every single last man jack of them is completely and often radically leftist. And that's the third point: a glance at the associations and memberships of these reporters and opinion writers is amazingly leftist, sometimes radically and extremely so, as Trevor Loudon meticulously documents at Noisyroom.

Mickey Kaus can't help but notice something ironic and strange about the whole affair:
Journolist was a terrible idea from the start, not so much because it enabled the promotion of "lock-steppedness" and a progressive party line across media organizations (though Salam more or less concedes that it did), or because it fostered an "us vs. them" mentality (which it also obviously did). It was a bad idea, mainly because it took a process that could have been public, democratic and transparent and gratuitously made it private, stratified and opaque. This was an odd move for "progressives" to make when confronted with the revolutionary openness of the Web. It's as if they'd looked at our great national parks and said hey, what we really need is to carve out a private walled enclave for the well connected. Invited to a terrific party, they immediately set up a VIP room.
Anything beneficial that this list did, he argues, could have been done in public (like networking, advice for younger writers, helping careers advance, and so on). That's not what this was about, it was about like-minded people finding a place they could work on events of the day and find out a way to shape the news, mostly to help hated and feared Republicans lose elections.

In the end, all an objective observer can do is shake their head and understand why the legacy media is a dying profession. Newspapers, news shows, news magazines, all are suffering and dying. With this complete abortion of everything journalists are supposed to stand for, is it any surprise people are looking elsewhere for their information? And is it any surprise that most of the big stories that break these days come from the internet rather than reporters?

THE EVIL OF GUANTANAMO

"Once you get outside the resort, this is a dangerous place."

I'd like to pass on some terrible things going on in Guantanamo, where prisoners daily suffer almost incomprehensible horrors. Here are a few accounts, courtesy American Thinker:
"We lived surrounded by rats, cockroaches, scorpions -- and I have to say it -- with human excrement, yes, with excrement ... dengue and tuberculosis ravaged the prisoners. Forty prisoners were crammed into cells measuring 32 square feet."


"I lived in total darkness with my hands tied; with rats and cockroaches and excrement everywhere. That was all I could smell."


"Many prisoners attempted suicide. I saw prisoners stick needles in the dark part of their eye. I saw prisoners roll themselves in foam mattresses and set themselves alight, prisoners who inject excrement and urine into their eyes, prisoners who inject petrol into their private parts and other places just so they will be attended to."


"I spent 17 months of solitary confinement in a four-by-four-meter cell."
That's just awful stuff, nothing these people did could justify such treatment, especially since most of them were probably just swept up because of politics. Right?

Unfortunately for the leftists salivating at this and those who came here based on Google searches... those are Cuban prisoners in Cuban prisons in the Guantanamo Province which includes ninety-four Cuban prisons. They need a lot of prisons in Cuba, because it is a communist dictatorship.

Humberto Fontova who writes at Babalu Blog, wrote all about those prisons as he's done many times before. Like me, he also writes sarcastically about the ghastly conditions of detainees in Guantanamo Bay where they have to endure such terrors as getting a mere thousand calories of food daily and only twice a week cola and ice cream. The horror.

Interestingly enough there's also this story from Cuba, related to the prison stories above. Chris Doucette writes for the Toronto Sun:
Despite assurances from the federal government that everything possible is being done to bring Cody LeCompte home safely, the 19-year-old still sees no end in sight to his Cuban detention.

And as the Simcoe teen’s forced stay in the Communist country enters its 13th week, the psychological and financial toll is mounting.

“He’s doing okay physically, I guess, but mentally he’s not doing well at all,” Danette LeCompte said Friday of her son, careful not to say too much over the phone.

“He’s terrified!” she added.
What happened? He got in an accident in a rental car and has been put in prison until he can prove his innocence. According to his grief-stricken parents, he's not been charged with anything. The parents are staying at a $93-a day hotel in Havana trying to get their son freed.

I feel for the kid and his folks, it would be really rough. Imagine how the people of Cuba feel. For 51 years, they've been under a brutal dictatorship which does this to people without any hope of justice or recourse. And unlike the Canadian kid, even if they get out of jail there's nowhere to run. They're stuck on an island with the regime crushing the life out of them, their spirits, and their hopes.

Alberto DeLaCruz at Bablu Blog, where I saw this Canadian story says:
Perhaps that is something the LeCompte family should have thought about and contemplated before they embarked on their vacation to that beautiful slave plantation in the Caribbean.
Canadians are free to travel to Cuba and use it as a nice vacation spot: cheap, sunny, a great place to visit. Hey, maybe you should reconsider sending your tourism money to this hell hole, huh? Maybe you might want to consider not going there and living it up next to people living in misery and oppression?

BUGS!

"What an imbazzle, what an ultramaroon!"

I missed a very significant cultural anniversary yesterday, and I have to apologize to my readers for such an oversight. I can only hope that you will continue to read my blog and not leave in disgust at my incompetence.

Seventy years ago yesterday, Bugs Bunny first showed in a theater. In a way it seems hard to imagine it was that long ago; many of us grew up with the Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner show on Saturday mornings. We have two parts of the Warner Brothers DVD collection at home and can watch cartoons whenever we want. Yet when Bugs started up, he was strictly at the movies.

Some people might wonder why these cartoons are called "Loony Tunes" in the first place. Well, the first Warner Brothers cartoons were musicals, with dancing flowers and singing bears and so on. Generally speaking, they were pretty lame, but at the time they were unique and unusual, and people weren't inundated with exactly the kind of music they liked to hear. It was just nice to have someone else do the singing and playing for most folks; even if they had a radio station they didn't play all day long and you had to stay right next to the set to hear much anyway.

Loony Tunes started in 1933 with Arthur Schlesinger studios on demand from the actual living Warner Brothers, who wanted their own version of the wildly popular Disney cartoon shorts. WB had recently purchased the Brunswick Records catalog and wanted to promote those songs as well.

Loony Tunes (and Merrie Melodies) drew from Warner Brothers huge catalog of songs that were in their previous movies, sung by funny animals and inanimate objects. Think of it as a greatest hits mix in cartoon form as many of these were popular songs at the time. The theme song was originally "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down," which had prominent mention in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Merrie Melodies were black and white, Looney Tunes were in color. Other than that, they were pretty much the same sort of cartoon.



Bugs Bunny was a later addition to the cast, he was preceded by Buddy, a sort of huge-eyed cartoon similar to Betty Boop that was neither memorable nor interesting. Porky Pig, the stuttering icon was shown in the short "I Haven't Got A Hat" (with Beans the Cat, another star that never made it, but was more liked than Ham and Ex the dogs and Oliver the Owl). He debuted in this cartoon, in 1935:



But Looney Tunes never really took off until 1940 with the introduction of Bugs Bunny. There was a character somewhat like Bugs in the Porky Pig cartoon "Porky's Hare Hunt" but he was unnamed and looked much different. It wasn't until "A Wild Hare" that Bugs really was known. Paired with Elmer Fudd (who'd first appeared in Elmer's Candid Camera, which featured the Bugs bunny prototype), Bugs had his first Noo Yawk accent (described by voice acting genius Mel Blanc, Bugs has a blend of Bronx, Flatbush, and Brooklyn dialects) and more like his classic fixed appearance.

This cartoon combined Mel Blanc, Tex Avery, and Bugs Bunny, a classic combo that was to bring millions of laughs for decades. All of these talents are missed these days; would it kill Warner Brothers to put at least old cartoons out on the big screen again? I mean, we have to sit through ads for 15 minutes before the movie starts, why not something fun?

This cartoon also marks the first time bugs used his signature line "What's Up Doc?" At the Ace of Spades HQ overnight thread, (where also I learned of the Bugs anniversary) commenter The War Between The Undead States tells this little tale:
"That opening line of 'Eh, what's up, Doc?' floored them [the audience]. They expected the rabbit to scream, or do anything but make a casual remark. For here's a guy pointing a gun in his face! It got such a laugh that we said, 'Boy, we'll do that every chance we get.'"
By now, as The War... notes, this isn't funny so much as a trademark, but still is great. Bugs developed into the big star of Looney Tunes, and still is a beloved character to this day.

Yet strangely, people always want to see him lose. You root against Bugs Bunny because of his cocky arrogance, but love him anyway because he's so funny. In any case, here's what you've been scrolling down for, Bug's debut, the cartoon "A Wild Hare:"

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Impatience
We could be using that valuable time to play Gears of War or watch Survivor!

Quote of the Day

"There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs-partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs."
-Booker T Washington

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

YOUNEWS

"We are here to stay and also here to tell the naysayers to hush up already – this IS a workable model."

Tired of the local news? Sick of bias, incompetence, sloth, and a lack of coverage of the kind of things you want to see? Are you tired of the press walking the same political line, even to the point of absurd coordination on mailing lists? Do you get sick of the local media just using the press wire from AP and UPI to fill their paper? Is the local TV news nothing but barely rewritten press releases and cute stories about surfing dogs?

You can make a difference, according to Jeremy Porter at Journolistics. Although the article is about eight months old, I just found it and the ideas in it are just as fresh now as they were in November of 2009. Instead of sitting around complaining about the news or boycotting legacy news sources, Porter suggests you make your own. He thinks the future of local news is in your hands.

He points out that advertisers are looking for a place to advertise, that local journalists are already around gathering news, and that there's a demand for local news in a way that national and international news lacks. Here's what he says you should do:
If you’re a journalist working for a paper that’s going under, here’s a rough checklist you could use to launch your own local media empire:
  • Grab your Rolodex and head for the door
  • Contact a local freelance graphic designer and/or Web developer (start with the person that was doing layouts at your paper)
  • Have this person design a blog for you – my suggestion would be WordPress, possibly with an SEO-friendly theme like Thesis
  • Register a domain name that looks something like this: www.yourtownnews.com (replace “your town” with the actual name of your town or small market)
  • Start doing the job you’ve done all along – write stories on local news, contact the people you’ve interviewed over the years and get them on board
  • Let all the local businesses and community influencers know about your plans to provide news for the citizens for your community – invite them to share their information
  • Recruit other out-of-work journalists to jump on board
  • Offer former advertisers banner ads on your blog, for a small fraction of what they were paying before – offer highly-competitive rates in the beginning, to lessen the risk for those willing to sponsor your content during your launch phase
Improve the coverage on your local market, now that you’re no longer limited by column inches or deadlines – report on more, in less time and build an audience
I don't have the health or money to even consider this, but it wouldn't take that much more than I have now to get started. With the internet and the cheap availability of cameras, editing tools, online storage, and content, it wouldn't really be all that tough to pull off.

Sure your first year or so would look pretty shoddy and amateur, but it would take at least a year before you really took off and got much notice anyway. There are dozens of bloggers in every city writing all sorts of stories, from politics to recipes to local events to hobbies and specialty interests. They'll work dirt cheap and you can fill in your opinion section with plenty of local writing.

Create a website, put some videos, audio, photos, and plenty of writing on there like any newspaper, and you've got an instant competitor to the local news. Branching out to the local CCTV channels would give you even more coverage and notice, for free. If your town is like mine, the CCTV station will even help you with technical aspects of the broadcast. Other than time and effort, what do you have to lose?

Just do us all a favor: don't pick a political side and push it. Not unless you make it really clear what you're doing and expect a pretty small level of consumer interest. Start out right from the beginning with a strong, inflexible, and aggressive editorial principle of being impartial and unbiased as much as humanly possible. It really isn't that tough to do, and if you start out with that and stick to it, it gets even easier.

So go to it, citizen journalists. Give it a shot; who knows? Certainly the local news channels and papers aren't much of a force to compete these days.

And one of the commenters has an interesting idea: an E-Reader bundled with the yearly subscription cost of a newspaper/site. Might be a bit much to eat for most papers, but who knows, maybe in a few years they'll come down in price enough this will be something serious to consider.

THE MADNESS OF STONE

"There's no pattern of censorship in [Venezuela]"
-Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone has been in the news a lot lately. First he directed an adoring, slavering biopic of Hugo Chavez which has bombed even in Venezuela (it made less than Stone's pay for the movie worldwide). Then he announced he was going to direct a picture about Jesus Christ without using much of the only source material in existence about the man: the Bible. Now he's gotten some headlines (at least in the new media) with his statements about the holocaust.

While the Times interview is behind a 1-pound subscription wall (yeah, like I or just about anyone else is going to subscribe to the London Times online), Alana Goodman at Newsbusters has portions of the transcript:
Stone said that his upcoming Showtime documentary series "Secret History of America," seeks to put Hitler and Communist dictator Joseph Stalin "in context."

"Hitler was a Frankenstein but there was also a Dr Frankenstein. German industrialists, the Americans and the British. He had a lot of support," Stone told reporter Camilla Long during the interview, which can be found behind the paywall on the Sunday Times' website.

Stone said that, "Hitler did far more damage to the Russians than the Jewish people, 25 or 30 [million killed]."

The Sunday Times interviewer then asked why there was such a focus on the Holocaust.

"The Jewish domination of the media," responded Stone. "There's a major lobby in the United States. They are hard workers. They stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f***** up United States foreign policy for years."

Now, some are taking this as evidence that Stone is anti-Semitic and generally against Jews. After all who else would blame the evil Joo lobby and claim the Holocaust wasn't that big a deal against Jews, right? Except that's not his focus here.

Stone, like Zinn who wrote the absurd People's History of America that his Showtime series is based on, is essentially a communist. He's not attacking Jews, he's just trying to focus attention on Soviet Russia. He wants people to realize how awful WW2 was for the Russians, which it certainly was. The reason he wants that is because he wants the Soviet Russians to be a more sympathetic people and he wants the Communist system to look better. I say this confidently given his clear politics and his fawning worship of Chavez, an old style communist dictator.

The thing is, there's a pretty specific difference between the Holocaust and the German eastern front. Something pretty obvious and unavoidable for the non-zealot to recognize.

The Holocaust was an organized, systematic, deliberate effort to single out and eliminate undesirables from the gene pool to assist human evolution driven largely by Hitler's insane hatred of the Jew. Jews, Gypsies, Epileptics, mentally retarded, and many other groups were gathered up simply because of who they were and put in camps to work to death or be immediately eliminated. They were put to death for being considered inferior humans.

The Russian deaths were awful and gigantic in number, sometimes they were war crimes of simple execution, but they were primarily driven by an attempt to conquer Russia. Almost all of those deaths came because of Russians fighting Germans, much of them from the horrendously bloody Battle of Leningrad. That's pretty different in ethical character from the Holocaust. It was evil because it was simply Germans trying to take over the world, but not as unspeakably evil as the Holocaust was.

And more importantly, Stone's (and Zinn's) perspective deliberately leaves out the ghastly treatment of Jews by Stalin himself who by his policies and plans resulted in the deaths of at least 20,000,000 of his own countrymen, mostly by forced labor. An additional 6 million resulted from famine (many of whom were Ukranians) caused by his economic and agricultural policies. And that doesn't include deaths in Siberian work camps after Stalin died in 1953. Roughly a third of all these victims are estimated to have been Jews. He specifically targeted Jewish culture, trying to wipe it out of Russia to prevent them from being distinct from the rest of the people. Stalin boasted to FDR of killing ten million peasants at Yalta, according to one report.

Meanwhile, back in Russia, Vladimir Putin's Mafiocracy government is trying to rehabilitate the image of Josef Stalin, and at least one poll has Russians saying he was the number one Russian of all time.

Stone discussed Iran policy as well, including this tidbit:
The director, who recently met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, also slammed the U.S. policy toward Iran as "horrible."

"Iran isn't necessarily the good guy," said Stone. "[B]ut we don't know the full story!"
Note, the presumption that Iran is the good guy, with an admission that they might not be, yet the "whole story" may confirm their goodness. In other words: Iran is probably good and I bet if we learned about how they're being oppressed by the tyrant US, we'd find out how good they are. This totally ignores the treatment of dissidents in Iran who only wanted liberty and democracy, it ignores the blatant, repeated, and loud statements of hate toward the US, Israel and anyone else who gets in the way of Iran's plans, and it ignores the overwhelming evidence that Iran is a theocracy ran by religious extremists. But beneath all that, Stone suspects they're good people with a good reason for wanting nuclear weapons.

Stone also praised Chavez because the internet is "free" in Venezuela. How nice for Chavez' rich buddies who can afford a computer.

Oliver Stone isn't specifically anti-Semitic, although he does seem to have a fascination with the idea of Jews running everything and their pernicious influence making people not like communism. He's not so much anti-Jew as just really gullible, ill-informed, and silly.

I have to echo a lot of others wondering how long he'll be able to get away with this kind of thing - particularly given his incredibly woeful earnings since JFK - before Hollywood turns on him. How many times will he be given the green light to make really expensive money pits before they stop treating him with such respect? Mel Gibson became a pariah because of one statement about Jews when he was arrested, what about this with Stone?

Yeah I know. He didn't direct The Passion of the Christ in 2004 and get all those Jesuslanders all stirred up.

DEALING WITH THE BARBARIAN

Conan! What is best in life?
To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!

There's a joke going around which some would consider offensive, but it illustrates a point I'd like to make. It goes something like this:
An American Indian, a Muslim, and a Texan are talking one day.

The American Indian says, "I am sad, because once my people were many, but now we are few!"

The Muslim says, "I am happy because my people were once few, but now we are many. And do you know why?"

The Texan drawls, "Cause we ain't started playing Cowboys and Muslims."
Something we try not to talk about much in polite society and the modern society is what to do with the barbarian. Barbarians aren't so bad in one sense; typically all a barbarian means is someone who isn't as cultured, civilized, and technologically advanced as another culture. It isn't that the barbarian has no culture, has no technology, and has no advancement, even the ancient barbarians such as the Mongol, Hun, and Vandal had some of these. Its just that compared to other, more advanced cultures, they are lacking.

Take the American Indian tribes. They had language, art, literature, music, technology, politics, business, and education just as any culture does. They simply weren't as advanced and sophisticated as the European colonists who showed up in America. The Iroquois had their chants, but the Italians had opera. The Caddo had their bows and spears, while the English had Brown Bess muskets and cannons. The Hopi had pictographs and ritual painting, and the Dutch had Rembrandt. The Sioux had their myths and religious beliefs, and the Genevans had John Calvin.

Yet it was more than simply the trappings of civilization which set them apart. Rome was more sophisticated philosophically and conceptually than the Gauls. Rome pondered the meaning of life, the proper use of rhetoric, the significance of virtues, and the use of strength versus the need for restraint. The Vandals worried about surviving the next day and using strength to get what they wanted. There was a qualitative difference between the Gaulish civilization and the Roman civilization.

And it was this distinction in philosophy and worldview which made all the other differences happen. Civilization brings its benefits because thinkers and ideas lead to practical reality. The existence of the car and the cell phone trace back to the radical thoughts of the reformers and the philosophies of the Greeks. Without them asking the questions and pondering life more deeply than mere survival and brute existence, no advances could have been made. Some civilizations are actually better than others, a concept the modern left and academic types reject categorically.

Today, the barbarians are still around. Tribes in isolated areas still have little sophistication, civilization, or philosophical effort. What little advancement they attempt is usually crushed by fear, tradition, taboo, and the need for the leadership to dominate the rest of the tribe (usually by medicine men or shaman who dominate the culture of a tribe). In many ways, the radical Muslim culture we face today is the most significant barbaric opposition to civilization. Not all Muslims are barbarians; many live in the western world, enjoying western culture and ideals which do not interfere with their faith, like any other religion. Yet there is a strong, dangerous, and loud portion of the Muslim world which certainly is barbaric.

And they are barbaric by deliberate effort. Wahhabist and Ismaeli Islam both cling to a very backward, anti-civilization view of the world. They reject technology, music, art, and most of western culture as corrupt and sinful. They consider it arrogant and evil to listen to rock music, dress in a more modern way, use gadgets and modern conveniences, and live a modern, worldly manner. And unlike the Amish or some very fundamentalist Christian sects, they believe that no one should do this, and are willing to kill to enforce that idea. Where barbarians exist, we're always faced with how to deal with them.

In the past, dominant, more sophisticated cultures used their technological, educational, and ideological edge to crush and destroy the barbarian. Over time, the far superior fighters in the American Indians were defeated by sheer numbers and superior technology of the European invaders. The gun, the train, the telegraph, and concepts such as organized law enforcement and non-tribal coordination of multiple peoples in a nation rather than small independent groups defeated every single Native American tribe that fought and put them all under control.

That is the way of history: one nation with greater strength destroys another or dominates them. Whether right or wrong, it has been repeated thousands of times around the world. The first American Indian tribes to find horses and learn to use them wiped out dozens of lesser tribes, taking their lands. The Anasazi were utterly obliterated by Apache, Ute, and Navajo tribes, among others. Today, we question that, believing that the greater man will not use his strength to dominate the lesser. We think that the use of force to silence or stop the barbarian makes us barbaric, and that the principles of freedom and justice do not permit the old patterns any longer.

The problem we face is that this philosophy works wonders when dealing with other sophisticated, advanced cultures; it just doesn't matter to the barbarian. Gandhi was able to implement passive, non-violent resistance to break the will of the British and bring independence to India. He suggested that be used against the Germans but thankfully no one tried that except the Jews, who were herded into ghettos and systematically murdered. There is a point at which the civilized man has to face the hard, painful fact that civilized tactics and concepts sometimes aren't sufficient to the task.

We face pirates for the first time in centuries. The last time, they were eliminated by swift, decisive, and bloody action. Pirates died when they were caught, and were put on display for everyone to see. Pirate bases were attacked and demolished. Pirate leaders were executed. Piracy stopped, save in small areas where no one was able to do this (mostly in the Southeast Asian waters). So far, few have shown the willingness to deal with these pirates in the same way, and many even defend them as poor, young, and abused by the cruel west.

Islamic radicals are seen the same way. The very same people who'd die first at the hands of the Wahhabist are the ones to step up and defend them, saying we should not fight them because we deserve their rage after years of oppression and murder. When swift, strong action is taken to fight the danger of radical Islam, the news is full of pictures of old women holding up complete bullet cartridges claiming they were shot at her, and scenes of a green helmeted man carrying the same body from the morgue ten times while posing heroically by a child's spotless, dust-free toy.

How will we face the barbarians of today? Will the soft hand of civilization and diplomacy work to stop a culture that views these attempts as weakness, fear, and submission? Will western civilization swallow up the Muslim, seducing their youth and leading them away from their rigid beliefs? Or will Islam swallow up western culture instead? What path will we walk, and will we have the courage and strength to follow through on it, whatever the cost in public relations and future condemnation may come?

Past generations thought that the barbarian had to be eliminated, either through war or forced assimilation; you either fought them until they died or were reduced so much they were no longer significant, or you assimilated them into your culture by force, destroying their barbarism through civilization and social change. Some hope that western culture's seduction will accomplish the second, some hoped that the war on terror would do the first.

I don't claim to have the answers, but I suspect there may have been a good reason the people of the past acted the way they did, a reason that had nothing to do with racism or fear of the unknown.

Quote of the Day

"America invites all men to become citizens; but it implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship."
-G. K. Chesterton

Monday, July 26, 2010

TINY PHONES

"get those kids off my lawn!!!

I'm getting old. Its not so much the way I feel or look; I have always looked a bit younger than I really am (especially when I shave my beard and mustache off). The way I feel old is more about attitude and weariness about culture and the world around me. I don't care for modern pop and what is called rock music these days. I like a lot of older heavy metal but these days the singers sound like the cookie monster and there's almost no relation to music in what they play other than rhythm.

But the thing that really turns me into a cane-waving curmudgeon is the telephone. When I was a kid, telephones had just transitioned from the big heavy desk jobs to smaller wall mounts, and they were just starting to get the push button phones instead of rotary dials. There was something really satisfying about dialing a rotary phone. Sure, it took longer and more energy but if you were mad or frustrated, you could really rip that dial and feel a bit soothed by the force of each number.

But it was the size and shape of the old receivers that really worked well. Telephones changed a lot over time in design as the telephone companies (later, one company) tried to find the best shape and system.

They started with a weird system involving a hand-held microphone and a speaker set on the phone, the earliest designs lacking even a dial. You told the operator the phone number (with letters and numbers, like "Pennsylvania 6-5000"), and they connected you. It didn't take long for the old candlestick phone design to replace that. You can see these phones in any old movie, with the microphone on the set and the horn you hold to your ear to listen on.

Eventually phones became more comfortable to hold and use, starting with the A1 which had the handset rather than two pieces. Now everything was comfortably in one part you held to your face, on a cord which was easier to use while doing something else.

That basic design was used for decades, with small modifications to design. This handset design lasted into the 70s and was the most convenient to hold while you had both hands free. It tucked under the cheek against the shoulder well, allowing a normal person to wash dishes, write, type, or do other things with both hands while in a conversation.

That sort of phone started to be replaced with other models which began to diverge from the handset design. The first major step away was the 220 "Trimline" model which basically cut the phone in half. The barbell-like shape of the handset was gone, replacing it with a rounded rectangle holding the dialing mechanism - a dial at first, then pushbuttons.

For more than a generation now, there's people growing up who never have used a rotary dial. They wouldn't really know how although its pretty easy to pick up. Some more perceptive kids probably wonder why the act of calling someone on your phone is called "dialing" at all.

Yet its not the real dial that I miss as much as that handset. You cannot even get a phone big enough to hold under your ear any longer, unless you go to some retro specialty shop. By 2001 phones were getting smaller and smaller, more portable and pocket sized.

The primary reason for this is the cellular phone. The reason people want it palm sized and tiny is not just because its more portable that way, but because they want to use it for anything except a phone. They want to have it convenient and comfortable to hold and use for everything else it does: browse email, play games, take pictures, type cryptic messages, and so on.

Today if a phone is only a phone, it is considered pathetic along with its owner. They do make cell phones that do almost nothing but act as a phone, the Jitterbug line of phones is built around that concept. Its even shaped more like an older handset to be more comfortable to talk on than the postage stamp-sized superphones of today. Anyone younger than 40 thinks these are the lamest thing to hit the planet since quadriplegia.

So now even hardline home phones are tinier and tinier, and the latest models are not much larger than a regular cell phone. Say goodbye to holding them under a cheek against your shoulder, even if you could somehow talk on them that way, you'll develop spinal damage within minutes. They have all sorts of wonderful features, but they're awkward to use and uncomfortable for very long calls. And that's just plain annoying.

I never liked talking on the phone that much to begin with, but it is part of life, and making that more uncomfortable is not a step in the right direction. The old phones did only one thing: talk and listen. They were heavy and simple, but they were really tough, reliable, and easy to use. They were more comfortable, and that coily phone cord was actually useful and fun. Over time, the technology has gotten significantly more complicated and powerful, but in terms of its primary actual purpose, the plain old phone has gotten worse, not better.

That's just weird to me, like the companies making phones are trying to force people to stop using them and just buy a cellular phone instead. I don't really know what they are thinking, maybe they want these phones to look and seem more like a cell phone so they seem cooler and people will keep buying them. Who can say.

I actually have a big old black "model 500" phone from the late 60s, it weighs more than a bag of sugar and is made of hard plastic and iron.

It still works.