Saturday, April 30, 2005

Blog Links

(This post has been adapted from an AOL Weekend Assignment.) In my never-ending quest to bring you the best and the brightest from the web, here's a list of blogs that I've really been getting interested in lately. All are worth checking out...

AlterNet's blog, Peek: The Blog of Blogs, does a great job of scanning the liberal blogosphere and coming up with the unusual story that the mainstream media missed or the unusual angle on the big story. They look at it all to bring you the best of the best. It's a great place for liberal political and news junkies to start the day.

The American Progress Action Fund's blog, Think Progress, is also a great resource for the liberal news/political junkie. They post a lot of entries per day, but they're simple, bite-sized, easy to digest chunks of information that cut right through the right-wing smokescreen.

Today in Iraq is a blog that gathers up all of the latest information about Bush's War. It has links to news stories, editorials, analysis, etc. The entries usually run a little long, but there are few of them since they all pull together a lot of information. A very useful site for the kind of stuff you won't see on Fox News or CNN.

As Monty Python would say, "And now for something completely different..." For the wacky, the offbeat, the unusual, the hilarious, and the gross, you can't go wrong with Dave Barry's Blog. The Miami Herald (and nationally syndicated) columnist, author, and lead guitarist and vocalist of the Rock Bottom Remainders, puts together this blog that's a great pick-me-up after reading the depressing news from the other blogs. My favorite entries here are the plot summaries of the idiotic TV show, "24." Here's the latest.

And finally, I should have made a whole separate entry on this, but...I once heard the term "fritterware" to describe software that's designed to just fritter away your time while accomplishing almost nothing. Google has designed the ultimate fritterware by putting those satellite images on Google Maps. I couldn't begin to tell you how many hours I've wasted on this...
Here's my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
I can see my house from here.
This is the National Military Cemetary in Chattanooga. The small oval in the lower right contains the graves of Andrews Raiders of Great Train Robbery fame.
Here's the four downtown Chattanooga bridges. From left to right, they are the Olgiati Bridge (U.S. 27), the Market Street Bridge, the Walnut Street Bridge and the Veterans' Bridge. In the lower left corner is BellSouth Park, home of the Chattanooga Lookouts, the AA farm club of the Cincinnati Reds.
Here's a neat Atlanta satellite image. This is Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. Above Turner Field, you can see the outline of the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium marked out in a parking lot.
Here's Six Flags over Georgia on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Here's the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Here's the censored White House and other government buildings.
The Washington Monument.
More censored government buildings, including the U. S. Capitol Building.

Well, you get the idea. Once you figure out what you're looking at, the Google Satellite Maps are pretty cool. You can start close to home, follow roads out by clicking and dragging on the maps, zoom in and zoom out, check out where you've been before, check out places you'd like to go and basically just waste hours playing around here.

Which brings us to the fifth blog on this list. If you don't have time to spend hours playing around with Google Maps, go to Google Sightseeing for the best of the best. Everyday, they bring you several entries of places to go and things to see from your computer screen. One of the neatest posts they've done is a "planes in flight megapost."

Also, check out Whatever, where John Scalzi's been "taunting the tauntable since 1998," World O' Crap, Overspun and the Whiskey Bar, where more taunting of the tauntable takes place, Daily Kos, American Street, Political Animal and Oliver Willis for more than you ever wanted to know about politics, Media Matters, TVNewser, the Daily Howler, and Eric Alterman's Altercation for news about what a wonderful job our news media are doing, and check out Boing Boing just for the weird crap they come up with everyday. Finally, three old AOL pals have drifted over into Blogspot with excellent blogs that are worth reading - they are what's the hubbub...?, Wonky Muse, and A Stop at Willoughby.

What are your favorite blogs?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Who Said This?

Try to guess who said this, then check the comments to see if you're right...

"However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'"

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What the...?

To paraphrase Mark Twain (see next post): Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a Fox News commentator. But I repeat myself.

This Date in History

On April 21, 1910, Samuel Clemons, "Mark Twain," died at age 74 in his New England home. Doctors said that he died of angina pectoris. Those who knew him said that he died of a broken heart, that "all heart went out of him and his work when his daughter Jean died."

My favorite Mark Twain quote is the one to your right in the "About" section of the sidebar. In memory of one of America's best humorists (if not THE best), here are a few of my favorite Twain quotes:

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.

In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language.

Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.

The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

In religion and politics, people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Let us so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Back to the Future

After their devastating "defeat" in the last election, Democrats have done a lot of soul searching about the future of the party. Should they move more toward the center or try to attract the millions of Americans who voted for "none of the above" in the election? More progressive or more mainstream? More populist or more corporate? Should they work on "framing" the Republicans or re-examine the fundamentals? Here's an idea. Perhaps the Democrats should return to being the party of the people. As it turns out, the best blueprint for the future comes from the past.

Here's a nice, neat, clear, concise platform for the Democratic Party...

"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.

"The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

"The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.

"The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.

"The right of every family to a decent home.

"The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

"The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

"The right to a good education."

The architect of this grand vision? Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from his 1944 State of the Union address. He called this "a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Taypayers for a Day

United for a Fair Economy has an interesting report on the CEOs of the Wall Street firms that are pushing for Social Security privatization, "Taxpayers for a Day." As I'm sure you know, Social Security payroll taxes are capped at the first $87,900 of income. (In 2005, the cap was raised to $90,000.) These 26 CEOs, whose average salaries were $17.7 million in pay and bonuses in 2004, paid into Social Security for only four days. Seven of the 26 reached the earnings cap while you were still watching bowl games on New Year's Day. Certainly, they have the most to gain and the least to lose in a Social Security privatization scheme.

Other findings and figurings:

While 94 percent of workers effectively pay 12.4 percent of their annual income, including employer’s contribution, these CEOs pay an average effective rate of 0.16 percent of their annual income toward Social Security taxes (Social Security payments divided by total compensation).

An average “Joe” or “Juanita” taxpayer pays an “effective” Social Security rate of 12.4 percent. This is more than 200 times the effective rate paid by the average CEO in this group, which is 0.16 percent. We call this the “Joe-to-CEO” index.

Seven of the CEOs are “taxpayers for a day.” Their salaries were so high, they exceeded the $87,900 earnings cap in eight hours or less. These include the CEOs of Bear Stearns, Charles Schwab, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo/Strong Financial.

The lowest paid CEO among the industry group, Carl H. Lindner, earned $1,524,200 as chief of American Financial Group. He paid for Social Security taxes for 18 days.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Joke of the Week

The funniest, laugh-out-loud line of the week is from The Onion's What Do You Think?

The question is "In recent weeks, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has come under increasing fire from a number of important media and political figures. What do you think?"

"Colleen Bowers, Systems Analyst" answers: "I heard Tom DeLay's blood was in the water and the sharks were circling him, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a metaphor."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Condition Red

About a week and a half ago, I wrote up a little entry on the Millennium Assessment Report - about how us misguided humans were burning up our poor planet. Now, Mark Morford has tackled the subject in his own inimitiable way:

The Earth is going down. Way, way down. To the mat, hard and painful and with a sad moaning broken-boned crunch.

We are chewing her up, spitting her out, stomping and gobbling and burning and gouging and drilling and sucking her dry and we are carelessly replicating ourselves so goddamn fast we can't even stop much less even try to slow the hell down, and all we want is more and faster and with less consequence and pretty soon the Earth is gonna go, well, there you are, I'm finished, sorry, and boom zing groan, done.

Don't take my world for it. Just read the headlines, the latest major, soul-stabbing report.

It's one of those stories that sort of punches you in the karmic gut, about how they just completed this unprecedented, four-year, $24 million, U.N.-backed study involving 1,360 scientists from 95 nations who all pored over thousands of satellite images and countless scientific reports and reams of stats, and they all distilled their findings down to one deadly, heartbreaking summary.

And here it is: We, humankind, people, sentient carbon-based biped creatures, only us and no one else but us because it sure as hell ain't the goddamn lions or caribou or meerkats or rhododendrons, we humans have, in our shockingly short time on this wobbly sphere, used up a staggering 60 percent of the world's grasslands, forests, farmland, rivers and lakes.
That's right, 60 percent. Gone. Burned up. Used up. Much of it irreversibly. These are the basic ecosystem services that, simply put, sustain life on Earth. The glass ain't even half full, people. It's about three-fifths empty and draining fast and we are doing our damnedest to expedite the process because, well, this is just who we are.

We reproduce. We consume. We use it up and dry it all up and move on to find more and it reminds me of that line from Agent Smith in the first "Matrix" movie where he stares menacingly at Morpheus and speaks about how every mammal on Earth instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, "but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague," and then Morpheus gets all huffy and righteous and goes on to inspire Neo to prove how we are also full of beauty and fire and life and he makes it all better by saving humankind so we can go buy the mediocre soundtrack.

But it doesn't stop there. The study also reveals that our fair and gluttonous species has altered the planet more violently and rapidly in the past 50 years than in any comparable time in human history. Yay accelerated technology. Yay multinational conglomerates. Yay lack of corporate ethics and rabid unchecked capitalist consumer gluttony. Whee.

And you read this horrific story about how we are mauling the planet at an unprecedented rate and you ask yourself the obvious question: Our government is doing what about this again? Oh right: nothing. Not one thing. They are, in fact, making it all far, far worse. Worst environmental president in American history, you remind yourself. Whee.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Just Wondering?

I was just wondering...can we finally, at last, once and for all, stop calling them conservatives? And while we're at it, can we stop all the "popular president" nonsense as well?

"Holiday" by Green Day

Hear the sound of the falling rain
Coming down like an Armageddon flame (Hey!)
A shame - The ones who died without a name

Hear the dogs howling out of key
To a hymn called "Faith and Misery" (Hey!)
And bleed. The company lost the war today.

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies.
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives
On holiday.

Hear the drum pounding out of time.
Another protestor has crossed the line (Hey!)
To find the money's on the other side.

Can I get another Amen? (Amen!)
There's a flag wrapped around a score of men (Hey!).
A gag, A plastic bag on a monument.

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies.
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives
On holiday.

"The representative from California has the floor"

Sieg Heil to the president gasman.
Bombs away is your punishment.
Pulverize the Eiffel towers
Who criticize your government.
Bang bang goes the broken glass and
Kill all the fags that don't agree.
Trials by fire, setting fire
Is not a way that's meant for me.
Just cause! - just cause, because we're outlaws yeah!

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies.
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives.
I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies.
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives.
This is our lives on holiday.

Bush in the Vatican City

Wow! That title might make a good porno title, huh?

Well, they sent the Pope off in grand style. It wasn't on the order of the old Southern custom of sitting up with the dead, but was pretty special in its own way.

I was trolling around the blogosphere yesterday, and ran into this story at the DailyKos about President Bush getting booed at the Pope's funeral. I hadn't seen anything on Fox or CNN about this, so I was kinda curious. Like jmc who posted the story, I ran the Der Spiegel article through Google's translator to get the general gist of it. This is some of what I got for a translation...

Glaeubige whistle Bush out
It was a historical moment: As a first president of the USA George W. Bush participated in burying a Pope - despite its controversy with the Pontifex over the Iraq war. Gellende of whistles were to be heard, when on a large picture canvas a close-up became to transfer Bushs.

So now I'm really curious, and I'm sitting here wondering who I know that speaks German that can give me a quick translation. Well, there's a couple of my cousins who spent quite a bit of time in Germany courtesy of the good old U.S. Army, but who knows how to get in touch with them. Then I thought of Bruce Miller at Old Hickory's Weblog. He seems pretty proficient in German and a couple of other languages - he's alway's translating articles on his website. Maybe he'll help a fella out? A quick email exchange later, and I got this fine translation back (I'm assuming it's fine. I don't read German. That's why I needed the translation.)...

Believers boo at Bush
It was an historic moment: George W. Bush became the first President of the USA to attend the funeral of a Pope - despite his dispute with the Pontifex over the Iraq War. Shrill hoots could be heard when a closeup of Bush was shown on a large screen.

US President Bush brought a high-level delegation with him to Rome, which included his father George Bush, his predecessor Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Condoleeze Rice. At St. Peter's Square in rome, Bush had a seat in the second row of the special guests. The seats were assigned in alphabetical order according to the French spelling for the names of states. Next to Bush sat the French President Jacques Chirac. A separate delegation of the US Congress included around 40 members. The crowd in front of St. Peter's Square reacted to the large close-up with Bush's face with boos and hoots.

The US President combined his Rome trip with a visit to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. In it, he expressed anew his regret over the death of the secret servcie officer Nicola Calipari, as a spokesman for the White House announced. Calipari was killed a month ago from a shot by an American soldier, as he accompanied the released Italian hostage Giulani Sgrena to the Baghdad airport. The incident caused massive ill-will between Italy and the USA.
Bush also met together with American cardinals in Rome, who will participate in the selection of a new Pope beginning April 18. After the requiem, the US President began the trip home to Texas.

Bruce was even kind enough to explain some of the difficulties in translation and to offer some observations. Apparently the Google translator has trouble with "divided verbs," whatever those are.

Bruce took the time to talk about the Sgrena incident and the effect on Italian politics...

This article is a good example of how the European press offers perspectives that we don't hear enough in the US, but we should. The Sgrena incident (mentioned in the article) barely made it onto the American news radar long enough for rightwingers to denounce her as a lying commie. But the *conservative* Italian government - really conservative, the foreign minister heads the "postfascist" party descended from Mussolini's Fascist Party - was plenty pissed about the thing. US soldiers carelessly gun down their top security officer in Iraq and then put out a transparently phony press release about what happened. There were regional elections in Italy this past Sunday, and Berlusconi's party got clobbered. Of the three older EU members that most prominently backed Bush's war in Iraq, Aznar in Spain got turned out of office, Berlusconi's party isn't doing so well and this Sgrena incident showed how little regard this administration has for even its allies, and Tony Blair is down in the polls for the May elections.

Then he made this observation about a paragraph I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to...

The last paragraph was actually the most intriguing to me. What the [Cheney] is Bush doing meeting with the American cardinals? Lobbying for his favorite candidate for Pope? This is after his little stunt last year complaining to the Pope that some bishops weren't being supportive enough to the Republican Party. It reminded me of this cartoon; Bush is doing so many off-the-track things that he's making it tough for cartoonists to satirize him.

Up until John Kennedy got elected, Protestant fundamentalists here were worried that a Catholic President would allow the Church to poke its nose inappropriately into American politics. Now it's looking like the Protestant fundamentalist President is inviting them to. This should also be a lesson for the American Church leaders. Kissing up to the Bush and the Republicans may have its short-run benefits for their issues. But the Republicans expect payback for their help, too. I can't imagine that the thought was lost on the cardinals when Bush met with them.

I just think a meeting like that with an American President days before they will go into conclave to pick a new Pope was really inappropriate. Bush shouldn't have done it, and the cardinals shouldn't have agreed to it.

I got curious about the whole incident because 1) I hadn't seen anything about the incident in the American news mediaand we all know how thorough they are, right? and 2) the right-wing wingnuts are going around calling the Pope a real standup guy and claiming him as one of their own, like he and Bush were always in total agreement. Never mind the bitter denunciations they made of the Pope when he opposed Bush's Iraqi Adventure. Hindrocket and the other wingnuts at Power Line even launched into a tirade against the New York Times because they accidentally posted an unfinished story that had a note that they needed a positive quote from a supporter. Others were pitching a fit about the "liberal media" because CBS broke away from their Pope coverage to televise the NCAA Basketball Tournament that they paid millions for the rights for. Jeez, you couldn't get enough Pope coverage on the other 57 channels that were running the story?

Anyway, I sincerely thank you, Bruce, for taking the time out of your day to satisfy my curiosity about the article and for offering your insights.

Friday, April 08, 2005

An Eclectic Collection of Web Links

I was going to post this a couple of days ago, but I've been busy working on some computer problems. One of the big drawbacks of having one computer that everyone in the house uses is that you'll get it working great - just the way you like it, then someone will mess with a setting or something and screw everything up. Well, that's what's been happening. Someone (no one has come forward to confess yet) messed something up and I've been having problems getting online. AOL and Firefox suddenly don't get along. They lock each other up or something and suddenly neither program can use my cable connection. I still haven't fixed the problem (I think that might involve reinstalling Firefox), but I think I've at least learned what triggers it and how to work around it.

Anyway, here's some stuff that I've run across lately. Hope you check some of these out.

If they gave Academy Awards for short online animations. Delivery would get this year's best picture Oscar. This is amazing, incredible, wonderful, fantastic, etc., etc. Whatever you do, no matter how long it takes you to load it, do not miss this.

If you like new music and the thought of getting free MP3s of new music gets you all hot and bothered, Columbia University is conducting a Music Lab that might be what you're looking for. You'll get free music and help in their scientific research. Boing Boing has what it's all about.

Easter has come and gone, but the Easter Egg Archive is always in vogue. No, not the Easter Bunny Eggs. These are the hidden features and tidbits hidden in your favorite software, DVDs, and CDs. The Archive also includes hidden Easter Eggs in television shows, books, and art (they have a fairly liberal definition of an Easter Egg). Easter Eggs are intentional. There's a sister sight, Slip-Ups, that covers the unintentional.

New Yorkers don't have the best reputation out here in the fly-over states. I guess this comes from all the Yankee games they show on TV. Hey, they don't call Yankee Stadium "the Bronx Zoo" for nothing. Anyway, New York Press has assembled the worst of the worst, their list of the "50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers." Some are obvious, some...not so much.

I like to end these little lists with something kind of offbeat. "50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers" is close, but, as the announcer says in League of their Own, "Oh Mama, I have seen enough to know I've seen too much." Presenting for your amusement and edification...the blog of the Ultimate Warrior. Yes, that Ultimate Warrior - the professional wrestler. He should be updating pretty soon. His last entry is dated March 22 and deals with the Terri Schiavo tragedy. The blog is called Mind - part of the overall Warrior experience.

Our MBA President

An interesting trivial tidbit about President Bush: he earned a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School. He's the first president in history to have an MBA. One of his old professors, Yoshi Tsurumi, reminisces about Bush the student in the Harvard Crimson...

Thirty years ago, President Bush was my student at Harvard Business School. In my class, he called former president Franklin D. Roosevelt, Class of 1904, a “socialist” and spoke against Social Security, unemployment insurance, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other New Deal innovations. He refused to understand that capitalism becomes corrupt without democratic civic values and ethical restraints.

In those days, Bush belonged to a minority of MBA students who were seriously disconnected from taking the moral and social responsibility for their actions. Today, he would fit in comfortably with an overwhelming majority of business students and teachers whose role models are celebrated captains of piracy. Since the 1980s, as neo-conservatives have captured the Republican Party, America’s business education has also increasingly become contaminated by the robber baron culture of the pre-Great Depression era.

Bush is the first president of the United States with a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). Yet, he epitomizes the worst aspects of America’s business education.

So Bush was a trendsetter - a man ahead of his time. Of course, those modern business practices have influenced the policies of the Bush administration...

To privatize Social Security, he is peddling a colossal lie about its solvency. Furthermore, Bush, along with today’s business aristocrats, shows no compassion for working Americans, robbing them to benefit big business and the very rich. Last year, due to Bush’s tax cuts, over 80 of America’s most profitable 200 corporations did not pay even a penny of their federal and state income taxes. Meanwhile, to pay for his additional tax cuts for the very rich, Bush is drastically cutting back several social services, such as federal lunch programs for poor children.

But the grownups are in charge now. Surely this will all turn out to the good. After all, they're just implementing Adam Smith's laissez-faire theories. Right?

American economics study has increasingly become a pseudoscience of mathematical formula manipulation that is devoid of humanity. This economics has conquered America’s business education and become fused with the robber baron culture of greed supremacy. American MBAs are taught to treat ordinary employees as disposable costs and to swallow uncritically the gospel that corporations exist only to reward abstract stockholders. MBAs are taught the pretend-science of manipulating accounting, finance, employees, customers, and stock prices. Financial games and hostile takeovers of competitors are taught to accomplish corporations’ sole objective—to make money and manipulate stock prices. Such a mistaken view of corporations has caused the dismal decline of American auto manufacturers while Toyota and Honda widen their market shares and profits in America, pursuing their goals of expanding employment and technological innovations.

To justify the robber baron culture, America’s business educators and economists falsely cite their demigod of laissez-faire market economics, Adam Smith. Little do they know that Adam Smith in fact scathingly castigated Bush’s type of government: business collusion and unfair taxes, Wal-Mart’s exploitations of labor and communities, and robber barons’ hubris. Nowhere in his 900-page book, The Wealth of Nations, does Smith even imply that those who knowingly harm others and society in their pursuit of personal greed also benefit their society. He rejects the notion that a corporation exists to make money without ethical constraints.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Watching American TV in Iraq

At Baghdad Burning there's an interesting entry about the new onslaught of American media in Iraq...

Two years ago, the major part of the war in Iraq was all about bombarding us with smart bombs and high-tech missiles. Now there’s a different sort of war- or perhaps it’s just another phase of the same war. Now we’re being assailed with American media. It’s everywhere all at once.

It started with Voice of America and the other voices on the radio, telling them to lay down their arms and stay in their homes. Then there was Al-Hurra ("the purported channel of freedom") with their Arabic newscasts ("which is like watching Fox in Arabic"), and Al-Iraquiya ("Couldn't the PSYOPS people come up with anything more subtle?").

Then came the MBC channels which show American television shows...

We were introduced to MBC’s Al-Arabia- a news channel which was meant to be the Saudi antidote to Al-Jazeera. Simultaneously, we were accessing MBC’s Channel 2, which is a channel that shows only English movies and programs. The programs varied from talk shows like Oprah, to sitcoms like Friends, Third Rock from the Sun and Seinfeld...

The first time I saw 60 Minutes on MBC 4, it didn’t occur to me that something was wrong. I can’t remember what the discussion was, but I remember being vaguely interested and somewhat mystified at why we were getting 60 Minutes. I soon found out that it wasn’t just 60 Minutes at night: It was Good Morning, America in the morning, 20/20 in the evening, 60 Minutes, 48-Hours, Inside Edition, The Early Show… it was a constant barrage of American media. The chipper voice in Arabic tells us, “So you can watch what *they* watch!” *They* apparently being millions of Americans...

I’ve been enchanted with the shows these last few weeks. The thing that strikes me most is the fact that the news is so… clean. It’s like hospital food. It’s all organized and disinfected. Everything is partitioned and you can feel how it has been doled out carefully with extreme attention to the portions- 2 minutes on women’s rights in Afghanistan, 1 minute on training troops in Iraq and 20 minutes on Terri Schiavo! All the reportages are upbeat and somewhat cheerful, and the anchor person manages to look properly concerned and completely uncaring all at once...

We sat there watching like we were a part of another world, in another galaxy. I’ve always sensed from the various websites that American mainstream news is far-removed from reality- I just didn’t know how far. Everything is so tame and simplified. Everyone is so sincere.

Furthermore, I don’t understand the worlds fascination with reality shows. Survivor, The Bachelor, Murder in Small Town X, Faking It, The Contender… it’s endless. Is life so boring that people need to watch the conjured up lives of others?

I have a suggestion of my own for a reality show. Take 15 Bush supporters and throw them in a house in the suburbs of, say, Falloojeh for at least 14 days. We could watch them cope with the water problems, the lack of electricity, the check points, the raids, the Iraqi National Guard, the bombings, and- oh yeah- the ‘insurgents’. We could watch their house bombed to the ground and their few belongings crushed under the weight of cement and brick or simply burned or riddled with bullets. We could see them try to rebuild their life with their bare hands (and the equivalent of $150)…

I’d not only watch *that* reality show, I’d tape every episode.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Gloom and Doom

The recently released Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, conducted by 1300 researchers from 95 nations over four years, "reveals that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth – such as fresh water, capture fisheries, air and water regulation, and the regulation of regional climate, natural hazards and pests – are being degraded or used unsustainably." And the situation is just going to get worse. Fifteen of the twenty-four examined ecosystems are being damaged. Two ecosystem services - fisheries and fresh water - are degraded below levels to sustain current demands. The report warns that:

· Because of human demand for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel, more land has been claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined.

· An estimated 24% of the Earth's land surface is now cultivated.

· Water withdrawals from lakes and rivers has doubled in the last 40 years. Humans now use between 40% and 50% of all available freshwater running off the land.

· At least a quarter of all fish stocks are overharvested. In some areas, the catch is now less than a hundredth of that before industrial fishing.

· Since 1980, about 35% of mangroves have been lost, 20% of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% badly degraded.

· Deforestation and other changes could increase the risks of malaria and cholera, and open the way for new and so far unknown disease to emerge.

The report is unique in that it defines ecosystems by the services or benefits that humans derive from them. Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute says, "This report is essentially an audit of nature's economy, and the audit shows we've driven most of the accounts into the red." Professor Sir John Lawton, former chief executive of the UK's Natural Environment Research Council, says, "There will undoubtedly be gainsayers, as there are with the IPCC (the International Panel on Climate Change); but I put them in the same box as the flat-Earthers and the people who believe smoking doesn't cause cancer."

This ecological degradation is likely to be a serious impediment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals agreed to by world leaders in 2000. "Any progress achieved in addressing the goals of poverty and hunger eradication, improved health, and environmental protection is unlikely to be sustained if most of the ecosystem 'services' on which humanity relies continue to be degraded," the report states. The United Nations warned Monday that the Millenium Development Goals are already at risk - that poverty and urbanization, if left unchecked, could result in three billion of the world's inhabitants living in slums by the year 2050.

More information can be found at the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment website, the BBC, and the Guardian. The BBC has a special series, unrelated to the Millennium Ecosystems Accessment, called Planet under Pressure.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Say What???

From Friday's Akron Beacon Journal:

Analysis points to election 'corruption'
Group says chance of exit polls being so wrong in '04 vote is one-in-959,000
By Stephen Dyer
Beacon Journal staff writer

There's a one-in-959,000 chance that exit polls could have been so wrong in predicting the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, according to a statistical analysis released Thursday.

Exit polls in the November election showed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., winning by 3 percent, but President George W. Bush won the vote count by 2.5 percent.

The explanation for the discrepancy that was offered by the exit polling firm -- that Kerry voters were more likely to participate in the exit polling -- is an "implausible theory,'' according to the report issued Thursday by US Count Votes, a group that claims it's made up of about two dozen statisticians.

Twelve -- including a Case Western Reserve University mathematics instructor -- signed the report.

Instead, the data support the idea that "corruption of the vote count occurred more freely in districts that were overwhelmingly Bush strongholds.''

The report dismisses chance and inaccurate exit polling as the reasons for their discrepancy with the results.

They found that the one hypothesis that can't be ruled out is inaccurate election results.

"The hypothesis that the voters' intent was not accurately recorded or counted... needs further investigation,'' it said.

The conclusion drew a yawn from Ohio election officials, who repeated that the discrepancy issue was settled when the polling firms Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International disavowed its polls because Kerry voters were more likely to answer exit polls -- the theory Thursday's report deemed "implausible.''

Ohio has been at the center of a voter disenfranchisement debate since the election.

"What are you going to do except laugh at it?'' said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who's responsible for administering Ohio's elections and is a Republican candidate for governor. "We're not particularly interested in (the report's findings). We wish them luck, but hope they find something more interesting to do.''

The statistical analysis, though, shows that the discrepancy between polls and results was especially high in precincts that voted for Bush -- as high as a 10 percent difference.

The report says if the official explanation -- that Bush voters were more shy about filling out exit polls in precincts with more Kerry voters -- is true, then the precincts with large Bush votes should be more accurate, not less accurate as the data indicate.

The report also called into question new voting machine technologies.

"All voting equipment technologies except paper ballots were associated with large unexplained exit poll discrepancies all favoring the same party, (which) certainly warrants further inquiry,'' the report concludes.

However, LoParo remained unimpressed.

"These (Bush) voters have been much maligned by outside political forces who didn't like the way they voted,'' he said. "The weather's turning nice. There are more interesting things to do than beat a dead horse.''

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The "News" Media

Buzzflash has an interesting interview with Bonnie M. Anderson. She's the author of Newsflash: Journalism, Infotainment and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News, and a twenty-seven-year veteran of the print and broadcast news business. If, like me, you wonder just why and how the news media has gotten so awful, you should check this out. (Be sure to check out Part 2 also.)

Combined with Laurie Garrett's resignation memo to her Newsday colleagues on Poynter (it's two entries about halfway down the page, dated 2/28/2005 - sorry, can't link directly to specific entries), Anderson's book and interview paint a bleak picture of a business that puts the bottom line ahead of everything else, especially the public's right to know. As Garrett puts it...

All across America news organizations have been devoured by massive corporations, and allegiance to stockholders, the drive for higher share prices, and push for larger dividend returns trumps everything that the grunts in the newsrooms consider their missions. Long gone are the days of fast-talking, whiskey-swilling Murray Kempton peers eloquently filling columns with daily dish on government scandals, mobsters and police corruption. The sort of in-your-face challenge that the Fourth Estate once posed for politicians has been replaced by mud-slinging, lies and, where it ought not be, timidity. When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way.

Now the blue collar has been fully replaced by white ones in America's newsrooms, everybody has college degrees. The "His Girl Friday" romance of the newshound is gone. All too many journalists seem to mistake scandal mongering for tenacious investigation, and far too many aspire to make themselves the story. When I think back to the old fellows who were retiring when I first arrived at Newsday – guys (almost all of them were guys) who had cop brothers and fathers working union jobs – I suspect most of them would be disgusted by what passes today for journalism. Theirs was not a perfect world --- too white, too male, seen through a haze of cigarette smoke and Scotch – but it was an honest one rooted in mid-20th Century American working class values.

Honesty and tenacity (and for that matter, the working class) seem to have taken backseats to the sort of "snappy news", sensationalism, scandal-for-the-sake of scandal crap that sells. This is not a uniquely Tribune or even newspaper industry problem: this is true from the Atlanta mixing rooms of CNN to Sulzberger's offices in Times Square. Profits: that's what it's all about now. But you just can't realize annual profit returns of more than 30 percent by methodically laying out the truth in a dignified, accessible manner. And it's damned tough to find that truth every day with a mere skeleton crew of reporters and editors...

I have found America a place of great and confused fearfulness, in which cynically placed bits of misinformation (e.g. Cheney's, "If John Kerry had been President during the Cold War we would have had thermonuclear war.") fall on ears that absorb all, without filtration or fact-checking. Leading journalists have tried to defend their mission, pointing to the paucity of accurate, edited coverage found in blogs, internet sites, Fox-TV and talk radio. They argue that good old-fashioned newspaper editing is the key to providing America with credible information, forming the basis for wise voting and enlightened governance. But their claims have been undermined by Jayson Blair's blatant fabrications, Judy Miller's bogus weapons of mass destruction coverage, the media's inaccurate and inappropriate convictions of Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell and Steven Hatfill, CBS' failure to smell a con job regarding Bush's Texas Air Guard career and, sadly, so on. What does it mean when even journalists consider comedian John [sic] -- "This is a fake news show, People!" -- Stewart one of the most reliable sources of "news"?

In the Buzzflash interview, Anderson, when asked about her father who was executed in Cuba as an American spy, lays out what it's all about...

When I was five years old, my Dad was tortured--had the blood removed from his body prior to being put up against a wall--they wanted to use his blood for transfusions for some of the revolutionaries. I didn’t understand the impact of that, but I knew something was very, very wrong. As I grew up, I realized that, had there been a free press in Cuba at the time, there’s no way Fidel Castro and his regime could have gotten away with murdering, not just my Dad, but 20,000 others, and imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people because of their belief in democracy. I realized the importance of a free press.

With my book, I’m trying to remind people in this country that it can happen anywhere. We should value a free press. Support the media. Support investigations, whether they are uncovering something that is for or against the government you may like. It doesn’t matter. The point is that we need to nourish the free press. We need to nourish exchange of information and support the people who are doing it. We need to demand higher standards. We need to remember that news is not just a business. I’m not saying you can’t make money from it, but there is a higher calling here.

No other business has protection from the Bill of Rights--no other business. The media does. But along with those special protections comes a responsibility. The responsibility is to inform the public as best we can. And as U.S. citizens, it’s our responsibility to protect our First Amendment, and protect the rights we have, and not give them up because there is the threat of terrorism. Don’t give up your rights to privacy and your rights to a free press and your rights to speak freely. If we do that, we’re going to be marching down a very dangerous road. And unless you’ve been somewhere and unless you’ve lived someplace where you have lost all freedom of speech, where you have no ability to speak or publish freely, it’s hard to understand. I just don’t want people to learn the hard way, as I did.

Daylight Savings Time

Well, it snuck up on me. I glanced at my computer's clock and saw that it was about 1:50, then looked a few minutes later and it was suddenly about 3:10. Yes, it's that time of year again when we move the clocks ahead an hour (Spring forward, Fall back). If you're wondering how we got stuck with such a screwy method of timekeeping, here's some info.