Monday, February 18, 2002

Those $100 bills over Afghanistan won't go away
I can't believe I forgot that Reuters was also the service that reported that Al Gore misquote, "We have started a family restaurant in Tennessee and we are running it ourselves. It is a low-cost restaurant." The actual quote was "... we stopped at a little family restaurant in Tennessee. We were eating there by ourselves. It was a low-cost restaurant called Shoney's." Aside from the fact that Al seems to attract misquotes, I wonder if Reuters Nigeria (where Al spoke) and Reuters India speak to each other?

Now, more than ever, I wonder if those were real $100 bills. It takes a thousand good stories to make a reputation, and one bad one to break it.

(The best source for the two stories side-by-side is Mark Evanier's POV Online. Of course, you won't find the erroneous story at Reuters any more.)
I think I should answer my mail
..or, at least, draw your attention to some of the marvelous comments I've gotten.

Regarding the World's Fair, Jerry Lawson wrote:

Many years ago I had a 1939 Popular Science magazine, and it showcased the 1939 World's Fair in glowing detail.

That seemed like a marvelous time - and in retrospect, maybe it was. Coming out of the Depression, a message of hope and promise was needed - and that was certainly it.

Nowdays - the future is malleable. It's hard to imagine someplace (like a World's Fair) oriented towards displaying a future - even Disney has a hard time with it. Probably because what looked like 20+ years out is darn near yesterday's fad, and the technological changes are coming so fast that by the time you get a display designed to showcase them the next big thing is already showing up...

Here we are, in the future. Not what we expected, eh?

If I understand the term correctly, it�s what Alvin Toffler called �future shock�: the inability to cope with the ever-increasing speed of change. By the time a new innovation has hit the market, it�s obsolete.

It didn�t used to be that way � though few people now alive can remember living in a house without, say, a refrigerator, the wonder of the age that transformed the way we lived and shopped. Women would not now be concerned with the Glass Ceiling � or jobs at all � if the refrigerator had not come along. Procuring, cooking and serving food before it spoiled was a full-time job in the 1920s.

Computers are neat toys, but we don�t need them the way we need refrigerators.

This passage is from 1939: The Lost World of the Fair, by David Gelernter:

In 1939 technology�was not remote and esoteric. It was down-to-earth. And its achievements were heroic.

��At every turn,� writes a modern historian of the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, �fairgoers were bombarded with pamphlets urging them to make use of the latest scientific research in industrial laboratories to modernize their kitchens.�

It takes an intellectual to suggest that women had to be brainwashed into wanting electric kitchen appliances.

And this:

�Nowadays technical-minded people over thirty get a certain feeling when they contemplate a computer. They can visualize the vastly weaker machines of the past; when they do they are apt to experience full force, like a faceful of sunshine, the flat-out marvelousness of modern technology. In the fair�s age anyone over thirty might have experienced that same sensation whenever he looked at an electric socket.

I was talking about the campaign finance reform bill when Tom S. asked:

Can you explain why, if Shays-Meehan is nothing but Incumbent Protection, it has taken so long to pass and why it has been so strongly opposed? It seems to me that any bill that is IP would be passed without much effort or passage of time!!!

Well, that�s a good question. (I didn�t say it was �nothing but Incumbent Protection�. The most self-serving clauses are smothered and disguised in other verbage, as with most bills.) My own feeling is that some of our representatives won�t want to be seen to have supported it if it fails.

There�s also the issue that it won't take effect until after the midterm Congressional elections, when the Democrats expect to retake Congress (and they will call in every chit they can to make it happen). If it affected both parties equally, there would be less of a battle over it.

I mean, I�d like to think that some of our representatives are aware of the Constitutional issues involved, and recognize that it is a waste of everyone�s time to pass a law that the Supreme Court will toss out anyway. However, experience tells me that�s entirely too idealistic.

The Wall Street Journal, and John Fund in particular, have been particularly enlightening.

And then there was that flurry of $100 bills over southern Afghanistan. Redsugar wrote:

egads. that's swatting a fly with a hand grenade, isn't it? where is your average afghani going to exchange hundred-freaking-dollar bills? bin laden's the only guy in the country with that much money to trade in one go. "let them eat cake," huh? what happened to 10 fives? in more envelopes?

Oh, I don�t think they�d have any trouble finding anyone to take American money. They probably won�t get a fair exchange rate, but at 4250 Afganis to the dollar, they can afford to get taken by the moneylenders. (That may be why we dropped hundreds and not fives and tens.)

What bothers me is that the people who are confiscating the food we drop and selling it to the people we intended it for, are probably the same people who are going to charge 1000% commission to exchange dollars for Afganis.

I talked about the U.S. flag, and the TV critic who thought its "original meaning" was "I am a conservative Republican, and more American than you". Ron Butler replied:

Why should there be a 'remove by' date on U.S. flag pins if there is no such limit for AIDS ribbons, breast cancer awareness ribbons, violence-against-women ribbons, etc.?
Is love of country less enduring than those other causes?
Or is somebody hoping that -- with its visible symbols removed -- it will just quietly go away?

There do appear to be people in this country who don't love it unless it directly benefits them to do so. A quick world tour might help them learn that it does. Jerry Lawson wrote:

Another thing that saddens me about it, however, are those in the U.S. who insist on seeing the U.S. Flag as a symbol of oppression. I suppose it's how you view things - but if there were some sort of moral balance put on the actions of our country (and somehow symbolized by the flag) I would think that the things we've done wrong (and there's a good number) have been well outweighed by the things we've done right over the years.

There must be a few, the European Union to the contrary. "We really are one country, still, and that which unites us is, as ever, more important than that which divides us." Walkman said:

I couldn't agree with you more.
For me, I'm just glad that now there will be more than just my family saluting the flag when it passes by in a parade. It's about time.

And from the lovely Redsugar:

i was thinking this same thing a few days ago. it seems i'm the only one in my neighborhood with my american flag still up. like it was a pre-christmas decoration. i'm still tickled by the "united we stand" sign on the marquee of the thai restaurant up the street. everywhere else you go in the world, their flags are everywhere. they even have giant billboards with pictures of their leaders. and they have so much less to wave their flags about than we do...

(Emphasis mine.)
Redsugar, you're a girl after my own heart. Now you've made me go all misty-eyed.

Oh, by the way: I'm now a "Commuter blog stop" at Libertarian Samizdata, and proud to be so.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

Hurry!
Bookmark me if you ever want to find me again: I'm about to fall off the Blogs of Note list! Aieee! (C'mon, I know from reading my site stats that 96% of you click that link, take a quick look around, and leave forever. I'm OK with that. It's the other 4% I'm talking to...)
LATER: Too late, I just fell off... *thud*
Are you Addicted to the Internet?
Of course not. And I can prove it:

Are you Addicted to the Internet?

42%


Average@Internet-User.com (41% - 60%)
You seem to have a healthy balance in your life when it comes to the internet and life away from the computer. You know enough to do what you want online without looking like an idiot (most of the time). You even have your own Yahoo club or online journal! But you enjoy seeing your friends and going out to enjoy life away from your computer.

The Are you Addicted to the Internet? Quiz at Stvlive.com!

Actually, I do moderate three Yahoo groups...

Saturday, February 16, 2002

Friday Five
1. What was the first thing you ever cooked? You can actually remember the first thing you ever cooked? What, did you only start cooking last week? *Ahem* You mean, something more than warming up the contents of a can, I suppose. It would have been a variant on fried rice with Chinese vegetables.
2. What's your signature dish? Chess pie. I make a mean chess pie, if I do say so myself, almost as good as grandmother used to make.
3. Ever had a cooking disaster? (tasted like crap, didn't work, etc.) Describe. Frequently. Helpful tip: When the recipe says "evaporated" milk, don't use "condensed".
4. If skill and money were no object, what would you make for your dream meal? Reservations. (I cook because I must, not because I enjoy it.)
5. What are you doing this weekend? Working, as usual.

Friday, February 15, 2002

Just throw money
Back in early December, I mentioned a story from Gulf-News about afghans deliberately attracting American bombs in order to salvage the shell casings and sell them for scrap. At the time, I said:

Heck, why don't we just drop money? It'd be cheaper to drop a sack full of quarters, and we'd throw the local economy into utter chaos. I mean, more so.

Now Neal Boortz says we're actually doing that (I'm unable to find his source: Can anyone confirm?):

In the latest propaganda move by the US in Afghanistan, C-130 transport planes dropped envelopes over the southern part of the country. Printed on the envelopes was a picture of George W. Bush. Inside the envelopes were two $100 bills...that�s right, two one-hundred dollar bills.

Hundred dollar bills? Back to Bloomberg.com to get the current exchange rate...

Results: 200.00 US DOLLAR (USD) = 950,000.0000 AFGHANISTAN AFGANI (AFA)

Heck, call it a million. Can you imagine the effect this would have? I keep saying that they understand us even less than we understand them. They think that wars are won by the people who yell the loudest. Many of them still don't really comprehend that America is even involved in their country, or that anything we do could possibly matter to them.

And now we're dropping a fortune on them. Well, it's not a fortune to us (I know people who have blown $200 on a single meal), but it is to them. And Mr Boortz thinks this is a bad PR move because there's no message in the envelope? I'd say it's a pretty powerful message.

LATER: The Times of India reports it, crediting the story to Reuters -- but I can't find it at Reuters' web site.
LATER STILL: Who was that anonymous commentor? I don't know, but he left a silver bullet -- that is, a link to Yahoo India News' feed of the same Reuters story.
Hollywood Southerners
There was a time when it really bothered me that Southerners are stereotyped in the mass media, typically portrayed as people whose family tree doesn't fork, if you know what I mean. It took Dave Shiflett, writing for the new American Prowler, to put it in perspective:

Being thought of as backward, shiftless, provincial, conniving, and prone to violence can have its advantages. For instance, it keeps people like Robert Altman from moving into our hood, which is no small advantage. More to the point, being criticized by an industry known as a haven of self-absorbed, intellectually shallow greed-heads is not the most damning thing that can happen to a people or region.

I reckon so.

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Nothing up my sleeve
It's fairly obvious that the current Shays-Meehan version of Campaign Finance Reform is actually Incumbent Protection, and does nothing to remove the influence of money from politics. (But then, nothing can.) Aside from its subtler implications (of which one is described here), the prohibition of campaign advertisements that name names within 60 days of an election is blatantly unconstitutional. John McCain (who co-sponsored the previous attempt, McCain-Feingold) told Bill O'Reilly that the bill is phrased such that if parts of it are thrown out on that basis, the rest remains in force. This is supposed to make me feel better.

The only financial reform our elected representatives are interested in is reforming themselves into office and reforming as much money as possible into their own pockets. Repeat after me: "The foxes are guarding the henhouse."

I favor removing any and all restrictions on who may give money to whom -- with full financial disclosure. OpenSecrets.org is a great start.

More at Reason Online.
The world's worst flag
Okay, I had more to say. So sue me.

The highest-scoring flags all embody the five basic principles listed in NAVA�s upcoming publication on flag design, Good Flag, Bad Flag:
1. Keep It Simple (The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory�)
2. Use Meaningful Symbolism (The flag�s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes�)
3. Use 2�3 Basic Colors (Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set�)
4. No Lettering or Seals (Never use writing of any kind or an organization�s seal�)
5. Be Distinctive or Be Related (Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections�)

The new Georgia flag fails all five of these principles. I defy anyone, including Governor Barnes whose pet project this was, to sketch the five mini-flags at the bottom in their correct order on the flag -- which, by the way, is not chronological. Darned if I can figure out what order they're in.

Don't get me wrong. The flag needed to be changed.

I am not among those who thinks of the Confederate stars and bars as a Symbol of Slavery. (Those who have looked no further might find it enlightening to study the other issues behind the American Civil War. I won't deny that slavery was an issue: It wasn't the issue.) That doesn't really matter. The fact is that a significant percentage of the population of the State of Georgia, rightly or wrongly, were insulted and offended by the flag that flew over us. That is reason enough to change it.

But the pre-1956 Georgia flag was a lovely flag. The basic design also dated from the Confederacy, but it carried less baggage. What was wrong with it? Well, apparently, it was felt that it would have been seen as a capitulation to the SCLC. (It's represented: Bottom center on the yellow banner.)

But nobody seems happy with the new flag, so what was gained?

LATER: Photodude got there first. Twice. And Fark.com's contributors (use caution if browsing from work) know a sucky flag when they see one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Short takes
Life is hard when you're Miss America.

The fireplace on NBC's Olympics coverage set is fake. Well, of course it is, it's a set. No, it's really fake: It's a video monitor.

It's official: The current Georgia state flag is the ugliest on the continent, and it wasn't even close. Hey, let's go for the world title!

Wish I'd said it: People who say that money can�t buy happiness are just no good at shopping.

Monday, February 11, 2002

Stars and Stripes Forever...or at least for now
I guess America has "returned to normal", whatever that means, if people are arguing about this. John Carman, writing for the SF Chronicle, wonders how long Leno and Letterman are going to continue wearing flag pins. It's entertaining enough, for a while, but then it hits what is, for me, a massive speed bump:
"The pins have to come off sometime, if only because in another year or two, they will reclaim their original meaning: I am a conservative Republican, and more American than you."
Original meaning? Only if history began in 1968 at Haight Ashbury.

I'll admit I was disconcerted when flags started reappearing in massive numbers, in the most unlikely places, in the aftermath of 9-11. The news networks made it a part of their identification graphics and "bugs", and that really irks me. And "God Bless America" still looks out of place on the marquee in front of KFC.

Jeff Jarvis at "WarLog: World War III" summarizes some very good arguments for and against wearing one. This is one of those rare moments where Doonesbury actually gets it right, although as usual Trudeau backs into the message and nearly subverts it in the process. (For some reason the "real link" will not work for me: Perhaps this one will work for you.)
"You guys [meaning conservatives] hijacked the flag years ago, during the Cold War, especially the Vietnam era, turning it into a symbol of unquestioning, jingoistic nationalism."
No, Garry, nobody hijacked the flag. Sixties liberal philosophy spat at it, shat on it, and burned it. The right flew it because they could: You rejected it because they embraced it. It was your flag too, even then, but you didn't want it.
"Now it's back to being a symbol of patriotism and love of country, not a particular political agenda. So thanks for restoring it to ALL of us."
So now you want it again. Welcome back. We really are one country, still, and that which unites us is, as ever, more important than that which divides us.
Short takes
Okay, you people who have been Googling for "Mardi Gras 2002 Nude" for the last week (and I know you have, because you've been hitting my page, as incriminating as that sounds): Do you own a calendar? Mardi Gras 2002 is tomorrow. Nobody's gonna have any yet.

Finally, someone agrees with me about the pointlessness of grammar-school Valentine's-Day-exchanges. Why did it have to be Slate?

In the Salt Lake City Olympic opening ceremonies, did Bob Costas actually say "Here comes New Zealand, and there are no Hobbits marching in with them"?
It's a bad time to be a Britney Spears fan...
...what with every blog in creation linking back to that Weekly Standard parody. All those (not that) innocent fans, searching the web for fresh (un-) coverage (goodness knows information about, and photos of, Britney Spears are sparse on the web), and within the space of a week, their Google searches return dozens of these blog things, whatever they are, but there's nothing on 'em but text, and they aren't even about Britney Spears. Nude or otherwise.

Thank goodness I'm not playing that game.

Sunday, February 10, 2002

Bloggin' foole
Why is it I find John Dvorak's discovery of blogging to be mildly annoying, yet the Weekly Standard's wicked parody has me rolling on the floor? (Or ROTF LMAO, as we webdenizens say.) Both contain valid observations, good and bad, regarding the state of the art.

I think it's because the parody is so light-hearted, where Dvorak takes his subject matter, and himself, too seriously. I've seen the attitude in professional (that is, paid) writers before: Writing is a chore they perform because it beats honest work, but they derive no great pleasure from its practice. Thus, in a community where most of us are writing purely for the love of it, Dvorak is a visitor from another planet.

No insult meant: I've learned a lot from him over the years. It's just so rare that he chooses to address a subject that I know more about than he does (and I'm no expert), that it's a little off-putting when it happens. This piece needed a little more research and a lot less gravity.

Blogging is street theater, a juggler in the virtual park. It's Sunday morning punditry gone 24/7 and roll-your-own. And, yes, it's the next generation of vanity pages. Don't worry, John, the cat photos will be back soon enough. (There seem to be plenty at Photographica: Should we tell him?)

Saturday, February 09, 2002

All's Fair
Steven den Beste has a thought-provoking essay about Olympic competition, and its consequences for those who practice it.

It begins, though, with a brief discussion of World's Fairs, which is what I thought the comment would be about. It's saddening that the decline of this tradition doesn't warrant a whole essay in itself.

I'm fascinated by the 1939 New York World's Fair. (Apparently I'm not alone.) I'm not a collector of memorabilia -- but I would be if I could afford it.

The '39 Fair represented a peak of technological inspiration we spent the next fifty years trying to live up to. I find it all the more ironic that most subsequent Fairs left prominent landmarks behind, but very little remains of the 1939 Fair proper. The signature Trylon and Perisphere were torn down for scrap, for the War Effort, shortly after the Fair's closing. In a sense, though, the world we lived in from war's end through the sixties was the world promised us at Flushing Meadows in 1939.

But its dreams of the future, persuasive as they were, were eventually overrun by technology, which has a perverse habit of not developing the way its supposed to.

It may be that the construction of an intentionally short-lived theme park is less viable in these days of Disneyland, Six Flags, and Busch Gardens. Organizations who might have built a pavilion in New York in 1939, today sign a sponsorship / partnership deal with Epcot Center.

It may be that the world of the twenty-first century and beyond has easier, more cost-effective ways to celebrate itself. Part of what excites me about the Internet is that it may be one of those ways.
Why, I'm... outraged... outrageously outraged...
Since every other blog is saying it, too, I won't run on, I'll just say it and move on:

Our congressmen have no room to get sanctimonious in the ongoing Enron investigations, in light of their handling of our money (the consequences of which they diligently shield themselves from).

I love this.

Friday, February 08, 2002

Friday Five
1. What's the most romantic thing you've ever done for someone else? That's not for me to judge. I've never gone to a great deal of trouble to set up something romantic, if that's what you mean. However, I am the one who remembers our anniversary. And my wife seemed to appreciate the cartoons I used to draw on the envelopes of the letters I sent her back when we were in college. ("Why didn't you just e-mail?" There wasn't any such thing, youngster.)
2. [pardon the cosmo question] What are your erogenous zones? That's really a need-to-know kind of thing.
3. How old were you the first time you had sex? Care to expound? 18. As with so many first times, it was no one's finest moment. We decided to stay together anyway. It's 29 years later and we are still together.
4. What's the most unusual place you've ever had sex? I am hard pressed to think of any unusual place.
5. Do you have plans for Valentine's Day or is it just another Thursday? At this point, it's just another Thursday.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

Feeding the inner blog
Chris Taylor, Time correspondent, discovers how fleeting is fame: After one day in the number one most-linked-to position at Blogdex, the Time article in which he announced his blog plummets to... 2. (Of course, this link might just push him back up to #1. Sigh)

Meanwhile, your humble correspondent weeps at cruel fate (as he languishes at Blogdex ranking #13430, zowie, make it #11245, but who's counting).

"Time to do what all mainstream media types must do when ratings plunge. Celebrity nudes, anyone?" Worked for me.

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

In a small moment
This from the March Premiere magazine, describing the 2001 Oscars:

7:03 p.m.: While Randy Newman and Susanna Hoffs performed the nominated song "A Fool in Love", [Itzhak] Perlman and [Yo-Yo] Ma came into the backstage area and slowly climbed up the steps to the platform from which the two men would perform. Casually, unheard by anyone except a handful of nearby crew members, Perlman and Ma began to play along with Newman's song.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall...
Myself, the anti-intellectual
Arts & Letters Daily, a valuable compendium of popular philsophical thought, exposes me to viewpoints I might not otherwise consider. Take Mark Crispin Miller, for example, professor of media studies at New York University. In this essay, Miller divides the country into intellectuals and anti-intellectuals (no points for guessing in which category he places himself).

The categories themselves require further definition. At first I thought by "anti-intellectualism" Miller must mean that those who have not attained his degree of academic enlightenment have evaded it by specific intent -- that they are "anti-intellect", meaning opposed to thinking, convinced that excessive thought is, if not the root of all evil, at least not required in today's spoon-fed world of sound bites and weakest links.

As I continue reading, though, it becomes apparent that I misunderstand. By "anti-intellectualism" he means those who do not accept that his perspective is the correct one. He means people who disagree with people like him (who, being born of intellect and academia, are obviously of a superior breed).

In short, I realized with a start, he means people like me.

What really seems to have Miller's boxers in a bunch, it develops, is the treatment he received at the hands of Bill O'Reilly, on whose program he appeared last June as he was promoting his book, The Bush Dyslexicon. (Last June? Has this article been sitting on the shelf that long, or does Miller really hold a grudge?)

I have to wonder, though, why he bothered. Did he find out what O'Reilly was like in advance (somehow I suspect Miller does not regularly watch Fox News), conclude "I can take this guy" (or the academic equivalent), and prepare for the tactics he was likely to encounter? Or did he decide to "wing it" on a major national talk show?

If he believes what he says about the complicity of O'Reilly specifically, and Fox News in general, in promoting the image of Bush as a Real President (and I don't doubt that he does), did he really think six minutes' exposure to his presence would turn it around? Does he think that highly of himself? Or did he just assume he would look golden by comparison to O'Reilly because he's an Intellectual?

And if he had such a low opinion of Fox News' audience going into the broadcast, who did he think would be impressed by him?

The nature of the e-mails he received from Fox' viewers should not come as a surprise, but somehow, to Miller, they say so much more than they say. One man comments that he borrowed a copy, read it, and... well, he didn't like it. But Miller deduces that he couldn't possibly have read it; why, he wouldn't even know anyone who would have a copy, therefore he must be lying. And so, therefore, he "could not be said so much to hate it as to have despised the very thought of it." By the end of the paragraph, Miller is comparing GWB to Hitler, as a leader who commands this kind of loyalty from that kind of people.

"Anyone who flips out at the thought of personal analysis is really asking for it himself", Miller says, awash in unintentional irony. "Such venters tend to tell us more about themselves than any self-respecting person wants to know."

In this, Professor, we agree completely. I think that's a good place to stop.

UPDATE: Kayjay at Irving Place left a comment (Thanks!): She seems to think that the foul language and simplistic tone used in the e-mail Miller received (which Miller quoted, and I didn't) makes it clear that the writer hadn't read the book. I don't follow that, but as I consider it an unprovable point, I won't pursue it further.

In any case, I do not fault Miller for blowing off such "criticism". I fault him for using nuclear weapons where a flyswatter would do. I fault him for drawing the conclusion that anyone and everyone who disagrees with him does so out of ignorance, hostility and bias, and not for any intellectually acceptable reason. That is the textbook example of academic elitism. "I'm right, you're just jealous, nanny nanny." Does this argument work in academic circles?

Even if he had stopped short of equating Bush to Hitler (as Justin Slotman points out, the invocation of the spectre of Adolph Hitler is a well known "hallmark of a goofy argument"), it makes me question everything else he says, and does nothing to convince me that Miller has a valid point to make.

Monday, February 04, 2002

Good publicity?
Boy, I wish I could advertise my blog in Time magazine...

Seems that "real" journalists are joining the cutting edge in blogging, even if they won't call it that.

There are advantages for the individual journalist: Self-imposed deadlines with no printing delays. You write when you can, post it when you're ready -- and no editors. Well, "no editor" is really a mixed blessing: With no external fact-checkers, you'd better get it right, 'cause there's nobody but you to blame if it's wrong.

The trick is convincing someone to pay you for it...

[UPDATE: That wasn't a hint.]

[UPDATE 2: Chris Taylor of Time magazine mentioned me in his blog, the Daily Blah -- and my traffic shows about a 10% surge just from that exposure, so far. (I can tell because my counter tells me where you came from, but you regular bloggers know that.) I find this fascinating, and I hope he does, too. "This thing is getting too big. I never intended it to compete with anything..." Welcome to the blogosphere. If you can do it, someone else can measure it -- and will. Have fun.]

[UPDATE 3: Make it a 30% surge. But, "We are not competitors ...we are actually a resource for each other," as Perry de Havilland put it over on Libertarian Samizdata, and I agree. The blogosphere feeds itself: The more voices, the more interesting the mix.]
Why "they" hate us
That's it. That's exactly it.
Any ideology which can only survive through the suppression of foreign ideas is now doomed.

The small-time blogger from Georgia cedes the floor to the Captain of the USS Clueless. (It's not a description of the Captain, it's just the name of the ship.)

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Information wants to be free
It isn't often that technology news brings a smile to my face, but this article by James Fallows in The Atlantic does. (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for drawing attention to it.)

Perhaps the hundredth time you receive the same spam e-mail, you'll remember this article and be renewed with hope for the medium. If anything, you'll resent the spam more -- but at least you won't pull the plug and move to an island somewhere. I don't think any of the mailing lists I'm on could hope to accomplish anything so worthy, but it's nice to know one could.

Saturday, February 02, 2002

Happy Groundhog Day
A few friends and I were chatting about Punxsutawney Phil, the Official Groundhog, who apparently predicted six more weeks of winter this morning. Now they're going to ask him who'll win the Super Bowl. (No, I'm not kidding.) This is the first year they've been able to do that, since this is the first year the Super Bowl has been played after Groundhog Day.

From AP news via AOL:
"Officials prepared for larger crowds than normal because Groundhog Day fell on a Saturday, and concerns about rowdy drinkers coupled with the Sept. 11 attacks led to stepped-up security at Phil's home. For the first time ever, organizers sold all 38,000 bus tickets to the event."

[Emphasis mine.] Well, if an innocent groundhog can't waddle out of his den to find a little female groundhog action (what, you think he's looking for his shadow?), then The Terrorists Have Won.

(Insert your own joke here about OBL's al-Jazeera interview surfacing so close to Groundhog Day.)

Thirty-eight thousand tickets? To see a groundhog? (I wonder how many of those people were reporters?)

Here in Atlanta, we have our own groundhog, thanks: General Beauregard Lee, who makes his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, GA, near majestic Stone Mountain. This is the General's 22nd year, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And admission is free, so there, Phil.

But wait a minute. According to my sources, groundhogs rarely live longer than 8-10 years. (I can't believe I'm looking this stuff up.) There's obviously a scandal here waiting to be investigated. Either the General is a world record long-lived groundhog (if so, why not mention it in the publicity?), or they've been slipping ringers in all these years. Ah, the death of innocence!

Next I'll be looking at satellite photos of the North Pole trying to find a gingerbread cottage. Some things just shouldn't be questioned.

Friday, February 01, 2002

I read the news today...
Media Minded is the kind of blog I'd want to write if I actually had any newspaper experience (as opposed to talking through my hat with an unused journalism degree, which is what I am doing). (By the way, the mystery person behind Media Minded says that the New Orleans "Times-Picayune" is "perhaps the greatest newspaper name in history". Personally I'm partial to the now-changed, unintentionally-honest Chattanooga "News-Free Press".)
Friday Five
1. Have you ever had braces? Any other teeth trauma? No braces: My teeth were within tolerances. I was always told that my parents signed me up to play trombone in the school band because the mouthpiece would correct whatever slight overbite I had. Either it's a baldfaced lie, or it worked.
Now, as to teeth trauma, you so do not want to go there. I hate dentists. Nothing personal. Every visit is trauma. Even if it's just a cleaning, I get so tense that I must schedule them such that I never have to go back to work after a dentist's appointment. When I was little I bit and fought the dentist (so my mother tells me). He sent me home with a sedative for mom to give me, then bring me back when I was too groggy to fuss. I have always hated going to the dentist.
2. Ever broken any bones? Broke a finger doing something stupid. (Playing on a broken trailer, if you must know.) No, not that finger. My left ring finger.
3. Ever had stitches? Once, when I stepped on a tent stake.
4. What are the stories behind some of your [physical] scars? Well, scars from 2. and 3. above are still visible, but I have no scars that have deep and complicated pasts. Why should they? I don't. I have a scar on my shin where hair doesn't grow that I have no idea where it came from. I hope I was having fun. Goodness knows what I'll find on my head when what's left of my hair departs. (Aargh.) I remember once waking up in my grandmother's bed with a goose-egg on my head, but I don't remember the actual fall off my bicycle.
5. How do you plan to spend your weekend? What is this obsession with weekends? Make every day count, not just the weekends. I hope to spend it working on scripts, voice tracks, and web page updates for my radio theater. (And watching the rest of my Buffy DVD set.)
Plaigarism?
MSNBC is using the "Smart, sharp, and a little bit sexy" tagline to advertise... Chris Matthews? (Okay, I'm cheating. The commercial begins just like That CNN Promo, except that when we get to "A little bit sexy?" the response is "Look somewhere else.") So it's okay to call someone "sexy" in a commercial -- so long as they're not? No, wait, I get it. It's okay to acknowledge that some people might be sexy so long as it's not presented as a reason to look at them. Hm. Doesn't make sense that way either. Oh, it's a joke, that makes it all right.

So, a priest, a minister, and a rabbi are in a rowboat... What?

Thursday, January 31, 2002

Thanks, Ev!
I realize that many of you are finding me from the "Blogs of Note" list at Blogger.com, and I appreciate it. If anything you've seen here has amused or provoked thought, that's all I'm after. But as I watch myself slide down the list, I feel I should remind you to bookmark me if you want to be able to find me again. If not, well, it's been good to see you.
Please, don't make me defend Bill Clinton
What's this? Why isn't anyone talking about this?
Bill Slams Arafat For Failed Peace
Former President Bill Clinton drew praise from the White House yesterday after defending U.S. policy in the Middle East and laying the blame for the failure of the peace process squarely on Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.
..."If you want America to be more critical of Israel when they do specific things we disagree with, there's only one thing you have to do: Get everybody over there to affirm Israel's right to exist," Clinton said.
You go, Bill!

What am I saying?!?
Bill Fires Back At U.S.-Bash Powwow
...Clinton's presidential foundation co-sponsored the gathering of Islamic experts at NYU Law School, at which several panelists blasted the cozy relationship between the United States and Israel.
The former president delivered the opening remarks at the day-long forum, titled "Islam and America in a Global World," and had not intended to speak again.
...Clinton couldn't sit by idly. At the end of the two-hour session, he rose to his feet, took the microphone, and launched into an unscheduled 15-minute defense of American foreign policy with regard to Israel and the Arab world.
The former president also blamed the Palestinians for balking at peace in the Mideast...
Who is this guy, and where was he from 1992-2000?
They can't all be gems
Sometimes you just have to admit you don't have anything to say. This is one of those times. So many of the topics that dominate the best-known blogs just aren't doing it for me today.

Enron? I have little interest in watching Democrats with pockets full of Enron money try to pin Cheney. Do I have this straight? They suspect that the President didn't do anything because he'd received so much money from Enron that it would look like quid pro quo. That accusation is so slippery I can barely keep it in my head. Would it have been OK if the President had helped a little?

(Oh, and guys? It's too late to sanctimoniously give back your Enron campaign funds.)

Academic plaigarism? Sorry, Insta-, Quasi-, Daily-, and whoever else. It seems like a lot of fuss over a few misplaced -- or unplaced -- quotation marks. (Now, if my own work were stolen, that would be important...)

Bellesiles? I really want to get worked up over outright distortion of facts in order to promote an agenda, and the subsequent cover-up by a major university and a news organization that pretends to be "public", but there are so few surprises in this that it doesn't hold my attention.

Geraldo just said the Arab street considers the President's State of the Union address to be "bellicose". Wow. No moss growing in the Mideast, is there? There's no sneaking anything past crusading... oops, I mean, hard-hitting investigative reporters, is there? I mean, we've only had these countries on our "naughty" lists for how many years now? (Does moss grow in the Mideast?)

Rosie O'Donnell is gay? Who knew? You mean she's both gay and not funny? Ellen deGeneres doesn't have that niche to herself any more?

Even my favorite guilty pleasure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has let me down, with an hour that, except for Willow's excommunication of Amy, must be the worst episode of this series ever.

And am I the only person who's noticed that Alan Keyes sounds like Kermit the Frog?

Maybe I should just eat something and take a nap. I'm sure I'll feel better then.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Toss me the Keyes
Brendan Nyhan thought I might be interested in his American Prospect article about Alan Keyes' new MSNBC show, the name of which I can't say with a straight face. (Ever since Bill O'Reilly called it "Alan Keyes is Changing Clothes", I just get a giggle fit every time I think of it...) (Brendan also sent me a link to another detailed analysis of the series thus far.) You were right: I am interested.

I only mentioned Dr Keyes in passing as an interesting punctuation mark -- of what kind, I'm not sure -- to the flurry of talent poaching among the 24/7 news networks. I said that MSNBC had "elevated the average IQ of the room", and I stand by that. Keyes seems to think the viewing public will sit still for an hour-long program with a common thread throughout (other than bombing Afghanistan, I mean), and such a bold experiment deserves time to gel. As Brendan said, "Keyes finds a moral question related to an issue in current events, asks his panelists for their views, and then suggests a conclusion based on the principles articulated. That conclusion then becomes the focus of debate for the remainder of the show."

At that rate, we might begin to inch beyond "democracy good, bin Laden bad." Keyes says he thinks people are smart enough to manage it. I agree.

Back when there were only three networks, and even the largest cities only had four or five channels, it wasn't that unusual for the news divisions to borrow a prime-time hour for an extensive treatment of a single subject. How interesting that now, when broadcast journalists have all the time they could possibly need, they typically pack an hour with six short segments that barely get around to stating questions, let alone approach an answer. No wonder Jay Leno passes for reasoned political discourse: He has fewer guests, and spends more time talking to each of them. If for no other reason than that, I'm rooting for Alan Keyes' experiment to succeed.

About the sweater thing (I'm sure Alan Keyes is reading small-time blogs for fashion advice, doesn't everyone?): Yes, for those who haven't seen the show, Keyes does change into a comfy, non-threatening cardigan sweater for his "People Just Like You" segment. That's not the silly part. The silly part is that he begins the show in a normal suit jacket, changes into the sweater for the one segment, then changes back into his suit jacket for the remainder of the show. The illusion of television is that all this stuff Just Happens, and the camera Just Happens to record it for our entertainment. The sweater thing is too artificial, too calculated, too obvious: It shatters the illusion. Start the show in the sweater and stay in it throughout, or lose it. Or close the flippin' window behind you, in the set wall.

Or do the show in a golf shirt with the MSNBC logo on the breast pocket, if you want. Changing clothes in mid-program just draws attention to the showmanship, and away from the intellectual content (though I don't always agree with Keyes, at least he's trying to raise the bar).

Oh, and there is one other trend I'm happy to see Keyes avoid: So far, most of his guests have actually been physically present in the studio with him. Have I mentioned how annoying I find multiple split-screens full of talking heads pretending to make eye-contact with each other? Ah, I remember the good old days, when talk show hosts and their guests used to be in the same room...

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Thanks, I think
I'm part of Jay Zilber's Legion of Essential...Pets?

Well, I'm there with the entertaining Insolvent Republic of Blogistan, so it can't be too bad a thing. I'll take it as a compliment. (Time to break out the animal totem I use in print and put it in my blog header. Stand by...)

And Little Green Footballs lists me among the Anti-Idiotarians, and I won't turn that label down either. I only wish I'd thought of it first.

[UPDATE: Don't write to explain it to me: I'm a comic-book reader from wa-a-ay back. I "get" the hierarchy of "Legion of Essentials" / "Legion of Substitute Essentials" / "Legion of Essential Pets" (I had explained it, but I figured, who am I to spoil it if Jay doesn't want to? So I've removed the explanation. *phththtp*), and I really am pleased to be included.]

Friday, January 25, 2002

They (still) don't know us very well, do they?
Believe me, you're not getting half as tired of me saying this as I am getting.

Our international friends think Americans are arrogant. They haven't heard the half of it. Get a load of this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Can you beat that? We think our rights apply to every human being on the planet! How arrogant is that?

Okay, maybe I'm being silly. But we Americans take those words seriously, and you won't understand us unless you understand them, and believe that we believe them.

All America really wants is to live in its own way. We think most people feel the same way. We've no interest in owning Afghanistan. We're not in the colonialization business: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, don't want to go back. We like our way of life, and that steady stream of immigrants would seem to indicate that a lot of other people prefer it, too. We think Afghanistan would like it if they tried it, but it's not our place to force it on them.

God knows we don't want to rule the world. It's really nothing to us how the rest of you want to run your countries, so long as you can continue to do business like adults, and so long as our people are safe when they're in your country doing business with you. We'd really rather you didn't slaughter your own people, but when it comes down to it, the only thing we really have a right to do about it is to stop doing business with you. "Play nice or we'll take our checkbook and go home." For most of you that seems to be incentive enough.

Those rights I mentioned -- you know, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness? -- apply to you, too. You have the right to live however you want. Right up to the point you start shooting at us.

The Great American Rulebook is right there where anybody can see it. Check it out.
Watch where you point that thing
The Saudis respond to the Americans' decision not to require their female personnel to wear the abayah while they're out and about:

"If some American women want to deliberately challenge our local customs, then you'll see a clash, especially with the mutawaeen," he said, referring to stick-wielding religious police who roam Saudi streets to enforce Islamic codes.

Not meaning to be too bellicose for our Saudi friends, but I think the first mutawaeen who lays a stick on USAF Lt. Col. Martha McSally (whose lawsuit prompted the change in policy) will need both hands to retrieve it from where she puts it.

Or is that insensitive of me?
Friday Five
Since I neglected to answer the Friday Five last week, I'll double-up now. If this gives you an idea of who the person behind the blog is, it's done it's job.

Last Week:
1. What do you have your browser start page set to? My Yahoo.
2. What are your favorite news sites? You mean other than My Yahoo? The main reason I read so many blogs is because they do a better job of sorting out the news I want to see than any of the "real" news portals do.
3. Favorite search engine? Google.
4. When did you first get online? Before you were born. :)
5. How do you plan to spend your weekend? Assembling the APA (amateur press alliance) mailing I edit.

This Week:
1. What cologne or perfume do you wear? None.
2. What cologne or perfume do you like best on the opposite sex? None. Thanks to a childhood addiction to nasal spray, I can't smell it anyway.
3. What one smell can you not stomach? Tobacco. It's the one smell that I can almost always detect, even in traces.
4. What smell do you like that others might consider weird? Malt vinegar. When I order fish and chips, I load it up with malt vinegar until I can smell it. By which time everyone at my table, and probably at adjacent tables, can smell it too. (See above.)
5. How do you plan to spend your weekend? Preparing for an ARTC meeting.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Ooh
Very sorry for the lack of updates this past day or so. I'd like to say I was hypnotically captured by this page, but in fact it was a much more mundane lack of sleep and spare time. I'll get better soon, I promise.

In the meantime, in between X10 ads, take a look at these: Wallace and Gromit news, and a checklist of Bush campaign promises.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Test pattern
Yesterday I was commenting that the big reason the rest of the world doesn't understand America is that they (like us) believe what they see on television. And what do they see on television? American escapist entertainment, peopled by characters who never existed and never could.

As I was sitting stunned today over how many page hits I've gotten from that (thanks, Steve and Glenn! I wish I could return the favor), I was thinking that the point probably deserves more exploration than I gave it...

...and it hit me. Epiphany from a cathode ray tube. Now I understand. Silly me, I was thinking "Friends" and "Survivor", but those are too new. America's image problems are far older than that. Now I know who they think we are.

The Beverly Hillbillies.

We tripped over an oil well and fell into a mansion. Such wealth and power as we have, we have by accident, and we are largely uncomprehending of it. The best that can be said of us is that we are well-intentioned.

In the Bush family's case, they may even think it's literally true. Certainly our domestic Democrats appear to think so: They have expressed their opinion of George W.'s intellect in terms that suggest he might have a tough time keeping up with Jethro Bodine.

There's the evil Republican banker, Milburn Drysdale (can anyone doubt he is a Republican?) scheming to retain control of the Clampetts' money. And the dour Democrat, Jane Hathaway, Drysdale's sounding board and conscience.

Hm. This is getting a little too close for comfort. I need to go relax by the cee-ment pond.
The News War
In any business, there are two basic approaches to growth: You must either find consumers who aren't yet being reached by your product, or win consumers away from your competitors. Grow the market, or grow market share. Most businesses do both, to some degree. Some are forced more towards one or the other strategy by their particular market.

Take soft drinks, for instance. In the United States, especially in retail areas, it's hard to find a place worth calling a place where there's no cola machine of some kind. There are no American frontiers where colas can't be had. Thus, if a soft-drink bottler is to grow its domestic business, it must do so at the expense of some other beverage.

Which brings me to cable news, a fizzy and frothy mess if ever I saw one. I can't seem to find who said this, so I apologize for stealing this insight, but it's so darned true: In the absence of any real news from the Front, the continuing machinations of the cable news channels are the best show in town.

It's old news by now (so to speak) that the CNN brothers are redesigning their respective "looks", not-so-subtly copying what they perceive to be the Fox "look". It's also old news, and I think a near-universal opinion, that whoever is responsible for the busy design of the new CNN Headline News should be shot. Or, at the very least, forced to watch it. At length. (Is it true that picture-in-picture-capable televisions implode when the viewer tunes to CNN-HN? And does anyone watch CNN-HN for local weather coverage?)

The flaws at CNN are more than skin-deep. They knew that: That's why they laid off so many of their staff early last year. It was an exodus so dramatic that it inspired its own web site, Ted's Turnovers, to chronicle the ongoing downward spiral of CNN. (Ted's Turnovers was an entertaining site, while it lasted: They're closing down, but even their goodbye message is worth a read.)

They ditched some of their senior news-gathering and reporting staff in order to hire actress Andrea Thompson, implying that they think their problems all stem from not being pretty enough. Just the right move to revive the form vs content argument, driven by ever-more-vocal viewers with a new medium in which to express their skepticism (this one). Unrepentant or deaf -- or perhaps, correctly judging their audience -- they just acquired lovely Serena Altschul from MTV as well.

The issue was brought to a boil by Paula Zahn -- not her, and not her jumping networks from Fox to CNN, but CNN's marketing. Specifically, That Promo, which aired on a smirking Fox's news programs more often than it actually aired on CNN. Oh, I believe them when they insist it was actually a needle scratching across grooves, not... what you thought. I'm sure that's what the sound effects CD said it was. It almost doesn't matter.

Do you think Zahn would have approved of the spot without the sound effect?

Who did approve of it, anyway? Nobody edited it, nobody produced it, nobody previewed it, it Just Happened. Spontaneous television. As if the Air Itself couldn't contain its enthusiasm for Paula's, er, credentials. Doesn't this raise some interesting questions about everything else that airs on CNN? Shouldn't it? (Has anybody else noticed that none of the news networks run production credits?)

The Truth about Television: Pretty people get preference. (Duh.) Andrea, Serena, and Paula all have something that Peter, Dan, and Tom don't have. This is the elephant in television's bedroom, the thing that controls everyone's decisions that no one dares speak of. (Of course, Peter, Tom and Dan have job security. Andrea, Serena, and Paula only have jobs until their credentials begin to sag. But there's always another Laurie Dhue waiting in the wings.) (I just heard: Connie Chung to CNN? How can she be a "higher-profile personality" in need of a "huge visibility boost"?)

Meanwhile, Fox News is facing a crisis of its own. Now, I believe Roger Ailes when he says he's trying to live up to his network's motto, "Fair and Balanced". But his argument is being refuted by his own listeners, who are protesting (in large numbers and with strong language) his recent hires, known liberals Geraldo Rivera and Greta van Susteren.

And we mustn't count MSNBC out, either. After watching the other two poach each other's talent (using the word loosely), MSNBC has clearly elevated the average IQ of the room by landing Alan Keyes to a weeknightly hour, "Alan Keyes is Making Sense," a silly name for a potentially fascinating show. Keyes will have the 10:00pm hour opposite the charisma-free Aaron Brown on CNN and van Susteren on Fox. Between that and his lead-in from current hot property Ashleigh Banfield (who has really bloomed as a correspondent in the last six months, with or without, ah, credentials), Keyes just might collect a significant audience by default.

And if he does, I'll forgive him for borrowing my color scheme for his show graphics.

Monday, January 21, 2002

The Holy Constitution
Steven den Beste has had the courage to suggest that, just maybe, it was through our own actions (and those who came before us, who built the nation whose blessings we enjoy) that America has come to be the only superpower left standing as the 21st century begins.

Predictably, overseas observers don't like to hear that. They think that we should adopt such policies as they ask of us, without regard to the proven failure of those policies elsewhere. They are not too proud to accept our money, but they would rather we recanted the activities that result in our having the money to spare. (They don't seem to have thought much about where they would be if we had the same "success" with their policies that they have had -- but there is in the world a class of people who think that money Just Happens, that our national wealth is due to luck, no more. Get a clue: It isn't luck.)

And in particular, they don't understand our insistence on national sovereignty, our failure to yield to the United Nations on key issues, in service to our own Constitution.

When den Beste explained to a correspondent that our elected officials swear to uphold the Constitution, he responded:
Then it's time to change. The Constitution can't be holy, can it?
To which den Beste asked:
Do Europeans really understand America so little?
They don't understand us at all. It's easy to forget that, since so much of America spreads throughout so much of the world, courtesy of our mass media. However, that doesn't reflect who we really are. We're aware of this unreality at home, as we watch "Friends" and "Survivor", but we forget that this is what the world sees of us.

America is so diverse that there are plenty of observers here to tell us that we don't understand the rest of the world. I'm not here to dispute them. But who's going to tell the rest of the world who we really are?

We've entered into a contract with ourselves: We call it the Constitution. It defines what we need a central government for; it defines the powers we've granted it, and the conditions under which it can exercise those powers. Other than that, we're on our own. We are 300 million sovereign entities, who choose to hang together for each other's common good. (Well, that's the theory. By and large, it works.)

We are a nation that has reasoned itself into existence. (I wish I could remember who said that first.)

Of course we look chaotic. We are chaotic. We have taken that freedom into our own hands. We choose to be, what was that word, "undisciplined", because it allows each of us to live our lives in our own way.

They think that's a weakness. It is, in fact, our greatest strength. And when the contract is threatened, that strength shows. We come together in our own common defense with a speed incomprehensible to foreign observers, because that contract -- the Constitution, and its various ancillary documents -- defines what happens, who does it, and who's in charge of what part of it.

The contract hasn't been threatened this badly since the American Civil War. And much as I wish that 9/11 hadn't happened, it's been a joy to see just how well that contract is defended.
We will fight World War III before we will let foreigners rewrite the Constitution or take away our rights.
Damn straight, Steven.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Anybody can be President
Christopher Hitchens, writing for the Observer, has created the funniest, most savage deconstruction of liberal hatred that I've seen in a long while.

You know the funniest part? I don't think he meant it to be funny.

I'll take the time to puncture one balloon, then move on: Hitchens said that President Bush "failed by a good margin to collect a majority of the popular vote". This, even allowing for partisan bias, is flatly wrong. Even a casual glance at the election returns reveals that what we had in November 2000 was a statistical tie. If there is a flaw in our electoral procedures, it is that our methods of resolving such a situation are slow and deliberate, not at all suited for 24/7 television coverage.
The Devil's Music
I do not share Justin Slotman's (at the Insolvent Republic of Blogistan, and what a great name!) enthusiasm for Peter Bagge, whose cartoons appear at Reason Online. ("The greatest comics mind of his generation"? Even good work looks mediocre when introduced with such hyperbole.) Nor am I a listener, nor yet a detractor, of contemporary Christian music. However, I found Bagge's overview / history to be well worth the time.

You may be annoyed, as I was, that Bagge is so creeped out by the calmness, politeness, and patience of Christian audiences. (He says it like it's a bad thing.) You may find yourself puzzling, as I did, whether that remark about VeggieTales was a compliment or not. But the end of the story, most especially the final panel, makes the journey worth the trip for me.