Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's Not Blog Amnesty Day Around Here

Image credit:

Somewhere in the world, it's Blog Amnesty Day, which is about the dumbest name I could think of for what this event is, particularly since it's no longer just a day. One of its originators, Skippy The Bush Kangaroo, explains how it's supposed to work:

the basic rule for blogroll amnesty day weekend is simply this: take a moment to write a post linking to (and pointing out to your readers) 5 blogs w/traffic smaller than yours. this inclusive and magnanimous yet easy-to-do gesture will not only expose your readers to new voices and those voices to new readers, it will foster a sense of community, support and all-around kumbaya amongst the progressive infrastructure.

b.a.d. days are here again!

They've also chosen an unfortunate acronym, since I, for one, am not linking to bad blogs. Unfortunately, things already start to go off the rails by the end of this paragraph. Nothing makes me eager to don a hockey mask and start up the chainsaw like all-around kumbayas. If that were the worst of it, though, I'd probably go along.

As one of my honorees, Earth Bound Misfit points out, some of these rules are rather difficult to follow:

[H]ow the frak is anyone supposed to tell, unless the blogger has a public traffic count widget? Beats the hell out of me. I do try to pay attention to where people came from and reciprocate if they've linked to me.

Blogroll Amnesty Day

I labor under an additional constraint, which is that I have a hard time imagining a blog that gets significantly less traffic than this one. Oh, wait, they've covered that one, or so they think:

Small and newbie bloggers please be aware of the ironclad rule that you are not allowed to make "hey no blog is as small as mine" jokes regarding Blogroll Amnesty Day. The rule is, straight from the queen of the indy blogs herself (ahem), that you are not allowed to complain or mention your blog's low traffic until you have been posting daily for a year. If you're little, link other blogs that are new or still growing their audience, and encourage them to practice their craft daily. Then, show them how.

Blogroll Amnesty Day is next Tuesday. STEAL THIS VIDEO.

No complaining? Just what in the world do you think a blog is for? Besides, it's not complaining, it's self-effacing humor. Learn to tell the difference.

This is what happens when too many people are allowed to contribute to an idea. Before long, it's "I don't like seafood, so no mention of fish". I'm not even going to bother to read Jon Swift's rules. B.A.D. is already way more complicated than it has to be.

This is a good idea even if certain details of it suck, so I'm starting a tradition that I'm going to call "Who Names Something Like This 'Blog Amnesty Day', And People Who Don't Like My Attitude Can Kiss My Furry Butt Day". Call it "Not Bad Day" for short. Here are some blogs you should check out:

  • The aforementioned Just An Earth-Bound Misfit, in which Comrade E.B. Misfit delivers interesting commentary on a variety of issues that are about as eclectic as you find on this blog.

  • NP's Coffee-Stained Writer is a good place to go if you want to learn what people go through to become writers, which is what she's trying to do.

  • Over at Outta The Cornfield, One Fly's generally got something interesting going. His areas of specialization are Colorado, the various wars we're in, and the ever popular stuff that pisses him off.

  • Efrique's Ecstathy, is a collection of interesting analyses of the often irrational way we use mathematics in public discourse. Think of it as Numb3rs for people who don't watch television.

  • Of course, I couldn't make a list like this without plugging my blogging friend and LOLWars adversary Dana Hunter. Her blog En Tequila Es Verdad features buttloads of snark and seriousness about politics, science, and writing. It gets way more traffic than SnS does, but she's only been writing that blog for a year or so. Besides, around here it isn't Blog Amnesty Day, so I can do whatever I want.

The best part about "Not Bad Day" is that there are no rules, except that you should list five blogs that you like reading that you figure not enough of your readers are reading. So if I've linked to you, then you don't have to feel any obligation to link back. Hell, I don't know what I'd do if you did. I might have to get another digit added to my hit meter. Who needs all that bother?

On the other hand, if I've misstated or misrepresented your blog in some way, feel free to complain.

UPDATE: Courtesy of Hope at Deep Confusion, who ironically, found out about this link from Jon Swift, here's a sixth link for you to peruse: Fuck You Penguin. It's a wonderful collection of faux-dysfunctional rants about pictures of animals. Like certain video entertainment, you'll either get it or you won't.

This Question I Can Answer

The other day, dakine asked this in a FireDogLake diary:

I have a question for the members of the Congressional Blue Dogs Coalition. Why are you a Democrat? I ask this of Mike Arcuri. If I were still living in Rome, NY, you would be my Congressman. I ask this of Ben Chandler since you represent the district in Kentucky that I grew up in and where I first voted. I ask this of Heath Shuler and Jane Harmon; of John Salazar and Loretta Sanchez. I ask this of all members of Congress who claim this name for themselves.

Why are you a member of the Democratic Party?

Question for Blue Dogs: Why Are You a Democrat?

(h/t Eli)

It's quite simple, really.

Who wants to be in the Republican Party these days? Women won't vote for them. The young won't vote for them. Latinos won't vote for them, and blacks won't vote for them. For proof of the latter, one only needs to examine the behavior of the Republican National Committee's new chairman:

[RNC Chairman Michael] Steele's Senate campaign, you may recall, has twice bamboozled homeless people to campaign for him. The first time the "volunteers" never got paid; the second time they were told to hand out literature so misleading, the men were verbally assaulted by the voters they interacted with.

In that literature and elsewhere, Steele has repeatedly portrayed himself as a Democrat. Not by adopting Democratic stances -- but by literally labeling himself "Democrat" in the material.

RNC Taps Homeless-Hustling Pol for New Chief

[links from original]

This is the guy who is now in charge of helping Republican candidates win elections. I suppose that taking advantage of peoples' ignorance is a less egregious tactic than vote suppression, but it doesn't speak well of a party when these are the choices available.

Still, when 70 percent of the population is overwhelmingly unwilling to vote for you, you have two choices: pretend to be part of the other party, or actually join it. The Blue Dog approach strikes me as a little more honest.

Now I'll answer the question dakine should have asked, which is why does the Democratic Party welcome these people, even though they don't support any of the party's platform points? The answer, an obvious one I think, is that it's more about power than about the good of the country. If the Democrats control Congress, they have the power. They obtained that power, but they didn't obtain the ability to put that power to good use. They must have known it would work out that way.

When I say I'm cynical about Democratic politicians, I think you'll now better understand why. Of course, it's also clear that there's no reason to be less cynical about the GOP.

Experiencing Painful Eliminations?

[Wall Bugger]
Vic: Good takeoff. Nice extension, nice face skid ..

.. but no pelvic commitment, Ken.

Some things don't need an explanation. You either get them or you don't. One example of this is Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC), which is one of the few successful productions of the Spike cable channel. Like Mystery Science Theatre 3000, it's a voiceover show. In this case, the voices are carrying over an old Japanese game show called Takeshi's Castle Takeshi's Castle is one of those shows that, if you were a traveler in the Far East during the Eighties and didn't know Japanese, you would have stared at for a while and wondered just what the hell it was you were watching. Yes, I speak from experience here. Thankfully, some American comedians and actors have filled in the blanks with a hilarious play-by-play patter and sound effects.

The MXC version of this game show has two emcees, Vic Romano and Kenny Blankenship, who describe the play-by-play of a game that pits two teams of contestants against each other. These teams are made up of different occupational or interest groups. One episode supposedly pitted cable televisions executives and White House staffers against each other. They compete in various events, some of which are shown in the pictures on this page, that are designed to be almost impossible for even good athletes to complete. MXC gives them names like "Window Pain", "Log Drop", "Eat Shitake", and "Pole Riders". As you can see from the quotes near the pictures, the comedy is often low brow, but it's subtle just often enough to please any intellectuals who have wandered within earshot. (Yes, they really are fans.)

Some people won't understand all this. They'll ask things like "Those two guys are obviously Japanese. Why are their names Vic and Ken?" There's a perfectly reasonable reply to this question:

People are attempting ridiculous and dangerous stunts that they couldn't manage on their best day, and you're asking about the names?

That's some of the dialogue in the quotations next to the pictures. The first two pictures are from an event that MXC dubbed "Wall Bugger". The contestants fly toward the wall, which is covered in velcro, on a rope. They then try to attach themselves to the wall by flinging themselves onto it. As you can imagine, most fail in hilarious fashion. The picture below is from an event called "Boulder Dash". The characters who participate are often given Scandinavian names, for reasons I have yet to decipher.

[Boulder Dash]
Vic: I'll tell you, Ken. Nothing's more painful than trying to pass a stone that size.

While serious injuries are never shown on the show, that doesn't stop Vic and Ken from imagining gruesome fates for the contestants. Thanks to the "Impact Replay", viewers can see the contestants hitting the dirt, the wood, the wall, or whatever over and over again, and in slow motion.

[Log Drop]
Ken: .. and again. Let's hear the bones crack ...
Vic: Oh, Kenny, stop!
Ken: And let's see some blood

According to its IMDB entry, MXC hasn't been produced in more than a year. That doesn't stop Spike from airing the show, and there are DVDs of at least the first five seasons. If you need a laugh, they're well worth renting.

NOTE: All images in this article are screenshots of MXC DVDs taken by Cujo359. MXC is a copyrighted work of the Spike channel and others. No one who produced this program approved this article or is in any way responsible for its content.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Army Suicide Rate Increasing

Image credit: U.S. Army

The caption reads: 1st Lt. Erik Wiesehan, of Canby, Ore., maintains security during Brig. Gen. Robin SwanĂ­s visit to a Husseniyah marketplace Jan. 22. Wiesehan is the essential services coordinator for 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds," 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Warrior," 25th Infantry Division, currently attached to 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., Multi-National Division - Baghdad. Swan is the deputy commanding general for the 4th Infantry Division and MND-B.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The suicide rate among Army soldiers reached its highest level in three decades in 2008, military officials said Thursday in a report that pointed to the inadequacy of anti-suicide efforts undertaken in recent years.

At least 128 Army soldiers took their own lives last year -- an estimated suicide rate of 20.2 per 100,000, a sharp increase from the 2007 rate of 16.8.

Army Sees Sharp Rise In Suicide Rate
American military involvement in Vietnam largely ended in 1973. The article indicates later that the Army didn't start tracking suicide rates until 1978, so how this compares to the Vietnam era is likely a subject of conjecture. The military, the Army in particular, had a difficult time after the war, with high rates of drug abuse and other disciplinary issues. There seems little doubt what the cause is this time:

"Why do the numbers keep going up? We cannot tell you," Army Secretary Pete Geren said.

Army officials believe that contributing factors include emotional and psychological stress caused by repeated combat deployments, along with the toll that the tours have taken on marriages.

About a third of suicides occur during deployments abroad, a third after deployments and a third among soldiers who never deploy.

"We all come to the table believing stress is a factor," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff.

Army Sees Sharp Rise In Suicide Rate
Caution diagnosing such a phenomenon is wise, since it really is the result of a great many individuals making the decision to end their lives. Every decision has its own reasoning. Still, the high rates of deployments overseas to a combat zone probably have something to do with it, and the Army admits as much.

Beyond that, though, all I really can do is ask questions. What can be done to keep this situation from getting worse, besides ending the need for the deployments? I have to wonder if the recent appearance of dimwitted faith-based suicide prevention strategies have anything to do with this:

Here at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), we get countless complaints about religiously based mental health and counseling programs, which, over the past few years, have been systematically replacing proven psychological and medical approaches to a multitude of issues faced by military personnel.
In March 2008, this presentation, titled "A New Approach To Suicide Prevention: Developing Purpose-Driven Airmen," was shown at a commander's call that was mandatory for an estimated 1,000 of Lakenheath's Air Force personnel, and sent out by email to the entire base of over 5,000 the following day. As the use of the phrase "Purpose-Driven" in its title implies, also incorporated into this presentation is the wisdom of presidential candidate inquisitor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, a book that, second only to the Bible itself, is the most heavily promoted religious book in the military.

Creationism: The Latest In Military Suicide Prevention
While the particular example that author Chris Rodda cited was an Air Force program, it's hard to imagine the Army is untouched by this movement. Army Secretary Geren, who was quoted in that report, has been associated in the past with a Christian evangelical organization called "Christian Embassy".

Another question would be, is there any difference in how suicides are being reported now? Back in April, I wrote about Sen. Patty Murray's (D-WA) efforts to get the Veterans Administration to come clean about the suicides they'd been noticing among their clients:

Senator Patty Murray, D-WA, said yesterday that she thinks the Veterans Administration is vastly understating the numbers of soldier suicides:

The Veterans Administration has lied about the number of veterans who have attempted suicide, Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday, citing internal e-mails that put the number at 12,000 a year while the department was publicly saying it was fewer than 800.

VA Lying About Number Of Veteran Suicides, Senator Charges

VA Caught Witholding Information
It's at least possible that fallout from that scandal has caused the Defense Department to be more ready to count a deaths as suicides than it was before. If the Army had to adjust the way it counts suicides, then that might affect the number, as well. Based on this quote from the New York Times, though, that seems unlikely:

At a news briefing, the secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, said the Army wanted to bolster its efforts to prevent suicide and was prepared to allocate the resources, “human and financial,” to do so. The Army had stepped up its efforts in the last two years as the numbers had begun to climb.

But, Mr. Geren cautioned, there are no easy answers. “Is there a silver bullet out there?” he said. “I’m confident there isn’t.”

The Army said that in the last year it had hired more general practitioners, often the first health care providers to come into contact with soldiers in distress. It also hired 250 more providers of mental health care, and wants to hire an additional 50.

Suicides of Soldiers Reach High of Nearly 3 Decades
That would indicate a problem of long standing, not a statistical glitch.

Hopefully, with a new Presidential Administration that's friendlier to science, proper psychological procedures will replace religious nonsense, and the added mental health professionals may help deal with the added stress.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blago No More

The Illinois state senate apparently has its limits, in contrast to the U.S. Senate, as the Chicago Tribune's live blog reports:

4:58 p.m. Senate votes to ban Blagojevich from ever holding office again

The state Senate voted 59-0 to ban former Gov. Rod Blagojevich from again holding elected office in Illinois.

The vote is the equivalent of the political death penalty.

Senate Removes Blagojevich from Office

According to the Tribune, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn was sworn in an hour later:

5:42 p.m. Quinn takes oath...'the ordeal is over'

Following a standing ovation, newly sworn in Gov. Pat Quinn said he was honored to be in "the people’s house in our state capitol."

"I want to say to the people of Illinois, the ordeal is over," Quinn said. "In this moment, our hearts are hurt. And it’s very important to know that we have a duty, a mission to restore the faith of the people of Illinois in the integrity of their government."

He struck a tone of optimism that the state’s democracy will recover from the political disruption of the Blagojevich impeachment. But he also warned that the state has much work to do in the days and weeks ahead.

Senate Removes Blagojevich from Office

Let me just emphasize something here. An impeachment trial isn't something to recover from in a democracy; it's part of the recovery. As with the impeachment itself, the vote was overwhelming in favor. This is what the system does when the person who's running it is out of control. As I've noted before, this is a system that worked, which is a stark contrast to the workings at the federal level.

So, congratulations Illinois. Now, don't take any crap from this governor, either.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Truce Is Still Holding

No news is good news, particularly when it comes to war. The LOLwar truce continues to hold, and, like our erstwhile adversaries, we are making good use of the time.

Given our technological advantages we need to make training a priority. A new generation of pilots is being readied:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Our ground troops learn to make maximum use of our sensors:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

We practice our OPSEC constantly:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Still, we hope the peace will continue.

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

We enjoy the benefits as much as any species.

Hold Onto Those Rabbit Ears ...

Image credit: Wikipedia

You may remember this hard-hitting article from a few days ago, in which I hinted that there might be a delay in the implementation of fully digital TV broadcasts in the U.S. Stand by for another hint, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:

If you're still using old-fashioned rabbit ears to watch television, you may be in luck for a few more months. The mandate to switch from old-school analog to new-school digital over-the-air TV is likely to be postponed from Feb. 17 to June 12, if a Senate bill passed Monday makes it through the House, which is scheduled to vote this morning.

Answers about the digital TV transition

As the article then goes on to observe, in some parts of the country this change has already happened, but in many more it has yet to be implemented completely. Part of the reason for the delay is that the voucher program for people wanting to obtain digital converter boxes for their old analog TVs is yet another thing the Bush Administration couldn't keep up with:

[Federal Communications (FCC)] Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein called for a delay to give the government more time to get "boots on the ground" to help with the transition.

At least $200 million has been spent in recent years to explain to TV viewers how they need to prepare, but one key element of the federal government's transition plans hit a bottleneck in recent months.

The FCC ran out of money in recent weeks for the $40 coupons to help people buy converters for their analog TVs.

Digital TV Switch Could Be Delayed By Vote

Maybe someone should have bought some advertising explaining that the FCC should be ready for folks who got around to asking at the last minute, or after the economy finally dropped through the floor. Nowadays, that $40 could come in handy.

For those who may have missed all those commercials, the U.S. is about to end the use of the very high frequency (VHF) band analog TV signals that we've been using since the beginning of broadcast TV. They're being replaced by digital TV signals that are in the ultra-high frequency (UHF) band. Basically, if your antenna can pick up UHF stations, you'll probably be able to pick up the new signals. The problem is that in order to use them with a TV set that can't interpret those digital signals, those signals will have to be converted to the old analog format. That's where the converter box comes in. Most of this is explained at the TV transition website of the FCC, by the way. You can also apply for your voucher online there, should you choose. The website also explains:

Congress created the TV Converter Box Coupon Program for households wishing to keep using their analog TV sets after February 17, 2009. The Program allows U.S. households to obtain up to two coupons, each worth $40, that can be applied toward the cost of eligible converter boxes.

DTV Transition And The Coupon Program

More accurately, they would do that, but they ran out of money. I guess that campaign to protect us from wardrobe malfunctions and the use of profanity on TV was just taking on a life of its own. Who could have predicted that pointless crusades would entail so many legal costs?

As a matter of public policy, I think delaying this until people have been able to get a converter box, or just not stopping analog broadcasts are the best options here. So many people obtain information from television, particularly during emergencies and bad weather, that it just makes sense to get as many people on board as possible.

For whatever it's worth, I hope that Congress passes this bill.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today's Catchphrase

Image credit: Creative Commons Copyright Cujo359

Robert Reich seems to have invented a new catchphrase:

America has embraced Lemon Socialism.

The federal government -- that is, you and I and every other taxpayer -- has taken ownership of giant home mortgagors Fannie and Freddie, which are by now basket cases. We've also put hundreds of millions into Wall Street banks, which are still flowing red ink and seem everyday to be in worse shape. We've bailed out the giant insurer AIG, which is failing. We've given GM and Chrysler the first installments of what are likely to turn into big bailouts. It's hard to find anyone who will place a big bet on the future of these two.

How America Embraced Lemon Socialism

Lemon socialism - kinda catchy, don't you think?

As for the last sentence in that quote, if there were a truly level playing field, where all had to beg equally to get the bailout they needed, I'd be betting on GM and Chrysler over most of the banks that are in trouble. Sadly, that's not the way it's worked out. Except for Barney Frank's favor to a local bank, most of the ones that have received the aid are the ones least in need of it. None of the uses that money was to be put to was scrutinized very well beforehand, either. So, when it comes to the chances of the weak ones, I'll still take the car industry over the banks, thank you very much.

Reich's basic point is correct, of course. It's a shorter version of "capitalize the gain, socialize the risk". It's now small enough for a bumper sticker, which means it might go viral. One can hope, anyway.

Best Science Fiction Show Ever?

Some very unhappy campers ask "Are we there yet?" Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359

There have been a number of terrific science fiction television shows over the years. Pick one as the best and you'll inevitably get an argument from fans. Certainly Star Trek and its spawn, Babylon 5, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Stargate SG-1 deserve consideration, as I'm sure do others. Yet, in some way all seem to fall down a little compared to a show that's now ending its run this year.

Battlestar Galactica has been described as many things. Series star Edward James Olmos once described it as "The West Wing in space", which is apt. Some call it the remake of the old Battlestar Galactica, which is somehow true without being apt. I think of it as Babylon 5 with a big budget.

The story of this version of BSG begins at what is supposed to be the decommissioning of the Galactica, a warship that has been superseded by more capable vessels. It's been decades since the humans have even been in contact with the Cylons, whom they created many centuries earlier. Galactica is one of the last surviving veterans of that earlier contact, a long war that ended in an uneasy truce.

At the decommissioning ceremony, the ship's commander, Will Adama, intends to give a generic speech marking the end of the ship's service in the military. Instead, perhaps haunted by his own memories of the war, he extemporizes, uttering a thought that will become a theme of the show:

The cost of wearing this uniform can be high ... [there's a pause, before Adama decides to speak his mind]

Sometimes it's too high. You know, when we fought the Cylons, we did it to save ourselves from extinction. But we never answered the question, why? Why, are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed, spite, jealousy. And we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we've done. Like we did with the Cylons.

We decided to play God, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. You cannot play God and then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore.

Soon after, Adama and the crew learn that the Cylons have returned from their self-imposed exile with an attack that's devastated nearly all of human civilization. The effort to hide from the things the human race created has begun.

To give the survivors a reason to carry on, Adama tells them that he knows of the existence of a surviving human world - Earth. When Laura Roslin, the fleet's civilian leader, confronts him about this, he admits it isn't true. "People need a reason to live", he says, "Let it be Earth." In essence, Adama is playing God. Eventually, Adama and Roslin will have to come to a reckoning with that decision. Along the way, many other people have to make decisions for themselves or for others that they will have to live with.

Adama's belief that you can't run from the consequences of what you've done is a continual theme of the series, as characters must take actions to survive, or allow others among them to survive.

The thing that perhaps most clearly separates this show from the other space-based shows is that it's not escapism in any sense that I can think of. Like the early Stargate SG-1, the show presents its human characters in a universe very much like our own. The military don't carry ray guns, they carry firearms. There are no magical shields, force fields, or transporters that make plot problems magically disappear. The only concessions to script convenience are the faster than light (FTL) drives, and the mysterious process by which the Cylons are resurrected. The FTL drive is necessary, of course, if the fleet is ever going to get anywhere in the lifetime of the characters (not to mention the audience), and resurrection, in which Cylon personalities are downloaded into new bodies when the old ones die, is an interesting enough plot device that it's forgiveable, assuming you even feel the need to forgive.

In the BSG universe, military technology is much like it is here. Space battles are frenetic mixes of manned craft, smart missiles, and familiar sounding ordinance. Nuclear weapons are used to destroy large ships, and smaller ones are done in by explosives on high-speed missiles. Sensors don't pick up everything about a situation instantly, and aren't always correct. The ship itself is a huge, complicated, and sometimes dangerous machine. Any modern military commander would probably see analogs of the weapons he or his adversaries have at their disposal.

Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the situation of the characters of this show. Perhaps it's best epitomized by this graphic from a recent show, which is the bow of the Galactica surrounded by other ships of the fleet.

Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

That's a ship that's seen some tough times. Those who watched the often preposterous Star Trek: Voyager may remember what that ship looked like under similar circumstances - it was spotless. The ship in this graphic has scorch marks, damaged panels, and parts missing. It's what you'd expect a ship to look like after it's been fighting and running for years.

The characters aboard Galactica resemble her. Saul Tigh, the ship's executive officer, has lost an eye and a wife. Laura Roslin has cancer, and has lost, regained, and lost again her will to lead, while finding out things about herself she would almost certainly rather not have known. Lee Adama has been transformed by several losses and at least one near-death experience from an idealistic officer to a visionary politician. All the characters must, on occasion, try to make do in a circumstance where few, if any, luxuries exist, and hope that this will change is tenuous at best.

Which brings us to the thing that separates this show from just about every other show, whether it's in the science fiction genre or not - it's brave. Sure, the writing is good, and the acting and directing work wonderfully with it. The design, by Stargate's Richard Hudolin, is realistic and, at the same time, just a bit futuristic. Here's a scene from the hangar deck:

Image credit: screenshot by Cujo359 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

What's brave about this show is all the chances it has taken. It has risked losing audiences by veering off in unexpected, albeit plausible, directions and routinely killing off important characters. In the midst of our mania about terrorism, it has risked showing human beings engaging in terrorism, and making them sympathetic. It risks putting us in familiar surroundings, and showing horrible things done to, and by, the people in those surroundings. It has risked showing the sorts of things that people would probably do in such a circumstance. In short, it's risked being a difficult show to watch.

In some ways, it's sad that BSG is reaching its end. It's good that it's able to finish its story, as so many shows have not. That's actually more satisfying than for it to end as the Stargate series have. But there don't seem to be any good shows coming to replace it, at least not in the genre. Much of what the Sci Fi Channel touts these days are "reality" shows featuring fools chasing after ghosts or some other arrant nonsense. They aren't even entertaining as cruel humor. Episodic fiction, particularly drama, is hard to do well, and it's expensive. So it may be that BSG will remain the best science fiction series.

As good as it is, that's still a very sad thought.

NOTE: Battlestar Galactica is the copyrighted product of Universal Pictures and others. Neither Universal Pictures, nor anyone else responsible for the series, approved of or is in any way responsible for this article, beyond providing the show that inspired it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Some Good News

There is some good news from Illinois today:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama, said on Friday he will not take part in an impeachment trial that could remove him from office.

Blagojevich Won't Participate In Impeachment Trial

Good. That should make the trial go much faster.

Blagojevich said this in his defense, according to Reuters:

"If you can throw a governor out with mere allegations ... then no governor will be able to take on the General Assembly the way I did," he said.

Blagojevich Won't Participate In Impeachment Trial

Since when is offering to sell a U.S. Senate seat "taking on" his legislature? This guy has done something I didn't think was possible - he's made politicians look even worse.

He can't be gone too soon to suit me.

It's Senator Gillibrand, Instead

Image credit: Cropped by Cujo359 from Rep. Gillibrand's (soon to be gone) House website

If there's any phrase I hate uttering, it's "I told you so." That's not because I'm some saintly human being who knows he too, is fallible and is patient with the fallibility of others. If anything, the opposite is true, at least as far as my patience with stupidity is concerned. The reason is that whenever I've uttered that phrase, something stupid has happened. I give you the new U.S. Senator from New York:

New York Governor David Paterson designated U.S. Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Senator Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state in the Obama administration.

Paterson chose Gillibrand, 42, a Hudson Democrat whose sprawling mostly Republican district is near Albany, bypassing better-known Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The twice-elected congresswoman voted against the assault weapons ban and the $700 billion financial bailout bill -- positions at odds with Paterson’s.

Gillibrand Appointed by Paterson for U.S. Senate (Update3)

I don't know why Gillibrand didn't vote for the bailout bill. There were some good reasons to be skeptical. What I do know is that the woman is considered a Blue Dog Democrat, and for good reason:

Her posture on immigration is also distinctly not that of a mainstream New York Democrat. On a page of her House web site that shows a passport resting on an American flag, she clearly states, “I am firmly against providing amnesty to illegal immigrants,” and highlights her sponsorship of a measure that proposed bulking up on border patrol agents and fencing along the border.

On the issue of gay rights, Gillibrand received an 80 out of a 100 rating from the LGBT advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign. That was the lowest score out of New York’s Democratic representatives. According to the Human Rights Campaign, she voted against the repealing of “Don’ Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation, opposed legislation that would grant equal tax treatment for employer-provided health coverage for domestic partners, opposed legislation to grant same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents the same immigration benefits of married couples and opposed legislation to permit state Medicaid programs to cover low-income, HIV-positive Americans before they develop AIDS.

Spotlight Moves, Slowly, Toward Two More Non-Kennedys

I suppose the title of that article says a lot about this selection, which is that as much as anything it's a non-Kennedy. As a rule, I'm not all that impressed with this generation of Kennedys, at least among the ones who are left. One exception to that rule, though, is Caroline Kennedy. People keep opining that she hasn't done anything. In fact, over the years, she's demonstrated both a sensitivity to the world around her and a profound interest in making it better. She's just done it quietly.

I'm also not particularly interested in political dynasties, but once again, let's be realistic. Andrew Cuomo, the son of former New York governor and one-time Presidential hopeful Mario Cuomo, was one of the other candidates mentioned. Gillibrand's father, as Bloomberg mentions:

Gillibrand grew up in Albany, the daughter of lawyer and lobbyist Douglas Rutnik, a Democrat who remained close to Republican former Governor George Pataki.

Gillibrand Appointed by Paterson for U.S. Senate (Update3)

was something of a mover and shaker. Politics, like other professions, tends to run in families. While building dynasties is something I'd like to avoid, I'm more interested in the person than the name.

It may be, as some have suggested, that Gillibrand will turn out to be more progressive when she represents the entire state, rather than a particularly conservative portion of it:

That said, Gillibrand is not an ideologue. The positions she took were arguably necessary as a means of getting elected in a conservative-voting district. And there is a notion among political observers that if she represented the entire state, those positions would soften to better reflect New York’s more liberal complexion.

Spotlight Moves, Slowly, Toward Two More Non-Kennedys

Gillibrand's vote for the bad FISA bill that ended up passing is something she didn't need to do to please her constituents. Nor was her vote against early coverage for AIDS. If she really does move toward the left, then maybe she'll be worth supporting, but right now I'm skeptical, to put it mildly.

The complaints about Caroline Kennedy around the liberal blogs were pretty amazing. They complained about dynasties, and about the fact that she hadn't held public office before, as though either of these things were new. In the end, we got a product of a dynasty, and one that isn't friendly to our interests as progressives. So, I hate having to say I told you so.

It's true that Caroline Kennedy was having trouble dealing with the press. I suspect that much of her life, her contacts with the press were amicable. Dealing with skepticism and outright hostility is probably new to her, and she'll need to practice it if she wants to be a politician.

I hope she does. To me, she's the kind of person who makes it onto the Slobber and Spittle Blue list - someone who has demonstrated through her actions that she will live and vote her progressive values. Despite the fact that the amount of money she'll earn from that "honor" is about what she finds in her dryer each week, she'll almost certainly be on that list should she decide to run.

Meanwhile, congratulations Senator Gillibrand, and don't forget us out here. We'll be watching.

I'd Call It A Fortuitous Omission

Over at Talking Points Memo, Eric Kleefeld writes:

At a pre-trial hearing in the Minnesota election lawsuit just now, Franken attorney Kevin Hamilton made a striking accusation: That the Coleman campaign has been doctoring evidence.

As an example, Hamilton showed two photocopies of a rejected absentee ballot envelope, one of which he said was the unaltered original, and the other taken from Coleman's legal filings in his attempts to get more of the rejected ballots opened. The Coleman copy was missing the section in which a local election official explained why it was rejected.

Franken Legal Team: Coleman Is Doctoring Evidence

Like most people, I've been wondering why Coleman's supporters, who are clearly paying a lot of money to have these ballots challenged in court, have been thinking they could win. Maybe they don't.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Reaction To The Inauguration Speech

Image credit: Obama campaign.

Relentless cynic that I am about all things Obama, I couldn't be troubled to get up early enough to listen to the inauguration live. I'm particularly relieved that I avoided Rick Warren's invocation, for reasons I've discussed previously, plus a few that P. Z. Myers discussed today. Nevertheless, there seem to be transcripts of President Obama's speech all over the place, so you won't be sparedmiss out on my commentary.

It starts out with something that I find quite thoroughly annoying:

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

The meme that this is a "war" on terrorism has been one of the more insidious ones we've had to endure in the last few years. This isn't a war - it could be called a struggle, or even a fight, but it's not a war. Wars are life-or-death things for nations, not individuals. With these two sentences, Obama hasn't just perpetuated this awful phrase, he's embraced it.

The President continued:

Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

I'd say he's described this problem pretty well. Unfortunately, the legislation put forward is disappointingly little compared to what's needed.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

And yet, the plan seems so small. It is certainly true that there are people who are minimizing the depths of our problems. That's one of the reasons I wrote this article and this one, but once again, the rhetoric seems greater than the action. Perhaps the country isn't ready for more, but I doubt that. I think the country is now firmly focused on this issue. The so-called "fiscal conservatives", and the talking heads they employ, can fuck themselves. I wrote this article to explain why.

The next paragraph contains both cause for hope and pessimism. The pessimism is that during the campaign, Obama was the only Democratic candidate who embraced the mistaken notion that Social Security is in trouble and needs to be fixed. That's what I think about when I read the phrase "but whether it works".

On the other hand, if there's one thing that Barack Obama has really stood for in his political career, it's been open government. He has already sponsored useful legislation to make it more open, and I'm optimistic that he'll continue that effort. It's long overdue. Government at the federal level is far too secretive to suit me.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

Here he's hit the nail on the head. Free market zealots seem to feel that the market ultimately can do no wrong. These same people have often cited the growth of the economy in and of itself, while ignoring the growing inequality in its distribution. That they embrace such absurd notions is troubling, but it's clear here that Obama does not. That's cause for at least a little optimism. How well Obama does at ignoring the interests of his many well-heeled supporters remains to be seen.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed in this paragraph. The trouble, I think, is that Barack Obama does not. There is ample evidence that his words don't match his actions here. Will this change now that he has powers that no President should ever have been granted? I doubt it, but I'd love to be proved wrong. His continued fetish for rendition apologist John Brennan is also troubling. On the plus side, both his Attorney General nominee and his CIA director nominee are explicitly on record as opposing the abuses that occurred in their prospective domains during the Bush Administration. If they are as good as their word, then things will get better, at least temporarily. His nominees for Solicitor General and Office of Legal Counsel are also causes for optimism, as they have both proved that they believe in the constitutional approach to law enforcement.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

This is a sentiment that Obama expresses rather often, including his book. Why didn't a Muslim or a non-believer give the invocation? I'm not resigned to the idea that religious minorities should, to quote one asshole, "sit down and shut up". Obama has demonstrated that he is. While his attitude is an improvement over the Bush philosophy on religious tolerance, it's a lot less inclusive than it needs to be.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Transcript: Barack Obama's Inaugural Address

Here again, there's a difference between the words and past actions. There's reason for guarded optimism that he will do what he's suggesting here, though. The President has extraordinary latitude in what he can do in the area of foreign policy. Congress can provide guidance, should it choose, but it's not doing the work. Those who are doing have a lot of power regarding what actually gets done. In any case, if Obama reaches out to the leaders of the Muslim world early, including Hamas, he'll probably be able to start repairing the damage the Bushies have done.

On the whole, this has been a typical Barack Obama speech. The rhetoric is inspirational, if you ignore what's likely to happen. Fortunately for him, there are lots of people who will soon be explaining why things won't happen as we'd hoped, because we just have to be patient, ignore partisanship, blah, blah. As you can imagine, I'm really looking forward to that. At the same time, there are at least a few things that engender cautious optimism.

One thing's for sure, things won't be any worse than they've been for the last eight years.

Senator Kennedy Collapses At Inauguration

Image credit: Senator Kennedy's official Senate website.

I really don't know much about this, but since folks have been searching for information about this and landing on my article from last year on his previous episode, I'll quote this from Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, was recovering at a Washington hospital on Tuesday after suffering a seizure at an inaugural lunch for President Barack Obama.

According to witnesses, Kennedy collapsed during the meal but recovered enough to smile and talk with his fellow lawmakers as his stretcher was wheeled to an ambulance and he was taken to Washington Hospital Center.

Testing suggested the seizure was "brought on by simple fatigue," said Dr. Edward Aulisi, the hospital's chairman of neurosurgery.

"Senator Kennedy is awake, talking with family and friends, and feeling well," Aulisi said in a statement.

Sen. Kennedy collapses at Obama inaugural lunch

Click on that article title for more.

Over at Firedoglake, Egregious wrote about the collapse while liveblogging the inauguration.

It looks like it's too soon to say how serious this is, though the implications aren't good. If you check out that earlier article of mine, you'll notice that the descriptions of his condition sound remarkably like this one. That was before he was diagnosed with brain cancer, of course.

Say It With Cute

When you want to make someone read your message, it helps to have a cute bunny in the picture:

The latest on this, of course, is that the incoming Obama Administration is asking the Federal Communications Commission to push back the changeover date yet again.

Television is the means by which many people receive their real time news. In other words, it's where people go to find out about disasters, upcoming weather problems, etc. Completely eliminating analog channels will inevitably leave many people behind. While there are potential benefits to reusing the radio spectra that are currently being used for analog, they are small compared to the potential impact on ordinary folks.

Personally, I'm hoping this changeover is pushed back a couple of decades.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We're Number One

This blog is the number one link in a Google search for "space launch spittle", and I have the screen shot to prove it:

Congratulations to all the runners-up.

Martin Luther King Day

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

On the eve of the day when we inaugurate the first President with African ancestry, it's especially important to remember the words of one of the people who helped bring that event about:

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Martin Luther King: I Have Dream

That last sentence is particularly noteworthy. As historian Simon Schama said the other day in an interview on Bill Moyers' Journal:

America begins with an act ... of profound bad faith. Jefferson writes the Declaration of Independence in which liberty and equality are offered as the defining principles that make you American, while he is himself a slave owner. And then the Constitution is made at the moment in which African Americans are defined as three-fifths of a human in order to give the South enough clout to perpetuate slavery.

And, you know, Lincoln's conversion coming up to the Civil War and then during the Civil War, from someone who found it morally loathsome but pragmatically had to be kept that way, to someone who, for whatever reasons, to win the war or not, was responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation, was an enormous change.

Lincoln, simply in the end, found it unbearable to hold up his head as an American and keep that act of bad faith going. But then we had a hundred years of Jim Crow and we had the civil rights movement. So this moment, it does seem to me to finally wipe clean that original sin, that profoundly repellent act of bad faith at the very beginning.

Bill Moyers Journal: Transcript for January 16, 2009

The provision in Article 1, Section 2:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

U.S. Constitution

is as close as we as a nation come to original sin. That "other Persons" in the phrase I emphasized meant "slaves". It was as if the framers wanted to have as little to do with this dreadful idea as possible in a document that was to guarantee the freedoms of the rest of us. The Fourteenth Amendment did away with that provision, by declaring that no state could allow the rights of Americans to be abridged without cause.

In his most famous speech, Dr. King remarked:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

Martin Luther King: I Have Dream

I'd be the last to suggest that we're now living in a land where "all men are created equal". As a society, we still view people who are members of other ethnic, religious, or sexual identity groups as being less American somehow. But in the half century that I've lived, we've come a long way. Had Barack Obama lived fifty years ago, people would have argued whether he could stay in a "white" hotel, or use a "white" restroom in many states in the Union. When it occurred, his parents' marriage would have been illegal in almost half of the states. Yet today, many think it only mildly remarkable that we have elected a black man as our President. Many probably wonder why it took so long.

Martin Luther King's life is an example of why it took so long. The history of the American civil rights movement is a long, inspiring tale of standing up peacefully to grave injustice, and persevering. Those people who he referred to having been in jail included him. His letter from a Birmingham jail was a ringing denunciation of the idea that the fight for civil rights should only be waged in the courts and legislatures. In the end, his view prevailed, and the shameful laws known as Jim Crow laws that codified racist discrimination, were repealed.

Tomorrow, we will finally ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, and remove the mark of our original sin. We have Dr. King and his supporters to thank for that. At the same should also thank them for demonstrating how remarkable a people we can be.

UPDATE: Added link about miscegenation laws, and altered the text to reflect the number of states that had them.

Sometimes, The Headlines Write Themselves

Many years ago, I subscribed to the Columbia Journalism Review. One of my favorite features was the section that featured various faux pas by printed news publications. It often featured the unfortunate confluence of a headline and a photograph. This image from Yahoo News would have been a good fit:

Just don't go prodding any lower, Mr. President.

What I'll Do With All That Money

Image credit Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

For what I think should be obvious reasons, I don't make a habit of illustrating this blog with images that are copyright protected. I'm making an exception here to talk about it.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is is up for sale:

Hearst Corp. put Seattle's oldest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, up for sale on Friday and said that if it can't find a buyer in the next 60 days the paper would likely close or continue to exist only online.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Is Put Up For Sale

I'm not sure what the price would be, but it's bound to be rather high, considering the sums of money that this P-I article mentions:

The Times gave notice in 2003 that it was seeking to end the JOA, saying the agreement was no longer financially viable. Hearst sued to block The Times from doing so, and the matter was settled in April 2007, with Hearst paying The Times $25 million not to end the agreement before 2016.

As part of that settlement, The Times paid $49 million to settle Hearst's legal claims and to erase a provision of the JOA that called for Hearst to collect 32 percent of The Times' profits through 2083 should the P-I go out of business and leave The Times with a monopoly.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Is Put Up For Sale

I understand the difference between revenue, which is what the court cases were about, and assets, but the assets are bound to be a significant sum relative to those revenues, anyway.

While the idea of the P-I existing as an online-only paper is an interesting one, I suspect it won't be what they try, at least not as the P-I. That would require some real innovation on the part of Hearst Publications, who aren't known for such things. They're far better at flogging Republican Party candidates than they are at running businesses. It seems remotely possible that the journalists from the P-I will form their own online publication, but that's only speculation on my part. It costs far less to publish online than it does to publish in print, but it's not free, and you have to pay journalists somehow. I don't know too many bloggers, even those who do real journalism, who can make money at this game. Josh Marshall is one of the few exceptions. Whether the P-I journalists could collectively deliver quality local journalism to match Talking Points Memo's coverage of DC politics is open to question.

There's already one online newspaper in town, Crosscut. While it produces some original journalism, I'd have to say that it's mostly commentary and a compendium of other news sources at this point.

Which brings up another point. It used to be that a newspaper was a great way of finding all sorts of news from different news organizations and places. It was worth the fifty cents (or the equivalent in those days gone by) to have all that in one place. Nowadays, Google News and Yahoo News perform that function for me. I don't have to pay them fifty cents, either. So what kind of service, if any, would readers be willing to pay for? That's an important question, because the people who contribute the money that pays the journalists are the ones who will have the most say in what those journalists produce.

They do much better than their competition, though. The Seattle Times is a paper I've written about recently, and not in the most glowing of terms:

Apparently, The Seattle Times have taken it upon themselves to do a hatchet job on Darcy:

Bellevue (October 22) – With a new King 5 poll released this evening showing Democrat Darcy Burner leading incumbent Republican Dave Reichert 50 percent to 46 percent – the third consecutive poll to show her leading – a desperate Reichert campaign has begun to fling false accusations in a desperate attempt to stop Burner’s growing momentum. Unfortunately, this afternoon the Seattle Times, in a poorly contextualized story, bought their latest spin.

Burner Campaign Statement on Seattle Times Story

The Seattle Times ran a story saying that Darcy had "exaggerated" her degree in a debate two weeks earlier. This was, as the "reporter" admitted in a paragraph buried deep in the story, based on a release from the National Republican Campaign Committee, with little real fact checking. The Harvard professor who was the Dean of Harvard College at the time Darcy graduated (1996) confirmed that she wasn't misstating her qualifications.

Some Good News For Darcy Burner

The Times has a reputation for supporting its favored candidates rather too well, and this is just another example. Their letters to the editor policy, which limits submissions to 200 words, is another example of their "take it or leave it" attitude toward their customers. Sometimes, as in the case of their sliming of Darcy Burner, the reasons they are wrong can take up more than 200 words. The P-I has no such limit, although they clearly aren't going to publish tremendously long letters.

Apparently, though, this has been a successful strategy for the Times. Perhaps that's the real lesson here, which is what newspapers really need are smarter consumers.

For what little good it does, the willful ignorance of the public, along with the complicity of the press with the excesses and foolishness of the Bush years have been a continuing theme here. So has the press's general irresponsibility toward its readers or viewers. With rare exceptions, they make whether they're telling the truth a puzzle for the rest of us to solve. They hide behind a mask of neutrality to publish arrant nonsense and then wonder why we don't play along.

Yet the press, even in its current state, performs an important function. It pays people to find out what's going on in our society and prints what they learn. It also, when it chooses, enforces rigorous journalistic and grammatical standards for publishing those stories. This is something that most blogs, and many organizations interested in presenting a point of view, are incapable of doing. As newspapers go away, we lose more of those resources. Online publication isn't yet a viable option, it would seem. Newspapers are generally doing badly. It's not just the P-I, or even the Hearst chain that are solely responsible for this predicament. Only TV news, easily the most facile of our news media, are doing at all well. Even when the economy was not so bad, newspapers were losing readership. Now, that trend will probably accelerate.

And that's why Horsey's cartoon is gracing this post - it explains the pickle we seem to be in these days. Jefferson was right, as the press goes, so go we as a democracy. Until we can learn to have journalism without newsprint, we risk being even less well informed than we are already.

I suspect that if all those checks were finally arriving I'd be buying a newspaper right now. As it is, I'll have to hope that others can pick up the slack.

UPDATE: Yes, speaking of editing, there were several little grammatical errors that needed attending to here. Normally, I don't mention corrections like that, but under the circumstances, the irony is pretty rich.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Western Union Writes

The great thing about having a secret identity is that people are always contacting you with opportunities to make money. This one arrived today:

From: Alisa Donna [Add to Address Book]
Subject: Contact Western Union For Your Payment.
Date: Jan 15, 2009 9:15 PM

I have a new email address!

You can now email me at:

Welcome to Western Union Send Money Worldwide. Welcome to Western UnionSend Money Worldwide. Attention: Beneficiary ; There is an issue with the WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER in the amount of $800.000.00 USD Eight Hundred Thousand united state dollars directed in cash credited to file KTU/9023118308 at the owner of this email address. The INTERNATIONALMONETARY FUND contacted us for your compensation a couple of hours ago due to your allocated security code. They said that they choose to send it to an email address instead of a name. We are unable to complete a transfer directed at an email address, so we require some more information in order to complete this transfer. FULL NAME: FULL CONTACT ADDRESS: MOBILE PHONE NUMBER: OCCUPATION: MARITAL STATUS AND AGE: In order to resolve this problem,please try to send your information via Western Union Solicitors Fund verification Department; ( ) As soon as this information is received,and you have complied with the requirements of payment of the western union charges €175, payment will be made to your nominated bank account or at the counter directly from The Western Union Transfering Bank.

Note: That this is not one of those west African scams that all they are after is to rip you off your money and at the end you will not receive your funds, but note that this is no scam and is directly from the. Management of Western Union Money Transfer United Kingdom Head Office and our Motto is To Serve You Better. Contact us on our website on also note that you would be responsible for any payment that is needed for the transfer of your funds into your nominated bank account or at the OFFICE. DISPATCHED THIS DAY . Sincerely, ( MAURICE KENNEDY ESQ . )

Despite the fact that this obviously isn't a west African scam, I'm still just ever so slightly suspicious. After all, it makes all sorts of sense that someone would try to send me a mail order to an e-mail address that I hadn't given to them. It's just that, if someone were trying to transfer $800k to me, I'd probably know about it. I've obviously been deeply involved in international financial matters lately, but that's still more change than I typically have in my trousers. You'd think someone would have called.

Besides, I don't know anyone named Donna Alisa, and so why would she be telling me she has a new e-mail address?

Who are these people? Do they work for the Treasury Department?

NOTE: Need I remind you that, in all likelihood, none of the people whose names appear in this e-mail are actually responsible for it? That's why I've deleted e-mail addresses.


Image credit: screenshot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by Cujo359 (see NOTE)

The actor who played one of the most memorable bad guys in science fiction died yesterday:

Ricardo Montalban, the suave leading man who was one of the first Mexican-born actors to make it big in Hollywood and who was best known for his role as Mr. Roarke on TV's "Fantasy Island," has died. He was 88.

Ricardo Montalban Dies At 88; 'Fantasy Island' Actor

Yes, he also starred in that TV series with the little guy, but for those of us who grew up on Star Trek, Montalban was a very different character:

While making "Fantasy Island," Montalban also gave one of his best movie performances -- as Khan Noonien Singh in the “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), a follow-up to a beloved 1967 “Star Trek” television episode that also featured Montalban.

Ricardo Montalban Dies At 88; 'Fantasy Island' Actor

[links from original]
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is one of two Star Trek movies I unreservedly recommend to people who aren't Star Trek fans. Part of its charm is Montalban's just this side of over the top performance as Khan. It's an adventurous story about growing older and facing the consequences of one's actions. If you decide to see it, I recommend that you watch the director's edition DVD version; it includes scenes that flesh out both the main story line and the sub-plot of Kirk coming to terms with his life.

As one of the first Latin American stars, Montalban's efforts weren't limited to acting, as the Los Angeles Times article points out:

Although Montalban expressed appreciation for his success, he complained that Hollywood lacked respect for Mexican American actors. He said that while under contract at MGM, he portrayed Cubans, Brazilians and Argentines, but almost never Mexicans.

"Mexican is not a nice-sounding word and Hollywood is at fault for this because we have been portrayed in this ungodly manner," he said. He challenged Hollywood to stop stereotyping Latin actors by casting them only as prostitutes, maids, gang-bangers and bandidos.

Through Nosotros -- "we" in Spanish -- Montalban attempted to highlight and recognize Latino participation in the arts and entertainment. In 1970, the foundation created the Golden Eagle Awards, which annually honors Latino stars, shows and movies.

Ricardo Montalban Dies At 88; 'Fantasy Island' Actor

Image credit: screenshot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by Cujo359 (see NOTE)

Montalban's qualities of dignity and kindliness made him an interesting presence on the screen no matter what role he was playing.

We'll miss you, Khan.

NOTE: Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan is a copyrighted work of Paramount Studios. Neither they, nor anyone else associated with the movie or Star Trek in general, approved of or contributed to this article.