Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Dover Photos

If you have been trying to get to the Memory Hole site to see the Dover photos, it's been overwhelmed since the story broke. There is now a working mirror site here, at Warblogging.

If you know of other working mirror sites, please let me know.
Followup: Journalistic Bias

Thanks to Jemima Periera for the link to this post about journalist bias in the media.
In thirty years of in the writing trades, I’ve covered a lot of things, but three in particular: The military, the sciences, and the police. For years I had a military column syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate and later carried by the Army Times papers until I was fired for political incorrectness. For half a dozen years I rode with the cops all around the country for my police column in the Washington Times. And I’ve written tech columns and pieces for technical mags like Signal forever.

This isn’t my first rodeo.

In each case the reporters I met were, with very few exceptions, pig ignorant. The military reporters didn’t know the history, the weaponry, the technology, strategy, tactics, or how soldiers work. Almost none had served. The police reporters chased scanners instead of riding regularly and just didn’t know what was out there or who cops are or why they act as they do. The tech writers were mostly history majors.

Over the years I’ve noticed several things. First, in print publications, most reporters aren’t very smart. A few are very bright, but probably through a mistake in hiring. (The prestigious papers are exceptions, hiring Ivy League snots of the sort who viscerally dislike soldiers, cops, rural people, guns, etc.) Reporting requires assertiveness and willingness to deal with tedious material under pressure of deadlines. These qualities seldom come bundled with inquiring intelligence. Consequently reporters (again with the occasional exception) lack curiosity, and don’t read in their fields.
Ouch! Make sure to read Jemima's thoughts as well.
An Important Anniversary

Today marks thirty years of streaking! Yeah! You can thank the Australians for this bit of invention. (WARNING: Not-work-safe photo included.)
Tell Me Again Why We Need This?

A lot of Americans tout the Canadian health care system as a model for us to follow. Are they sure?
A 21-year-old man died of appendicitis after he was refused treatment at an emergency clinic because he didn't have his provincial health card with him.

Gerald Augustin complained of stomach pains on Thursday but the receptionist at the St-Andre medical centre told him he had to return home to get his health card. He didn't make it back to the clinic in Montreal's east end.
UPDATE: Link is now fixed.
Tina Fey is the Hotness

I crush on Tina Fey something awful. She's smart, "caustic" funny, and really hot. What's not to like? Read more here, with pics.

I understand she's also exceptionally good at improv comedy, which is a favorite of mine. A couple of years ago, Drew Carey was being considered as a host for SNL and he proposed doing the show as "all-improv," allowing open-endedness rather than the scripted stuff they usually do. It didn't happen, because a lot of the cast can't do improv. Too bad, as I would have watched that.

UPDATE: You can read a more detailed interview with Tina, thanks to the New Yorker here. There's a good gallery of Tina Fey photos here. Especially check out that bottom-row photo!
Interesting Idea

Heard this one on the radio today (which was on because the downstairs neighbors had their car parked in front of the apartment to jam out for a while):

We define death as the cessation of brain waves. If an injured, diseased or damaged person has some kind of brain waves, they are still "alive," however minimally. We can make judgments on the quality of life, but not the fact.

So why not apply this to abortion? If the fetus has brain waves, it's a human deserving of State intervention to protect its life. It might only be light intervention, but the State still gains an interest. No brain waves yet? No life and hence it's tissue that the woman has full control over, with no State intervention. That means that a woman has roughly into her third month of pregnancy to make an abortion decision.

I think this idea has some merit, speaking as an anti-abortion person. I'm not dogmatically "pro-life," but against the taking of a life without strong protections for the life taken. There are circumstances where abortion is the only way, but far too many abortions are for nothing more than convenience, for a failure of birth control or self-control.

I really hate that continued discussion of abortion was taken by judicial fiat by the Supreme Court when it created from nothing but the flimsiest of justifications a non-medically-based "trimester" system for looking at abortion. We should have followed the European way, which was to let the process of legislative debate work out the kind of abortion laws this country wanted. It would have taken longer, yes, but it would have been something far more acceptable and less contentious than what was imposed on us three decades ago. It would have been organic and not "top down."
Good Bredesen News

While Governor Phil Bredesen is working to raise business taxes by $75 million (See Bill Hobbs for more.), he is doing one good thing. Next week, he'll propose much tougher driver's licensing laws.
The amended version of Bredesen's plan will offer two types of driving documents. One is the regular driver's license, available to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. The other is called a "driving certificate" that cannot be used for identification purposes. It will document only that the holder is qualified to operate a motor vehicle and will look distinctly different from a driver's license.

The certificate will be available to two kinds of noncitizens: People who are legally but temporarily in the United States and those who can prove only their identity and their residence in Tennessee.
It's hard to argue with this, as it gives both sides of the argument what they want. Proponents of State and national security, and those not wanting to aid and abet illegal citizenry, get limits on availability. Proponents of getting illegals to learn driving laws get that. It's a win-win.

One funny bit in the article, though. It mentions a Williamson County raid that netted 25 illegal aliens at a driving school. In connection with the national security concerns mentioned in the rest of the article, it's not wrong to think "Arab Muslims." But you have to read all the way to the last paragraph (which may get cut if other outlets trim this AP story for space reasons) to learn that the 25 were from India! Oh my.

Last weekend I asked if something was up with WREC AM600's Saturday afternoon lineup. Today we have the answer. Jim Montgomery's Computer Connection now runs at 10AM. At noon we now have Andrew L. Clark, Sr. Yeah! Clark has been doing a Sunday afternoon show that gets good marks, but low listenership because of the day. He's now been expanded after listener request.

I really like Clark. Unlike Mike Phlegming, who is shallow, hysterical and absolutist, Clark is thoughtful and respectful. By virtue of his weekend show, he can allow his callers time to make their points; he has time to question them. Mike's show is crammed full of station promos and ads, so he's constantly doing slice'n'dice to callers to hustle them along. Not to mention that Mike is seemingly incapable of making a point succintly and clearly. His writer's roots always trip him up. He gets lost in sentences, searching for a word or following a thought down a rabbit hole; he trails off, then jerks awkwardly to a similar thought or inadequate word to finish up. He doesn't have time to go back and restate himself. For some reason, though, every break he summarises his point for folks just tuning in. (Or he thinks he has to?)

Sorry for the digression.... Anyway, Clark's first show wasn't auspicious. He wandered into a long discussion about Catholicism and its role in American politics, then was forced to defend against charges of anti-Catholic bias. Still, it was refreshing to hear actual back-and-forth on local WREC programming.

Following that was the return (revival?) of "The Weekend." This is Clear Channel's nationwide call-in show, where a CC jock takes it national for two hours. Every week, different host. I like this, as we get to hear folks who might otherwise stay unknown. It's how I discovered Jane Norris from Virginia; she's a great host. One can hope she'll come back in the rotation this time.

And speaking of the 800 lb. napalm gorilla, Fleming has done a turn or two on this program. It was fascinating. He deliberately lower his tonal range and spoke more slowly than he does here. Still the same doof, but apparently he's heard about his voice.
A Reader Experiment

I'm not going to say anything, although the fact that I'm posting this undoubtedly gives some indication of my feelings. Go to this Commercial Appeal news report and you tell me: bias or neutral? Be sure to read the whole thing, to the end, before commenting. Is the writer injecting some bias or is it bias-free? Why?
Healthy Skepticism

Good article from Commercial Appeal music writer Bill Ellis today. He writes about a revived Musicians Advisory Council, part of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission. Ellis views the thing with an open eye, but a skeptical one that remembers the past and listens to the present. Good stuff.

Me, I really don't think government commissions are the answer to problems with Memphis' music promotion. But you'd expect that, of course. Go to the article to see some proposed ideas and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Wendi Gets Her Wish

UPDATE: There is now a mirror for the Dover photos, which seems to be working as of Saturday evening: Warblogging's mirror site.

The Commercial Appeal today prints a photo from the MemoryHole collection of Dover AFB photos of caskets arriving from Iraq. Good for them.

The story is careful to emphasize context, that is how the photos are presented and the material or stories that accompany or surround them. Good for them.

I think these photos should be published. As a supporter of the War on Terror: Iraqi Front, I think it's vital to never forget the final price of war. The media acting as a filter for me is a repugnant idea. Make the pictures available, then let the people decide whether or not to view them. That's the right way.

Memorial Day is coming up. Hopefully, at least one of these pictures will be in the paper on that day.

[Note: The Memory Hole is being overwhelmed with traffic and may be hard to get to. That alone is a sign of how people feel about the issue of releasing the photos. While you're at the site, take a moment to look at some of the other war pictures and other documents they feature. Memory Hole is dedicated to keeping alive those Web documents and other things that get taken down by embarrassed folks.]
Weird Spam

Got some truly odd spam today in the blog mailbox. It was titled "Saddam Hussein Escapes." The attachment, some html, claimed a BBC story was reporting that Saddam had escaped, but had a link like this: http://123.456.789.123/pics. Of course my spider-sense was tingling, and I was deeply skeptical, but this email also had a sense of someone who wanted to share some comedy graphics or something, which I've branched out into, so I cut'n'pasted the link. The result?

A website for Viagra. GAAAH!!

I knew it. Some advice for folks who want to email me? A lot of email has been deleted from the mailbox because it has subject lines like "hey" or "see this" or "a funny website." I once got some flamemail from a guy who called me "an evil fuck" and a Nazi who enjoyed gassing children and minorities simply because I hadn't responded to his first email, which was titled "hey." Duh. I almost skipped a funny blog today because the subject line wasn't distinctive.

And don't just put the blog name in the subject, either. I get tons of spam with the blog name. Make it unique, OK? Like "H-B, funny graphics link," "Free beef tacos for you!" or something. I haven't gotten a virus on my computer in quite a few years because I'm so hardline on emails and attachments. I'm sorry to make y'all work harder, but that's how it is.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Too Good to be True

When the story first got out about the picture of the caskets being loaded into a plane at Dover AFB, I was glad. I think it's important for those pictures to come out. They remind and inspire.

The story was that a woman who worked for the airplane maintenance company was so moved by the scene of three long rows of flag-draped caskets, she took a picture and sent it to a good friend of hers. The Pentagon decided just before the Gulf War to stop releasing pictures. She knew it was against her contract and could get her fired, but was moved enough to flout the law for a greater good.

Her friend in Seattle got the pic and was similarly moved, she said. So much so, she sent the pic to the local paper, which printed it. And within days, that pic travelled around the world. The photographer, Tami Silicio, was fired.

I saw the friend on NBC's Today show this morning. All they talked about was what you read above. There was nothing else. It was all vaguely patriotic in an anti-government kind of way, except one thing that stood out.

The friend said she thought it unfair that the government had decided for the families of the dead soldiers whether they could release the photos. Yet this woman made a decision herself, for all the families, to release her picture knowing it would be published. But Katie Couric didn't pursue that and the story made it all look good and above board.

Or so goes the story.

Turns out there's a darker side indeed and motives might have been far less than pure. I'm not talking about the friend now having an agent sell publication rights to the photo for $1400. Nor how the photographer somehow knew to sign over the rights to her friend. No.

It turns out that the two women, Amy Katz (the friend) and Tami Silicio (the photographer), had sued Dick cheney and Halliburton for discrimination in 2000! They worked for Halliburton in Kosovo. When Katz went to use a port-a-potty, she found it guarded by an Albanian. he said that two of the toilets were for ethnic Albanians and the other two were for Americans. Katz was outraged and refused to use the "American" johns, but the Albanian guard wouldn't let her use the "Albanian" ones, saying it was against their Muslim faith for men and women to use the same facilities. Katz filed an EEOC complaint.

You can read a longer and more detailed account (minus the religious explanation) here. It's an awfully designed webpage, so stop the loading after you see text and do a "find in page" on "Katz."

So now we have the spectre of anti-Bush / Cheney-Halliburton / "It's the oooooiiiiil." leftist anti-war activism coming into play. Was this simple patriotism or was there a second dirtier agenda working? Now we'll never know for sure.

You can read more on the breaking story at FreeRepublic or at NewsMax.
Further Down the Slippery Slope

When the latest drive to legitimate homosexual marriage began, one of the arguments used against it was this, spoken by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum:
If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.
He was blasted and excoriated without mercy by those pushing the agenda. "Wrong, wrong, wrong," they cried. "This is different."

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Polygamists in Utah are now doing just that, using the same law that homosexual activists used to extend their rights.
Polygamists are citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas (2003) ruling to challenge marriage laws. In Utah, the ban on polygamy came under attack as civil rights attorney Brian Barnard brought a federal lawsuit, Bronson v. Swensen, No. 02:04-CV-0021, on January 12, 2004, against the state based in part on the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Lawrence.

Two other attorneys have also referenced Lawrence in defending polygamists. The Arizona Daily Star cited convicted bigamist and child rapist Thomas Green, whose lawyer, John Bucher, argued in Utah v. Green that Green’s convictions should be thrown out in light of Lawrence.
You can read some more here.

I'm of split mind on this. One the one hand, marriage has been a bond used by society to keep issues of legitimacy and inheritance straight. It has also been a way to keep society stable. Using religion and the fear of eternal damnation kept the numbers and amount of straying low(-ish). So did the possibility of unintended pregnancy. Stable families are the best way to raise children, and so to be encouraged. I'm not aware of any societies in relatively modern times that have had homosexual marriage on a par with hetero-marriage.

On the other, things have changed. We have medicine to tell us who is related to whom. We have central depositories of records, accessible by computer and Internet, to keep inheritance straight. We have the Pill, to remove unintended pregnancy; and safe abortion to catch the ones the Pill doesn't.

Making democracy the basis of our government has also changed things. Instead of the family, represented by the father, being the basis of government participation and decision-making, we made it the individual. Our government must deal only with individuals, or it's not democratic. It can't favor some over others. Full participation requires it.

That basis fueled a lot of social changes. Women have entered every area of society, which is good. Religion, seen as a tool of oppression, began to lose influence. The fundamental punishment behind marriage lost its power and so marriage lost its iron grip.

It has all come to where we are today: Marriage now is a contract between people, negotiable and breakable. Reduced to contract status, there's no reason it can't be between any parties willing to make one.

That's where we are today. Men and women put their own interests first. Marriage is so degraded in meaning it has become malleable to any who can push its edges. Thanks to a successful push by women to have the government and private enterprise take over some part of child-rearing (supported by men who were glad to be freed as well), raising well-adjusted kids isn't central to marriage any more. The argument for government licensing of marriage loses strength.

I supposed the libertarian in me should be happy, but I look at the teeming chaotic mess and worry for the future.
Journalistic Bias

Rachel of Rachel and the City has a link to a short piece looking at newsroom media bias. It's a short, informative read, but I take exception to some things.

The author basically argues that bias doesn't exist, or if it does it's so complex that everything averages out.
I would first like to point out that the two charges -- news coverage is driven by political bias and news coverage is driven by the profit motive -- are fundamentally incompatible.
This doesn't mean they can't co-exist. It also means there's a constant struggle between the two, the status of which I believe does drive some stories, or lack of coverage of others.

For example, the Commercial Appeal ran a great story the other day about City Councillors taking gifts from local businessmen. It was largely in the context of sports and the lack of a strong law against the practice. Fine, as far as it went. But how about looking into the businessmen who regularly seem to come up when this kind of access and familiarity is discussed? Developers have never been studied in any great detail by the Commercial Appeal, and yet they drive a lot of what happens in our government. Look at County Mayor AC Wharton's sputtering initiatives to "control sprawl."

Why hasn't this happened? I suspect that the fact that developers, and the realtors and builders they work with, are a force not to disturb in a meaningful way. Look at all the advertising they and their related industries buy in the Commercial Appeal. Look at the demonstrated pull they have with our City and County governments, where access and availability is important for the paper to function. Is there a link? I'd like to think not, but how can we know? We should trust a business that is famously resistant to outside scrutiny?
Amazing as it may seem, people get into journalism because they think journalism matters (and that it will be fun). Professional pride plus fear of nasty phone calls keeps them ex-tremely scrupulous about balance and fairness.
Two points here. First, he's saying that journalists self-select for being idealists driven by social concerns. That automatically means bias. Second, how many restaurants have you been in where you've complained to staff and management about the service or food? Has it made the staff or management perform any better? Exactly. They endure, grumble and keep on doing what they've done.

Which leads to another point not covered in the article, but implied in Rachel's post: television newsrooms run at full tilt all the time. There's little enough time to get the job done, much less discuss how to slant it. It takes someone at the top or with a strong will (remember Applegate at WMC?) to grab the rudder and change the direction.

Which to me means that newbies get swept up into the rushing stream with little ability to direct the flow. They have to absorb the culture already existing in that newsroom and make it their own, or they get fired. They have to rely on previous instincts, or instincts taught by the newsroom, to get the job done.

Those instincts will be idealist, social-change-driven ones, and the news will be pressed into the narrative templates, pre-existing formulae, for presenting news that have evolved in the past couple of decades. Take a moment to read Dr. Cline's analysis and discussion about media bias. He presents good questions to ask and good tools to use.

Do I think bias exists? Of course. It's why this blog came into being. I had been reading Jackson Baker's "On Politics" column in the Memphis Flyer and was constantly astounded and angered that he could get away with all the propagandising, slant, rewriting and Democratic agenda-push he did. Someone needed to present a corrective and when I discovered blogging, I did. This blog's name derives from Mr. Baker and his column. The Commercial Appeal had the same effect on me, especially Susan Adler Thorpe and Paula Wade.

I saw an imbalance and a social wrong. I saw self-serving hypocrisy by those who claimed to be for the little guy, and to be fair and impartial. Addressing a wrong was all I wanted to do.

Wait? Doesn't that sound familiar?

Let me close by pointing you to a group of bloggers who have really struck gold. In South Dakota, David Kranz has long been the senior political sage. His paper sets the agenda and his writings are taken by other paper's editors and writers as authoritative. Critics have long accused him of Democratic bias, but since he controls the State's largest paper, where could they go? How could they get through or around the people who were the problem?

With an important election at stake (Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is in a close re-election race.), they went to the Internet and started blogging. Through careful documentation and link-the-dots writing, all openly presented along with their sources, they have proven their point, to devastating effect. They by-passed the newspapers, the public gatekeepers, and went straight to the people. It's starting to cause an uproar, but more importantly it is demonstrating some fundamental shifts.

Newspapers are losing their gate-keeper status; so are national television networks. The bias of some of the people who work in them (I'll be charitable here.) is being exposed and discussed substantively. This is leading to meaningful calls. Folks who resist are losing credibility; folks who adapt will survive in some new form.

Blogging and Internet discussion are driving this change. People can put sources -- photos, documents, video, on-the-scene reports -- right into the hands of readers, free of editing or other manipulation. Computer space is theoretically unlimited, so now there's no reason not to present full transcripts and whole documents, rather than "documents...that" have been "edited" so that we "don't know" what was actually "said." Removing the opportunity for actual or possible bias through selection or presentation alone would be something to hail.

Readers can get news right now, not when the paper comes out tomorrow, or in television news' mediated/edited version which will also lack substance. You the reader can learn about and chase down related information right now, participate in figuring out what it all means, contribute to the process of winnowing bad information from good. In this way, news doesn't go through a relative few hands that can profoundly alter it, but through numerous hands that can simultaneously multiply the kinds of bias introduced (helping to cancel it out by the end of the process) and spot those alterations (leading to immediate corrections).

In the old world, it was vital to ask "Who watches the watchmen?" They were supposedly self-policing and we the reader were told to trust their assurances of openness, honesty, impartiality and balance. It's the brave new world now. No longer do you passively consume news created by others. You put your critical thinking skills to work and decide what's news to you. We are all the watchmen, with a million eyes watch what we do and a million outlets to speak out. That's the best kind of policing.
Star Trek News

First, the funny stuff. BBSpot has news that Paramount has released the Service Pack 1.0 for Star Trek. It "fixes" the errors of continuity and credulity in the original series.

Now, the bad news. Star Trek Executive Producer Rick Berman is announcing an eleventh film. It is to be a "prequel," though he doens't elaborate on that. The story hints that it might be the Starfleet Academy proposal: following young cadets from across the Federation during their four years at the Academy.


These guys need to leave it alone. Enterprise hasn't succeeded at all, and is still in danger of being cut from the UPN schedule next Fall. The last ST film was a huge disappointment. Berman and Braga have shown that they just don't get it in terms of what Star Trek is and is about. They crank out a show that's called Star Trek, but it isn't "Star Trek."

If they have to do Starfleet Academy, then give it to the WB and let a production team that knows how to cater successfully to that audience (Everwood, Gilmore Girls, and the successfully adapted Smallville) rework it. At least it would be different.
Betting on the Future

Tennessee's lottery joined the Powerball franchise this week, to less than stellar opening numbers. That's been about the only bad news so far. The lottery has been running ahead of schedule, put millions more into the HOPE fund than expected, and made $700,000 in bonuses for the folks who run it. We should all be happy, right?

Maybe not. This USAToday editorial looks at how lotteries have worked out for other States and the news isn't good for our future.
But even as they enacted lotteries for education during the 1970s and '80s, states continued to cry out for additional educational funding. This was puzzling, given the supposed infusion of lottery monies. To clarify why, political science professor Patrick Pierce and I reviewed education spending from all states for the 25 years from 1965 to 1990. During this time, 12 states enacted lotteries for education. We found that states generally increase annual education spending about $12 per capita before a lottery is adopted. In the first year after beginning a lottery, states increased their education spending by almost $50 per capita.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

But after the first-year surge in spending, the annual rate of change in educational spending in a state with a lottery dropped sharply. Rather than increase education spending by $12 per resident every year, these states' spending went up only $6 per capita. In a few years, the initial flush of lottery funds into a state's education programs had been eaten up, and the state lagged those that didn't rely on lottery-generated education funds.
It's something we need to keep our eyes on.

While we're talking lottery, let me remind readers of this link to Rev. Don Sensing's writings on gambling and lotteries.

And...while you're at One Hand Clapping, scroll up and read his take on folks like me who worry that a military draft may be coming. He's served in the military and brings a lot of good, hard experience and knowledge to the issue. His take? Not likely until we've tried legislating an expanded volunteer army first. That's good to hear.
Not Important Enough, Apparently

You'd hardly know it if you depended on the Commercial Appeal or the Memphis Flyer for your State political news, but Tennessee has been running a tax revenue surplus. Rather than bank that "extra" money, Governor Bredesen and the General Assembly are already making plans to spend it. No sales tax refunds or reductions for you!

Since the Peck-era took hold at the CA, State-level political news has been deprecated, pushed into the Metro section. They don't even depend on their Nashville "bureau" anymore. You're as likely to see an AP wire report as see Richard Locker's byline. As the Income Tax Wars proved, what Nashville does is vitally important news. Just because it's not "people-focused" or "community building" doesn't mean it's not important. If they don't report it, how else will we know the details?

Well, one way is by Internet. You can start with Bill Hobbs. Bill is an online journalist and blogger who has been covering Nashville for several years now. He's a strong fiscal conservative, skeptical of government intentions, and has a journalism background. His reporting is solid, if biased; but that bias is clear and upfront. Bill never pretends to be other than he is.

You can also turn to websites like Tennessee Tax Revolt and the Nashville Files. Nashville Files pulls stories from that city's papers, but also from around the state; it's a necessary adjunct to the Commercial Appeal for political junkies. TTR was Command Central during the Income Tax Wars. Since that victory, they've shifted to a more general anti-tax increase stand.

Anyway, Hobbs today links to a Jackson Sun editorial asking Bredesen to exercise the fiscal restraint he was elected for. Hobbs then gives you some links to follow to get up to speed on the story, if you've been relying on the local papers to keep you informed.

Speaking of Tennessee Tax Revolt, they have been following the budgets of cities and counties across the State. For example, they link to this Shelby County Commission story. Getting on their email alert is a good idea; I have.

Stay informed. Find the news.
The Truths Not Told

When the FedExForum was being proposed, and the tiger team was in full gear, some critics of public funding for the arena argued that there were studies that showed publicly funded arenas did not return on their investments and were often used by team owners as another way of maximising their profits. Several studies have been done now and, to my knowledge, not one has yet shown that publicly funded sports facilities are good returns on investment.

The local daily was in full booster mode at the time -- ruthlessly supportive. They mentioned such studies only briefly and dismissively, before loudly telling one and all that the "intangible" benefits were just as profitable. They still do it. Easter Sunday had an editorial from a Professor of Economics at the UoM who even argued both positions -- spending most of her article pointing out the lack of economic benefit to the City and then turning around to meekly utter the "civic pride" loyalty oath at the end.

Look at all the media hoopla about the Grizzlies' playoff run. Everyone is now crowing "How you like us now?" The assumption -- there is no evidence or proof -- is that Memphis is now big league, "world class" in the city's over-used formulation, and folks notice us favorably and take us seriously. Of course, that didn't convince MTV. But hey! We're world-class baby.

This week, yet another study shows that public funding isn't necessary. The authors persuasively show that arenas generate enough income to pay for themselves. You can read the study's press release, with more information, here.

There is a weakness to their assumption, though, one that ought to be pointed out. They base their numbers on arenas and stadiums being used for twenty years or longer. That's not the case any more. Our Pyramid is barely a decade old and considered a relic. Teams don't make promises even up to a decade now. Owners may not plan to move, but being locked down when opportunity comes -- or fortunes change -- isn't good business practice for them.

The good news for those who oppose public funding is that the Internet is making the fight more even. Sites like this and this are where citizens can end-run the newspapers and radio/television stations that will blunt their opinions. Never forget that newspapers and radio/television have valuable financial and prestige interests in getting big sports teams in their markets. Opposing these teams' demands is not good for them.

When the Grizzlies were pitching to come here, the local daily and television made all opposition seem to center around Duncan Ragsdale and Heidi Shaefer. Except in the Letters column, and disparaging reports about City Councillors, you saw little about citizen organisation and that was only to brush it aside as foolish. That, I feel, was deliberate. The next time, it will be much harder to pull off. There's a network of websites and blogs, more people are online, and people are much more comfortable using the Internet. Organisation will be better and stronger.

If we're lucky, that won't be happening any time soon.
The Professoriate and The Truth

Excellent essay at TechCentralStation from John Kekes. It's long, but it systematically examines and refutes what many professors practice.
The justification for the funding universities and colleges receive is that they make an indispensable contribution to the well-being of their society. For coping with the multitude of problems that beset society requires policies, policies are likely to succeed if they are based on the truth, and universities and colleges are supposed to be guardians of the beliefs that a society has most reason to recognize as true. If institutions of higher education do through teaching and research what they are meant to do, they deserve support and respect; if they do not, they deserve the opposite. North American higher education is in danger of losing that support and respect because many professors have abandoned their obligation and use universities and colleges as tools for the political transformation of our society....

Matters, however, are even worse. It would be one thing to declare forthrightly that universities and colleges no longer regard the upholding of truth through teaching and research as their basic obligation. It may, then, be said that henceforth institutions of higher education are to be in the vanguard of the transformation of society to reflect a political ideal. But not only is this not said, it is denied with hypocritical indignation. For defenders of preferential treatment realize that if they told the truth about the political ideal they are aiming at, they would have to justify it to politicians who allocate resources for teaching and research, not for political activism; to parents who pay for students' expenses on the assumption that they will get an education rather than be conscripted as foot soldiers into the army of political activists; to those professors who continue to uphold the truth and refuse to subordinate it to political considerations; and to citizens who do not wish to pay taxes to finance self-appointed activists bent on changing their society. Their justification would have to reveal what qualification entitles professors of literature, sociology, or anthropology, for instance, to take advantage of their students' willingness to learn and harangue them with a political view about how society should be transformed. It is because no convincing justification could be given that instead of telling the truth, these professors spread falsehoods....

Most relativists, however, are not consistent. Their actions are at odds with what they claim to believe because no sane person could seriously hold the pernicious and absurd beliefs to which relativists are committed. This is shown every time relativists consult a physician, not a faith healer; call a plumber to unclog a sink, not a magician; want rapists prosecuted, not held up as role-models; and send their children to school, not to a shopping mall. But this does not stop many professors from using relativism to further their political ideal. For they appeal to it to justify using the classroom as a political forum, making political speeches instead of teaching, belittling the great achievements of the past, and hypocritically claiming that they are merely doing knowingly what the vast majority of humanity is doing in ignorance. The net effect is the betrayal of truth, the gross violation of professional obligations, the corruption of students, and the subversion of higher education. All of which is made even more egregious by the knowing cynicism with which it is usually done.
Lots, lots more.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Tinker, Tweak and Adjust

Still playing with the format of Half-Bakered. I enlarged the font size of the posts, for those with old eyes, and I went back to the Times New Roman font, which I think seems to work better. I'll be moving the graphic links over to the right-hand column to help with page loading, so that the text becomes visible faster.

Some have fussed about the "white text on black background" issue. Fair enough. But try this experiment: Find your favorite lots-of-white site (LeanLeft, Instadude, Unca) and read it for a while, at least ten minutes or so. Then go to Half-Bakered. How do your eyes react? Not too badly, right? Maybe even relief? Now, read HB for about the same time and go back to the white site. Blinding, yes? Painful? My thinking is that reading books is reflected light from a rough surface (paper), but staring into a monitor which may also have glare is having a light pointed into your eyes. With the black background, you have a far softer surface to observe. YMMV.

Yes, that's a PayPal link up there. I wish I'd thought of this before the Instalanche, but better late than never. If only one percent of those visitors had given just five dollars, it would have paid for a year's hosting and lots of extra bandwidth, with some to spare. Please, if you think what I do has some merit, and you can afford it, please drop something in the tipjar. Thanks!

(I also want to rethank the anonymous person who paid a couple of years ago to make Half-Bakered an ad-free Blogspot account. They never came forward to be honored, so I'm doing the honoring again, here. It was a very generous thing to do.)

Does anyone have an old copy of Photoshop they can spare? One that will work with an AMD 300mhz processor, not a new version. I use something called PhotoDeluxe that came with my IBM scanner. It's a fair enough program, as all my graphics stuff shows, but it's cranky, picky and missing some key features, like being able to match skin tones and textures. It was also designed by marketers, not engineers, and always gives you a very hard time whenever you want to work outside of their proprietary PDD format, or in ways not of their suggestion. I do OK work now, but feel I could do superior work with better tools. I can't possibly afford Photoshop itself; an older hand-me-down would still be a major improvement. Let me know! You'd be assisting in the creation of art! (Oh, OK...satire. Whatever.)

Lastly, I'm still working on the move to a Moveable Type blog directly on the site. That's partly why I'm tinkering with the format. Does anyone have any advice or suggestions about what I can do now to make it possible to bring along the old Blogspot archives when I set up the MT blog?

Well, early to bed for me. See y'all later! Thanks as always for reading this silly vanity project.
Science Fun

Today's science lesson is about archaeoacoustics, the science-to-be of deriving ancient sounds that might have been impressed on historic objects.

Imagine some ancient potter, sitting there with his wheel and inscribing decorations on the side of a pot, vase or urn. The action of that scribing tool is a lot like the action of a needle in a phonograph groove. The thinking is that ambient noises, or even speech, might have vibrated that scribing tool and been impressed into the vase. Also, the same might have happened with long brush strokes against canvas.

Nothing's been found yet, except in some scattered tests that have yielded limited results of mostly background noise. But imagine one day hearing the voice of some Hellenic Greek man or Mesopotamian woman speaking to us across the centuries. Or of recovering the voice of Michaelangelo or Rembrandt....
Another Draft Milestone Passed

I keep warning y'all and more things come to pass. Yet another step towards a military draft was made recently when Republican Senator Chuck Hagel called for a military draft to prepare for future efforts in the War on Terror.

This is different than last year's call by two Democrats (Charlie Rangel and someone else). They were just posturing and trying to call some hand they thought Bush might not want forced. This is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, someone who would not be likely to just stir the pot.

I'm telling you: watch out for late 2005, if Bush wins.

Note the tone of the article. Once it makes the point about Hagel it then goes on to just needlessly rehash various Bush-bashing on Iraq. Nope, no bias there!

The Reverend Donald Sensing makes some good points about the Tennessee lottery, especially on the State preying on the stupidity of ignorant people. (Full disclosure: I was also opposed to the lottery, though for different reasons, but have bought a few tickets since it rolled out. Haven't even recouped my total outlay, either.)

State Senator Steve Cohen now wants to remove the requirement for a minimum ACT score in awarding HOPE grants, only demanding students make a certain minimum grade point average. Grade inflation anyone? Is fear of low test scores leading to racism charges by certain quarters driving this?

In a whole other world, I lauded James Lileks down below, but forgot to mention that he's also a Newhouse News writer. Go check out his archive of columns. I really marvel at his ability to pull cultural references from all over the spectrum, and across time, in service of his points. It's a lot like what Dennis Miller does in his best rants, but Lileks is never as pointed and definitely has a warm, gooey Upper Midwestern center.
A Question For Wendi

I hate to look like I'm picking on her -- three times in a week no less -- but in her Sunday column, Wendi Thomas got all stern and disapproving on the Memphis Police Department for acting more as chauffeurs than arresting officers with Tamara Mitchell-Ford last week. It's the usual columnist stuff, lots of "this is wrong" but little "do this instead."

I wonder what she'd have to say about this:
Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana was briefly detained Tuesday when airport security workers found a handgun in his briefcase as he was going through a checkpoint on a trip back to Washington.

The five-term Republican congressman was released after he was issued a citation by airport police for a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed deadly weapon. The charge carries a maximum year in jail and up to a $500 fine.

Hostettler was preparing to board a US Airways flight at Louisville International Airport when the gun was found. The lawmaker said he had placed the handgun in his briefcase early in Congress' two-week spring recess, then forgot about it.
If Joe American had done that, does Wendi think he'd have received the same treatment? Should the congressman be sitting in a jail cell right now facing a felony charge, as you or I would be?

Not to mention that owning or possessing a handgun in the city of Washington, DC, his destination, is also a felony. Should he be charged and tried for that? Again, why isn't he sitting in a cell?

Only seems fair. What say you, Wendi?
Kerry's Future is the Past

Bob Shrum is muscling his way into control of the John Kerry campaign. For me, that's a good thing, as I can't recall a major, contested campaign he's run that has resulted in victory. Please correct me if I'm wrong. He blew it for Gore, hopefully he'll blow it for Kerry.

As the article points out, Shrum is a populist. That oughta be fun to watch -- him trying to make the elitist Kerry into a populist. Have Boston Brahmin John eat another Philly cheese steak, why don't you? Kerry's been running an "I'd do the same, but differently" campaign. Now it will become "us. vs. them." Except I don't think that's a winning strategy in a nation generally united in the face of foreign threat. I fully expect some type of terrorist attack in this country in the month before the elections. Again, "us vs. them" won't play in that environment.

The only advantage I see Kerry having right now is that a lot of foreign leaders are being recalcitrant or withholding. Many hope that obstreperousness will pay in the coin of a Kerry election. All Bush's entreaties, many of which Kerry has or will make himself, are being blown off by leaders hoping to make Bush look weak, isolated and ineffective. They all hope Kerry will come in and then, miraculously, they'll cooperate out the wazoo with an America that Kerry will allow to be tied down by the Lilliputian United Nationites.

I hope Bush stays the course, so that after the election all these leaders are left holding the bag. Then watch them come crawling.
Followup: Columbine

Eric Olsen of Blogcritics has more information about the Columbine shooters with some good links to follow. He also makes a connection between them and Osama Bin Laden.
Dinner of Champions

Here a recipe for y'all. It was my dinner tonight.

Take 1/2 lb. of ground beef and brown; season with allspice. As the meat is almost done, throw in a few scallion greens and half a package of sliced mushrooms. Saute. While doing this, boil 1 1/2 cups of noodles (your choice of style) to taste. When the noodles are done, drain and return to pot; mix in 8 oz. of sour cream and salt to taste. Fold in the ground beef, mushrooms and scallions. Stir until smooth. Add more sour cream or cream to get the consistency you want. For extra fun, try some grated parmesan cheese.

Bachelor dinner: poor man's stroganoff. Yum!
North Shelby Times

I haven't visited the "little paper that could," the North Shelby Times, in a while, so I made a visit to their website. Whoa! What a change. Gone is the PDF front page of the newspaper's content, replaced with a lot of syndicated stuff from WorldNetDaily and PoliticsOL. In frames. I don't know. WND seems a world away from the unabashedly liberal and Democratic NST.

The paper version I picked up is still the same, though a tad more professional looking. There was a cover story about the Terry McAuliffe visit where he touted the Kerry Middle Class Misery Index. The author fell prey to the very problems I wrote about down below, of not knowing or reporting the junk economics the MCMI uses. The story seems to confues the MCMI with the real Misery Index, even to talking about the MCMI, which is only a month or so old, in historical terms. This is a pure example of not knowing the subject. I will credit the writer with explaining the makeup of the MCMI, though.

The editorial from Editor in Chief Frank Holland is incoherent. Disjointed doesn't even begin to describe it, nor would "confused." Since they still publish online in PDF format, I'll have to transcribe for you from the opening:
I got a letter from one of my republican party friends that insinuated that if you were a democrat you had a low IQ. This just shows how uninformed some of my friends are. Case in point, Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, George Bush was a Cheerleader. Both went to good colleges. Clinton probably went on a scholarship or democratic funded grants.

Bush on old oil money. Consequences, Clinton left a 5 billion surplus. After 3 1/2 years, Bush has a 5 1/2 billion deficit. Starting with Roosevelt, the democratic party has, and is the party of the people. Under Roosevelt, the republicans which were the ultra rich lived like kings and the masses were starving.
That's exactly how he wrote it. It only grows worse from there. I am not making this up.

But like I said, the look of the paper has improved noticeably.
How Ya Like Me Now?

Fiddled with the template last night, switching to a three-column format so as to get the Rocky Top Brigade blogroll up to the top of the page. I'm also considering putting a PayPal link up in that corner. The page loads a bit slower now, yes, but I think I like this look a little better.

I tried an Arial font for the post body, from a Times New Roman, but I think it makes the whole blog look pretty samey. Maybe switching back to TNR? We'll see. (UPDATE: I switched back. Is the font too small to read clearly? Seems OK to me and I like the look.)

Both side columns shouldn't break any of the individual link names, although I had to specify width in pixels for the right column to work. It does fine unspecified when I do it locally on my browser, but when I load the template into Blogger, the right side column is far too narrow for some reason. Who knows why....

I also added a small banner-thingy over the center column where I can change the text whenever the mood suits, but still keep the "Reading the Memphis papers..." header. Folks seem to look for that. Anyway, the "world class" bit is a jab at our civic booster types' favorite adjective. Every time I hear that phrase, I instantly know that the project described is an expensive boondoggle.

Anyway, opinions solicited! Good, bad, indifferent, whatever. Except for the "white text on black background" thing. I'm sticking with that one. Deal with it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


This is a damned good idea. It's about time it happened here. The fact that they are already set up for and can cater to digital films bodes very well for Memphis' indie film industry and the Memphis Digital Arts Co-op. I hope they succeed.

Now, what we need is a movie theater where folks can eat at tables, drink beer, smoke and talk and move around, sorta like the Alamo Drafthouse. Wasn't there an earlier effort at something like this?
Even So, More Questions Remain

The Gayoso House murder was quickly solved. Thank goodness, and the Memphis Police Department, for that. The reporting on her death leaves a few questions still.

In this Commercial Appeal story, we come into reporting the case through some blather about the climate of fear in the building and downtown, complete with pointless photo of a young white woman looking confused. This is a marked turn from the usual Commercial Appeal reporting about downtown, which is at pains to point out just how safe it is down there. There are big investments and a lot of money down there; can't have the tourists, drunks and creative classes getting spooked and bailing, can we?

Then there's this:
Much of the talk about the slaying this week revolved around questions as to how the assailant entered the secure building.

Residents are required to use a pass-card to enter while visitors must be buzzed in by someone inside.

However, as with many similar systems, it's not foolproof.

"For five years, (my art gallery) was over there," said Pam Craig, owner of the Rivertown Gallery near the apartments. "I would see people come in, hit the buzzer, then come around to talk to us when they couldn't get in. Then they would say, 'Never mind' and follow someone else in."

Wednesday afternoon, a man rang the buzzer in the rear of the building, said he was a Time Warner employee and was admitted, with no guard present.

Kelly said general deliveries are supposed to go to the security desk, but that "regular vendors" like postal carriers and cable workers are an exception.
In other words, the human element foiled all the security.

The side-bar story, which goes into more detail about the crime and its solution, mentions that the perpetrator was a former resident! Think that has anything to do with the above?
Police said Wednesday that Andrews ... knew someone who lived in the Gayoso, and that knowledge may have helped him slip past security Saturday night, police said.

That resident has been questioned, and had no hand in giving Andrews access, police said. Investigators would not identify the person, but said he lives on another floor in the building.
Again, security is only as good as the people who enforce it, and the extent of its deployment.

One thing I had wondered about was the presence of the FBI in the case. It turns out they played an important and revealing role:
...federal agents said there is technology available that makes it possible to trace the location of cell phone users.
I've seen this reported in a story about tracking Al Qaida through their use of cellphones. Apparently, some models come with built-in GPS tracking! It would seem that was the case. Makes you wonder, though....
This Is How To Do It

I do hate to keep tooting John Branston's horn, but damn, the guy gets it right most of the time. In this week's opinion piece, he nails it.

In his look at the proposed Promenade development, Branston starts:

Since it was created in 2000, the Riverfront Development Corporation has picked most of the low-hanging fruit -- landscaping and maintaining parks, putting a median strip in Riverside Drive, building stairways from the bluff to Tom Lee Park and a walkway above the cobblestones, holding a design competition for a new riverboat landing and observation point, and commissioning a master plan for the riverfront.

Now comes the hard part -- the proposed makeover of the Promenade, including private high-rise developments, demolition and relocation of public buildings and parking garages, a controversial land bridge, and the money to do these things. And what about Mud Island River Park and The Pyramid?
Branston then goes on to make specific suggestions, naming names, on how to approach the "question" of what to do "about" the Promenade. He points the way to a whole lot of good questions to ask and people to interview. He is skeptical, but he keeps his eye on the central question, "What's best?" He's knowledgable and he employs that knowledge usefully.

I really wish this town had a dozen more reporters and journalists just like him.
Trolley Folly

I meant to get to this a while back, but it got lost under a pile of paperwork on the desk.

The week following the Memphis Flyer story about the Madison Trolley, the Commercial Appeal produced their own story to counter it. Where John Branston of the Flyer found much to be desired, the CA story comes across more as eager spin.

Fortunately, Callahan had access to numbers for us to crunch. He reports 35,631 riders on the full trolley line (the north-south Main Street line and the east-west Madison Avenue line) for the first month of operations. But he reports that for the last three weeks of that period there were only 19,627 riders. So, for the free introductory week, we have about 16,000 riders, but the regular fare week after we get about 6000 per week. Quite a dropoff. Callahan quotes MATA officials as saying weekly ridership is expected to increase to almost 15,000, or a 250% increase.


Like Branston, writer Jody Callahan rides the trolley to mixed result, but the article is filled with hopeful predictions and a lot of the usual sunny-side spin, with a side of the obvious. The article begins with the story of a man who went from catching the bus near his home to walking 12 minutes to catch one trolley, transfer to another, then walk some more to work. It ends with a woman who says problems would probably cause her not to use the trolley.

Nice try, CA.

One note: I meant to mention this earlier, but one of the hallmarks of the trolley is supposed to be no more than a 10 minute wait between cars. I wonder how long they'll keep this up? Nearly every bus line in the City varies between a fifteen to hour-long wait, depending on part of the city, time of day, and direction of travel. If busses ran in the most used lines every 10 minutes, all day and well into the night like the trolley, a lot of folks would be very, very happy. But we're told MATA can't afford that. They can, however, afford to do it for the downtown trolley.

Must be nice, huh?

I've added some more graphics to the Kerry Mockery Page and two to Carol Chumney's Wallop Page! I redid the Kerry page using Java and thumbnail-ish images to reduce bandwidth usage. It's also been renamed "Kerry Mockery & Other Political Shenanigans."

Still no word from Chumney's attorney. Harharhar....

As I thought, traffic for the Kerry page topped out just over 4000 hits Monday night. I'm now seeing secondary referrals from folks who saw the Instapundit mention and are now linking from their own blogs. Like netWMD or BaneDad.

More to come later. Thanks for stopping by!
Southern English

A Southern accent, at least in Hollywood, has always been code for stupid and bigoted. So when a study some years ago announced that an Appalachian dialect was amazingly close to Elizabethan English, it caused no small amount of area pride. We weren't backwards, we were Shakesperean!

Geitner Simmons takes a look at some mis-history by going to 19th and 18th century sources. It's not long and it's fun history.

Even though I have lived my whole life in the South, and have a father who is from Georgia and Florida, I constantly get asked where I'm from. I had almost no Southern accent growing up and only have a mild one today after years of working at it. My mother is French-Canadian, and my father was a banker who erased his accent to speak in basic Midwestern television-news English. Use of "y'all" in their home was ruthlessly quashed.

I'm better now. And even more strange, my mother never did teach us French.

If you don't have James Lileks on your daily reading, you are missing out. He can say things so well, certainly far better than I:
Which brings us to gay marriage. Earlier that day I’d heard an interesting debate on the Dennis Prager show. He had two anthropologists as guests, both tenured professors who favore of elastic definitions of marriage. One of them said the most extraordinary thing, which prompted me to finally say something about it here. I’ve avoided the topic because A) I really don’t have any observations not covered elsewhere by other fine commentators, and B) expression of opposition to gay marriage often leads to a distortion of one’s views. After the constitutional amendment issue was floated, I caught a couple examples of TV commentators calling it “a ban on gay unions,” which is an utter mischaracterization of the issue. As if the government was going to find gay couples, crowbar them apart and make them live alone in dismal one-room apartments. And I’ve heard callers to radio hosts insist that in the end it’s all about homophobia, or religious intolerance, no matter what arguments the host might put forward.

Well, I have no religious opposition to homosexuality. I think civilized society recognizes that a small percentage of its citizens are drawn to the same sex, and that’s no reason to gather up the pitchforks and flaming torches, okay? Live and let live. Consenting adults, etc. And it's not one of those "you repulse me, and you should be glad I tolerate your presence" things. It's just no big deal for me. Not on the radar. I have no problem with civil unions; I have no problem with gay adoption, either. We had a piece in the paper a few months ago about a gay couple who’d adopted six HIV-positive children from other countries. Six! And I’m supposed to stand in judgment of them?

But what perked up my ears was one of the anthropologist’s assertions that there is no difference between a two-parent / two-sex family and a two-parent / same-sex family. None. He said: Any preference for a traditional mom/dad family was based in a “superstition.” His word: “Superstition.” Because, you see, there was no evidence that two moms were different in any important way than a mom and a dad. Belief in werewolves, belief in the evil eye, belief in the walking undead or the superiority of a mom-dad household: superstition.

In his zeal for a brave new world, this fellow managed to insult and demean everyone. And I mean everyone. Moms? Any guy can do your job. Dads? Your son or daughter doesn’t need to grow up with a male role model in his or her daily life. It’s the sort of pernicious nonsense that thinks gender is an arbitrary social construct. It’s not enough, apparently, to say that gay couples can be great parents. You have to insist that heterosexual couples have no inherent advantages. It’s not enough to say that kids raised by gay couples can grow up well-adjusted. You have to deny the advantages of growing up in a family where the child is exposed to both male and female role models on a molecular level. It’s not enough to support the rights of a lesbian couple to bring life into this world; you have to stifle your own suspicions that having a dad in the house is better than not having one. Otherwise you’re one of those curious old things who lives in a world dominated by superstitions. Quaint, amusing superstitions.

This is what dismays me: no matter how much I may support gay rights, in the final analysis my belief that my daughter needs a dad brands me as a reactionary.

Well, at the risk of making it worse: A mom cannot be a dad. And a friend or uncle who comes around for trips to the ice cream store might be that vaunted “male role model” but he’s not going to magically impart values just by showing up for an hour or two every fortnight. Just because gay couples can’t be excellent parents doesn’t mean that the inherent nature of the relationship is equal to the inherent nature of heterosexual parenting. But nowadays we cannot make value judgments about these things. If you say that heterosexual parenting arrangements have a built-in advantage you're somehow delegitimizing the very notion of homosexual parenting.

I think this is obvious, and I am mystified why this should somehow become a referendum on homosexuality. But alas. I’m sure this makes me, in the eyes of some, a hopeless bigot. It would be different if the advocates admitted the difference and insisted that it doesn’t matter in the long run. No: they refuse to admit that there’s a difference at all. Moms? Dads? Play-acting roles, Mere inventions, lead aprons we drape on manikins.

I don’t mean to suggest this is the opinion of all advocates of gay marriage; for all I know most regard this a self-refuting drivel. Of course kids need dads and moms! But it’s not the first time I’ve heard it, and it seems to be a favored argument by those who are approaching the same-sex marriage issue not as a civil rights issue, but as a means of enshrining gender-studies grad school nonsense in public policy. Rather than explore the fascinating differences between men and women, they shake the Etch-A-Sketch and insist there were never any differences anyway.

To paraphrase Prager, it takes a Master’s degree to believe something as stupid as this.
Alternate History

Following links around, I discovered this. It's a review of a book written in another universe where George W. Bush did as many seem to want him to have done and arrested 20 young Arab men on the morning of September 11, 2001. Strangely enough, things didn't go well for him there either:
Like Watergate, “Saudigate” (a wince-making name but the one that has stuck) began with a small, attention-grabbing event. On the morning of September 11, 2001, FBI agents arrested 19 young Arab men, almost all citizens of Saudi Arabia, as they boarded four domestic airline flights. The Saudi government naturally protested, and Attorney General John Ashcroft responded by publicly making an astonishing accusation: that the 19 had intended to hijack the airplanes and crash them into the White House, the Pentagon and the two main towers of the World Trade Center. This plot, more like a Tom Clancy novel than a real world occurrence, had supposedly been set in motion by Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi businessman living in exile in Afghanistan who called himself the leader of a shadowy, and probably shadow-thin, network of religious fanatics. Ashcroft dubbed the group“al-Qa’eda” (“the Foundation”), a name that some of those involved may have used but that is more firmly linked, as Blumenthal notes in one of many enlightening asides, to the science fiction novels of Isaac Asimov. The SF resonance evidently appealed to the White House aides who were primarily responsible for manufacturing a “crisis” to shore up a tottering administration. Blumenthal credits the idea to a second-level speech writer named David Frum, a Canadian import whose wife is a best selling novelist.
Impeachment comes up, too.
Don't Tell

Detroit is experimenting with high-tech parking meters that cost up to $7000 each. Don't let the Memphis City Council know about this. God knows what Myron Lowery might want to do....
Punishing Profilers for Protecting Passngers

This hasn't gotten much play, except on a few websites, but it seems the Clinton administration was fining airline security personnel if they even appeared to be racially insensitive to Arab men.
"We had testimony a couple of months ago from the past president of United, and current president of American Airlines that kind of shocked us all," Lehman told me. "They said under oath that indeed the Department of Transportation continued to fine any airline that was caught having more than two people of the same ethnic persuasion in a secondary line for line for questioning, including and especially, two Arabs."

Wait a minute. So if airline security had three suspicious Arab guys they had had to let one go because they'd reached a quota?

That was it, Lehman said, "because of this political correctness that became so entrenched in the 1990s, and continues in current administration. No one approves of racial profiling, that is not the issue. The fact is that Norwegian women are not, and 85-year-old women with aluminum walkers are not, the source of the terrorist threat. The fact is that our enemy is the violent Islamic extremism and the overwhelming number of people that one need to worry about are young Arab males, and to ask them a couple of extra questions seems to me to be common sense, yet if an airline does that in numbers that are more than proportionate to their number in particular line, then they get fined and that is why you see so many blue haired old ladies and people that are clearly not of Middle Eastern extraction being hauled out in such numbers because otherwise they get fined."
Un-freaking-believable. No word on whether this is still true today, but based on stories floating around, it seems to be.
Holy Crap!

Strong Bad answers his email, but Homestar Runner shows off his pimped-out propellor beanie! It's got skirt-effect lights!!

(Note to Homestar newbies: run your cursor over the text on the final screen to find the Easter eggs.)
Sounds About Right

You are 41% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

I took version one and got 53%, a low-level geek. This score sounds about right to me.
Build a Desk-Top Trebuchet

That's a catapult, for those of you who don't know. Now, you can lay siege to desks and cubicles all around you!

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School, an event of near-equal proportion to Oklahoma City and 9-11. It marked a wake-up call and a sobering moment for America.

The CNN story is nothing new: hidden information will be rediscovered for decades to come. It's the old story of government power being used to cover asses and sweep problems away. Unanswered questions still remain: The famous UN truck. The teacher who reported a "man" (not kid) coming into the school to kill. The chorus of warnings right after Columbine that more kids had been involved and wanted to "finish the job." We likely will never know.

Slate has an excellent re-examination of Columbine, one that dispels much of the common wisdom and presents a scarier picture still. FBI and other specialists now believe that Eric Harris was a psychopath kept in check long enough, and simultaneously supported by, Dylan Klebold so that they could plan and execute a monstrous scheme:
They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting "the most deaths in U.S. history." Columbine was intended not primarily as a shooting at all, but as a bombing on a massive scale. If they hadn't been so bad at wiring the timers, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people. After those bombs went off, they planned to gun down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with still more bombs, would rip through still more crowds, presumably of survivors, rescue workers, and reporters. The climax would be captured on live television. It wasn't just "fame" they were after—Agent Fuselier bristles at that trivializing term—they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun. Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.
In other words, they weren't revengers, but terrorists.

I had always accepted the not-much-talked about belief that Harris and Klebold were two screwed-up kids who were pressured by jocks and preps until they broke. Rather than kill themselves as past generations often did, they used a new plan -- one from movies and video games, made possible by passive parenting -- to get revenge. Certainly, I would often plot of my beating the thugs who ruled my school.

I was far from alone. Right after Columbine, Jon Katz started a message thread on Slashdot that exploded within days into what he called "Voices From the Hellmouth."
In the days after the Littleton, Colorado massacre, the country went on a panicked hunt the oddballs in High School, a profoundly ignorant and unthinking response to a tragedy that left geeks, nerds, non-conformists and the alienated in an even worse situation than before. Stories all over the country embarked on witchunts that amounted to little more than Geek Profiling. All weekend, after Friday's column here, these voiceless kids -- invisible in media and on TV talk shows and powerless in their own schools -- have been e-mailing me with stories of what has happened to them in the past few days. Here are some of those stories in their own words, with gratitude and admiration for their courage in sending them. The big story out of Littleton isn't about violence on the Internet, or whether or not video games are turning out kids into killers. It's about the fact that for some of the best, brightest and most interesting kids, high school is a nightmare of exclusion, cruelty, warped values and anger.

The big story never seemed to quite make it to the front pages or the TV talk shows. It wasn't whether the Net is a place for hate-mongers and bomb-makers, or whether video games are turning your kids into killers. It was the spotlight the Littleton, Colorado killings has put on the fact that for so many individualistic, intelligent, and vulnerable kids, high school is a Hellmouth of exclusion, cruelty, loneliness, inverted values and rage....

People who are different are reviled as geeks, nerds, dorks. The lucky ones are excluded, the unfortunates are harassed, humiliated, sometimes assaulted literally as well as socially. Odd values - unthinking school spirit, proms, jocks - are exalted, while the best values - free thinking, non-conformity, curiousity - are ridiculed. Maybe the one positive legacy the Trenchcoat Mafia left was to ensure that this message got heard, by a society that seems desperate not to hear it.
Columbine seems to have been the exception to that. And why someone like Harris got away with it so long seems obvious, but may never get publicly admitted.

But I think we shouldn't let this view of Columbine color the other school shootings of the era. Paducah, Pearl, Oregon and others were loners under severe stress from bullies. In the Paducah case, the shooter targetted the popular, Christian kids who tormented him. This group met every morning at the school flag pole for morning prayer. The shooter struck them there. In fact, his worst tormentor was later hailed a hero for stopping him. (Please note I'm not glorifying the shooter or reversing the situation.)

Video games did have a role in that shooting. A man (Goldman?) who designed simulations for the military to get troops prepared for shooting to kill studied this boy and noted that although he had never fired a gun before, he was able to get a majority of head and torso shots, something incredibly unlikely in a first-time shooter. Goldman found that the kid had had hundreds of hours in training, playing video games.

I'm not demonising video games, but they do cast a shadow. Playing cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, as a kid meant a brief time in the afternoon, with fingers or plastic guns you had to provide your own sound effects for. Sitting for hours and hours, day after day, playing realistic blood-spatter games is a whole 'nother matter. The whole culture casts shadows in many ways over kids. Add up enough and cast them over one troubled, angry kid and you get explosion.

Or so I've always thought. Now, I'm not so sure. Read the Slate article and the sidebar especially. Something else to note is that while shootings at school happened before the early Nineties and still happen today, it was during the Clinton era when it was most in the news and on our minds. I am not blaming Clinton, but what in that era was different enough to have contributed? Did something in the way school adminsitrators handled kids reach a head then, only to subside with new approaches? I don't know, but it seems worth asking.
Anti-government Radicals Fire on Troops; Many Dead and Injured

National guard attempts to confiscate banned weapons from right-wing tax protest group.

BOSTON - April 20

National guard units seeking to confiscate a cache of recently banned weapons were ambushed on April 19th by elements of a para-military extremist faction. Military and law enforcement sources estimate that 72 were killed and more than 200 injured before government forces were compelled to withdraw.

Speaking after the clash Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage declared that the extremist faction, which was made up of local citizens, has links to the radical right-wing tax protest movement. Gage blamed the extremists for recent incidents of vandalism directed against internal revenue offices. The governor, who described the group's organizers as "criminals," issued an executive order authorizing the summary arrest of any individual who has interfered with the government's efforts to secure law and order.

The military raid on the extremist arsenal followed wide-spread refusal by the local citizenry to turn over recently outlawed weapons. Gage issued a ban on private ownership of weapons and ammunition earlier in the week. This decision followed a meeting in early this month between government and military leaders at which the governor authorized the forcible confiscation of illegal arms. One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that "none of these people would have been killed had the extremists obeyed the law and turned over their weapons voluntarily."

Government troops initially succeeded in confiscating a large supply of outlawed weapons and ammunition. However, troops attempting to seize arms and ammunition in Lexington met with resistance from heavily-armed extremists who had been tipped off regarding the government's plans.

During a tense standoff in Lexington's town park, National Guard Colonel Francis Smith, commander of the government operation, ordered the armed group to surrender and return to their homes. The impasse was broken by a single shot, which was reportedly fired by one of the right- wing extremists. Eight civilians were killed in the ensuing exchange. Ironically, the local citizenry blamed government forces rather than the extremists for the civilian deaths.

Before order could be restored, armed citizens from the surrounding areas had descended upon the guard units. Colonel Smith, finding his forces overmatched by the armed mob, ordered a retreat.

Governor Gage has called upon citizens to support the state national joint task force in its effort to restore law and order. The governor has also demanded the surrender of those responsible for planning and leading the attack against the government troops. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, who have been identified as "ringleaders" of the extremist faction, remain at large.

First reported on April 20, 1775
Journalists and Junk Science

Very good article from Catherine Seipp in National Review Online on Media & Junk Science. She write how journalists and editors, through a combination of ignorance, laziness and bias, let some egregious bad science go through the media. She has examples!

Me, I've firmly believed that all journalists should be made to take basic sciences and math in college as a requirement for a journalism degree. For my psych degree, I had to take statistics and that has helped me enormously to understand real statistics and meaning from the junk that slips through. ("Bush Leads Kerry by 3%" for example. If the margin of error in the poll is 3%, then it's a statistical dead heat.)

I've heard too many reporters and journalists joke that they went into journalism to escape the hard sciences to not take some truth from the statement. Too many articles will contain whopper errors, especially in environmental or medical reporting, that a simple knowledge of science can cure.

Another example? In this otherwise good UPI analysis of the match between a Martian rock and some asteroidal rocks found on Earth, the author says this:
During the early eons of the solar system, planetary impacts were downright common. Given the relative proximity of Earth and Mars, it is easy to accept the possibility that materials propelled upward from one planet eventually could make their way to the other.

The first organisms on Earth originated around 3.5 billion years ago and maybe earlier. Back then, impacts from asteroids and comets still were common. It is conceivable that material ejected from Earth by those impacts could have landed on Mars carrying some of those organisms -- or their raw ingredients. The converse also is possible -- early organisms from Mars could have landed on Earth.

The discovery of Bounce raises the distinct possibility that life arising from a common source could have existed for a time on both worlds.
Well, not quite. Simple physics and some environmental science would show that it's highly unlikely any rocks from Earth made it back to Mars, while the opposite is much more likely. Martian gravity is a fraction of Earth's, meaning it takes less impact energy to send rock into space. Mars' atmosphere is also a fraction of Earth's, meaning the rocks can surpass atmospheric friction on Mars more easily than Earth.

Mostly, though, our solar system is like a large, circular slope, with smaller round slopes inside it. The Sun is one giant gravity well, pulling everything out to the Kuiper Belt into it. Anything ejected from Mars will start to slide inexorably into the Sun, passing Earth's smaller gravity well in the process. Whereas anything ejected from Earth must work against the Sun's pull to move outward to Mars. All that adds up to a far tinier likelihood of Earth being a seed for Mars than the other way round.

Chemistry, math, physics, statistics, history, psychology, economics, sociology, biology, earth sciences, atmospheric sciences, a working knowledge of all these would be immeasureable aids to reporters and journalists. It strikes me as intuitive that they'd be somewhat better educated in these subjects than many of their readers. It would allow them to recognise false claims, to spot spin by funding and headline seekers, to stamp out bias that serves a political agenda. It would certainly make reporters better at their jobs.

One thing I've always wondered at was the frequency with which you see reporters labelled as "specialists" in some field by dint of nothing more than reporting on it for some period of time. No college background, no study, nothing. This is especially true for reporters covering business and economics, where seeing through government and opposition spin is vital to accurate reporting.

Take for example the Kerry "middle class misery index." There is an economic tool called the "misery index." It's a defined and specific measure. The Kerry campaign simply selected some random economic measures by which they could claim that things are worse today than under Clinton. Then they named it too-closely to the real thing. Many reporters simply passed along the MCMI without noting, or bothering to note, the distinction and its problems. Some sharp-eyed folks noticed that under the MCMI, the best time in America was under Jimmy Carter! Folks who remember then would beg to disagree. All it would've taken is a simple understanding of economics to stop that spin cold.

Same for many "environmental" reporters who haven't studied anything scientific in college, but are motivated by the desire to fix the world. That's why the global warming debate is so muddied. Too much bad or malicious information is unknowingly passed along. Same for "medical" reporters who will jump on the latest study as "proving" something, when that likely hasn't happened, or who will promote the latest diet silliness uncritically. Same for "political" reporters who don't know their history, political history, or political and sociological science. Same for "education" reporters who never studied education themselves. Same for "business" reporters who have never run or managed a business, nor studied regulation or market economics.It especially pains me when reporters new to the city get sent to report on events that have deep local history; they simply don't understand the resonance and subtler implications of what they cover. Their readers or viewers suffer

Replace "feelings" (note that I'm not saying "intuition") and journalistic templates with some sound groundings in the basics of science and the quality of journalism and reporting would definitely go up. Readers benefit and the community is better served.
Sounds of Silence

I've been going through changes my whole life, but only since I turned thirty have I even started to watch them. One recent change, happening over the past year and a half, has been my turning away from constant media noise in my environment. That's a fancy way of saying I turn off the television, radio and stereo a lot. During the day I might listen to talk radio some; at night I may watch certain, specific shows or occasionally have the television on for background noise. I hardly ever listen to music any more, something I used to do a whole lot.

I enjoy the quiet, or at least as quiet as it gets living in the middle of Midtown Memphis with Union Avenue a block away. Wind, traffic noise like a rush of wind, neighbors up and down the street, planes overhead are my background now. I kinda like it.

Sometimes I have to deal with loud, ignorant neighbors, or the bozos who walk down my block. "Udi. Udi! UDI! I'm talking to you! Hey. HEY! HEY MAN!! Wait up." Or cars with killer stereos or a clutch of people hanging out on the sidewalk talking mindless trash. But I can live with that.

The past couple of days have seen steady winds up to twenty MPH, so that mostly covers a lot of the unpleasant stuff. I don't turn on the television before 6PM any more, sometimes not until 8, if at all. I never listen to radio past late afternoon. I don't listen to music at all. That's not to say I don't keep up with news. I do, usually through the Internet, which is silent and I can control it.

I've disconnected from the media fog that usually surrounds us and I like it. Going into restaurants where the big-screen television is always on distracts me fiercely now. I'll have to make adjustments to find other, quieter places. The pace of life is a little bit slower, more human-scaled. My anxiety levels are way down; I'm less enervated. My connection to the world around me feels more real, instead of edited, mediated and poured all over me like goo.

It's nice. Try it some time.

Monday, April 19, 2004


Grrrrrrr! I was supposed to post some stuff I had bookmarked. Instead, I spent Sunday afternoon and evening rewriting the HTML of the Kerry Mockery Page. Traffic went through the roof starting Friday, thanks to both Instapundit and a mention on FreeRepublic. I blew through my whole month's bandwidth in 36 hours! It didn't help that all those fat graphics were loading with every page call.

So, I made smaller GIFs and then had to learn JavaScript to make a simple popup window link for each image. I had to learn parameters. It took a whole lot longer than anticipated and was frustrating as all hell. But the page is done. Just don't look at the source code. Oooooh, what a mess.

As long as folks don't look at every full-res JPG, it should save me some bandwidth. If you have problems with the page, let me know. Alternatively, if you have suggestions on the HTML or JavaScript coding, I'd like to hear them. My code is so inelegant.... Functional, but brute force and repetitive. Email addy is up to the left.

By the way, I added about six or seven new graphics to the page. Enjoy!

I have chores and errands to do today, so further updates will be later this evening. See y'all later!