Tags: news

Hurry up, election day is coming!

I'm a big political junkie, even though I rarely discuss my own political views. But there comes a point when even the biggest fans of something will say "enough!" And I think I'm there.

I just heard a CNN anchor ask a Bush campaign spokesperson if the campaign is worried because Jeb Bush has fallen to seventh in some poll, in regards to the upcoming Iowa caucuses. I heard the question, I heard the answer ("he's tenth from the bottom! It's a glass half-full or half-empty question."), and I said "enough is enough. Why am I bothering to listen to the pablum?"

But then I wondered about that poll. I wondered how it was phrased. Specifically, the question I would love to have included in that poll -- and every other political poll that is run in the next six months -- is: "Had we not asked your opinion, would you have been thinking about the Presidential election of 2016 at all? How much of an impact, beyond the non-stop political reporting, does the Presidential election of 2016 have on your life right now, in the summer of 2015? Do you think we ought to even bother talking about the campaign and the candidates at this point, when the Iowa caucus (on February 1, 2016) is more than five months in the future, and it's only 434 days until election day (November 8, 2016)?" Sure, those questions may not be scientifically fair, but the results would probably send every news organization in the country scurrying to find actual news for the next several months, and that wouldn't be a bad thing.


The news of the day seems to require commentary

Watching the evening news on ABC, a couple of stories caught my attention. They led off the broadcast with the skyrocketing price of gasoline, to the point that the reporter, at the end of the taped segment, said "Look at that. Just in the three minutes our tape was playing, the price of gas at this gas station in Los Angeles went up ten cents a gallon." Of course, she didn't tell us if any gasoline had just been delivered, or (far more damning, and far more likely) the gas station had just raised the price of the stuff that was sitting in its tank. (The science fiction writer in me keeps wondering where Heinlein's Daniel Shipstone is hiding, and when he'll be ready to go public.)

A little later in the broadcast, they did a story in their continuing "Made in America" series, lauding a few firms which moving their manufacturing and offices from China back to the United States. The concept is great, and I applaud those companies bringing the jobs back to the US. But combining those two stories in my mind makes me wonder how long the job infusion can truly last. As the price of gasoline keeps climbing, it eats into the supposed savings the interviewed executives claim to be finding in the States (one said the rising salaries demanded in China, combined with the greater of US workers, made the move logical).

Another continuing story that caught my ear was the mania in Afghanistan over the military burning some old Korans. The locals apparently went ape-shit over this desecration of their religion, so ape-shit, in fact, that CNN's report has at least five people killed in their riotous "response" to the burning. Really? These books were more valuable than five people's lives? Online, ABC quotes this AP report: "They should leave Afghanistan rather than disrespecting our religion, our faith," Mohammad Hakim told the Associated Press outside of Bagram. "They have to leave and if next time they disrespect our religion, we will defend our holy Koran, religion and faith until the last drop of blood has left in our body." They're willing to die because they don't like the way someone else is treating this book, which for all they know might have been printed by heathens, and be full of typos? Could they declare their inhumanity any more loudly? Once again, it makes me wonder if the human race wouldn't be better off without any religion whatsoever.

And in disappointing, though not unexpected, news, a couple of flaws have been discovered in last year's experiment that seemed to show neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light: story.

Finally, Solar Eclipse, Seen Only By U.S. Satellite.

News vs. Editorial: there should be a difference

I just sent the following comment to ABC News, regarding this evening's broadcast, and thought I'd share it more widely. Mind you, I'm not commenting (here) on the fact that the taxpayers shouldn't be paying for the primaries at all (let the political parties pay for them), but on the newscast itself. Agree? Disagree?


I found Diane Sawyer's question to (on tonight's broadcast) and George Stephanopoulos' answer quite inappropriate for a program that is theoretically reporting the news (rather than attempting to make it). Asking if Newt Gingrich should drop out of the race for the Republican nomination is wrong. This far, only 3 states have voted in their primaries, representing less than 3% of the country's population. Even adding in Florida raising it to less than 10%.

And George's response, that no candidate has ever come back from being counted out three times, is incredibly disingenuous. Gingrich has only been counted out by the news media, a meaningless fact. At the moment, he has 27 of the 79 pledged delegates, with 1144 needed to win. That's certainly not "out". If you people want to editorialize, promote the show as Editorial Opinion Tonight. If you’re going to claim to be the news, report the news.

Before-and-after satellite photos of Japan

Thanks to Dad for this link: http://www.abc.net.au/news/events/japan-quake-2011/beforeafter.htm . Australian television offers a series of satellite photos of Japan, showing the effects of the earthquake/tsunami. Slide your mouse over the pics to see the change. I found it surprising that many of the bridges in the pictures weren't knocked down (just a few, on the second page of images). Coastline and buildings however... bam.

Anyway, take a look.


I just read James Poniewozik's column in the latest issue of Time (well, it's actually the 17 January 2011 issue, but it arrived today). It's also available online here. I was going to link to it to say it's a nice comparison of Twitter to the CB radios of the 1970s. But before I was able to get to that link, I found this article, which says the recent die-off of blackbirds in Arkansas is nothing sinister, and that animal die-offs happen frequently (I think a similar point was made in FlashForward). The die-offs article notes that the growth of social media and instant reporting means it's much easier to be more aware of those oddities, and that as one becomes aware of more of them, they seem to form a pattern. Poniewozik's article says that social media and instant reporting allow us to form our own instant—and leaderless—news outlets with very precise focuses, which share their specific pieces of information, and then fall apart, only to reform with other reporters on other topics.

Anyway, I recommend them both to you. It seems like there's a connection here… [wink]

Isn't the true villain in the Gulf oil spill... us?

I was reading Ellen Reiss' editorial in the current The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (from the Aesthetic Realism Foundation), which talks about the Gulf Oil Spill, and attributes it to corporate greed overwhelming public good. And I keep hearing similar complaints from most every source out there: the evil oil giant BP tried to squeeze every last dollop of profit out of their oil trade, and thus cut corners, resulting in this massive disaster. Isn't BP evil.

But what I haven't heard is the true source of the blame: us. We, the people who want more and more oil and gasoline and petroleum products at cheaper and cheaper prices. Give us more gas, make us pay a few cents a gallon less, and we're happy with almost everything.

BP wouldn't have been drilling this well if they didn't know there was a market for the product when they got around to producing it. And if we had been able to say "We've got enough. We're not going to buy any more plastic products this month. We're going to leave our cars in the garage for the next few months and walk," BP wouldn't have been drilling that well in the first place. But we'd never do that. Oh sure, a few of us might pay a few dollars more for "locally produced" food, rather than stuff that's trucked in from the other side of the country (or flown from the other side of the planet), but since the introduction of the internal combustion engine, there has never been a significant, lasting decline in its use. Which means oil companies are going to keep drilling.

But I'm not complaining about our mobile society. A great many good things have come from our increased ability to travel easily. To go back to a society dependent solely on foot and horse power would be a horrible step back. No, what we need is a completely different energy source.

If someone were to pop up tomorrow and say "Lookee here! I've got this new fuel that's easily portable, storable, and replenishable, as safe as gasoline, that doesn't pollute any more than burning fossil fuels, that can be generally available, and that will push your car forty miles for only two dollars," OPEC would shrivel up and die, the oil companies would see their stocks plummet to spare change, and we'd be operating under a new paradigm.

But until that time, we can whine and bitch about BP all we want, but they know, I know, and you know, that we're just like junkies complaining about our pusher. The only thing that really matters is that we're going to hand over our money for his product, again and again. Our words mean nothing compared to our actions.

Where's Daniel Shipstone when we need him?

Balanced reactions to terror?

The public outrage over the Israeli military's attack on a blockade-running flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip would be a lot more convincing if the cheerleaders heading that outrage—the news media—were a bit more equal in slinging about their condemnation.

Where was the outrage when Turkish warplanes yet again bombed Kurds in Iraq? Well, no, because we classify their targets as a terrorist organization.

Any comment on this car bomb in Kandahar? Hell, no. Heck, we barely even acknowledge such events anymore, let alone feel any shock or revulsion at them.

Was there a peep about the murders of six Afghan policemen? Or the Taliban's claim of responsibility for the deaths of nine policemen and the wounding of 23 others? Of course not. Heck, we'll even run both facts in one article, just to save space, because nobody really wants to say anything about it.

And how about this whack-job, who is threatening attacks on the United States. Has anyone even questioned why he hasn't been disowned by his family, friends, or followers? Why he's just running around loose?

Anybody outraged about the murder of 98 people, including 75 at prayer in Afghanistan? Naw, I guess we've seen enough of that to just accept it.

And those examples are just from the last week.

It couldn't just be that the Taliban is a terrorist organization. No, it couldn't, because the US, the EU, Japan, and Canada have all declared Hamas (the group running the Gaza Strip) a terrorist organization, too.

Is it only because we expect Israel to adhere to a higher standard than the subhuman Taliban and other groups? Well, that one I might accept.

I'm not defending Israel here; I'm attacking the news outlets that determine what we'll see as "news", and then whip up sentiment for or against whichever story they think will get the most outrage. Were the Israelis wrong to kill nine of the blockade-runners? I'm still not sure. It's not like the blockade was a surprise. It's not like the people on those boats didn't know they were sailing into harm's way. See, for example, this article, in which those sailing to Gaza freely admitted that their blockade running wasn't really about humanitarian aid: "Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, called the flotilla 'a cheap political stunt,' saying 'If they were really interested in the well being of the people of Gaza, they would have accepted the offers of Egypt or Israel to transfer humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, along with the other 15 thousand tons sent every week.'" Also, "Noam Shalit, father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, told CNN he offered through his lawyer to attempt to convince the Israeli government to let the flotilla arrive in Gaza if participants would pass aid, including letters and medicine, to his son. The organizers of the convoy refused, he said, telling him their main purpose is to break the siege."

Well, they certainly achieved their goal. Now everyone knows about the Israeli blockade (which has been in effect for more than three years). And everyone knows the groups organizing the flotilla were long on political savvy, if short on actual caring feelings and brains. So what do we do about it?

Increasingly, I'm thinking the US really should declare itself the world's policeman. Heck, we've pretty much got the job unofficially anyway. Maybe it really is time to say "Okay, no more. Any group that advocates the death of others is hereby declared a terrorist organization, outlawed, and subject to sudden death whenever and wherever we please. We don't care if you call yourselves freedom fighters, repressed minorities, or religions. Thou shalt not kill, and thou shalt not advocate death. If you do, you lose all your rights." Then, of course, we'd have to back it up. But perhaps, since so many of them claim some legitimacy from a religious text, we ought to take a page from their playbooks, and declare that "Yes, you are your brother's keeper. Anyone advocating death not only faces such a penalty themselves, but also brings down the condemnation on their families." Yep, it sounds like I'm advocating a reign of terror. I don't know that I'd want to live in such a world, but I know that what we're being dragged down into is also not the world I signed up for. Maybe we have to force the issue, make things bloodier, in order to emerge out the other side into a more peaceful life. Hari Seldon knew an interregnum was coming, and tried merely to cut its length from 30,000 years to 1,000. Perhaps we need to cause our own interregnum, in a controlled fashion, to limit it's long-term effects. Allen Steele's Sa-tong is a wonderful philosophy that has been much on my mind of late (in brief: god didn't create man in his own image; rather, each person is god. Treat them accordingly), but perhaps there really are some animals walking around that look like people, but aren't really. We need to find them and weed them out of the gene pool and the meme pool.

Life from lifelessness

I'm so far behind that I only just found this news (I'm assuming pretty much everyone else in the world knows about it, but on the off-chance that it's new for someone else...):

Scientists create a living organism: so says CNN.com. The actual report is available for free online from Science: Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome.

And it didn't even take Carol Marcus's planet-destroying device...

You call that reporting? That's just the questions, not the story.

We just watched the local ABC News programs "special investigative report" about a spate of marriages that took place in Harrison, New York. Apparently five times as many marriages as usual in the space of a month, and all of them men with middle eastern names and women from New York City, and in the months just before September 2001. Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? We heard the teasers several times in the top of the newscast, and stayed for the story. When they finally got there, however, we were horribly disappointed. Jim Hoffer, the investigative reporter, didn't tell us what was going on or why. So I just sent him a little expressing my disappointment, and decided to share it with you.

I was a reporter (well, I still am, but I'm working in a far more limited field these days). As a reporter, his story wasn't finished. And as an editor, not only wasn't it finished, but it wasn't even started. Had he presented that report to me as an editor, I would have said "Okay, great. These are some fascinating questions. Now go out and find the answers; that's your story." But what we got was just the initial questions. I felt my time had been wasted, waiting for that story and then watching it.

The letter:

Text of my letter to the reporter below this cut.Collapse )

Is it sports, entertainment, or advertising? And who's paying who for what?

If, every time the newscaster mentions tomorrow's New York City Marathon, he calls it "The ING New York City Marathon", has he stopped reporting the news for instead broadcasting an advertisement? I find it a little annoying. Then again, I also don't like calling New Shea Stadium "City Field".

It's kind of up there with the fact that what used to be "the Super Bowl" is now "the Big Game" everywhere except for companies that have paid the NFL enough money. The NFL gets pissed if someone hasn't paid them money but uses the term Super Bowl, but how would they respond if the news media said "You know what? This is entertainment, not news. If you want us to talk about it, buy an ad."?

(Yeah, I've got the news on the tv while I'm sitting here editing.)