Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Praise for Wretchard

It’s embarrassing to reveal that I am such a toadying bootlick. Honest, folks, my voracious reading really truly does include a few headlines or so every few weeks from someplace besides Belmont Club and Vodkapundit, and of course there are entirely other regiments and troops of excellent writers, wordsmiths, and essayists who think BIG THOUGHTS.

But Wretchard the Cat has a quiet understated deftness from which a reader almost always comes away richer for the reading. For example, today he’s posted an essay titled “The Wood Between the Worlds” prompted by a report of a member of a group styling itself “Fathers4Justice” evidently climbing on London’s Parliament house.

It’s really a short piece, not dealing with news of titanic EVENTS of the moment. Just a casual comment in response to a publicity stunt by a group wanting its grievance to get some attention. But like the veteran instructor in the LaMaze class, Wretchard manages to guide and place our finger on the pulse of a living beast aborning, which embodies for better or for worse, the doom of our time much more than the jihadists, the bureaucrats well-meant or otherwise, or the most rapacious of capitalists.

At one level, the particulars of the incident matter less than the fact that it is closer to raw experience than 99 percent of the reports we get from most news sources, which have been viewed, trimmed, compressed, and marinated at length in journalistic digestive juices by layers of editors before being allowed to impinge on our un-tutored retinas.

Just some guy with a grievance climbing a building to be noticed. And he is noticed, because it was a well-traveled public place, pretty quickly by the news-hungry professional photojournalists.

And by the amateurs, as well.

Everyone taking pictures of the event, of the individual, of the location, of each other taking pictures. With at least a few cameras that can feed instantly into the web. The new urban environment is being documented from all angles, seemingly every minute of the day. Everything all at once all the time forever.

I’m not entirely convinced that this signals the utter end of rascally government’s ability to suppress news; a truly repressive government can impose harsh penalties for owning or using cameras, just as it can confiscate weapons to ensure a subjugated populace. Like the astronauts conversing in Larry Niven’s book “Lucifer’s Hammer” when in a small epiphany one observes that seen from orbit, the Earth’s surface shows no borders between countries. A cynic replies that such observations should be kept to one’s self, lest the petty governments immediately paint ten-mile wide stripes in day-glow orange along every border, to ensure they CAN be seen from space...

Wretchard’s insight is deceptively mild, so all the more acute:

“If Moms4Justice had scaled Nelson's plinth and Kids4Justice had swarmed Buckingham palace at the same time, how would meme collision get arbitrated on the nervous system of a digitally wired society? Is there any way of assigning headers to memes such that they get where they should? Is there any way for memes to rearrange themselves in a logical order upon arrival at a destination to form an even more complex idea? What is to prevent the whole digital nervous sytem from suffering a breakdown from an overload? And encapsulating all these questions implicitly is the most important question of all: how does one make a buck out of it?”

This last year has provided a number of celebrated examples of how the internet and the people who monitor the flow of information can augment, correct, “fact-check” and even sometimes trump the Old Mainstream Media. But it is sometimes forgotten that the key to it all — the key to ANY of it working — is a fine, insightful, devastatingly logical mind with the ability to identify a crucial item, and like some kid with a Rubik’s Cube, sift through all the variations and extract the verities for us.

Most of us can recognize a snake displayed on a table top. Not so many can pick out a diamondback rattler sitting motionless in the leaf litter where we are about to step. Wretchard and a number of unsung folks like him are setting a high standard for peering into the thicket, and marking a path.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Growing Antii-war Movement?

Right. The Anti-war movement has grown dramatically.

From TWELVE photographers jockeying for the ideal shot of Cindy "Who-cares-what-my-son-was-willing-to-risk-death-for" to twelve DOZEN photographers and videographers fistfighting each other for the best angle on Cindy “my-left-profile-is-more-convincingly-bereaved” as she kneels in her best Mother Theresa pose, with the knee-pads cleverly concealed behind some rosary beads and tear-soaked tissues.

Now, keep in mind that I come from the generation that LAUNCHED the Peace--LOVE--Make-Sex-Not-War Groovey “If It Moves have unprotected nooky with it” generation. I embrace otherness. I applaud the individuality of all individuals. Well, most individuals. I celebrate celebrities, and happily pay exorbitant ticket prices to see Hollywood actors speak highly-intelligent and emotionally-compelling lines with pots of cosmetics enhancing their unusually apposite facial anatomies.

But, honestly, we have to draw a line somewhere.

The pukes pretending to care about the issues in the so-called “anti-war” protests these days are truly pathetic excuses for crusaders. You used to have to have the discipline actually to *SPELL* the slogans, on accounta the signs mostly had to be hand-lettered. Now these molly-coddled little turds get fancy signs printed with soy-based inks on recycled-for-God’s-Sake-dolphin-safe paper, all spell-checked and formatted and copyright © 2005 by and George Soros.

They probably have to sign’em out, and return them for recycling after the demonstration.

In *MY* day, we had to hitch-hike to protests, and believe me, there were a lot of people then that wouldn’t stop to pick up anyone with long hair, especially carrying a hand-made “Stop the War” sign.

And talk about liaison with the media as a problem~! When I was in the protest business, we didn’t have CELLULAR phones to rally everyone on short notice. It took planning and careful pre-arrangement, military-precision timing to get the camera crews and the protesters together at the right time... I mean, people, there were ONLY THREE NETWORKS!

And they had news programs only TWICE a DAY: six and eleven pee-em.

You couldn’t just show up at some street corner like you can now, and be guaranteed that there would be two hundred and fifty people with some sort of broadcast quality camera equipment just waiting for some damn thing to happen.

Oh, yeah, and in those ancient days, reporters were occasionally questioned by their editors, to determine that the sequences hadn’t been faked.

These protesters really have it so easy.

If a protest were called and they had to bring their own Evian water, could they pull it off?

Boy! If I were a flinty-eyed, calculating, Allah-fearing terrorist, eager enough to expell BusHitler’s armies of occupation from Iraq so it could be restored to a pure and holy state of subjugation, daily murder, rape, torture, brutalization, and denial of all the fundamental pleasures the evil Americans take for granted... Would I really want to have to depend on the likes of these cravens as allies to my holy cause?????? I don’t think so. You probably couldn’t send them to the corner armory for a kilo of C4, without having them get lost on the way back and forget their munitions on the seat of their parents’ car.

I can imagine a conversation taking place somewhere, wherever it is that freedom-fighting terrorists dream of their waiting virgins between anti-personell bomb assembly sessions:

Sayeed: “So, Yousef, is it your will this day to go forth and send shrapnel hurtling through the flesh of infidel women and children strolling on the public way, to glorify the blessed name of Allah the merciful?”

Yousef: “No, Sayeed. For it has come to my ears that the young of our enemies meaning to set themselves athwart the paths of the unrighteous, are gathering in the great cities in numbers beyond count. Perhaps they will accomplish our task for us, and smite our foemen a mighty blow. Let us pray to Allah.”

Sayeed: “Affendi, seat your self, and pray for strength. The pious youth who would have given aid to our cause, they have been scattered like the grains of sand before the desert wind. Our foe have distracted them from their holy duties with divers interactive video games, iPods, burgers, and free condoms. Only two-score and twelve protesters have managed to set themselves athwart the boulevards of our foe to frustrate their evil plans.”

Yousef: “Curses upon the heads of the unbelieving twits. Allah has pooped upon us, to saddle our camels with such baggage for allies. Better that we return to redouble our efforts with the Food-for-Oil scheme, which showered advantages upon our plans.”

Sayeed: “Grieve not overmuch, my friend. Now the hurricanes have subsided, we may expect any day now the baying of our allies in the U.S. media to take up again our noble and worthy cause...”

Baah. I’m disgusted with the sorry rascals. Well, I’ll show them. For decades, my critics have criticized me for being different, so from now on I'm going to be the same.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

On the Emerging Avian Flu Problem

On September 22, Rick Moran, aka “Superhawk” — administrator of Rightwing Nuthouse — posted a fine and timely article on the emerging threat of Avian Flu, which seems to be cropping up in a number of Asian locations.

• The BBC’s online news reported in an article dated 15 August that the so-called “Bird Flu” had spread westward as far as the area of Chelyabinsk, where the Ural Mountains form one of the last geographic speed bumps to the spread of the disease from Asia into Europe. The disease primarily affects wild aquatic birds and domestic poultry, and the Chelyabinsk region is blessed with thousands of lakes that migratory aquatic birds in huge numbers visit in passing. The virus has already required massive culling of market-raised poultry in some areas, and may be expected to devastate the local farms there as it has in several other Asian regions.

At the time of that article, Russian sources indicated no human cases in Chelyabinsk, even though a virus strain found in humans in nearby rural areas was identified as the type that had caused human fatalities elsewhere.

• In Jakarta last week, health authorities have confirmed that several workers at the city’s Ragunan Zoo have been infected with the strain of Avian Flu identified as the “H5N1” virus, after the virus was isolated from 19 birds that are part of the permanent zoo population. (“H_N_” is a code for the protein sequencing that effectively distinguishes various viruses, and in turn suggests anti-viral strategies to the researchers.) The same report indicates a handful of infections in people not connected to the Zoo, of whom one 37-year-old woman died.

It may seem like a lot of fuss over a handful of humans infected out of a population of billions. We hear of avian flu year after year, and it’s had enormous economic consequences in some areas, causing the outright deaths and preemptive destruction of hundreds of millions of poultry in the last few years.

But this time, things could be very different.

There are several factors that make it so. One is the virulence of the virus, even just considered in its effect on the birds. In some outbreaks, the virus killed almost every single chicken infected. That level of lethality is bad enough for its economic impact, but it is particularly sobering if it conveys along with communicability among different species.

And in fact, the H5N1 strain of Avian flu has learned to jump from birds to humans, and though it has not yet spread widely, the record demands attention. Considering how outraged people were last fall over the anticipated shortages of vaccine, you’d think there might be a little more interest. After all, this particular version of the flu gives every indication that it poses a very real and potent threat, not just an inconvenience.

I know it’s difficult to sort out truly urgent data amid the regular spasms of hysteria that the alleged Mainstream News Organizations seem to increasingly depend upon for capturing the attention of readers. The vaccine shortfall worries that surfaced during the presidential election of 2004 have added to the long list of real concerns that are too complex for most people to examine rigorously even when politics are not pumping adrenalin into every conversation. Recall now that despite the hysteria the flu season wound down with a surplus of several million doses. I’m not saying the worries were unjustified, but that the questions were never discussed rationally, because the issue was hijacked by those who saw it as just another weapon to use to unseat a hated incumbent.

There certainly needs to be further public conversation on issues of public health policy. Yet we seem to be happier pissing away our energy in shouting matches than in daring to address the relentless spread of HIV, antibiotic-resistance in diseases once thought mastered, and the emergence of new pathogens.

Example: Tuberculosis has re-emerged most conspicuously among urban homeless drug-abusers in the last decade in virulent strains that defy all but the most exotic and expensive antibiotics. The ACLU, abandoning reason for political correctness, fights to shield those homeless drug-users from involuntary confinement or any other coercion by the government meant to ensure they take the medications correctly. So the resistant Tuberculosis spreads and grows more robust. At some point people need to wake up and grasp that a plague won’t spare anyone for their politics. Set aside the brickbats and work with people whose views you find obnoxious, to address and solve the acute problems that threaten all.

One writer who has done a tremendous job of framing the challenge of infectious diseases in the last decade is Laurie Garrett.

You might recall her as NPR's eloquent science reporter for a decade, wrote an excellent book a few years back, “The Coming Plague.” Reading even just a few chapters of that book will give you a pretty good sense of the real problems involved in identifying and preparing for new infectious diseases, and the political and social hurdles in implementing policies and medical programs.

More recently she has written an excellent comprehensive article for Foreign Affairs, the online e-magazine published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

It's lengthy — some 5,000 words, or about 13 pages — but you can't read it and walk away with any lingering doubt that it's worth preparing against the threat posed by Avian Flu and its sibling strains. In the first paragraph, she points out that Avian flu has killed about 50 percent of documented patients infected since 1997. A few paragraphs later she relates that examination of U.S. records from the “Spanish Influenza Pandemic” of 1917 to 1918 indicate a mortality rate of about ONE PERCENT of all persons infected.

Ironically, where we have become accustomed to warnings that young children and the elderly are thought to be most vulnerable to flu outbreaks of the last few decades, the Spanish flu was most savagely fatal among young adults, possibly because the older populace had gained partial immunity from several nationwide flu outbreaks some decades earlier.

To sum up, Avian flu is on its way. With a bunch of unpleasant relatives simmering in the background. We need to pay attention, and support the folks who actually get things done, instead of just posing and pontificating. In many ways, Jonathan Swift’s book “Gulliver’s Travels” pinpointed the absurdity of political wrangling in all societies at all times. We’re like a bunch of oysters clamoring for a ban on chowder recipes.

Monday, September 19, 2005

If there is only chaff...

Acknowledging priority to Little Green Footballs for the link, Mudville Gazette, and Wretchard at The Belmont Club provide a hook-up to a site (Second Draft) which offers footage shot by Palestinians last year, from which many Western News Media selected bits to present as "news" to include in their broadcast reporting of events. The website provides extensive raw footage, which it invites you to download and examine to determine to your own satisfaction whether the events were staged, fabricated, managed, or least generously, "faked" by Palestinians.

With a sense that the author probably spent a lot of effort pruning this introduction to the site, I'm including it verbatim, rather than attempting to paraphrase:

“Welcome to the home page of The Second Draft. This website is devoted to exploring some of the problems and issues that plague modern journalism. In this age of globalization, the media has unprecedented influence on the way we see the world. And yet, whether out of misplaced good intentions, unconscious agendas and predispositions, or unwarranted faith in false information, they can get the story dramatically wrong. Therefore, we want to revisit and ‘first draft of history’, and hopefully produce a more accurate second one. In our current investigations [link omitted] we present the story the way the mainstream media initially told it, introduce further evidence, and let you decide what you think really happened. We have designed an interactive site. We have talk-backs and a forum so that you have the option to engage in a larger web discussion as well as respond to specific pages or articles. We also welcome your submissions for future investigations. We encourage you to explore this site. Our hope is that, even if you do not agree with our conclusions, you will begin to think more critically and independently about the media in the future.”

Several hours later I'm still waiting for the download of the unedited footage to finish — I only have a dial-up connection. This powerfully underscores the problem most of us face in evaluating the news stories that are daily presented to us. How do we BEGIN the task of confirming ANY single news item, much less the totality of our news sources? I have a reasonably advanced computer, but I just can't justify a high-speed connection, which severely restricts the mass of data I can download, regardless of the computer's ability to process. This is true for most folks, even as dramatically as online technologies have changed.

Thousands of years ago, gold was already recognized for its unique resistance to corrosion. The ancients likewise had learned there are many alloys that only *look* like gold. How could they determine whether the goblet they wished to trade for their five ewes was real gold, or false? Well, from Lydia, the land we now know as Turkey, came the knowledge that a certain sort of velvety black stone would show a streak when stroked even lightly by a golden object, and the color of that mark was determined by the purity of the gold. The Lydian Stone has given us the term "touchstone."

There no longer seems to be any sort of touchstone or standard of purity for mainstream journalism.

The New York Times was regarded as a rock of rectitude in reporting when I was a kid. Administrations, heroes, celebrities, popes, kings, presidents, calamitous thugs, and princes could stride across the stage of history, and the NYT would step aside from human bias, cheap politics, and crass self-interest to report things as they happened, without adornment or distortion.

What a load of dingos’ kidneys.

For once, I won't drag out the boring details of my experience to klop you readers over the head with what an exciting and worthwhile life I've lead. I'll save that for many other posts. For now it's enough to say you don't have to be a genius of the age to witness an event, then the next morning read an unrecognizable description of that event in a highly-reputable rag like the New York Times, to grasp that you can NOT depend on journalists to accurately report what happens. I wonder how many people grow up without having that experience, though, because it seems to me that a lot of Americans still have the same unjustifiable reverence for journalists that the Chinese peasants at the time of the Boxer Rebellion were described as having for the printed word.

By accounts, they were indoctrinated to regard the words of posters, placards, and proclamations as magic, infallible, inarguable wisdom. Didn't seem to occur to them that some human being had been trained to dip a brush in paint and scrawl those ideographs onto the rice paper banners... Well, look at us ultra-sophisticated sheep of the early 21st century. How many times have you had to help someone behind a fast-food counter figure out correct change for your burger and fries ransom? If you take e-mail messages as any index of the state of American literacy, you know we are in the process of reverting to apes. You'll be more wretched if you actually allow yourself to pay attention to what currently passes for advertising, because you know that a pots of money have been spent on testing and retesting focus groups to be CERTAIN that the target audiences will respond favorably to the sewage being spewed at them from the telly.

You can hardly blame the alleged news media for concluding we consumers of their product have no regard for truth. Still, America has a kernel of decency yet unpopped despite all the flames. There are emptors who yet caveat, and the internet is helping them do so. The saddest thing about the Western News Media serving as willing accomplices to faked Palestinian stories, is that there is a deep well of sympathy for the misery of the Palestinians. Americans have no desire to see the Palestinian people living in squalor and desparation, and the horror of their lives is NOT solely the result of Israeli policies. Some of the neighboring Arab dictatorships have routinely have slaughtered their own citizens over the decades of the last century to keep them in line. Those neighbors bear much of the responsiblity for aggravating and extending the suffering of the Palestinian Arabs, because they persist in cynically exploiting them rather than offering solutions.

The staggering wealth that has flowed from the sale of oil into the coffers of the various Arab dictators and thugs, has created a wonderful legacy of palaces, titanic statues of heroically posed bronze portraits of those thugs, private brothels, hunting lodges, mansions, torture chambers, prisons, work-houses, estates and retreats to be enjoyed while bodyguards practice with high-tech weapons and vehicles. The Arab world is awash in lucre, but it is in the hands of the vicious thugs who rape and murder their own people to keep them subservient. Of the Muslim countries around the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, only a handful have governments which allow participation of the general populace. The rest are almost without exception harshly repressive authoritarian regimes, headed by tiny groups hoarding vast wealth and telling their people their suffering is the fault of Israel and the U.S.

Leftists of the world and the United States seem to have a very different sense of the function of journalism than do we in the unsophisticated hinterlands. If they actually gave a shit about the plight of the Palestinians, they could begin to alleviate the situation by simply showing conditions as they are, without embellishment. Instead, the left is obsessed with bringing Amerikkka low by any means, and the Palestinian cause is to them just one more brick to throw at our heads. Lies are much easier to manufacture than actual events. You can budget them, script them, go forth and get grants to produce them. No inconvenient wasted time waiting for an unreliable Israeli to come out and fire on a crowd of extras. And everybody in the crowd scenes gets a copy of the DVD for their relatives.

Americans can see through a great deal of politically-slanted narration to grasp in the fullness of time the underlying truth. (Look how many who blasted Bush for Katrina are reversing field and now grudgingly admitting that much good was done.) But their sympathy depends a great deal on having a trust that they are being given the chance to actually see something that is true, not staged, not fabricated, not faked. That trust is not inexhaustible. It is squandered by sneering, arrogant News Reader Celebrities attempting to fob off lies as truth.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pray: Re: Ho’ Compassion?

Garrison Keillor, who before he became a celebrity used to have a detectable sense of humor, has had his lawyers bully a Minneapolis blogger with a “Cease and Desist” letter, for selling t-shirts emblazoned with a parody of the name of “Prairie Home Companion” the weekly radio program that launched Keillor’s fame.

How pathetic! How supremely IRONIC —we want to smugly whine — that Keillor should be so unable to tolerate parody, even though it may be offensive to him.

For those two or three of you in the reading public that don’t know, Prairie Home Companion is the name of a radio show that was presented by Minnesota Public Radio starting back in the 1980’s. I believe Keillor may have developed the show through a production company he owns, but the show gained much of its audience from its distribution by public radio.

That’s “PUBLIC” radio, folks. Supported by our tax dollars.

So Garrison Keillor, boy genius, sun climbing over the eastern horizon, came up with the concept, wrote many of the scripts and jokes, and performed as the Master of Ceremonies. He had some pretty good material. If only he hadn’t insisted on singing with every musician that came onstage, just because he was the star... But it is important to realize that a good measure of the show's popularity resulted from its being just about the only regular nationally-broadcast hour-long variety / entertainment show going. For some reason, the format had been mostly abandoned by the commercial networks.

By the mid-90’s he had a fair amount of fame, and good press. People were very sympathetic to his abrupt return from Denmark when things didn’t work out despite an extended anticipation and planning of his retirement.

The key to the enormous volume of comments on the website of the blogger, is that sometime during the Clinton era, Keillor became a bitter, humorless mooncalf.

By that, I mean he changed from universal gentle humor celebrating the commonplace experiences that define a community, to a mean-spirited opportunistic insulting sneering humor based primarily on not much more than saying mean things about conservatives. Things that divide rather than unite. It must have been an easy slide down that slope. There have always been audiences that laugh at someone who says nothing more than “Boy, what about that REAGAN!?!?!” It just doesn’t require much effort to write that sort of monologue. Maybe he just got tired.

Now I come to think of it, if you’ve got an audience that responds that way, why fight it? Why write ANY joke that depends on wit, or clever manipulation of logic, with a surprise twist or revelation or sudden glimpse into a truth we hadn’t anticipated? If you have an audience that will laugh out of simple relief that they are among others who share their orientation, why risk offending them by attempting humor that does not conspicuously reinforce that sense?

Well, on reflection I realize I’m just taking shots at Keillor for acting like a typical liberal (i.e., utter hypocrite, intellectually sloppy, and WRONG WRONG WRONG.) I am nothing if not even-handed.

In fact, it is true of patents, trademarks, and copyrighted intellectual properties, that the owner has the responsibility of challenging new products — especially COMMERCIAL ones — that bear any resemblance to yours. Otherwise, if someone later comes along blatantly making pirate copies, you run the risk of the court telling you that, since you made no attempt to challenge previous possible infringements, you have forfeited any rights you might have had.

Evidently this does not depend on having gotten a judgment that the earlier instances were after all, infringements. Just that you’ve established a record of defending the patent/trademark/copyright.

What a world...
My brother and I fetched up against this kind of thing when we had a tiny bit of publicity over a comic book we were preparing for the State of Virginia as one element of a package (consisting otherwise of an animated TV spot, radio scripts, newspaper quizzes, etc.) promoting responsible drinking habits by teenagers. (Seem like a waste of time to you?) The comic book featured a character we named “Soberman” – actually a fairly nerdish teenager who, seeing friends drinking irresponsibly at a party, would slip into a back room, change into his costume, and re-emerge to quote statistics, platitudes and exhortations. Real knee-slapper. Well, actually, there were a few funny bits. He rescued one girl from her drunk date, dropped the guy off, then went parking with her.

His costume was pajamas with footies, a towel knotted at the throat for a cape, and a block-letter “S” in a circular patch on his chest.

Somehow, a reporter sent out from the local newspaper expecting to find yet another blatant mis-use of public monies, thought the campaign was droll, and wrote some nice things. Two weeks later, after the wire services had picked up her story, we were getting requests for reprints of the comic from as far away as Johannesburg, South Africa, before the project was even delivered.

This was just after the release of the first blockbuster “Superman” movie starring Christopher Reeve. We soon received a formal letter from the law firm representing the vast communications conglomerate owner of the Superman property, passed along to us from the State of Virginia. The letter said they felt our Soberman character was an infringement of their rights in the Superman character, and asked us to refrain from distributing the materials we were developing.

The State of Virginia bureaucrats instantly stopped the project, and told the lawyers they should be talking to us, the two penniless brothers still living at home with their aged parents trying desperately to salvage a few coppers of profit on a tiny little budget. (*sniff*)

We had a lawyer at the time (Mr. Al Teich, Jr.) who was one of those attorneys that have made me actually bite my tongue and not tell lawyer jokes, because he was so fundamentally and inexplicably generous, meticulous, cheerful and helpful. I had a brief phone talk with him, and following his advice called the complainant’s lawyers. The fellow at the other end, whose letterhead alone cost more than my education, told me they were more or less obliged to challenge any new character that was brought to their attention that might even remotely be perceived to infringe upon the Superman character.

That was it. He didn’t threaten, didn’t specify any deadline, no “or else.”

I cobbled together a reply, mostly for the benefit of the folks at the Virginia agency for whom we were working. The gist of it was that we felt our character Soberman was distinct in every detail from those of Superman; that after all the word “superman” had been in use in English for over a century, long before the appearance of the character; that no-one may copyright a single letter of the alphabet and restrict its use by others; that no-one can patent or copyright the concept of a cape, since it had been an item of clothing worn by tens of millions of people for centuries; in any case, our contract gave all rights for the character to the state; we were only being paid for the production work. The note ended with the statement that in light of these facts, we felt that their charge of infringement was damaging our relationship with the client and asked them to send a retraction letter to our client. Blah blah boilerplate blah.

After a few weeks, there was only silence from the complainant’s lawyers, so the State in the fullness of time decided they could proceed with distribution, and we could be paid for our work.

It was pointed out to me years later that the challenge was not something that would likely have been pursued. They weren’t really concerned that our puny little contract was siphoning cash from their coffers. It’s the principle that they are obliged to establish a record of their willingness to defend their copyright, against the possibility of real piracy that must be dealt with vigorously.

Two important LESSONS for me during that episode:

1) In the midst of the dreary exchange, I found myself asked to explain certain fundamental principles of statutory copyright and how they applied to the present situation, by the then-assistant attorney-general of the state. I had come to my understanding only by reading a book titled “This Business of Music.” Even then I grasped that this doesn’t mean I’m smart and he was dumb. It only means that intellectual property law generally, and copyright specifically, are not covered in many law school courses. It’s a specialty. I thought the guy was very gracious to admit that he was not familiar with some of the details, and discuss it calmly and rationally.

2) When the wolves came calling, the government bureaucrats INSTANTLY said, “There, go kill the contractors. They’re the ones you want.” There was no consultation with their own legal staff to see if the accusation had any merit. On the strength of a piece of fancy stationery and the cost of one first class stamp, they stopped the presses, cut the citizens loose, and went about their business.

So FINALLY, the worst thing about all this is that knowing what I know, I am obliged to give Garrison Keillor and his lawyers the benefit of the doubt and say they aren’t really behaving horribly horribly...


If they actually go ahead and take some action against the guy, I take it back. That would show they really are a bunch of dirty rats.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dermal Abrasion on a Global Scale

Joe Katzman at, by way of USMC_Vet, directs our scrutiny to a news item that, if you still have a stomach that can turn, will turn your stomach. Seems that the enterpreneurial spirit of the People’s Republic of China has plumbed a new depth. The report indicates that they are harvesting the skin of freshly-executed prisoners, to extract collagen for sale to Western cosmetics manufacturers.

(Click on the title of my post to link to Winds of Change; Click HERE to link to USMC_Vet)

As early as the 1960’s sci-fi writer Larry Niven was speculating on the consequences to our culture depending on our decisions to pursue the medical expertise for organ transplant versus that of prosthetic organs & artificial tissues. (The stories featured an investigator “Gil the ARM” with certain unusual abilities, up against the “organ-leggers” as he worked for the law enforcement agency of a world-government. The guy was always running afoul of bureaucratic turf-warriors from the Belt and Luna.)

His stories started with the historical note that centuries earlier, when the Monarch of France ran short of oarsmen to propel his personal trireme along the Mediterranean waves, the solution was to draft a few new laws criminalizing some peasant behavior back in Paris, in order that more of them could be sentenced to serve a year at the oars.

Then he noted that once medical investigation had shown the significance of blood types, attention immediately turned to the notion of using the blood of condemned criminals to save the lives of others, and so perhaps mitigate the results of that criminal’s offenses...

In several stories he posited that our culture would eventually become so addicted to the extension of life by organ transplant that we would condemn folks to death for overdue library books, and unpaid parking tickets. (Of course, this would have the effect of making people mighty particular about returning their books and feeding the meters on time...)

I recall reading an article in 1961 or so in Life Magazine, which described how communities around the United States were then forming committees of citizens, including homemakers, firefighters, doctors, teachers, clergy, etc. to decide which candidates would receive the lifesaving new dialysis treatments to keep them alive after their kidneys had failed. For the first decade of that technology, it was so expensive that many communities could only afford one or two units, which could only serve a very small number of patients. The rest would inevitably die.

Such a community-based committee would not be allowed to exist today, I fear. Americans are paralyzed by moral ambiguity.

How far we have come in our attitudes may be shown by a listing of certain landmark lawsuits, notable regardless of the outcome:

• In the 1990’s A woman petitioned a California court to receive a judgment allowing her to be artificially inseminated with her father’s sperm so the fetus could be aborted to provide tissue that some tests had indicated might alleviate some symptoms of her father’s early stage alzheimer’s syndrome.

• The frozen microscopic embryos (fertilized in-vitro) of a wealthy American couple killed in an Australian plane crash, were the subject of lawsuits by the living children of that couple, who sought to have the embryos destroyed lest they be implanted, brought to term, and raised up to claim a share of the inheritance.

• In the 90’s information filtered out of the People’s Republic of China — which acknowledges that it executes some ten thousand prisoners per year — that it harvests organs from an unspecified number of those criminals, and makes them available for sale on the international market.

• Studies of abortion trends in urban populations of India in the mid-1980’s showed that more than 90 percent of all abortions performed following fetal sonograms, were to abort female fetuses. (In India, as in many cultures, females are regarded as a burden to a family, because of the dowry that must be paid to the prospective husband.)

I’ve been pondering some of those items for quite a few years. The item about abortion of female fetuses in India I encountered in a Spanish language newspaper circa 1989, and couldn’t find a peep about it any American publication. Last year I was able to find some references on the web, but it’s a factoid that gets NO attention whatsoever from U.S. liberals or feminists, whose views on the subject I would give worlds to know.

The silence of the left on this issue speaks eloquently of their habit of sidestepping pesky contradictions to their programs. On one hand, the selective abortion of exclusively female fetuses seems to be an outrage against the gender. But if a female fetus has a right to protection from killing, then so does a male fetus. And whether you oppose the practice or no, it is bound to have profound consequences on Indian society in the next generation or two, as females become progressively scarcer.

It is no surprise that we humans continue to treat each other so brutally. It is only surprising that so many people refuse to acknowledge the truth.

So, I salute you for your prescience Mr. Niven. You were only a few decades off in your calculation of precisely when our society would embrace the casual killing of people for the trade.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Commentaries of Alexander the Average

(… just a note: Tonight as I listened to CNN, I was thunderstruck at the statistic of only 154 confirmed dead. The report didn’t clarify whether that was in reference to New Orleans only, or the entire region affected by Katrina. God be Praised! I know a lot of people have nonetheless suffered terribly, but it appears that reports of wholesale death of tens of thousands of victims may have been premature.)


Mr. Kris Alexander has posted a good and brief critique of the restructuring of FEMA under the rubric of the Department of Homeland Security (you may click on the title of this post to link to his blog.) His post includes an unusually objective analysis (i.e., devoid of conspicuous bashing of all things conservative) from NEWSWEEK magazine, as well as a brief excerpt from a National Emergency Management Association report, each linked to its original source.

Alexander’s web page indicates he’s a “humble gov’t employee and Army Reserve Officer […] OIF/OEF veteran. Posting on the military, intelligence, and gov’t stuff.” As a result of his experience and attitudes, his sources and his comments convey a sense of sober authority sadly lacking in many of the critiques lately being flung about by the poopheads of the alleged news media like so much simian waste.

Here’s a little excerpt:

“…I never thought placing FEMA under DHS made much sense, and I’ve thought that DHS’s priorities have been wrong-headed from the start.

FEMA understands disasters, and many of its programs have been in place and effective for years. Since its inception, DHS has been chasing its tail looking under every rock for the next 9/11 while ignoring the nuts and bolts issues that face our countries. Hurricane season comes every year. Long after you and I are dead, and 9/11 is a distant memory that our grandkids re-live on the history channel, Hurricane season will come. People are fleeting, Mother Nature endures.”

It’s a good piece to balance the hysteria of the last fortnight. He makes a good case that FEMA’s mission has been diluted or diverted dangerously from its original charge, and that a sort of paralyzing preoccupation with improbable terrorist scenarios has drained valuable resources and talent.

Those are charges that may need to be debated publicly over the next few years.

His criticisms seem valid, even if they don’t prove the specific cause of this particular screw-up. It has been almost twenty years since I produced a handful of animated programs for FEMA back in the early 80’s. At the time the FEMA experts advising me and my brother seemed to really know their stuff, and I was impressed with what I saw. But it's possible I was just a bumpkin from the hinterlands, unable to grasp the larger view of a hidebound and ineffectual bureaucracy. I bow to his greater knowledge of these matters, but I would pose a few comments and invite response.

1) Threats from "mother nature" are sufficiently documented to have a statistically-derived predictability. Because of that, planning for hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, etc., can be made based on centuries of experience, with alternatives based on observations of hundreds of documented studies of variations in magnitude, wind factors, temperature, humidity, and so on.

2) Because terrorists have the ability of invention, choosing tools from the full gamut of mundane as well as exotic technologies, the range of possible scenarios is intrinsically more difficult to define than for natural disasters.

3) The inventiveness and perversity of terrorists makes it extremely difficult to assess the probability or likelihood of a given scenario.

4) The cost of the effort involve in identifying hypothetical terrorist scenarios, then preparing a plan for response, is trivial compared to the cost of an actual attack and its aftermath. And the cost of preparing a plan for terrorist attack cannot be substantially greater than that required for natural disaster.

5) The costs in actual preparations may vary widely, according to whether response plans call for investments in vehicles, tools, personnel, training, research & development of new technologies, stocking of pre-deployed supplies, etc.

6) As we have seen, the cost of a single terrorist attack can be nontrivial compared to that of a natural disaster. I recall estimates made in the second year after 9-11 well over two billion dollars in losses resulting from that attack — including insurance benefits, loss of the businesses and buildings, aircraft, fire trucks, police, & rescue vehicles and equipment, interruption to the stock market, and impact on travel, hospitality, and tourism industries, in addition to the deaths of the victims. And that is for one day’s attack, involving only some twenty terrorist perpetrators, with say a year’s training and living expenses as their cost.

7) While I can understand the objection to redeployment of manpower and supplies based on wildly improbably scenarios, it’s more problematic to me to dismiss the need for planning and at least minimal preparation for terrorist contingencies.

In any case, while it may be early to pass judgment on Katrina and its aftermath, the problem in this case appears to have been the combination of New Orleans/Louisiana long-established governmental ineptitude along with the unprecedented and unpredictable strength of the storm.

Eventually, we will have a much clearer picture. I think that the comments and analyses of folks like Mr. Alexander will do much to help us see things in better focus.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Reply to a Reader's Comment

One of my three readers left a comment some time back:

“…you really need to fix your url links. the url should show up as a number of underlined, hypertexed *words*, that, when clicked, reveal the underlying address of the site. If done like this, not only will the url itself not be revealed as text, but it will not run off the column, and the word itself, like here in click here, will be clickable as a link.

Furthermore, your links are showing up as text and not as hyperlinks, so they are not clickable. They are only usable if one copies and pastes into the address bar. Let me know if you want some help. Regarding the spellchecker, you can go back and re-edit any post at any time, so there is no need have spelling errors in a post.”

The issues raised are universal enough as to be worth sharing as a separate post. Here’s my reply, slightly extended and amplified (As always, I retain the right to return and edit my own writing later on, if I can find some improvement that makes me seem wittier and more saintly.):

Dear Robert Lindsay,

Thanks for your comment. I know it is possible to set things up so the web address is HYPERLINKED without actually showing. It’s not JUST because I’m too lazy and ignorant that I generally prefer NOT to do so.

For some insane reason, I happen to believe that making the address visible has value. Many URLs are distressingly arbitrary character strings, but insisting that they be invisible simply for the sake of convenience, or worse, for the appearance of sophistication, is to me an inversion of priorities.

I'm trying to find a balance in my posts (when I don't give in to the impulse to rant) between my personal opinions and at least occasional verifiable sources for the information on which I base certain opinions.

Quite often a web address (URL) will reveal just by itself, information that bears on the validity or coloring of the information to be found at that site. As a hypothetical instance, maybe you maintain a subscription to AOL and receive an e-mail purporting to be a notification from AOL of a problem with your account. It has a hyperlink, with the instruction to "click on the link." You click on the link and it takes you to a web page that seems to be part of the AOL member services area--- all the logos, colors, typefaces, etc. are familiar... The page has fields requesting you enter your member name and password. But the browser field at the top of your window shows a URL that clearly has no connection to AOL. IT IS A SCAM!

By now, a large population of folks exist that know enough to leave the site, and maybe report it as a scam to some authority. But the hyperlink in the text of the original scam e-mail, by hiding the URL, permitted the perpetrators of the fraud a semblance of propriety enough to lure you into actually linking to the site, where they at least will have collected a "cookie" from your computer, which may by itself give them useful information to put to some purpose you wouldn't approve.

The convenience of hyperlinks has a price.

Regarding “splee chekcers,” I use them frequently, but I often find them to be obnoxious, dull, and doctrinaire. When a hip injury kept me abed most of my eleventh year, my mom kept me occupied practicing for the spelling bee. The beautiful and superintelligent Carmeline Maggiapinto, who was my stand partner in the second fiddle section of the Ventura County Symphony, thrashed me and got to go to Washington, while I got a seven-language dictionary and a Zenith Hi-Fi Radio. But the experience got me to be a reasonably good speller, even getting into the habit of occasionally going to the dictionary. Still, typos occur, and there are slips of memory. Correct spelling has virtue, but I refuse to dismiss the validity of an essay with compelling logic simply because of sloppy spelling.

That's exalting form over substance.

Of course, doing that is one of the defining aspects of the present political dilemma, isn't it?

Sandy Berger in re: Katrina Flying Feces Fest

It's almost tempting to say to The Honorable Senator Hillary "Yes, PLEASE go ahead with a Congressional Investigation."

"Please Don' Tho me in Dat BRAR PATCH!"

[Out of a sense that it would likely arouse distracting arguments about Political Correctness, I was tempted to delete this line. However one feels about the sin of racial stereotyping as possibly exemplified by the tales of Uncle Remus, there is nonetheless a store of wisdom to be shared by those stories. So poop on anybody that objects to the reference.]

A truly independent and rigorous investigation of the mess in New Orleans would be the WORST possible thing for Democratic party aspirations. Locally, regionally, nationally.



Do they really want the whole country to be shown the satellite pictures of the hundreds of New Orleans School busses, sitting unused in their depots before the levee broke, then afterward in the pond? Those photos are public knowledge already, but who bothers to look at 'em? They're only on the internet, being examined by the wretched "pajamahedeen" right-wing crazy bloggers.

Do they really want to have a detailed public airing of the New Orleans hurricane emergency preparations and response documents that were so carefully prepared, but never followed?

Do they really want to have the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans testify under oath as to the true timing of their requests for Federal intervention, or the reasons why the convention center and superdome were not allowed to be supplied by the Red Cross?

In a forum where lying has consequences to the liar?????????

These strongly suggest that any investigation will be torpedoed, manipulated, watered down, etc.

In this context, consider how we're finding out MONTHS AFTER the publication of the final report of the so-called "9-11 Commission" many crucial pieces of information showing Clinton's administration failed to act on intelligence reports and failed to pursue identified terrorists. Consider that the reasons for refraining from action were almost invariably POLITICAL CORRECTNESS rather than substantive questions of constitutionality or jurisdiction. Wouldn't it be an immeasurable service to the public for Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger to tell us what sort of information was in the documents he stole and destroyed when he was allowed access as a private citizen to secret documents in the National Archives from the Clinton administration?

As owner/operator of a small animation studio, I've been through fairly exhaustive security clearance interviews and training for my company to handle classified data. BELIEVE ME, the government people went to great lengths to impress upon me the seriousness of the responsibility, and the possible consequences of and penalties for any breach of procedures. (Yes, I know... I've mentioned this before.) I understand that journalists aren't normally concerned with security issues (except possibly in relation to protecting their information from competing news hounds) but for Mr. Berger to feign ignorance, forgetfulness, or carelessness in stuffing classified documents into his socks, shirt, and pants, is ludicrous.

As he finally acknowledged in court in April, pleading guilty to unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, he knew full well he was breaking the law. Magnificently timed to take advantage of the convenient media circus surrounding the dual expirations of Terry Schiavo and the Pope, his admission of guilt went largely unmarked by the alleged Mainstream News Media. He worked out a plea bargain by which he pays a $10,000.00 fine (at least an inconvenience for someone of his station) and agrees to "surrender his security clearance" for three years.

Swallowing THAT frog is a challenge. Since when is security clearance something to be "surrendered" by its possessor? That phrasing of the plea bargain suggests that the clearance is an entitlement, which must be restored automatically in the absence of compelling arguments contrariwise. Well, if stealing top secret memos about security preparations against terrorist attacks isn't sufficient argument against restoring one's security clearance, we may as well change our names to Hassan, and learn to shit in the desert. Only a certified idiot would consider re-instating a clearance for someone who has admitted to such a grotesque abuse of the privilege. The man simply should never again be trusted to enter the same room with a sensitive document except accompanied by a responsible adult. Preferably one armed with a truncheon, cattle-prod, or large-caliber side-arm.

But really, folks... S. Berger is only a bit player in this sordid business.

For him to have done the crime to which he has confessed suggests strongly that whatever information he shredded was damning to himself or to his CinC. Berger is either a loyal soldier or a coward, but in either case, he got off awfully easy for acts that would have put most of us in prison.

This may seem a little off topic in the context of natural disasters. But the point here is that the people trying most strenuously to lay the blame for the screw-up in New Orleans, are precisely the same people that enthusiastically defended Clinton's every act. The same people who are frantic to get a Democratic administration back into the Whitehouse, and willing to use any expedient method to do so. And the presumed candidate will be the wife of ex-president Clinton, he of the DNA-stain and the hapless-aspirin-factory janitor; that bold president whose defining gesture in the matter of terrorism was his Pardon granted to terrorists convicted years ago of murdering several people to advance the cause of Puerto Rican independence.

Mind you, that magnanimous gesture of reconciliation with the miniscule percentage of Puertoriqueños who actually support independence, was on the eve of the New York senatorial election in which Hillary Rodham Clinton was a candidate. Estimates showed that the vote of the Puerto Rican population in NYC could swing the election in Hillary's favor. (She won, you may have heard.)

Keep that in mind as you assess any hysterical accusations flying about in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Outrage for Reuters Katrina Article

Reading the article (which I've linked to the title of this post) I found the usual litany of accusations, without a single reference to any source for background information, and without any facts in the body of the article to support the allegations and blame so freely given. I was hot. Now my wrists are all sore from typing. I'm going sue Reuters for some incurable wrist disease or other. They'll be sorry. Thanks to "Gates of Vienna" for the heads up. Their blog is at

-----------------------(text of my letter of extreme annoyance)---------------

To the editors of Reuters News Service,

This note is meant to alert you of the rage and disgust I feel at reading the opinions, insinuations, and biased modifiers gratuitously inserted in the article under the byline of your writer Mark Egan, among the occasional facts in his article “New Orleans collects dead as officials dodge blame” which I found at your website

In an article of approximately 1050 words, some 135 of them — 13 per cent, if statistics matter — are unsupported, un-answered assertions that the devastation and suffering are the fault of the Federal government generally, the incompetence of FEMA, or of President Bush himself.

The piece’s lack of professionalism — of the most basic objectivity called for by journalistic standards — is has not yet become fully the standard for reporting of events by Reuters and other previously respectable news organizations. But it is alarmingly characteristic. Still, this article is among the most egregious I've encountered. Without citing any background or support information whatsoever, it blames the Bush Administration and various federal officials and agencies for the vast human suffering in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

This is intolerable, not because I admire Bush, but because I have some knowledge of disaster preparedness and response.

Egan, Wutkoski, P. Barbar, M. Babineck, E. Xeba, P. Simao, et al., [i.e., the contributing reporters] may have among them some facts in the situation, but the article does nothing to inform us of how they conclude suffering was caused or enhanced by any action or failure of the Federal Government.

It would be interesting to know if any of the reporters contributing to this pack of slander have ever had so much as a day’s training in first aid, emergency response, medical triage, disaster preparedness, disaster relief, or the laws and restrictions deriving from Section 1385 of Title 18, United States Code, known as the Posse Comitatus Act. [governing the use of federal military forces for domestic law enforcement duties.]

Could a single one of these gutless scribblers actually describe in any detail what is required to load, fuel, crew, and transport a convoy of relief supplies through two hundred kilometers of blasted landscape, removing trees and debris every few feet; providing food and shelter for the drivers along the way, and ensuring sufficient fuel and supplies so that once they arrive, they can sustain themselves for whatever period they may have to wait for their own re-supply or relief? Can any one of these alleged reporters describe for even a SINGLE type of helicopter, its rate of fuel consumption, fuel capacity, load capacity, crew requirements, and range? Ditto for Naval Vessels...

If not, these writers presume to pass judgment on a phenomenon far beyond their reckoning.

The citing of al-qaeda linked sources in this context is particularly repellent, indicating the writer’s sense that we readers must give credence to the suggestion from TERRORISTS that the suffering from Katrina flows from “the wrath of God.”

I am sickened by the continuing descent of journalism into an unrepentant spewing of allegations, conjecture, surmise, and feeling presented as fact. This is not reporting; it is sneering insult, partisan garbage slinging, designed to infuriate not inform.

This is conspicuously and precisely the reason readers like me are abandoning the MainStream Media in search of reportage with somewhat more reliable descriptions and footnotes.

In the Aftermath of Disaster

(first, from ace of spades HQ

“As was observed by someone I'm too lazy to google, 10% of people are naturally and almost wholly good, and will do the right thing under any situation. 10% are naturally and almost wholly evil, and will do evil under any situation, even when it's really not even in their best interests.

80% have a situational morality, and will be good when civilization demands it, and enforces order, and will do evil when civlization permits it, or disintegrates due to chaos, whether natural or man-made.

Most rioters and looters fall into that 80%. They see the 10% who jump at the chance to destroy or steal, and notice that they suffer no consequences. So they too join in.

Order has to be restored quickly, and roughly if necessary, to bring such folks back into a state of orderliness.”


If you have any desire to grasp what is actually required for a relief effort on the scale of that needed by Katrina, check Countercolumn: all your bias are belong to us! (

There are some excellent detailed descriptions of the logistical considerations of moving and deploying supplies and transport across hundreds of miles of blasted landscape where the roads are destroyed and blocked by debris, and fuel supplies FOR THE TRANSPORT VEHICLES must be carried in addition to the relief supplies.

Living in San Francisco Bay Area (Fremont) for a decade, I found myself dating a lady with a five-year-old son. It reminded me how much trouble *I* had gotten into as a little kid, and eventually got me thinking I needed to be much better prepared for disaster on all scales. I took a 12-week Red Cross course in Wilderness Emergency Response AND CERT training from the local fire department.

The first words of the firefighter giving the first lesson of the CERT training sobered me up. He told us: In the event of a Mag7 quake in the East Bay (between San Jose and Oakland), it was expected that some 20,000 or more people would sustain injuries requiring treatment to prevent bleeding to death and restore functionality IN THE FIRST TWO MINUTES of the quake. Meanwhile, at any moment for the same geographic area there are on duty only about 200 trained circulating responders — police officers, firefighters, ambulance crew, etc. Hospitals and their staff will instantly be overwhelmed by damage, injuries, and new patients presenting themselves. Streets will be clogged and impassable. You can expect a period on the order of two weeks MINIMUM before any organized relief is fully established, so during that time you will probably have to rely upon your own preparations and training.

That sort of information was available to anyone who bothered to take a few minutes to skim any of the earthquake preparedness pamphlets that are distibuted in ton lots around the bay area, but who bothers?

From the IDIOTIC statements and accusations of the media, I have to conclude those pathetickers have no more bothered to research the realities of disaster relief than they bother to educate themselves on any other issue. The reporters and commentators of the Mainstream News Media are among the most irresponsible rascals on salary. They refuse to take any responsibility for their own accuracy, research or preparedness.

I've already ranted in an earlier blog (“The Ossification of the Fourth Estate”) about the sorry state of journalism. But it's a situation that needs much remediation. We have an astounding system of distribution for news and information. The shame of it is that the alleged News Media have become the refuge of the incompetent and the delusional. There is certainly a critical value to a free society in having a press that is free to express contrarian, diverse, and even obnoxious views. It is after all a fundamental concept of information theory that data contrary to your expectations and assumptions are far more important than information that simply confirms them.

But hiding behind sacred principle of Freedom of the Press, mediocrity and sensational commercialism have long since driven out the last shreds of responsible

Reporters ask staggeringly stupid questions at White House, FEMA and Homeland Security press briefings, and make absurd complaints and critiques in their articles. This is nothing new. As long as there have been college diplomas, Degrees in Journalism have always included on the reverse, a fine-print warning: "Caution: The issuance of this diploma only certifies that the holder was recorded in attendance for the required class sessions, and is not intended to imply that the diplomate is capable of logical, rational, or responsible research, inquiry, composition, grammar, or conversation." I was always counseled by other students and even faculty advisors, that if I found myself unable to cope with the rigors of hard science, math, philosophy, history, geography, English, or Art... there was always the Journalism major as a last resort.

Seriously, only supreme arrogance or delusion can explain how anyone presumes to be smart enough extemporaneously to analyse and critique the work, performance, history, psychological profile, sociological ramifications, scientific under-pinnings, and political leanings of any person, subject, thought, statement, or "sound-byte" that wanders into range. It is *INSANE* to assert that any human is enough of a genius to be able to grasp the nuances of any field of study, any profession, any art, disaster, or political wrangle, then pass on to the rest of us a few nuggets of wisdom we can use to make sense of a bewildering world.

And yet news reporters routinely make sweeping pronouncements and judgments on whatever subject comes along, and expect never to be challenged.

The behavior of the mainstream news media (and the people that echo their braying) are just another demonstration of how utterly contemptible and irresponsible they have become. Sometimes it seems as though it is only by accident, or by assuming the opposite of any assertion they make, that you can any longer find any useful information there.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Blaming Bush for Katrina

“The atmosphere is the prototypical chaotic nonlinear system. This was shown by the simplest atmospheric model, devised by [Edward] Lorenz over 20 years ago, the starting point for modern mathematical studies of such systems. Because the atmosphere is chaotic, atmospheric models are sensitive to small variations in initial conditions and possess an inherent growth of error. These properties impose a theoretical limit on the range of deterministic predictions of large-scale flow patterns of about two weeks.”

— National Academy of Sciences, Panel on Weather
Prediction Technologies, Research Briefings 1985

Even in the first 48 hours after Katrina first touched the Gulf Coast, a number of journalists have taken Bush and his administration to task for alleged failures in preparation and execution of relief efforts, as though the federal government should have done a head count and map of the people who decided to stay in New Orleans. As the summer progressed, climatologists predicted this season might generate unusually severe hurricanes. That has in turn prompted supporters of the dead Kyoto treaty to blame Bush for almost any bad thing that happens.

There is a chain of connected beliefs held by many folks who call themselves progressive liberals: that 1) Global Warming has been proven to exist as a climatic trend; 2) It results from human — and more specifically, Republican/Capitalist — modern industrial activity, not from naturally-occurring phenomena; 3) George Bush and his cronies are willfully allowing it to occur because they are greedy bastards; 4) the Kyoto accords would actually have accomplished anything to slow, halt, or reverse the trend.

Global Warming even if it has been demonstrated, cannot be shown to be a significant deviation from long-period climatic cycles found in the fossil/polar ice record. People, the sun is a variable star! The variation of its energy output is calculated to be as much as one tenth of a percent in just the 22-year sunspot cycle. This may seem small, but the sun’s irradiance of the earth is vast compared to any human activity. In addition, observations indicate a long-term increase in the sun’s output since the so-called “little Ice Age” between 1650 and 1700. Along with titanic volcanic eruptions, the vagaries of El Niño, and other natural events, this trend dwarfs the most appalling estimates of anthropogenic causes for warming, such as CO2 resulting from industrialization or the methane burps of half a billion cows.

So in that catechism, the case for Global Warming is equivocal at best. A slight increase in global temperature may be factual, but we haven’t had the observational capacity nor a baseline against which to compare, to know whether it is significant. It’s like the Ozone Hole: We didn’t even become aware of it until we had satellites and spacecraft orbiting above the atmosphere. How do we know it hasn’t been there all along? As recently as 1980 the Global Weather Experiment was one of the very first international attempts by over 100 participating nations to monitor the weather in sufficient detail to begin predicting global weather patterns. And it was only intended to test and explore means of data gathering. Modern satellite coverage notwithstanding, we still have only relatively sparse data-monitoring capability, with gaps as great as hundreds of kilometers between many permanent weather gauges. As of 2003— according to World Weather Watch ( a system of commercial sea-going ships and aircraft voluntarily supplement the data transmissions of automatic drifting buoys and balloon-borne sensors, so that over a hundred thousand data points are available for weather calculations (and records) daily.

That’s a bunch, but it’s a big planet, with an immense un-studied climate history. We’re only just achieving a comprehensive survey ability now. With climatology just maturing, regional and local variations in patterns will continue to mask larger-scale trends for a very long time. Using the generally-accepted climate models, monitoring systems now in place suffice for general weather prediction out to half the theoretical limit of two weeks. In the absence of both a baseline and a sufficiently detailed monitoring capability we have only conjecture and theory and reckoning based on a lot of educated but unverifiable assumptions. Respected scientists slag each other off in the popular press, and disagree politely but firmly in their refereed academic journals.

In other words, all politics aside, the observations, science and logic so far available do not in any immediately useful way detail the mechanisms and magnitude of warming. They are not sufficiently developed to predict its persistence, or cure. It requires a faith bordering on the delusional to insist that we accept the rest of the articles of the logic chain I paraphrased at the beginning. The Kyoto accords were rejected not just by Bush. Ninety-five United States Senators, including Democratic icon Theodore Kennedy, voted against the proposed treaty before Vice-president Gore made the grand gesture of signing the thing. President Clinton did not even bother sending it to the Senate for a ratification vote.

None of this stops pissed-off liberals from claiming that because he continues to oppose the Kyoto accords, Bush caused: a) Katrina, b) Katrina’s unusual intensity, c) Katrina’s anomalous track, d) the poverty and lack of preparedness or simple self-preservation by a huge part of New Orleans’ population, e) inadequate response by all levels of government in the aftermath.

This is a clear example of either massive dumbness, or crass political opportunism.

Why am I surprised? I’ve sat through countless harangues against nuclear power by ignoramuses who couldn’t tell a proton from a crouton. I expect better from people pretending to defend our schools against the intrusion of theories like creationism and intelligent design. But it seems that as more frustrated they are at their own impotence, so more frenzied and irrational they become.