Friday, November 28, 2008

Dishonesty in news reporting

On WPR this morning an announcer began his story by saying that Sen Feingold had successfully gotten a resolution passed calling for a cease-fire in the Congo. The next sentence warned that continued fighting was impacting the wildlife refuge in Eastern Congo, and the rest of the story was about the gorilla rescue project. Since the reporter brought Feingold into the story, the logical implication would be that Feingold had brought the matter up, right? I hold no brief for Feingold, but I didn't think he was such a fool as that--and he wasn't. There was no connection between the gorillas and Feingold's resolution; just a reporter trying to namedrop to make the story sound important.

The BBC site reported that Nigerian children's teething syrup has been "tainted" with ethylene glycol. Tainted suggests a little spillage or some other small adulteration. Clearly somebody replaced the sweetener with glycol; which is a big deal and not a little slip-up. BBC's word choice is often very strange, to the point of being misleading. Once you figure out the pattern of word choices you can correct the story mentally to get closer to the facts. Sometimes you need a little prior knowledge, such as the toxicity of the glycol.

The Australian described the attacks on Mumbai as carried out by "teenage gunmen."

Kissinger said that "90% of the politicians give the other 10% a bad name." Something similar seems to apply to reporters.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An exclusive club

A club restricted to those who've been famous enough to have a biography written about them is for authorized persons only.

Oddly ironic

The CERN Courier quit publishing in two languages a couple of years back. Now it accepts contributions in French or English, and publishes them as such rather than translating. Almost every single article is in English, though. This month's issue (Nov-2008) has an exception: the obituary of an Englishman is in French.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Everybody else does this sort of post. Let's see if I can embed something.

No guarantees that what is referenced will still be there a month from now.

Killer whales are chasing a penguin. It is just a matter of time, right? The image used for the movie is probably a giveaway...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Forgot one difference!

In my earlier post about Relevant Radio, I forgot one huge difference: Notre Dame football broadcasts!

Friday, November 21, 2008


If you haven't seen The Revenge of Conscience, by all means read it. Budziszewski is thorough and clear.

Buying good publicity

From the International Harald Tribune (via Drudge): Angelina Jolie buys positive press coverage.

According to the deal offered by Jolie, the winning magazine was obliged to offer coverage that would not reflect negatively on her or her family, according to two people with knowledge of the bidding who were granted anonymity because the talks were confidential. The deal also asked for an "editorial plan" providing a road map of the layout, these people say.

I suppose the only surprise here is that the deal became public knowledge. There's a long history of reporters' gripes about stories canned because they reflected badly on major advertisers, and we all know about political stories that were buried. CNN declined to contradict Saddam's press releases in exchange for the honor of having a "reporter" in Baghdad. For an actress to buy good coverage is a move in a grand tradition.

People won the bid, apparently, though Time was in the running.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Youngest Son has discovered both Dan McBride and Tom Lehrer: simultaneously.

I remember some years ago reading part of an interview with Lehrer in which he said he had no plans to try to write new songs, because he didn't think he could make things funny anymore. I thought nothing of it at the time, except to wonder why he'd lost his sense of humor. Now I know.

The contrast between the two singers is dramatic. Lehrer was a polished performer with a good voice, while McBride's voice was raspy and hoarse. Lehrer was sophisticated and McBride cultivated a down-home persona. A lot of Lehrer's music was original, while McBride generally sang new words to old tunes.

Taken one at a time their comic songs might seem similar: both made fun of idiocies. But when you listen to a lot of their work at once a pattern emerges and the difference is startling. Lehrer's work is infused with anger, while McBride sang with sympathy.

Lehrer hit his stride at just the right time, when angry songs could still be funny and get attention. But we got used to anger, and social commentators had to rachet the level up to where things couldn't be angry and funny any more. Shocks are getting harder to arrange. I suspect that's what he meant in that interview, and that's why he quit. He could probably still do things like the Elements Song, but not National Brotherhood Week or Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

I'm not as fascinated with shock or anger as I was in high school.

Lehrer also did a number of educational songs (besides The Elements, but those weren't what made him famous. I'm sure he could do more of those if he wanted to, though.
I updated the post to include links to explain who these men are (per request), and only then read the Wikipedia entry for Lehrer. I guess I was right.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Most of us like the idea of making history, or being there when it is made. I do. If somebody gave me tickets to the inauguration I'd go (*). I've never been to one, and this one will be inarguably historic: for the country, for the West, and perhaps especially for the Democratic Party (the Republicans were the anti-slavery party).

It will be a day to remember, in a Guinness Book of World Records sort of way. Unfortunately then comes the next day. We're going to pay a pretty high price for setting a nice record.

(*) The devil is in the details, of course--air fare isn't cheap and hotel room prices are completely insane, so I guess I couldn't justify the expense.


In the parking lot sat a pickup with a vanity plate: LIL BRO. As I got closer I saw that the bottom of the plate read "Gold Star Family."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Relevant Radio

I've learned a little church history, and know something of the lives of the saints, something of variations in theology, and while trying to put together some material for youth, have read goodly chunks of Luther's catechism and the Catholic catechism. But the theological theory and the way things are actually practiced sometimes have points of difference, so I tuned in WHFA to hear what the Catholic equivalent of protestant radio is like.

The Catholic church is a rather big tent, with a lot of things you aren't actually required to believe (Fatima, etc). So the content of the programming may not be representative. And I tuned in during commutes, so that also biases the sampling.

Similarities: Both protestant and the Catholic station talk a lot about Jesus, faith, grace, obedience and the Bible. Both have pledge drives :-( Both have call-in shows for people needing advice. Both include worship service broadcasts, and have lots of church community bulletins.

Differences: WHFA has ads by presumably Catholic businessmen. WHFA has substantially less music, though given the average caliber of the stuff WNWC plays that may not be a disadvantage. Sometimes the experts on the call-in shows show a little more "depth on the bench" than their protestant equivalents. Relevant Radio has talk shows in the morning and early evening, and during the lead-up to the election it was 90% about abortion. That got pretty old--I figured they were preaching to the choir but I gather from post-election statistics that most Catholics either don't care or were seriously confused by the unfortunate "seamless garment" approach that glibly mixed absolutes and prudentials.(*) WHFA apparently has an exorcist as a regular guest on the afternoon talk show. Protestant worship services that center around singing and preaching and the Bible are easy to broadcast, but services that center around the Eucharist lack a little something: like presence. And Mary is big--very big. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and talks like a duck ... and attributes effective omniscience to Mary (she hears every prayer ?!?): then we're off into very risky territory.

Call-in shows aren't a really good avenue for "spiritual direction;" that really requires one-on-one with a counselor, and time and at least a stab at self-discipline on the directee's part. It isn't done in 2 minutes. Some of the protestant call-ins have a phone bank with some sort of counselors, which is better (I hope!) than 45 seconds of advice on the air.

The local bishop isn't a good public speaker, but the clips were short. The quality and caliber of the protestant preachers is generally far better.

I learned a lot, and may tune in again from time to time--though I'll try to skip the commute hours.

Time to switch over to La Movida for a while to try to learn to hear the accents and phrases of Spanish.

(*) That's my description, not theirs. They always said it was misinterpreted; I say Bernardin was careless.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Mirth of a Nation compiled by Michael J Rosen

Rosen, despite including a handful of works by Dave Barry and PJ O'Rourke, has succeeded in assembling one of the least funny collections this side of the tax tables.

Skip around at random. Plow right through. It doesn't matter--in defiance of probability there is nothing funny to be found. The Apostle Paul found time for a joke, why couldn't they?

If you care for an example, imagine a work consisting of nothing but things like this:

Is it a person, or a pasta dish?

PersonPasta Dish

The culprit for that was Chris Harris, but I have to wonder what Rosen was smoking that made him giggle enough to buy rights to it.

I suppose this is ironic humor. Spare us. The book will merely take up space: skip it.


Just down the hall from Regent Mental Health is an office labeled "Porter and Sack." My better half commented that this sounded like Falstaff's bar bill. I guess if you give them some business they'll buzz right through it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Indian Summer

It is disconcerting, on a beautiful day with temperatures over 70, to find that the forecast for barely 48 hours later reads "little or no snow accumulation."

Healing divides

The claim goes that Obama's election helps heal racial divides in this country. It'd be wonderful if it did. But there's a political industry based on exacerbating wounds, and a musical industry that thrives on the same, and (although probably less relevantly) an academic industry that lives to define victims. Raking up old injuries and magnifying new ones brings in their bread and butter. I don't think Jesse Jackson is going to give up the shakedown business just because Obama was elected. I'd guess that within two months we'll start hearing that he's "not black enough" or that because his father was Kenyan he "doesn't really understand" ghetto life. It'll be just a whisper at first: there's too much elation right now for anything harsh.

I suspect most of the "healing" will be with blacks who don't follow the demagogues anyway. Maybe a second-generation effect?

The flip side is an interesting question: Will this heal racial division on the "white" side? How much division is based on "white" attitudes?

The academics tell me that "privilege" is "racism." Some say that white racism appears in structural asymmetries. Others say historical differences have to be righted before racism will vanish. Their obvious solution to the problem of racism as they define it is to remove privilege. For which you obviously need a special privileged class to manage the forced equalization. That doesn't seem very healing.

Other people say that what appears to be racism is merely a logical approach to objective differences in probability: a young black man is many times more likely to be a criminal than a young white woman. (I've read that this number is nearly 30) So far as this is true, and not merely a perception of differences, I don't think Obama will change much.

Some whites are clearly racists. I've met a few. I don't think Obama is going to have much impact on them.

That leaves whites who aren't particularly biased as the target group for "healing," as their perceptions change. I don't know how extensive a population this is, but I can't think of a white racial demagogue with the same stature and following as Al Sharpton.

Monday, November 03, 2008

If Obama wins

I judge Obama unsuitable for the office, on grounds of character, experience, and philosophy; but I don't believe him to be the devil incarnate. There ought to be some good arising from his presidency, and it would be a useful exercise to try to figure out what it might be.

Unfortunately he has no administrative experience with which to face the largest bureaucracy in the world, so success in administration is going to depend on blind luck in finding good aides. If he has the humility to ask for a lot of advice he might be able to assemble a competent team, but if he relies on his political allies we're probably going to be in the soup. Loosely run bureaucracies have a way of digressing from their missions in favor of empire-building and paper-pushing.

The most striking qualities he has so far displayed are charisma and a mesmerizing speaking ability. These won't cut much ice with the hard-nosed veterans in the Legislature, but if he can hold the attention and favor of enough people the Congressmen will have to listen to him. We have some serious challenges in terms of the economy and the war. If he can inspire enough people to accept the sacrifices and the vision, a great deal could be done. Of course this begs the question of what vision and what action, but we'll try to hope these are wise. That takes a lot of hoping, unfortunately.

Faced with real dangers and real limits (we can't magically make armies appear in Afghanistan--somebody has to help or give permission), he may abandon his silly rhetoric and possibly lead the Democratic party to take ownership of the war. It would be very good to lose this "Republican war" nonsense and work together for a change. The war is complicated and going to be long, with intervals of apparent quiet: we need to hang together no matter which party is in charge.

Unfortunately most of the nice things he talks about doing come with unpleasant price tags, and sometimes nasty side effects. It is nice to think of paying no taxes (I make well less than $250K .. make that $200K .. make that $125K .. make that $75K .. make that ..), but a) it won't happen (we have to raise a huge amount of money soon) and b) the moral hazard of creating a large citizen class with only benefits and no obligations erodes their sense of responsibility for what the government does--makes them children instead of citizens. I discount huge swaths of feel-good promises: I've no confidence that they'll really benefit us.

"Predictions are hard, especially about the future." "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. ... Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Non-MSM reporting

I've read some people claiming that bloggers will replace reporters. More thoughtful folks point out that although particular bloggers have specialized information no reporter is likely to be able to match, there's no reliability built into the blogging model, and people aren't usually all that interested in showing up to and blogging about the court docket or the school board committee meetings. You have to pay reporters to do those kinds of things.

And the blogging model may collapse soon anyway. If the economy tanks, Google won't be able to make ends meet with advertising. Bye-bye free blogging. And bye-bye unmetered research access too! Google et al will either shrivel to pay-as-you-go research engines, or be nationalized (and presumably made unprovocative(*), except for the favored groups). This dries up the gigantic pool of information those over-optimistic forecasters are counting on.

(*)No porn links and no hate group links, for instance. Of course both categories are subject to regulator interpretation. The Canadian HRC illustrates how.


I notice that our national legislature is regarded only slightly more favorably than pus. Kissinger said that 90% of the politicians give the other 10% a bad name. Freezers full of cash, blithe legislating of favors for cronies, rancid posturing and general lying make the place a stench. The “Do you know who I am!” arrogance is bi-partisan: Larry Craig and Cynthia McKinney come quickly to mind.

I’ll grant some exceptions, but I suspect Kissinger’s proportions are not far off.

The Constitution was set up so we could deal with this sort of thing. On Tuesday we could vote in a completely different House of Representatives and a third of the Senate in one go, if we chose to. We never have, and I’ll bet this time will be no different.

Politics was once much more violent than it is now, and every bit as corrupt. It actually got better for a while. I’m not sure that’s likely anymore. The center of political power has always been DC, and now it is more and more the locus of economic control and economic power. That will inevitably become corrupt. If bribes are easier than compliance, companies will bribe. If people kowtow to the whims of the powerful, you generate a courtier class. Can you smell it already?

The more we expand the authority of Washington, the more it becomes the center of power, and the more corruption it will attract. This, if nothing else, is a good reason to try to resist the call of “There ought to be a law.” There will be a law, and another, and another, and another; and the cobweb of rules will favor the friends of the powerful. Don’t bother trying to claim that some party represents the interests of the powerless—it isn’t so.

It looks as though Democrats will have an even larger majority, and presumably a mandate to expand control even farther. I don’t expect this will help matters any.



Dante planted counterfeiters in the 8’th circle of hell, where they are diseased forever. Of course they are liars and thieves, but they also debase the exchange for everyone, not just their local victims. Trust is eroded, and everyone the loser, when counterfeiters work.

When Niven and Pournelle updated Dante in Inferno (Good book; read it) they put ad writers in the ditch with the flatterers—a beautifully accurate observation. Adding too many such would have made the plot drag, but I can think of another modern equivalent they left out.

Orwell warned that words could shape thought. Debasers of the language damage the exchange of ideas just as debasers of the currency damage the exchange of labor.

Screwtape told us about the debasement of “democratic,” from being a precise description of a voting system to a veil for envy. Besides becoming a noble-sounding synonym for abortion, “choice” also morphed into an ultimate value in itself rather than a selection among values.

The phrase “a person’s nature” changed from a reference to the person’s common humanity or purpose to meaning the person’s unique desires and habits—almost a complete reversal.

If you use these once-useful terms unwittingly, you’ll find you’ve begged unexpected questions and admitted points you never intended.

The 8’th circle seems appropriate for these idea counterfeiters.