Friday, April 30, 2010

A Final April Nonsequitur


There's only one thing to say about that:

Raaaaamsseeeeeeees!
(The man in gauze, the man in gauze!)
Raaaaaamsseeeeessss!

Free Comic Book Day!


I'm very excited. Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day.

What does that mean? Well, a free comic book, obviously. The tale is if you go to a comic book store on May 1, they give you a free comic book. Probably from the leprechauns, or at least the stock of stuff they can't sell.

Me, I like my free comics from the web of all places. Basic Instructions for the iPod Touch, to be specific.

I might be tempted, though, to see what a brick-and-mortar store might have to offer. Rexburg, being the kind of cowtown that Everett Ulysses McGill would find to be two weeks from everything, we have no comic book store here. Idaho Falls has two, so maybe this one will be worth checking out.

I have to admit I'm a peculiar comic book collector. I'm much more into strips than I am actual comic books, so it's not likely they'll be giving away what I like -- BC, Charlie Brown, Cul de Sac. The traditional comic books I do enjoy reading are French ones -- Asterix, Tintin, and a few others, though I never did learn to like Lucky Luke.

Honesty


You know what? This is kind of what passes for morality these days. We, as individuals, hate getting screwed. And yet if we see a way to game a system, any system, we're more than likely to do so. I note this in myself from time to time, and I'll be honest with you, stopping this kind of behavior is difficult. So I'm no lily-white when it comes to honesty. But I'm trying to do better.

This Hogan's No Hero


This is what Brian J. Hogan should have done -- after turning the phone in at the bar.

Since Wired.com outed Brian J. Hogan, a Redwood City, California, resident, as the goombah who found a prototype iPohne at a bar and then sold it to technology blog Gizmodo, Mr. Hogan has come out all contrite, as he should be.

Still unsure is whether he'll be prosecuted, and still the confusion amongst lots of commenters that journalist shield laws protect sources from prosecution if in the course of feeding information to journalists they commit a crime.

That he made only token efforts to find the phone's rightful owner, especially after he discovered it might be an iPhone prototype, is damning. Wired tells us that after another person found the phone at the bar, Hogan asked a few other people there if the phone were theirs, but never told a bar employee that he'd found the phone.

That would have been the first thing I'd done -- because I figure that if I've lost something, the thing I'd do to recover it would be to retrace my steps and go back to the places I'd visited that night to see if some kind Samaritan had turned it in.

Instead, this is what Wired said he did:
A friend of Hogan's then offered to call Apple Care on Hogan's behalf, according to Hogan's lawyer. That apparently was the extent of Hogan's efforts to return the phone.

After the friend's purported efforts to return the phone failed, several journalists were offered a look at the device. Wired.com received an e-mail March 28 -- not from Hogan -- offering access to the iPhone, but did not follow up on the exchange after the tipster made a thinly veiled request for money. Gizmodo then paid $5,000 in cash for it.

The owners of the bar told reporters that Hogan didn't notify anyone who worked at the bar about the phone. They also said Powell returned several times after losing the phone to see if anyone had found it and turned it in. Powell and Apple's outside counsel contacted the San Mateo County District Attorney's office last week to report the phone stolen, according to reports.

"He regrets his mistake in not doing more to return the phone," says Bornstein's statement. "Even though he did obtain some compensation from Gizmodo, Brian thought that it was so that they could review the phone."
What an absolute boogerbutt, if I can use such a strong term here.

I've used AppleCare -- and it is about the worst way you could ever think to contact a company. I had a legitimate problem with my iPod Touch and their responses were either canned replies -- the same as they gave out years ago in forums they directed me to -- or basically said, well, what you['re experiencing isn't our problem. So to think you can call up AppleCare and have them get all concerned about an iPhone you found is patently ridiculous. That he didn't bother calling the bar to tell them of the discovered phone, and that he and others of his association instead started farming it out to technology blogs, seeking compensation, tells me that the only reason he's sorry now is that he got caught.

If he'd been honest and more forthright by telling bar employees what he'd found and, I don't know, leaving the phone there so the owner could find it in retracing his steps, Ms. Brian J. Hogan wouldn't be in this kind of trouble. But because greed jumped right on his little head, he's in this pickle. And don't tell me he was right to do what he did because some bar employee would have done the same thing, well, hooey to that. He could have acted honestly and ethically and not be now in this conundrum. He might be $5,000 richer, but he'll have to carry that on his conscience, if he's got one not activated by being outed by a technology company where a friend tried to flog the purloined phone for money and failed. Sure, a bar employee could very well have done the same thing. But then it would be that bar employee's problem, not Brian J. Hogan's.

You're that sorry, Mr. Hogan, give the money to a charity. Give it to Apple. Give it to the poor sap who lost the phone and is probably only now getting his heartbeat back to normal. Don't give it to Gizmodo; they don't deserve it, as they knowingly bought stolen goods. Yes, the phone was stolen. A token effort to find the phone's owner and a ludicrous belief that the money you got from Gizmodo for a look at the phone rather than the phone itself tells me you're grabbing at straws to justify what you did. Too little, too late.

I don't think Apple is overreacting in this situation, because first thing first, even if they do prosecute Mr. Hogan and Gizmodo, it's not going to hurt their bottom line. There's enough division among Apple fanboys here to say that not all of Apple's horde of customers is going to be turned off by this action. They're already dealing with a vertically integrated company that's buying up the maker of its chips and is locking out developers if they dare to use Flash, so to go after a Redwood City weenie who sells other people's belongings -- or at least right to an exclusive peek at someone else's belongings, something he still didn't have the right to sell, even though the phone was in his possession -- is not going to do anything by the way of collateral damage.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This Is What I Do. Occasionally.


I'm becoming known at work as the guy who has the mad Photoshop skills. It's a sham, since about the only thing I know about Photoshop is that I have it on my computer. But I am the guy who cut out Rod Kinnitt's head so it could be put in with this Tennessee stuff. I'm glad I pulled it off.

The little speaking bubble says "OK, work is over. Let's get to the game."

Yes, It's A Surfing Sheep


When Man can teach Sheep to surf and Sheep actually looks like it might be enjoying the stunt, my faith in humanity is restored.

Slate Joins in on the Echo Chamber Fun

The folks over at Slate are taking a look at the Echo Chamber/Daily Me study that I blogged about a week ago, and want Slate readers to chime in to see if they're politically isolated as they read online or, as per the hypothesis put up in the study, that Internet news soaker-uppers are actually pretty balanced in their approach to viewing news that doesn't necessarily agree with their political stripe.

What's fun is that Slate has a little profile checker readers can use to test their news isolation. As I understand it, the closer the number is to zero, the more balanced an internet news consumer you are. But they point out the caveat that the study authors point out as well: Just because a person is reading news that is in opposition to their political views doesn't mean anyone can tell what they're doing with those opposition views. More than likely, just getting angry or nodding their heads saying: "Ayup, them fools on the other side of the spectrum are still durn fools."

I took their little profile quiz, and this is the result: As far as Internet news reading goes, I sag in the middle. Here's a list of sites Slate knows I frequent, followed by their "conservative" score:

Newsbusters, 81 percent
Slate, 49 percent 
Newsweek, 49
Time, 50 percent
USA Today, 60 percent
New York Times, 40 percent
CNN, 54 percent

It's easy to see that I sag in the middle -- or am a moderate, as I like to say it -- since most of the sites I visit are middle of the road. That Newsweek isn't closer to the NYT liberally is surprising, but at least it does show up with a slight liberal slant. In the aggregate, readership avg on these sites 55 conservative, 45 percent liberal, which gives me an isolation index of -2, or about 2 percentage points to the left. So though I am a moderate, per my news consumption, I lean ever slightly to the left.

Add one site into the mix, however -- The BBC, with a conservative index of 22 percent -- and my isolation index pops up to a startling -25, meaning if I read BBC news on a more consistent basis, I'd be considered more liberal.

That's on my work computer. At home, the story is slightly different:

NewsBusters, 81% conservative
NPR: National Public Radio, 28% conservative
Slate, 49% conservative
Newsweek, 49% conservative
Time, 50% conservative
ABC News, 60% conservative
USA Today, 60% conservative
CNN, 54% conservative
MSNBC, 57% conservative

At these sites, the readership is on average 54 percent conservative, 46 percent liberal, per Slate's little calculator. That puts my at home isolation index at -8, meaning that, on the bell curve of all readers, my news diet is 8 percentage points to the left. So an interesting comparison there. I obviously consume more news, with a wider variety of viewpoints, at work.

But that doesn't tell the whole story. I, like many internet users, get my news from a wider variety of sources than those the study or Slate is willing to track. I get some news from aggregators -- notably Digg.com and Fark.com, so a lot of that consumption doesn't show up unless I happen to hit one of the tracked sites. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating study that deserves attention now, and a follow-up on what readers do with the news they view, later. Yet another interesting PhD dissertation topic.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Sell Other People's Belongings

Of all the commentary I’ve read on the “lost” iPhone prototype, I think Scott Adams of Dilbert fame put it best in two unpublished comic strips:

I sell other people’s belongings. And, conversely, I buy lost and possibly stolen belonging so I can write about them on my technology blog.

There are a lot of people out there trying to compare this situation to someone finding – and selling – a document “owned” by a company that outlines malfeasance by that company’s officers, according to ABC News. If a news organization pays for that document and thus reveals the malfeasance, they’re doing a public good and might, then, enjoy protection via, in this case, California’s journalistic shield laws, right?

Well, it depends.

Did the news organization do anything illegal in obtaining the information? Did the seller do anything illegal in obtaining the information? Because what people aren’t understanding is that shield laws offer protection to news organizations who refuse to reveal the identity of their confidential sources, they don’t offer blanket immunity from prosecution if the news organization did something illegal in obtaining the information in question, or if the source itself did something illegal in obtaining the information.

A lot of people are focusing on the fact that whomever found the phone tried to get it back to its owner, or to Apple, to no avail, and that the $5,000 Gizmodo gave the person wasn’t a payment for the item itself, but for “exclusivity” in using the item as the subject of a news story. But the situation still stinks. Daniel Ellsberg, in taking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, did so out of moral outrage at what the reports said and that they were kept secret from the public. In taking the reports to the paper, he didn’t ask for money, nor was any offered for exclusivity. The public good was served in the reporting, and in keeping sources secret. It’s hard to say that, morally or ethically, a public good was served in giving people a sneak preview of what might be the next iPhone. The iPhone doesn’t represent malfeasance. It resembles proprietary technology, which it is. This is more akin to people stealing nuclear weapons secrets and selling them, not to unearthing corruption.

Let Ellsberg say it himself:
The documents “demonstrated unconstitutional behavior by a succession of presidents, the violation of their oath and the violation of the oath of every one of their subordinates.”
It also appeared “a tipster” approached Wired, another technology website, with “thinly veiled requests for money,” according to ABC News, in touting the discovery of the iPhone prototype.

Can’t say that of the 4G iPhone, can you?

Ellsberg was indicted for stealing the papers. He and an associate faced 15 years in prison if they were found guilty under the Espionage Act of 1917, but they escaped prosecution only because of misconduct and illegal evidence gathering precipitated by the Nixon White House.

Here's a far better rundown on the legalities involved here, done by TechCrunch. Here's a pertinent excerpt:
That criminal investigations can surmount journalist protection laws should come as no surprise. "It would be frivolous to assert--and no one does in these cases--that the First Amendment, in the interest of securing news or otherwise, confers a license on either the reporter or his news sources to violate valid criminal laws," the U.S. Supreme Court has said. "Although stealing documents or private wiretapping could provide newsworthy information, neither reporter nor source is immune from conviction for such conduct, whatever the impact on the flow of news."
And here's a reminder from r3c.org on what happens when journalists tell true stories about corruption, but break the law in obtaining the information they report on. Naughty, naughty. Here's another killer quote:
If I were prosecuting, I'd go after (any blogger who bought the phone) vigorously," said Michael Cardoza, a prominent San Francisco defense attorney and former prosecutor. "I'd fight them tooth and nail to see that they wouldn't get protection under the shield law. I'd play hardball, in this case. They didn't find the phone as part of their reporting but instead bought property that they knew or should have known wasn't the property of the seller.
So it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I think Gizmodo's claims that warrants and seizures conducted against their reporter are illegal are on shaky ground, as the seizures are in relation to a criminal investigation, not into the publication of the iPhone 4G spoilers.

Giant Palouse Earthworm, Discovered


I lived for three years in Moscow, Idaho, and never heard talk of the giant Palouse earthworm.

Maybe I didn’t travel in the right circles. Maybe, perchance, someone in my circle of friends did try to start off a conversation by saying “You know, there’s a legend around here about giant, pale, bulbous earthworms that smell like lilies, spit at attackers and can grow to be three feet long,” and I just brushed them off as, well, weirdos. The oddest wildlife encounter I had in the area came on a night I was strolling alone on the Bill Chipman Trail between Moscow and neighboring Pullman, Washington, and I was startled by a porcupine strolling the opposite direction.

I suppose, if someone ever tried to tell me about the worm and I laughed at them or brushed them off as a loony, I should eat crow now.

Maybe the worms can eat it for me.

For scientists at the University of Idaho – my proud alma mater, at least for the BA degree – announced earlier this year that they’d discovered specimens of the legendary worm, albeit not of the three-foot variety. They don’t appear to smell like lilies. They don’t appear to spit. But they are longish, white, translucent. Eerie enough to be stuff of legend if you ask me.

So what now, is the big question. You found the worms. Do we then walk away from the discovery, moon-landing like, and check it off as s Scientific Thing Accomplished, Do Not Revisit? I don’t know. I suppose since there are people out there trying to find such worms, there are people – likely the same ones – willing to continue studying them once they’re discovered. And I’m good with that. I kind of like the idea of the University of Idaho becoming a worldwide center for worm research and worm researchers. Perhaps they can find a way to communicate with these slimy but highly intelligent beasts; maybe convince them to develop snorkels out of blades of grass or somesuch so they don’t have to squirm out of the grass and be mucked or eaten by birds when the rain falls and fills their tunnels. Such research would stop unsettling thoughts on my part: Last Sunday, as I walked to church and tried not to step on the worms on the sidewalk, I thought, “I wonder what worm jerky would taste like?” Please stop me, science, from thinking such thoughts again.

The Secret to Sanity: 529-0184.

I’ve got a little advice for BridgeMaxx customers in Eastern Idaho. Write down this phone number and keep it handy: 529-0184.

When your service goes kaput, call this number. They’ll get Jake to come fix you up.

I can say Jake because, according to him, he’s the only tech left. That’s right, BridgeMaxx has one tech left in Eastern Idaho, after layoffs, to do all the installations and fixing and such. He’s grateful to have a job but overworked and frustrated with the folks at the BridgeMaxx call center who make wild promises (“Oh, we’ll have someone to your house before noon”) he can’t keep because he doesn’t know they’re making them. He’s tired of getting to people’s homes and having them seethe at him because of some unknown promise the call center has made them. He’s a one-man band. He’s not a slacker. He’s singlehandedly keeping folks like us as BridgeMaxx customers.

Jake is awesome. We’ve tracked Jake down at his house and he’s come to fix our Internet with a smile. No, I won’t tell you where he lives; that’s my little secret. Besides, we’ve told him if he ever needs any verbs conjugated, he can come to our house any time of day or night, and we’ll help him out.

Don’t call the call center. They’re worse than useless. Aside from checking to see if your account is current and asking you to unplug your modem, then plug it in again to see if that fixes the problem, they either can’t or won’t do anything to fix your problem but send in a work order, which you can do directly by calling the number listed above. At best they’ll put in a work order. At worse, they’ll put you on hold, then hang up on you.

Again, call 529-0184. They’ll fix you up. They’ll get Jake on the case. But remember, Jake is overworked. Don’t yell at him when he shows up.

And you know what? I hear a lot of people complain that BridgeMaxx is slow. I have to say “So what?” Slow is what I’ve come to expect from any Eastern Idaho internet service provider. All of my friends in Utah make fun of my “Idaho internet” because if there’s anyone in the group having trouble with Skype when we do our conference calls, it’s me. But it’s okay. I’ve accepted the karma of slow Internet. Clay Shirky kind of explains it:

In the mid-90s, I got a call from some friends at ATT, asking me to help them research the nascent web-hosting business. They thought ATT’s famous “five 9’s” reliability (services that work 99.999% of the time) would be valuable, but they couldn’t figure out how anyone could offer good web hosting for $20 a month, then the going rate. No matter how many eventual users they assumed, $20 didn’t even seem to cover the monthly costs, much less leave a profit.

I started describing the web hosting I’d used, including the process of developing web sites locally, uploading them to the server, and then checking to see if anything had broken.

“But if you don’t have a staging server, you’d be changing things on the live site!” They explained this to me in the tone you’d use to explain to a small child why you don’t want to drink bleach. “Oh yeah, it was horrible”, I said. “Sometimes the servers would crash, and we’d just have to re-boot and start from scratch.” There was a long silence on the other end, the silence peculiar to conference calls when an entire group stops to think.

The ATT guys had correctly understood that the income from $20-a-month customers wouldn’t pay for good web hosting. What they hadn’t understood, were in fact professionally incapable of understanding, was that the industry solution, circa 1996, was to offer hosting that wasn’t very good.
In other words, we’re still in the “not very good” era of Internet service, given the prices we’re willing to pay for it. I’m a cheap bastard. I know there are faster services out there. But for what I’m willing to pay, the service I get is adequate. Maybe some day in the distant future internet service will be more reliable and faster at the price I’m willing to pay. Until then, I’m not going to rant.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BJ Thomas Before He Went All Hasselhoff



More fossilized fud music.

Most fun are the background dancers. Look at all the poorly dancing space hippies.



And more. I love that Moog sound.

And this one. Noticing a pattern?

Good Reads: Off the Record

Off the Record: The Press, the Government, and the War over Anonymous Sources Off the Record: The Press, the Government, and the War over Anonymous Sources by Norman Pearlstine



My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all, Sorry Mr. Pearlstine. Bought this book for $1 at Dollar Tree, so you'll probably not see much of anything from the sale. But I can give a positive review:

In Off the Record, Norman Pearlstine makes a passionate yet reasoned plea for a change on how the government, press, and readers regard anonymous, confidential and off the record sources used in investigative journalism.

For the government, he cautions against insisting everything said be "on background" and that nearly every document be classified as secret.

For the press, he urges education on what these terms mean, getting away from the assumption that talks with government officials start off on background, and settling with sources - and editors - the ground rules for confidentiality, background and such so that everyone going into the argument knows what is expected and what the terms mean. He feels these terms are thrown around loosely and recklessly by the press and government, and thus have lost a lot of their meaning.

He also urges the press to use confidential and background sources rarely, and off the record sources not at all, in order to help rebuild trust among readers.

For readers, I think he's urging patience. The press, he acknowledges, has a lot to fix -- the words hidebound and stiffnecked were invented to describe the press, in my opinion -- so it's going to take time to fix things.

As a washed-up shell of a lazy journalist myself, I have to agree with Pearlstine. Part of the trouble lies in the fact that the pros in the business just assume that folks coming in new already know this stuff, while j-schools, for the most part, send new people into the field assuming they'll learn the ropes on the job. There's a learning/teaching vacuum among journalists that often doesn't get filled in until Robert Preston comes in a-singin' about trouble, folks, right here in River City.

The book is also a good introduction to First Amendment law, and helped me hark back to the media law class I took at the University of Idaho.

View all my reviews >>

More on Dugout Dick

The Idaho Statesman reports today that caves carved into the mountainside by Salmon's Dugout Dick will be closed temporarily as they're inventoried and assessed by the Bureau of Land Mangement, which owns the land the caves are built on.

The BLM tells the Statesman the public will be invitged at a later date to help decide what to do with the caves.

This is a good thing. I hope the caves are preserved as a cultural relic, and that people are allowed to rent them. I'm also pleased the BLM is stepping in as a steward, to ensure what Dugout Dick dug out isn't trashed or fought over. Good show.

Bicycles and Nuclear Power


Saturday, I fixed my ten-year-old’s bicycle. Or so I thought.

His handlebars were giving him difficulty, he said. I tried to understand what was going on. He sometimes has difficulty expressing himself, but through our talks I thought I’d identified the problem. I tightened a few bolts meant to keep the handlebars from rising or falling into the shaft and thought things were good.

Not so.

Yesterday, I fixed them again. This time, I tightened the bolt that keeps the handlebars from being pushed forward as he rides, not the bolt that keeps them at the requisite height.

I fixed the problem. But to fix the problem, I had to make sure I was speaking the same language as he was. To me, “The handlebars fell forward” meant they’d dropped in height. But no, they’d literally drooped forward.

It’s the same thing we’ve got to do when we want to promote nuclear energy. We’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.

Matthew Wald, writing at the New York Times’ Business of Green blog, puts it this way:
Underlying public attitudes about nuclear power is, if not fear, at least lingering anxiety. This is the industry that gave American English the all-purpose term for disaster, from the financial markets to a toddler’s tantrum: meltdown. The recent deaths of 29 coal miners in West Virginia, of six construction workers at a natural gas plant in Connecticut in February and of five maintenance workers at a hydroelectric plant in Colorado in October 2007 have not shaken the popular conception that it is nuclear power that is dangerous. This seems to be true even as the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, before many Americans living today were born, fades into memory.

“The nuclear industry is just so far removed from people’s lives, they don’t have much feeling for it,” said Baruch Fischhoff, a professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “They don’t really trust it. Although it hasn’t done anything recently to lose the general public’s trust, it hasn’t done anything to gain people’s trust.”

Lately, he said, the industry has “fewer enemies, but no friends.”
No friends, you may think. What about me? What about the 62 percent -- an all-time high, Wald says -- of those who support nuclear power? What about President Obama, giving $8 billion in loan guarantees to help build two new nuclear plants in Georgia? Those are friends, right?

Yeah. But when the enemies have symbols like C. Montgomery Burns and Chernobyl to wave in peoples' faces, these kinds of friends aren't enough. It's easy to understand Monty Burns. It's easy to understand Chernobyl. They instantly conjure up images of the evil of nuclear power. We need to find symbols that conjure up the good.

Dan Yurman, writing at Idaho Samizdat, is urging a re-think in how nuclear power advocates present their message. We’ve seen that presenting nuclear as carbon emission-free isn’t winning many advocates among the rank and file who think of nuclear power only in the terms of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. He suggests a retooling to emphasize energy security and safe plant operation:
I’m not arguing for some huge pro-nuclear public relations push. What I do feel is necessary is a complete re-thinking of how the industry presents its case. The industry’s toughest critics are willing to look at nuclear industry in light of the threat of global warming. Is that enough?

What would their view be if we didn’t have this threat? Where would the industry be today? The benefits of nuclear energy cannot be presented merely as “carbon emission free.”

Maybe some scenario thinking in terms of “what if” might surface some ideas. The issues of energy security and safe operation of plants are closely linked in the public’s mind. I think that’s a starting block for where the rethinking of message points needs to take place.
We have strong evidence that nuclear plants can be operated safely. The US nuclear Navy, for example, has operated nuclear-powered vessels for more than 50 years without a single radiation-related fatality. Nuclear power plants worldwide – with the exception of Chernobyl –have operated without fatalities in that same period of time. Yes, we confront Chernobyl, as a cautionary tale on poor reactor design and personality conflict. Yes, we confront the difficulty of storing the wastes that come from nuclear power production, framing that argument in the same light as how to handle wastes that come from power production from coal and natural gas. Brushing these difficulties and accidents under the rug does little to support our advocacy.

I'm a big advocate on learning how the other guy thinks in order to better understand how to pry into that thinking -- and, yes, you do have to pry -- to insert new ideas, be they the 'truth" of climate change or the possibility that nuclear power could be a good thing. Understanding their nuclear bugaboos can help us understand how to better explain our advocacy in ways that answers the questions they have. This, of course, doesn't work for everyone, because as narrow-minded as some can be on climate change, there are just as many as narrow-minded on nuclear power. But it does help get the bicycle fixed if we know what parts are giving the trouble in the first place.

News Flash in the Pan

Why do we have 24-hour news channels if the news they report has to be so poorly done?

News item: A body found in the foothills east of Ammon may be that of a female. Local police believe, and local news outlets report, that the body may be one of two women missing for years in the Idaho Falls area. Local and utah media report it could possibly be the body of Susan Powell, a West Valley City woman missing since December. West Valley police, however, are doubtful, however, and the regional media report those doubts.

Then there's this: Local police are sure the body isn't Powell's.

Then there's Nancy Grace over at CNN. So convinced is Grace that this is Susan Powell that Stephanie Eldridge and Amber Hoopes aren't even mentioned in her story, video here. They don't merit a mention, CNN? Really?

I know -- maybe the news of the IFPD's determination hasn't filtered up to CNN or Nancy Grace. But you'd think if she were interested enough in giving the story national airtime, she'd be interested enough to keep following up and to give pertinent information. I guess we'll see what happens today, but I'm not holding my breath.

And yes, CNN, the body was found in a rural area -- but the report makes it sound like this is an extremely remote place, not just a spot in the foothills in a county with a population of just over 100,000 people. Oh well. i guess this is what happens when a crime happens in Flyover Country, and a "rural" part of it to boot.

Update: Tuesday night, Nancy Grace did mention Eldridge and Hoopes. That's good news.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Riddenbaugh Press Muffs One

Ordinarily, I love reading Randy Stapilus’ Riddenbaugh Press, an absorbing, authoritative and often entertaining blog on politics in the Pacific Northwest. A recent post, however, shows that the S-Man isn’t infallible.

He wrote April 12 that Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart’s plans to move stores in Idaho/Washington border towns Lewiston and Moscow to neighboring Clarkston and Pullman, Washington, is evidence of, well, what I’m not quite sure. That Washington is more pro-growth. That even though Washington is set to raise taxes on a number of items that Wal-Mart sells, the behemoth would rather do business in Washington than Idaho.

He’s overlooking something:

Zoning laws.

Zoning laws, which liberals such as Stapilus usually trumpet and support and say are preserving the life-blood of small towns throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The Idaho Statesman has this to say today:

MOSCOW, Idaho — A Walmart official says a store in Moscow slated for closure this fall might stay open now that city leaders are looking at amending a zoning ordinance that would allow the store to expand.

Michael Bender is senior vice president of Walmart's mountain division.

In a letter to the editor submitted to The Lewiston Tribune late last week, he writes that the company will consider changing its plans if the city allows the store to expand.

The company earlier this month announced plans to close the Moscow location once a super center opens in Pullman, Wash., just across the state border.

Walmart initially planed for super centers in both Moscow and Pullman, but an ordinance several years ago prevented the Moscow store from expanding into a super center.
Note that all-important final sentence. Had Moscow not had it’s “progressive” zoning laws, Walmart would be staying, fissioning its supercenter plans, as the company often does in areas where there are a lot of people who like to shop at their stores. No talk of moving from one state to another because of “pro-growth” sentiment or a “progressive” tax code – more like being frustrated that “progressive” zoning laws are putting a hamstring on what business is allowed to do in one state, while not having to contend with such hamstrings across the border. Might the case be the same in Lewiston/Clarkston?

Not quite, but similar. The Lewiston Tribune said in 2008 that the company looked in both cities for a site for a supercenter, and will continue looking in Lewiston for a site -- but will abandon its Lewiston site because theyre' unable to expand into a supercenter there.

The Trib also interestingly points out that Washington's minimum wage is higher than Idaho -- another nail in the progressive coffin Stapilus and others tried to build.

It's also worth nothing that Walmart's decision to build in Pullman wasn't all rainbows and unicorns; in fact, the company and developer went through years of litigation in order to win the right to buildin Pullman. That hardly sounds progressive.

Big News

Wow. It's been so long since I've been on a news embargo, I almost forgot what it felt like.

But we do indeed have big news here at Mr. Fweem's blog. No, we're not having another baby. We have three children, and as Bill Cosby would say, the reason we have three children is that we do not want four. So the news is not that there's a muffin in the oven.

The news is that Michelle is going back to school, officially. She got her acceptance letter this week from Utah State University, where she'll begin working on a master of science degree in English with an emphasis on technical writing, in the same degree program I finished last July.

I'm excited for her, and a bit jealous. I really enjoyed the classes I took in the program, and was a bit disappointed to see them end. Of course, I could go back for a PhD, but then again I could also gnaw my arms off.

So she starts in the fall, though she's going to try to talk them into letting her start this summer. We'll see what happens. Whenever she starts, I'm excited for her. It's a fun program.

Aliens are Coming to Steal our Slood




As much as I admire Stephen Hawking for his work in theoretical physics and popular science, I’ve got to say that his current thoughts on extraterrestrial beings are slightly mental.

Part of what he says, I agree with. This is what he told the Times in London:

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” he said. “The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like.”
To think that the only scrap of life in this universe is on Earth is not only scientifically ludicrous, but also flies in the face of what is taught in (whisper) scripture, if you read it – and you don’t even have to read it carefully to come to the conclusion that life, and indeed intelligent life, is not unique to this planet. So yes, there is life elsewhere in the universe, and some of that life is intelligent.

Then he flies off into mental territory:

[A] Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

A few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.

He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
All we’re hearing, of course, is that ALIENS ARE COMING TO STEAL OUR SLOOD! when in actuality Mr. Hawking says that “a few” alien species might be like that.

I have to disagree with him slightly, not on the motivations, but on the targets. Because we already know that looking into motivation, whether alien or terrestrial, is like looking into an empty room. (In my own poinion, however, I've got to say that I'm a bit shocked at Hawking latching onto the tired "hostile alien" theory. I also cringe at his use of the Columbus metaphor -- even though it't apt -- because it's going to be misinterpreted as "arrival in order to steal resources and push out the natives" rather than "first contact that leads to unintended consequences, such as the introduction of new diseases" which is the reality of Columbus' visit.)

Unless I’m grossly mistaken, there’s a lot of raw material out there in space that isn’t currently claimed or occupied. Even in our own tiny solar system, you can find such things as organic compounds – perhaps even crude oil – in places like Io and Titan. You can find water and other lighter elements and molecules on Europa, the Moon, in the Oort Cloud or any other number of locations. And if you’re interested in minerals or metals, it sure seems a lot simpler to mine the asteroid belt or any other local rocky body, rather than descending upon earth, wipe out the aborigines with some kind of space measles and then claim what’s left.

And forget scenarios such as unobtainium. That’s all science fiction hooey.

Is there risk in seeking contact with extraterrestrials? Maybe. Are they likely to come storming in as if the Earth were suddenly the center of the universe as in all those Star Trek shows? Highly unlikely. There are, to speak in the parlance of the old west, richer seams, better claims, greener grass and bigger watering holes out there than our humble little Earth. To think otherwise is to be guilty of once again over-emphasizing the importance of Earth in the context of the galaxy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

More Fossilzed Fud Music


So, why does this song remind me of the time I spent at Ricks College? Not that I was into beau-catching all that much, mind you. Just ask my wife. Suave and debonair I am not.

Work on the Evil Secret Lair Continues Apace


Thanks to Grampa, I'm one step closer to completing my evil secret lair.

He gave us a desktop computer, one that the kids use at his house when they play games. It's now set up on the emergency backup wing of my desk, a scant five feet from my original desktop and just above the drawer where I store my laptop. It is now entirely possible that I could be at my desk using two desktops, a laptop and my iPod Touch simultaneously. Cue evil chuckle.

Only disadvantage: I did have to shovel a stack of books and some miscellaneous paperwork off the desk to make room for the new computer. Bummer. But we're going to have to build new shelves in this room anyway, since the 120 linear feet of bookshelf we already have is overflowing onto the floor. This is NOT a room in which I'd like to be if there's ever an earthquake.

And yes, rest assured, my wife says if that situation ever arises, she will roll her eyes all over the place. And there's few men who can let a free-floating full-torsoed eyeroll go unnoticed. And since the "game computer" (ostensibly for the kids) is an older model and has a serial port, it's quite possible I could dig our emergency backup scanner out of storage so we could have TWO scanners going at the same time. It's quite likely if this madness continues I'm going to overload the circuits in this room, cause a massive explosion and then cause the neighbors to shake their heads and say to each other, "Well, looks like his evil lair reached a criticality." And wherever I might be at the time, I'll probably have a smile on my face.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rexburg's Kaczynskis Nabbed

So, the Rexburg Police Department "found" four suspects in the Manifesto Brouhaha. Wonder if they turned themselves in.

My concerns:
  1. I still don't know what the manifesto says in full.
  2. Prosecute them? Really? A few generations ago we'd have them put the signs back up and pay for any that were missing. But a criminal record? Hardly. I guess at this time they've not officially been charged, but still, the possibility is there.
  3. And if they are charged and found guilty, they can kiss BYU-Idaho student status goodbye, if they don't get shoved out the door for just the act itself. Yes, it was a dumb thing for them to do -- but do they really have to face the possibility of getting kicked out of school over it?
  4. I STILL don't know what the manifesto says in full. I know it's not "Industrial Society and Its Future," but still . . .

Friday, April 23, 2010

I LOVE Being A Fossilized Fud


I love being a musical fossil. Because I can enjoy songs like this one (from the great Roger Whittaker) just for the fun of it, not because it's hip or retro or whatever. I love the fact that I'm old enough to remember this being played on a cranky old AM alarm clock radio as I was eating my sugar-laden cereal before heading out to the end of the gravel driveway to catch the bus to school.

The songs they play nowadays just make me want to go out to the end of the driveway and shout "Get off my lawn!"

Farewell, Dugout Dick


I never knew Dugout Dick.

I knew he was up there in Salmon, living in the caves he carved with a hammer and chisel into the side of a mountain. He started that back in 1948, when nonconformity in building was still allowed. Try that today, and you'd have all kinds of nonsense down on your head.

If I were a single guy, I'd be tempted to do this. But I might want a cave with wi-fi access, and I think that kind of takes the He-Man out of it. But I have had these little fantasies. I get it from my Dad -- he always admired that kind of pioneer life. He actually built a pioneer house -- that's what he called it -- in the back yard, converting a chicken coop and an old shed into a house, complete with a four-poster bed, home-made, a wood stove that didn't technically have a chimney but he meant to build one eventually, and windows salvaged from an old church he remodeled. We spent many night sleeping out in the pioneer house, lighting campfires outside the door because of the nonexistent chimney. Having fun.

It's the kind of thing I like to do occasionally when we go camping: Leave the camper behind and just haul out the tent. One of these days, I am going to camp out in 17-Mile Cave with my kids. That would be fun. Or maybe not, since the drunks and the punks also come to 17-Mile Cave.

But back to Dugout Dick. He died (or was found dead) today, age they think 94. He'd lived in his hand-made caves for 60 years, charging folks $5 a night to stay with him. Evidently, he never tipped out into the loco bin and ended up a cutout Scooby Doo villain: crazy old coot living in a cave in the mountain, menacing the gang and guest star Don Knotts. Though maybe he would have done some harmless spooking and tormenting for a few extra dollars.

You don't get individualism like this much any more. It's a lonely life. I know my wife and I are pretty much hermits, but I'm not sure we could do this. I couldn't live without my computer, and she insists on flush toilets.

Now I wonder who takes over Dugout Dick's dugout. He's got a few acolytes living there already, I think. SOme punk environmentalist or luddite might try to horn in on his territory, but I'd like to think that his caves end up doing what he let them do when he was alive: Provide a place for fellows like himself a place to camp for $5 a night so they can experience, for a day or two, the life of someone named Dugout Dick.

Sam in 2012


Finally, a candidate I can get behind in 2012. If only we can convince him to run. Yeah, he'll run as a Republican. But he's Sam frickin' Eagle. Why NOT vote for him?

Gaia is Trying to Kill Us


When Pat Robertson said voodoo and a nation "selling its soul to the devil" caused January's Haiti earthquake, most people cringed, shook their head, and wondered why the guy had to say something that stupid.

When Iranian clerics say promiscuity is what's causing earthquakes worldwide, even I, a relatively conservative person, have to laugh when a young American woman uses Facebook to organize a bevy of women ready to dress provocatively to provoke a "Boobquake."

The liberals, of course, have a field day with this kind of nonsense, pointing to these, somewhat rightly, as examples of how religion is spreading nonsense around the world.

But when a liberal commentator -- and not just a few of them, read some here and many examples here -- believes that earthquakes, the Icelandic volcanic eruption and other natural disasters this year represent "Earth striking back," can't we, as rational people, also file them in the Loony Boat?

I certainly will.

What author Alan Wiseman writes at CNN.com is ludicrous. He brings up some shocking, absolutely shocking, scientific evidence that earthquakes and volcanoes occur along tectonic plate boundaries. This is, he says, evidence that melting icecaps and more carbon in the atmosphere is going to lead to MORE earthquakes and volcanoes.
It's looking like this may be a long decade. And if we don't pull carbon out of the way we energize our lives soon, a small clump of our not-too-distant surviving descendants may find themselves, as Gaia scientist James Lovelock has direly predicted, like the first Icelanders: gathered on some near-barren hunk of rock near one of the still-habitable poles, trying yet anew to eke out a plan for human civilization.
Doesn't Wiseman realize he sounds as stupid -- and rightly so -- as Robertson and those wacky Iranian clerics?

Brendann O'Neil, writing at reason.com, thinks so:
Hundreds of years ago, before the birth of the science of volcanology in the 19th century, mankind looked upon volcanic eruptions as warnings or punishments from the gods. The gods were literally blowing their tops, spewing forth fire and rocks and ash to express their disgust or disappointment with we mere mortals and our habit of messing things up.

Now, remarkably, this backward outlook, this idea that volcanoes are somehow semi-sentient forces giving fiery lectures to mankind, is making a comeback thanks to the eruption of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull in Iceland. The fact that ash from the volcano is spreading across Europe, leading to the grounding of flights and the closure of airports, is being interpreted—even celebrated—as evidence of Nature’s awesome power and “fury” in contrast to weak, pathetic mankind.
So we got voodoo-fearers and promiscuity-fearers on the right, contrasting with "Earth is sentient and trying to kill us all" on the left. Folks wonder why I sag in the middle.

Can human activity increase the frequency of earthquakes? No.

Is recent earthquake activity unusual? No.

But because Wisemann's blatherings and other lib storytelling toes the global warming line, those on the left are as willing to blind their eyes to scientific fact as they accuse those on the right of being blind when climate science is trotted out in front of them. Pot, meet Mister Kettle. Y'all are both a little sooty.

The left screams at the unscientific, religious fiddle-faddle on the right, and yet give Wisemann and others of his ilk on the left a pass because, well, at least they're preaching the right kind of message. Anything that makes global warming something to fear and makes industrial society look stupid and wasteful and unbenificient. Makes me want to ship the far left and the far right to Iceland and toss them all into the volcano.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sir Robin

The American Robin: Cliche of springtime birds. but you know, springtime is the time I like them best. Why is that? Because of this:


They don't seem to sing like this much through mid-summer into fall before they leave, probably because by then they're already paired up and making nests and raising little birdies and such. But I loooooove to hear their kinds sad calls int he spring. In fact, they kinda remind me of this guy:


Note I didn't go with the cliche with him, either. He, like the robin, have delights that make revisiting them worthwhile. And, not unlike the robin, this guy kinda stands around stiffly between the more popular musical riffs, as if he has no idea what he's supposed to be doing. Besides, I think I heard this background music when I was a little kid, wandering the toy department at Sprouse-Reitz while my mother was wandering somewhere else. I miss that basement . . .

Here We Have Ida -- No, I Just Can't Sing It

A convergence of a few things today:

First, for the same reason Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest, I'm reading a book entitled "Aristocrat in Burlap: A History of the Potato in Idaho."

Because it's there, folks, because it's there.

Because I found it at Deseret Industries and in a weak moment -- and for only fifty cents -- I bought it. And I might as well read it since as a native Idahoan I know more about bricklaying and the history of nuclear power than I do about potatoes, so I've got to bone up. Especially on interesting things like this:

Little does the city-dweller realize the extent to which developments in the Idaho potato industry  have affected his eating habits. He would never dream that his per capita consumption of potatoes has increased because of developmental work done in this remote and thinly-populated western state.

That's a direct quote from the book, page 143 for the curious. And, as I see it, an open invitiation for the average city-dweller to invade -- no one wants to invade a thickly-populated, centralized state, no matter where it is. If New York invaded Idaho, we'd be hard-pressed to notice, we're so thinly-populated and remote here. We'd just think a string of tour buses on the way to Yellowstone National Park broke down or something and the traditional Japanese tourists had been replaced by people staggering about town lamenting the absence of kosher delis, The Village Voice and exquisite little restaurants called ridiculous things like "The Whittling Pig." I'd like to take a few of them to Ernie's Cafe in Iona and see how long they could last under the lunchtime stares of that crowd. I took a friend there for lunch one day and I'm sure everyone else in the restaurant thought we were flamers from San Francisco because we ordered chicken.

Anyway, the other part of the convergence:


Can't Idaho have a cool state song, something that doesn't sound like it was written and composed by two sweet little blue-haired grandmas who not only read "Aristocrat in Burlap" on a yearly basis but have actually worked in potato harvest, instead of just buying them at the store?

Georgia has a cool state song; Willie Nelson covered it. Somebody named Hoagy Carmichael wrote it. You don't get a grandma state song out of somebody named Hoagy.

Oklahoma's state song was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, for heaven's sake.

Virginia, in my mind, has the best state song. It's so old-timey. And it mentions potatoes, of all things. When you write a state song that mentions potatoes and it's actually a song you can sit back and sing and really enjoy, you know you've got a great state song.

Then there's Wisconsin. Come on, you know Wisconsin's state song. Even though it was written and composed waaaay back in 1807, it's not a grandma song.

Idaho deserves better.

Nerina Pallot has a good candidate song:


But it's way too angsty for your run-of-the-mill Idahoan. And forget the B-52s.

We need a new state song.

I'd write it, but I'm busy working on my childrens' book, "Dumb Bunnies." Maybe later this weekend  . . .

One more note: I thought Idaho's state song was a stinker until I encountered New Jersey's. Yuck.

Hack Writer Questioning His Worth

Here’s the hack writer question of the day: How much do you have to tell your readers?

Case in point: My worrywarting a day ago about my current project being too obscure, with not enough exposition to explain to the reader what’s going on. This morning, in trying to figure out how to balance this stuff out, I remembered the advice I found just a week ago (full post here):
Aside from trying to communicate, don't think of your readers when you create your comics. Please yourself and a few friends. Then hope for the best.

Don't reach out all the way to the reader -- don't worry about being "obscure" or ambiguous -- if you're sure of what you're doing, ask the reader to meet you halfway.
So the question is this, then, if I want to follow that advice: Am I sure of what I’m doing?

Almost. I mean, for the most part, yes. In general, I’m sure of what I’m doing. Some of the specifics are a bit fuzzy, but this is a first draft after all. The skeleton. Some parts have organs and flesh and skin, others are just raw bone, to continue a ghastly metaphor.

So I keep plugging on. And listen to German music. Because German music is introspective, and I want to introspect.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Finally Understand Algebra


I see. Algebra is not  "the branch of mathematics concerning the study of the rules of operations and relations, and the constructions and concepts arising from them, including terms, polynomials, equations and algebraic structures. Together with geometry, analysis, topology, combinatorics, and number theory, algebra is one of the main branches of pure mathematics," as Wikipedia would have me believe. It's a simple evolutionary accomplishment meant to make human beings less attractive to predators. if it works for the apteryx, it ought to work for me.

My Writing Weaknesses

And here we are.

The last installation of Oont, my little novel writing project, is dissatisfying on many levels. I'm to the point I need to explain some of the machinations my characters are going through, and I'm not certain how to do it. I don't necessarily like the standard approach -- characters sitting around doing a Sherlock Holmes Q&A denouement. It's junk, it's crappo, it stinks, I hate it, as Jerry might say if we were camping somewhere in the Mosquito Coast.

I wrote earlier that I like my writing to be organic, to flow, to let the charactes decide where to go. Now I need to sit back from that approach and do some planning so I have a framework, at least a rudimentary one, for my characters to follow.

That's not going to make the explanations any easier to write, but it might help make further explanations eaiser to handle.

I also realize I'm working on a first draft, and that many, many revisions are in store for this beauty. First of all, I need to explore the relationships between my two main characters more, put in a little more exposition perhaps. That sounds odd coming from me, the Master of Exposition, since I tend to do too much of it. And maybe that feeling will pass. What's important at this point, I still maintain, is to get the first draft done, then edit.

A Little Manifesto Progress

Maybe No. 4 is "Lower the towne smoking age to 6. (No black n miles though)"

Not quite sure. And it still doesn't make sense.

And No. 2 is still too blurry for me to read.

The Rexburg Parking Manifesto

Above the political and societal fray now burning in the fair city of Rexburg, Blackfoot, Idaho-based Blackers Furniture should be proud.

After all, the letter that make up their locally famous name play prominently in the "ransom-style note" taped to the doors of Rexburg City Hall in protest Tuesday morning against parking regulations on streets near the Brigham Young University-Idaho campus. See the swooping S. The elegant K. The bold B. All there, in their glory.

The note is here:


And here, with story. I'm having a hard time interpreting the writing as the resolution on the photo provided is too poor when blown up to reveal the smaller words, but I've reproduced in text what I can. Maybe somebody with a sharper eye can help me out:

Manifesto to world to whom it may concern:

So it is that at the apex of all social evolution the dark angel descends with swift wings upon no parking prepare oh ye people prepare for the end of the no parking in the designated spots of the no parking hear our cry, oh Gentiles, and tremble.

These are our demands

1 Forcibly resinstate Shawn Larsen. We like a man with dashing good looks & gusto.

2. Change [saturday] to [doubin’s m]

3. A shiny new donkey for all youth who report [wish Socialism]

4. Lower the towne smoking age to 6 [(to black miles the cough)]

5. Get rid of the stupid signs.

Baby [for] sale?

From the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council
Please look the note over and post your interpretations of it here.

Now, I can't say that the removal of public property -- the aforementioned parking signs, declaring on-street parking near the BYU-I campus as permitted only -- is condonable. Sure, many of the signs have been found, and the perps placed a bag of nuts (the metal kind) at city hall so the signs can be replaced. But that's a lot of labor for some poor city sod to go through, and taxpayer's money wasted.

But what an absolutely hilarious way to protest.

It's a damn good thing I'm not in local journalism any more, because I'd have had much more fun with this story than the local paper who are being very professional and have to play it straight because, hey, that's what you do when you're a journalist. Okay, I managegd to type that with a straight face. To continue: We used to live near campus and, had we stayed there, would have been included in this campus parking zone. We'd have grumbled, but have taken our two aloloted residential permits and used them. Can't count how many times I went to get my car out of the driveway only to find the driveway blocked by some idiot who didn't see the driveway in his or her rush to get parked so he or she could get to campus for some activity or other. I was reduced to dutifully calling the police deaprtment and writing rude limericks to stick on windshields. I think that's why the ransom note-makers have my sympathy.

The line about former Mayor Shawn Larsen is the best one. Who doesn't appreciate a man with dashing good looks and gusto? Our local municipalities tend to elect rather staid and boring people as mayor -- with the exception of St. Anthony, which, for a while, had a mayor with a long grey pony tail who rode motorcycles. No more.

So, protest the parking as you will. Or park up at the Hinckley Building where there's always vacant parking. Just, please, fulfil my demands:

1. Help me correctly interpret your note, as the local paper cowardly refused to reproduce it in a manner that makes it legible.

2. Keep up the good work.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shattering the Myth of the 'Daily Me'

I read an interesting study today that challenges the notion that folks who get their news online are more likely to seek out news that aligns with their political ideology than those who get their news from traditional sources such as newspaper, television, and word of mouth.

The study, available for download here, was done by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro, both from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and was released on April 12 this year.

I won't go into the details here; I'll leave that to Mssrs Gentzkow and Shapiro, but I will say it looks as if they approached this in a logical and statistically defensible way -- in other words, I think they're unbiased and did their work well within the realms of statistic acceptability.

They begin with the supposition -- the old saw, actually -- that the Internet is moving us towards the phenomenon known either as the echo chamber or the Daily Me, in which the news we consume is aligned with either our liberal or conservative ideologies. In other words, conservatives will go to Fox News or other more extreme sites with conservative bents and consume news there and only there, while liberals do the same thing, but on the other side of the spectrum.

What they found out is this:
News consumption online is far from perfectly segregated. The average Internet news consumer's exposure to conservatives is 57 percent, slightly to the left of the US adult population. The average conservative's exposure is 60.6 percent, similar to a person who gets all her news from usatoday.com. The average liberal's exposure is 53.1 percent, similar to a person who gets all her news from cnn.com. The isolation index for the Internet is 7.5 percentage points, the difference between the average conservative's exposure and the average liberal's exposure.
In comparing this isolation index -- the higher the number, the more likely the person is to get news that already aligns with their personal political ideologies -- puts the Internet at about the center of the news sources the study looked at. The index for broadcast news, magazines and local newspapers was lower than for the Internet, while national newspapers, voluntary associations, work, family and "people you trust" scored higher on the index -- meaning that people who rely on family, work associates and people they trust are more likely to get news that aligns with their political beliefs, while those who get their news on the Internet or from local papers or broadcast television were getting a better balance of news.

More interestingly, the study shows that people with more extreme political views are more likely -- not less likely -- to seek out news from the opposite ideology:
Much of the previous discussion of Internet segregation has focused on the "long tail" of political blogs, news aggregators, and activist sites. We confirm that these sites are often ideologically extreme, but find that they account for a very small share of online consumption. Second, a significant share of consumers get news from multiple outlets. This is especially true for visitors to small sites such as blogs and aggregators. Visitors of extreme conservative sites such as rushlimbaugh.com and glennbeck.com are more likely than a typical online news reader to have visited nytimes.com. Visitors of extreme liberal sites such as thinkprogress.org and moveon.org are more likely than a typical online news reader to have visited foxnews.com.
The study does include one caveat: "[N]one of the evidence here speaks to the way people translate the content they encounter into beliefs. People with different ideologies see similar content, but . . . [various mechanisms] may lead people with divergent political views to interpret the same information differently." This is a significant caveat, since how information consumed is interpreted and incorporated -- or left out -- of our political ideologies is significantly more important than if we're exposed to different points of view on the same information.

But that cross-ideological reading is occurring is significant, despite the fact that we have no way of knowing, through this study at least, if such exposure to opposite political views does anything to alter one's held beliefs. But one cannot argue, looking at this study, that the Internet is leading more people to seek only the kind of news they already agree with.
To take an even more extreme example, visitors to stormfront.org, a "discussion board for pro-White activists and anyone else interested in White survival," are twice as likely as visitors to Yahoo! News to visit nytimes.com in the same month. This pattern of cross-visiting contrasts with the image of online "echo chambers" where users are never exposed to opposite perspectives.

The Internet makes it easy to consume news from multiple sources. Of course, many people do get news from only one source, but these tend to be light users, and their sole source tends to be one of the large relatively centrist outlets. Most of the people who visit sites like drudgereport.com or huffingtonpost.com, by contrast, are heavy Internet users, likely with a strong interest in politics. Although their political views are relatively extreme, they also tend to consume more of everything, including centrist sites and occasionally sites with conflicting ideology. Their omnivorous outweighs their ideological extremity, preventing their overall news diet from becoming too skewed.
So people who get their news from the Internet more than from people they trust -- and this is interpreted as people they can talk with face-to-face -- have a better chance of being exposed to opposite political ideology. That explains how Pauline Kael could exclaim: "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know a single person who voted for him." That was in 1968, the year Nixon won 60 percent of the popular vote, to George McGovern's 37 percent.

Uncharted Tempts Me


I have to confess I'm not much for mountain biking. I like my biking to be relatively flat and free of obscacles (rocks, brush, porcupines) taht could cause me to fall and injure meself. But after reading John Milligan's story over at Uncharted and looking at his pictures, I could probably be convinced to try mountain biking. Maybe. Check it out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What We Have to Look Forward To



Play this video


Thanks, Uncle Jay, for explaining the situation so well. And for using "Dueling Banjos." Maybe for the next election, you could work "Yakety Sax" into your show.

Alley Dog, RIP

By all reports, the dog we tried to befriend in the alley last fall, and again this spring, has met an untimely end. I don't know all the circumstances, but it sounds like earlier this year the dog "cornered" someone and acted vicious. Seeing how timid he was around us, I'd believe it more if I found out he'd been the one to be cornered. Nevertheless, he was captured, as I blogged earlier, and put to sleep.

Behold the Yoo-Hoo Bird


Another welcome springtime arrival is the ubiquitous Yoo-Hoo Bird, or the black-capped chickadee. When these little guys arrive, springtime is complete for me. They mean more even -- well, almost -- than the spring flowers (crocuses, daffodills and tulips) that are popping up in the front garden.

They get their nickname, of course, from their distinct call. I guess I can hear the fee-bee as described, but it'll always be known as the Yoo-Hoo Bird to me and my kids. It's also delightful to hear them (the birds, not the kids) shout the typical "chickadeedeedee," which is one of the few bird calls on which I can agree with others -- that's exactly what they're saying.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

We're Doomed

So, if one Icelandic volcano can disrupt air travel to a continent because of a little bit of ash flying into the air -- at least a little bit on a global scale -- we are, as a sapient species, doomed.

Look at this picture from the BBC:


Note that the the gray cloud spewing out of southwest Iceland is the volcanic plume in question; the rest is just ordinary cloud. Now I know volcanic ash preads all over the place and is even present in spots where the gray plume doesn't appear, but I hardly think it's justifiable to close down a continent's air travel just because of one measly volcano.

Happily, I'm not the only one. People way smarter than me think the same thing. Behold:
ACI Europe - which represents major airports - and the Association of European Airlines issued a joint statement urging officials to reconsider the restrictions.

"The eruption of the Icelandic volcano is not an unprecedented event and the procedures applied in other parts of the world for volcanic eruptions do not appear to require the kind of restrictions that are presently being imposed in Europe," the statement said.
This is being reported by the BBC.

So there's some science but a lot of paranoia going on over there over this situation. Even President Obama declined to travel to Poland to attend a state funeral because of the mess which, frankly, isn't all that messy. This is what happens when bureaucrats are in charge and listen to the worst case scenario, and that scenario is echoed, seal-bark-like, by the penny press.

Oh, I've seen the videos. This is one of them:


But remember, this plane flew directly through the ash cloud, not just though air space where a bit of ash might be present. So they're overreacting to the nth degree there.

Maybe I'm too dim to fathom all this. But when the flight bans first came out, I thought, my gosh, that plume must be enormous for Europe to ban all flights in or out. Enormous, I mean. Globe-spanning. Then I get to thinking, well, even the largest volcanic eruptions don't spew plumes dense enough to disturb vast areas of airspace. Somebody's playing silly with me. Then I see the picture and think, yeah, overreaction.

I'd fly to Europe today if someone gave me a free ticket, just to prove it's safe.

Cokesbury Concludes

I’ve pondered this entry for a while now. Thought about recapping my favorite Cokesbury Party Blog moments. Holding a contest to see which book to roast here next. But, like Plankton from SpongeBob Square Pants, I’m facing reality:

I am small.

The blog will take a hiatus after this post. I may indeed find a new book to skewer, but whether it’s continued as part of the Cokesbury Party Blog or not, I have no idea. That would require some retooling. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Here’s another bridge: Nobody comes here. Nobody cares. In nearly a year of busting my brains out on this blog, not a single comment.

But I’m not bitter.

I had fun.

So here at the end of all things, let me end, finally, with this:





 Soon to come, however -- I have, in fact, already started it, but whether or not the posts will follow immediately is unsure; I may take a break between wrapping up Cokesbury and starting this new venture -- is my new venture, the Treasury of Laughter blog, where we'll explore humor from the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the eyes of renowned anthologist Louis Untermeyer. Hope you enjoy it as much as I will.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cul de Sac's Thompson up for A Reuben


If I had any pull with the people who select the winners of the Reuben Award, I'd see that Richard Thompson won it this year for Cul de Sac. I really enjoy his delvings into the minds of children, because they're the most honest delvings since Charles Schulz, and, in some ways, they're more honest, because Thompson doesn't take on any thoughts in his characters that real characters of this age and mein would take on. No philosophies like Linus and Charlie Brown, and no artificial nastiness and flights of imagination like Calvin and Hobbes. I hope he wins.

Mote, Meet Beam


I like this cartoon because it's almost in contact with reality.

The Tea Party, like any other kind of protest movement -- I hesitate to call it a political party, because it's hardly solidified into one with platforms, candidates, fund-raising and such -- has, at its heart, altruism. Maybe not an altruism everyone would agree with, but altruism certainly. And every kind of protest movement is going to attract the wingnuts, be they from the left, the right, the middle, or -- and this is more important these days than in the past -- the media.

I've read a lot about 60s politics, certainly the politics and rhetoric surrounding the Nixon campaigns and presidency. Neither side came out of the mess smelling all that rosy. We could all certainly learn some lessons from what passed for rhetoric and reporting back then as well.

I like what our local paper said concerning a Tea Party Tax Day rally earlier this week -- The crowd was willing to listen to a libertarian speaker trash the Democrats, but when it came time to saying, well, the Republicans share some blame, too, the crowd went silent. That's kind of like listening while plugging one's ears and singing "Pinball Wizard" while the other guy is talking. Kind of like seeing the mote in the other guy's eye without regard to the beam in our own eye.

Same for the media and for the loons on the left who look at today's Tea Party protests and see only the fringe and the violence, while at the same time ignoring the fringe and the violence of liberal protests back in the 1960s. Does Pigasus the Pig ring any bells? That's certainly an odd political and rhetorical position: Better off electing a pig to office than any kind of human being. IF the Tea Partiers were saying that today, boy howdy would the media and the loons on the left like to make fun of that. But Done by liberals, of course, it's all strictly satirical public political speech that sends a message. Mote, meet Beam.



Listen to what's said here. Listen to Barbara Ehrenreich say this:

The powerful in our country had ceased to be responsible. And so the powerless, students, poor people, were trying to take some responsibility.

She'd probably be pissed to hear me using her words in this context, defending the Tea Party. So be it. But the truth remains in the statement: The powerful in our country have ceased to be responsible, both Democrat and Republican. So the powerless are trying to take some responsibility.

Responsibility comes in living within our means.

Responsibility comes in not walking away from debts, even if that debt is an underwater mortgage.

Responsibility comes in standing up for what one believes is right, even if one's beliefs are not popular with the elites on either side of the political spectrum, or on the side of partisan media, left or right.

If you want to read an excellent book on these kinds of thoughts, read Theodore White's "The Making of the President, 1968." Powerful, authoritative writing. He does do a lot of commentary, commentary that makes neither the right nor the left look particularly rosy. But he does his commentary with a depth of knowledge that most of today's media pundits cannot match. Read his book, then consider the beams in your own eyes.