Saturday, June 30, 2007

Professionals criticizing amateurs for criticizing professionals

In lieu of anything generated from my own tired synapses and fingertips, today I direct you to some interesting reading elsewhere; namely, a recent column in Wired on the "are bloggers really journalists" topic. In the column by Tony Long there is a reference to a new book:

The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture bemoans the rise of amateurism in all spheres of professional life, specifically as facilitated by the internet's long reach.
Nice to see somebody standing up for the craft of journalism. I don't know too many people (who ought to know the difference, meaning they have worked as a journalist) who think the average blogger is a journalist. Long makes a nice contrast between between being a reporter and being an eyewitness. Just because you can get yourself on the floor of a convention, or act like paparazzi, doesn't mean you can also tell the story in any meaningful way.

On the other hand, the Wired column generated this response on a list serv that I subscribe to.

A personal and OT rant about the journalists-vs-bloggers debate...

As a former journalist, I tend to side with the bloggers in terms of amateur vs professional journalism. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine would be considered amateurs in today's journalism world.

What passes for 'professional journalism' today largely involves highly-paid old white people reporting what they've overheard at cocktail parties hosted by other highly-paid old white people. Given a choice between reporting truth or reporting what will get them invited to more cocktail parties, the choice they've made is obvious - especially since 2000.

There was a time when news organizations employed dozens or hundreds of correspondents in all world capitals and hot spots. Today, even major events are covered by a relative handful of wire service and press pool correspondents. Poorly-backgrounded 'celebrity' reporters and local TV personalities are flown in to do ominous-sounding but fatuous standups when the story heats up.

Bloggers simply filled a vacuum left by the content-deprived, melodramatic Paris Hilton-centric coverage offered by the so-called 'professionals.'
And to round this out, there is a spirited disassembly of Keen's thesis over on Lawrence Lessig's blog.

Not exactly your light summer reading for the beach.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bees vs. Crows

The latest tally: not enough bees, WAY too many crows.

You may have seen any number of news stories worrying over the decline of bees. No one has a definitive reason, but there is a problem they call "colony collapse disorder" that either is or isn't a serious problem, caused or not caused by pesticides, genetically modified crops, or malnutrition. Some people think the dwindling of the bees is caused by cell phones. In this scenario, the young worker bees fail to produce food for the hive because they spend all their time texting each other.

Anyway, it's a big problem if the bees poop out, because that means no strawberries, unless we find some other way to get all the plants pollinated, which I'm sure we would do because who wants to live in a world without strawberries?

So on the one hand, we have too few of something we really need - bees - and at least in my neighborhood, an enormous oversupply of something we could probably do without - crows. I don't know what the hell is up with these noisy little monsters, but they are bountiful this year. So bountiful - and did I mention noisy? - that I have seriously considered calling animal control. I think they are scaring away all the nice birds, too. We used to have a mockingbird every spring, and they little thing would sing his guts out every morning. I don't mind getting a wake up call from a mockingbird ("Mock. Yeah! Ing. Yeah!") but these crows are too much. What good are crows anyway?

I went to a page of "Frequently Asked Questions About Crows" and it looks like they are as big a pain to other people as to me:

Tearing off the windshield wipers?

Do they make shotguns with silencers?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Who Steals My Purse..."

"Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his..."
That's the way Shakespeare said it. Who steals my purse steals trash, but the bastard that robbed our house two nights ago got more than trash.

We're all still on edge a little after some thief came in an unlocked window downstairs while we were all sleeping upstairs. With two laptops and a couple of iPods under his arm, I'm sure he was thinking it was a good night.

So we are out a fair bit of coin to replace the stuff stolen, but what's far worse is the creepy feeling you get that some stranger (I hope it was a stranger) has been in your house with the intent of taking advantage of you. Who was it? How did they know we had anything worth taking? How did they know coming in that particular window was the shortest path to the high ticket, mobile items? Let the festival of paranoia begin!

It's not a tragedy of profound dimensions to lose some of your stuff, but you can discern the classic stages - there's denial ("Is this a joke? Did someone move the laptops into the other room?") and lots of anger ("%$@&! Bastards!") bargaining ("Well, at least they didn't take the TV, and they didn't break the window.") and depression ("Why is the world filled with sociopaths?") but I have not gotten to acceptance yet. I keep cycling back to anger.

Of course, some are quicker to get to acceptance than others. It was voiced yesterday that "it's sad that some people have so little that they have to steal from others," or some other admirably forgiving statement. But I doubt these thieves were starving - they didn't take any food - and I'd bet the stealing is more about feeding a habit than feeding a family. It's also unlikely that this thief is a Jean Valjean, who will go on to contribute much more to society than he takes away.

All the same, I would enjoy the opportunity to talk this over with the perpetrator, analyze the societal pressure that lead to crime, how the system keeps the underclass addicted and marginalized and so on. And during that conversation, I would offer to show him an extreme close up view of my Louisville Slugger that's been taken out of storage and posted close at hand now. Along those lines, consider this blog post a warning against any generally suspicious behavior on my block. Like I said, I keep cycling back to anger.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Only the most important NEWS for busy folks on the go

In the news...

VP Dick Cheney will have a procedure to replace the battery in his pacemaker. While he's in the shop they also plan to polish his glass eye, tune up his bionic legs and give him a complete sneer adjustment.

A hundred foot-deep lake in the Andes just up and disappeared. Not the first time this has happened - same story last year in Russia, and in 2004 it happened in Missouri. Apparently Michael Moore gets mighty thirsty after eating a boxcar or two of salted peanuts.

It's good to see we're all still interested in getting the hard news and keeping up with the challenging issues. Here are the most read stories today:
  1. Stolen 1956 Thunderbird recovered -- 31 years later
  2. SF Gate: Entertainment: Horoscope
  3. Should You Get A Bad Tattoo? Why not? It's easier than ever to get it...
  4. No copping out allowed Yes, 'Die Hard 4' is rated PG-13, but the action is...
Readers clicking on #5 are generally disappointed to learn this is about BART the transit system, not the new Simpsons movie.

And that's the way it is, June 22, 2007.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This really pops my cork

I surely do get tired of seeing the news stories about how dumb we all are. Hardly a week goes by without some story about test scores, how our kids aren't learning enough math and science, how we aren't turning out enough engineers. Of course, they never mention that we continue to lead the world in many categories - throwaway pop music, freestyle snowboarding, movies with predictable endings, and obesity, just to name a few.

So I don't need another story that highlights our numbskullosity. And yet, I get this:

America 'baffled' by screwcaps

Come on, people! Grip it and rip it!

If you take time to read this story, you'll learn that the wine bidness needs to do a better job of educating consumers on why cork is crap and screw caps are better. But there are a lot of knuckle-draggers who cling to the cork, not because of quality but purely because of image concerns. How can you present a hundred dollar bottle to restaurant patrons and then just unscrew it? People have to have a fussy wine service to get their money's worth, they think. But in reality, if I get a bad bottle at a restaurant, I just send it back, right? No skin off my nose. But I do most of my wine drinking at home, and for my money, I'll trade the congenial popping of the cork for an assurance that a expensive bottle I bring home won't be corked. It never fails that when I am at home and try to send a bad bottle back, I get poor service.

So I'm down with screwcaps, pull tabs, ziplocs, Tupperware - whatever it takes - because a good wine is a terrible thing to waste.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

HBO is my dealer

I'm feeling a little down today. It's Father's Day and it's beautiful outside, and I should be in a great mood. But I'm a little down because it's the first post-Sopranos Sunday in many, many years.

I know there were those long breaks between seasons a few times, and I know there were some long spells when the show seemed to lose its mojo, but all the same. You knew it would be back, and you knew it would get good again. Now it's all just a memory.

I felt the same way when Deadwood ended, and Six Feet Under ended, and especially when Rome ended. Almost like losing a friend, in a sad TV-addict kind of way. I've always been susceptible to the blue mood on a Sunday evening - "and so this is Sunday, and what have I done? Another week over and a new one just begun." So having those great HBO shows waiting there at the end of the weekend, taking the edge off the Sunday evening letdown, was always a saving grace.

So I'm keeping my hopes up for John from Cincinnati. (That's John in the picture. What a weird dude - or weird angel - or something.) The first episode last week was wonderfully weird - the dialogue reminded me of Waiting for Godot - and I am anxious to see what comes up this week. I don't think it will make me forget Tony and Carm and Paulie Walnuts, but the blue Sunday TV addicts need a little fix to make it through the night.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why I Love Golf

I love golf because it is a simple game. It's just you out there, competing against yourself. Sometimes you win, sometimes you get beat. All by yourself.

But above all, it's a simple game. All you have to go is keep your head down and make a simple swing. Head down, left arm straight, and a simple swing, that's all there is to it. Back and through, with a nice tempo, and there you go. Head down, left arm straight, and a nice shoulder turn, and hit through the ball. Simple. Nice full turn, shoulder under the chin, back and through, with a nice tempo. It's easy, really, and that's what makes it such a beautiful and pure game. It's just you out there with your head down, left arm straight, and a good full turn of the shoulders. Don't even need to think about your hands. Just as long as you keep that right elbow tucked in, hands up behind your right ear, and pull through with the left arm, don't come over the top. Back and through, nice and easy. One piece takeaway, left arm straight, right elbow tucked in, let the hands take care of themselves, just make sure you're not laying it off, and a nice tempo, and hit through the ball. That's all there is to it. Let the legs do what they want to do. Just don't sway or leave your weight on the back foot. Just coil like a spring, create the torque, keep your head down, shoulder under the chin, nice tempo, and hit down on the ball, don't scoop it. Nice and easy, hands up behind the ear, let the hips open and that starts the movement, don't force it, let the club do the work. Nice wrist roll at just the right time for distance, and finish high. Just like that. Simple. Easy. Head down, right arm straight, nice shoulder turn, hands up behind the ear, right elbow in, the hands work together, nice tempo, little pause at the top, let the hips open, let the spring uncoil, throw your hands at the ball, let the club do the work, hit it inside out, stay on plane, rotate through the ball, good balance, hit through it, follow through, finish high.

It's just you out there. With your head down. You got to love a game that is so simple.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Truth! Justice! And the American Way! (Hey, two outa three ain't bad...even one outa three, that's respectable...)

I am tickled pink to believe that there is at least one human being in this silly world we've created who will, just for once at least, do the right thing. Today, that simple right thing is to make the offensively spoiled brat Paris Hilton do her time.

Perhaps we were not quite on the verge of a Rodney King trial riot, but I could sense a disturbance in the force when the news came out that she had whined her way out of jail. We all know that money talks, the few and the famous get their special treatment, a rich man's crime is nothing like a poor man's crime, but we do not need to have it all thrown in our faces. And any outcome that involves Paris doing less than her full stay in graybar hotel is a travesty.

She doesn't like it in jail? It upsets her? Shocking. I'm sure all the rest of us regular folks would love it there. And we would do our 18 days (that's all she'll end up serving, most likely) for the multiple "driving without a license" offenses and we would suck it up. We wouldn't have any money to buy our way out of it, or some ridiculous excuse why we just can't take it.

Honestly, it's a different thing when you see some wizened old actor in a mug shot, fallen on hard times, can't kick the pills or the booze - or a Marilyn-type self destructor - and your heart goes out because of all the pleasure that person has given you over time. You like them because they have entertained you, and you feel sorry they are having it bad. But come on, what has Paris Hilton ever done that wasn't shameful? She has an entire celebrity persona built on being despicable. Why should I feel sorry for her? That judge and I are on the same page.

Get over yourself, silly girl, and try to learn something about life. Your actions have consequences.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Please leave your independent thinking at the door

I know I have mentioned this book The Wisdom of Crowds several times, but it is one of those "ah-hah moment" books for me, so I am mentioning it again today. Here's why.

The chapter I've just been reading talks about the importance of dissent when groups are making decisions, and the tendency that dissent is not voiced. People who disagree with the dominant opinion may be deterred by lack of status in the group, and that is reinforced when they do speak up but are marginalized or ignored within the group. This is unfortunate because the dissenting person may have information the rest of the group doesn't have and if they were heard the group's decision making would be enhanced.

Here's why this is resonant to me today. I have been thinking about the case of Mike Griffin, the head guy from NASA, who made the news a week or so back when he expressed doubt about how freaky we should get over global warming. Here's the quote that started it all:

"I have no doubt that ... a trend of global warming exists," Griffin said on NPR. "I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with."

Mind you, he did not even deny global warming, just questioned what type of response is appropriate. And still, there was a burst of righteous indignation from the "debate is over, no room for further discussion" crowd. Now, Griffin is compelled to back pedal somewhat:
The head of NASA told scientists and engineers that he regrets airing his personal views about global warming during a recent radio interview, according to a video of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin said in the closed-door meeting Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that "unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it."

Mind you he points out the politicization of the issue, and doesn't really negate what he had earlier said. Interesting. This is another clear message that everyone is now expected to toe the line. No dissenting voices need apply. March in lockstep with Commander Gore and his Compact Flourescent Raiders! Far be it for me to suggest that I have a franchise on the truth - all I am advocating for it the right to have doubt and not be shunned. Groups make better decisions when dissenting opinions are heard and considered.

Nothing makes me more nervous than the "shout them down" mentality. And particularly when it comes from people who should know better, meaning, people in the scientific community. I suppose they are saying that NASA is being paid off by Exxon?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Who REALLY has an immigration problem

Immigration debate is always on the front burner these days. In the USandA, and here in California particularly, the conversation is all about Latino immigrants, mostly Mexican. At the bottom line I think everybody should have to immigrate legally, but we are such hypocrites about this - needing and wanting cheap labor while chastising the people who come here to provide it - that I can't get very worked up about it. So much of our cushy lifestyle is based on somebody else doing the dirty work somewhere so maybe we should shut up and let people try to make their lives better.

No matter how you feel about immigration policy, it's undeniable that Latino culture and Anglo culture have been mingling for a couple of centuries here, and we have a lot more in common that we have differences. In that sense, I'm not too worried about how many Latinos come into the country anymore than I am concerned about how many Canadians or Italians or Irish come in. Wait, let me think about the Canadians for a second...hmmm...

But if you want to look at an immigration issue that is a real threat to the existing culture, check this out from

Mohammed will likely become the most popular name for baby boys in Britain by the end of the year, The Times reported on Wednesday, citing government data.

Though official records from the Office for National Statistics list the spelling Mohammed 23rd in its yearly analysis of the top 3,000 names given to children, when all the different spellings of the name are taken into account, it ranks second, only behind Jack, according to The Times.

Thomas was third with 5,921 names, with Joshua and Oliver rounding out the top five. According to The Times, if the growth of the name Mohammed continues -- it rose by 12 percent last year -- the name will take the top spot by the end of this year.

A similar situation exists in France, of course, and Italy, and I don't know how many other western European countries. Some people go so far as to say that the fundamental cultures of these countries may been overwhelmed within a generation.
So while it's not likely that Francisco next door will become my best buddy, it's also true that we will get along fine. We both want to make a living, take care of our families, have a decent car, watch a good game, fire up the barbecue and have a cold one on the weekend. If Mohammed moves in, we've got a long way to go to get to that point.

Now THAT is an immigration problem.

Monday, June 4, 2007

"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons"

As if the way my back hurts lately, and the fact that I not only can't but don't want to stay up past 10pm, and the sounds I make when I get up out of my chair ("uuuhh!" and "ohuuuhmmm!" and "aaahhhrrrrrmmm!") are not enough evidence that I am getting really rather old, then there is the simple fact that my 30 year high school reunion is coming up this summer. A 20-year reunion is one thing - kind of a nice milepost, and people are still on the near side of 40 - but there's no faking it at high-school-plus-30 years. We're all just really damn old in the larger sense, and there's no denying.

Oh sure, people want to say "50 is the new 40!" Sounds swell, but tell it to my arthritic thumb, my spare tire, and my blood pressure meds. I don't care if you call it 50, or 90, or 7 in dog years, it sucks.

Oh sure, I know I'm still young by many standards. In other words, there are a lot of people older than me who will say, "Well, I'd give anything to be your age again! When I was your age, I was still...uh...what was that thing I used to do?" But that is not the point. In real terms, people my age are way past their physical prime - in fact, nearly useless for the primary function of reproduction - and are only good for mental exercises. Think about it - even if you are some kind of super athlete, your best performance approaching 50 is probably just a shadow of what you could do ten years ago. Ten short years, the interval between the 20 year reunion and the 30 year reunion. To paraphrase that great standard, "what a difference 3,650 days makes - 87,600 little hours. "

So as I ponder whether or not it's a good idea to attend my 30-year reunion, with the hopes that there are people more pathetic than me that will make me feel good about myself in some sick way, I feel I have fully "grown into" my appreciation for the poem that I have considered my favorite for just about all of these last 30 years, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, which tells us:

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Duty Calls

Kind of an exciting day for me. I got a letter from the Council on Foreign Relations, and they're recruiting me.

I know that some people think the CFR is a nefarious, secretive cabal. In truth, it's not all that secretive. And bottom line, everybody who is anybody is in it - even Angelina Jolie, as reported here in this space back in March.

This seems like a great time for me to get involved on foreign affairs. These days, everybody is interested in what's going on in Burkina Faso and Myanmar and Ativan. Wait, I think that last one is a medicine, not a country. But anyway, you get the idea. We're all thinking globally and acting provincially, as the saying goes, and we care about where our cast-off computers full of heavy metals are going to be recycled, and we care about blood diamonds because we saw that movie, and we still care about the rain forests, don't we? I mean, I think about the rain forests every time I walk past a Ben and Jerry's.

So like I said, I'm going to sign up for the Council on Foreign Relations like they asked me to in this letter. It looks like I will be a member for the preferred rate (see, I'm preferred already, I can tell that I will move up fast in this group) of only $19.95 and I will get four free issues. I imagine Colin Powell or one of my other new CFR buddies will soon let me know when the next meeting will be, and we'll chew the fat over all the hassles coming down in Hotandwindystan and Islamistan and other 'Stans, and we'll ponder why old Putin is acting all touch guy all of a sudden.

Maybe I'll get to sit next to Angelina. I'll keep you posted.