"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Monday, August 30, 2004

Convention Bloggerage

Cosmopolity has a blog aggregator up for all those who are at NYC's The Tank covering the Republican National Convention.

Be sure to check out some of the entries to see some of what the "real" media misses over the next few days.

Pre-empting the RepubliCon(s)

The shit's about to hit the fan in the Big Apple. That's right folks, the Republican National Convention starts Monday, but the protesters have already been out in force for days.

Keep your eyes open for peculiarly timed stories of terrorist captures in Pakistan and/or NYC, threats of "imminent" attacks, clashes with police, and flip-flops on arrangements previously made by authorities to accomodate protesters.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Fact from fiction

The same professional writers who can't distinguish fact from fiction seem also to be unable to derive fact from fiction (although they're pretty good at turning facts into fiction). This has been made abundantly clear by the many screwy analyses of John Kerry's recent appearance (Part 1, Part 2) on The Daily Show.

I discussed this topic in an earlier post whose premise was that the genre of literature known as fiction "speaks truth about human nature and relationships" and that "[g]ood fiction can teach us more about truth than any so-called 'reality show' ever could." You might think that a professional writer would have at least a basic understanding of this.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tim Cuprisin is one of those who doesn't seem to get it. He is offended that "a Milwaukee reader wants Inside TV & Radio to 'retract' its assessment of Comedy Central's 'Daily Show' as a 'fake news' show." He quotes The Daily Show's Jon Stewart as saying "We're a fake news organization" to back up his argument.

Now hear this: FOXNews' use of the slogan "Fair and Balanced" doesn't magically make it so!

To see why The Daily Show -- despite its host's claims -- isn't nearly as fake as FOXNews or CNN, we simply need to look at this retelling of a Kafkaesque exchange between Jon Stewart and Ted Koppel:
There have been dozens of press failures during this presidential campaign. But this one, even given the Times' and the Post's belated efforts to get to the bottom of things, has to rank as a low point.

And it certainly did nothing to help the mainstream press' credibility with what is an increasingly dubious audience. The most telling comment on that front may well have come from the unlikely duo of Jon Stewart and Ted Koppel, who shared a telecast during the Democratic convention. Koppel, by way of introducing his own viewers to Stewart, complained that "a lot of television viewers -- more, quite frankly, than I'm comfortable with" -- get their news from Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

Stewart, seemingly trying to reassure Koppel, responded that what his fans were watching for was not news per se, but rather a "comedic interpretation" of the news. Koppel was unmoved. Stewart's audience watches him "to be informed," Koppel insisted. "They actually think they're coming closer to the truth with your show."

With that, Stewart pounced. "Now that's a different thing, that's credibility; that's a different animal." [Emphasis mine]
How does Jon "Fake News" Stewart do it so much better than the "real" journalists? It doesn't have to be that difficult. Sometimes a simple yes-or-no question will suffice. Take a gander at this:
Stewart: […] As any good fake journalist should do, I watch only the 24-hour cable news. This is what I learned about you—

Kerry: All right.

Stewart: Through the cable news. Please refute if you will. Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?

Kerry: No.

Stewart: Okay.

Kerry: You happy with that? (LAUGHTER)
Too bad Dana Stevens (the writer from whose article I extracted that segment) wasn't satisfied with such directness. (She didn't think it was funny either.) While Stewart's questioning of Kerry was done in a comedic context -- a "fake news" format, if you will -- that brief exchange brilliantly illuminates how the news media never asked even the most simple question possible. Stewart was making fun of the so-called "real" journalists who seem to get their information by "watch[ing] only the 24-hour cable news" and who'd rather perform in attack poodle mode and repeat the conservatives' lies than to actually seek out the truth.

The Toronto Star hit the nail on the head when they said, "Only the jester speaks the truth."

Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Wachet auf!

Sleepers, wake the fuck up!
An editorial from nearly a week ago in the Salt Lake Tribune speaks volumes with these two paragraphs:
Every minute spent by Larry King or Fox News on Lori Hacking or Laci Peterson is a minute they don't spend on health care, education, environmental quality, national security, the economy or other real issues that should be the center of public attention, especially in an election year.

A nation full of people who know more about Scott Peterson's defense strategy than they do about Donald Rumsfeld's is not a nation that shows much ability to govern itself.
Hear, hear!

Don't hit the snooze button, either!
This story in the Halifax Herald sounds a little too much like science-fiction to not be disturbing:
In a far cry from the high-minded ideals of humanity and tolerance embodied by the Olympics, the organizers of the Athens games have warned spectators that they could be barred for taking a surreptitious sip of Pepsi or an illicit bite from a Burger King Whopper.

Strict regulations published by Athens 2004 last week dictate that spectators may be refused admission to events if they are carrying food or drinks made by companies that did not see fit to sponsor the games.

Sweltering sports fans who seek refuge from the soaring temperatures with a soft drink other than one made by Coca-Cola will be told to leave the banned refreshment at the gates or be shut out. High on the list of blacklisted beverages is Pepsi, but even the wrong bottle of water could land spectators in trouble. [Emphasis mine]
I've always thought that people should be paid to wear products with brand names plastered on them (rather than having to pay for 'em), but I'm not about to deny anyone the right to do so.

This Olympic fiasco takes it to a whole other level. It reminds me of Mao Zedong and George Orwell's 1984.

By the way, I think the article has it wrong to say that those companies "did not see fit to sponsor the games." It's pretty obvious from the Visa credit card example that they were shut out.


Information is Strength. Knowledge is Power. Christianity is Stupid.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I, Madbot

Rambling robotics, robotic ramblings
I'm back from seeing the Isaac Asimov-inspired I, Robot a short while ago, and I must say that I'm quite impressed.

I should first divulge that I haven't read the acclaimed Asimov story, so I'm judging the film on its own merits -- not as an "accurate" book-to-movie translation. Now that that's out of the way... (No major ***SPOILERS*** ahead, but there might be some minor ones.)

The film version makes a poignant, not-so-subtle allusion to racism which is brought out early in the film when detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) calls a robot (the film's contemporaneous slaves) "canner" as it runs down the street carrying a woman's purse. (In the Mandarin subtitles, this was translated as "can opener.") After tackling the robot, it is revealed why it was running with the purse, and Spooner has set himself up to be portrayed as a character who is prejudiced against robots.

But the grander theme of the film is -- ironically -- rather "non-binary."

There's none of George "We don't do nuance" Bush's "clearcut" vision of good vs. evil, with us or with the terrorists, het'rosexshul or perverted, bin Laden dead or alive, my way or the highway, etc.

Bush's attitude carries over to many people who can only see those who are wary of the future as "envirowacos" [sic] and "primitivists."

The thing is, it may be much more complicated than a simple "1 or 0" choice, but you don't have to be a genius to understand. One thing I, Robot reminded me of was that I both love and hate technology.

I once wrote in my old 'zine Vital Information (in the "Crackpot Theories" column) that "Two-thirds of all technology exists merely to protect us from the other third." At the time, I thought I was at least slightly exaggerating, but I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it may actually have been an understatement.

Note in the film how the seemingly perfect "The Three Laws of Robotics" is a supposedly self-closing loop that is oh-so-easily circumvented. Following my "crackpot theory," these three laws require an additional six. These six will beget twelve more. It won't be long before we're drowning and hoping that perhaps our "guardian robot" will come along and deem us worthy of extraction.

My point in all of this is that we should give careful consideration to both the short- and long-term consequences (to all lifeforms and the environment) of wide-reaching technologies, but that doesn't mean that I'm a Luddite.

To me, "good" technologies are those which make the most of what we have and which don't leave the next generation in worse shape than us. "Bad" technologies are things like oil (which pollutes the environment via acquisition, refining, and consumption, as well as being the driving force behind many wars) and nuclear power (which can be used for the explicit purpose of harming people).

Achieving progress via methods that aren't profitable seems to be an impossible dream. Solar- and wind-powered technologies have existed for decades, but since there's no way (so far) to charge people for sunshine or the wind, these technologies aren't nearly as widespread as they should be. 50 years ago, no one would have believed that we'd be paying for bottled water today, but they might have had hopes of seeing mass-production of solar-powered vehicles.

I'd ramblingly rate I, Robot (the film) 9 out of 10 stars.

Humans? We don't need no stinkin' humans!
Here are a couple of outstanding lines of dialogue from the movie (from memory):
* Spooner (to Sonny the robot, played by Alan Tudyk): It's a human thing. You wouldn't understand.

* Spooner (to Lawrence Robertson, played by Bruce Greenwood): Aaaachoooo! Sorry, I'm allergic to bullshit.

* Robertson: I bet you didn't complain when the Internet replaced all the libraries.
Okay, the last one wasn't from memory. It came from the IMDb's Memorable Quotes page for I, Robot. Seeing it, however, reminded me that I haven't been to a library in several years. The first one rekindles my own take on "It's a Black thing, you wouldn't understand." In my rap "It's Not Democracy, It's A Conspiracy!" I morphed that one into "It's 'terrestrial,' you wouldn't understand" in an attempt to get people to think beyond both skin color and national borders. (Go here and listen to it for more context.)

While the Africana.com review linked above thinks the film should focus more obviously on the "racist" angle, I think it makes its point clearly enough by leaving it just beneath the surface for most of the film. As I wrote in issue #2 of Vital Information: "Most, if not ALL references to 'race' perpetuate racism." Or as I exceptionally quote myself over in the sidebar, "My race is human. What's yours?" (That is, assuming I'm not talking to a dolphin or Koko the gorilla.)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

No bounce, huh?

The spin doctors have tried to tell us that after John Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last Thursday, just hours after politically motivated distractions began to flood broadcast media, we're supposed to believe that the "bounce" Kerry "should have gotten" after the convention was just an itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie, moderate-if-any bounce.

Here are yesterday's numbers according to electoral-vote.com:
Kerry 289   Bush 232
And here are today's numbers:
Kerry 328   Bush 210
Looks pretty much like Superball material to me!

CLARIFICATION: Those numbers listed above are "projected electoral votes."
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