Monday, April 30, 2007

Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

CNN reports on new, unorthodox surgical techniques.

It reminds me of this joke:

A proctologist decides to that he wants to change occupations and be an auto mechanic. So he goes to auto mechanic school. It comes time for the final exam. He takes the exam and when he gets the test back he's shocked at the test score he received - 200%, so he goes to talk to the instructor.

The instructor tells him he gave him 50% for taking the engine apart correctly, 50% for putting it back together correctly, and an extra 100% for doing it all through the muffler.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Biden's Balls (and Friends)

The balls on that guy, eh? I hope that eight years from now he's not some nearly unrecognizable phantom of his former self, like another notable straight talker I once admired. Anyhow, Biden and Murtha tell it like it is . Everybody's beating up Bush and Iraq these days, even some Republicans. But Biden's had it right since day one. God bless that man. I can't believe his campaign was all but ruined in its infancy because of a foolish and plausibly accidental impolitic remark. I would love to vote for him, but I always support candidates who are bound to get crushed in the primary, and/or don't run at all. By the way Wes Clark, if you're listening, it's not too late for you to join the race!
One more from Biden.

And Keith Olbermann:

I don't know a whole lot about him, but I'm pretty fond of Bill Richardson too:

Here he is on Real Time with Bill Maher. It seems to me like now would be a pretty good time to elect a president who knows a lot something anything at all about foreign policy.

Here's some bonus Murtha. It gets good at the end. Wait for it. What the heck, one more from good ol' Jack.

Sigh. I'd rather vote for just about any democrat other than Hillary or Obama. Hell, I kinda liked Vilsack.

PS: About that first Murtha clip, I still laugh at what a little pecker Patrick McHenry looks and sounds like; I'm pretty sure I saw some frat guys give him an atomic sit-up on YouTube. Murtha gave him a solid verbal beatdown, but I half-wish he'd just backhanded him into oblivion.

Update: McHenry's got some problems. Foley-esque problems, methinks.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I Don't Think You're Getting It...

WaPo says:

The Justice Department is conducting a probe of a $6 billion reading initiative at the center of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, another blow to a program besieged by allegations of financial conflicts of interest and cronyism, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

The disclosure came as a congressional hearing revealed how people implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.

"That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, which held a five-hour investigative hearing.

My favorite quote is a beauty because it's oh-so typical of the arrogance of these guys who have been investigated or indicted for underhanded dealings with the administration:
"I regret the perception of conflicts of interest," said Kame'enui, former chairman of the committee[.]"But there was no real conflict of interest being engaged in."

Well you see, my you-couldn't-possibly-be-as-stupid-as-you-are-pretending-to-be friend, if it is illegal to take government money from government programs that you helped initiate (which 1. it is and 2. you did), then you would hardly be a good judge of whether or not your interests were conflicted, don't you think? Because to say so would be calling yourself a criminal, and that would be bad for you. To judge objectively in such a predicament, one in which you have much to gain or lose from the outcome, can be difficult; it's what we call a conflict of interest. They can be mighty tricky, and sometimes they cause people to make decisions that really aren't sound, which is why we try to avoid them when deciding how to spend $6 billion of taxpayer money.


Thursday, April 5, 2007

As Gore Vidal says, "The media is a whore"

I will consolidate a few grievances into a single post. First, a nice dressing down of the deplorable spectacle of Anna Nicole Smith. The reference to "soma" is explained here.

This is an unconvincing counterpoint, but the best I have seen.
Here's my favorite quote:

Perhaps the Smith coverage doesn't advance democracy in quite the same way gavel-to-gavel C-SPAN telecasts do. But the demand for natural disaster, tragedy, crime, murder coverage, and other "sensational" news has always ranked at the top of reader and viewer preferences. Giving the audience what it wants shouldn't automatically be considered a crime.

Perhaps the Smith coverage doesn't advance democracy in quite the same way gavel-to-gavel C-SPAN telecasts do!?! For someone who shamelessly advocates sensationalism, you have a heckuva penchant for understatement.

On a more dire topic, the media, with cable news leading the charge as always, have shown similar lack of restraint. The tragedy in Virginia is stomach-churning. But I completely agree with psychiatrist Michael Welner when he says that airing the shooter's multimedia manifesto does not contribute anything substantial towards discussing, understanding, or healing the harm that he inflicted.

I will admit that I was extremely curious to catch a peek at Cho's psyche, and I watched the video. It taught me nothing. It was exactly what I would have guessed: a barely-coherent rant that proves nothing but his obvious insanity. Now I feel dirty for having succumbed to the hype and giving Cho just what he wanted.

As Welner correctly observes, the video does not elucidate anything about Cho because it does not portray him as he is; it portrays him as he wishes he was. In his delusional fantasy, he is a bandoleered badass striking a blow for the meek and misunderstood. He is no such thing. By airing the manifesto in which he extols his own heroism and bemoans his own plight as a victim of circumstance, we validate that absurd delusion. Like a child, we should pay him no attention. Why should we propagate a video that contributes nothing in the way of dialog, but instead provides the killer the very thing he, and probably every hopeless misfit and malcontent, has always wanted most. He is given a podium from which to address the whole world, Oz-like -- imperial, bold and self-assured, larger than life. We have made his own PR stunt a fantastic success. Shame on those who, like me, validate his contrivance by allowing him the celebrity he sought.

The irony of writing about something that I think should just be ignored does not escape me. Criticize or rationalize it as you will.

As for the Welner piece, I noticed there is a healthy dose of rhetoric surrounding his essentially correct thesis that the video serves no valid purpose. Is it amazing that major news outlet would call for a rational review of what deserves to be treated as news, right after the frenzy over Anna Nicole Smith? Unfortunately, such a claim was all too predictable, given that only NBC received the package from Cho. So much for the excuse that media shouldn't be held responsible for giving the viewers what they want; here's an ABC piece that says very clearly that some "news" just isn't worth the price that it exacts in decency. Evidently cable news outlets are quite capable of a bulls-eye critique of the excesses of cable news when the footage is exclusive to a single outlet. In short, the only amazing thing here is how right the media can be when they have nothing to gain from being wrong.

Update: In spite of the astute critique, the outcry was short-lived; everyone bought the NBC footage and showed it. Also, Howard Kurtz has a few thoughts on the issue:
The debate took a dramatic turn Wednesday when NBC received that revolting video of Cho preening and prancing with his guns and ammo. The network made a basic journalistic calculation: If the country is hungering to understand the killer's motivation, what better way than through his own pictures and rambling diatribe? Trying to strike a balance between pursuing the story and offending viewers, NBC News President Steve Capus decided to broadcast about two minutes of the 25-minute tape and a handful of the 45 photos.

Within minutes, every other major American network made the same decision by lifting the NBC footage, which dominated the airwaves that night and the next morning. And so, in effect, did the nation's newspapers, by giving front-page play (in print and online) to the NBC photos, particularly the one of a menacing-looking Cho posing like some Middle East suicide bomber.

I have rarely seen the kind of angry eruption that followed. Friends and family of the Virginia Tech victims were furious, but so too were millions of Americans who saw the news outlets as giving Cho precisely the kind of notoriety he had been seeking, in precisely the way he had taped it. Why give this madman the posthumous satisfaction? Why immortalize his vicious acts? Why encourage potential copycats? Why take the focus off the 32 innocent people whose lives were snuffed out?
Still others say the video conveyed important, if painful, information. "Evil must be exposed, and Cho was evil," Fox's Bill O'Reilly told viewers. "You can see it in his face, hear it in his voice. All of us who saw the tape will never forget it."

Had NBC suppressed the material, there would have been criticism about dereliction of duty. It was newsworthy, by any definition, and journalists sometimes must do unpopular things in the pursuit of news -- airing interviews with America's enemies, for example. But for nearly a day, Cho's hate-filled taunts became video wallpaper, an endlessly looped Zapruder film, mocking us with its relentlessness.

Those who say the media went overboard at Virginia Tech may have a point, but the harshest critics are flirting with blame-gamesmanship: If only those blasted news organizations wouldn't cover bad things, maybe they wouldn't happen. And how would you curtail coverage of the most deadly gun massacre in American history, even if that were deemed to be desirable?

In spite of what I am about to write, I should note that the point is well taken; it would have been extremely difficult to decide whether and how much of this manifesto to disclose, and all answers are susceptible to some form of criticism. Nonetheless, I think they could have done a much better job.

I am not convinced Kurtz's argument (as is usually the case when O'Reilly is your pundit-champion) because I don't believe the call was for the media to cover the eyes of our citizens like a mother at an R-rated movie. I simply meant to assert that they should use discretion when determining what is newsworthy in the sense of ratings (i.e. the video) and what is actually news (the video showed only that he was violent and crazy, which was clearly not news).

The tragedy was news. The video was perhaps fit for the academic study of the truly interested, but contributed nothing the story. I criticize because I too rushed to see this video, only to realize that I had been duped; there was nothing there of merit. I ask only that we bear in mind that while sensationalism may at times be forgivable chicanery, it can also be detrimental to everyone, and especially painful to those who have already been victimized. This was one of those times.

At the end of his piece (which I actually rather like), Kurtz misses the mark completely:
The media proved, as they did in the days after 9/11, that they excel at covering big, breaking news, freed from the need to pump up a minor melodrama involving Laci or Natalee or Anna Nicole and imbue it with national significance. There was precious little of the hype, speculation and exaggeration that often accompany such frenzies. And in a small way, the journalists who descended on Blacksburg, through their round-the-clock presence, took a step toward helping us heal from this most horrible of crimes.

Wrong. They had a chance to atone for the mind-numbing ratings-grubbing of pop journalism by doing something substantial. Flushing a scoop-of-a-lifetime and veritable ratings gold mine down the toilet would have been a bitter pill for a network to swallow, but it was a chance for them to demonstrate, though we might never have known about it, that they are indeed, as advertised, on our side. I would also point out here that the typical prisoner's dilemma defense (if we don't run it, they will) does not apply; as far as I know, the footage was exclusive to NBC.

The media has unique potential to tremendously benefit society by offering more nutritive coverage than the jejune indulgences of lurid McTidbits. I'm not asking for cable news to become NPR, but when you have the eyes and ears of the entire nation unflinchingly fixed upon you, it doesn't matter if you've cultivated that audience through countless hours of inane celebrity gossip, it's an opportunity to do something good. And in airing the vacuous video, you blew it. It's obvious that we are all, even those of us who resist and even scorn such tendencies, deeply voyeuristic at times, and our voyeurism often, shamefully, gets the better of our more noble forms of curiosity. Help us out, newspeople. Believe it or not, it's your job.


Wednesday, April 4, 2007