February 28, 2005

And The Award Goes To ...

I watched the beginning and the end of the Oscars last night mainly because the funWife likes to watch. I found Chris Rock lame, although in his defense I have to say that he wasn't the right guy for the job. Oh, he got some mercy laughs, he got some political laughs, and he got some nervous shock laughs when he said a naughty word (it reminded me of watching Richard Pryor's Live on the Sunset Strip and hearing people laugh whenever Richard said F**K, which he said a lot). But as my wife said, why can't they keep Billy Crystal as host. I only enjoyed his bit about Russell Crowe and his short film interviewing movie goers (Albert Brooks was priceless). But the thought behind they should only make movies if a top star is in them -- has he lost his mind? Yeah, no Jude Law and people will flock back to movies.

The real problem though isn't the emcee, despite the best efforts of the producers to get people who shouldn't be. It's the whole concept and system. First off, there are only 6 awards people care about: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. Other than that, who cares? So why take 3+ hours to hand out six awards.

We only care about them because of Hollywood's star system though, which was on clear display last night. Four castes were segregated last night -- the stars, who got to remain in their seats while the presenters read off the winner; the mere mortals, who had to stand on stage; the lesser mortals, who sat in their seats; and the untouchables, who were presented their awards at a completely different ceremony. I love how the technical people, the ones who are really responsible for the film going experience, are kept separate and how the academy always picks some young starlet to be the emcee for those awards.

The only point of the Oscars is marketing, yet they are wrapped in the mantle of Art. Who is a great actor? Well, guys like Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson have made very popular movies (and some unpopular and lousy ones) and can open a movie, yet how many times have you seen them at the Oscars? Hillary Swank now has two Oscars, and I have to honestly say I've never seen her in a movie. Sure, there are movies like Lord of the Rings which are both big money makers and Art in every sense of the word, but they don't come around often enough.

And that leads me to my last point -- Hollywood will make a glittering corpse, and soon. Here is an industry that has a hard time making a good product, and when they do, it often isn't recognized as such by the industry itself. No, this isn't an appeal for White Chicks to win an award. But it is an appeal for Hollywood to take itself less seriously and make better movies -- more like Sideways, fewer like Oceans 12. I like movies, but I don't see that many good ones anymore. The really disappointing thing is that the technology has really broadened the horizons of what's possible, but Hollywood seems capable of only turning out at most one superior movie a year -- mostly through sheer determination on the filmmakers part, which indicates it's despite the system, not because of it.

Hollywood - you're leaving a lot of money on the table.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 11:55 AM | Movies

Ave Atque Vale

Jef Raskin is dead at 61. A sad day for those who love computers with the passing of someone who helped change the world.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 11:16 AM | Current Events

February 24, 2005

A Father's Question

Terri Schiavo is back in the news as a Florida court decides her fate. My own view of the case is that her husband is trying to have the her legally killed so that he can take the money meant for her treatment and spend it with his new woman.

Tom McMahon, who has impressed me with his enormous patience with people who disagree with him (mainly in comment sections of other blogs), has a very moving and very personal post brought on by Terri's predicament on his son Ryan, who suffered a brain injury leaving him in a similar state. His bottom line: "When will they be coming for Ryan?"

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 11:39 AM | National Politics

February 23, 2005

Summers Heat

In case you live in a cave, Harvard's president Larry Summers is in hot water for floating the possibility that there are more men who are innately outstanding in the sciences than women. This runs headlong into the academic consensus that the only difference between men and women is that women are more caring and nurturing than their male counterparts who would destroy the world if left to their own devices. OK, maybe the real academic consensus is that there aren't any differences between men and women that the obvious physical ones and any observed differences are due to societal conditioning.

I commented about my own experiences on women in college level physics (there weren't any when I got my degree) on an interesting post at Tom Maguire's. I'm happy to note that women now account for almost 25% of the bachelor's degrees in physics. As to why women are under 50%, I have to offer my succinct answer: I don't know. It could be that more men are innately talented in that field than women, just as I wouldn't be surprised if women weren't better in some other field of intellectual endeavor. I don't think you can just rule it out because you don't like it. Another alternative, one you probably won't hear from a university president, is that the level of teaching at the undergraduate level in math and science is generally wretched (that was my experience) and women are more likely to go into an area of study with better instruction. Again, the accuracy of the hypothesis can't be proven without proper experimentation. At least, that's something they did teach me in those physics classes back in college.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 9:57 PM | Comments (1) | Science

February 21, 2005

Double Your Pleasure

You scream, I scream, we all scream for links, so here's a Monday tradition: Linkagery. I've added a twist, see if you can figure it out.

Eamonn Fitzgerald leads us off with a fine post about the Copenhagen Consensus: "The inspiring thing about the Copenhagen Consensus is that it set priorities. Climate change was not ignored by the experts, but it was not regarded as critical to saving lives. Instead of reacting to the latest, trendy media-driven fads, the economists had to face the fact that no dollar can be spent twice. Our willingness to help may be unlimited, but our resources are not, in other words."

Not content with that, Eamonn follows up by explaining the Irish term GUBU, with a less than delightfull example.

Tom McMahon just took himself out of the running for President; I guess I'll just have to vote for Condi. A word of advice Tom -- notice how I never include myself in the pictures I post here unless they are really old and thus show me as a young man? Wink wink.

Tom also gives us the skinny on that eHarmony guy who's buying a lot of commercial time on TV (not that I watch TV!). OK, really it's National Review, but I'm trying to throw the lefties off the scent, or they'll figure out we do nothing but read and blog NRO.

Jenne has some questions and observations (did Jon Henke TM that?) that are worth a look. She also has some thoughts on Geeklog, so if you're thinking about new weblog software here's your chance to find out about Geeklog.

The Ombudsgod! has little trouble figuring out what Michael Getler, ombudsperson at the WAPO can't. Of course, TO never has trouble figuring out the conumdrums that stump Mr. Getler. And then he congratulates the press on the stringent safeguards on their stories, especially those that involve some guy called Gannon.

Dissecting Leftism notes that contra Chait, leftism is both dogmatic and has their pantheon of Saints. And he regularly has his own festival of links called Elsewhere.

My alter ego, the Interociter, has pretty much the same take on the Bush tapes I do: the big revelation is that if public George meets private George, they both can exist because they are pretty much the same. And he has a good question (and observation!) about China.

OK, I better let McQ at Questions and Obersavtions have a turn: an observation on British ingenuity as displayed by the response to the ban on fox hunting. But that's just warming up -- he has a very interesting look at research on al Qaeda members and discovers that it isn't poverty or religious fanaticism that is original motivation, but to find out what it is you'll have to follow the link.

Take Sir Charles' challange and name your 10 artistic or scientific achievements from 1950 to 2000 that will still matter two hundred years. He also notes the disconnect between the headline and the picture.

Jane Galt has the last word on the Larry Summers brouhaha (so I don't have to). And with that, I'm breaking the mold on this post.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 7:21 PM | Links

February 20, 2005

Wish You Were Here

We had perfect weather today. Sunny and warm, not warm really, that perfect temperature that is neither warm or cold, but simply unnoticable and wonderfully comfortable, but warm for a day in February. We just had to get out, but the kids had other plans and my wife was helping put together a slide show for our upcoming Blue and Gold Banquet, so it was just me and the dog taking on Castlewood State Park. So I brought the digital camera with me to show the others what they missed and a hiking we awent.

First we walked around near Kiefer Creek while Trooper got the marking and the sniffing out of his system. Here is a view of the creek:

Kiefer Creek


Then it was up the steep trail to the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River where I didn't mind Trooper stopping to sniff and lift the leg. The view from the bluffs is gorgeous and it's hard to believe that you are still in the midst of civilization:

Meramec River


We hiked along the top of the bluffs for a short way with me stopping regularly to take pictures:

Meramec River through trees

Then it was back down and back to the car. I drove down to the field the cub scout troop camps in by the river and then we set off on the trail along the river. The scenery was great here, but there were some spots with a lot of trash - I wished I had a bag with me to clean some of it up. I would have gone farther but I would have had to drug Trooper along, so it was back to the car so he could get some well deserved rest.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 10:09 PM | Comments (2) | Missouri Photos

February 19, 2005

Pound The Table

I've not been following the saga of Jeff Gannon/James Gluckart very closely, but it does put me in the mind of the adventures of Benedick and Claudio. I realize a lot of people are upset, but just because you can think up a scenario doesn't mean it's even close to reality. If I was upset over Dan Rather's fraudulent TNG story on Bush, and Eason Jordan's claim that the military targets reporters and more importantly his revelation that CNN deliberately lied to the public in order to keep reporters in Iraq where they were in reality hostages, why am I not too concerned in this case? Read on McDuff.

Mr. Gannon is accused of asking biased and/or softball questions. Usually one question is cited, which was undeniably both biased and a softball. But if that is the measure, then a lot of journalists should also be drummed out of the corps. And that apparently wasn't his typical question - although it may have been the one to bring on all the scrutiny.

Mr. Gannon is accused of being gay. OK, so that should somehow matter to getting a day pass? No, it's the hypocrisy. According to John Aravosis of Americablog.org "The White House wouldn't let him in the door right now, knowing of his background." Umm, so there are no openly gay people working anywhere in the Whitehouse, let alone attend press briefings? I find that hard to believe, nor have I heard of any such policy. No, it's the nude pictures and the possibility he was a gay escort. OK, so should the White House announce a list of prior activities based on moral issues as opposed to criminal ones that will proclude access to the White House (including press briefings) they will now investigate and enforce?

That's the problem to me with this line of reasoning -- are those upset honestly asking the White House to officially define who's a journalist and who isn't, and to enforce a morals test? Do they really want the White House investigating journalists to ensure their moral purity? Most journalists working the beat apparently don't want that. Which makes me believe the critics are just looking for a stick to beat Bush with.

But wait, Gannon is really some sort of Rovian mole, a political operative in disguise. Yeah, like Stephanopolous, Mathews, and Russert, all of whom worked for Democratic office holders.

And those day pases - access to the White House baby. Which apparently you can get by providing some basic info like name and SSN coupled with the ability to show up early and wait for one. Kind of like how I got access to Congress a couple of summers ago - we showed up and waited. Interestingly enough, we could never get to the ticket office early enough to go up in Washington's Monument, but we had no trouble getting access to Congress.

I'm sorry, but with all the real issues, both those within the media and those facing the country, I find it hard to get worked up about a guy with a checkerd past working (although not any longer) for a minor press outfit asking questions at press conferences 99.99% of the population of the country pay no attention to.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 10:28 PM | National Politics

Grumpy Old Man

The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here! The fun wife showed me the new yellow pages this morning, and I had to ask if it this was meant as a joke. They took the book they delivered six months ago and shrunk it down - the paper is smaller, and more importantly, smaller type. Maybe ours just got left out in the rain and shrank. I hate to sound like an old goober (especially now that I am one), but jumpin' jehosephat, nobody over 40 can rean the dad burn things. A font size of 5 points requires both strong light and a magnifying glass. What in the blue blazes were they thinking at SBC?

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 1:24 PM | Fun

February 17, 2005

Britt Hume on Social Security

I managed to catch some of Brit Hume's Special Report tonight. I happen to think he's far and away the best anchor on TV and a top notch analyst, so I usually try to see his show. But tonight when introducing a story on the end of fox hunting in England, he ascribed the line "green and pleasant land" in reference to England to Shakespeare. Now I can't definitively say that the bard never wrote, let alone uttered those words, but I know William Blake used them in his poem Jerusalem that has gone on to be the favorite hymn of England. Not because I'm an expert on romantic poets (or poets of any persuasion), but because I like the Emerson Lake and Palmer version and Monty Python used the hymn in the dog kennels skit.

I've been following the links over at Instapundit in regards to accusations that Hume made another, more serious mistake in reference to FDR's plans for social security. Media Matters, Al Franken and now Kevin Drum accuse Hume of selective quoting, the worst Dowdification to change a meaning since Maureen perfected its use by routinely changing people's meanings to the exact opposite from what they really said.

Well, Cassandra at Villainous Company actually bothered to check the transcript and discovered that it wasn't Hume doing the selective quoting, it was the usual suspects: Media Matters, Al Franken, Kevin Drum, Daily Kos et al. Cassandra really hammers Franken but good and is well worth the read.

From Media Matters:

Earlier that evening, on FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume provided the alleged historical basis for Bennett's claim:

HUME: In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, quote, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

But Roosevelt was not advocating that the present system of guaranteed Social Security benefits "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans." Rather, he was proposing that both mandatory contributions and voluntary annuities would eventually eliminate the need for a different fund which was established to provide pension benefits to Americans who were already too old in 1935 to contribute payroll taxes to the Social Security system.

Roosevelt outlined the three major tenets he envisioned for Social Security in the January 17, 1935, speech that Hume quoted. As the Social Security Administration (SSA) has noted, these tenets are: 1) "non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance"; 2) "compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations"; and 3) "voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age."

It seems to me that their real beef is with Bill Bennet (and that is where the outrage started with Media Matters) taking Hume's abbreviated quote and running with it, rather than Hume, because as Cassandra noted, what Hume said was (in full):

Senate Democrats gathered at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial today to invoke the image of FDR in calling on President Bush to remove private accounts from his Social Security proposal. But it turns out that FDR himself planned to include private investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it.

In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

Last night, Senate minority leader Harry Reid likened the presidentís proposal to allow Americans to divert a portion of payroll taxes into personal security investment accounts to "gambling." But in 1999, the Nevada Democrat proposed something very similar on our own "FOX News Sunday" saying, "Most of us have no problem with taking a small amount of the Social Security proceeds and putting it into the private sector."

Now did Hume not provide the whole quote? No, he didn't. But then he didn't pretend to, did he. He provided the part that bore directly on the claim that FDR wanted a voluntary contributory part. And if you've ever paid much attention to the news, you know that such shortening of quotes is pretty standard. The trick is to shorten the quote without changing the meaning. And Hume didn't change the meaning.

What struck me though was the actual language FDR used (let's roll the tape):

At this time, I recommend the following types of legislation looking to economic security:

1. Unemployment compensation.

2. Old-age benefits, including compulsory and voluntary annuities.

3. Federal aid to dependent children through grants to States for the support of existing mothers' pension systems and for services for the protection and care of homeless, neglected, dependent, and crippled children.

...

In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, noncontributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps 30 years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.

My ellipses note where I removed a portion of the speech referring to health insurance and unemployment compensation (news flash: FDR against government health insurance! Just kidding, but he didn't advocate it).

In light of FDR's clear call not just once, but twice for voluntary and compulsory annuities for old age benefits, it's clear that Hume was accurate in his assessment of FDR's desire for a voluntary part to old age benefits.

But what's amazing is the call for a self supporting system of annuities that would be started by 30 years of government (state and federal) funding. That isn't how Social Security is run - it's run as a pay as you go system and always has been. And if you honestly think that a pay as you go system is self supporting (especially with demographics rapidly becoming 2 workers for every 1 retiree), you really have no business opining on economics. I mean, if you think it is, then there wouldn't be a need for 30 year period of money coming from the government to fund them initially -- it would just be a compulsory government funded part and a voluntary annuity part for ever and ever.

Now contra Bill Bennet, that doesn't necessarily mean privatization, but it sure isn't the system we do have.

Now this is just one speech and FDR was a politician and thus accustomed to compromise and the art of speaking so the audience hears what it wants to hear, but based on this not only did FDR want a voluntary component to Social Security, he wanted pay as you go only for the first 30 years or so until the money that people had paid in could come back to them in benefits. Wow. I bet that's someting you won't hear Media Matters, Al Franken, Kevin Drum or Kos.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 11:01 PM | National Politics

February 16, 2005

St. Louis Weather

I love the fact that St. Louis has four seasons. I especially enjoy how they aren't all distinct but you can enjoy any season pretty much any time of the year. For instance yesterday we had a nice summer day; today it will be fall; and tomorrow is predicted to be winter. A spring day can't be far behind.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 8:02 AM | Fun

February 15, 2005

My Own Response

Over at TalkLeft this post caught my attention: Should Reckless Sex Be A Crime? I guess if you're a lawyer you find the debate interesting about a proposal to criminalize first time intercourse without a condom. My response is the uninteresting "Are you out of your freaking mind?" I guess that wouldn't cut it with the barristers in a court of law (i.e it isn't an acceptable legal phrase).

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 9:56 PM | Culture

February 14, 2005

I Heard The News Today

Is it scalp hunting for people to question journalists and their stories? Isn't it journalism's finest tradition to question authority, to speak truth to power, to investigate and let the chips fall where they may?

Let me be clear on about one thing: the downfall of Dan Rather and Eason Jordan were brought about by Dan Rather and Eason Jordan, not bloggers. Bloggers just presented the words and deeds of these gentlemen to a wide audience.

But these scandals, and others like them, and the relentless fact checking of bloggers, have demonstrated that news media has been doing a lousy job for years. The problem isn't that the news media is made up of fallible and biased people because that's the nature of people, but that the systems the media touts - editors, fact checkers, oversight and review - simply have decayed to the point where they do nothing. The president of CBS news raised concerns and was ignored, and then circled the wagons when the exact same criticism came from outside the organization.

The wonder isn't so much that Eason Jordan (or Dan Rather for that matter) was fired, but that he stayed around for as long as he did. He should have been gone as soon as he admitted that in fact CNN had knowingly, deliberately lied in its Iraq coverage under Saddam Hussein just so that it could continue to misreport the news from Iraq, after he had denied doing any such thing. Both men lost huge market share while destroying the brand, and yet somehow they managed to stay employed.

Bias isn't so much a cause as it is a symptom - because the system is broken, the biases of the people involved are unchecked. The problem that is that the news media is simply unable to deliver accurate information, or correct the misinformation they flood us with. How many times has the Bush presented a fake Turkey at Thanksgiving story popped up? My personal favorite is the 43 million dollars we paid the Taliban, which has only faded because of another media bug, namely the inability to maintain focus on anything but one story at a time, so Afganistan has fallen out of the news taking the spectacular payment with it. Jason Blair put fabrication after fabrication into print not because he was a brilliant guy, but because the news media doesn't routinely fact check what they present as facts.

What the news media doesn't seem to realize is that more and more people are catching on to this, and simply do not trust the news media to present accurate news. And why buy or watch what you know to be unreliable? American manufacturers (especially car makers) learned this lesson a couple of decades ago and made adjustments. Americans have flocked to alternate news sources not because it's a fad, but because they are looking for a better product. Until the mainstream media takes some real steps to safeguard the accuracy of the information they present, Americans will continue to desert them and look for alternatives.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 10:36 PM | Media Criticism

February 12, 2005

On A Winter's Day

I keep expecting my life to slow down, but it only speeds up. I know, we're all busy people, and the downside of ever expanding opportunities, goods, and services is that we are stretched thinner and thinner, like butter scraped over too much bread to borrow a phrase from Tolkien. Today we recuperated from Erin's birthday sleepover and so the rest of us went to the park with the pooch while Erin rested. The weather was quite pleasant for February in St. Louis but the scenery hasn't caught up:

Longview Farm Park

I do have color right outside my front door in the guise of snow crocus which opened their blooms for the first time today in the warmth and sunshine (although it was overcast by the time I got out and took this picture):

Blooming crocus

Trooper especially loves going for walks -- all that territory to mark and all those other dogs to sniff for. Beauty is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 9:56 PM | Comments (1) | Missouri Photos

Tree Blogging 2

Spring is almost here; I hope my next nature picture is of the crocus blooming outside my front door. But until then, I'm still living off the glories of last fall. Therefore here is tree that was glorious last fall and to which the picture cannot do full justice.

Sugar Maple

Posted by Kevin Murphy at 9:04 AM | Photos

February 7, 2005

Best Minute of the Superbowl

Anheuser-Busch's ad honoring returning Iraq war veterans. It was part of their Here's to the Heros program that offered free admission to active military personnel (active duty, active reserve, ready reserve service member or National Guardsman) and dependents at a variety of theme parks around the US. It seems we have learned some lessons from the Vietnam War and treatment of veterans.

Posted by Sean Murphy at 5:31 PM | Comments (1) | War On Terror