Saturday, July 31, 2004

Interview with a fake Republican (almost humor)

Well, after hearing the AM conservative talk radio "black" propaganda broadcast apparently involving actors pretending to be liberals, veterans, etc., I have decided I will get revenge. I am going to introduce a fake Republican to talk up the "responsible" Republican agenda and present his insights into the recent Democratic convention. Later, Mr. Fake Republican will be covering the Republican convention as well.

EEA: Well, Mr. Fake Republican, can you explain the "responsible" Republican agenda you support.

Mr. Fake Republican (FR): Well, EEA (Can I call you EEA?), Republicans have of the same needs and values as the little people. We just want to be able to send our children to board at Androver or Exeter or Groton for an appropriately generous donation. We want safer gated communities. We want lower taxes on the jet fuel for our Gulfstreams. We, like all Americans, want to make easier to move jobs offshore when ever unproductive union-protected pinheads that work for us become unreasonable. We want to eliminate ceilings on traditional IRAs because, quite frankly, hiring a competent tax attorney to set up the equivalent offshore account is just too expensive these days, and you have do all sort of special offshore investing to satisfy the IRS that everythings legit.... The tax codes have to be simplified.... We need to get the government off the backs of the rich, who are the real people moving America forward.

EEA: Uhhhh, yes, thank you for those insights. What are you thoughts on the recent Democratic convention and Kerry's acceptance speech in particular?

FR: I was disappointed in it. Kerry is proposing raising taxes on millionaires, who are the most productive people in society. Do you billionaires make millions of times the salary of one of the little people? It's because they are a million times more productive. Let's face it. Most of the little people sit all day in their offices and do nothing. It's the folks at the top that contribute most of the ideas and innovation and leadership that produces most of the economic value in society. They are getting paid 1 million times as much because they are 1 million times as productive. And, so, Kerry's suggestion that he'll raise the taxes of millionaires goes back to this old, worn Democratic idea of progressive taxation.

FR: It's the millionairs that contribute most of the value, so if the tax the rich, you're taxing the most productive citizens in the society. We're talking about marginal tax rates. If you increase the taxes by 1% on millionaires, that decreases the marginal productivity of everyone in that tax bracket by 1%. If you increase the tax bracket of an ordinary working slob by 1%, say someone living high on hog for $10,000 a year, that will only reduce their incentive for productivity by 1% of $10,000, which means they'll be $100 less productive each year. If you increase the marginal tax rates on someone that makes a million a year, that will decrease their incentive for productivity by $10,000 a year.

FR: George W. Bush has based his tax cut plans around this principal: It's the rich that really should paying lower taxes. So what we really need in this country is a flat tax. Or, better yet, regressive taxation. Soak the poor. We should be taxing the least productive individuals in society, namely, the poor who make so little because they are so inefficient. The people that are making millions and moving this country forward with highly-paid leadership skills and innovations and creating the jobs for all the those poor, talentless slobs should be given a lower tax bracket, or maybe not pay taxes at all. It's simple economics and simple common sense.....

EEA: Uhhhhhhhh, so, by your reasoning, Mr. Fake Republican, a billionaire Saudi shiek who makes millions by merely sitting on oil-rich land he has inherited and does little else all day long except fund madrassas to train religious fanatics is thousands or millions of times a greater asset to this nation than an inner-city divorced mother of two, juggling two or three minimum wage jobs in an effort to keep off of welfare....

FR: Precisely. And I was dismayed by Kerry's suggestation that he wants to 100,000 cops to fight terrorism. We really don't need all those extra cops. What we really need to do is cut my taxes, which are way too high. I already tens of thousands of dollars each year in gated community association fees, and that already pays for a private police force to protect me. They're more efficient at protecting me from terrorists than the public cops, and they work for less money. These 100,000 police officers are nothing but an excuse for expanding the rather inefficient public sector. I rather like Bush's idea of reducing the police force in order to lower my taxes; our gated community association can use this extra money to hire more private cops employed by our community.

EEA: Ahhhhh.....

FR: And I was not all impressed with Kerry or his wife's attempt to show their intelligence or brag about Kerry's status as war hero. That's really irrelvant. What we really need is someone that's good at listen to the millionaires and experience CEOs, who will provide excellent advice free of charge. We don't need a smart guy running America. We just a figurehead who does what's told. A lightweight like Bush is actually an asset to America, because he know he's not smart enough to decide policy for himself.

FR: And I don't much care for Kerry's promises to be smart and tricky to bring the war on terrorism to quick close; all those military expenditures going into defense contractors are really good for the economy. They're helping to create jobs, and their creating a lot of wealth for me, which I'm funnelling off into my offshore bank accounts to, errrr, take advantage of offshore investment opportunities. The supposedly enormous deficits that Bush has created really aren't that big of a problem. I've got friends with billions in offshore assets; if there was ever a real problem with the little people paying the federal deficits off for us, they'd pitch in with a donation or two, for sure.

EEA: Oh..... Well, thank your Mr. Fake Republican for your valuable insights into the Democratic convention and why continue to support George Bush over Kerry.

Mr. Fake Republican will back to cover the Democratic convention, and may also be back here sooner for additional interviews to air his unique insights into world events.

Friday, July 30, 2004

AM talk media bias revisited, or, brother, can you spare me some accurate convention coverage?

I have so much about media bias in these pages that at some point I'm going to have come back and add all of the links to my earlier articles at the bottom of this page somewhere. But, what I'm going to talk about now is something completely different. Up to now, I've simply been summarize and compiling other people's reports on media bias. Now I'm going to do my own reporting about something that I have yet seen exposed in the media. Fox News is biased. Everyone knows they are biased. They are run by Republican operatives. This is not the type of media I'm talking. It is not the type of media bias I experienced today, or yesterday, or the day before attempting to get some simple, good old convention coverage (with a Republican bias if necessary) in my car radio. I didn't end up with a biased report. I ended up with something that reminded me of radio in Saddam's Iraq, or in Eastern Europe, or in Nazi Europe, or on Toyko Rose. This was not journalism. Not even the most biased journalism (as Fox News is.) I live in the largest or second largest radio market in the United States in the greater AM area broadcasting out of Los Angeles, in one of the most liberal states in the nation, and I could not receive any sort of rational coverage that was in any way connected with reality.

I want to be very careful in describing so that Republicans reading this understand exactly what I am talking about and that I am not describing Fox News. I am describing something much worse and much more serious and something which even my Republican readers have an interest in doing something about.

Fox News is biased. Up to John Kerry's acceptance speech, unlike all of the other major networks, they did everything in their power to distract the reader from listening to the other speeches. They were only major network to violate their agreement with the DNC and discuss speech experts from their advanced copies before Kerry's actual speech. They covered the speech itself (reluctantly), and then they immediately broke into criticism. And they have been repeating all of the Republican points ever since then. And Bush gives his convention you can be sure Fox News will give it its rapt attention and fawning coverage afterwoods. And although they are extremely selected of the facts and extremely biased in their viewpoint, this is journalism. It is extremely biased journalism, but is journalism. They are not fabricating facts (most of the time), merely being extremely selective in their presentation and interpretation of the facts they present.

If you go to Fox News's website, this is how (approximately) they present John Kerry's speech, a major newstory on all other big networks today. John Kerry gave a speech. Here is a link to the transcript. End of first paragraph. And then they go on for the remaining five paragraphs to discuss other "top stories," mainly involving obscure celebrities. In other words, they are devoting five times as much space to distracting you from the story as reporting the story. And when Bush gives his speech they almost certainly will give it their full attention. But they did report the fact that John Kerry gave a speech yesterday.

Are other local news outlets biased? I understand that some local TV stations are owned by Republicans, as are some local newspapers. They've strongly supported Republican candidates in the past. But I listened to their coverage today. They all reported Kerry's speech as a major newsitem. They had good things to say about Kerry. A local liberal Republican paper even seemed to like him. They could live with a Kerry presidency; Bush hasn't been good for California. The more conservative Republican didn't like him, but had good things to say, together with GOP talking points. The Republican-owned TV station interviewed local Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats had very good things to say, the Republican didn't. The report seemed very fair and even-handed. It was good journalism, and there wasn't even a detectable bias. God bless those even-handed Republican journalists. The ones who aren't working for Rupert Murdoch.

As I was trying to get convention coverage on my radio on Wednesday, I first turned to an old radio network. This particular affiliate was broadcasting out of Los Angeles. I had grown accustomed to this radio network in other parts of the country. It was the CNN of its day. Its powerful AM transmitters boomed out across much of the country. It was the place to go for 24 hours news. It was slightly left of center, but it was always fair. You could trust them to report major stories accurately.

Today, it has been acquired by a large corporation anxious to repeal FCC rules and thereby gain greater profits and market share. It did not report the convention at all. (Or if did it gave it very little time.) It is a "newsradio" station but it doesn't mention the convention at all on its "top stories" homepage. (It does mention minor celebritie's doings, just like Fox.) It doesn't mention Bush's campaigning either, so at least there is no equal time violation. But when Republican candidates were doing well here in California they covered that election.

That's right. Remeber that speech yesterday by John Kerry? Well, according to the website of this "newsradio", a part of what was once a proud left-of-center newsradio network, that speech didn't happen. And today's campaigning didn't happen either. Or they weren't top stories. Some minor celebrities doings were the top stories, as was some business news. But they do link their old affiliate, a major television network, which, to its credit, did cover the convention, and has somehow maintained its left-of-center viewpoint (and associated audience). You would think this radio network would be anxious to keep its old audience, but apparently it is not.

This was the first radio station I turned to for convention coverage. It didn't even mention, in its top stories, that the Democrats were having a convention. So I needed to surf somewhere else.

I hit the scan button on my radio. There were many music stations, but I did find two or three other stations that seemed to be covering the convention.

This day we only got biased journalism. The true proganda (in every sense of the world) started later, when the greed corporate owners of these radio stations began to become visible desperate that a Kerry victory might mean huge FCC fines for laws they are already violating.

The first channel was covering the Al Sharpton speech on Wednesday. Sort of. It wasn't actually broadcasting the speech, although you could hear Al Sharpton speaking (almost) in the background somewhere. They were using Al Sharpton's speech in the background to criticise Al Sharpton and the Democrats. They explained that, in 1860, the Republicans nominated Abe Lincoln, who promised to end slavery. Yes, but that was 1860. This is 2004. As I wrote earlier, if you nominated Abe Lincoln today, I'd vote for him too. You've nominated George Bush, or should I say Nixon II, who picked many of the same cabinet officers as Nixon I, including the identical Secretary of Defense.

OK, so you say, this was one station, and it was merely Republican biased, like Fox News. Many journalists are biased. There have always been Republican and Democratic newspapers, you say. I could just surf to another channel, right?

The problem was that I couldn't. The only reputable newsstation (anxious, I guess, not to lose that repubtation by showing its political bias), owned the same corporate olgiopolgy that owned these other stations, wasn't covering the convention. At all.

There were some independent and liberal stations broadcasting on FM, but their range is more limited. (There's also satellite XM, which has great range, but is expensive, with monthly fees, and even the liberal broadcasts seem controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who is into satellites, as you might imagine.) AM is nice in the car because it has a huge range, so I can drive some distance and still listen to the same station for news coverage. Maybe my car radio "scan" feature can only pick up very strong stations, but I could find extremely biased AM stations broadcasting out of Los Angeles, or a "newsradio" station that felt politics wasn't a major story on the main day of the Democratic convention..

I found two other, similar AM stations broadcasting out of Los Angeles. I was unable to discern any difference in content between these stations, so I labelled them "Tokyo Rose." I mean there were some minor differences between them. But, it was like the old anti-Rupert Murdoch TV commerical, where someone keeps the changing the T.V. channel, but each new channel, although different, carries the same face of Rupert Murdoch, almost like the giant talking head in the famous, old Apple Macintosh target="_blank">1984 commerical, droning on remorselessly to the oppressed, identical worker drones, who are forced to watch this propaganda. The stations were very similar, and I think of them as basically the same thing. Which is what they are.

I became angry. They have deprived me of my radio choice. And people here do listen to the radio. I am living in one of the most liberal parts of the country --- Kerry is extremely strong here, even among Republicans, because Bush has mostly not been very good for our high-tech economy. I am living in one of the largest AM radio markets in the United States, in Southern California. It is perhaps #2 or #1. Perhaps 20 million people live in AM radio range of Los Angeles.

Yet there is apparently not a market for a single, liberal AM talk radio station.

Normally, as economists will explain, market forces would introduce a competitor, who would compete to attract liberal listeners, and even Republicans unhappy with the completely biased coverage. End of bias.

Is this because people in Los Angeles with radios in their cars aren't liberal, or don't less to radio, or because there isn't a market here? No. It is because a handful of greedy companies have bought up all the talk AM stations, and, apparently working in collaboration with the Bush-controlled FCC, have apparently prevented new entrants. They believe they can make more money with greater media concentration, since they will be able to replay the same content to more stations. Eager to prevent existing FCC rules on media concentration from being enforced, they have apparently fired all the liberal and independent commentators. These aren't my theories, but theories of respected journalists whose articles I link to in other parts of this blog.

That's what I thought Wednesday afternoon. They've deprived me of my choice. I can only hear this biased Republican-leaning journalism that won't even let me hear the speeches. But, like Fox News, it was at least actually journalism.

Then I tuned in again later that Thursday night after Kerry's speech, only very briefly. Now it was no longer journalism. It was true "black propaganda." They had brought on a fake liberal, as I described earlier. The bogus liberal explained that Kerry was a liberal war hero because he hid behind trees and, sympathethic to the Vietnamese cause, he killed as few enemy soliders as possible, thus earning Pentagon medals. This was before she began hurling insults at the fake Vietnam veteram, also being "interviewed." This fakery, not journalism but true "black" propaganda in every sense of the word, was an insult to listeners. But there was no where else to turn on the AM dial here in the #2 AM radio market in the nation in one of the most liberal parts of the country. So I wrote about this in my earlier blog posting.

This morning, I listened again. For all but 30 seconds, believe it or not. I heard a famous national radio personality. He explained that he was "covering this morning" the "bizarre" Kerry speech as his top story. He claimed that the Democrats had nominated "some guy" who had tried to convince the public, in his acceptance speech last night, that 911 did not happen. (And that therefore there was no need for war in Iraq.)

This was no longer biased journalism, nor "black" propaganda. This was slander. And it was probably actionable slander at that. The statement is false on two accounts. It repeats the big lie that Iraq was not Bush's personal military misadventure, but had something todo with 911. That's not actionable slander. But the statement that Kerry tried to convince the American people that 911 did not happen in his acceptance speech is probably actionable slander. It is slander because anyone with a copy of Kerry's acceptance speech (e.g. from the Fox News website), or anyone of the millions of Americans who listened to it, knows that Kerry spoke gravely about 911 and the indeed to respond effectively to it.

We in American believe in Freedom of Expression, especially in political debate, so my understanding is the barrier for arguing slander against a public official like John Kerry is higher than for an ordinary American. But this is an open and shut case. And, imagine, if I get these snippets in just 30 seconds of listening, statistics suggest it goes on all day like this, with slanderous and "black" propaganda segments one after the other, on radio stations all over the nation run by these corporations that syndicate him.

Normally, market forces would deal with this. People would switch to other AM stations. But all the other AM stations have similar content because the Bush administration, apparently in bed with these companies, has reportedly not been enforcing the FCC rules fairly.

Also, radio stations like this likely lose money. One indication is the amount of airtime the "newsradio" spends on commercials. (Most of it.) But the oligopoly doesn't seem to care, because it likely thinks that by losing money on these radio stations it will ultimately gain greater share and make this money up elsewhere. So, as a result of media concentration, these huge stations are able to take the loss, which is effectively an unregulated campaign contribution.

Then there is the FCC. The AM airwaves are the property of the American people, only held in trust by these companies, which is why the FCC regulates them. The FCC has rules about news coverage. News must clearly be distinguished from ads or infomercials. News presumably must have some bearing on reality (in this case, it no longer does). Over-the-air talk "news" programs must give "equal time" to major candidates. Radio stations cannot be used to slander individuals.

Then there are the federal campaigns and the FEC. Equal-time laws and regulations on campaign advertising (which this really is). Remember how the Republicans brought Michael Moore before the FEC because his ads mentioned Bush? And we are talking about ads for a movie that one had to pay money to get into, that everyone knew in advance was biased (because the Republicans spammed everyone telling them so), not a bunch of AM radio stations using the airwaves that officially still belong to the American people.

Obviously, Michael Moore was very careful with his facts. Even the Bushies don't deny his facts are accurate. (If they weren't accurate, he could be sued for slander.) The only thing in question is his interpretation of the facts.

Yet the Republicans made a huge deal about his biased presentation. They even spent huge amounts of money hiring a PR firm, posing as a grassroots citizen's group, to spam me and millions of other Americans, quoting quotes from the film that weren't in the film, and urging me to intimidate teather owners into not showing the film. All because Moore's selection of facts was supposedly biased.

But every day, Republicans have Fox News, spewing out a completely biased selection of facts. But they are at least facts. Usually.

And then they have, it seems, every AM news radio station that my car "scan" can pick up either not reporting even the existance of the Democratic convention, or engaging in bias, true "black" propaganda, and what sounds like actionable slander against John Kerry.

Now, I'm not an expert in public policy, or an attorney general, or an expert on slander or FCC regulations, or even an politican or political consultant. I don't know what should done about this. They are trying to tamper with democracy by taking away our choice of viewpoints. In the Bush-oligopoly radio mix, federal laws were probably broken, so it wouldn't surprise me (given what they've done) if it wasn't possible to someday subject someone to criminal prosecution by going over everything that they've done with a fine tooth comb. Certainly, it should be possible to get a huge slander judgement out of them, or hit them with huge FCC or FEC fines. (Update: Or SEC or FTC fines for anti-trust violations if the new telecommunications law haven't passed the media anti-trust authority to the FCC.)

But this is not a Banana Republic. We don't like it when the new guy sends the old guy's cronies to jail, as does happen frequently in Banana Republics, because it tends to make the old guys ruthless, and encourages things like assassinations and takeover of media. But then again, a lot of blood has already flowed in this administration (albeit in other parts of the world), and we already have ruthless things, like what may have happened in Florida (in part thanks to Fox News coverage, apparently), and what certainly has happened on the AM dial all across this nation.

And a slander lawsuit might just bring these guys more attention, more listeners, and make them profitable. (Look at what all the Republican whining about Moore did for him.) The Republicans, it seems, may have purchased a monopoly on AM talk radio here (at least as far as I can tell) anyway, so suing one station or one guy for slander might not solve the problem, when we are dealing with a vast sea of this stuff.

Perhaps we should just insist that, when the Democrats come back to power (and surely you must realize they will come back to federal power again), they will insist on enforcement of existing FCC rules, and huge fines and disvestment of market share for the companies that have violated them. Maybe that's enough.

But, then again, I'm not a prosecutor or judge or public policy expert or slander attorney or even a poltician. I'm just a blogger, and I'm just trying to report what I see. It will be other people's jobs to figure out what to do about it.

But, I will say to those who support this (or those Republicans who like this media bias on Fox News, and this "black" proganda monopoly on AM talk radio, and think it is somehow appropriate, or in interests of the nation, or even believe in the myth of a "liberal" media when mass media is controlled by giant corporations): what is it you are trying to accomplish?

Do you want a one party state, like in the Banana Republics? Or in Sadam's Iraq? Or communist Europe? Or Europe under the fascists? Do you believe this will make you safer someone, or wealthier? Are any of these places wealthier than us? No, they are all poorer.

Why are they poorer? Because their system of government has deprived them of choice. Choices at the ballot box and choices in their media viewpoints. By depriving them of choices and viewpoints in their media (to benefit a tiny number of individuals) they have made the vast bulk of their population poorer.

Bush today mischaracterized Kerry's speech by saying Kerry wanted to raise everyone's taxes, while Bush wanted to "keep them low." Asside from the fact that Bush's massive spending increases (mainly benefitting Republican cronies, who are indeed getting wealthy) have created the largest deficits in history (translation: higher taxes down the road) and Bush is considered by fiscal policy experts as the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of our nation, do you believe that a one party state will keep your taxes low?

As Warren Buffet, the second wealthiest man in the U.S. has pointed out, our taxes are high because we are wealthy. Poor parts of the world don't pay much tax. That is because they are poor. They pay low taxes because they are poor, and, in turn, they are poor because they pay so little taxes. In order to wealthy, you have to spend to invest in yourself and invest in America. You have to build up an infrastructure, educate your populace, &c. This all costs money, but we do it because we believe the returns will eventually outweight the costs. We have high taxes in America because are prosperous, and we use those taxes ultimately to invest back in ourself (after we've first paid Bush's Republican crony contractors) to keep ourselves rich. Therefore, we should all hope (according to Buffet) for high tax payments, because it will mean we are prosperous.

A one-party system (which these companies seem to be aiming for, and have artifically created on the AM dial) will not make us prosperous. It will make us poor, because it make us poor in options for our future by making us poor in viewpoints. We are already viewpoint poor on the AM dial.

It may lower our taxes, however, by successfully impoverishing us as a nation. It has already improverished the AM dial.

If you support this AM talk radio scheme, ask yourself, is this really want you want to do?

The two party (or multi-party) system has always been the American way. It has made us rich, because it has made us rich in viewpoints. It has, in turn, made us the wealthiest nation on Earth. It has made us safe and secure, and it has kept our taxes low --- as low as possible given our constant desire to further improve ourselves and invest in ourselves.

This is what the two party system has done for us. It is the American way. Why do you want to kill it?

Why have you already killed it here in Southern California on the AM talk dial?

Update: 2004/07/31: The "newsradio" is now covering the campaign! Most of latest polls show Kerry leading beyond the margin of error over Bush, which they of course don't mention. Insteda, they describe huge, "enthusiastic", "cheering" crowds meet Bush, whom they spend most of their time on.

Then, they give a little tiny sliver of their time to the Democrats (who are now have the largest support.) And then give a huge chunk of time to this left-wing fringe candidate (whom only a tiny minority support) who blasted the Democrats for being controlled by corporations. The left-wing candidate is, incidentally, getting most of his support from Republicans and the same greedy corporations he accuses of controlling the democrats, who even helped get him on the ballot in Michigan after his own supporters there couldn't find the signuature!

It seems the real reason this fringe candidate is of any notewortiness of all is that he allows these media corporations to circumvent the equal time laws and customs. Normally, they'd be forced by FCC regulations to give the Democrats and Republicans equal time on the air. (This is true of news "talk"; not sure about over-the-air de facto news, as this claims to be, althogh there are traditions of journalism). But the equal time laws (and customs) don't actually say that, and, by bending the rules, they can claim that the fringe left-wing candidate (who is, in fact, being supported by big, greedy, right-wing corporations) is Bush's main opposition, and use the air time that would normally be given to the Democrats to cover the fringe candidate accusations that the Democrats are corporate controlled.

If you look at my very first postings, which cover my theory of Democracy, you'll see that these systems only work if a candidate can gover a majority. Pluralities ultimately don't work, because they allow significant distortion of the system. (You want to give the nation a choice between going more to the left or going more to the right, or, which is the best candidate, and if you allow multiple choice you will often end up with a winner who only has minority support, is not considered the best candidate, and wants to move the country in a direction not supported by a majority of the people.)

In some European countries, they have "instant run-off election", where people rank candidates, and a computer ultimately eliminates unsuccessful candidates, so that the winner always has majority support. In the U.S., we have a very old system which pre-dates computer technology. We have a primary two-party system, whereby the primary will filter out most candidates (albeit not as well as a modern "instant run-off election" or even some of the run-off systems being used in some mayoral races), and the public will eventually get to choose between only two candidates, ensuring majority support for one.

There is nothing wrong with a two-party system. It has been used successful in England for centuries, and is perfectly compatible with democracy because it allows choice. And competition between the two parties for votes will always ensure that there is a choice. There will always be corporate money in politics, because politics is an expensive business; nothing wrong with that as long as there is competition for the people's vote. (What the corporations apparently want to do is fund fringe third parties so as to create a one-party system, where is no choice.)

Although it would be nice to replace our presidential election system with a modern system capable of handling more than two parties and still ensuring the winners had majority support, the real problem is that the two party system has been written into law in other places. Equal Time Media laws are only practical when there are two main candidates. Corporate America is using these fringe parties not to give you more choice, but to give less choice, because no they have the option not to give slanted coverage, but to give no coverage at all to a candidate currently favored by the American people.

This isn't about the AM dial. These same companies want oligopolies in FM, television, newspapers, and, ultimately, the Internet (through control of which websites get good bandwidth access from their broadband subscribers). The AM dial is just the first they managed to completely control. Ultimately (and already), this isn't about media. This is about control of our government.

15% is normally the threshold for S.E.C. action. These companies are complaining that 35% and 55% control of local media markets isn't enough for them. They would like for two equally minded, conservative companies to be able to control an entire local market, as they already do on AM in many places. Can't we hit some of them with S.E.C. or FTC action action? My guess is, they've been careful to ensure the new telecommunications act precludes this (by transferring anti-trust media authority to FCC), but, if not, by all means hit them with SEC of FTC anti-trust action because they are true monopolists.

If you like what you're seeing on the AM dial here in Southern California and across the nation, imagine your choice of political candidates in Washington being as limited as the viewpoints on talk AM radio these days.

The Manchurian Candidate isn't running for the White House. We are the Manchurian Candidate. A few greedy corporations intend to control us by controlling our media in order to make a few extra bucks. They already splash their blood-drenched rheotoric over the AM airwaves, which it now seems they already control. They think they can control us and eliminate our choices by using fringe candidates to circumvent equal time laws. This year, it is clear they are telling us to vote for George W. Bush, even though this is an irresponsible choice, completely against the interests of the vast majority of Americans.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

PunditWatch: Day 4 of the Democratic Convention

Two speeches formed the highlights of the final day of the 2004 Democratic Convention. Gen. Wesley Clark gave an extremely effective speech. John Kerry, after being introduced by excellent, moving speeches from his daughters and patrol boat buddies, probably gave the speech of his life according to Republic pundit David Brooks and liberal pundit Mark Shields on PBS. (Their criticism of the convention noticeably died down today.) As the pundits pointed out, Kerry can only receive a relatively small bounce due to number of voters that were already decided going into convention. Kerry's very positive speech included a muscular patriotism, promises to resolve all of the main grievances against the Bush Administration, and a progressive policy at home promising economic revival through technological progress, effective social policy, and good government. It was the correct speech for this moment in the nation's history, likely determined not only by highly paid political consultants and focus groups, but also by Kerry and the Democrat's own common sense interpretation of what the nation most needed and where the nation most saw itself going at this point in history. Suffice it to say, he looked very electable.

I have to agree with all five or six of the PBS pundits (who I've been quite critical of in the past) that there is very little the Democrats could have done differently. They really could only have changed minor details.

So I decided to tune in to "Toyko Rose" (link) to get their coverage. (Recall how yesterday I described "Tokyo Rose" (a local AM talk radio station) as even more biased than Fox News.)

It quickly became apparently that Toyko Rose was a true propaganda broadcast. Kerry highlighted his war hero status during the convention speech, and this was the immediate basis of Toyko Rose's attack following the speech. (In past, this has proven to be a big mistake. Opponents that have attacked Kerry's Vietnam record have angered his war buddies, who would begin to actively campaign his behalf.)

Tokyo Rose claimed that Kerry hid his boat behind trees in Vietnam (while surrounded behind enemy lines in order to successfully elude them and return to his own lines.) Tokyo Rose attempted to portray this as cowardice, bringing in another person claiming to be a Vietnam veteran who was angry that Kerry "hid behind trees" while surrounded by the enemy.

The reason I say it was a true propaganda broadcast is what happened next. Tokyo Rose then brought in a "liberal" to argue on Kerry's behalf, doing so, however, in a completely ineffectively manner. Although it was possible the "liberal" was selected because she was completely incompetent as a debater, most likely this is a true example of black propaganda. The "liberal" actually presented a fake "liberal" argument that would disgust both true liberals and conservatives. This is true "black" propaganda, namely, conservative propaganda that is disguised to be coming from the mouths of a "liberal" in order to demoralize liberals and misrepresent them.

The "liberal" said that Kerry was a war hero because he felt sympathy for the Vietnamese enemy (before proceeding to further discredit herself by making ad hominem attacks on the conservative Vietnam "veteran" in the broadcast.) and conducted his military operations so as to kill as few Vietnamese as possible.

I highly doubt Kerry would have received as many medals as he did (silver and bronze star, amongst others) had he conducted his war efforts by running around Vietnam feeling sympathy for the enemy. This is likely completely inaccurate, and designed to confuse liberal listeners by presenting a fake "balanced" view from a liberal that is only designed to completely misrepresent Kerry's accomplishments.

Interviewing fake "liberals" is not journalism; it is true propaganda.

It is unfortunate that a few greedy media companies in America are funding this corrupt effort to keep the Bushies in power in the hopes that an FCC rule change will give them a few percent greater market share.

The airwaves are the property of the American people and are held in trust by these corporations who ostensibly use them to promote the common good. This is why we have FCC regulations (currently Bush controlled, unfortunately).

It is regrettable that these corporations, apparently acting in partnership with elements in the Bush Administration, have decided to abuse that public trust and opted to try to use these public resources to misinform the American people in this way.

The good news is that, at least out here in California, it appears that they are completely failing in this effort.

"Major terrorist strike" in Southern California yesterday

It is being widely reported (by Fox News and others) that, according to the FBI, "terrorists" have struck in Irvine, California, a quick drive from where I write this. Gerber baby food jars were found to be contaminated with the deadly posion ricin, similar to that made by European terrorists. Well, actually, not exactly. The parents apparently found a note at the bottom of the jars, saying the jars had ricin in them and that their baby should receive immediate medical attention. After extensive medical tests on tiny babies that had consumed several such contaminated jars, the doctors were unable to discern any noticeable effect on the tiny babies. Laboratory tests then found trace elements of ricin in the jars, but it later turned out the jars had only been contaminated by castor beans, the precursor to ricin that naturally contains tiny (and completely safe) trace levels of ricin. The note mentioned a grudge against a local Irvine police officer, leading Irvine police to a "person of interest," police code meaning that the Irvine police think they already know who did this. Another police case closed on the mean streets of Suburban LA. [Dragnet theme sound effect here].

Wow. It sounds like this case has a tiny mangitude of the Tylenol poisioning case that plagued the Midwest some years ago. Now that Irvine police have taken care of the problem, we have to thank the FBI for their involvement in protecting us from dangerous, ricin-armed terrorists like this.

Fox News carried an FBI statement earlier today warning California and New Mexico that terrorists might seek to disrupt the Presidential election in these states.

President Bush is not doing well in these two states. That might explain why terrorists might want to disrupt the election in these two states.

And why Bush's FBI (and Fox News) decided to warn us stubborn Californians about terrorists when of late we seem worried about other things (like Bush's performance).

It may well be true. (America does indeed have many enemies these days. Unlike four years ago. When we had fewer enemies. Seemingly, a lot fewer enemies.)

Don't get me wrong. I like the FBI (especially four years ago, when I liked them

But we get 'um big earthquakes around here. They might interupt the Presidential Election as well. California earthquakes tend to be a little more dangerous than the ricin baby food "terrorist attack" yesterday. Even the small "uns" cause potholes to form in the streets.

Thanks for the tip, though.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

PunditWatch: Day 3 of the Democratic Convention

The best speeches of the day were given by Al Sharpton (no accurate transcript yet), and John Edwards (Official transcript). Al Sharpton galvanized the crowd by deviating from his prepared speech: "We never got the 40 acres they [the Republicans] promised. And we never got the mule. So we all decided we would just ride this donkey as far as it would go instead" or words to that effect. By deviating from a more cautious script edited and approved by the ever-prudent party higher-ups, Sharpton was able to really touch the delegate's hearts, at the risk of offending centrist Republicans that the Democrats would like to bring on board.

But let's get back to the pundits, who were the real stars of our day 1 (link) and day 2 (link) coverage here. The two main PBS pundits (both the conservative Brooks and liberal Shields, who have decided to be critical of the convention for criticism's sake) immediately bemoaned Edwards' speech as "not good", code for saying it was terrible by their standards. Edwards was used to speaking to a crowd of tens or hundreds, where he would make eye contact and carefully tailor his deliver to really impact them; in this huge convention hall, there were just too many people, and he wasn't able to do that, resulting in a too-fast delivery of what could have been an excellent speech. The PBS historians corrected them, saying it was a very good speech by convention standards. Whereupon the pundits reversed themselves, saying they were so used to watching Edwards stump on the campaing trail that they had dismissed the speech as bad because it wasn't up to Edwards' usual spectacular standards, "but maybe his B game is pretty good as well." Someone seeing Edwards for the first time might well think it was a very good speech if they had not, unlike those two network pundits, previously seen Edwards speak.

Yeah. Whatever. Well, what really interested me were the AM talk radio pundits. I was driving in my car, trying to get convention coverage just as Al Sharpton was speaking, and decided I'd try the AM dial.

Wow. I didn't exactly get convention coverage. I got Toyko Rose, or maybe the Nazi propaganda channel, instead. Now this blog is biased, if you haven't noticed. (We're anti-Bush.) I wouldn't say I'm especially partisan because I have supported Republicans on occasion publically (although not in the short lifespan of this blog). I'm very partisan right because I feel Bush is totally unqualified, and, as I said yesterday, the Republicans (and network pundits) deserve extreme criticism for allowing him to biased. That might partisan slant. But it's not propaganda. Propaganda is where you deliberately manipulate facts and so over-spin the message that it no longer bears any resemblance to reality.

These guys (several stations) knew they were broadcasting to California because they mentioned the state many times. (I.e., it wasn't a national feed.) California, even including some liberal Republican parts of the state, is serious Kerry country because our state, for the most part, hasn't done too well under Bush (and because we are socially liberal and only economically conservative).

Supposedly, AM talk radio is conservative because it is listened to mainly by people driving in their cars. But, you'd think you could find a liberal AM talk radio broadcaster out here in socially liberal California. You'd think there would be a market, you know. Nope. Apparently, Californians (the largest car market in the country) don't drive cars, because we only listen to conservative AM talk radio.

Of course what has really happened is a few large media giants have purchased all the AM radio stations and fired all of the liberal commentators (and there were some very profitable liberal commentators, mind you). They have done this, apparently, because they believe that by keeping the Bushies in office the FCC regulations on media concentration will be further repealed, and they can buy up even more stations, and then make bigger profits by cutting costs by filling all of these additional stations with the same (conservative?) content. Yeah, they may be in trouble if the Democrats regain the White House, so I don't blame them for putting together Toyko Rose.

Ok, I was listening to Toyko Rose's coverage of Al Sharpton, which immediately reminded listeners that the Republicans had abolished slavery. (I think this was Al Sharpton's point: The Republicans didn't keep their main promises after Reconstruction, so now they were voting Democrat to see "how far they could get.")

Yes, well, if Abe Lincoln were the Republican nominee, I'd vote Republican this election. The thing is, Abe Lincoln isn't the Republican nominee.

The Republicans not only brought you Abe Lincoln, they brought you Nixon, too, although they rarely mention him. (Tokyo Rose did not.)

The Republican nominee this time around is Nixon II (with many former Nixon appointees, including the exact same Secretary of Defense, the exact same disrespect for Congress, and the same notions of a secretive, imperial Presidency really accountable to no one.)

And the Toyko Rose(s) (plural --- I was switching stations) droned on. Bush can't possibly win because a defeat for a sitting president (under unlikely conditions A, B,and C) has never happened before. (Yes, and we've likely never had a sitting president who was so unqualified before, either, let alone someone so unqualified be nominated by a major party before as happened in 2000.) And the American people don't like Kerry or Edwards. (Oh have you looked at the polls, oh Mr. omniscient corporate lackey talk radio announcer? Last I checked it was a dead heat, or a slight Kerry advantage. By your standards they must not like your boy Bush much either.)

The Toyko Roses, besides often being inaccurate or irrelevant with their facts, is completely out of touch even with the more conservative parts of Southern California (and the stations all described Southern California as their intented audience, so these weren't national feeds). At some point the audience is going to realize that and will start turning off these channels.

And that's got to be bad business.

Tomorrow: coverage and criticism of the corporate pundit's reaction to Kerry's acceptance speech.

Alexandra Kerry discusses controversial dress

Kerry's Daughter Alexandra discusses her recent wardrobe malfunction in an interview in Harper's Bazaar (Reuters Article). The controversial "see-through" dress was actually quite conservative, according to A. Kerry.

It "did not withstand the impact of 3,500 flashbulbs," however. "Because of the dark world of the Internet, I'm told there are now entire Web pages dedicated to my breasts," the 30-year-old actress and filmmaker is quoted as saying. "You gotta love the Internet."

Yes, I think we had one of those web pages. [Not quite -- there was actually a lot of substance hidden in that article.]

Yes, Alexandra, I think you must love the Internet, for you've made quite a splash and I think that's what you must have intended.

It sounds like Alexandra Kerry is trying to blame the whole thing on just another wardrobe malfunction. I think we'll drop our usual anti-Bush bias here to give some criticism where it is deserved.

Come on. Hollywood is the de facto fashion capital of the world. (No, sorry, Paris, your status is just a myth.) Hollywood knows clothes. At one point, all of the studio heads and Hollywood moguls were former NYC haberdashers. They could hire out for expertise in acting, set design, stories, makeup, and photography, but the one rare skill a Hollywood studio head needed to know during the golden age was how to make a woman photograph her best in clothing appropriate to the storyline.

Alexandra Kerry is a Hollywood film director. She must have known exactly what she was doing. In that business (like designing web sites) controvesy (and see-through dresses) bring interests, hits, and career success. She knows this. And her career demands that she know clothing, and how clothing photographs. It's almost inconceivable that whoever consulting with her and ultimately sold her a dress for an important Hollywood-related awards ceremony wouldn't have considerable experience making similar dresses for similar important occasions, and wouldn't know the impact of flashbulbs on their product.

Of course, if Alexandra Kerry were especially devious (and I now think she likely is), she would order a conservative-looking dress that was known to be unable to withstand 3,500 flashbulbs. (I will point out she wasn't wearing anything underneath the dress in the area in question.)

That way, she would both get the attention (good for her film directing career) and have plausible deniability. Very tricky. But she should have considered the impact of all of this on her father's presidential campaign a little more closely. "Don't make no waves, don't back no losers" as they say. Alexandra Kerry made waves with this dress.

We now return to our regularly scheduled anti-Bush bias.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

PunditWatch: Day 2 of the democratic convention

In my piece on day 1 of the democratic convention yesterday, I commented how impressive it was that the network pundits covering the convention could say so much while saying so little. Last night I had a nightmare. I dreamed that one of the network pundits had said something important, and I had forgotten what it was. Then I woke up and remember that it was a journalist on another program (not directly covering the convention) and that what he said wasn't actually very important. Relieved that I hadn't done the pundits much of an injustice, I did remember why I didn't like them. And it goes back to their role covering the Republican primaries way back in 2000, when America was still loved and Florida and 911 had not yet happened and America had not yet been sold a bill of goods on Iraqi's non-existent WMDs. But let me talk first about day 2 of the Democratic National Convention.

The best speech was unquestionably the keynote given today by the brilliant, young African American U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois (currently running unopposed), Barak Obama, a former editor of the Harvard Law Review. Apparently, he took the DNC by surprise as well, for I could not find an official transcript on their website, although no doubt that will quickly change soon. (Unofficial Transcript). The pundits on PBS, left and right included, waxed euphorically about the now-state Senator's rhetorical skills. They lamented that the commercial networks had missed a chance by not broadcasting any of today's convention coverage live. Drunk with their own power, they suggested that tonight's wonderful speech marked the brilliant young African American for a future spot on a national (i.e., presidential ticket) in a few years. (His impressive bio suggests that he does indeed a very good shot, but we are in trouble as a nation if we were to select him as a presidential candidate on the basis of one excellent speech here today, and equally wrong to reject someone so talented had today's speech not gone as well. The pundits also marked Mario Quomo as a future president because of a keynote speech he gave a few years ago, but it didn't quite happen like that.... It is the job of convention pundits to comment on convention speeches, so they like to exaggerate the importance of these speeches so as to exaggerate the importance of their jobs.)

Most networks chose not to cover today's proceedings. If memory serves, the "liberal media" also gave more airtime to the Republican convention in 2000 than the Democratic convention. They gave some excuse for this at the time, but let us not forget that one of the broadcast networks is owned by a major defense contractor, another is reportedly concerned about Bush-family-controlled tax breaks it receives in Florida, and the board of taxpayer supported PBS is currently controlled by a narrow Republican majority because the President is Republican. And tonight they did indeed miss an entertaining and rousing speech that would have earned them great ratings.

Ronald Reagan, Jr., also gave a "non-political" speech in support of stem-cell research. In a speech praising the medical promise of stem-cells for curing a variety of diseases such as Parkinson's, he blasted the "some" that stand in the way of stem-cell research for purely political reasons. It was a speech very much in the style of his father, the former president. He urged voters to "vote for" stem-cell research in November. Although he speech was supposedly non-partisan, Bush opposes stem-cell research. "Don't back no losers" is one of the cardinal rules of politics, and no one doubts Nancy Reagan (who has indicated she hold similar views) is a shrewd political operator. Alzheimers (which can be partially treated with stem cells) killed her beloved late husband, but she and Ronnie Jr. no doubt think they are backing a winner or they would not have risked so much political capital.

But if Obama's speech was the most rousing (and Ronald Reagan, Jr.'s the most unlikely), given that this election is about John Kerry I do not think either was the most newsworthy speech. The most newsworthy speech tonight, I thought, was given by none other than the candidates' wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, a lifelong Republican (until last year) and environmentalist. In her delivery she was not especially eloquent; perhaps one of the least gifted public speakers on the podium there tonight. But I felt what she was important and heart-felt.

She spoke of her background: the daughter of a Portuguese medical doctor, growing up under a dictatorship in Mozambique, she marched against Apartheid while a student at in South Africa (only to see her cause defeated, South African universities segregated, and Nelson Mandela placed in jail). A former translator for the UN who is fluent in five languages, she immigrated to America in the 60s. She explains how, growing up in a dictatorship, she cherishes her freedom in America to be "opinionated" and criticized in the media as such; she hopes in the future that someday women like her will not be regarded as "opinionated" but smart and well-educated, just like their husbands. She spoke of her belief in technological progress and space exploration. And that Kerry would work to reduce America's energy dependence so that our young men and women will not have to die in wars protecting foreign oil fields. She promised that a President Kerry would work to reverse global climate change, and reverse increasing pollution in our air and water, issues that have clearly been close to her heart for decades. Theresa Kerry, once approached by the Republicans as a possible Senate candidate in the wake of the death of her first husband, said her current "husband is a fighter" who earned his medals the old-fashioned way. He would ensure America again lived up to its responsibilities in the world.

The two PBS pundits (the only broadcast networks covering the convention) bemoaned this speech as "wonkish" and inappropriate for the wife of a presidential candidate. "It was a missed opportunity" said conservative David Brooks, who felt Mrs. Kerry should have limited herself to being a character witness in favor of her husband, rather than demonstrate that she had substantial command of the issues herself. Liberal Mark Shields said little to disagree.

In addition to being factually wrong (Theresa Kerry characterized her husband as a "fighter"; Brooks implied she said nothing at all about her husband's character), I could not disagree more strongly with the pundits here. Theresa Kerry, an opinionated internationalist with a firm grasp of major issues who understand foreign cultures and even speaks many of their languages, is just what America needs in the wake of the current Administration's widely acknowledged diplomatic disaster.

The pundits, of course, completely failed to grasp this point. Rather focusing on what the nation needs to solve our present day problems, they judged her by the traditional (and backwards) view of how a political wife should speak at a convention. Every other speaker there discussed substance much than Kerry's character. Rather than point out the obvious fact that Theresa Kerry would play out very well on the world stage were her husband elected, they criticized her for talking about substance rather than talking, as they would have liked, about how she would stay at home and bake cookies for Kerry, like a good 1950s political wife.

This brings me back to how I started this article. I don't much like the pundits, and I don't like them for a reason. Everyone (well, everyone in certain circles) knew that the emerging Republican nominee-apparent during the 2000 Republican primaries was in no way (neither intellectually nor in terms of experience or accomplishments) qualified to be President. (Everyone had great respect for his father, a highly intelligent and capable man, so they were not making a partisan opinion.) All of the network pundits knew as well. Yet they said nothing and helped create the current crisis by forming the backdrop that give this man the legitimacy he needed to win the White House.

I do not know what it was. Perhaps they were motivated by their greedy superiors, eager that the Republican's massive campaign coffers should flow into their corporate networks in the form of massive television advertising dollars. It was a callous, and dramatic, abandonment of civic responsibility, which they repeated in their fawning, utterly uncritical coverage of the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Of course, they are not alone in this responsibility. It was shared by the Republican Party, whose traditional insistence on rugged individualism should never have allowed someone to receive the nomination of their party for purely dynastic reasons. The White House is supposed to be a democratically elected position, not a dynastic position, nor an old-boys club.

Other blogs covering major media's complaints that Theresa Heinz Kerry's speech discussed substantive issues when she should have been all fluff, and other obviously sexist and bizarre coverage in major media:

News Hounds: Fox Men and Teresa   Teresa Kerry and Marlene Dietrich Future First Lady Threat

Monday, July 26, 2004

Democratic Convention Day 1

Hmmm, yes there's been quite a bit of buzz about the blogging of the conventions and media at the conventions. I'm covering it from California (where I at least have the advantage that the convention day ends for me around 8PM PDT). So much is being said of this highly scripted event that I don't know whether my few words here can do much to add or subtract from the media's secret rituals. Perhaps most interesting were the pundits themselves, who found ample words to effectively say very little or nothing without offending anyone. Republican David Brooks of PBS, The New York Times and senior editor for the Weekly Standard, for example mentioned Fox News: "Democrats think they can win, but they fear Republicans have some awful power. Perhaps it is Fox News" or something like that. Perhaps that's what it is.

Clinton gave by far the best speech of the night. Its wonkish aspects were similar to what he has been saying these many years in places such as his Newshour Interview on Globalism: Bush wants to act unilaterally when he can and multilaterally only when he has to; the Democrats will act multilaterally when they can and unilaterally only when we as a nation have to. Clinton, as usual the master of substance, talked about substance and specific bills in his speech --- (Official Transcript) about how the Republican's protected "his" tax cut while cutting funding for NYC police, afterschool programs, vital container security at our nation's ports, &c.

Given the circumstances, he talked much more about Kerry in this particular speech: his military record; Kerry came from a privileged background, yet chose to serve in Vietnam, while many others from privileged backgrounds, like Bush and Clinton himself, chose to avoid that same service. He talked about how Kerry he performed well under remarkably difficult battle conditions. Kerry, as others pointed out tonight, was a serious man for serious times, who knew both how to fight terror and cooperate build a world with less terror. He urged delegates to "chose as the captain of our ship a brave good man who knows how to steer a vessel though troubled waters to the calm seas and clear skies of our more perfect union."

Clinton's anger in the speech at Bush for abusing the unity after September 11th is likely genuine. I had privilege of hearing Clinton speak in person shortly after 911 (he was globetrotting in those days doing nothing but giving impressive speeches). A very impressive speaker, Clinton expounded in great detail on various problems of the world, but most notably urged unity with the President in the face of 911: dangerous crises demanded strength through political unity.

As the pundits pointed out, it was a very good speech, and probably the best speech of the day, but it did not rise to "Quomo" status, whatever that is. (They were referring, of course, to a notably rousing convention speech made some years ago by then NY Gov. Mario Quomo, although I was unaware it was now a status to be attained as well.)

I have to come back to the pundits. I was much impressed by how much the "real" journalists at the convention can could say and yet simultaneously say very little or next to nothing. Given just how scripted political conventions are, the pundits were truly the most impressive part of the convention so far.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

DFW gets contract with Fox News (humor)


Earlier this week, we learned from truly authoritative sources like the LA Times OpEds and billionaire Ted Turner that bloggers are not real journalists (shocking!) and that Rupert Murdoch rules the universe (and we thought it was big oil that was pulling all of the strings). I happy to report that many days of sucking up hard to Rupert Murdoch in these pages have finally paid off! DFW has landed a lucrative contract with the right-wing reactionary, err, "Fair and Balanced" Fox News cable TV channel (Outfoxed documentary), owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Fox News will be using some of the DFW content on their website. In exchange, I will get a large amount of cash paid openly as well as secretly deposited into my Swiss bank account, and around one million hits a day through frequent mentioning of DFW on Fox News and other News Corp assets, including links from News Corp websites. This will make me the most power blogger in the blogosphere! Liberal and conservative bloggers alike will vie for attention in the hopes of a much cherished link from my website. Just 1% of the traffic from my imperial website can make their wildest traffic fantasies come true! Yes!

Of course, I will pretend to be even-handed. I will link some liberal blogs, and mention them sometimes in my pages. The ones that aren't too liberal. And don't splash too many flames over their webpages. The ones that are, perhaps, a little bit more on the windy and silly and less convincing side. Most importantly, the ones that never dare to criticize me. Or my hommie, Rupert Murdoch, who is installing a direct phone line into my office, so that he may communicate securely with me from wherever he is in the world.

Yes, folks, I am now part of the vast Republican Noise Machine, the media empire whose evil tentacles (through me) reach deep into the heart of the blogosphere. Sucking up to power really does pay. [Evil cackle here.]


Ted Turner: Murdoch controls Great Britain

The popular U.S PBS T.V. program Charlie Rose interviewed a number of prominent people this week. Most impressive was an interview with billionaire and former media mogul Ted Turner. Turner, who described himself as an independent, and mentioned his friendship with a number of prominent Republicans in the live audience (Rose interviewed Turner at a conference), blasted President Bush for his Middle East polices, most notably the Abu Gharib scandal and the Iraq war, which he said have set U.S. diplomacy back by 30 years. Turner, who founded CNN, also blasted rival billionaire and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News, known for its supposed right-wing bias. "Murdoch controls Britain", through his media influence, Ted Turner claimed (being rather uncharitable to the people of the UK), "he almost controls Australia" and "he'd like to control" the United States, and, ultimately "the world." Turner thus came out strongly against media concentration and the proposed FCC rules change, which would presumably allow Murdoch's empire to control an even bigger slice of the U.S. media market.

Turner claimed arch-rival Murdoch was only interested in money and power. He never, as far as Turner knew, gave anything to charity (unlike Turner, who reminded the audience has given more than billion dollars to the United Nations), and, as he pointed out to Charlie Rose, Murdoch "never" gives interviews.

Turner's description of Murdoch made him almost sound like the juvenile archvillian media mogul in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, who quoted (the historical media baron) William Randolf Hearst's instructions to his photographers prior to World War I: "You give me the pictures, I'll give you the war." Turner's description of Murdoch makes him sound almost responsible for the Iraq war, much like the ficticious villian in the Bond film used his billions in an attempt to ignite a war between the U.S. and China, because a war would be good for his news empire business.

Turner is perhaps being somewhat uncharitable towards the people of the UK and Australia in his claims the Murdoch "controls Britain" and "almost controls Australia" through his vast media empire. Turner claims he told British PM Tony Blair years ago "maybe you should do something about Murdoch", saying he had acquired too large of an media empire for the public good, to which Blair supposedly replied that there was nothing he could do about Murdoch; Blair supposedly claimed he would be a nobody without Murdoch's media support and was effectively powerless to do anything against Murdoch's wishes. Turner claims that Murdoch does not yet control the United States. However, public support for the Iraq War was much stronger in the U.S. than it was in Britain or Australia, despite the fact that (according to Turner) Murdoch supposedly has less influence here than he does in Great Britain.

Concerns about media concentration have been the subject of past articles in DFW Documentary to Document Fox News Bias. However, it is best to be a bit skeptical when evaluating claims of the magnitude being made by Turner. Turner admitted to Charlie Rose that his comments on media concentration may be partially motivated by revenge against his former and associates arch-rivals in the media business.

Ted Turner mentions he has an article in Washington Monthly coming out, in which he discusses some of these issues. He complains however, that no one reads Washington Monthly, which has a monthly circulation of only a few thousand. To put this into perspective, we've had more readers on some days on this blog, so perhaps he should have posted his article here. ;-).

Returning to the issue of big media influence, Charlie Rose also had an interview with Stanford law professor and computer enthusiast Lawrence Lessig, who is promoting his new book Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity.

The fight over copyrights was recently in the news, prompted by concerns over TiVo's technology, despite TiVo's assurances they will adequately cripple the device to prevent mass piracy of television programs (news article). I previously mentioned TiVo (article) as a very useful time-saving technology for watching coverage of the forthcoming political debates, as well as a device that everyone says will change the way you watch television.

Prof. Lessig, who argued (and lost) a challenge before the US Supreme Court to Congress' recent retroactive extension of copyright durations (allegedly to protect certain vested U.S. Corporate interests, more notably a certain animated character tied to some very profitable theme parks whose copyright was able to expire), feels that large corporate interests hold nearly all of the cards when it comes to intellectual property. He is promoting his organization "Creative Commons", which is a logo you'll see at the bottom of some blogs, that offers hip alternative styles of intellectual property protections.

For example, webmasters can chose to protect their works under the GNU copyright, originated by MIT Professor Stalman, better known as RMS. (He commented on an article on this blog). Rather than placing the work in the public domain (where it can be pilfered and resold by corporate interests), the GNU copyright allows others to build upon the work, provided they continue to distribute the work under the same terms. If corporations want to use the work for profit, they have to go back to the authors and obtain separate permissions.

Prof. Lessig is also promoting his "Founder's Copyright," where webmasters and others can put their work to a copyright similar to that envisioned by the founders --- 14 years (with one 14 year extension), rather than today's century-long plus copyright. The idea being that this will signal to the world that work will be in the public domain within 28 years, and others can plan to build their own creative works on top of this work with that in mind. (Currently, most authors will have forgotten about their works in 28 years, creating a huge burden on innovators as they try to determine the copyright status of old, forgotten writing, software, &c, that they desire to re-use.)

Here is where I disagree with Prof. Lessig. While I see the utility of a GNU copyright, which will encourage others to build upon GNU copyrighted works (and potentially make related products more valuable within an Open Source or "free software" business model), I don't understand the point of a 28-year copyright. A 28-year copyright made sense in 1790, where the only thing being copyrighted were books. Today we have movies, and software, which are much more expensive to produce and have a much longer commercial shelf-life than 28 years. (I do agree with the idea of forcing everyone --- especially big media --- to periodically renew copyright, however, as works which the authors have lost interest in should expire after some reasonable period of time. I agree with Prof. Lessig that, with a 100-year copyright it is currently too difficult for innovators to find out which old works are available for use and which aren't. Forcing copyright holders to actively declare their intent to continue to protect their copyright after some reasonable period of time --- 28 years --- would cause works of no real commercial interest to expire into the public domain.)

If current patent and copyright laws mainly favor large commercial interests, than having the "little guys" voluntarily limit their copyright to 28 years to be hip while big businesses get a 100+ year copyright just tips the scales more towards big business. Small content providers are less likely, for example, to be able to sell the license to something whose copyright that they've restricted voluntarily to 28-years. (Perhaps what we need is a copyright that expires by automatically turning into a "GNU" Copyright after 28-years, unless the copyright holder expresses interest in retaining full copyright a year or two before that expiration. This would tip the scales back towards the user, since rather than being placed into public domain, works would acquire a GNU copyright after 28-years provided the author has lost interest in them. And, authors would still have 28 years to try to sell the full copyright to big media, so their economic interests would be protected during that period. The GNU copyright would let people build on the work provided the derived work is also made available; commercial interests could still go back to the original copyright holders to license other terms of use.)

MIT economist Thurow (DFW review), incidentally, argues the opposite point in his book. He points to the example of the old record store in Harvard Yard going bankrupt because undergraduates were obtaining all of their music illegally off the internet, free of charge. Prof. Thurow says all businesses need to take note of what has supposedly happened to the music business. According to Thurow, all business models could someday be impacted in similar (negative) ways by the Internet. Economist Thurow, therefore, is at least somewhat sympathetic to the draconian new copyright laws that Prof. Lessig appears to argue against. To argue his point, Thurow points to the recent offshoring of even highly technical professions (such as the formerly high-six-figure medical radiological profession) via Internet technology.

Charlie Rose also interviewed senior CIA analyst Anonymous, the author of Imperial Hubris, which we've discussed before on this blog (article). Anonymous, who has since been named in various media sources (his anonymity was at the request of his employer, the CIA, which must approve all his books), was perhaps the least impressive of the Rose's interviewees this week, coming across as nervous and less than eloquent. His primary argument is that it is in the U.S. interest to be less favorable towards Israel, although he blasts the Bush administration's policies in his book for a number of reasons. The book received very favorable reviews from other members of the intelligence community. Since it is rare for senior CIA analysts to write books, when one does I suppose we should listen.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Media gets bomb threat at convention

Reuters is reporting this morning that the FBI has received an "unconfirmed" indication that a domestic group may be planning terror bombings on media organizations covering the Democratic convention next week. The FBI is "investigating" and has alerted some media organizations; it will provide more details to the public if it obtains better information. There was a controversy (earlier article on new media technologies at the convention)in the media whether several bloggers, now credential as journalists by the major parties to cover the convention, were "real" journalists. No word on whether the FBI (or the supposed bombers) considered the bloggers covering the convention "real" enough journalists to issue a warning (or a threat).

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Paul Johnson story and other updates

Internet traffic again surges as Reuters reports today that Paul Johnson's head has been discovered in a refrigerator during a raid on a militant hideout. Also, it is being widely reported that six foreign workers have been taken hostage, and militants threaten to execute "one every 72 hours" if their demands are not met. (I suppose we can also expect releases of additional horror films from Osama bin Laden studios, as I remark lightly in one of my popular spoofs, linked below.)

The rest of this story, and any updates, together with many links to the many related stories on this and other blogs (and many hours of reader associated comments) are posted here (link).

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Martha Stewart considering dropping her appeal

Speaking on Larry King Live (CNN article), Martha Stewart says she may drop her appeal and go instead to prison to just get things over with. Man, she's though. But, this is about money, pure and simple. (She is also said to be working on a book about her ordeal, expected to be worth at least six figures. It will be fun to review in these pages.)

As I noted in an earlier post, the appeal process is expected to take about two years. Although 95% of federal criminal appeals are rejects, Martha's chances are thought to be much better than usual. She has also been granted the unusual liberty of being a free woman during the long appellate process. (Most federal criminals with such a short sentence would have already done their time before the appeals case would have been decided.)

Dropping her appeal would eliminate Wall Street uncertainty (which doesn't like even the remote possibility that some judges could suddenly decide to throw out her appeal one on a technicality, and suddenly and unexpectedly pluck Martha from the de-facto helm of her company.) If she goes to jail for five months, everything is certain, and Wall Street rewards certainty with higher stock prices for Martha Stewart Omniliving, which is the main basis for Steward's considerable wealth. Man she's tough.

on the other hand, as my earlier post points out, there is a good chance, given her wealth, some problems with her trial, and a possible new administration that may be sympathethic to obvious selective prosecution she received, that she may be cleared in two years or so by the appelate court. The main advantage of this is that it would eliminate legal obstacles to her running her company, not just de-facto, but in name as well.

One thing is certain: either way, Martha will play hard-ball and make a gutsy decision.

Blog and TiVo convention coverage

The Democratic convention starts next week. For the first time ever, some bloggers have been given journalist credentials by the two major political parties and will be blogging the conventions. It should be interesting. Alex Jones of the LA times writes snootily (and somewhat unrealistically) that bloggers are not real journalists even if they have a huge reader base and press credentials. I'd say that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it looks like a journalist and acts like a journalist, it's a journalist. These bloggers, some of whom are getting paid to write their pieces (and some who ultimately write for traditional, "real" media outlets), are de-facto journalists and are finally being recognized as such. By all except the LA times, it seems.

We won't be covering the convention first-hand (DFW started too late to apply for credentials for the convention), not that we would be going if we had been in time. It's a huge staged political ritual --- difficult for me to justify heading over there to write about when I can probably cover it just as well from here (minus, perhaps, juicy gossip picked up at parties.)

The staged political ritual of the conventions would be a good use for a TiVo (aka PVR/DVR). This is basically a computer with a hard-drive and TV tuner disguised as a VCR-like device, although it is much better than a VCR. A TiVO can normally store several hundred hours of TV programming. Because it is uses a computer hard drive, it can pause live T.V.

People that have a TiVo say they never watch live T.V. anymore. The computer can automatically figure out which shows are your favorites, and pre-record them. Rather than watching a live program, you let the TiVo/PVR/DVR device build up about 20 minutes of record time (to buffer commercials) while you watch one of your favorite programs that it has pre-recorded. Once it has built up the record time, then you start watching, skipping over the commercials. It's an enormous time saver, which is why it's popular with busy people.

It's been controversial in Hollywood, where executives have accused TiVo users of stealing TV shows (since they are no longer watching commericals.) That's one reason many shows now have "product placements" (which used to violate FCC rules requiring strict distinctions between T.V. shows and commericlas) as well as Internet-style banner ads appearing on TVs during shows --- T.V. executives fear the traditional commercial will eventually go the way of the dinosaur thanks to these devices.

I also understand that, if one is technically inclinded, one can sometimes obtain better functionality by simply purchasing a TV PCI tuner card or two for a home PC with a huge hard-drive. This reportedly eliminates the high monthly fees that come with some boxes, like the TiVo Series II (although the TiVo has its own advantages, such as its programming guide and automatic ability to record shows it thinks the owners will like.)

The reason a TiVo/PVR/DVR would be great for the political conventions should be obvious. While your TiVo records the latest convention happenings, you can start watching earlier coverage, fast-forwarding until you get to your favorite speakers. Of course, you can also pause a live speaker while you take a break, and resume uninterrupted from where the speaker left off when you return (you can close the time lag during the commericals.) Some of these units can record from two channels at the same time, so you can watch another networks's (recorded) analysis or exclusive while your main channel is doing a commerical.

I recall an article in "The Talk of the Town" section of The New Yorker magazine about a year ago about how TiVo had changed lives in Hollywood (where people are extraordinary busy and can certainly afford the units). TiVo had sent around a marketing letter encouraging people to use TiVo for the Academy Awards, and, at least according to The New Yorker, everyone in Hollywood apparently did. Supposedly, guests at Hollywood parties were being offered seconds of dessert, told not to worry, TiVo would handle the Academy Awards -- they could start watching the beginning anytime they wanted to. That was the year the Academy Awards went something like three hours over (even though the letter had warned TiVo owners to program in extra time in case the Awards went over, no one though they would go over by three hours. So no one asked their TiVo to record quite that much extra time.) This is still a problem with the TiVo -- it can't sense when programs that have gone over-time end. So a lot of people in Hollywood missed the ending of the Awards that year. And were crying as a result (hey, the Academy Awards are a big deal in Hollywood). But they did have total control over the part of the program that the TiVo had recorded.

But TiVo/DVR/PVRs are good for conventions for the same reason that they are good for the Academy Awards --- both are very long, staged rituals with many commercial breaks. The speaches usually don't start on time, and the programs themselves often run overtime.

Since the convention is just a big staged show, it makes sense for busy people to use technology to skip over the ritual and drag out the content.

That means using a TiVo/DVR/PVR type device to remove the commercials and give you control over when your favorite speaches start and stop (at least in your own living room.)

And that means scanning blogs to get the post possible analyst coverage of what was said.

Previous DFW articles on media coverage and alleged bias:
Non-profit sues Media Giant over alleged censorship
Record traffic due to gory video resurfacing
Documentary to document Fox News bias
An uncensorsed, free press, here and overseas, is the key to a sunnier future [very first DFW post]

Monday, July 19, 2004

The pen is mightier than the minature pocket knife, even aboard airplanes

(This was originally a comment response to Brett Marston's comment about having to relinquish his minature pocket knife before boarding a U.S. airplane. Brett writes: "...Anyone who is dangerous with that thing is going to be dangerous with a ball point pen...." The original post and comment thread is "When did we Americans Become Such Poor Diplomats? about TSA harassment of key diplomats at our airports. I have long argued our nation was founded on diplomacy. Ben Franklin's diplomatic successes in Paris astonished the British Empire and had much more to do with our existance as a nation than George Washington's military skills ever did. Watching Martin Sheen on The West Wing, it's clear we never lost those skills: Martin Sheen plays a President who always does what the viewing public would want him to do. Maybe it's not realistic politically, but as an image it's great diplomacy. The producers of The West Wing know how to project a positive image of the American presidency in a T.V. program that is watched the world over. I get chills looking at the opening sequence. So the diplomatic and media talent is still here in America; it just seems to have temporarily abandoned D.C. for California. But coming back to Brett's comments about ballpoint pens being more dangerous than his minature knife:)

Well, you know they say the pen is mightier than the sword (or the 3/4 inch = 2cm pocket knife.)

At one point they had all sorts of complex theories about how the terrorists used all sorts of tricks to construct a makeshift knife on the plane from plastics or razorblades or what have you.

Ultimately, I think they decided they just used ordinary pocketknifes that at that time were allowed if the blade was less than 3.5 inches (9cm), and the blades from these were simply used. Hence the new no knife rule (although 0.75inch/2cm is rediculous, I have to agree.)

As I write in my post, there is a "paranoia", if you will, on the left that all of this being done more for the sake of manipulating the American public than anything else. The government's advice in 2002, I believe it was, that triggered national duct-tape hoarding was along these lines.

MIT prof RMS had this opinion; Michael Moore has this opinion to some extent in his film. Journalist Bill Moyers has expressed similar fears.

And there is precedent for it. Eisenhower had schoolchildren practicing "duck and cover," but when advisors asked him about his own preparations for nuclear war, he explained that it was basically pointless --- duck and cover wouldn't protect anyone against the Soviet bombs and DC knew it. It was being done either to convince the public that something was being done or to convince them that danger of Soviet attack was very real.

Simarily, confiscating your 0.75 inch knife may be their modern equivalent of duck and cover. Useless, but manipulates the public.

I personally feel strongly not enough is being done to address the root causes of terrorism (See my earlier articles on Thurow's book and the relevance of Carl Sagan's Cosmos to global terror, among many others.), which we be a far greater precaution than confiscating minature knifes.

That being said, I believe they are getting better of late. (Or perhaps I am just getting better at dealing with them.)

Giving them a frequent flyer number a few days in advance of the trip (forgot those last minute business trips!) seems to help, even if you've never flown on that airline before. That way CAPPS I has your SSN (which they don't necessarily otherwise have AFAIK; SSN = U.S. Taxpayer ID number), and the frequent flyer number is one of the unclassified parts of CAPPS I, I believe. It gives them a few days to background checks.

In some sense that's why I'm less alarmed about CAPPS II than many people. I figure if the computer knows more about me (and the guys at the gate know less), there's less likely to be a problem. Of course, they have to put in a system to let people appeal if they are repeatedly wrongly flagged (e.g., they have a name that sounds similar to someone on a watch list.)

I avoid putting objects in my checked-in bags that I think will look strange on an X-ray machine (even if they look perfectly harmless in real life). I put them in my carry on (where they also would set off alarms, but at least no broken locks) or I don't take them with me at all now.

I do a few other things as well now that I think reduces the likelihood of secondary screenings that I won't describe here so as not to give terrorists tips on how to avoid secondary screenings.

Ultimately, though, much of this being done mainl to impress on the American public that SOMETHING is being done about terrorism, when the root causes are still being left unaddressed and we are not hardly any safer if not less safe.

Case in point: a matchbook was used by the shoebomber Reed to try to light his shoebomb. However, FAA rules now allow 3 matchbooks as you board the plane. Why? One source argues pressure from the tobacco industry. Forget safety. They want to make sure people can light up right away after deplaneing. But 2cm knifes? NO WAY!

And, yes, I do now hide my business cards before going through security, though.

The original post and comment thread is "When did we Americans Become Such Poor Diplomats?.

Global terrorism and the need for Carl Sagan's Cosmos in Arabic

When I saw a re-run of Carl Sagan's Cosmos in 2000, I thought "Rerun. Yawn." Yet when I saw it again in late 2001, following the 911 terrorist, I thought "Wow." It was incredibly prescient. I was sufficient impressed by the series re-run in 2001 so many years after it's initial broadcast that I wrote an email to Cosmos Studios in 2002. This resulted in a rather remarkable email exchange, which I have quoted below. A reoccurring theme of Carl Sagan's Cosmos was that religious leaders were conspiring for political power, and this results threatened civilization itself. Carl Sagan was referring, of course, to the Cold War, which was still raging in 1980. Twenty years later, after 9/11, Sagan's words suddenly made sense again, but in a different context: that of global terrorism. When it came out, Cosmos was the most watched television series in history. It was seen by 600 million viewers in 60 countries and literally built PBS stations. The Cosmos DVD has subtitles in every major language -- except, of course, Arabic, where it would be most needed.

Here is an excerpt from my first email to them [I date myself here somewhat, always a dangerous thing to do]:

[I was very young when I first saw Carl Sagan's Cosmos], and I was immediately mesmerized. I most remember Dr. Sagan's question "We must ask 'who created the gods'" which neatly paralleled my own "who created God?". [I] would remain fascinated for many years by Dr. Sagan's descriptions of the library of Alexandria, the motorcycle driving at the speed of light, the toilet paper with the Google-plex written on it [yes, the famous search engine got it's name from this concept].

[Carl Sagan's Cosmos occupied many years of my young imagination, and I would] never really [forget] the program. Years later I would see if divide a cherry pie (he used a lemon pie in his program, I believe) down to an individual atom with my rather crumby butter knife. I would only need to divide 72 times as he suggested. Invariably I would fail, as I well knew I would, but it made baking cherry pie all the more delicious.

[B]ut in looking over the Best of Cosmos and going back to my memories of the original series many, many years ago I cannot imagine a more profound global statement on the need for science, on the need for understanding and interaction between cultures, and the likely consequence if we fail to reach that understanding by being distracted by our superstitions and succumbing to our passions.

I cannot imagine a stronger refutation of religious fundamentalism and its current threats to world peace than Cosmos. Dr. Sagan foresaw twenty years ago that our religious superstitions and at times seemingly uncontrollable passions threatened our very existence as a species, and advocated cooperation among the many races of humanity and the search for truth as the only viable solution to these ills. By filming Cosmos at locations around the world at great cost he demonstrated that his commitment to globalism was more than just talk.

What could be more compelling today in countries threatened by terrorism, nuclear war, and destruction by the forces of fundamentalism than Dr. Sagan's optimistic vision of global cooperation and simultaneous seemingly prophetic warning produced some twenty years ago?

I notice the DVD does not have the program subtitled or better yet, dubbed, into Hindu and the various Islamic languages; I would strongly suggest that the DVD be made available in these languages and donated to young, receptive audiences in these countries.

I haven't asked their permission to post this private e-mail correspondence with me, so I won't embarrass them by posting their name or email address, but it is so warm and well-written that it would be a same not to share with the Net, especially on an issue of such importance:

[Y]our suggestion to translate this series into Hindu and other Islamic languages is an excellent one. I will pass on your email with that thought to our President....

As of early 2004, they have not yet been able to come up with the money. As the statistics on Arab translated cited in my Thurow article suggest, translation of scientific books and television programs into Arabic is unlikely to be popular. (Although the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran claims, in the book, that David Hasselhoff was broad Baywatch was the most (illegally!) watched satellite television program in Iran. They do like satellite T.V., especially when owning a dish is illegal in their repressive countries.) My Thurow article, incidentally, started a long discussion thread on the Blogcritics site (linked from my article here), where it was cross-posted.

I've suggested U.S. government grants be used to subtitle Cosmos into Arabic would be a worthy taxpayer expenditure (perhaps for U.S. gov't broadcaster Al-Hurra, which is looking for programming), but the U.S. moves very slowly in such matters, unfortunately.

My correspondent at Cosmos Studios does go on to share the following remarkable insights into Carl Sagan in a subsequent email (again, dating back to 2002):

Your observations on how the series impacted you ... are very interesting, and you bring up some things I hadn't considered, ie the frightening aspects of the Wells re-creation for [young children]. I think Dr. Sagan was trying to recreate some of the atmosphere around his own first experiencing of the universe at an early age, which also had to include some frightening moments, most notably the War of the World radio broadcast. Fact and fantasy definitely continued to overlap during his later youth; in the series he talks about his early love of the then popular pulp fiction science fantasies and his identification with the heroic monster-slaying young man who also wins the hand of the beautiful young alien woman. Your conclusion is exactly right. The Cosmos series affected people emotionally, that is what made this science show unique for all times. I think that most people remember best the things that have some emotional content for them, whether scary or joyous. Dr. Sagan understood this, and since his real goal was for people to really learn from this series, he took the dramaturgic risk of linking emotion and story telling with science. Carl was certainly always a risk taker. Thank you for pointing out this very important way that that manifested.

Sagan repeatedly argues in Cosmos, as indeed in his whole life, that religious and some political leaders were greedily seeking to manipulate populations through ignorance and superstition and, unless countered, would send the world into conflicts capable of destroying civilization.

Listening again to the rebroadcast of his series in 2002, some of Sagan's words took on a prophetic tone in the aftermath of 911. Religious leaders such as Osama and his clerical cronies were indeed conspiring for secular power for purposes that were truly evil. (War mongers on our side, supported by right-wing religious leaders were also a problem, although less so.)

Sagan wrote in a 1992 essay:

[Our] nation sinks into lethargy and economic decay; in which ignorance and greed conspire to destroy the air, the water, the soil and the climate; in which, with over 50,000 nuclear warheads still in existence.... Where are the cartographers of human existence...?

Again, Sagan is clearly talking about the Cold War, but he could easily be talking about global terrorism. Greed and ignorance are still destructive forces, and very much a part of global terrorism. (See my debate thread on the skyscrapers being built by the bin Ladens as one of many here on this issue.) Where, indeed, are the cartographers of human existence when it comes to dealing with global terrorism?

Sagan wrote numerous Pulitzer-prize winning books-more than can easily be listed here. A Hollywood film (with Jodie Foster) and companion book, Contact, on a fictional first contact with extraterrestrials, were more commercial ventures.

Sagan's Cosmic Connection still remains one of his most popular earlier books and is still relevant today. I recommend it fully.

Sagan's Cosmos is IMHO a must see for everyone living on the planet, particularly scientifically-inclined children and those who missed it the first time around. The region zero DVD encoding means the DVD will play anywhere in the world. This, together with the availability of subtitles on the DVD itself makes Carl Sagan's Cosmos IMHO an excellent gift for friends or relatives living abroad. The topics are universal, and the series was filmed in an international style on locations all over the world.

Now if only someone (e.g., the U.S. government) could come up with the money to get Carl Sagan's Cosmos subtitled into Arabic. This twenty-year old program is profoundly and remarkably relevant to the global war on terror; it's translation would be a most worthy cause. It was the most popular scientific T.V. series of its day, watched by more than 600 million viewers. I'm certain the Arab world would still appreciate it today were an Arabic translation available.