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Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

I often think, “these are strange times.”  As if I know what other times were like and as if they would be any less strange than now.   The thought is completely baseless.  Nonetheless, most days I drift off with a parallax feeling – something is somehow amiss.

Socrates Death

Socrates Death

Three days ago a healthy fever kept me prisoner in bed.  I turned on the TV to distract my burning brain.   For several hours I fell in and out of hysterical sleep as the MSNBC and CNN shows droned on. Finally my hand managed to dump me into the local news.   I managed to catch snippets and sound bytes on various political actions in Arkansas and Indiana and the emergence of movement on Iran Nuclear deals and the various drought issues in California.   Of course that little bit of content was sandwiched between erectile dysfunction ads, more news show promotions, political ads, and a bunch of other nonsense that was so nonsensical it didn’t register at all.

My fever provided an interesting kaleidoscope to consume all this “media.”   I barely recall the specific words, but I vividly recall lots of reddish pink faces, stunted vocal inflections, disjointed rejoinders all trying attempting to rile me out of my feverish funk and to take action – against anything.   I awoke the next morning remembering an angry opera where all the singers sing over each other and nothing makes sense but there’s a frenzy and certainly the frenzy means something because well it’s a frenzy.

This experience and any resulting thoughts aren’t really that enlightening or difficult to analyze.   We live in a cacophony of cacophonies.   We create them for each other, we consume them, we sell them to each other, we seek them out.   Media exists only as a cacophony.   Without the cacophony so many institutions and systems collapse.    Our identities and sense of almost being folds in on itself.   Without mass frenzy who needs a search engine?   Or curation tools? Or talking heads? Or journalists?   Or critics? Or pundits? Or experts? Or “likes”? Or vacations? Or spas? Or meditation centers? Or insurance? Or assurance? Or reputation management? Or pr? ….

The silence would obliterate an industrial turned digital world.  Our senses are now ill suited for the silence or slowness of a world without this recursive self generating cacophony.   The very senses so essential to our survival in what was likely a very competitive environment thousands and thousands of years ago reached what seems to me some bizarre threshold of sensation.  These every more acute senses and brains and bodies needed more than what the fabricated industrial world could deliver.  We needed media to put us back on edge.  Always keep us on the edge.  Something is out there to get me.

This is not the only way to fulfill and engage the senses and the brain and the body.  But by gosh is it the most efficient.   Thinking and engagement are costly efforts that cut into the means of production.   Philosophizing is hard to monetize.  Art shifts perspectives away from commoditization.   Walking is slow.   The mass of humankind should not engage in these activities for they lead to more of these activities.   No, listen to the cacophony and like a slot machine keep pushing the buttons (the handle is too slow), let the whistle sounds and cherry sights keep us in attention without engagement – next time, next time! The human capacity for repetitive motion and thought is nearly boundless if injected with just enough stimulation (throw in a little variation to throw the probability center off).

But it isn’t as Huxley thought it would be – habituation through pleasure – it’s more effective for production to a have a slightly disembodied sense of dread.   Pure pleasure would not keep the right chemicals flowing like dread and fear does.   Our fear of death is stronger than our desire for pleasure.

I contest that the pursuit of truth and knowledge is more powerful and sustaining than fleeing death or enjoying pleasure – but it is a hard practiced reward.  It takes a good deal of effort to get to a point where it sustains and grows.    It requires an upfront investment of the mind, body, and senses.   It forces one to give up the relentless pursuit of capital.

The human creature seeks the real – it can be trained and sustained on the near-real though.   It can hang on the edge of the real for as long as you can keep the cells alive.   But deep down the entirety of a given human seeks the real – the real world, the full view of a tree, the scent of the crisp night, the touch of another human, the lick of a dog, the view without glasses….   Without the real, we will take convincing substitutes and become sufficiently addicted until the senses have weakened and are no longer able to seek the real.

These are strange times.   They are strange because we seem to notice less and less than what the historical documents of the past suggest we were noticing previously.  Though we were ignorant then, as we are now, we seemed to appreciate that ignorance in some enlightened circles.  Instead of hiding from it, some went to their death because of their pursuit.   Now even the enlightened often seek the near-real or the unreal – the media, the virtual reality, the video games, the re-tweets, the parody news, the cable news, the ads as content, the representation vs the actual, the press statements vs a conversation, a political party vs a candidate with a feet on the ground.   That Edward Snowden didn’t cause mass uproar is only one of the main signs of this parallax situation.

We can no longer see the real.  I’m not even sure I can or ever could.

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Guest Writer Ron Williams again… Attorney, Businessman and Citizen

It is clear to even the most casual observer that the sole political agenda of the Republican Party is to prevent the reelection of Pres. Barack Obama. It is equally clear that it is the absolute, single-minded focus of the Far Right of the Republican Party to prevent the reelection of a Black Man, any black, as President of the United States.

Thus, for nearly two years, as the President negotiated health-care with the Republican Party, those negotiations were futile, because no matter what would have been offered by this President the answer from this Republican Party would have been “no”. It is clear that no matter what initiative this President put forward, the Republican Party answer would always have been “no.”

And today, we see the Republican Party, and in particular the Far Right portion of that party, deciding to attach items on their political agenda to the debt ceiling bill as a means to further weaken the president and as a means to move their political agenda forward. As a political strategy, the move is almost brilliant. They were able to attack Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security (three programs that the Republican Party has been attempting to repeal sent each of them were first adopted) while at the same time further demonstrating the weakness of this President.

The mistake President Obama continues to make is to attempt to negotiate substantive programs with a group of people whose agenda is not to negotiate on those programs, but to attack the man himself. They will never negotiate to yes until they have used the so-called negotiations to attack the President (demonstrating his weakness) and until they have also gotten what concessions they otherwise wanted.

I predicted when this whole debt limit “crisis” began that the Republican Party would string this out until the end of July, after they had extracted significant concessions from the President and the Democratic Party, that is they had gotten as much as they could based on the time limit left. I am being somewhat facetious when I suggest that if these negotiations continued much longer, President Obama would eventually have negotiated away the entire Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.

It is telling that the Republican Party started these negotiations stating that there could be no revenue increasing tax changes that would affect the wealthy. And that exactly where they ended. How can you have negotiations when one side gives up nothing in the other side makes all the concessions? That because their whole purpose of the Republican Party was to use the debt ceiling issue as a means of moving their political agenda forward with demonstrating their basic weakness of President Obama. And the Democratic Party and this President let them.

What Barack Obama should have said to the first overture from the Far Right that they would not agree to raise the debt ceiling unless there were major cuts to the various social programs, was “no.” He should have simply stated that he would veto any legislation that came across his desk that did anything other than simply raise the debt ceiling. And then stopped negotiating. Whenever they said “well let’s talk about this,” his response should have been “there is nothing to talk about.”

The President should have said, “I’ve told you my position. Congress, you do what you feel you need to do. If you want to pass legislation that has provisions other than raising the national debt attached to it, do so. I will veto it. And if you choose to then put the full faith and credit of the United States government at risk because you want to attach non-relevant politically motivated subject matter on what should be otherwise routine legislation, do so, but I will not be a party to this game-playing”.

If he had said that from day one, and then stuck to his guns,, this so-called crisis would’ve gone way. Then should he want to discuss modification of Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security that could have been done in conversation along with tax code changes.

The president has got to learn to stand up. If he doesn’t he will be a one term president. As it is, he is losing his base and maybe a one term president in any event. It may already be too late.

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By Ron Williams – citizen, contributor and patriot – 9-22-10

[Ron Williams is a retired attorney living in The Woodlands, TX and a welcome guest contributor to Social Mode]

It took a tough, smart candidate to win the Democratic nomination and the win the election for President.  It then takes a tough, smart President to govern the United States.  Candidate Obama was that tough and smart candidate.  While I believe that President Obama is being smart, I do not think he is being tough.  By this I mean, playing hardball with those who are opposed to his presidency and to his policies

For the last two years, political opponents of President Obama have consciously spread deliberate innuendo and outright lies in order to oppose the political agenda of the President Obama and the Democratic Party.  These opponents have used every tool at their disposal in their attempt to discredit the Democratic Congressional Majority and President Obama.  Over the last two years, we have seen the Democratic Majority and President Obama may tepid responses to these loud, angry and forceful attacks from the Right Wing of the Conservative Republican Party.

It is true that President Obama promised to have a less confrontational and more collaborative approach to governing this country.  He spoke of plans to reach out to the Republican Congressional Minority to work together and forming legislative solutions to the serious problems facing this country.  And I believe we have seen him struggle mightily to honor that commitment.  It seems however, that the Republican Party adopted a legislative strategy that was to simply oppose each and every solution proposed by the Administration to address the serious problems facing this nation, regardless of the actual real world impacts of this strategy on the welfare of the average American.  The strategy was combined with a constant attack on the Administration’s proposals, even when they were mirror images of programs opposed by the conservatives themselves just a few years ago.

Democrats in both the Administration and in Congress did negotiate with the Republicans in good faith on these legislative initiatives.  The result was legislation ripe with loopholes that have allowed the same large corporations and big businesses that caused our current economic situation ,to continue “business as usual” operation.  So, we have people who in large part operated in cahoots with the bad actors in the business world to create the mess we are in, doing everything in their power to keep those who are in charge now from doing anything serious to fix the problems.  And on top of that they continue to attack the folks who are trying to fix the problems.  The audaciousness of the Republican Party and the right wing Conservatives is breathtaking.

But their strategy has worked.  Poll numbers for the Democratic Party and the President have been going down dramatically for the last year, while the Republican Party poll numbers have gone up slightly. Republican Party has been apparently rewarded for since the doing nothing but saying, “NO.”

This lowered public support for the President and his programs have had the effect of making it more difficult for the President to aggressively address the problems facing this Nation.  The actions of the Republican Party therefore may actually be seen as unpatriotic and unAmerica, because they are not working to solve America’s problems they may be actually working to prevent the problems from being solved.  It would be another thing if the Republicans presented alternative programs to address the nation’s ills.  But instead they have simply become the party of “NO.”  With the exception of Congressman Paul cap Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican Party is not offering any serious solutions to the nation’s current economic woes.  More should be expected of them.

However, I am addressing the actual state of affairs in suggesting that President Obama in the cab Democratic Party aggressively respond to what the Republicans are actually doing, and vociferously point out that they are not working for the good of the country but instead are simply working as hard as they can in order to get themselves reelected.  Further, if past behavior is any indicator of future behavior, should they recapture leadership of either the House or the Senate, we can expect legislation directed solely toward the benefit of high paid lobbyists and the companies they represent in that once again got us into the mess in the first place.  In most instances, this representation works to the detriment of the average American citizen.

President Obama should point this out at every reasonable occasion using a high tone, but still affirmative language.  The President’s surrogates however, should be much more blunt and on point.  Additionally, the Democratic Party should be running ads in every competitive district pointing out the simple fact that despite Republican opposition, significant legislation has been passed.  The voting record of each individual Representative or Senator should be highlighted along with their ties to big business and their lobbyists.  These points should be hammered home aggressively and repeatedly.

Additionally, I recommend that research be done on all of these pundits and commentators who have made it a point of deliberately distributing false and misleading facts about the President.  Every time one of them issues a lie, that lie should be immediately corrected, the media notified that this particular commentator has issued a lie, pointing out how many other times he or she has done so.  I see no reason why people who deliberately publish misleading information to be given a free pass when their falsehood is brought to light.

Until President Obama and the Democratic Party begin to aggressively counterattack the current tactics being used by the Republican Party and its right wing conservative (Tea Party) constituents the undecided moderate voters will continue to get a distorted and inaccurate picture of what has been accomplished and which party has the best chance of saving this country.

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By Ron Williams – citizen, contributor and patriot – 8-22-10

[Ron Williams is a retired attorney living in The Woodlands, TX and a welcome guest contributor to Social Mode]

There can be no question but that there are serious issues surrounding illegal immigration into the United States.  The most pressing concern revolves around illegal immigration from Mexico.  It is interesting to note however that most people, and most particularly right-wing Republican Tea Party, are reluctant to recognize that the real issue is that illegal immigration from Mexico, which means primarily Mexicans, which causes an uncertain relationship with American citizens with Hispanic heritage.  It should not create a problem to talk about an immigration problem involving Mexicans.  After all that is the border we share where most of the illegal immigrants are entering the United States.  It is sort of like talking about a race problem in the United States and not admitting that the primary group impacted by this issue is African-Americans.

It is thus, a double whammy to watch Republicans dance around the issue of Mexican illegal immigration, when that is the very issue with which they are concerned.  The first “whammy” involves a hypocritical failure to acknowledge that the primary target of their ire is directed at Mexicans.  The second “whammy”, which I will address in a moment, is the right wing Republican constant claim of their defense of the quote “original” constitution and the claim that liberals want to change it.

Returning to the topic of illegal immigration, it is not illegal immigration from Canada that the right wing is concerned about.  It is illegal immigration from Mexico. Arizona, for example, recently passed legislation allowing its police to stop anyone they believe is an illegal immigrant.  Once stopped, that person must provide evidence that they are a legal immigrant or a US citizen.  Arizona Republicans insist that this legislation is not deemed to target Hispanics.  But just who can we imagine the police are going to be stopping, blue-eyed blondes who look like they have snuck in the country from Denmark?  No, Hispanics.

It is hypocrisy of the right wing to assert otherwise.

Thus, I believe it is not hard to make the assertion that it is because the illegal immigrants are Mexicans that the issue has gained so much prominence.  I believe that the issue of race or “racism” is at the heart of the illegal immigration controversy today.  If we had Canadian citizens flooding into this country in numbers comparable to the current influx from Mexico, I really do not believe that there would be the same cries for fence building and citizenship-checking laws being made by the conservative right wing.

In fact, it is my position that the majority of Republicans know no bounds to their hypocrisy.  Many of the Tea Party group are now pushing for an amendment to the 14th Amendment so that babies born presumably to illegal Mexican immigrants will no longer be granted automatic United States citizenship.  As being proposed, the revised 14th Amendment would provide that in order to be deemed a US citizen; you must prove that you were born of parents who were US citizens.  I don’t know about you, but I might have a hard time proving that my mother was a US citizen because I might have a hard time proving that her mother was a US citizen and so forth.  How about how you?

In fact, what sort of documentation would you have to provide in order to prove that your parents were legal citizens at the time of your birth, or even their birth?  Again, I note that this was not a problem when immigrants entered the country from England, Italy, Ireland, or even Cuba.  It’s still not a problem for anyone sneaking in from Canada.  It’s those pesky Mexicans who are creating the problem.  But the Tea Party members are too hypocritical to say the truth.  And it is also a very short step to say that racism is the driving force behind the conservative right wing Tea Parties move.  They want to prevent those Mexicans from gaining US citizenship.  The fewer Mexican heritage voters created the better.

This is even more disappointing when we have to constantly listen to Tea Party members talk about their belief in the Inviolate Constitution and their speaking with utter dismay about how liberals constantly want to reinterpret the Constitution.  The right wing does not want to “reinterpret” the original document.  They just want to change the Constitution’s actual written the language to fit whatever they believe ought to be the current end result.  Again, this is the height of hypocrisy.  For example, we can see very clearly that the “conservative” judges appointed by Republicans to the Supreme Court have been busy reinterpreting long-held legal principles in a new way to fit their Conservative views.  One would have to call these judges “activists” despite Republican claims that they are just interpreting the Constitution in its “original” understanding.  Republicans now have the nerve to claim that the two President Obama appointments to the current Supreme Court are activist judges.  Hypocrisy in Its finest form.

I have a suggestion for my Right Wing Republican Tea Party counterparts.  If we are going to open up the Constitution and revisit the 14th Amendment, let me suggest that we take another look at the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution regarding the right of the people to bear arms.  There have been some questions as to whether this amendment applied to the state militia i.e. the National Guard, or to an individual’s right to keep a handgun or even an AK-47.  If you are going to start to change the Constitution to address current issues, let’s address the question of whether we should allow individuals to own all sorts of weapons.  After all, when the 2nd Amendment was drafted we didn’t have machine guns or 15-round hand guns or 50 caliber sniper weapons.  When the Constitution was written and the amendments added, we didn’t have the large-scale drug problems or the gang wars associated with guns.

Maybe it’s time we revisit the 2nd Amendment to address these gun issues.  Somehow I bet the strict construction right wing Republicans will not be so open to revisiting the 2nd Amendment with the idea of having individual gun use restricted.  But, why not?  If they believe it’s time to revisit one of the amendments, why not start to think about taking a look at revisiting some of the others.  What about the 1st Amendment and right to free speech?  See the problem?  I’m sure that those of you reading this can think of one or two of the other amendments you believe it might make sense to revisit today.

I, for one, do not believe it is necessary to revisit any of the amendments to the Constitution.  The Constitution is broad.  It welcomes new interpretations that encompass new issues.  What is so wise about the way so drafters wrote the Constitution and its amendments is that its guiding principles provide a roadmap for addressing modern problems.  What I recommend is that my right wing Republican Tea Party friends take a deep breath and give careful consideration to what they’re really asking when they began to recommend re-writing the Constitution and its original 14 Amendments.  I really believe we would be on any dangerous course should we begin to start rewriting this important and very wise document.  We can undo the very nature of this country.  And that would be a very sad thing to do.

Finally, we must come to the conclusion that the Tea Party conservatives in fact have little use for the “real” Constitution.  They will quote its virtues to you when it suits their needs, but it will push to change its very language wind that would suit their purpose.  I believe it is the height of hypocrisy.  No more than that, I believe it shows their immorality.  And such immorality is dangerous.  Therefore, we must fight against the Tea Party conservatives because if they were to have their way, the very fabric of this country will be destroyed.  And that is not something I would like to see happen.

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Happy 2010.  After several lengthy discussions over the holidays with my Mom I thought it might be interesting to generate an online Mother/Son debate to discuss the Big Issues in life.  Note: This post is the first time my mom will have heard of this idea but I suspect she’ll embrace this and start producing her viewpoints within 24 hours 😉

The Mother Son Debates will illuminate the differences in values, ideas, hopes and approaches to life between my mom and I.  Perhaps in putting these thoughts out there we might learn more about our respective generations, our social networks and the contexts of our own value formations.  We might also change some of our own view points in the process.  Oh, and yes, we’ll have a lot of fun!

Topics We’ll Debate:

  • Health Care Reform – why reform? who should pay? what’s the end result we want?
  • Free Will – do we have free will?
  • God – current concept of God? is there a God?
  • Education – what works? what doesn’t?
  • Designer Genetics – should we design our children?  redesign ourselves?
  • Technology Enhanced Human Biology – cyborgs? intelligence enhancers?
  • Determinism – is it all determined?
  • Global Warming – is it real? does it matter?
  • Human Rights – what are human rights?
  • Universal Truth – are there any universal truths?
  • Personal Responsibility – who’s responsible for everything?
  • War and Peace – is there a positive to war? is war necessary? is there an acceptable cost of war?
  • Generational Shifts – does every generation think the incoming generation has great challenges? eroding values? is not ready to take on the challenges? is the older generation a has been? old ideas? outdated? technophobic?

First topic will be Health Care Reform, as I know that will get my mom into the debate! 😉

The format is simple.  We’ll start with a one paragraph statement of our positions in one blog post.  The debate will happen via comments and follow on blog posts.  Everyone is free to join in the discussion.

Quoting old dead white guys is allowed but is greatly frowned upon.

About Donna Smith, My Mom:

Photo by Robin HollandDonna Smith is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Colorado College with a degree in history. Her journalism career includes work as a stringer for NEWSWEEK magazine. She has been honored by the Associated Press Managing Editors with 15 regional awards from 2004-2006 and by the Inland Press Association’s top honor in 2006 for community-based journalism. Since 2007, she has co-chaired the Progressive Democrats of America’s national “Healthcare Not Warfare” campaign, and she has so far spoken in 41 states and the District of Columbia about single-payer healthcare reform.

Donna continues an active writing and speaking career, and now blogs and writes op-ed pieces about the health care crisis. She also is the founder of American Patients United, a non-profit group educating citizens about health care reform on the national level. She also works as a national single-payer health care advocate and community organizer for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. Donna and Larry now live in Washington, DC, and they have six children and 14 grandchildren.

About Me

You can ready the far-less-impressive-for-the purposes-of-intellectual-debate background in the About Russell tab of this blog.

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In my early discussions and presentations regarding Wolfram|Alpha I often used Computational Journalism as the initial non-engineering use case.   Most folks weren’t quite sure what I meant initially by Computational Journalism until I explained how, as a toe in the water step, one could easily and automatically enhance articles and features with generated knowledge and visuals.   It seems I won’t need to explain in great depth the utility and inevitability of computational journalism because enough conference summaries, op-eds and journalists are starting to popularize the concept.

Here’s a great piece from PBS.

A new set of tools would help reporters find patterns in otherwise unstructured or unsearchable information. For instance, the Obama administration posted letters from dozens of interest groups providing advice on issues, but the letters were not searchable. A text-extraction tool would allow reporters to feed PDF documents into a Web service and return a version that could be indexed and searched. The software might also make it easy to tag documents with metadata such as people’s names, places and dates. Another idea is to improve automatic transcription software for audio and video files, often available (but not transcribed) for government meetings and many court hearings.

Wired UK goes a bit deeper into some specific companies and projects.

And here’s a nice presentation by Kurt Cagle that gives a good overview of some of the computational foundational technology out there.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that the vast majority of daily news will be completely machine generated and machine broadcast.  Journalists will be increasingly involved in bigger, deeper features and defining the computational logic to generate the news stream.

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It wasn’t real news the other day, but it is now.  Balloon Boy – a series of hoaxes.  First the original hoax, now the authorities “misleading” the media to “keep the trust” of the Heenes.  So now how do you go on to nail someone for lying and then use lies to trap them in their lies?

As I said the other day there are some serious issues with TV news and the real time web.  It’s clear that few folks stepped away from the situation to really consider what was going on.   It’s pretty easy to blame the Heenes.  BUT…. Media (broadcasters and consumers) created the Heenes.   So… how will we all approach these situations in the future?   Instead of news and real time web being a stiff wind to fan the flames, how can it turn into machinery to get at the facts/truth faster? Is it even possible to be REAL TIME and get to the facts?  (I don’t think so)

If new media doesn’t figure this out, which only happens when consumers demand it, we’ll see oddities like this becoming far less odd and it will get harder to decipher what’s a serious situation and what isn’t.

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