July 31, 2008

Another Earthquake Hits Southern California, Another Chance for Cable News Networks to Lose Their Minds

Maybe I'm jaded because I've just been through my second California earthquake in less than two years, but all I can think about is how the people who run the cable news networks once again proved what asses they are.

This time I knew right away that we were having an earthquake. My vertical blinds starting swaying violently, and it could not have been the wind, since my doors and windows were closed. I kneeled in the nearest doorway. That's probably the closest I'll get to the Catholic praying position (or any other praying position, for that matter). The earthquake was over in about 20 seconds, although my high-rise building kept swaying and creaking for about 15 seconds more. I'm told it's designed to do that.

I immediately got on the U.S. Geological Survey's website, and learned that the quake was centered in Chino Hills, not too far from me, and measured 5.4 on the Richter scale (initial estimates were at 5.6), which is considered moderate. Then I made the mistake of turning on the cable news networks to find out if there was any damage. There were no reports of damage or injuries, but that didn't stop the cable news networks from losing their minds, as usual.

The coverage of the quake was non-stop, even though (1) there were no reports of damage or injuries, and (2) there was other big news that day. In particular, Republican U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska had been indicted for corruption. The indictment of a U.S. Senator is a very big deal. We only have a hundred Senators. But the cable news networks could not cut away from their crucial earthquake coverage, which included aerial shots of an airport that the announcers could not even identify (it turned out to be Burbank), more aerial shots of kids outside of a school (even though it was mid-day and they could have been at recess), and interviews with inarticulate high school students about having to evacuate their building. Actually, the students were downright geniuses compared to the on-air cable newsreaders, who were babbling incoherently and speculating wildly.

Of course, the earthquake was newsworthy given the giant population center involved, but once again, the people in charge of the cable news networks proved that they have no sense of perspective. On the Internet, I could choose from stories about the earthquake, stories about Ted Stevens' indictment, business, foreign and other stories that were taking place at the time. One such story was that Japan had had a much larger earthquake, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, just a few days earlier. How much coverage did that quake merit on cable news? Or how about that Alaska had had an earthquake measuring 5.0 just the day before the California quake? How much did you hear about that quake on the cable news networks? Wouldn't it have been useful for us to know about the Alaska earthquake?

Is there anyone left who tunes into the cable news networks for real news?

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July 26, 2008

If Cats and Dogs Can Get Along, Can't We?

My friend Natasha sent me this photo of her newly acquired cat and dog sleeping next to each other on her sofa.

This photo gives me some hope for humanity. Aren't cats and dogs supposed to fight like, well, cats and dogs? Not these two. Perhaps it's because they were both rescued from a shelter, and, compared to what their life was like before, they have it pretty good now, lounging on their white leather Barcelona.

Of course, notice how it's the cat who is being more selfish, using the dog for a pillow rather than the other way around. Isn't that typical for a cat? What was it that George Orwell wrote? "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

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July 21, 2008

FCC Punishment of Janet Jackson's Boob Sags, Falls Flat

It was the Nip Heard Round the World. Almost everyone can picture the image of Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson's costume during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, revealing Jackson's jewelry-laden breast. The Janet Jackson incident, which even spawned a new phrase -- "wardrobe malfunction" -- caused George Bush's Federal Communications Commission to change long-standing policy and penalize broadcasters for "fleeting," unplanned utterances and portrayals of "indecency" during live broadcasts. Now another federal appeals court has told the FCC to "fu*k off."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit joined its sister court from the Second Circuit in ruling that the FCC went too far in penalizing CBS for the Janet Jackson incident, which led to a new FCC policy of sanctioning broadcasters for airing fleeting utterances of profanity during live awards programs. According to the court, the evidence showed that the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction incident was unscripted, unintentional, and was aired live, so that CBS could not have prevented it. Additionally, the court held that CBS was not responsible for the behavior of Jackson and Timberlake, who were acting as independent contractors. The court also noted that the supposed outpouring of complaints to the FCC after the Janet Jackson incident was in part a form letter-writing campaign instigated by political groups.

So now at least two regions of the country are not bound by the FCC's "fleeting utterance" punishment policy. Of course, the FCC could appeal the latest ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, given its current right-wing tilt, will probably order Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake to be tortured, er, "enhanced interrogated." But for now, at least, we have a bit more sanity when dealing with profanity.

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July 19, 2008

Euphemism of the Day, From London

This sobering article from Reuters catches Citigroup's Chairman predicting the housing downturn to last another two years. Then the article contains this paragraph:

Bischoff told the BBC that there would be redundancies at the bank, which
employs 12,000 people in Britain, and warned that some of them would be

Here is the BBC televised interview cited by the Reuters article. It's the BBC interviewer who uses the term "compulsory redundancies," to which Citigroup Chairman Win Bischoff agrees. Anyone wanna take a wild guess what that term means?

Those British, always making the worst things sound rawther pleasant, wouldn't you say?

Bischoff, on the other hand, is German, so who knows what indelicate, non-euphemistic description he may have given had he not been fed the phrase from the BBC reporter?

(photo from prankplace.com)


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July 16, 2008

The Shock Doctrine in Paperback

You know that queasy feeling you get each time a crisis occurs? 9/11? The Iraq War? Hurricane Katrina? The explosion in oil and food prices? Well, guess what? Big companies like to capitalize on your distress by receiving fat government contracts and privatizing government functions from running schools to running wars and national security. That may not be surprising, but it's the government's job to put the nation's interest over corporate interests, right? Not so in the Bush Administration, which has eagerly used the shock of various crises to invade and occupy countries and to hand over no-bid contracts, public functions, and unprecedented power to their corporate cronies, the public interest be damned.

This "disaster capitalism" is the subject of Naomi Klein's 2007 book "The Shock Doctrine." Klein's book is now available in paperback. Klein held an interesting online discussion today at the Crooks and Liars blog. As Klein points out, the attempt by oil companies, President Bush, and the Republicans to use high oil prices to push for more offshore oil drilling leases is a classic Shock Doctrine tactic. So is the attempt by the multinational oil companies, through no-bid contracts, to grab control of 75% of Iraq's oil output now and into the distant future.

If you want to know whether "The Shock Doctrine" will be of interest to you, some fascinating interviews with Naomi Klein regarding her book can be found here with Bill Maher, here with Keith Olbermann, and, if you want a really in-depth discussion, here with Amy Goodman. I promise that you will not view another crisis in the same way again.

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July 08, 2008

Big Money Flocks to Renewable Energy

CNN.com reports today that billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens is backing renewable energy sources such as wind power. Pickens said that "[o]ur dependence on imported oil is killing our economy. It is the single biggest problem facing America today." Pickens went on to state: "Wind power is . . . clean, it's renewable. It's everything you want. And it's a stable supply of energy. . . . It's unbelievable that we have not done more with wind."

According to the CNN report, "Pickens' company, Mesa Power, recently announced a $2 billion investment as the first step in a multibillion-dollar plan to build the world's largest wind farm in Pampa, Texas." The Pickens Plan also calls for increased use of natural gas to replace oil as an energy source.

I have been saying for some time that there's green in green, that there are vast fortunes to be made by those who invest in the renewable energy sources of the future, whether they be wind power, solar power, or a combination of several sources. And when T. Boone Pickens, an oil billionaire from Texas and one of the world's richest, best known, savviest investors, bets billions of dollars of his own money on a renewable energy future, then I know that the future just got a bit brighter.

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July 06, 2008

Racist Sambo's Restaurant Still Exists?!

During a recent meetup with fellow local bloggers, I learned that there's still a Sambo's restaurant in Santa Barbara, California. That really threw me for a loop around the tree.

Many of us vaguely remember the story of Little Black Sambo. The version I remember was: Black kid chases tiger around tree, tiger turns into pancake batter, kid eats pancakes. Then I recall hearing that the Sambo story turned into a racial flashpoint, and the name "Sambo" was subsequently banned from the vernacular and, especially, from an eponymous restaurant chain.

That's close, but not quite accurate. First, "Little Black Sambo," published in 1899, was written by a Scottish woman living in India, and the Sambo of the story is Indian, not Black (as in African or African-American). Second, according to Wikipedia, "[t]he little boy has to give his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. Sambo recovers the clothes when the jealous, conceited tigers chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of delicious melted butter." Then I think the pancakes part was accurate. The story is an allegory about pride or something.

Somewhere along the way, the term "Sambo" became a racial slur. Then, in the late 1950s, Sam Battistone and Newell Bohnett started a restaurant chain, and thought they would be clever by combining their names to call it Sambo's. Then they decided to be even more clever by using the themes and characters of the book to decorate their restaurants.

With the help of public pressure and even some lawsuits, the owners of Sambo's restaurants or their heirs eventually got a clue and changed the name. Many of the restaurants became "Sam's." This is similar to the whitewashing of the "Coon Chicken" corporate name that is uncovered in the movie "Ghost World," and which, until now, I (and most people who have seen "Ghost World," I'm sure) thought was purely fictitious.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was told that the original Sambo's restaurant, in Santa Barbara, California, is still called Sambo's! Just as bizarre is the restaurant's continued use of the Sambo and tiger characters from the book. Note, however, that in the logo that pops up when you view the Sambo's restaurant website, Sambo's skin has been lightened.

So I guess a few things have evolved since 1899. Racism has diminished in the United States to the point where some restaurants have to change their names. Men who are half African and half White win the Presidential nomination of a major political party. Stories of dark-skinned boys take on or are recognized as having racist overtones, and are no longer acceptable. But apparently, we get to keep some reminders of our racist past, as long as those reminders are, literally, toned down.

Photo from veganmomma.com

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