<$BlogRSDURL$>

God tells me to copy and paste, so you can't stop me. -- Kate

"You know, I could run for governor, but I'm basically a media creation. I've never done anything. I've worked for my dad. I worked in the oil business ..." -- G.W. Bush

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use. -- Galileo Galilei

Friday, July 30, 2004

 From Krugman, a few words on electronic voting in Florida.  
P.S.: Another story you may not see on TV: Jeb Bush insists that electronic voting machines are perfectly reliable, but The St. Petersburg Times says the Republican Party of Florida has sent out a flier urging supporters to use absentee ballots because the machines lack a paper trail and cannot "verify your vote."

And we’re supposed to trust politicians to do what’s right.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Michael Moore puts out a movie that jars people into thinking about politics and might possibly be considered the turning point of the whole election year and this is what passes for an interview with MM on CNN.

American Morning transcript from 26 July 2004


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FAHRENHEIT 9/11")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had some airplanes authorized at the highest levels of our government to pick up Osama bin Laden's family members and transport them out of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP, "FAHRENHEIT 9/11")

HEMMER: That is a clip from the movie by the filmmaker Michael Moore, "Fahrenheit 9/11." Over the weekend, it went over $100 million at the box office, which is astounding for a documentary.

All this coming, though, on the heels, just days after the 9/11 Commission put out its report and contradicted one of the central themes and one of the points that was made in that film about Osama bin Laden's family living and working here in the U.S. and how they were given transportation out of the country. Who better to ask about all this than the filmmaker himself, Michael Moore, our guest now here in Boston on the floor of the FleetCenter.

Good morning to you.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: Good morning, Bill. How are you doing?

HEMMER: Who are you going to vote -- I'm fine, thank you. Who do you vote for on November 2?

MOORE: Well, you don't vote for George W. Bush, that's for sure.

HEMMER: Do you vote for John Kerry or do you vote for Ralph Nader?

MOORE: Well, you don't vote for Ralph Nader either. What was my last choice?

(LAUGHTER)

HEMMER: What explains why your film has made $100 million?

MOORE: I think it's because the American people, for the last four years, feel like they haven't been told the whole truth. And both from the White House and the media not doing its job, especially with this war, and the early days before the war, and when the war started. Too much of the media was a cheerleader instead of doing the real job of asking the hard questions, demanding the evidence. And so people have come to this movie to -- to see the things that they haven't seen in much of the mainstream media.

HEMMER: And in that movie -- you heard in my lead in to you about the 9/11 report. Have you seen that report, 600 pages in length?

MOORE: Yes. Yes.

HEMMER: Have you read the whole thing?

MOORE: No, I have not.

HEMMER: Well, you have the executive summary, a couple of the other pages, I'm certain.

MOORE: Right. I have the CliffsNotes.

HEMMER: In the book itself, it contradicts one of the themes...

MOORE: Yes.

HEMMER: ... that you make in your film about the Osama bin Laden family essentially given special treatment out of the country.

MOORE: Right.

HEMMER: And the implication in the film is that the White House directed that.

MOORE: Yes.

HEMMER: Your reaction of them saying that simply was not the case?

MOORE: Yes. Well, I disagree with the commission. I think there's a lot of evidence to show that they were given special treatment.

They were moved to the front of the line. Just the story in "The Washington Post" on Thursday that -- that said that the actual plane that was used to fly the bin Ladens out of the country was the same plane the White House uses to fly you guys around in the White House Press Corps.

There are so many things that have not -- Senator Lautenberg, Senator Dorgan, as you showed there in the clip, there's still a lot of unanswered questions. And I think that -- I hope further investigations will -- will bring this out.

HEMMER: Allow me to go back to the report. This they say specifically...

MOORE: Yes.

HEMMER: ... on the screen for our viewers. "The commission concludes there is no evidence of political intervention in any of the nine chartered flights that left between September 14 and September 24. They also say the bin Laden family left September 20th after the civilian flight ban was lifted. Commercial airliners were flying again on that day.

Twenty-two of 26 people interviewed. That's more they say than would have been interviewed had they all left separately on commercial flights. Take that.

MOORE: And then again, "The Washington Post," doing a great job, points out that one of the bin Ladens that left was the roommate of Osama's nephew who was one of the founders of WAMY, whose offices were raided last month. They're considered a potential terrorist organization. And yet -- and yet here's the roommate of the person who was the founder of this on that flight.

There are still many, many unanswered questions. And of the 142, or now they say 160 Saudis, as you said, only, what, 20-some were...

HEMMER: Twenty-two of 26.

MOORE: Out of the bin Ladens. But then there's 142 members of the Saudi royal family who were allowed to leave without being interviewed. And the report says that.

I think that's wrong. If -- listen, if 15 of the 19 hijackers had been from North Korea, do you think we just would have let 142 North Koreans leave the country as soon as the air space opened up? I don't think so

HEMMER: Let's move away from that. I've heard people say Michael Moore is the greatest living American.

MOORE: Oh, who are those people? HEMMER: I've heard people say they wish Michael Moore were dead.

MOORE: Oh, well. Jeez, who would say that?

HEMMER: How do you take in the reaction that you are getting? And there is no one who is neutral after they see your film.

MOORE: Well, there's a -- there's that minority of Republicans and right-wingers who are upset, because they know their days of numbered. I'd be upset, too, if I were them. You know, they've only got a few more months left in charge. And so they're all running around, all saying crazy things like that.

HEMMER: The DNC did not invite you here, is that right?

MOORE: The Congressional Black Caucus invited me here, yes. Yes.

HEMMER: Enjoy your week.

MOORE: Those black congressmen, you know.

HEMMER: Thanks for your time. Michael Moore, the filmmaker from "Fahrenheit 9/11."

MOORE: Right. Thank you very much.

HEMMER: All right.

Back to Heidi now in New York.

COLLINS: Thanks, Bill.

Still to come, more from Boston, including a look at the latest or Teresa Heinz Kerry. She gave a speech on dignified politics over the weekend, then said something that might have been at odds with that.

Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)


Michael Moore sometimes gets on my nerves. There just seems to be times that he goes for the jugular/kill when a kick in the shins/groin will do.

The above interview is kind of sad. I just got the feeling that Hemmer was trying to sucker punch Moore. That’s not an interview, it’s just plain bias or maybe he was looking for the interview to be entertainment. I don’t know what Hemmer was trying to do but it didn’t work.

Hemmer tried to trip Moore up on the special treatment of the Saudis and it didn’t work. Seemed like Hemmer was trying to put Moore on the defensive with the people love you/hate you statements; it didn’t work. I guess Moore was supposed to act hurt when it was brought up that he wasn’t invited by the DNC. A decent interviewer would have asked about the Congressional Black Caucus and Moore’s connection. Hemmer could have asked Moore if he was doing any filming of the Convention. That’s my opinion.


 
I was liking Canadians until I read Poll: over 40% of Canadian teens think America is "evil" and Anti-Americanism spoonfed to Canadian grade school kids and now I’m not so sure of how I feel. 

If Carolyn Parrish, a Liberal MP who stated publicly "I hate those American bastards" had said that about the Bush Administration or a political group I could understand it but to say it about Americans in general shows very little thought or knowledge of her subject.


The Liberal government came into power in 1993 gushing anti-Americanism. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s communications director, Francoise Ducros, made headlines when she referred to President Bush as a moron. Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish was picked up on a boom microphone saying, "Damn Americans — I hate those bastards". Not only did Parrish not apologize for her remarks, but she later appeared on a television show hosted by alleged comedian Mike Bullard and laughed about the incident. Parrish played to the anti-Americanism of the youthful studio audience by saying that she couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t do it again.

Not only did then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien not take any action against his staff or caucus members, he himself engaged in America-bashing. The depth of his anti-Americanism surfaced shortly after the 9/11 attacks when he blamed the arrogance and greed of the West (read the United States) for those attacks.  

It’s kind of handy that they ignore that they are part of the “West.”  Canada has your basic politicians though, they can’t say something good about their own so they rely on talking trash about others.

The left wing Canadian political parties, aided by their supporters in the elite media don’t seem to be able to say anything positive about Canada without denigrating the United States in the process.

Damn Politicians — I hate those bastards! 
It’s not just overreaction or Yankee imagination. Anti-Americanism is not only alive and well, it’s spoon fed in Canada.

And it stems from a taxpayer paid source: the classroom.

The Three `Rs, Canada style, have been teaching school children as young as grade school an image of Americans as dishonourable, churlish and even bullying. This less than admirable image emerges in a study, presented this week to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, hosted by the University of Manitoba.

 So basically they are taught like Saudi school children, to hate Americans without any true information.  This is another one of those countries who don’t think much of Americans because they say Americans in general don’t know much about other countries.  Yeesh!
 
Bad Housing as the American way is documented in a chapter of its own because of the supposed role it plays in the development of crime.

America’s children are portrayed as being brought up in "filthy tenements, driven out upon the streets to play in `gangs’," according to a 1934 textbook that was prevalent in Canadian classrooms of the day.

- - - - - - - - -
Not only did Canada refuse to join the U.S. and allies in the Iraq war; its government has been openly critical of the U.S. and its allies in Iraq.

 I guess their journalists just research when they feel like it, missing the fact that a large portion of Americans were against the war too. 
 
With U.S. troops heading for the Persian Gulf, Americans say in overwhelming numbers that they oppose unilateral U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, according to a national Knight Ridder poll.

A robust majority of Americans - 83 percent - would support going to war if the United Nations backed the action and it was carried out by a multinational coalition. But without U.N. approval and allies, only about a third of the public would support a war with Iraq. [empasis added]
. . .

Many survey respondents said President Bush had not effectively explained why military action might be required. Nearly 1 in 5 said they still did not believe that Iraq posed a serious threat to the United States. [empasis added] 

 Oh yeah and how convenient.
Meanwhile, while anti-Americanism flourishes in America’s next door neighbour, the U.S. is Canada’s number one trading partner and because of Canada’s marginalized Armed Forces, its chief protector.

 Sounds like the Saudis again.  We hate you and we’ll teach our children to hate you but you have goods we want and we want your money, so much for ethics, so deal with it. 

I thought Big Brother was alive and well in America and it is but it’s also very much alive in other countries and it doesn’t look like they even notice.

- - - - - - - - -

Here’s some more current poll information: War On Terrorism poll.

Friday, July 23, 2004

 I read Jane Healy’s book, Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Mind, years ago.  It’s an excellent book, all parents should have to read it and understand it.

Parents, experts rethink tech for tots
Computer use at young age may not be such a good idea, some warn
NEW YORK - Amanda Cunningham started her daughter on computers at 2 1/2 with "Reader Rabbit" software and Web sites like Sesame Street. Like any parent, she was proud Madeline could master the mouse so young.

But Cunningham soon realized Madeline, now 4, wasn't really learning anything. She just kept clicking, dragging and playing the same games over and over. Now, she's in no rush to get her 1-year-old son, Liam, on computers or the Internet.

"I just don't see an advantage (to) starting early," said Cunningham, a former teacher who now creates reading software for elementary schools.
. . .

“Mental ability is gained from manipulating the three-dimensional world at that age and (from) managing your own mind and not having it managed by an electronic machine," said Jane M. Healy, author of "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Mind."

Healy said computers take children away from other developmental activities more appropriate for their brains and can "easily become a habit for both parent and child."
. . .

David Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University, is concerned that kids are overdeveloping visual senses at the expense of touch or sound. "Children miss out on all these basic learning experiences if they are so attuned to the virtual world," he said.

Yet some researchers as well as developers of the Web sites and software aimed at young kids see nothing wrong with exposing children to technology early -- as long as it's done in moderation.
. . .


That’s funny, moderation.  And what exactly is moderation?  How do parents know?  And how does a parent who needs a break walk away from a free babysitter?


Healy recommends kids stay off computers until age 7. Others suggest 3 is OK to start. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time before 2, worried youngsters may get discouraged if they talk to a computer monitor and get no response.

How’s that for guidance?  I’ve read Healy’s book and I’d go with her recommendation, no sooner than 7-years old.  She has a lot of info to back up her recommendation and anyway, when it comes to a brain, I think better safe than sorry.  It’s really hard to fix thinking and social skills once they are messed up.

Parents need to think about how they grew up.  Did they turn out so bad that they really think that computers will make their kids lives so much better when the kids are 2 years old or younger?

One of the intersting things that I remember from the book is about the answers Ms. Healy received when she asked college professors what new students needed to know about computers and how long they thought it would take a college age student to learn it.  They said new students need to know about word processing so they can type a formatted paper and maybe a little bit about spreadsheets.  The professors figured it would take anywhere from a couple of days to a month for kids to learn this, not even an entire semester of classes. 

Does having a computer at a young age help the kid learn these any faster or better?  Does a kid need to know how to format a paper at the age of 2?

Another story from Failure to Connect was of a 5 or 6 year-old who knew all kinds of information about dinosaurs that he learned from the internet and games.  He had been using a computer for years.  He couldn’t socialize though with anyone except to talk about dinosaurs.  He really couldn’t talk about anything else.  He didn’t know how to just be a kid and play with other kids.  His computer was his friend.  If the children really are our future then they need better friends than a computer.

 
Iraq kitty saved by soldiers.

Pfc. Hammer is an Iraqi tabby cat the unit adopted after he was born last fall at a base in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

When Bousfield found out his unit was leaving Iraq in March, he decided he couldn't leave a member of his team behind.

"He has been through mortar attacks," said Bousfield, a 19-year Army veteran. "He'd jump and get scared liked the rest of us. He is kind of like one of our own."

Pfc. Hammer got his name from the unit that adopted him, Team Hammer. Soldiers would tuck Hammer in their body armor during artillery attacks, and in return, Hammer chased mice in the mess hall.

"He was a stress therapist," Bousfield said. "The guys would come back in tired and stressed. Hammer would come back and bug the heck out of you. He wiped away some worries."

The kitten earned his rank after nabbing five mice.

When Bousfield learned his unit was going, he sent an e-mail to Alley Cat Allies, a national clearinghouse of information on stray cats, asking for help bringing Hammer along.

Alley Cat Allies raised $2,500 for Hammer's shots, sterilization, paperwork and a plane ride to the United States.

Hammer left Iraq with his unit in March, then flew from Kuwait to San Francisco in cargo-class. He traveled first class with an Alley Cat Allies volunteer to Denver.

Bousfield met the kitten at the airport.

 
To sun or not to sun, that is the question.  Whether tis nobler to sit in the shade (with sunscreen) and thereby avoid future damage and skin cancer or to bake and feel good now.

Frequent tanners may be lured by the 'feel-good' effects of UV light
07 Jul 2004
Frequent tanning bed users may be getting more out of the experience than darker skin. Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center say exposure to ultraviolet light may produce a "relaxing" effect that lures tanners back to the beds.

"We believe that ultraviolet light has an effect on mood that tanners value," said Steven Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., lead researcher. "This may be creating a reinforcing effect that influences tanning behavior."

The research – involving 14 young adults who regularly used tanning beds –is reported in the July issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which is now available on-line. For six weeks, study participants had tanning sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays in two identical-looking tanning beds. They spend half of each session in one bed and half in the other. There was a key difference in the beds, however – only one used ultraviolet light (UV).

UV light occurs naturally in sunlight and is responsible for the tanning and burning effects of the sun. Artificial UV light is used in tanning beds and sunlamps.

Mood was measured before and after each tanning exposure. The results revealed greater relaxation and lower tension after UV exposure compared to non-UV exposure. The researchers theorize that UV exposure leads to the release of chemicals in the brain called endorphins that are linked to both pain relief and euphoric feelings.

"A more relaxed and less tense mood was reported after UV exposure compared to after non-UV exposure," said Feldman. "We believe these relaxing and reinforcing effects contribute to tanning behavior and may help explain why people choose to tan despite the risks."

During the six-week study, participants had the option of additional tanning on Fridays in either of the beds. Twelve of the subjects chose additional tanning – and for 95 percent of the sessions they chose the UV bed.

"There are probably many factors that influence the choice to tan frequently," said Feldman, a professor of dermatology. "But we found that when subjects are offered tanning beds that differ only in the presence or absence of UV light, they choose the bed with UV light. Moreover, the choice of UV is associated with a sense of greater relaxation."

Feldman said the finding is significant because, like other risky behaviors, it is important to understand why frequent tanners choose the activity. Exposure to UV through tanning has been shown to damage the genetic information in cells and is linked to the development of skin cancer. Despite this, there was a 300 percent increase in the number of indoor tanners in the United States between 1986 and 1996.

Most research into the motives for excessive tanning has focused on effects such as appearance. However, there is some previous evidence supporting a relaxation effect. Laboratory studies have shown a release of endorphins in response to ultraviolet light exposure. And, a survey of college students showed that relaxation was one of the most common reasons identified for tanning.

"Since we didn't measure endorphins, we don't know for sure that these substances are responsible for the phenomenon," said Feldman. "But, our findings suggest a course for future research into why people use tanning beds and the mechanism of mood changes associated with tanning."

The research was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.

Monday, July 19, 2004

 
The free market at its finest.

No Wonder C.E.O.'s Love Those Mergers
SHAREHOLDERS like it when their companies are acquired, because their stocks rise in value. Chief executives like it, too, because their severance agreements kick in. And that means they can become truly, titanically, stupefyingly rich.
 
Wallace R. Barr, the chief executive of Caesars Entertainment, is the latest to line up for his barrel of bucks. Last week, Harrah's announced it would acquire Caesars for $5.2 billion. Thanks to accelerated vesting of options and stock awards, Mr. Barr stands to receive almost $20 million under so-called change-of-control provisions in his contract. And if Mr. Barr resigns from Caesars "for good reason," the contract says, he is entitled to an additional $6.6 million after the two companies merge.
. . .
Then there was Wachovia's proposed acquisition of the SouthTrust Corporation last month. Equilar Inc., a compensation analysis firm in San Mateo, Calif., said the terms of the deal would give Wallace D. Malone Jr., the chief executive of SouthTrust. $59 million in termination awards, stock awards and options over the next five years if he leaves the bank. He also appears to be entitled to an annual pension of about $3.8 million.
. . .
Of course, one downside to these enormous payments is that they generate stunning tax bills for executives. Good thing their contracts almost always require the companies to pay. And how!
 
The so-called excise tax gross-up provisions can be so colossal that, according to one pay expert, a major merger was scuttled because the cost to cover executives' tax bills exceeded $100 million.
. . .
While chief executives receive the biggest pile of money and perks, other managers also find their way to the trough, pay experts say. The numbers become really crazy when, as is often the case, the exit agreements of both companies' executives become effective in a merger.
 
As a result, said Michael S. Kesner, principal in charge of the executive compensation practice at Deloitte Consulting, it is not uncommon for payouts to management to reach 8 percent of a merger's total cost.
 
Even absent a merger, a company's contractual obligations to its executives are huge. It is an outrage that these obligations - including deferred compensation and supplemental retirement plans - and their amounts, are not disclosed annually, in plain and comprehensible terms.
. . .
"Disclosure definitely needs to be improved and compensation committees need to know what the totals are," Mr. Kesner said. "That would make a huge difference."
. . .
"Once those numbers are put together in one place it's going to open a lot of eyes," Mr. Brill said. "That, combined with the fear of personal exposure, will cause some people to make some very significant changes in compensation."
 
Which is one of the things the world needs now. 

The workers who actually do the work, support the company, make it look good in the public eye and to a potential buyer never see a penny and still run the risk of losing their job.  Their severence package might leave them with maybe 6-months pay, if they’re lucky.   They also lose health insurance, probably lose any pension money and definitely don't get a free office and secretary to help them find a new job.

 
I sure hope that Nick is right. 
People have the right to believe in a racist God, or a God who throws millions of nonevangelicals into hell. I don't think we should ban books that say that. But we should be embarrassed when our best-selling books gleefully celebrate religious intolerance and violence against infidels.

That's not what America stands for, and I doubt that it's what God stands for.  

Jesus and Jihad
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 
Here’s the whole editorial.
If the latest in the "Left Behind" series of evangelical thrillers is to be believed, Jesus will return to Earth, gather non-Christians to his left and toss them into everlasting fire:
"Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again."
 
These are the best-selling novels for adults in the United States, and they have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. The latest is "Glorious Appearing," which has Jesus returning to Earth to wipe all non-Christians from the planet. It's disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.
 
If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of "Glorious Appearing" and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit. We have quite properly linked the fundamentalist religious tracts of Islam with the intolerance they nurture, and it's time to remove the motes from our own eyes.
In "Glorious Appearing," Jesus merely speaks and the bodies of the enemy are ripped open. Christians have to drive carefully to avoid "hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses."
 
"The riders not thrown," the novel continues, "leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated. . . . Seconds later the same plague afflicted the horses, their flesh and eyes and tongues melting away, leaving grotesque skeletons standing, before they, too, rattled to the pavement."
 
One might have thought that Jesus would be more of an animal lover.
 
These scenes also raise an eschatological problem: Could devout fundamentalists really enjoy paradise as their friends, relatives and neighbors were heaved into hell?
 
As my Times colleague David Kirkpatrick noted in an article, this portrayal of a bloody Second Coming reflects a shift in American portrayals of Jesus, from a gentle Mister Rogers figure to a martial messiah presiding over a sea of blood. Militant Christianity rises to confront Militant Islam.
 
This matters in the real world, in the same way that fundamentalist Islamic tracts in Saudi Arabia do. Each form of fundamentalism creates a stark moral division between decent, pious types like oneself — and infidels headed for hell.
 
No, I don't think the readers of "Glorious Appearing" will ram planes into buildings. But we did imprison thousands of Muslims here and abroad after 9/11, and ordinary Americans joined in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in part because of a lack of empathy for the prisoners. It's harder to feel empathy for such people if we regard them as infidels and expect Jesus to dissolve their tongues and eyes any day now.
 
I had reservations about writing this column because I don't want to mock anyone's religious beliefs, and millions of Americans think "Glorious Appearing" describes God's will. Yet ultimately I think it's a mistake to treat religion as a taboo, either in this country or in Saudi Arabia.
 
I often write about religion precisely because faith has a vast impact on society. Since I've praised the work that evangelicals do in the third world (Christian aid groups are being particularly helpful in Sudan, at a time when most of the world has done nothing about the genocide there), I also feel a responsibility to protest intolerance at home.
 
Should we really give intolerance a pass if it is rooted in religious faith?
 
Many American Christians once read the Bible to mean that African-Americans were cursed as descendants of Noah's son Ham, and were intended by God to be enslaved. In the 19th century, millions of Americans sincerely accepted this Biblical justification for slavery as God's word — but surely it would have been wrong to defer to such racist nonsense simply because speaking out could have been perceived as denigrating some people's religious faith.
 
People have the right to believe in a racist God, or a God who throws millions of nonevangelicals into hell. I don't think we should ban books that say that. But we should be embarrassed when our best-selling books gleefully celebrate religious intolerance and violence against infidels.
 
That's not what America stands for, and I doubt that it's what God stands for.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

And they certainly don’t want a simple straight-forward rating system that applies to a variety of media and that parents can quickly make sense of.

Movie producers fight for the lowest rating they can receive so more people, especially teenagers with the most time and disposable cash, will be able to get into their movie. As long as they keep things confusing they have a chance to get the lower more coveted rating and more money.


Study Finds Film Ratings Are Growing More Lenient
LOS ANGELES, July 13 — A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that a decade of "ratings creep" has allowed more violent and sexually explicit content into films, suggesting that movie raters have grown more lenient in their standards.

The study criticized the ratings system, which is run by the Motion Picture Association of America, for confusing and murky descriptions of movie content and called for a standardized universal rating system that would be used across all entertainment media.

The study, which was issued on Tuesday, quantified what children's advocates and critics of the ratings system have said anecdotally for years: that a movie rated PG or PG-13 today has more sexual or violent content than a similarly rated movie in the past.

"The M.P.A.A. appears to tolerate increasingly more extreme content in any given age-based rating category over time," the study said. "Movies with the same rating can differ significantly in the amount and type of potentially objectional content. Age-based ratings alone do not provide good information about the depiction of violence, sex, profanity and other content."

Rich Taylor, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association, the studios' trade association, said he had not had a chance to examine the study.

But he and others pointed out that the standards for judging acceptable depictions of sex and violence in American society were constantly changing, and that it would not be surprising if that changed for movie ratings as well.

The study of 1,906 feature films between 1992 and 2003 found more violence and sex in PG movies ("Parental guidance suggested") and more of those elements and profanity in PG-13 movies ("Parents strongly cautioned"). It also found more sex and profanity in R-rated movies ("Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian") than a decade ago.

"When you look at the average, today's PG-13 movies are approaching what the R movies looked like in 1992," said Kimberly Thompson, associate professor of risk analysis and decision science at Harvard's School of Public Health, who was a co-author of the study. "Today's PG is approaching what PG-13 looked like a decade ago."

Ms. Thompson and her fellow researcher, Fumie Yokota, looked at a combination of data, relying on descriptions for each film provided by the association's ratings board and by two independent groups that rate the movies, Kids-In-Mind and Screen It!

They found significantly more violence in G-rated animated films compared with nonanimated films and concluded that "physicians should discuss media consumption with parents of young children."

The researchers created a scale for judging the content of each movie, with films that had more sex and violence getting higher scores. In comparing the content of varying movies with similar ratings, they found a clear upward slope of scores over time.

For example, Disney's 1994 movie "The Santa Clause" was rated PG, while the 2002 sequel, "The Santa Clause 2," which had comparable content, was rated G.

Similarly, the relatively gentle "Forrest Gump," starring Tom Hanks as a slow-witted Vietnam veteran who becomes part of the major events of the 1960's and 70's, was in the upper end of content for a PG-13 movie in 1994. In 2002 the harder-edged "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise as a cop in a terrifying futuristic world, represented an upper-end PG-13 film.

In 2003 the hit thriller "Pirates of the Caribbean" which featured looming skeletons, and showed people being stabbed, shot and thrown overboard, was on the low end of content for getting a PG-13 rating. Had the film been released in 1992, its content would have been classified as at the upper end of PG-13, the study found.

It also found that 95 percent of the films studied depicted the use of substances like cigarettes, alcohol or drugs in some manner, and that the rating system did not consistently account for this. Additionally, the study noted that the association's ratings were often confusing, using different terms from movie to movie that made it hard to judge a film's content.

"When the rating says `action violence,' is that less intense than just `violence?' " Ms. Thompson asked. "What's the difference between sensuality and sexuality? They're in the ratings, but they don't have clear criteria for it."

She said there was a need not only for more clarity in the system, but also for it to apply to all entertainment media. "We're seeing this media convergence issue," she said. "It's the same people, the same studios making video games and movies and Web sites. It would simplify things for everyone."

Mr. Taylor, the association spokesman, said such a system would be impossible. "A single body can't rate everything that comes through the pipeline," he said. "It's logistically unfeasible. With the volume of hours of TV and cable and film and games and music, it becomes a mathematical impossibility."

"physicians should discuss media consumption with parents of young children."

Now that’s just funny. Doctors barely have time to talk about physical health concerns and answer questions related to that. These people think doctors are going to find time to chat about movies and TV and what a patient’s kid should see. LOL

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Bush goes to work with the whitewash
By DOUG BANDOW
WASHINGTON -- Former U.S. President Bill Clinton's commitment to doing the popular thing politically was legendary. He has met his match, however. If anything, President George W. Bush is even more devoted to turning everything to his political advantage.

The day after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared in the dock in Baghdad, a story appeared in The Washington Times headlined "Bush Backers See Trial Taking Focus Off WMDs (weapons of mass destruction)." White House spokesman Scott McClellan and Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman both publicly pointed to Hussein's brutality. One unnamed source told the newspaper: "Put aside the WMDs, and go look at the mass graves."

The Bush administration's strategy is clear: After taking the United States into war-based on a lie, get Americans to forget the lie. Playing the humanitarian card just won't do. The administration was blissfully unconcerned about mass graves before 9/11. There were no plans to oust Hussein and end his tyranny even as his security forces continued to arrest, torture, and murder people.

Moreover, after preparing for war, Bush offered to call off the attack if Hussein went into exile. Hauling Hussein into court and creating Western-style democracy were dispensable objectives.

The supposedly charity-minded administration has done nothing about millions of dead in Congo, starvation and civil war in Sudan, and ongoing Russian brutality in Chechnya, to name just a few humanitarian catastrophes around the globe.

Washington left war-torn Liberia to the Africans. The administration has proposed no military remedy for ousting the Myanmar junta and has reopened relations with oppressive Libya. North Korea's Kim Jong Il continues to kill in peace while Washington negotiates possible aid packages.

In fact, humanitarianism was but a throwaway line as assorted administration officials made their case for war with Iraq. Bush called Hussein's human-rights abuses troubling, but said he doubted that they constituted a cause for war.

In an interview last year, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz admitted that the internal consensus was that humanitarian concerns did not warrant risking American lives in battle. Since there were sharp administration divisions over the existence of operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Wolfowitz observed, only fear of presumed Iraqi possession of WMD unified the administration. So, he explained, it served as the centerpiece of the administration's case, for both domestic and foreign audiences.

Indeed, the administration went all out to scare the American people -- and allied governments -- into its corner. For instance, before the war, Bush said "the threat from Iraq stands alone," since that nation's "weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant." He visualized "mushroom clouds" when talking to the American people.

Said Secretary of State Colin Powell, "Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters" of anthrax and had accounted for none of it. Added Powell: "Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard [gas], 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of "large, unaccounted-for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons -- including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas; anthrax, botulism, and possibly smallpox."

Bush claimed that "we found biological laboratories." Powell pointed to unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that "are well suited for dispensing chemical and biological weapons." In fact, the administration charged that UAVs could hit American cities. Alas, all of these claims have proved to be false.

Of course, maybe someone will eventually find something, as Hussein seemed to preserve program elements in the hopes of a future revival. But that isn't the same thing. Said David Kay, who ran America's Iraq Survey Group: "It clearly does not look like a massive, resurgent program, based on what we discovered."

So now administration officials hope that American voters will simply forget. And the president's supporters think the trial of Hussein will help promote mass amnesia.

In fact, the administration seems to be positioning itself to manipulate coverage of the trial. At Hussein's hearing, U.S. officials ordered pool reporters to disconnect their audio equipment when the former dictator was speaking.

All-too-aware of how former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic won sympathy in Serbia by challenging his foreign accusers, perhaps Bush's aides plan to mute as much of Hussein as possible. After all, administration supporters are committed to making political mileage out of the trial.

Hussein was a cruel dictator, a thug who deserves to be tried and punished. But that does not make him unique. Nor does it justify the U.S. and its allies going to war. The American people must hold the Bush administration accountable for taking the country into war on a lie.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of "Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World."
The Japan Times: July 12, 2004

The people who really need to pay attention to this article are the ones who later will say they read it over breakfast while jogging but if asked won’t be able to tell you what it was about.

Driving? Maybe You Shouldn't Be Reading This
Am I the only person who still prefers doing things one at a time?

My fellow New Yorkers have raised multitasking to an art form. People talk on their cellphones while jogging, do their homework on the subway, listen to books on tape while walking, put on makeup in the back seat of the taxicab and - always, everywhere, constantly - talk on their cellphones while they're busy doing something else.

This isn't how things were meant to be. Our brains are not built to work this way, no matter how many times teenagers insist that they're paying full attention to their homework, despite the fact that they're also watching television, listening to music and sending electronic instant messages to friends who are doing their own homework amid comparable chaos.

The brain works best "on a single task and for sustained rather than intermittent or alternating periods of time," the neurologist Richard Restak writes in "The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind."

"This doesn't mean that we can't perform a certain amount of multitasking,'' Dr. Restak writes.. "But we do so at decreased efficiency and accuracy."

And danger. Studies have shown that if you do anything distracting while driving - drinking coffee, fixing your hair, changing CD's and, of course, talking on a cellphone - you're significantly more likely to end up in a crash.

In the last few years, 30 states have considered legislation to outlaw the use of hand-held cellphones while driving. Most have failed. But three states now have such laws. The most far-reaching, New Jersey's, which went into effect this month, prohibits drivers from doing anything else - not just talking while holding a cellphone but restraining a pet, reading a map or eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut on the way to work. The ultimate antimultitasking law.

What could make more sense than to make people who are operating two- or three-ton projectiles at speeds exceeding a mile a minute actually focus on their journey? Yet most states managed to kill such legislation, defending multitasking as an almost inalienable right.

We are all so steeped in the ethos of doing more than one thing at a time that we are hardly aware of it. I serve brunch to my daughter's friend and only later realize that she has, while eating bagels and seeming to enjoy our conversation, been text messaging on her cellphone to two or three other friends, managing it all so skillfully - under the table, during a bathroom break - that none of us has even noticed.

I talk to my brother on the telephone and hear him clicking at his computer in the background, or to my mother and hear her loading the dishwasher. Is it any wonder that occasionally one of them will interrupt the conversation with "What did you just say?"

I do it, too. Just not as flashily as the text messagers or the people at the gym with books propped on the treadmill handlebars. When I'm out for my morning walk, disdaining the people who are walking their dogs while reading the newspaper, talking on the cellphone and drinking a latte, what am I doing? Listening to an audio book on my iPod. Wouldn't want to waste time by just exercising, would I?

Still, in the long run, multitasking is what wastes time. Last year, psychologists at the University of Michigan reported that when they asked subjects to perform two or more experimental tasks - solving arithmetic problems, say, at the same time they identified a series of shapes - the frontal cortex, the executive function center of the brain, had to switch constantly, toggling back and forth in a stutter that added as much as 50 percent to the time it would have taken to perform the tasks sequentially instead of simultaneously.

In another study, scientists at Carnegie Mellon put subjects in an M.R.I. machine and asked them to listen to complicated sentences at the same time that they mentally rotated geometric shapes. The two tasks activated different parts of the brain, but each region was operating at a suboptimal level. Here, then, was high-tech confirmation of the common-sense wisdom of Publilius Syrus, a Roman philosopher from the first century B.C., who warned, "To do things at once is to do neither." (Publilius also came up with "Better late than never" and "A rolling stone gathers no moss.")

But things have changed in the last 2,000 years.

"We are awash in things," James Gleick writes in "Faster," "in information, in news, in the old rubble and shiny new toys of our complex civilization, and - strange, perhaps - stuff means speed. The wave patterns of all these facts and choices flow and crash about us at a heightened frequency. We live in the buzz."

And probably, the buzz is something we will adjust to, because we are at our core a species that, whether we do it one step at a time or all at once, usually manages to adjust.

Long but interesting.

When the Brain Says, 'Don't Get Too Close'
A century ago, neurologists noticed that when ladies wearing big feathered hats ducked through entryways, they would align their bodies just so. It was as if they could feel the tops of doors with the tips of the feathers.

From this and other observations, the scientists concluded that each person holds within the brain a mental representation of the body and its parts - even the clothing it wears - as it moves through space.

Those early scientists could not explain how the brain creates such sensations, or body schemas. But using modern methods for probing brains, researchers are uncovering the cells and circuits that are responsible.

For example, research has found that brain cells become active as objects approach the space around the body. These cells will fire when, say, you see an insect fly toward your face. This so-called peripersonal space extends to arm's length; people with longer arms have a bigger peripersonal space. And when they use a tool, a rake, a joystick or an automobile, their body schema and peripersonal space expand to include it.

Moreover, perceptions change as the body schema changes in response to outside stimuli. A hill looks steeper when you wear a backpack than when you do not.

The findings, from laboratories worldwide, offer tantalizing biological explanations for many phenomena, including anorexia and syndromes in which stroke patients neglect one side of the body. They may explain why people are sucked into video games, and even why drivers get so upset when their car is dented.

"To act efficiently, we need to locate objects in the space around our bodies," said Dr. Angelo Maravita, a psychology professor at the University of Milan. "We need to hold a constantly updated report on the body's shape and posture."

The new research draws on the principle that the brain forms internal maps of the external world; groups of cells hold mental models of everything a person sees, hears, feels and knows. The brain also forms a mental map of the body itself. Clumps of brain tissue represent each hand, foot, trunk or lip. If someone touches your hand, cells in the brain's "hand area" become active.

Neurons respond to both vision and touch in at least six brain areas. For example, a cell will fire when the right hand is touched, or when the person sees an object moving toward it. The closer the object, the faster the cell fires.

Such cells encode the space around the body, within arm's reach. It is as if you walked around in your own private soap bubble. But the brain also has cells to map space farther away.

Dr. Atsushi Iriki, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Riken Institute in Japan, was one of the first to explore body schema using modern techniques. He inserted single electrodes into monkey brains and identified single cells that responded to both a touch on the hand and visual space next to the hand. Then he gave the monkeys a rake and for three weeks trained them to pull in food pellets with the tool. After training, he found that the cells that represented the hand and arm, as well as space around the arm, changed their firing pattern to include the rake and the space around it.

The moving tool was incorporated into the monkey's body schema, Dr. Iriki said. When the monkey held the tool passively, its body schema shrank to normal size.
In another experiment, Dr. Iriki allowed the monkeys to see a virtual hand on a video monitor while the monkey's real hand, hidden from view, operated a joystick. When he made the image of the hand larger, the monkey's brain treated the virtual hand as if it were an enlarged version of its own; the brain's hand area blew up like a cartoon character's hand. When he put the image of a spider or snake on the screen and made it approach the image of the hand in the monitor, the monkey suddenly retracted its own hand.

These neurons may constitute the neural basis of a person's feeling a sense of reality when playing video games, Dr. Iriki said. People say they can feel the joystick touching objects in the monitor as they extend their bodies into far space.

Stroke patients who neglect one side of their body also reveal changes in body maps. Dr. Anna Berti, a psychologist and physician at the University of Turin in Italy, asked a patient to indicate the midpoint of a line held in front of her body. She put the mark way to the right of the midpoint. But when the same line was shown to her in far space, beyond her reach, she found the midpoint with a laser pointer. The neglect caused by the stroke extended only to the space around her body.

But when Dr. Berti asked the patient to find the midpoint with a stick in the distant line, she made the earlier mistake. Using a tool extended her neglect further into space.

Dr. Berti also tested a stroke patient who denied that the wedding rings on her left hand were hers. But when she was shown the rings in front of her or on her right hand, she described how she came to own them. Dr. Berti concluded that objects closely associated with a hand are part of the body map.

People do not notice they have a body schema until they lose it or feel it is permanently altered, said Dr. Michael S. A. Graziano, a psychology professor at Princeton. Certain kinds of brain damage result in a sensation of floating outside one's body. The feeling can be induced in healthy people by bombarding a region of their brains with a powerful magnetic force.

In a condition called body dysmorphic disorder, people perceive a normal part of their body, like the nose, ears or buttocks, as grotesquely large. And there is recent evidence that anorexia is partly a disorder of the body schema, Dr. Graziano said.

Social psychologists have long studied how personal space expands or shrinks depending on personality, culture and circumstances, although they do not know the underlying mechanisms. For example, when a person is threatened or anxious, body space expands in an effort to keep others away. A conversation with someone from a different culture can produce the feeling that his face is uncomfortably close, though it may be the same distance as that of someone from the same culture. Dr. Dennis Proffitt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, studies how the body schema affects our perception of the environment. For example, just about everyone overestimates the inclines of hills so that a 5-degree hill looks like a 20-degree hill. But people who are encumbered, tired, out of shape or elderly and in declining health may perceive the incline as 25 or 30 degrees.

Finally, researchers say that large machines can become part of the body map. The lines between parking spaces appear closer together from a Humvee than from a Miata, Dr. Graziano said. An automobile is automatically absorbed into peripersonal space. And that helps explain why a minor dent in a fender can provoke a major blowup. The driver's body space has been harmed.

Meanwhile, expert riders describe how their body space becomes integrated with the horse's. Imagine what that does to the ego.
I work in a military facility. Navy, Marine and Army officers all over the place and high graded civilians. Somebody needs to do a study of body schema and these people. The people who work here walk down the halls here like they need the whole 8-foot wide hallway. I’ve never worked with so many thin-looking fat people. They’re thin but they walk around like they’re huge. I guess that’s the ego part.

Monday, July 12, 2004

It’s scary that so many people can think it’s ok to put off an election.

Should Election Day be delayed if there is a terror attack near that date?

Let’s delay or cancel the election so the terrorist won’t think they can influence the elections.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Today for lunch I went to a nearby Dunkin Donuts for some iced coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. I had a view of the street where I sat down with my simple lunch. If anybody knows the intersection, Oxford Ave. and Levick St., near where this DnD is located then you know it's pretty busy. There is a Hess gas station on one corner and a Rite Aid across Levick and houses on the other corners.

While I sat eating I noticed some odd movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see a very large pick-up truck go backwards across the three lanes of traffic on Levick St., perpendicular to the traffic. The truck only stopped because it hit a light pole, then it just sat there.

A few people on the sidewalk looked at it and cars on Levick went around it. It was blocking about a lane and a half of westbound traffic. Now, for the interesting part. About 30 seconds or so after the truck went backwards across the street the driver strolled across the street to the truck as if it were completely normal. He didn't run or jog or even look the least bit embarrassed that his truck went on a trip without him. He just got in the truck and drove it back across 3 lanes into the Hess lot.

The truck rolled across the street at just the right time to completely miss any cars or the drivers that were there stopped just in time. If the light pole had been 5 to 6 feet to the right or left, the Rite Aid would have had at least a new decoration in the flowers around the store or, worst-case, a new parking space inside the store where cashiers work.

Drivers in and around Philadelphia never cease to amaze me.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?