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Category: Culture

The best that has been thought and written and why these ideals are difficult to meet.

May 5, 2010 | 5 Comments

Ernie Harwell, RIP

Ernie Harwell, the voice of the Detroit Tigers, died last night of cancer of the bile duct.

From the Detroit Free Press obituary:

“I’m ready to face what comes,” he said at the time. “Whether it’s a long time or a short time is all right with me because it’s up to my Lord and savior.” …

Unlike some announcers in recent decades, Harwell didn’t litter his broadcasts with shouting, excessive talking or all-knowing pronouncements about players and managers. Listening to him was as pleasant as being at Tiger Stadium in the summertime. As he fell silent between pitches, listeners got to hear the sounds of the ballpark — the crowd’s buzz, the vendor’s cry — and absorb the rhythm of the game. Harwell thus became an ideal companion for a listener anywhere: the couch, the yard, the car or the boat…

In 55 seasons of broadcasting big-league baseball, he missed two games, neither because of his health. One was for his brother’s funeral in 1968 and the other was for his induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 1989.

There is no argument about it: Ernie was the best. That obit is right, too. Harwell knew when to shut up and let the sounds of the game take over.

Announcers today just can’t stop talking—ratcheta ratcheta ratcheta ratcheta. The silence must frighten them. They have forgotten that baseball is a game to be savored. We fans don’t follow it for the breakneck action. Baseball is cerebral and ofttimes best contemplated without words.

But when you had to use them, Ernie knew how to pick the fewest to say the most.

I have vivid memories of sneaking my grandpa’s transistor radio to school to listen to Ernie call opening day. What a voice!

So long, Ernie. Enjoy your rest.

May 4, 2010 | 23 Comments

“Bring Who Did It To Justice” and Other News Words I Hate

Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, who, preliminary reports indicate, is not a member of the Tea Party, has been arrested in connection with the Times Square bombing.

Officials think that either Shahzad did the deed, or knows who did.

And this was a bombing: that the lethal contraption malfunctioned matters not a whit. Shahzad, or somebody probably known to him, attempted to terrorize, commit mayhem, and to kill. He accomplished the first two goals, but luckily not the third.

Before Shahzad was, Hollywood-style, ripped off a plane as he was making his escape; before, that is, the cops knew who to apprehend, officials were saying what Attorney General Eric Holder said: “[We] will not rest until we have brought everyone responsible to justice.”

Last Sunday, after rousing Janet Napolitano from her slumber, she was able to say that whoever did the deed would be “brought to justice.”

Even so lowly a personage as Danny Defenbaugh, ex-FBI and master of scientific criminal investigation, said “the chances he will be brought to justice are very good.”

This language is wrong. Shahzad, or whomever, should not be “brought to justice.” He should be brought to the end of a short rope with a swift jerk.

Unlike newspeople and politicians, I do not speak metaphorically. By any sensible morality, Shahzad’s—or whomever’s—life is forfeit.

Which is why I hate the vague phrase “brought to justice.” What exactly does that mean? Merely to be captured or apprehended? If so, wouldn’t it be easier to say, “Whoever did this will be captured”? Or even better, “We’ll find who did this.”

Or does “brought to justice” mean to locate the fiend and to, as quickly as possible, read the perpetrator his rights and to secure him a lawyer? There are precedents for this interpretation. Just think back to Christmas and the Fruit-of-the-Loom Bomber, that despicable botch of nature whose “rights” were considered more important than those of the citizens of Detroit.

“Brought to justice” is a marketing phrase, a set of words the utterer is hoping the hearer will supply the meaning to. When Holder says it, he is hoping those who are inclined to think as I do, that it means “found, made to reveal his secrets, tried, convicted, and then strung up.”

But Daily Kos readers are allowed to think that it means, “located, given his rights, counseled that his hatred of America is understandable, told that he should try and keep away from explosives in the future, and then freed.”

What actually happens to Shahzad, or whomever, will likely fall between these two scenarios, landing closer to Kos-land. In any case, reporters, when they can be made to cease rooting for an administration and do their jobs, should insist on learning what the speaker of “brought to justice” actually means by it.

Remember when Obamacare was foisted upon us? Before the final vote, polls indicated a fairly substantial majority of Americans were against the healthcare bill. This might have caused lesser administrations to quail and offer compromises. But President Obama and Speaker Pelosi ratcheted up the rhetoric and engaged in maneuvers designed to increase government control.

These actions, reporters everywhere said, were Mr Obama’s way of “doubling down” on his strategy. That unfortunate phrase spread like a virus and now appears everywhere.

Jeff Schweitzer, a biologist and former Clintonista, wrote on the Huffington Post that “Republicans are now doubling down [like] crazy” on their strategy of revealing flaws in the White House’s economic policy.

Randall Amster, who bills himself as a (I choke) “peace educator, author, and activist”, on the same website, wrote that our response to the Gulf Oil spill “requires a regular doubling-down” on oil use, in writing policy, or something (Amster is not a clear writer).

“Doubling-down” originally described a popular gambling strategy. In blackjack, doubling-down can sometimes increase the amount you win by a fraction. In reality, though, it is a way of forking over your money to a casino at a faster rate.

(Yes, dear reader, I know that you are the one exception who has found a method to beat the odds; and that, on the whole, you have won more than you lost. Of course you have.)

“Doubling-down” can function as a humorous metaphor for political navigations, a fresh substitute for the tired “all or nothing.” That it was picked up so quickly and used so often reveals plenty about the lemming-like nature of journalists.

When these creatures hear a catchy theme, they latch onto it, and use it mainly to show fellow journalists that they are hip to the latest slang. And it is our ears that must suffer their verbal assaults.

May 3, 2010 | 34 Comments

Goodbye Ownership & Privacy: Apple, Amazon, the Government Have Your Numbers

Brian Hogan, 21, of Redwood City, California found a prototype Apple iPhone 4G accidentally left in a German Beer garden by a (soused?) Apple employee.

Hogan recognized the phone for what it was. He knew that any news of what Apple does is devoured more voraciously than a teenage girl’s diary found in a locker room by the cheerleading squad. Hogan sold the phone, probably illegally, to the website Gizmodo, a part of Gawker Media.

Jason Chen at Gizmodo blogged about the iPhone, to the shivering delight of fanboys everybody. We learned, among other things, that the next generation phone was “3 grams heavier.” Fascinating, no?

An explosion of debate hit the net. About whether Hogan was a thief or public servant (thief), about whether Gawker should have paid or immediately returned the phone to Apple (they should have returned), whether Chen was an unethical journalist or ethical one (unethical), even whether Chen is a real journalist or “just a blogger” (real journalist).

None of this debate is of more than transitory interest. Missing almost completely from the many analyses was the most important fact of all.

When Apple discovered the loss of the phone, it remotely “wiped” out its contents, so that those contents, of course, could not be readable by the likes of technicians at Gizmodo.

At best, there was a resigned sigh over this remote wipe out. Just think of the delicious secrets we could have learned! (None.)

But we did learn the tastiest secret of all! Apple has remote control over iPhones. This includes the iPhone that you bought, that you supposedly own, on which contains a wealth of your personal information.

If Apple can wipe out data remotely, it is not a stretch to suggest that they could capture data remotely. Your data. This includes those special pictures you have. Many apps already communicate your actions to ad servers or other third parties.

The numbers you called, how long you talked, and even where you were when you made the calls was already known by AT&T, iPhone’s exclusive carrier.

All cell phone carriers have already worked with police in revealing call records. And it must be admitted that these relationships have been useful in apprehending and convicting criminals.

Cell phone calls used to be open for all to hear until Congress passed a law banning sale of equipment that could tune into the relevant frequencies (a silly law, like most: any radioman can overcome this, and now technology has changed so that calls themselves are not sent in “in the clear”). And, of course, it is no stretch to imagine that cell phones can be engineered to transmit surreptitiously, and thus be turned into bugs.

Switch to Amazon and its Kindle. Everybody by now knows that in July 2009, Amazon remotely wiped out copies of Orwell’s 1984 from all Kindles. Why they did it is not interesting (a contract dispute), but what is is that they could do it.

Many Kindle owners were surprised to learn that they did not own the material stored on their devices, but that they merely licensed it. The Kindles allow users to make annotations on its licensed material. Can Amazon retrieve this information remotely?

Google captures and stores your searches. All the websites you visit know what you’re up to. Email is no more secure than a postcard. You internet carrier has a complete record of the material you downloaded (at the household level, and possibly at the browser level).

Facial recognition software, which has reasonable error rates, is installed in an increasing number of locations.

In short, and obviously, the nature of ownership and privacy has changed. It will continue to do so and not in your favor. Less of what is in your possession will be legally yours, and more of what you do will be available to public scrutiny.

It is about here that the undead argument “Why worry if you have nothing to hide?” is trotted out. If you’re truly an innocent, why care if some government bureaucracy thumbs through your old emails, personal files, and listens in on your calls?

The answer to this is obvious: it is easier than dropping an hammer on your foot for someone to take your actions out of context and insinuate evil motives. It is the full majesty, power, and unlimited resources of the government against pathetic, weak, finite you. Almost any mundane event can be turned into a sinister-sounding plot by a mustache-twisting government lawyer.

Solution? None, really. Restraining the government appears to be beyond our will. And nobody wants to be a, or be accused of being, a Luddite. Practically, you should realize that anything done on-line or over-the-air is public domain.

Once this knowledge is assimilated, will it lead to a more civil society?

April 28, 2010 | 10 Comments

Pajamas Media: The VAT Man Cometh: It Will Happen. How Bad Is It?

Today’s post is at Pajamas Media: “The VAT Man Cometh: It Will Happen. How Bad Is It?

Pajamas Media

I have a ghost of an old song—big band days—hiding in the back of my head into which I know I can insert

    The VAT man’s on his way.

Got it!

The Lullaby of Beltway

Come on along and listen to
The lullaby of Beltway,
The hip horray and ballyhoo,
The lullaby of Beltway.
The rumble of a Harry Reid,
The rattle of Pelosi,
The pols who make us bleed
The Obamas and Hillarys.

Goodnight baby,
The VAT man’s on his way.
Sleep tight, baby,
Sleep tight,
There goes all our pay.

Listen to the lullaby of old Beltway!

Thanks, as always, to editor David Steinberg at Pajamas.