Opt Out of National Opt Out Day

November 16, 2010

There’s a movement afoot (http://www.optoutday.com/) to protest the TSA’s deployment of its new see-through-clothing scanners by having everyone “opt out” of the scanning process on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving and one of the heaviest travel days of the year.

While I sympathize with the ostensible motivation behind the idea (millions of innocent airline plassengers are being massively inconvenienced and having their rights trampled by the TSA for not much of an increase, if any, in our overall flight safety — from a certain point of view, having so many people suffer through this procedure means the terrorists have won!), I can’t agree with the plan.

For one thing, you’re not likely to find a lot of support for the idea of asking people to protest by delaying their own travel, particularly on a day that’s difficult enough and already prone to delays, and even more especially when their primary concern at that moment will be simply getting home for the holidays. So the protest itself will be weaker than it deserves to be because relatively few will join in, compared to the underlying number of people who would be far more willing to participate in the protest if it were called for a more favorable date.

For another, you’re asking people to protest by disrupting other people’s travel, people who may not think the TSA is infringing on their rights. At first blush, it seems the same as when protesters march in the streets and block some traffic. But within the airline system, it’s different: Delays at one airport not only cascade throughout the entire system, they multiply from early hours to later ones until the whole nation is gridlocked. That’s not going to win the protest a lot of friends. In fact, it could even backfire and cause millions of passengers to dislike the protesters and feel a surprising sympathy for the TSA and its employees, who may well come up looking like the victims here, rather than what they actually are: the perpetrators of massive rights violations on millions of law-abiding, patriotic men, women, and children.

Overall, opting out of scanners on November 24th is just not a smart way to get what we all want, which is an end to “Security Theater” at airports and a redirection of the TSA’s massive budget toward more sensible approaches and methods that will actually make us safer. (You doubt that it’s Security Theater? Then please explain the point of subjecting every passenger to the TSA’s public humiliations while millions of tons of cargo flying on the very same planes gets no screenings at all?)

Here’s a better idea: On November 24th, everyone traveling by air (and interested others) who feels the TSA is overstepping its bounds and not doing the best possible job of keeping America safe should protest by:

a) Wearing a simple, paper sign saying: “Protest the TSA: Opt Out Of Intrusive Screenings On December 10, 2010”, and/or

b) leafletting the passengers around you by handing out the same words on small pieces of paper.

This kind of protest does several things:

1) It calls attention to the same problem, on the same day, as the poorly conceived “Opt Out Day” planned for November 24th

2) It creates no travel delays during a busy holiday crush and engenders no sympathy for the TSA

3) It gives people who are of a mind to protest a couple of weeks to get ready to participate

4) It causes disruptions to TSA procedures and resulting delays to airline flights on a normal flying day, a day that practically every flyer can hear about and prepare for in advance, a day when relatively few flyers are focused primarily on getting home for the holidays.

Are you ready to protest the TSA? Which of these protests are you more likely to join?

(If you’ve got an even better plan, let’s hear about it, in the comments below.)

The Vast Sweep of History Favors Progress

October 25, 2010


In seemingly every conversation about how bad things have become, or are becoming, in this great land of ours, eventually at least one voice pipes up with the notion that we have passed the point of no return. It’s too late to save America. Democracy is over. The good life is behind us. We’re toast.

That’s hooey! It’s pure propaganda. It’s the Big Lie put into the minds and mouths of honest Americans who have grown frustrated with the struggle for national progress and personal improvement. It’s the voice of the weary, the disheartened, those who are understandably sick and tired of fighting the same battles, the most basic battles, over and over again.

But it’s wrong. As wrong as it’s possible for an idea to be.

No, my friend, the country is not doomed. We have weathered storms like this before. One third of Colonists did not want to secede from England. One third of Americans did not want to give up owning slaves. One third of Americans worried about Communists in the entertainment business and the State Department.

It doesn’t matter. The vast sweep of history shows that people will gain more rights, more opportunity, and more support for realizing their full potential. Yes, there are people who’d like history to move backwards, but that doesn’t mean they will prevail. All they have ever been able to do is hold back the tide of progress.That is all they will ever be able to do.

Just keep thinking, talking, marching, voting, and working for a better future. Surrender is not an option. Victory is assured.

Photo credit:   Thorne Enterprises

America Appreciates Diversity

October 22, 2010

No matter how many times the Forces of Darkness assert that America is a Center-Right country, it isn’t.

Here’s just some of the evidence:

Public Opinion Snapshot: The Public’s Lack of Enthusiasm for Cutting Government
The public is dissatisfied with government performance, but that dissatisfaction doesn’t translate into government-cutting mania
Public Opinion Snapshot: Where’s the Anger on Health Care Reform?
The public isn’t rising up in opposition to the new health care law as conservatives expected
Public Opinion Snapshot: How Conservative Are Americans Becoming About Government?
Conservatives may say the country is taking a right turn, but polls show that government dissatisfaction does not reflect ideological conversion
Public Opinion Snapshot: Tax Cuts for the Middle Class Are Good; Tax Cuts for the Rich Are Bad
The public sends a strong message to Congress in a new poll about the tax cut debate
Public Opinion Snapshot: Who’s to Blame?
The public hasn’t forgotten who’s the most responsible for our economic ills

The list goes on and on. Poll after poll shows that we Americans want the help of our government to have a better life, we welcome people from other cultures, we accept others’ religious practices and beliefs, we recognize that cutting taxes is not the answer to every problem, and we respect fair play and honesty.

No matter how fervently the Forces of Darkness wish us to change our beliefs, we know the difference between right and wrong.

Ignorance is not knowledge. War is not peace. Hatred is not love. This is not a restrictive, authoritarian, fear-based, angry nation. We respect each other and ourselves, we welcome diversity, and we support each other in our quest for equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal freedom to live as we see fit without undue interference from narrow selfish interests.

In the timeless words of Captain Renault, in the classic film “Casablanca”: “We cannot legislate the feelings of our people.”

Photo credit: 1horsetown

Note: WordPress has automatically linked to some WSJ material with which I disagree. Please disregard it. My inability to block this kind of automatic linking is a major flaw in the WordPress system for which I apologize.

Media Keep Pouring Old Wine — Even From New Bottles

October 16, 2010

It was only a few days ago that a huge segment of the world’s population united in a positive and literally uplifting experience: the rescue of 33 South American miners from half a mile under Chile’s Atacama Desert, where they had been trapped in a 125 year old gold and copper mine not only by a huge cave-in, but by the mine owner’s failure to install required escape ladders, ceiling supports, and other safety measures.

Undiscovered for the first 17 days of their record-setting 69 day underground ordeal, the 33 men not only behaved professionally and competently — clearing away rubble that tumbled into their sealed-off cave from the drilling efforts of their rescuers, improvising plumbing to improve their sanitary conditions, and assiduously maintaining their health, their discipline, and their hope under what were obviously very daunting conditions — they maintained their solidarity as a group.

In fact, they agreed not only to withhold their stories from the media until they came back aboveground, these 33 working-class heroes agreed to share the large amounts of revenue promised them by promoters eager to book them on talk shows, publish their memoirs, obtain their product endorsements, and even release their remarkable story of survival in the form of TV shows and feature films.

Yes, that’s right: share all revenues among the group. Agreeing to this arrangement were the talkative ones, the charismatic ones, the responsible ones, and even the ones deemed most “media-genic” by conventionaly Hollywood-type suits eager to generate the largest possible audiences for irresistible presentations of this remarkable story of survival against all odds.

But for the suits, and their on-air representatives, that agreement was a major snag. The idea of media darlings refusing to bask in the spotlight, of potential “stars” insisting on sharing their popularity and their resulting incomes unselfishly with their less-attractive comrades, was too much for the media classes to bear.

First, the news media simply didn’t make a big deal of that angle, preferring to spend more time speculating on what the miner’s had eaten while isolated from the world above, or how they had exercised while trapped underground.

And second, pundits and reporters alike immediately sought to undermine the miners’ solidarity. They did this first by speculating about the emergences of cracks in that solidarity and — later — by trying to foment infighting, jealousy, and rivalries within the group.

The story of how the media brought — and continue to bring — us this story provides perfect opportunities for us to see that the media really do work hard to shower us with the same old stories (old wine in new bottles) which reinforce the same debilitating “consumerist” cultural trends and values they relentlessly spew forth as often as possible, regardless of any underlying truth. It’s also a rare chance to see that the media can’t stand to deliver anything different, and will even subvert an event or a pattern that doesn’t conform to one of the time-tested story lines they’ve become so successful at promoting.

So here’s a wonderful story of people organizing themselves to survive against adversity, and succeeding, even when that adversity is not just half a mile of sold rock, but a solid phalanx of cultural warriors who would like nothing more than to break the miners’ ranks of solidarity and prove them to be just as money-grubbing, selfish, and eager for short-term stardom as all the other people at whom the media habitually aim their spotlights.

The Beat Generation Held No Tea Parties

October 8, 2010

In a recent opinion piece published in the New York Times, Lee Siegel offered a list of reasons why today’s Tea Party enthusiasts are reflecting the same spirit as the Beat Generation, which gave rise to the likes of such talented people as Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Gregory Corso.

In writing this article, Siegel is really and truly wrong, on many counts.

First, and most important: there was no hate in the Beats, except possibly some self-hatred, while hatred is a primary emotion put forth by large numbers of those who attend Tea Party events. At bottom, the Beats simply despaired for an American culture gone so horribly sterile and rigid, and they sought a better way for themselves. Beats were fun-lovers rather than name-callers, and pleasure-seekers rather than moralists who decried the fun-loving activities of others.

Nor did the Beats ever seek to forcibly restrict what others did; they sought only the freedom to do their own things. For today’s Tea Partiers, freedom is both the Libertarian notion of strictly limited government that cares not a whit for social safety nets or helping fellow citizens who suffer misfortunes, freedom is also just another word for regulating others’ lives, including (but not limited to) others’ religious practices.

What’s more, the Beat generation was rejected by mainstream society, and sought to do their own thing without preventing mainstreamers from continuing along what the Beats openly decried as an unhealthy path. Today’s Tea Partiers, quite the contrary, are tied up very tightly with mainstream America, and are actively rejecting anyone who disagrees with them, most likely — although they deny it — because we have committed the unpardonable sin of coming from a different socio-economic or ethnic background.

Here’s another test: Make your own list of the “stars” who have emerged from or risen to the top of the Tea Party movement. Compare them to the stars of the Beats. However you choose to compare them, there is a world of difference between those who stand out from these two groups. Does it seem likely, or even possible, to you that the “spirit” which animated the Beats now animates the Tea Party?

I’m sorry, but Siegel’s column seems like another example of “false equivalence:” the mainstream media urge to prove that jerks on the Right are matched by equal and opposite jerks  on the Left (even when they clearly are not).
I also object to the story-line in Siegel’s column that “the Tea Partiers … exert such an astounding appeal.” He writes these words as if totally unaware that the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media have been assiduously hyping every Tea Party utterance and activity to the max (while simultaneously ignoring the “dog bites man” stories about regular Americans who have consistently been giving every sign of disagreeing with the Tea Party’s “ideas”). Most polls have been showing for quite some time that, outside of its own small circle, the Tea Party has remarkably little appeal.

On the other hand, it is no doubt true — as Siegel cleverly reports — that at least one member of each group at some point mentioned a Chevy. I guess that’s enough proof for the Siegel and the New York Times that these movements really are expressing one and the same spirit.

Let’s remember the accuracy of this judgment next time Siegel or the New York Times offers another opinion.

Photo: Neal Cassady (on right), Jack Kerouac (on left)

Photo credit: tiseb

FIB – A new assessment of an old story

August 25, 2010
even a Golden Retriever likes to get clean now and again

Even a Golden Retriever likes to get clean now and again

The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is due out in 2013. Although not a trained professional, I would nevertheless like to respectfully propose a new entry: Fear-based Ideological Behavior, or FIB.

FIB is characterized by an obsessive adherence to a belief or set of beliefs that either cannot be supported by factual evidence, or that directly contradicts factual evidence.

FIB is a relatively widespread disorder in American society at the present time.

You don’t hear about it by name in the press or on TV or radio, but the symptoms of FIB are all around us, and are widely reported. However, no one has yet connected the dots to reveal the larger picture.

Poll after poll, news story after news story, provide evidence that as many as 20% to 30% (in some cases, many more!) of Americans believe the opposite of such obviously factual and easily demonstrable ideas as:

  • healthcare reform will lengthen patients’ lives, not cut them short via “death panels”
  • lowering taxes increases the net worth of those already rich, but fails to stimulate economic growth
  • “enhanced interrogation” (torture) is not only against international law, but yields less useful information than humane techniques
  • Obama is a practicing Christian who was born in the U.S.
  • the U.S. Constitution clearly calls for separating church and state
  • unemployment compensation is a form of insurance paid for by a tax on workers, and cushions the blow of unemployment for both the individual and the economy as a whole
  • net neutrality means what it says and will prohibit “tiered” services that favor the messages of those willing to pay more
  • George Bush’s policies produced irrefutable economic and other numbers that mark him as the worst U.S. President of modern times
  • Government stimulation of the U.S. economy has produced or saved millions of jobs and prevented the current recession from getting worse
  • ACORN has been cleared of any wrong-doing by repeated investigations, and while active it actually helped people improve their lives
  • People who decried certain “anti-President” or “anti-America” behaviors when GW Bush was president have been doing those  same things since 2009
  • The sub-prime mortgage crisis resulted from greedy and dishonest practices on Wall Street, not from poor people buying homes
  • Lumping all Muslims together as terrorists is incorrect, violates the American multicultural tradition, and increases the ranks of real terrorists
  • BP’s $20 billion restitution fund is an entirely appropriate payment from the company that polluted the ocean with their oil
  • The so-called “Ground-Zero Mosque” is two blocks away (out of sight from Ground Zero), in the space where a clothing store used to be, and will be a cultural center (like a YMCA) incorporating room for prayer

The list could go on much longer.

That’s not the point.

The point is that we as a nation are experiencing a significant outbreak of FIB, and those suffering from FIB are deflecting the national conversation about important issues like war, debt, jobs, pollution, and how best to govern the nation. Whenever an important issue comes up, and sometimes even when one doesn’t, the poor unfortunates suffering from FIB offer their contribution of ideas, suggestions, analyses, or observations that do not acknowledge the reality that the rest of us experience.

Being compassionate people, we listen to these FIB-sufferers just as if they were making sense, and sometimes we even try to respond in ways that will help them understand where they have gone off the tracks. Naturally, nothing sensible gets through to them, just as “putting a knife under the bed” won’t cut the patient’s pain in two (as mentioned in “Gone With The Wind”).

Clearly, compassion and gentle treatment aren’t enough. In fact, you might call our current response to FIB “nequam nixus,” or worthless effort.

Instead, we need to recognize FIB as the serious and debilitating ailment it is. We must fund qualified scientists (not bloggers or pundits) who will study its causes and devise a practical remedy that can be applied as part of an overall treatment plan.

Otherwise, we risk the epidemic spreading farther and wider, and causing even more suffering for many years to come.

# # #

(In a future post, I’ll comment on the likely etiology of FIB, which may give some clues to prevention, if not treatment.)

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Congratulations, Republicans and Tea-Partiers!

August 19, 2010

While the political right in America doesn’t often make clear pronouncements about its overall agenda, on the basis of “watch what we do, not what we say,” it’s obvious that one of the big items on the political right’s “to do” list is to mess with the presidency of Barack Obama. And they’ve chalked up a big win over the past few months:

A new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that some 18 percent of Americans believe their President’s religion is Muslim. That’s an increase of seven percent over the past year and a half, as only 11 percent believed he is Muslim back in March of 2009.

Of course, they’re all wrong. President Obama is a life-long Christian, and proud of it. More than a third of Americans know this. Another 43 percent have no clue about where or how their president worships, a decline that translates into proof that about nine percent of Americans who knew he was Christian back in March of 2009 have now forgotten, or have become confused enough to say they are now unsure.

According to another poll, this one conducted by Time magazine and ABT SRBI, nearly one out of four Americans incorrectly believes President Obama is a practicing Muslim and another one out of four doesn’t know or didn’t answer the question. The good news is that nearly half of Americans responding to this poll have a handle on reality, and correctly believe Obama is a Christian.

It’s also interesting that the same Pew poll found a higher percentage (nearly 30%) of declared Republicans and conservatives are wrong about the President’s religion, believing him to be a Muslim when he is actually a Christian. This percentage is significantly higher than last year’s numbers who were wrong. Declared Democrats and liberals tend to have a tighter grip on reality, at least concerning our President’s preference for religious worship, but even their numbers have fallen below the 50 percent mark.

Even so called “independents” have lost ground on this simple fact of Obama’s avowed and practicing Christianity, with 18 percent of them wrongly believing that Obama is a Muslim — compared with just 10 percent of them who believed this fallacy back in March of 2009.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, attributes this large degree of confusion and ignorance on the party of Americans at least partly to “the intensification of negative views about Obama among his critics.” Alan Cooperman, associate director for research with the Pew Forum, allowed as how it could have something to do with “…other people [who] make suggestions that the president is this or he’s really that or he’s really a Muslim.”

Smart fellows.

It’s not like this is any kind of intelligence test. Anyone who has been paying attention to the fact-based world could easily ascertain, or even just remember, that President Obama is an avowed Christian who habitually ends his speeches with “God bless America.”

Of course, the political right is not going to take credit for promoting this misinformation, or for confusing the American public, or for lying about President Obama’s religion. But they certainly deserve it, and those of us paying attention to modern American politics should give them all the credit they deserve for their success on this point. After all, nobody else is putting out disinformation about the President’s religion, and nobody else has much reason to do so. So when Americans believe what isn’t true about Obama, or forget something they once knew about Obama, or become confused about some of Obama’s factual history, the credit must go to those who are actively spreading disinformation and lies.

Keep up the good work, those of you on the political right. And here’s hoping you very soon reap the just rewards you so genuinely (or should that be “disingenuously”) deserve.

The Two Films – Brothers

June 23, 2010

In 2004, a Danish filmmaker named Susan Bier released a feature called “Brothers,” which so struck a chord with some American filmmakers that they proceeded to remake it for the American audience. This second-generation copy, also called “Brothers,” was released in 2009. Producers on the project replaced writer/director Bier with Irishman Jim Sheridan, the beautiful Connie Nielsen with American actress Natalie Portman, the suave Ulrich Thomsen with Toby Maquire, and the hunky Nikolaj Lie Kass with the even-hunkier Jake Gyllenhaal.

Both films are worth the time it takes to watch them. But experiencing them both is even better, because it provides a nearly complete lesson in screenwriting for Hollywood.

Warning: Spoilers Follow…..

Here are just a few thoughts on the changes Hollywood saw fit to make, and my guesses at the reasons behind them:

An early clue that we are being led by the hand in the American version arrives when the two brothers are driving home after the younger one gets out of prison. They drive past a bank and our hero, the older one, asks the younger one to consider apologizing, which he does only a few screen-minutes later. In the Danish version, the conversation takes place more ambiguously, with no physical anchor like a bank to help us understand what’s happening, and the apology doesn’t happen until much later in the film.

But there are more obvious instances of leading the audience and simplifying the story in the American version. The wives in both films are played by beautiful actresses, but only in the American version is her beauty actually mentioned in the film. When the younger brother, drunk and unable to pay his bar bill, calls his sister-in-law for a ride home, she asks “Which bar?” In the Danish version, the filmmakers see no need for that piece of conversation. Still later, when our hero becomes a prisoner of war, he’s simply locked in a room in the Danish version, while he’s more formidably barricaded into a much less hospitable subterranean dungeon in the American version.

Another simplification concerns our hero’s fellow prisoner of war. In the Danish version, it’s a guy who was already a prisoner before our hero reaches Afghanistan. In the American version, he’s a member of our hero’s own unit whose life he apparently has saved, so there’s a prior relationship and a hint (not well explored) of battlefield comaraderie. There’s also a lot more conversation between the two prisoners in the American version, with our hero ordering the other prisoner not to think about his family and life at home, and not to give up any information to their captors. In the Danish version, there’s almost no conversation between the two prisoners, although our hero does promise they will return home safely, a promise which is omitted from the American copy. In the Danish version, our hero actually commits treason by showing the enemy how to operate a shoulder-fired missile launcher (powerful enough to shoot down a helicopter full of his own guys), and so has twice as much to feel bad about after he returns home. This treason is totally omitted from the American version, simplifying the story.

While significant material in the Danish version is missing in the copy, the American version includes new information that helps guide audience reaction: we learn our hero was the high school quarterback and his wife a cheerleader. She says clearly that she has loved him since she was 16. The father of the two brothers makes explicit that the older brother never quit anything while the younger brother quit far too readily whenever life got difficult for him. I found it interesting that the Afghanis in the Danish version look like stereotypical Talibanis, while the American version has plenty of those types on view, but shows the enemy leader to be smaller, more neatly dressed, wearing glasses, and well-spoken enough to have been educated in the West. In one of the key scenes, our hero wrecks the kitchen his younger brother has generously completed for him, but only in the American version does he use the same destructive tool he used as a prisoner of war, and explain not just that fact but also his feeling of torment and regret over things he did as a prisoner in order to maximize his chances of returning home. In the Danish version, all this remains unspoken.

The father of the two brothers does a lot more explaining in the American version, too: explaining that he likes and admires his older son much more than his younger son, explaining that the younger son needs to get his life together, explaining that his older son is a hero and his younger son is bum, and more.

While much of the dialog and action remains the same in both versions, there are some changes that don’t seem to add much to the story. For example, in the American version the brothers’ mom is dead, replaced by a step-mom, perhaps only to permit casting a younger actress in the part. Another change is made when the younger brother brings a date to a family dinner. Only in the American version do the filmmakers make clear that he met her just one hour ago, and only in the American version does she prattle on about her career aspirations and current job and school situation. Her talk doesn’t help to drive the story forward, but nevertheless it earns some American screen time that more relevant material in the Danish version does not.

The characters are also different in the two films. The war hero is capable of warmth in the Danish version. His brother is much coarser, less ambitious, and it takes him longer to improve. In the American version, Toby Maquire’s war hero comes off as stiff, even brittle, with hardly any warmth or sensitivity. His brother never seems out of control or a wastrel, and begins his smooth, steady reformation relatively early in the film. Our hero’s wife is portrayed very similarly in the two films, but in the Danish version she forcefully removes her children from a dangerous situation. In the American version of this film, she is more passive and does not.

The filmmaking language is different in the two versions, as well. There’s a wonderful moment in the Danish version in which our hero’s wife is ironing her husband’s shirt, then crushes it to her face and cries into it. In the American version, she merely holds the shirt and cries. In the Danish version, the two brothers revisit a sore point between them, and the younger brother reacts by impulsively storming off and walking alone into the distance, then sheepishly shows up later at his brother’s home. In the American version, that simply doesn’t happen. There’s also somewhat more action, although there’s no shortage of guns and explosions in the original Danish version. At one point, our hero in the Danish version creates a situation where local cops might shoot him dead. In the American version, he uses his own gun instead of one he lifts from a cop’s holster, and he threatens to blow his own head off instead of inciting the cops to do it for him. Finally, our hero in the Danish version merely cries at the climax, while our hero in the American version also gets dialog to indicate the reasons for his torment. It’s the same ending, but one is for grown ups, the other is for people who can’t easily connect the dots.

And that’s the real difference between these films. The Danish version seems made for an audience of relatively intelligent people who can understand a character’s conflicts and pain without much guidance because they’re sensitive to these matters in their own lives. It’s paced and portrayed for an audience that can interpret events on the screen and draw their own conclusions about what any part of it means. The American version seems to be aimed at a younger and less sophisticated audience. To get through to them, the filmmakers ask the audience to do less thinking, simplifying the characters and the plot, laying out events and motivations more clearly, providing more clues about the characters’ inner lives, and even adding explanatory dialog to reduce any ambiguity that may remain.

Rather than do a direct remake of a good film, the Hollywood talents associated with this remake chose to make these and other adjustments. They provide important clues as to the specific elements that Hollywood filmmakers do and do not want to see in a project they deem worthy of greenlighting.

Have you seen both versions of Brothers? What do you think of the differences and the reasons behind them?

Cosmic Jokes

June 15, 2010

I’m stunned at the number and eye-popping nature of the Cosmic Jokes that abound on this planet. I can’t possibly go over all of them in this little post, but I hope to alert you to some of them, and possibly trigger an avalanche of connections which will eventually reach someone who can tell me what these Cosmic Jokes mean, or at least why they exist:

Blackwater and others — Those who do good are often hard pressed for resources. Those who do bad are often rolling in wealth. Why is it that the more you smuggle arms to terrorists, hire out to do contract murders, and practice wanton and rapacious violence on innocent people, the more money you seem to earn?

Pollution and environmental degradation — we live on a beautiful planet, which as soon as we could we immediately began to trash with waste materials, exhaust gases, toxic dumping, over-fishing, clearcutting of old-growth forests, wildlife habitat destruction, widespread defoliation and poisonings, genetic modification, and more. Why doesn’t the dominant species on this planet — which evolved here and is dependent on this planet for air, water, and food — recognize, respect, and preserve the natural mechanisms and processes that keep us alive?

Short-term vs. long-term perspective — there’s a myth or a story about Native Americans, and others, whose leaders would supposedly consider the impact of their decisions all the way out to seven future generations. Why is that kind of decision-making perspective so rare, while decision-making perspectives based on immediate gratification and short-term benefits regardless of long-terms costs are so much more widespread?

I know the long trajectory of history is upwards, toward more equal rights and equal opportunities, toward more protection for those who need it, toward more enlightened policies, greater health, and improved quality of life for larger numbers of people. But why are these struggles so difficult? And why are so many people working against progress rather than for it?

To link or not to link – and how?

June 8, 2010

In a post on Salon.com about adding links to posts, (http://www.salon.com/technology/feature/2010/06/06/nick_carr_readability), Karen Templer writes about Nikk Carr’s new book, The Shallows, discussing the impact of hyperlinking on reader comprehension and intelligence. There’s also a related but less crucial discussion about whether hyperlinked material should be linked from the main text, or linked from footnotes or endnotes that are collected and organized for readers who care, where they can be bypassed by readers who don’t.

Basically, there appear to be two main schools of thought.

There’s the stupid, wrong-headed, dumb, and moronic view that it’s OK to make any word a hyperlink, even without including enough context to give readers a hint about the meaning of that hyperlinked word (which might be only a generic marker like the words “this” or “here”). Eric Alterman, smart but arrogant, does this kind of linking to the point of rendering whole paragraphs of his column totally unintelligible unless you follow those hyperlinks to find what the f*** he’s talking about. To the extent a writer leaves the meaning of a written piece “out there” in the links, instead of directly within the current text, he or she is forcing readers to click on these links.

Then there’s the perfectly reasonable and smart idea that hyperlinks should be considered an option for readers to utilize or not as they see fit. In this view, a written piece should be perfectly understandable without ever forcing readers to click on a single link. Material “out there” in the links might add to the depth and breadth, the background, perhaps even the nuances of the message (as do my links, above), but links are not a place for what’s essential.

I subscribe to this second view, and I wish everyone else would.

To be fair, I should mention a third way, in which the writer gives some general information and also gives a specific example or list of details hidden behind a hyperlink. As used by Patrick Smith, writing in Salon, it goes like this:

“I can’t tell you for sure what might work, but I can tell you with reasonable certainty which measures won’t work: some of the most oft-touted ideas among them. For details, click here.” The link on “here” will take the highly interested reader to “http://www.askthepilot.com/questions-and-answers/chapter-3/#c3-q18”. The rest of us can just pass it by.

Lately, I’ve stopped clicking on almost all the links I’m offered, unless the material is just so interesting that I want to wring out of it every single drop of meaning, nuance, implication, side-talk and background. But if a writer is so impudent, arrogant, and controlling to make the main text unintelligible without my following hyperlinks, then I now refuse to do him/her the honor of reading it.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of good things to read.

And it’s not like most of these overly hyperlinked pieces are so important that my life will be impoverished or threatened if I pass them by.

Where do you stand on this question of whether and when to hyperlink? What are your hyperlink preferences for writing? for reading?