The new Segrettis.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Someone I know who listens to way too much Rush Limbaugh forwarded me a collection of jokes the other day that was topped with some sort of godawful cartoon that tried yet again to play on the Obama/bin Laden muslim crap thing that I would have thought anyone with half a brain would have tossed aside back in, oh, February.

So I wrote him and said “Please do NOT send me any more of this crap.”

So he sends me this today:



An old friend of mine who is a VERY GOOD news guy (and LIKES OBAMA) sent this to me. Please take a look in your spare time and tell me why BLACK people are after him now? This is not an argument on my side, just strangeness to me.

It had been forwarded about 6 times previous to my getting it.

So here’s what I wrote back:

I read Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” cover to cover. He’s a smart guy. That’s pretty much case closed for me…he’s the smartest guy in the room, and Biden’s right up there. I vote for guys (or women) who can outthink me without breaking a sweat. McCain doesn’t pass that test.

I really don’t think it’s fair to say “BLACK people are after him now.” he’s just a person. [someone we both know] is NOT after him–a black guy! [another guy we both know] is not after him–a white guy! You can be damn sure that the Karl Rove associates McCain has hired to smear Obama are paying for as much of this crap as they can (hey, way cheaper than TV spots), and they count on well-meaning folks like you to forward it. Don’t play their game.

You’re just doing the McCain campaign’s dirty work by forwarding crap like this…they LITERALLY want exactly what you did to happen over and over again. Their cost? Free. They’re chuckling at how easy it is to put stuff out in a world pre-jaded by the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly.

We’re all just “guys”…Barack’s race (which is what, exactly?) is meaningless to me, mostly because we’re all just DNA mixed cocktails anyway. His upbringing is certainly something I identify with more than McCain’s.

Youall have to take a deep breath and realize we need a leader to get us 1) out of our current mess and 2) make our country again worthy of respect around the world. (No, we’re not respected now. Feared maybe. I don’t want to be feared.)

I’m going with Obama.


Folks are seemingly oblivious to what extent this machine of destruction has been embedded into American culture, and the internet is just the perfect—almost infinitely cheap—medium for this kind of stuff to propogate. Back in 1972, Donald Segretti and the rest of Nixon’s dirty tricks squad had to work a lot harder to get a meme of evil to extend its tendrils through society. These days, a click or two, and you’re done.

And you know why it works…in some ways, it’s the classic social thing: “I really didn’t want to receive that kind of junk, but I didn’t want to offend him by telling him I was upset.”

Don’t break the chain, in other words. We’re all so polite. It’s time to, instead of simply hitting the delete button or tuning out in a cocktail party conversation, to speak up for what you (and I) believe at your core.

This verminous smear campaign only stays alive if we keep quiet. Are you voting for Obama? Glad to hear it.

Tell your friends why, and what you believe in. And stand by your words.


Sunday, August 24th, 2008

I’ve gotta stop reading the web as a way to spin down after working late into the night. I look up and it’s 2:30. I think about blogging about what I’ve read, and it’s 3. Now, it’s 4.

I had another one of those moments, here, in mid-night, where I had to shake my head not in a casual “tsk, tsk” kind of way but in a bigger, more brain-throbbing, “nooo….this simply can’t still be like this in 2008″ kind of way. But in my frustration, there are growing rays of hope, worth writing about.

Read (and read all of) A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash by Amy Harmon in the New York Times…about today’s challenges of teaching evolution in the Bible belt. That phrase, by the way, appears nowhere in the article, but I’ve lived down here long enough to feel its presence, tightly squeezing the minds of now several generations of youngsters into a contrived vision of the Earth as a giant playset, arranged just so by…well, by God over the last 10,000 years, tops.

The piece hangs its hook on the positive news that there is a fading resistance to teaching evolution as, well, the proven science that it is. Florida, Harmon reports, is just one of the states which has drafted new standards for the teaching of and testing on the scientific (theory of) evolution. (That parenthetical, inserted in the state’s language, to appease the folks who are still back there in 1925.) They’re drafting standards I think as much from fear of litigation as much as fear of humiliation in the greater community of humankind.

So read about a Florida teacher, David Campbell, representative of those who try to reach the unreachable, who gently offer science straight-up, not with contempt but with a compassion that matches the words (if not deeds) of their Christian charges. They are (and I don’t use this term casually) modern heroes to me…I can’t imagine anything much more challenging in the arena of modern education. They have to deliver information with an coaxing approach that allays unreasonable fear and makes it all right to begin to see a broader, more logical, more scientific world view, outside the doctrinaire confines of the family Bible.

These educators have to face almost incomprehensible ignorance, day after day. And contempt and tuning-out too, of course.

How did we get to this point? We’re decades after I was taught evolution as “no big deal”—as established science…decades after we looked at the Scopes trial as a sepia-toned snapshot of how far we’ve come…and chuckled at the backward attitudes that (I was sure, back in grade school) would be as extinct as the mammoth in a very short time.

It’s as if we’ve generationally backslid, and we’re only now slowly getting back to the quality of understanding that was prevalent in the early 1960s. We’ll be able to figure out how to put a man on the moon (again), soon.

Take a close, close look at the photo at the top of the article, which somehow manages to encapsulate the fear, skepticism, and just plain ignorance that these caring teachers face. The boy in the center is quoted in the article as saying “there’s no way I came from an ape,” as if that’s the big takeaway from an understanding of vast but minute biological changes over almost immeasurable time.

Yet the photo somehow conveys the magic of education at work. There’s the surface skepticism—the bred-in contempt the students have for the scientific method is on the tips of their tongues…but they are listening. They are engaged. They’re just the tiniest bit open to the possibility of learning, growth, change.

And I was delighted to discover one hopeful footnote in the comments attached to the article. One of David Campbell’s former students seems to have emerged into a more examinable, thoughtful world:

Bless Mr. Campbell. He was my high school biology teacher, and this article only begins to illustrate all the ways in which he is an amazing teacher. He constantly challenges his students to think for themselves, to analyze, and to test hypotheses rather than simply accept things at face value. He was the first teacher who ever taught me how, not what, to think, and Mr. Campbell is the reason I am now a biologist, studying evolutionary biology. Thank you, Mr. Campbell, and all biology teachers like you, who, in teaching evolution well, nurture the natural curiosity in young minds.

Thanks to the hard work of (at least) one diligent, engaging teacher, 21st century American public school biological education is…an evolving situation.

Whose headlines these are…

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Sometimes, latenight when I should be actually working, I divert myself with one of the web’s oldest aggregation sites. Slashdot is a festival of “news for nerds, stuff that matters,” and at least some of it emerges from a small town near Ann Arbor Michigan, so Sammy would tell you it can’t be all bad.

So tonight, the headlines are pouring into my sleep-deprived eyeballs, and they read like so much bad tech poetry:

Japan Demands Probe of iPod Nano Flameouts

Flash Ads Launching Clipboard Hijack Attacks

Judge Rules Man Cannot Be Forced To Decrypt HD

MIT Students’ Gag Order Lifted

Teens Arrested For Motorized Office Chair

Leaping the Uncanny Valley

…I took the road less traveled by flaming Nanos and Motorized Office Chairs, and that has made all the difference.

Smoothing out Apple’s cloud.

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t drink the particular flavor of Kool-Aid that is the online cloud of services that used to be overpriced when they were called ‘.mac’, and seem still overpriced (and we have serverspace already, thanks) as MobileMe.

I’e consumed vast uncounted gallons of the many other brands of Apple Kool-Aid, anyway.

I applaud what Apple was trying to do…and there’s certainly a market out there for people who need what MobileMe was supposed to do.

But as you may have heard or read in various distorted ways in the mass media, MobileMe has had its problems…and maybe the best thing Steve Jobs could do is admit those problems, and maybe shuffle some folks around and hope for the best.

Well, ArsTechnica’s Jacqui Cheng is reporting that he has done just that:

“It was a mistake to launch MobileMe at the same time as iPhone 3G, iPhone 2.0 software and the App Store,” [Jobs] says. “We all had more than enough to do, and MobileMe could have been delayed without consequence.” […] “The MobileMe launch clearly demonstrates that we have more to learn about Internet services,” Jobs says. “And learn we will. The vision of MobileMe is both exciting and ambitious, and we will press on to make it a service we are all proud of by the end of this year.”

Well. Yep. Indeed.

And I’m rooting for you, Steve…good luck with the pressing on.

Oh, and by the way…if you’re running Leopard and have a Google account, take a look at Google Calendar‘s free offering which now features complete CalDAV support…which means that you can edit your calendar on a web page, your phone, your iCal app…every darn where. If I had actual places to be and real things to do, this would be hugely useful.

And also in the meantime, I’m admiring our fine first-generation iPhone with the latest 2.01 software (just out today), and this fine phone has been all we wanted it to be and more. It’s just an amazing device, and Apple should be as proud of it (and its 2.0x software) as they are ashamed of MobileMe 1.0.

And in one more parenthetical, I have one word for a fine non-game (yet game-ish) app to load for free on your iPhone or iPod Touch: Bubbles. I can now be distracted like a toddler by bright shiny objects…on my phone!

Unkept incidences.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Jane Espenson is a writer and producer on some of my favorite television work of the recent years. She’s done her Fireflys and her Battlestar Galacticas and even her Buffys. And she blogged a bit yesterday about something that, as a caring consumer (and sometimes producer) of the English language, absolutely annoys the heck out of me:

Sir, you mean “unkempt,” not “unkept”. “Whirlwind,” not “worldwind.” You might mean “incidents,” or you might mean “instances,” but you certainly do not mean “incidences.” And, Miss, you must mean “hot on the heels of,” not “hot OFF the heels of.”

And just as I was reading and nodding and feeling all superior over folks who write “for all intensive purposes” and suchlike, she wisely adds:

The only thing wrong with feeling superior about knowing how to use these words is that each of us has a matching supply of words we’re using wrong without even knowing it.

I’ll take her at her word, although I’m not sure where I’ve misplaced my matching supply. I think these kinds of usage errors are a fine indicator of a culture brought up kinda sorta listening to television and hearing-but-not-quite-hearing phrases tossed out…and not bothering to figure out just what was said.

When you pick this stuff up for the first time in, say, a book, the phrase is right there in black and white. But then you may not know how it’s pronounced…until you hear a character in a movie or on TV show say it out loud. (And even then, you may not be getting it just right.)

Her blog, by the way, is a regular in my big ol RSS feed, a consistently entertaining window into the modern world of toiling in television writing.