Thursday, March 31, 2005

Recently, one of Dubya's spokesmen reacted to yet another study confirming global warming by saying that "Our position has been the same for a long time: The science of global climate change is uncertain."

Then again, his boss seems to think that the science of evolution is uncertain.

I pointed out a while ago (as have others) that a lot of the libertarian criticims of government apply just as well to private arrangements (like housing associations) that for many people are increasingly taking on the roles of government, without any of the checks and balances. The cause célèbre for a while was a vet who wanted to put up an flag, in violation of his housing association's code of conduct.

One of the problems with government, supposedly, is that it takes your tax money for stuff you may not even want. Well, here's an instance of private enterprise doing the same thing: cable TV companies are somehow signing contracts with developers that require all homeowners in the development to pay for cable fees whether they use the service or not.

Of course, this isn't like the BBC broadcast tax in Britain. The BBC has much better stuff...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The normally sharp Frank Rich observes:

Culture is often a more reliable prophecy than religion of where the country is going, and our culture has been screaming its theocratic inclinations for months now. The anti-indecency campaign, already a roaring success, has just yielded a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, who had been endorsed by the Parents Television Council and other avatars of the religious right. The push for the sanctity of marriage (or all marriages except Terri and Michael Schiavo's) has led to the banishment of lesbian moms on public television. The Armageddon-fueled worldview of the "Left Behind" books extends its spell by the day, soon to surface in a new NBC prime-time mini-series, "Revelations," being sold with the slogan "The End is Near."

But what "culture" is he speaking of here? In his very next paragraph, he observes that...

... at most a fifth of the country subscribes to the religious views of those in the Republican base whom even George Will, speaking last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," acknowledged may be considered "extremists." In that famous Election Day exit poll, "moral values" voters amounted to only 22 percent. Similarly, an ABC News survey last weekend found that only 27 percent of Americans thought it was "appropriate" for Congress to "get involved" in the Schiavo case and only 16 percent said it would want to be kept alive in her condition. But a majority of American colonists didn't believe in witches during the Salem trials either - any more than the Taliban reflected the views of a majority of Afghans. At a certain point - and we seem to be at that point - fear takes over, allowing a mob to bully the majority over the short term. (Of course, if you believe the end is near, there is no long term.)

In short, American mainstream culture is still four-square against this stuff; the culture of the people who support it is still, in reality, a radical fringe. A fringe whose views are given equal weight with anyone else's, if not more, by the news media in the name of phony "balance". In fact, the "he said, they said" tone of the reports of Terri Schiavo's medical condition -- which has been assessed over and over by numerous qualified specialists, including a neutral doctor appointed by the court -- takes the side of her parents, the ones who want to keep her corpse ghoulishly animated, by reporting that there is a dispute (their claim) where in fact there is none. Would that the claims of human rights groups about torture policies got similar treatment.

The media, in short, is creating the appearance of a culture of loonies, which does not yet exist. But propaganda is a powerful thing. Give it time. Give it time...

Monday, March 28, 2005

A little news from Boston:

One of our prized urban icons is a 1960s-era, massive neon billboard, which looks out over the Charles River and Fenway Park. It advertises a company that no longer really exists (Citgo was bought out by the Venezuelan state oil company long ago), but when the owners tried to take it down, there was a public outcry which actually got the thing landmark status.

Nevertheless, it is a machine, and machines must needs be repaired, and sometimes, dare I say it, replaced. So it is with the sign, which had withstood several hurricanes, but was still, as of last fall, in pretty bad shape. (That also allowed for an upgrade; the new version uses LEDs instead of neon, and consumes a fraction of the power).

But this, in turn, created a problem: what to do about the broken tubes. There were some broken neon tubes in the sign, which many had grown used to, just as they had grown to cherish the sign itself, which might have been considered an eyesore somewhere else. And so the owners of the sign assured the public that the new sign would be able to emulate the behavior of the old -- right down to the tubes that did not light.

So it was, and so it wasn't. "Broken tubes mode" is quite real -- I saw them testing it while the new sign was going up. But it wasn't enabled after the new sign's dedication (a solemn event, attended by the mayor). Instead, all the tubes seemed to work.

Were the fans of broken signs betrayed? No! About a week after the new sign was dedicated, one of the new LED segments broke. It is now stuck on. And this doesn't seem to be a programmed effect, either -- late at night, when the rest of the sign is turned off, this one red segment is still lit. More faithful to the spirit of the old display than a mere imitation could ever be, it appears to be genuinely broken.

The glory of the world passes daily. The most basic traditions of the American Republic are under attack, from commitment to treaties (the Geneva conventions) to the rule of law itself (with Congress attempting to establish separate legal rules that apply to Michael and Terri Schiavo and no one else). But for the moment at least, in one corner of Boston, all is right with the world.