Thu, 01 Jun 2006 00:26:49 GMT

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

An Inconvenient Movie.

The subject of Al Gore always sets me musing about the press. So pardon a paragraph of exposition before I get to Al Gore’s new movie.

It seems to me that the political press has always felt more comfortable with amiable doofuses than with people who genuinely care about what they’re doing. If I wanted to psychoanalyze freely (before you protest, check the name of this blog) I would say that political reporters generally have egos bigger than their intellect and just feel more comfortable around the limited and slightly sleazy politicians who fit their cynical view of how politics is supposed to operate.

Of course there are other ways of winning over reporters. At least one investigator has shown that dumping copious amounts of booze, attention and cocktail weenies on reporters can win you an enduring reputation as a straight talker.

Maybe Clinton was a bit too bright and wonkish to sit at the kool kids table. Certainly Al Gore, brighter and more earnest than your average handful of Brookings scholars, was out before he was ever in. That explains as well as anything I’ve seen how a smear that made no sense – Al Gore makes things up to please people – took on a life of its own in the press. The Heathers had such a good time dissing the bright kid that they rarely if ever took time to note the equally-egregious (actually neither said anything that egregious, which made them equal) whoppers told by Gore’s amiable, limited opponent.

To his credit Gore the almost-president went on campaigning for the same issue as always: people, pollution and the climate. Five years on the speaking circuit has apparently punched-up Gore’s presentation significantly, to the point that director Davis Guggenheim has assembled the Gore lecture, some voiceovers and a scattering of graphics into a film that two reviewers that I usually trust, NY Times and The Onion, describe as an emotional punch in the gut. Now honestly, when was the last time you heard somebody describe a powerpoint presentation like that? Reviewers also also call it informative and intellectually convincing. That seems like high praise for what is basically a movie-length slideshow, and a successful movie will force “skeptics” to try a lot harder than recent ads and op-eds by folks with a weak grasp of the science and obvious conflicts-of-interest.

Not to worry though, climate skeptics may have an ace in the hole: years after the fact media Heathers can’t seem to stop writing their hackneyed ‘90s narratives. Case in point, the dreaded CLENIS. So here is this week’s assignment for the folks at TechCentralStation: find a factual innacuracy in Gore’s presentation. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a result misattributed to one scientist instead of another or a misplaced date. In 90-some minutes there has to be something. Then just step back and let the good old Gore-lies-to-please-people credibility smear (that falls under Mentally Imbalanced for those keeping score) take off under its own power. If the kool kids can’t stop themselves from obsessing about the Clintons’ marriage then they won’t mind a chance to kick the smart kid again.

I don’t mean to say that the folks at TCSDaily and elsewhere are fundamentally dishonest, although that may be, but they have to cut down this message before it becomes a phenomenon. The last thing Republicans need is for a million or two Americans to react like the reviewer at the Onion:

The first response to An Inconvenient Truth is horror. No matter how reliably genial and measured Gore’s oratory style, no matter how much hope he dutifully tries to squeeze into the proceedings, it’s hard to come away feeling anything but a prevailing sense of doom. The second response is outrage. How could the press and our leaders allow for the debate over global warming to center on the issue of whether it even exists?

…Quite apart from its environmental agenda, the film is a reminder that there’s no space for substance in political discourse: A 30-second soundbite on global warming could easily be brushed off as tree-hugging rhetoric, but after 100 minutes of level-headed elaboration, it’s chillingly undeniable.

Maybe fear is the greatest motivator. It is depressing to think that Democrats may ride a wave of fear akin to 9/11 demagoguery but hey, that strategy worked out pretty well for Karl Rove and I bet the prospect of the same phenomenon running in reverse has him at least a little bit frightened.

[Balloon Juice]

I plan on seeing this movie. Gore uses facts and science to combat the selfishness and ignorance dispensed by so many. I really beleive this is one of the seminal documentaries ever made. Look at the trailer. comment [commentCounter (3180)]1:01:07 PM

Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Law Rejected by MA House.

by TChris

Reasonable arguments can be made that laws should require drivers to wear seat belts, or that motorcylists should be required to wear helmets, because society often bears the cost of injuries that exceed insurance coverage. Others reasonably argue that the government should allow individuals to make their own judgments about the costs and benefits of using seat belts or helmets.

Putting that debate aside, states that mandate seat belt use must decide whether the police should be allowed to stop a vehicle solely because the officer suspects that someone in the car hasn’t buckled up. The Massachusetts House wisely declined to give the police the power to stop motorists solely to write a seat belt ticket. About half the states permit only “secondary enforcement” of seat belt laws, permitting seat belt enforcement when the police make a traffic stop for some other traffic violation while prohibiting traffic stops just to write a seat belt ticket.

[TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime]

As I recall, Federal money is used to subsidize statewide Clickit or Ticket campaigns. I wonder if there is anything in there about it being used as a primary or secondary enforcement tactic? comment [commentCounter (3179)]12:44:16 PM

Bush Administration Uses ‘State Secrets Privilege’ To Escape Accountability.

This week, six private citizens — including author Studs Terkel — joined the ACLU in a lawsuit against AT&T, claiming the company gave the NSA “sensitive information about massive numbers of domestic phone calls.”

But AT&T and the government may force the courts to shut down the case. With increasing frequency, the Bush administration is employing the state secrets privilege, “a once-rare tactic that essentially gives the government a blank check to kill civil suits.” (Verizon picked up the administration’s lead and invoked the privilege to shield itself from public scrutiny over the NSA surveillance program.)

A look at the government’s increasing abuse of the practice:

– A recent study found that the federal government “has successfully asserted the secrets privilege at least 60 times since the early 1950s and has been stymied five times.”

– “It was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year.”

Even more troubling is that the state secrets privilege is based on a 1953 Supreme Court decision that was “based more on concealing negligence than preserving national security.”

Kevin Drum has more.

[Think Progress]

The Administration is not just saying that parts of a case involve state secrets. They say the entire case does. So, one party in a criminal case can simply say, It’s a secret, and get away with anything. No oversight by Congress and none by the Judicial branch. I wonder how long before we have judge’s chambers being searched by the Executive Branch? They can not only want to intimidate the Congress by such tactics. comment [commentCounter (3178)]12:36:44 PM

Mice Inherit Trait Without the Gene [AP Science]

Interesting. It appears that RNA is involved but it is a complex system. While so much of our understanding of genetics is based on Mendellian mechanisms, it is the oddball, uncommon ones that could have some interesting effects. I’ll be reading this paper. comment [commentCounter (3177)]12:33:52 PM


DETENTION FOR A BLOG ENTRY? I don’t think that high schools have any business punishing students for things they do when they’re out of school, whether or not they blog about them.

Plus, the weasel-phrase “illegal or inappropriate behavior” sets my teeth on edge. Do I trust a high-school principal to judge what off-campus behavior is “inappropriate?” I don’t really even trust them with regard to what’s happening on campus.


Perhaps a netter response would be to notify the parents but detention seems a little strong, particularly when the priciple gets to make the decision. But then, I guess the idea of a Unitary Executive is all the rage today. comment [commentCounter (3176)]12:19:33 PM

Survival of the selfless – scientists find cheats don’t always prosper. Selfishness is not necessarily the best survival trait for microorganisms, according to researchers studying the comparative effectiveness of ‘cheating’ and ‘cooperating’ strains of yeast. [EurekAlert! – Biology]

Well, the report maily details that those that use energy quickly but inefficiently (by generating toxins) can not out compete those that take use energy slowly but efficiently. Eventually the fast growers leave too many toxins around they can do much with. A purely selfish strategy does not always win, something I wish creationists would undertsand when they suggest that evolution is always about being a selfish bastard. comment [commentCounter (3175)]12:16:45 PM

Found Footage: Smack your MacBook Pro.

Filed under: ,

This video shows a clever use of the Apple sudden motion sensor. Simply tap the side of your MacBook and the desktop switches. Sadly, the URL at the beginning of the video is password protected. Here’s hoping somone releases the code.

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[The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)]

Only on a Mac. This is kind of a cool idea, although smacking your mac may not be the best idea. comment [commentCounter (3174)]12:07:25 PM