Category Archives: media

Musings on the tinkling of glass from the almost shattered ceiling of American democracy

Dear Most Powerful Democracy(TM) in the World,

Congratulations on taking another step closer to having a woman break the ultimate glass ceiling in your country, with Hillary Clinton being declared the presumptive nominee of one of your two political parties. We look forward to welcoming you to the large community of nations that have been electing women leaders to head their government for decades now. It may surprise your citizens—especially those rooting for the big orange loudmouth presumptive nominee of the other party—to find that even a number of Islamic nations have elected women to their highest offices. But don’t be embarrassed about joining this group now. When it comes to matters of democracy and human rights and equality, “better late than never” always applies. Long arc of history and all that considering, you know?

I imagine you know that your presidential election tends to capture the attention of the rest of the world, and this one in particular has the world in its thrall like a spectacular car crash that one cannot look away from, even though the outcome may be disastrous for occupants of the cars and spectators alike. The popularity of the orange loudmouth with the strange hair alternately baffles and frightens the world’s citizens who can scarcely believe that so many citizens of this superpower nation, known for your leadership in science and technology, for crying out loud, are falling for the dubious charms of a globally well-known con-man. That one of your two parties, half of your entire political spectrum (seriously, America, how on earth do you do democracy in such a big diverse country with just two political parties? But let’s leave that question for another time!) has been hijacked by a narcissistic demagogue happy to use bombastic nationalism and xenophobia laced with racist and sexist slurs to score television rating in this election turned into reality show, is…incredibly depressing.

At the same time, though, what’s happening in the other party offers more hope for the world. A fierce battle over liberal/progressive ideology between, gasp, a woman and an old school socialist? Who could have even imagined this in America a decade ago? Now it appears that the woman may be winning the party’s nomination to become the first female presidential candidate ever in your long and storied history as the world’s leading democracy? And a majority of your citizens might well retain their senses to elect her to follow your first Black President? How wonderful of you to finally move into this new phase in this new millennium! (Let’s set aside, for now, the more touchy subject of how they both have continued to rain bombs on much of the world – but we must address that too, soon, after you send the lunatic orange man packing.)

What took you so long?

So many younger nations, often learning about democracy from your own history, have lapped you and surged so much farther ahead in how they run their elections now – you really should feel embarrassed. Looking at you from the polling booths of some of these younger nations might feel like looking at a venerable but arthritic old man who is too set in his eccentric ways and unwilling to adjust with the times to learn how to run things in this new millennium. We hope that you will pay attention to and build on the energy of your younger citizens, many of whom have been involved in this election campaign with no little passion, calling out the injustices of the really bizarre ways you still run your elections. Like it is still the 18th century and you are still an agrarian nation deeply mired in social, economic, and cultural inequalities spread across a vast and mostly depopulated continent.

But never mind that for now; let us be cautiously optimistic that you just might follow up on your first Black Man in the White House with your first Woman President! What a way to make another grand entrance on to the world stage, two hundred and forty years after your birth as a democratic nation! So please: don’t throw this opportunity away, and for Earth’s sake, don’t let the narcissistic con-man steal this election too, like his predecessor did at the turn of the millennium.

You still have much work to do in fixing your democracy and bringing it up to date though, all the way from the design of ballots to drawing of voting district maps to how votes are counted in different states to who actually oversees and runs your elections to these myriad and ludicrously convoluted ways your parties hold primaries… to who pays for the whole circus… the list is so long and so hilariously tragic! You really do have a lot of work to do – which may be why you show so little enthusiasm for actually cleaning up the mess! It is like the aftermath of a centuries old frat party (or democracy rave) in your living room when you just can’t summon up the energy to throw all the trash out and start a new day afresh. Yet that is what you need to do! And you might start with the odd thing that happened tonight, and keeps happening every election – when your media gives away the results of the game before the last votes have been cast! What’s up with that?

While we are getting ready to applaud this apparent imminent shattering of the glass ceiling in America, many of us are also baffled at how your much-lauded free press decided to declare the winner before so many states have even held the vote for their primaries! How does your free press, which is supposed to be such a crucial pillar for democracy in a free society, continue to undermine the most basic process at the heart of democracy: the casting of votes to elect representatives? How does this make any sense? I mean, sure, the press has an obligation – and more, a competitive drive – to report whatever it deems newsworthy, so some of the fault lies with those who release these results that can tip the electoral scales. Still, surely this is something that could be fixed by reminding the media of their serious responsibility and making them keep their megaphones switched off until the last vote has been cast? That’s how some other democracies do it, to protect the sanctity of every vote.

While there is much you should learn from studying how other nations run their elections, at least in this one instance, you might consider the Most Populous Democracy in the World: India. Did you know that the press there, while invited and encouraged to closely observe and report on the entire election, is nevertheless restrained from announcing any results until after all the votes are cast and counted? And mind you, restraint is not likely to be the first word—hell, not even among the first 100 words—to come to mind when one thinks of / observes the Indian media these days; they are a cacophonous, obnoxious, loud-mouthed, argumentative lot, are India’s TV talking heads, who seemed to have learned too well the ratings game from your television networks. Yet, when it comes to election results, they exhibit remarkable restraint (or pay the price of jumping the gun).

Media Coverage

In order to bring as much transparency as possible to the electoral process, the media are encouraged and provided with facilities to cover the election, although subject to maintaining the secrecy of the vote. Media persons are given special passes to enter polling stations to cover the poll process and the counting halls during the actual counting of votes.

Doesn’t that sound like something for your press to try, at least for the general election?

Do click on that link and look around the helpful website of the Election Commission of India: all the fascinating details of how that rambunctious cacophony of a democracy, with over a billion people scattered densely across a varied landscape with poor infrastructure and much less money than you, manages to run its parliamentary elections—featuring thousands of candidates from dozens of political parties vying for hundreds of millions of votes cast at nearly a million polling stations—with much less of a fuss and a bother. Imagine, for example, running your entire presidential election, from the first primary to the general election, in just a couple of months instead of the years-long and practically never ending campaigns you force your candidates to run now! Wouldn’t that be refreshing? And conducive to the actual business of governing the nation for the public good?

Of course there is much that is also wrong with the running of elections in India – just see who they elected Prime Minister in the last election. Has any nation figured out a fool-proof way to conduct the messy business of democracy? Shouldn’t they all be talking to each other and borrowing from each other the best ways to make things work most impartially and openly and fairly?

There is a great deal more we could tell you about how to improve and modernize your elections, to bring you up to date in the 21st century. If you really put your mind and considerable resources to it, you might even come up blazing the trail again for the rest of the world, showing us how to get it done properly. Many other nations would love to help you with that, even as you claim to be the designated driver of democracy around the world. It is past time you got your own house in order, and we would love to talk to you about that. Perhaps after you’re done with this most insane of your recent elections, and are able to take a breather. Hopefully.

For now, let us raise a glass to the sound of all that tinkling glass, beginning to fall down slowly from that almost shattered ceiling… the world may hold its breath waiting for the final blow that breaks it fully apart come November. Until then, you do you – in the best way you know how!

– from a humble representative of your friends and well-wishers, citizens of other democracies.

“It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works!” – Neil deGrasse Tyson brings Science to CNN and Colbert Nation

I don’t want to turn this blog into a Neil deGrasse Tyson fan site, but its hard not to share when he is so damned articulate about issues that concern me deeply, about the unnecessary yet ever-present culture war in America that is depriving generations of the beauty and wisdom that a scientific perspective can bring. Nobody explains this more clearly than Tyson, and in ways that should be understandable even to reasonable religious folks. I’m with him when he says that he doesn’t care what you believe—I keep telling my students the same thing—because you have the freedom to believe whatever you want in this country. But you must recognize also that your belief is not going to affect the reality that science allows us to perceive and understand. That reality, and the science of understanding it, “it’s true whether or not you believe in it!” Indeed.

So here are a few more clips from Tyson’s appearance on the telly this week, in the wake of his new fame as the host of the rebooted Cosmos. First, an interview on CNN’s Reliable Sources where he challenged the journalistic notion of “balance” which can be quite false and unbalanced when it comes to presenting science in the mainstream media.

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2014/03/09/the-great-american-science-divide.cnn.html

And then he made his 10th appearance on The Colbert Report (presumably walking right over from his CNN gig because he’s wearing the same outfit!):

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/433644/march-10-2014/neil-degrasse-tyson-pt–1

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/433645/march-10-2014/neil-degrasse-tyson-pt–2

Baba Brinkman raps up Geek Week on the Rachel Maddow show!

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It is so cool to see Baba Brinkman hit the mainstream media now, after wowing so many of us in smaller shows around the world. We were lucky to get him on our campus early in the Darwin Bicentennial year, when he was performing at the Fresno Rogue Festival. Great to see Rachel Maddow putting him on to rap up her first Geek Week!

What next? The Colbert Report, dare one hope? I’d love to see that rap duel, wouldn’t you?

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

World of Warmcraft

Amid all the media coverage and hot air (from all sides) surrounding the COP15 negotiations ongoing in Copenhagen this week, where the world’s leaders are converging right now to dither collectively about what they will or will not do about global warming, even as icebergs melt and activists ratchet up the rhetoric – on both sides – we should all be thankful for the sanity-restoring coverage provided by Jon Stewart and his minions at The Daily Show! So if you want to clear your head a bit, look below the fold for a couple of samples of their recent coverage:

Last night, they had World of Warmcraft:

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'World of Warmcraft
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

And last week, they addressed the so-called climate-gate email leak scandal, pointedly and concisely capturing my own ambivalent frustration with the incident.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Scientists Hide Global Warming Data
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Facing up to tough questions on climate change? Hopefully today on CNN!

I hadn’t caught this either, so I’m glad Shannon Patrick found this just in time – at least to watch and see if someone else has asked a question burning in your mind even if you didn’t get to ask it yourself. Something to look for this evening on CNN.

This is very interesting and I’m sorry that I came across it so late. Youtube and CNN have joined forces to let everybody’s voice be heard, or at least have a chance. People were asked to submit questions for world leaders regarding climate change to a specific Copenhagen Summit YouTube page that is run by CNN. The news organization is going to take the most compelling questions and present them to world leaders at the conference. This conference will be broadcast live on CNN and streamed live on YouTube. If you followed the presedential election last fall you may have seen the YouTube debates done by CNN then. I, for one, enjoyed those debates very much, so I hope this is just as well done. While this may not get immediate action, from my experience watching the YouTube debates, the questions are commonly the tough questions that reporters don’t seem to ask, but that the public wants to know. These questions definitely give a feeling of relief of frustration, in the form of “Finally, somebody asked it!”. It’s live on December 15th at 5 a.m. PST, but I’m sure they will replay it throughout the day, and of course YouTube will have it full length for watching on-demand.

When Hollywood distributors are exposed to Darwin’s thoughts, who knows what could happen?!

Its not clear yet if and how the Darwin biopic “Creation” may ever get distributed in the US, even as it readies for a UK release next week. There was some scuttlebutt yesterday when the NCSE tweeted a Bay Area NBC affiliate station’s report that their parent company was in a “bidding war” over the US distribution rights! And the juicy tidbit in that story was that apparently Mel Gibson (he who managed to get his graphic movie about a guy being flogged and tortured for hours shown in churches all over the US, without the help of any major Hollywood distributors!) had actually helped finance this movie (him being Catholic, and Catholics saying they don’t have a problem with Evolution – that’s how some people tried to explain it)! Wow – would that have blown some fuses in the heads of the church-going fans of Gibson’s Passion in the American heartlands!! But, alas, that won’t happen, because that news story has been retracted/replaced, with this caveat:

The original article confused the film’s distributor, Icon Distribution, with Mel Gibson owed [sic] Icon Productions. The companies use the exact same logo and indeed Icon Distribution was once owned by Gibson. It is no longer. We regret the error.

Huh?! Alrighty then… and so American journalism continues its reverse evolution – but that disease apparently afflicts the British press as well, for the very same Telegraph that lamented the lack of a US distributor for this movie had, two days earlier, published a truly egregious piece of “balanced” reporting about evolution vs. creationism! As for the movie itself, I still haven’t seen any official word on how that NBC affiliate’s parent company is doing in that “bidding war”, nor if indeed there is any such war at all. In fact, their own latest story has no mention of any bidding!! Scores of fans on the movie’s Facebook page, meanwhile, are rallying around demanding it be shown here, but who knows if they constitute enough of a market for the bean counters weighing faith-based backlash vs. the box office appeal of a 19th century nerd wrestling with serious scientfic/philosophical issues! Last night, on another media outlet likely genetically linked to the Bay Area station, Rachel Maddow and Kent Jones had probably the funniest take on the saga:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsMTB828XCA&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00]

At Earth Hour tonight, switch off the lights, and your cynicism too!

Earth Hour LogoWhat’s wrong with turning our lights off for an hour? Especially if a billion or more of our species do it worldwide today? And not just turn out the lights, but as many other power-consuming devices as possible? And then hang out with friends / family for some conversations in the dark / by candlelight / firelight? Moreover, what’s wrong with getting some of our institutions to turn off the lights, for instance at normally brightly lit monuments or buildings? So why are some of my friends and colleagues, conservationists otherwise, turning cynical about this movement which seems to have caught much of the world’s imagination?

Of course, I’m talking about Earth Hour, the annual global cascading power down which started just two years ago in Sydney, Australia, to get people thinking about global warming, and has now spread so much that even the Chinese govt. agencies turned the lights out in some famous places today (pictures here). Here’s a video promoting the event, in case you haven’t seen it yet:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CRs-7lRlPo]

With the celebrity endorsements, TV ads, and news coverage even from Fox (yeah!), today’s Earth Hour is turning out to be bigger even than last year’s. I don’t know if it’ll reach the goal of 1 billion people “voting earth” as the campaign puts it, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? The main goal, surely, is to get everyone talking about it, and about global warming, and what we, even as individuals, can do about it. And that part has been really successful, with the message ubiquitous, including (or course) on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Of course, many global warming “skeptics” and others on the right scoff at such “empty gestures” and “feel goodism” (to steal a phrase from someone responding to the Fresno Bee last year). But why is this reaction shared by some on our side of the global warming fight? On Facebook, one friend remarks:

The amount of electricity used to inform everyone (via email, TV, etc.) about “Earth Hour” on March 28, 2009 was nearly twelve times as much as the expected savings.

… and several others jump in nodding vigorously in agreement, even claiming that this whole campaign is just more FUD! As if those communication channels (email, TV, etc.) were switched on explicitly for the purpose of promoting Earth Hour, and would have otherwise been off saving electricity! Really? On another thread, a friend’s joining the cause brings more abuse, with an offer to throw a “fuck the earth” party instead!! And others argue this is all just fantasyland, and has nothing to do with the real world! Even biting sarcasm doesn’t go unpunished!

Huh?!

Is turning the lights off and hanging out in the darkness for an hour really all that bad? Perhaps you should also switch off your cynicism for that hour? Go ahead, try it – join others in the dark for an hour, and embrace some optimism that it is possible to get a bunch of people to come together to talk about the environment, even if fleetingly, for an hour. Not too much, just an hour of this fellowship. It won’t hurt you! Even if, in the long run, we human beings are fucked anyway, being but Earth’s way to make itself some plastic! An hour’s rest ought to, at least, renew your spirit of cynicism as you get back to dealing with the real world. Even your cynicism needs some rest now and then, surely?

Meanwhile, enjoy these pictures:

Now I better go look for some candles and matches… for I’ve got a pile of exams to grade, and such a perfect opportunity to recreate that famous opening scene from Satyajit Ray’s movie “Jana Aranya” (The Middleman) – the one where the examiner fails our “hero” because he cannot read his writing by candlelight during Kolkata’s famous load-shedding!

Happy darkness!

The comedian and the financial expert

Jon Stewart, at his best, took down yet another bastion of tele-punditry on the Daily Show last week – not just Jim Cramer, but the entire CNBC financial TV network! What does it say about our society when a comedian gets the workings of the financial markets, and tells it like it is, while a whole network of financial “experts” marches happily right off the cliff? Here’s the entire brilliant interview, in 3 parts, and its really worth watching (even for ecologists) for the insight it provides into the workings of some of the institutional pillars of the US economy. Would that the rest of the mainstream media did their job as well as this comedy show does in 22 min 4 days/week…

The Rap Guide to Evolution – this weekend in Fresno!

My friend Scott Hatfield just pointed out a brilliant act premiering at the Rogue Festival in Fresno this weekend: The Rap Guide to Evolution! Its Richard Dawkins meets Eminem, to paraphrase the review in Science (yes, that AAAS journal, renowned for its rap reviews!):

fresno-rge.jpg

Canadian rap artist, performance poet, and actor Baba Brinkman follows up his hilarious award-winning one-man show “The Rap Canterbury Tales” with a journey to the center of history’s greatest controversy: the Origin of Species. Brinkman’s powerful storytelling has been hailed the world over as an ingenious hybrid of rap and theatre. Fresh from a tour celebrating the 2009 Darwin Bicentennial in England, this will be the North American premier of “The Rap Guide to Evolution”.

It’s a 50-minute show, rated PG-13 (‘sexual references, mature subject matter, but NO SWEARING, he says”).

Lead single “Natural Selection” featuring Richard Dawkins. Click here to Download.

The Rap Guide to Evolution” explores the history and current understanding of Darwin’s theory, combining remixes of popular rap songs with storytelling rap/poems that cover Natural Selection, Artificial Selection, Sexual Selection, Group Selection, Unity of Common Descent, and Evolutionary Psychology. Dr. Pallen has vetted the entire script for scientific and historical accuracy, making it a powerful teaching tool as well as a laugh-out-loud entertainment experience. The show also engages directly with challenging questions about cultural evolution, asking the audience to imagine themselves as the environment and the performer as an organism undergoing a form of live adaptation.

The Rap Guide to Evolution” was developed with the support of the British Council, and will be touring the UK in the summer of 2009, including the Edinburgh Fringe. Look out for recordings and videos coming soon to this site!

Here’s a preview clip, via YouTube:

How can you resist the whole act after that? Perhaps I’ll see you there this weekend!