Tag: NPR

Marketplace on NPR

So, since May I've been working a job that goes from 10 AM to 6 PM.

I like it. It gives me time to walk the dog in the morning, and getting off at 6 means I miss both the worst heat and the worst traffic of the day.

The biggest problem with getting off at 6 is that Marketplace is on NPR, and so that's what I end up listening to on my way home, because it's that or play Preset Lottery and try to find a song I like amid all the obnoxious pop and worse commercials on all the other stations.

I've been trying, for months, to figure out why I don't like Marketplace. Is it my innate disdain for the finance industry? The constant handholding on basic economics and technology?

No. I have come to realize that it's because the questions Kai Ryssdal asks are actually stupid.

Here's a bit from yesterday's interview with Amazon Studios' Roy Price:

Ryssdal: At this point, you might reasonably stop and ask, How did an online retailer end up making television shows, and, y'know, why? Roy Price is the guy with the answers; he runs Amazon Studios. Roy, it's good to have you on.

Price: Thank you, Kai; it's great to be here.

Ryssdal: So when you go to a dinner party, or your kid's soccer game, or you're hangin' out at the beach, and people say, "What do you do?" what do you tell them?

Price: I run Amazon Studios, and we develop TV shows for amazon.com. That's usually what I tell them, unless I'm in a kidding mood.

Emphasis added, because seriously, what the fuck is that? The dude says what Price's job is, and then asks him what he tells people his job is. This is, like, Tim Meadows as Lionel Osbourne-caliber interviewing.

And then he just keeps rambling on about how crazy it is that Amazon is making original TV shows.

This is not 1999. He is not asking why bookseller Amazon has started selling CD's, VHS tapes, and DVD's.

This is not 2003. He is not asking why media seller Amazon has started selling clothing, and advertising it with baffling recommendations beginning with "People who wear clothes also shop for:"

This is not 2007. He is not asking why physical media/clothing seller Amazon has started selling consumer electronics, household goods, and MP3's.

This is not 2011. He is not asking why physical goods/ebook/MP3 seller Amazon has started its own Android app store and video streaming service.

This is goddamn yesterday, and he is seemingly baffled that an online retailer that has been constantly branching out into new markets for the past 15 years has branched out into a new market.

Jesus Christ. I'd rather listen to Car Talk.

Real Alternatives

To: NPR's All Things Considered

On this afternoon's All Things Considered, you referred to the computer-illiterate, failed copyright bills SOPA and PIPA, and spoke with economist Steve Siwek. You noted, "Although both bills seem to be on permanent hold, Siwek says their critics have offered no real alternatives." You did not challenge this assertion.

A Google search for the phrase "alternative to sopa" produces 41,100 results. A Google search for the phrase "real alternative to sopa" produces 4,930.

These proposed alternatives range from simple -- focus on the biggest infringers -- to the more radical -- completely overhaul copyright law to provide shorter copyright terms and broader exceptions for fair use.

Indeed, there is a proposed alternative to SOPA and PIPA working its way through Congress right now; it's called the OPEN Act.

To put it bluntly, it is impossible that Siwek is unaware of these proposals. When he says no one has offered any alternative to SOPA and PIPA, he is lying.


There's a word Ford Prefect uses when he feels like he needs to say something but he doesn't know how to say it: goosnargh.

I'm going to say some things anyway. Maybe that's a bad idea. Guess we'll see. Maybe I'll stumble, fugue-like, onto some deep and profound truth; more likely I'll say something trite, insensitive and offensive -- in which case at least my newfound posting frequency means it won't be on the front page for long.

In the early hours of this morning, a man in a gas mask and a bulletproof vest walked into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, threw two cannisters of tear gas on the ground, fired once into the air and then began firing into the crowd. The death toll currently stands at 12, the wounded at 59. Those are the details as they're currently being reported, though it's still early and the information could change.

In the meantime, well, everyone is shocked and sad and horrified and, in compliance with human nature, trying to make some sense of this appalling act by making it fit some sort of narrative.

Was the killer a deranged Batman fan? Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't; I don't think it matters. Maybe he just picked a movie he knew would be crowded. Maybe he picked a movie where he thought people would think he was just a guy in a costume.

But there's something that feels like Batman about it, isn't there? An over-the-top villain on an over-the-top murder spree. There's no making sense of it; it's a horrific cross of violence and theatricality. If this man wasn't doing an intentional impression of a Batman villain, then he was tapping into something in the zeitgeist that forms the basis of all the Batman villains.

There's something Alfred says in The Dark Knight:

Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

That's the kind of man we're talking about today -- a madman, a broken man, a man who cannot be understood rationally and whose motivations are fear and chaos on a scale that an ordinary mind cannot reconcile.

I heard an interview on NPR this morning -- it doesn't appear to be online yet -- with a reporter on the scene who also covered the Columbine massacre. The interviewer, sensibly, emphasized the fundamental differences between the two shootings, but, also sensibly, asked if the police procedure for responding to shootings had changed since Columbine.

The reporter said that yes, it has -- that in the case of Columbine, the police took time to set up a perimeter, whereas now they focus on getting in and stopping the shooter as quickly as possible.

And that makes sense, too, looking at something that's changed in how we see criminals. Setting up a perimeter and a dialogue is what you do in a hostage situation -- what you do when you're dealing with people who can, at least on some level, be negotiated with, reasoned with.

Random acts of violence are something else entirely. You cannot reason with someone who is just killing for its own sake -- there is nothing you can offer him to make him stop. He's not threatening lives in order to achieve something he wants; ending lives is what he wants.

It's a hard, hard thing to read about, to hear about.

Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing linked to Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?, Marilyn Manson's Rolling Stone article following the massacre which is sadly relevant today. He discusses how there is no single simple cause for such acts of violence, but how the media and society seek simple answers, seek explanations for the unexplainable. And how his own stage name is a criticism of the media's tendency to treat mass murderers like movie stars.

In the days and weeks to come, the news media will talk about this. They'll speculate. They'll engage in crass discussions of how this will affect the movie's box office, or what it's going to mean for Obama and Romney in the polls. Maybe they'll try and engage in some scapegoating and try to blame it on comics or video games, maybe they won't -- even speculating on such things is just too much for me right now. All I can think is how horrible this was and how my heart goes out to the victims and their families.

Perhaps the deepest and bitterest irony is that Batman itself is, on a fundamental level, a story about two people who went to see a movie and were gunned down, and the devastation that wrought on the son who would never see them again.

This Machine Kills Fascists

Taking another quick break from Zappa to post some Woody Guthrie; today would have been his 100th birthday. (Well, he's kinda like Zappa -- he left us too soon and left some very talented children to preserve his considerable legacy.)

NPR's been doing a lovely job commemorating the anniversary, with Going Down the Road with Woody Guthrie: A Centennial Celebration on American Routes a few weeks back, Woody Guthrie's Indelible Mark On American Culture on Talk of the Nation last week, and At 100, Woody Guthrie Still Resonates this past Wednesday.

Will You Miss Me?

Well, Woody, you died 15 years before I was born (almost to the day), but yeah. I sure do.


I heard on the radio this morning that there's an excessive heat watch in effect from 10 AM today to 5 AM Wednesday.

At first I assumed that was a mistake, but they repeated it 15 minutes later.

So, uh, I have to say that I'm not sure how this works. Why would an excessive heat warning end at 5 AM?

Do they expect it to be less excessively hot by 5:30?

Not a Luddite, But...

Until recently, I used to tell people that, for a computer scientist, I'm something of a Luddite. I don't use Facebook or Twitter, I don't have a smartphone -- I don't even text.

More recently, it's occurred to me that it's not that I'm a Luddite, I'm just a guy with a different set of priorities. And actually my tech savvy is probably responsible for some of that.

I don't have a Facebook account because I want control of my privacy settings. It's not like I'm anonymous or anything; if you're reading this, then profoundly embarrassing things with my real name attached to them are just a couple of clicks away. A couple of clicks max.

But that's my call. That's not "third-party site suddenly changes its privacy policy without warning" territory. And whatever I may put on this site, it certainly doesn't constitute permission for advertisers to sell it to each other.

I understand the appeal of Facebook. I did the MySpace thing, back when that was a thing people were doing. It was cool to get back in touch with people I hadn't seen since high school. But ultmately it was a new place for them to send me all those damn chain E-Mails and personality tests I had asked them all to stop sending me; it was a time sink of the sort I'm not much interested in anymore, and if they really want to get in touch with me they can Google my name. I'm not hard to find.

As for Twitter -- well shit, if you read this blog you already know that even my off-the-cuff single-sentence posts won't fit in 140 characters. I am not at my best in short bursts; I am at my best telling long, rambling stories that set up an atmosphere. (Kazz once compared me to Garrison Keillor. I'm pretty sure that was after he kicked that beer can into the back of my head.)

On texting, well, my initial opinion of it is pretty much what Samuel L Jackson had to say about it on Boondocks (NSFW):

But that's because I have a simple, 12-button flip phone. I understand that texting's a lot quicker if you've got a touchscreen or a keyboard, and I understand its value for quick, asynchronous, precise communication. It's not a replacement for a phone call, it's a replacement for voicemail. And voicemail sucks.

As for why I don't have a smartphone: Well, to start with, I've always been a horsepower guy. I sit at a computer all day at work and then I go sit at another one at home. As such I've never really felt much need for a laptop (I got my first one for free maybe a year and a half ago and barely use it), let alone a smartphone.

On the other hand, I do like toys. And I can really see the appeal of a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that fits in my pocket. Not to mention, you know, I am a computer scientist, and this is the future of computing.

So yeah, I've kinda hit a point where I want a smartphone.

But then you hit the predatory pricing.

I'm with Sprint. They've been good to me. But I will be goddamned if I'm going to enter into a two-year, $60-a-month-minimum contract with them.

I'm a temp. I don't know if I'll be employed come December. If I get hired, I'll probably buy a smartphone (just in time for all the Christmas sales!). But I'll also probably jump ship to Virgin or Cricket or one of the pay-as-you-go carriers.

Meantime, I've got this little Samsung flip phone I've had for some 5 years, that is serviceable as a phone and alarm clock and little else. For example, I discovered the other day that it doesn't even have a way to transfer the photos you take with it to a computer. Which I guess is okay, because I never use that camera anyway and it's scratched to fuck as it is.

(I discovered this after getting my picture with Phil LaMarr at Phoenix Comicon last month. That's not a very long story but it is a story for another day, I think.)

I Want to Believe

This evening, as I was driving home from Phoenix, NPR was playing Dr. King's Why I Oppose the War In Vietnam speech. I got distracted and missed my exit. That may not have been causal -- I don't usually come that way and have missed that exit before -- but it was the first time I'd heard the audio and it certainly had my attention.

Kudos to NPR for acknowledging King's more controversial later years -- every year at this time, we see the usual round of King retrospectives, and too often they skip from I Have a Dream to the assassination, glossing over his outspoken opposition to the war and his focus on economic inequality.

I also just read Barack Obama's speech from the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and it reminded me why he struck such a chord in '04. The man gives a damn fine speech, and today he delivered one worthy of being spoken from Dr. King's own pulpit.

But I am a cynic.

Obama says, "The Scripture tells us that we are judged not just by word, but by deed." Very well. "We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them" are some very pretty words. But touring with the vehemently anti-gay Donnie McClurkin was a not-so-pretty deed. And his backpedaling explanation that McClurkin isn't anti-gay but only wants to cure "unhappy gays" is not only political weaselry, it's also the plot of X-Men 3.

"It is not enough to decry the disparities of health care and yet allow the insurance companies and the drug companies to block much-needed reforms" -- those are pretty words too. Words which lead me to wonder why Obama wants the insurance companies and the drug companies to help him write his healthcare plan.

Obama says a lot of pretty -- hell, downright inspiring -- things. But in 2006 he voted for a non-binding withdrawal plan for the Iraq War over Kerry and Feingold's bill to set a date. In 2005 he voted to renew the PATRIOT Act. Judged not just by word but by deed indeed, Senator.

Two years ago The Boondocks produced one of the finest half-hours of television I have ever seen, an episode titled "Return of the King" which explored the premise of Dr. King waking up from a 30-year coma in the modern era. At one point, King asks, "What happened, Huey? What happened to our people?" Huey responds, hesitantly, "I think...everyone was waiting for Martin Luther King to come back."

And that's the tragedy of the modern civil rights movement: for forty years, America has been waiting for Martin Luther King to come back. (It's also the tragedy of the current season of Boondocks, which has descended from this Peabody-winning meditation on our culture to jokes about movie ticket prices, and whose Katrina episode centered around Granddad trying to get rid of his mooching relatives, but that's a tangent.)

And for a nation and a movement so desperate to see Martin Luther King come back, it can be very tempting to mistake Barack Obama for him. He is an inspiring orator, and if he becomes President it will be the most significant step for racial equality since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But Obama is not Martin Luther King. I seldom find myself in the position of defending Hillary Clinton, but she was right when she said, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement. He was gassed. He was beaten. He was jailed. And he gave a speech that was one of the most beautifully, profoundly important speeches ever written in America, the I Have a Dream speech." Obama, meanwhile, has sat quietly on the Senate floor and taken safe positions on controversial issues rather than risk his reputation for what he believes is right. (Clinton has too, of course -- even moreso, I would argue -- but that doesn't make the King/Obama contrast false.)

I also think Clinton has been attacked unfairly for her remark that it took LBJ to sign the Civil Rights Act. She wasn't impugning Dr. King's legacy, she was merely recognizing President Johnson's role -- and I don't think any rational person could argue that, had Richard Nixon been President in 1964, the act still would have passed.

All this to say...I hate politics. There are moments when Barack Obama's words inspire me, when I think of how he could be a great leader, how he could restore America's position in the world and, more, how he could bring us closer than ever to recognizing those self-evident truths that Jefferson mentioned back in 1776. I hear him speak of the continuing struggles for equality, not just racial but also sexual and economic, and I want to see a leader who can speak to the nation's conscience and make those dreams a reality.

But in the end, all available data show that he is just another politician. I may well mark his name on my ballot two weeks from now, but I fear that too will be an exercise in cynicism -- if I vote for him, it will not be because I trust him, but because I mistrust him less than I do Clinton.

I think it's hard to be an optimist in America in this day and age. Perhaps incremental improvement is all we can hope for. I can't say I think that's enough...but I guess I'll take it.

You can't be serious

So I was listening to NPR on the way to work this morning, and they were talking about the attorney firing scandal.

And they played a clip of George Bush saying, "Democrats now have to choose whether they will waste time and provoke an unnecessary confrontation, or whether they will join us in working to do the people's business."

That is not a paraphrase. That is the exact quote.

President Bush -- President George Walker Bush, the current President, that President Bush -- just excoriated somebody for provoking an unnecessary confrontation.

You can't make this shit up.

Video Games in the Media

To: NPR's Morning Edition

On this morning's Morning Edition, Kelly McBride expressed concern that Wii Sports would lead her children to erroneously believe they could actually play sports.

I think this is a very reasonable concern. I just got a Wii and spent a good portion of last week playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Yesterday morning I got up, put on my green tunic, grabbed my sword and shield, and went to cross the bridge at Yorkshire and the I-17. When the gateway to the Twilight Realm did not open and I failed to turn into a wolf, I was forced to come to grips with the shocking possibility that video games might not be real.


The East Valley has picked up a pair of serial killers, and I can't wake up to NPR in the morning without hearing about them.

Tuesday morning I woke up to the shocking announcement that the Baseline Killer may be concealing his identity by not always wearing the same hat.

"This is Papa Bear. Put out an APB for a male suspect, driving a...car of some sort, heading in the direction of, uh, you know, that place that sells chili. Suspect is hatless. Repeat, hatless."

Now, judging by an article in The Arizona Republic, it sounds like the Phoenix PD has actually gone a long way toward narrowing down the killer's physical appearance, but really, is the fact that he might sometimes wear a different hat newsworthy?

"Holy shit, it's that serial killer I heard about on the news! ...No, wait, that can't be him; where's his fishing hat?"

Reading: Finished American Gods; on to Catch-22. Finally working my way through my miles-high "to-read" list.