Friday, February 08, 2008

Bad week at the end of the world

Poor Atrios seems to be having a hard time lately.

He goes to great lengths to inform you that he doesn't give a shit about what you think, cause, you must understand, it's not about you, it's about him.

Kind of humorous coming from someone who makes a living telling other people what he thinks, eh? Of course plenty of people really do care to know his opinion, so perhaps that gives him license to tell other, lesser mortals, to shut up? No, of course it doesn't. That's the kind of info one should keep to oneself. To act otherwise is simply bad manners. And I'd hazard a guess that all but a few of the filthiest, most vile wingnut losers have at least a few people who care about their opinions, or at least care enough to pretend. Who is Atrios to try to burst their bubbles?

But hey, I can sympathize with the feeling. I've been a bad guy. A bubble burster. I'm not proud of it, but shit has happened. And I'm sure it sucks being bombarded with other people's unsolicited opinions on a scale that most people probably can't imagine. Still, I can't condone the behavior. Not by me. Not by anyone. When opinion writers bitch about people writing about their opinions, it appears a bit hypocritical, to put it mildly.

I don't mean to attack. As I've mentioned before, I like the Atrios blog and read it daily. And I've a short fuse myself when it comes to people telling me what I should do. So I'm not angry with Atrios. Just concerned. He seems to be a bit down.

As further evidence, we see him complaining earlier in the week that he doesn't make enough money, then asks those little people he doesn't give a shit about to send him money, and then brags (defensively) about how much money he makes. It's a very weird sequence.

Well, here's hoping he gets a lot of money for his work and it cheers him up! I won't be sending any, of course, but if I ever run into him in a bar or a green room, I'd happily offer to buy him a drink in appreciation for all the entertainment and information he provides. But here's also hoping the celebrity crap doesn't get to him. I don't wanna see no paparazzi shot out front the Betty Ford clinic. But if he wants to date Jessica Simpson, I guess that would be okay. Anything to take his mind off all those terrible nobodies with their worthless opinions.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Swish swash

Just got my 8-year-old's report card. It's not your typical report card. His school doesn't give grades. It's more like an essay.

The teacher included one of his poems:

Why do Dragons Go To Sea

Dragons soar across the sea thinking
"The ocean is scaly like me when the
Waves go swish swash.
Maybe it's another dragon."

Dragons soar across the sea.
"Perhaps I'm seeing things,
But I'm going to dive in
To eat fish. I roast them
With my sun level fire

Dragons soar across the sea.
"I go to my island.
I am marooned on my island.
People come with torches but
I can breathe the sun."

Not bad for a third grader, huh? Don't get me wrong. My purpose is not to brag about my kid, more to lament the state of education in this poor world. I'm sure that he wouldn't be much of a poet if he didn't go to a progressive school where they start teaching serious poetry in kindergarten. He also takes dance, two music classes, and art in addition to the regular academic subjects. It's not like he's the best in the class or anything. They all know how to use anaphora and I'm happy for them. What saddens me is that more kids don't get that kind of education. It's really not that difficult.

Yet the trend is away from quality education. A lot of kids do nothing but reading, writing and rithmatic and that creativity-stifling limited curriculum is pretty much limited to test preparation. Passing the test is the be all and the end all.

There's some push back against quality education even in our school. There was a funny scene with the math teacher at a recent parent/teacher night. She was explaining what the children did in class, which is pretty much all games and puzzles. As she went on about how much fun the kids had and how it was important for them to see the higher beauty of math, many of the parents grew uncomfortable. One of them asked if they did any typical math like multiplication, long division or fractions. The poor teacher misunderstood the nature of the question and went to great lengths to assure us that she didn't waste the kids time with that crap.

I know, I know. Would that kind of thing work in the worst schools? Me? I think yes. Would it take a lot of money? No doubt. But we get what we pay for. Bush's new budget contains 515 billion for "defense" and the interest we'll pay on the resulting deficit is far more than he proposes for education. We pay for war and inequality and that's what we get. We'd be better off well-educated.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Another day at the races

In personal news, the chuckling household recently got cable tv. The last time we had it was about 18 years ago. The signal from the antennae had become so weak that we finally gave in. It was painful to watch the boy try to figure out what was happening to Jackie Chan beneath all of that video noise and horizontal wiggling.

We did without for all those years for a variety of reasons. Mostly it was out of a belief that if watching tv were not so difficult on the eyes we would watch a lot more of it, thus making us fatter and less intelligent. But more specifically, I was afraid that I would watch the news. Particularly cable news. I read a lot, and that's bad enough, but television news tends to make me angry (as well as stupid), not only at the content of the news, but at the terrible incompetence of the news organizations. It's not like the major print media is all that great, but tv is infinitely worse.

I've done pretty well for the most part. Outside of the regular broadcast channels we mostly watch Monk and Comedy Central, as well as the near daily re-runs of Overboard and Ghostbusters. On the negative side, there have been several occasions when we've watched CNN and CNBC to see election news. As predictable as it was, we were still a bit surprised at the staggering incompetence of the tv news creatures and we quickly got angry and turned them off.

The news media's offenses against intelligence and basic competence are many, but what stands out is their sickening obsession with race. The election night coverages we saw were all stupid race shit all the time. Given how much I read and the fact that the print media has the same unhealthy preoccupation, I can't say I was particularly surprised. My wife, however, doesn't read the New York Times and the Washington Post every day, much less any blogs, so the utter depth of the media's racial obsession like totally freaked her out. She was shocked, disgusted and ultimately angry. What is wrong with these people? she asked. After a few minutes, we changed the channel back to Overboard.

Normally, we cluck and nod our heads in agreement. Yep, them media creatures sure are stupid. Yep, they really suck. But do they? All the way up the organization? I don't doubt that the talking hairstyles really are that vapid, but what about their bosses, and their bosses' bosses, and the top executives?

Think about it. As the graphic above from Nielsen Media Research (used under the jurisdiction of the Fair Use doctrine) demonstrates, television news viewership is tanking and has been for the last twenty five years or so.

I'd wager that if it were possible to quantify quality, the quality graph would track the viewership graph pretty much peak for valley. The news department staffing chart is similar:

And anecdotal evidence also supports the point:

So why, given the significant financial stakes involved in news ratings, does quality continue to decline? Why do the talking hairpieces babble on and on about subjects that literally make millions of people change the channel? And more importantly, why do the executives in the boardroom continue to let the talking hair pieces destroy the product? The executives have something more than air beneath the hair. They understand the bottom line.

Therein lies the rub. If the top executives understand the bottom line and they allow both quality and the resulting ratings to decline so precipitously, then they must believe that they profit by having fewer viewers who are significantly less well-educated on the issues.

My guess is that they make a lot more money by controlling the government than they do by selling soap and to control government so thoroughly requires an ignorant and easily manipulatable electorate. So they propagandize the morons that enjoy being whipped up into a frenzy of hate and stupidity and encourage everyone else to watch Entertainment Tonight, or Overboard.