Thursday, December 6, 2007

Media Bias

Jeromy over at Seeking Goliath recently wrote about problems with our news media. He mentioned the issue of bias and how it is his, in his opinion, a myth.

2. Objectivity is a myth. Most reporters will readily admit that objectivity is an impossibility in reporting. One simply cannot step outside of their own bias completely. This is not to say that we don’t attempt objectivity. But to hold it up as an ideal and brazenly disregard it in the culture of your news organization and reporting is dishonest and deceptive.

Ed Brayton also posted about media bias recently.

My new gig with the Center for Independent Media has been quite interesting, if for no other reason than to stimulate my thinking about the differences between blogging and journalism and how to find a balance between them that maintains integrity. Notice that I say integrity, not objectivity; the concept of objectivity has become so attenuated that it is no longer useful at all in such discussions.

Sometimes that balance can be difficult to strike, but here's one thing I am absolutely certain of: the mere repetition of "both sides" in a dispute is not "objectivity", nor does it have any integrity.

I think that a large part of the problem with the media, which Jeromy touches on in his post, is the audience. If we accept that there is no true 100% objectivity, then we have to learn how to recognize what biases may exist and how to understand how they may influence whatever news story we're listening to. The problem is that I think most people are either incapable of doing so or unwilling to do so.

When I say people are incapable, I don't mean that they are stupid and can't do it. I mean that I don't think most people have the education and skill sets required to process this stuff. I don't think enough critical thinking skills are taught in school, certainly not in this age of teaching for the test (thanks, NCLB!). I would much rather kids came out of school with a bare minimum of facts and a well-honed ability to think critically than the reverse.

As for the second problem, people being unwilling to parse the news properly, well, we are a very lazy country. People would rather think, "Lou Dobbs says he's looking out for the American people, so even though he comes off as a racist prick, I'm going to take him at his word all the time." It's easier than having to read multiple news stories about an issue, do some other research, and come to your own conclusion. And, really, it takes time away from America's Next Top Model. Who wants that?

Florida Cop Gets Her Just Desserts

Back in October, I wrote about the Florida cop who sued a family at whose residence she fell and broke her knee while assisting in the rescue effort of their drowning three-year old. She has now received her comeuppance. The department has fired her for filing the suit saying that she "brought ridicule to the agency and damaged its reputation." You think?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Happy Birthday

It's not just the holiday season here in the Noble household. It's the birthday season as a good chunk of the birthdays in our family seem to fall between September and January. Today was the birthday of my niece, Alexis. She has been talking about going to Chuck E. Cheese for awhile now, so that's where we went. In an abstract way, I'll be one of the first to say that I can't stand the place. However, seeing the joy in her face, watching her dance in front of Chuck E., and playing with her on the games made it a wonderful experience. Here she is riding horses with her cousin, Bryanna.

One of the best moments of the night was when Alexis took a ride on the Batmobile. When she saw the Bat symbol, she cried, "It's the coolest!" After that she hopped on another ride, a boat, and another girl got into the Batmobile. Alexis and I looked at her and I told my niece, "I don't think she's cool enough to ride in Batman's car." With wonderful earnestness, she told me, "She's not a lieutenant. I'm a lieutenant!" She's such a wonderful girl.

Happy Fourth Birthday, Alexis!

Aww...Aren't Cats Great

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Golden Compass and Faith

Golden Compass is opening in theaters this week. Sure enough there are many religious people up in arms about it because the book supposedly has a strong anti-religion (anti-Catholic, specifically) slant. Now, I have not read the books by Phillip Pullman, so I am not qualified to say one way or another whether they are or not. I do like this quote from a nun in the linked article, though:

"If we have faith, what are we afraid of?"

Indeed. The faith that many people claim to have does not seem to have a very strong foundation. The slightest hint of criticism leads to howls of anger and calls for someone's head. Typically, this simply justifies the criticisms. Most of the time, these people haven't even read the book or seen the movie that is getting them so fired up. If they are concerned about its message, they should check it out for themselves. Get a group of fellow church-goers together and watch the movie or read the book. Talk about it. Figure out what the criticisms are. Are they justified? Could this be an opportunity for strengthening the faith and opening a dialogue?

Critiques or attacks should be viewed as an opening. Obviously if someone is just being petty and name-calling ("Christians are poopy-heads!") they do not deserve a response. But, if someone is saying, "I don't believe in Christianity because how can a good God let evil happen?" or "The Catholic Church produced the Inquisition. How can it consider itself a bastion of morality?" or "Islam is a sexist religion because of its rules for women," these are valid questions that deserve valid answers. Sure not everyone is going to accept an answer, but no religion should be afraid of having to answer tough questions. If it tries to dodge them or hide from them, then it cannot be upset when people criticize it.

Religion Fact of the Day

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the miracle of the burning oil. After the Maccabean revolt and the defeat of Antiochus IV in 165 BCE, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to light the Temple flame for one day. Miraculously, however, the flame stayed lit for eight days, long enough to consecrate more oil. Now, Jews light a candle on each day of the eight-day holiday to remember this event.

Hitch on Hanukkah

Christopher Hitchens has become famous for being a vocal opponent of religion. Not just an opponent, in fact, but a harsh, antagonistic critic. He has an article on Slate today about Hanukkah. He says:

When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.

It's good to see that he's looking for a polite dialogue on religion. Of course, if he was doing that he wouldn't be getting big book deals or asked to appear on news shows, now would he?

Hitch seems to have a lot of anger. I wonder how much of it stems from this messy incident.

Poetry Time

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

John Keats

Florida Update

I don't get to go to Florida this week, darn it. Securing sponsorship is such a pain in the ass and it did not get done in time. Our security director swears, though, that he will start working now to make sure everything is lined up for the next class in March. I was really looking forward to getting out of town for a couple of days, especially to sunny Florida, but, alas.

Going in March might be a little awkward. If I went this week it would be by myself. If I go in March, though, I will be in all likelihood going with a girl from work that I asked out a few weeks ago. She got very embarrassed and said she was seeing someone. She probably won't think anything of it, but I already feel a little awkward with her at work now. Going on a trip to Florida with her isn't going to make it any better. Isn't life amusing?

Life of Pi

I managed to sneak in some personal reading in the last two weeks and I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I hadn't heard much about it before I read it other than it was "good." After I read an interview with Martel at the A.V. Club, though, I became very intrigued and picked it up. Reading the back, I expected it to be slightly surreal, but it turned out to be anything but, except for...well, I don't want to spoil anything.

Life of Pi is about a boy who is fascinated by religion and animals. His father owns a zoo and Pi takes great pleasure in caring for the animals there. He is also drawn to religion, but not just one religion. He becomes a Hindu, Christian, and Muslim. On a trip to Canada, the boat they are on sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with an orangutan, zebra, hyena, and a Bengal tiger. Before long, only the tiger and Pi remain.

It is an incredible tale of survival and spirituality. Martel has a gift for a dry wit. One of my favorite passages:

It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion.

Life of Pi definitely gets the Captain's approval.

What's In a Name?

The Muhammad teddy bear story has been getting a lot of attention lately and rightly so. This is an example of the issues Muslims need to face and deal with in their religion. Is the name of a teddy bear really the biggest problem they face. As my friend, Jeromy, put it on his blog:

Come to think of it, I haven't heard of any riots over the fact that nearly 500,000 people have been killed in the country's recent genocide efforts.

I think that if Mulims really sat down and thought about it, maybe read their copy of the Koran, they would find that a teddy bear's name is not the sort of issue Muhammad would have cared about.

On the issue of names, Slate writes about what actual rules Muslims have about naming. Hint: not many. And nothing about teddy bears.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Florida, Here I Come...Maybe

GE puts on a class for the software we use at the hospital for access control. Being the sysadmin for the program, I've been wanting to go to this class for awhile now. It's not cheap, but the hospital approved it. The problem is that you have to have sponsorship from a GE certified dealer. That is proving to be a major hassle because both of the companies we purchase GE products from are not GE certified. We are trying to go through the parent company of one of the vendors, but it's taking time. Time we don't have because the class I am supposed to attend (with one other person from the hospital) is Wednesday and Thursday this week.

I'm imagining a phone call tomorrow. "Shane, we got sponsored. The plane leaves in an hour; I hope you're ready." I'm sure that if I can't get to this class, I will be able to attend the next one in March, but that's a ways off. I want to get away from Billings and the snow/cold now. *crosses fingers*

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Insane Primary Calendar

The Democrats have finalized their primary calendar. Of course, Iowa and New Hampshire are keeping their status as the front runners and other states who try to move up are being punished. Our primary campaigns have become asinine. Can anyone make a serious argument that IA and NH are representative of the nation as a whole and should always have the first say in who our President is? The one argument I usually here is that it should be this way because of "tradition."

I'm not one to buck tradition just because, but if we can examine a tradition and find it wanting, then I think we do need to make some changes. I believe a version of the rotating regional calendar makes the most sense. Rather then one entire region being first, though, I would have one state from each region be first. That would rotate for each election. Two weeks later, another state from each region would hold their primary/caucus/whatever. This would continue in two-week shifts until all states had gone. This seems to be more fair (and sane) than what we have now. Unfortunately, every state is looking out for their own interests and not considering what would be better for the nation as a whole. Not surprising, I suppose, but certainly disappointing. I hope that after this nightmarish calendar, someone steps up to take the lead on making some sensible changes for the next election.


Pope Benedict XVI has released his latest encyclical. The old beast of Communism may be defeated, but the Pope sees its successor in what he calls "relativism."

Defeated, Marxism is no longer the incarnation of evil in our midst, but rather the perfect (vanquished) foil in Benedict's ongoing intellectually driven sermon that Christian faith is history's only true answer. But the Pope is not ready to declare victory. The Church's current foe, as he sees it, is still in the heart of Europe and still atheist in nature: a sort of post-Socialist, anything-goes brand of Utopia that Benedict calls "relativism" — and disparages as the root of everything from loose sexual mores to a breakdown of the traditional family to runaway capitalism.

I think Jeffrey B. Russell, professor of history at U of C, Santa Barbara, would agree. He wrote about his experience with relativism amongst his students.

I first encountered radical relativism in a classroom in the early 70s, when I was showing pictures and photographs of violence. Among the pictures was one of a soldier kicking a little boy to death. One of the young women in the class argued strongly that we had no right to make a value judgment about the soldier's act. After much time in discussion, she finally allowed that the soldier's act might have been wrong--but NOT because the boy was suffering. Rather, her reason was that the soldier "might have enjoyed the boy's company if he had got to know him." She allowed that from the boy's point of view things probably looked different. But the only judgment she would make on the soldier was on the basis of the pleasure he might have deprived himself of. There is no GOOD; there is only feeling good. The pleasure principle. Good and evil depend on how you happen to feel. Note the phrase "Happen to feel."

A few years later, at UCSB, while teaching philosophy of history, I encountered another variety of radical relativism. I tried in vain to get the class to admit that the Sistine Chapel was better than a stick figure I scrawled on the board, that a Bach cantata was better than my toneless humming, that King Lear was better than Roses are Red, Violets are blue. No way. Some people, they replied, might prefer the stick figure or the greeting card sentiments. One young woman in the class was particularly bright and later went on to a successful career as a lawyer. She was an oboe player in the Santa Barbara Symphony. She had been practicing oboe for seven or eight years. I had never done more than look at one. I challenged her to bring her oboe, and we'd see whether it was possible to determine whose playing was better. "Some people might prefer the way you played," she responded. Then why practice at all, let alone seven years? At the end of the term, the young woman turned in the best paper in the class. I gave her an A, of course, and she was delighted. But what if I had taken her at her word? What if I had told her, "You are getting a C along with everyone else, because there is no basis on which to judge one paper better than another?"

Christians in Hollywood

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of those actors I have always found very intriguing. There's just something about him. That's why I really enjoyed this story about him on Busted Halo. He directed a play called "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot" and he talks about his own faith and the problems Christians face in Hollywood.

He noted that he is often defensive about the way that many actors react to the idea of evangelical Christians. Is there a bias, I asked, against that kind of person in the acting community?

"Absolutely!" he said. "It pisses me off that there is this knee-jerk reaction against them. There is certainly an antipathy against them in the acting world, just like there is an antipathy in the politically liberal world. And, as a result, the liberal Christian is not heard from as much. And, you know, a liberal person who has a deep belief in Christianity can be a very powerful influence on things."