Shock: Tim Russert Passes Away at 58

June 13, 2008

It’s a sad day for broadcast journalism to lose someone so young, so suddenly. I never met Russert myself, but I do know many people who are going to feel the loss very severely. Friends, colleagues, and family deserve every condolence.

I last saw Russert in person during one of the final debates between Clinton and Obama, where he was a moderator. For all the criticisms people over the years have had about Russert’s style, his preoccupations, his biases, what his style, preoccupations, and biases gained him was an sense of incisive immediacy and even a bit of danger (perhaps something that was easier to feel and appreciate live).

Long before the new generation of loudmouth and dogmatic pundits ironically trademarked “no spin zones,” Russert was pursuing an interview style truly designed to throw powerful people off their guards. Folks have and will debate whether he played favorites, whether he pursued distractions, even whether he was, on some issues, too timid.

But he always struck me as a newsman who at heart just wanted interviews and stories to truly be informative: to not simply have well-prepped politicians repeat back the same information and platitudes that everyone already knew were coming. After working to get where he was, at the pinnacle of political debate, he wanted his job to be interesting at least, worth all that effort and opportunity.

Getting that meant having a style that was a little rougher, and a little less perfectly balanced, than critics might have wanted. But it was quite often worth the effort, and whatever criticisms people have of today’s modern media of which he was a part, I think they’ll quite quickly look back and miss him all the more.


Aliens Travel Many Lightyears to Earth Just To Annoy Local Couple

April 29, 2008

The phenomenon was thought truly bizarre: Pikesville, Maryland has been experiencing “deafening” booms and flashes of light every so often. They even caught it on videotape. And no, it didn’t seem to be lightning, at least not in any conventional sense. Police were baffled. Meteorologists ere baffled. So baffled that residents were even willing to appeal to aliens (though only tongue in cheek) and the supernatural.

But it turns out that the actual solution was a little more conventional and closer to home:

When they searched Mackler’s home, they found pyrotechnics, guns and drugs.

Police said that Mackler had problems with some of his neighbors, so he would wake up at 2 a.m. to set off the pyrotechnics.

As this case illustrates, “pyrotechnics, guns and drugs” is a actually pretty good default hypothesis for any weird, inexplicable event.


Eight Year Old Requests a Divorce. Seriously. And It Only Gets Worse

April 14, 2008

I’m not now and never have been a cultural relativist. When you measure the success of a society by the degree and wide availability of human happiness and liberty, as well as the avoidance of screwupedness, some cultural, political, and ethical structures fail to measure up.

And arranged marriages, particularly those that involve promising children (almost always girls) to adults… they just aren’t a good idea. In addition to the simple tragedy of coercing and constraining your children’s future and choices, there’s also just the deeply creepy aspect of it… something which recently found its most horrible expression in Yemen recently.

Simply put, some guy, allegedly with mental problems, forced his eight-year old daughter to “marry” a 30 year old man. Yemeni law apparently allows the arranged marriage of underage girls, but restricts sex “until she is ready or mature.” This restriction, unfortunately, didn’t stop her unrepentant “husband”:

Thamer is in jail now. “Yes I was intimate with her, but I have done nothing wrong, as she is my wife and I have the right and no one can stop me,” he said. “But if the judge or other people insist that I divorce her, I will do it, it’s ok.”

What a gracious concession!

While Yemeni prosecutors are trying to line up charges against the two men involved in this scheme, the local laws on arranged marriage clearly demand some further examination.

Shatha Ali Nasser confirmed that item number 15 in Yemeni civil law reads that “no girl or boy can get married before the age of 15.” However, this item was amended in 1998 so parents could make a contract of marriage between their children even if they are under the age of 15. But the husband cannot be intimate with her until she is ready or mature,” said Nasser.“This law is highly dangerous because it brings an end to a young girl’s happiness and future fruitful life. Nojoud did not get married, but she was raped by a 30-year old man.”

And there’s nothing much more to say than that.


Ben Stein’s Expelled! Can’t Face Critical Reviews from Scientific American And Michael Shermer

April 9, 2008

Let me just state at the outset that I’m really quite surprised at this point: as all these negative reviews roll in, defenders and promoters of this film seem amazingly scarce outside of their own protected websites and conclaves. They celebrate, instead, the few positive reviews, almost all coming from devoted creationists, and almost all simply parroting and celebrating the claims made in the film rather than analyzing them, as the critics do.

They talk a big game. Their rallying cry is supposedly for more debate and free speech (even if they badly misunderstand those principles). But I’ve seen next to nothing from either the producers nor their fans making any substantive response to these criticisms. Bragging about the existence of harsh criticism just isn’t the same thing as having a good response to it: it’s a means of quickly changing the subject. According to them, however, defenders of science are “scattering” in fear of their assault. And yet, here we are, front and center, taking all comers, with no sign that they have any serious responses to our arguments in turn.

That out of the way… Michael Shermer, one of the many hoodwinked interviewees from the film, has now written up his review of the picture.

Read the rest of this entry »


FoxNews Pans Intelligent Design Film Expelled!

April 9, 2008

Wesley R. Elsberry of the Austringer sends word that Fox News has reviewed Expelled!… and they were not impressed.

Directed by one Nathan Frankowski, “Expelled” is a sloppy, all-over-the-place, poorly made (and not just a little boring) “expose” of the scientific community. It’s not very exciting. But it does show that Stein, who’s carved out a career selling eye drops in commercials and amusing us on sitcoms, is either completely nuts or so avaricious that he’s abandoned all good sense to make a buck.

The reviewer even gets the basic larger strategy of the film of trying to troll up a national controversy:

What the producers of this film would love, love, love is a controversy. That’s because it’s being marketed by the same people who brought us “The Passion of the Christ.” They’re hoping someone will latch onto an anti-Semitism theme here, since there’s a visit to a concentration camp and the raised idea — apparently typical of the intelligent design community — that somehow the theory of evolution is so evil that it caused the Holocaust. Alas, this is such a warped premise that no one’s biting.

Let’s be fair here though, and dispense with the apparent idea that there’s something politically special about FoxNews giving a poor review to a conservative movie. Fox’s entertainment reporters, and especially Roger Friedman, are generally all over the map when it comes to liking or hating political event movies. Friedman even gave a decently positive review to Fahrenheit 9/11 and panned The Passion of the Christ.

If that didn’t hurt Friedman’s credibility enough though, it gets worse: he hates Rush, Poison, and Journey.

All this is not to say that Expelled! has never gotten rave reviews: WorldNetDaily loves the thing. But the trend, of course, is that these reviews simply parrot the claims made in the film and celebrate its conclusions: the negative reviews, in contrast, tend to be from people who are in on the scam and point out specific misrepresentations and problems with the films’ claims.