Sunday 31 October 2010

The Day After: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

I have hope. Reasonable people will prevail. Extremists will fail. The overly vocal ring wing groups do not represent the silent majority.

This past Saturday, October 30, 2010 at the National Mall in Washington D.C., Jon Stewart of the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report hosted their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. While the hosts admitted several times that they didn't really know exactly why they were all there; the overriding message of the event was certainly one of reasonableness. The event was not supposed to a political event per se and despite Stewart's leanings to the Democrats and the independents, he maintained a non partisan tone. Nevertheless, this rally was certainly a counterpoint to Glenn Beck's August 28 rally Restoring Honor. Beck as a right wing conservative who is very extreme in his views is ofttimes fodder for both Stewart and Colbert when they are skewering the nuttier elements of the American political scene.

As with the Beck rally, there will probably never be a definitive count of the number in attendance. While Beck's rally certainly had in the hundreds of thousands (from 300 to 500?), Stewart's rally is currently being pegged at around 150,000. Amusingly enough, this figure was first announced byJamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of the television show Mythbusters who did a little pre-show appearance getting the crowd to do the wave so they could do a visual count. There are YouTube videos of this.

Musical guests included Ozzy Osborne and Yusuf Islam, a name I didn't recognize until I saw "formerly Cat Stevens". That made me do a double take. They managed to do some sort of mash-up which included Peace Train by Cat Stevens, Crazy Train by Ozzy Osborne then Love Train by the O'Jays who were also live on stage. Also on the bill were John Legend and the Roots, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow and Jeff Tweedy.

The real entertainment or the real interest of the entire rally turned out to be the people themselves. Unlike the firebrands of Beck's rally or the Tea Party, everyone had a chance firsthand to see a mass movement of moderates who expressed their reasonableness in a series of quite amusing signs that both Stewart and Colbert would have been proud of. Various news outlets have published photos of the rally with people holding up their personal and sometimes very humorous messages of moderation.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and spiders.

I'm A Veteran. I'm An American. I Am Muslim.

I Am Moderately Excited For This

I Was A Teabagger Before It Was Cool (that one was worth a spit take)

You Don't Have To Be Nice, just Don't Be Mean

Yelling Rarely Works… I Know, I'm A Mom!

I wouldn't presume to tell God who he hates

What do we want?
- Reasonable discourse.
When do we want it?
- Sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Think outside the Fox (a not too subtle reference to Fox News and their ring wing slant)

I won't call you a Nazi if you don't call me a Commie. Let's agree that 1930's totalitarian doctrines don't have to be our only options here in 2010

Ignorant, arrogant and armed is no way to go through life.

I have considered the fact that I might be wrong... Have you?

Rome wasn't built in a day and eight years of madness isn't fixed overnight

Facts are not decided by how many people believe them.
Truth is not determined by how loudly it is shouted.

Stewart did get serious at the end of the official proceedings. He spoke of the need of civil, rational dialogue, that the extremist "panic"messages do little or nothing to help in solving problems. Everyone must work together; everybody must remain sane. He thanked everybody for coming; their presence had restored his sanity.

Jon Stewart, while funny, comes across as a very reasonable human being; as somebody you can trust. Is it any wonder that a poll of newscasters conducted by Time Magazine in 2009 had Stewart at the top of the list?

Time magazine ran a poll (July 2009) asking the question, "Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America's most trusted newscaster?" and Jon Stewart scored first place. (see this analysis of the poll) Imagine that Stewart came in first ahead of Brian Williams, the anchor of the NBC nightly news!


my blog: America: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear - written before the rally

Wikipedia: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Sane or Not? Rally to Restore Sanity Signs


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
interview with President Barack Obama
Tuesday, October  26, 2010
I thought to include a link to his visit to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart asked Obama some pointed questions of his presidency reflecting some disappointment at how things have been going.

Comedy Central (U.S.)

The Comedy Network (Canada)


Saturday 30 October 2010

Movie Review: Inside Job

Sometimes I can give a review which is so succinct; it can be measured in just a few words. In this case, I can do myself better by providing a review in just one word. Fantastic, riveting, unbelievable; there is quite a choice and all of them would well encapsulate my overall feelings about this movie. However, in reflecting on the story this film attempts to tell, a story which paints a portrait of the most pernicious behaviour of business and the complicity of the government in the worst financial crisis of probably all time, I would think the word which best captures the emotional impact of a system which is comprised of such greedy, short-sighted, egotistical blowhards would be "f**k".

Inside Job is a documentary about the financial crisis which started, well for the public, for the majority of us, in September 2008 with the bankruptcy of the bank Lehman Brothers. Directed by Charles Ferguson, co-written by him and narrated by Matt Damon, this film takes us through the early history of American banking from the Stock Market crash of 1929, the relatively secure subsequent 40 years then the start of a period of lobbying which led to unprecedented deregulation and the heralding of an era of uncontrolled rampant greed. As one of those interviewed during the film suggested it is the little people who ultimately pay.

The entire house of cards, the subprime mortgage mess, the derivative swaps craziness can be traced back to the 80's during the Regan era when big banks and investment houses successfully convinced government that they knew what they were doing. The film clearly explains how a lack of regulation permitted greedy people to involve themselves, to involve our money in investment schemes that now in the bright light of day seem absolutely ludicrous in their stupidity. However it is remarkable how various people tried and tried to sound the alarm but government officials who were in bed with Wall Street refused to do anything.

Even now that we seem somewhat out of the woods, I remain stunned by various right wing groups in America like the Tea Party who steadfastly repeat the mantra of less regulation, less government. It is this lack of oversight that put us all in this mess and it is this blind faith in a free market being able to regulate itself which fails to take into account the basic greed of the people who make up this system.

In my blog Regulations I discuss the BP oil spill and how they with other oil companies apparently lobbied the government to not be obliged to put on a safety value which costs a half a million dollars; this valve would have prevented the spill. Latest reports say the cost of the spill to BP is apparently from $20 to $30 billion. Oops.

But that's the American way: nobody is going to tell me what to do! Nevertheless, the entire financial mess comes back to individuals who are greedy, who are focused on their own needs and are unable to see the big picture.

The film talks of all the players from the heads of the major investment firms on Wall Street to the key Washington figures. What brought titters from the audience was the film talking of what somebody may have done then showing on the screen in text that this person refused to be interviewed. Of the people interviewed, some were forthright but some who were complicit in this mess came across in interviews as if what they did was not wrong or what they did had in no way caused a problem. It was a true testimony of our capacity to rationalize.

The film ended somewhat critical of President Obama. He came in on a platform recognising the problems on Wall Street with a promise to "change the system" however he has appointed several of the key players from business active during the mess and re-appointed government officials who were involved in ignoring the mess. The question is whether we blame Obama or whether this is indicative of how the system is so large, unwieldy and interconnected that at the end of the day, one has no choice but to go to bed with one's enemies.

One thing emphasised by the film is how this crisis has rippled throughout the world. It's not just the U.S., but the entire world which was affected. It is hard to conceive but the U.S. is the largest economy with a GDP of over 14 trillion dollars. The next biggest is Japan but they are only ranked at 5 trillion. Imagine that the U.S. is pretty much the size of the next 4 countries on the list: Japan, China, Germany and France. When the elephant rolls over, we all feel it.

However, as film bore out in discussing Iceland and the bankruptcy of literally the entire country and what I remember reading of other countries like France, England and Germany, what went wrong in the U.S. was not strictly restricted to that country. It seems this style of wild, unregulated investing was going on elsewhere in the world.

I have reviewed a number of films in the past couple of months. The best of the lot was The Social Network which is a real story. Fact wins over fiction. In this case, I would have to say that Inside Job is the best film I've seen this year. It is real; it is gripping and probably more horrifying that any of the so-called horror films that have hit the marquee this year. Like The Town, my 3 word review is "Go see it!" This is a terrific film and it will have you talking days after you've seen the movie. It completely deserves the 95% ranking from Rotten Tomatoes.


Rotten Tomatoes: Inside Job: 95%

Wikipedia: Inside Job

Interview with director Charles Ferguson plus the movie trailer


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
interview with President Barack Obama
Tuesday, October  26, 2010
As the film ends on a critical note of President Obama, I thought to include a link to his visit to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart asked Obama some pointed questions of his presidency reflecting some disappointment at how things have been going.

Comedy Central (U.S.)

The Comedy Network (Canada)


Friday 29 October 2010

Cindy Gallop: Make Love Not Porn

WARNING: The following material and videos are labelled NSFW, Not Safe For Work.

Cindy is half English, half Chinese and grew up in Asia, in Brunei. The majority of her career has been in marketing. She joined the British marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1989 where she ran global accounts for Coca-Cola, Polaroid and Ray-Ban. She moved on to Singapore in 1996 to start up BBH Asia Pacific then to New York in 1998 to start BBH US, which only four years later was named Adweek's 2002 Eastern Agency of the Year, with clients like Johnnie Walker, Unilever and Levi's. In 2003 Advertising Women of New York voted Cindy Advertising Woman of the Year.

Cindy resigned as chairman of BBH US in August 2005, after sixteen years with the agency, in order to do something different for the next chapter of her career. This currently involves independent consulting and various start-ups.

Cindy spoke at TED 2009 (Technology Entertainment and Design) about her web site "Make Love Not Porn".

Cindy's "extended" talk on Gen Y and her web site. In amongst her discussion on porn and relations, she talks of how porn is always at the cutting edge of technology. She mentions rule #34 of the Internet: If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions. As porn relates to human sexuality, she talks of the impact of technology on human behaviour and here specifically on sex, the most fundamental of human behaviours.

Her idea: If people were having more sex and better sex, the world would be a much happier place.

Make Love Not Porn: Cindy Gallop's web site
The web site compares various sexual acts between what one may see in a pornographic movie and what happens in real life.

from About:
I date younger men, usually in their 20s, and came up with the idea for MakeLoveNotPorn based on direct personal experience.

I would like to stress the following:
  • MakeLoveNotPorn is not about judgement, or what is good vs what is bad. Sex is the area of human experience that embraces the widest possible range of tastes. Everyone should be free to make up their own mind about what they do and don't like.
  • MakeLoveNotPorn is not anti-porn. I like porn and watch it regularly myself.
  • MakeLoveNotPorn is simply intended to help inspire and stimulate open, healthy conversations about sex and pornography, in order to help inspire and stimulate more open, healthy and thoroughly enjoyable sexual relationships.

From a TED Q&A
Q: On the topic of feminism, you seem very comfortable as a woman who talks about having a sex life, without being ashamed of that at all. What did you have to overcome psychologically and socially to get to that point?

A: That’s a very interesting question. I’ve never really analyzed that, but I think I would say, funnily enough, that where I’m at today, personally has a lot to do with the industry I’ve grown up in professionally, and that is advertising. The single best lesson that I’ve ever learnt was born out of the advertising industry: When you identify what your personal brand stands for, when you know what you believe in, what you value, what your personal philosophy of life is, it makes life so much easier. Life will still throw at you all the crap it always does, but you know exactly how to respond to it in any given situation, in a way that is true to you. And that has a tremendous role to play in building self-belief, self-empowerment and self-confidence.

I’ve done a lot of talks and given a lot of business advice on the future of advertising and marketing, and something that I say to people is that the new marketing reality today is complete transparency. Particularly with the Internet, everything that brands and companies do today is in the public domain. When I talk to brand marketers who are nervous about this, I say, “Interestingly, the answer to that is the same answer as it is for a person: When you have a very strong sense of who you are and what you stand for, and you always act from and operate on that basis, you have nothing to worry about in terms of wherever people encounter you, because you are simply being completely honest.” Authenticity, integrity, honesty means you don’t have to worry about what people think of you, because you are being true to yourself. It’s true of brands, and it’s true of people.

So, bizarrely enough, where I’ve arrived at personally has something to do with where I’ve come from professionally. I find that life’s so much easier when you’re straightforward and say, “Here I am. Take me as you find me. Are you with me, or are you not?” If you’re not, that’s fine. There will be enough people who are.


Cindy Gallop's 2nd web site: If We Ran The World
Suggestion: Click on How It Works to see a video about how one uses this web site.

TED: Q&A with Cindy Gallop: Tackling porn, feminism and big dreams
This Q&A provides further details on Cindy's ideas, reactions to her web site and how frank she felt she had to be to launch the site when giving her TED speech.

Texts From Last Night
Cindy talks about this web site.
Motto: Remember that text you shouldn't have sent last night? We do.

TED : Technology Entertainment and Design (conference)


Unexplained Traffic Jam: Immaculate Congestion

On a Sunday sometime ago while reading the newspaper, I stumbled upon the "New Words of the Week". This section offers readers a small compendium of neologisms with a brief description of meaning. The first entry on Sunday was "immaculate congestion", obviously a pun on the phrase "immaculate conception"; "congestion" referring to traffic jams and "immaculate" meaning for no apparent reason. In summary, the author of the item referred to a phenomenon that I myself have seen: I'm in my car; I'm driving normally then for apparent reason, traffic becomes congested. I must slow down as we may now be bumper to bumper but then just as suddenly, traffic speeds up and I'm back to driving normally. However, I have not seen an accident; I have seen nothing which would explain the congestion.

I directed my attention to the Google search engine looking for the right keywords to find information about traffic jams that occur for no apparent reason. Curiously enough, there are quite a few people who have already talked about that phenomenon. Ha! As the saying goes: "There is nothing new under the sun". In fact, a group of Japanese researchers have created an experiment where they managed to duplicate the phenomenon. I refer to the original study paper published in the New Journal of Physics, Volume 10, number 3, dated March 2008.

•    The test involved a circular track with a circumference of 230 m and 22 vehicles.
•    The test was filmed: a panoramic view and a 360 degree overhead shot.
•    Cars were tuned to cruise at 30 km/h.
•    Drivers were instructed to follow the vehicle ahead in safety while trying to maintain their cruising speed.

At first things proceeded normally but after some time fluctuations in the cars began to appear: slight changes in speed, changes in distance between vehicles. These became more pronounced until a point was reached where cars were so bunched up; some vehicles were obliged to come to a full stop. The scientists observed that this "stop-and-go wave" propagated in the opposite direction to the movement of the vehicles. The video of this experiment shows how well the action of a driver can have a cascading effect in traffic and how the effect can last for some time.

The test empirically showed that a traffic jam is not always caused by a bottleneck: no accident, no obstacle or no lane closures due to construction. The average vehicle density exceeds some critical value and as a consequence the "free flow" state is unstable. A minor fluctuation can be caused by somebody hitting their brakes and that fluctuation propagates and a jam can ensue. Obviously a bottleneck such as a lane closure can increase vehicle density and thus increase the likelihood of a fluctuation causing a problem.

By reading this study, I wondered what I could do myself to avoid a traffic jam, that is, avoid being part of one or avoid causing one. Not surprisingly, at least for me, it is advisable to simply leave enough space between my car and the one in front of me, not to follow too closely. When there is not enough space between cars, braking a car produces a chain reaction where each driver has to brake behind the first even harder to avoid a collision. That is the cause of the compression movement. With enough space between vehicles, there is less braking, less compression and the action of a driver has less consequence for all drivers who are behind him.

Of course, the hard part of leaving enough space in front of me between me and the next car is people cutting in. When the traffic gets thicker, people get more impatient and some just weave in and out of the various lanes trying to get ahead. I back away from the guy in front of me to leave some space and sure enough, somebody from the lane beside me cuts in. It is sometimes virtually impossible to leave a safe distance.

There is nothing new under the sun. By chance I came across this column in the Sunday newspaper and I discover all this information on a phenomenon that I have been observing - participating in? - for a long time. Curious.


New Journal of Physics - March 2008
Traffic jams without bottlenecks—experimental evidence for the physical mechanism of the formation of a jam

The original Japanese study

The 2 films of the experiment: panorama and overhead 360
These videos are not streamed so when you click, you have to wait for the complete video to download to your computer before you see it. Both are about 3 MB. Be patient.

YouTube: Shockwave traffic jam experiment
This is a streamed version of the panoramic view of the test. I couldn't find a streamed version of the 360 overhead view.


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Censorship: Kill me but no sex please

In 1972 an American comedian by the name of George Carlin released a landmark album called Class Clown. On this album was the earth-shattering track Seven Words You Can't Say on Television. In this monologue, Mr. Carlin spoke of how these words were curiously deemed unfit for human consumption and explored just why our censors felt compelled to protect us from their evil influence.

During this "bit", Carlin touched on how society and our censorship looks unkindly at things sexual but seems to have no problem with violence.

I think the word F**k is a very important word. It is the beginning of life, yet it is a word we use to hurt one another quite often. People much wiser than I am said, "I'd rather have my son watch a film with 2 people making love than 2 people trying to kill one another. I, of course, can agree. It is a great sentence. I wish I knew who said it first. I agree with that but I like to take it a step further. I'd like to substitute the word F**k for the word Kill in all of those movie clichés we grew up with. [Carlin speaks in a low menacing voice like the bad guy talking to the good guy] "Okay, Sheriff, we're gonna F**k you now, but we're gonna F**k you slow."

Of course the audience breaks out in riotous laughter at this absurd juxtaposition of the profane with the pedestrian. Nevertheless, after the laughter has died down, after we've all gone home, when we do have a quiet moment to reflect, can we think about just why in our society we permit television shows which involve violence between human beings but severely limit anything relating to sex?

I'm sure if I asked this question anyone would immediately respond with a resounding, "It's sex!" as if somehow the issue of sex itself would innately explain to the most blind or stupid of us the absurdity of the question and the obviousness of sex having to be struck from the public airwaves.

But why? Carlin has hit upon something in his routine; quite comically of course but he has hit upon something. In regards to our censorship, the bad guy is deemed to be doing something worse if he f**ks the good guy but we seem to have no objection if the bad guy kills the good guy. In one of his live takes, Carlin mentions the expression "Make love, not war" and how this seems preferable and then adds his variation on the expression with "make f**k, not kill". Carlin does recognize, of course, that we ourselves have imbued these words with a great deal of hostility so the use of the word and its subsequent censuring is not just strictly due to its sexual nature but to also its allusion to violence.

Sex vs. Violence
Norman Herr, Professor of Science Education at the California State University states using data from A. C. Neilson:

The average child will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.

Excuse me? The censor can tell me that seeing 2 people making love is immoral and will corrupt us, will corrupt a child but the violence is acceptable? Ah come on, something is just not right here.

Exposure to TV violence leads violent tendencies later in life
The briefest of searches on the Internet leads to scores of sources which all support this claim. The American Medical Association and the Surgeon General are but two.

The American Medical Association talks of the study Early Exposure to TV Violence Predicts Aggression in Adulthood (2003) the results of which showed that early childhood exposure to TV violence predicted aggressive behavior for both males and females in adulthood. Additionally, identification with same sex aggressive TV characters, as well as participants’ ratings of perceived realism of TV violence, also predicted adult aggression in both males and females.

The Surgeon General in discussing risk factors for youth violence, details study data in Media Violence: Exposure and Content.

Several content analyses over the last 30 years have systematically examined violence on television. The largest and most recent of these was the National Television Violence Survey (NTVS), which examined the amount and content of violence2 on American television for three consecutive years, as well as contextual variables that may make it more likely for aggression and violence to be accepted, learned, and imitated. Smith and Donnerstein (1998) report the following NTVS findings:
  • 61 percent of television programs contain some violence, and only 4 percent of television programs with violent content feature an "antiviolence" theme.
  • 44 percent of the violent interactions on television involve perpetrators who have some attractive qualities worthy of emulation.
  • 43 percent of violent scenes involve humor either directed at the violence or used by characters involved with violence.
  • Nearly 75 percent of violent scenes on television feature no immediate punishment for or condemnation of violence.
  • 40 percent of programs feature "bad" characters who are never or rarely punished for their aggressive actions.
The NTVS report notes that many television programs fail to depict the harmful consequences of violence. Specifically, it finds that of all violent behavioral interactions on television, 58 percent depict no pain, 47 percent depict no harm, and 40 percent depict harm unrealistically. Of all violent scenes on television, 86 percent feature no blood or gore. Only 16 percent of violent programs feature the long-term, realistic consequences of violence.

This page cites various studies which conclude that yes, there is a correlation but tempers that conclusion by saying there are other factors which come into play which affect to what degree aggression will manifest itself later in life.

We come back to the oddity of how sexual content seems to be very controlled - You can't say those seven words on TV! - while the control of violence seems less so. Just how far off was George Carlin when he joking replaced the word kill with the F word?

A TV network censored a sequence of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony, which showed a mare giving birth, but broadcast the rather hideous sequence from The Godfather showing a beheaded horse.
- Youth, Sex and the Media, CyberCollege

The power of imitation
In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Brandon Centerwall writes of television and violence focusing on our capacity to imitate what we see. In part of his study, he compares data from the United States, Canada and South Africa. What's interesting is that television in South Africa was banned prior to 1976 (a story unto itself). Consequently comparative data shows the rates of violence with and without television. The doctor subsequently compared data from South Africa after 1975 when TV was available. His conclusion is that

if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults.

Holy... I'm not sure what word could possibly fit here after a statement like that.

Final Word
So, to all of you who still worry about the possible sexual nature of the content of both TV and film without the slightest worry about the flood of violence to which we are subjected, I would like to quote the character Eric from the television series That 70's Show who says in the episode "It's All Over Now" after listening to a George Carlin record (keep in mind that this was broadcast on TV):

"You sixing, sevening monkey fiver. You think your one don't stink, well, three off, you threein' three!"

You motherf**cking, t*tsing monkey c**ksucker. You think your s**t don't stink, well f**k off, you f**kin' f**k.


George Carlin: The Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV
eLyrics: complete text

Wikipedia: Censorship
Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. ... It may or may not be legal.

Wikipedia: George Carlin
George Denis Patrick Carlin[1] (May 12, 1937 – June 22, 2008) was an American stand-up comedian, social critic, philosopher, satirist, actor, and writer/author who won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums.

Norman Herr, Ph.D.; Professor of Science Education, California State University

American Psychological Association
Early Exposure to TV Violence Predicts Aggression in Adulthood (2003)

Surgeon General: Media Violence: Exposure and Content

Journal of the American Medical Association, June 10, 1992 Vol 267. No. 22
Television and Violence: The Scale of the Problem and Where to Go From Here
Brandon S. Centerwall, MD, MPH

Why South Africa’s Television is only Twenty Years Old
TV banned in South Africa before 1976


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Thursday 28 October 2010

America: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

my blog The Day After: written after the rally

Date: Saturday, October  30, 2010
Place: The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
or over 70 other independent rallies across the U.S. and internationally

Be there or be square

On August 28, 2010, the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's famous "I have a dream" speech, right winged conservative pundit Glenn Beck held the "Restoring Honor Rally" as an event about values, patriotism and restoring honour in America. This was held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as was the King rally however Beck was reported as saying he positioned himself not exactly in the same spot as King out of respect for the man. As a basically Christian event, it is a curiosity that Beck is a Mormon. The main speakers also included Sarah Palin and Alveda King, the niece of King.

The rally has been considered a gathering point for the conservative movement in the United States. While separate from the Tea Party, Mr. Beck's personal politics demonstrated on his television show, on the radio, in his books, etc., are very much representative of the ring wing, conservative, religious fundamentalist part of the American electorate.

Comedy Central is a television network whose mainstay is... well, comedy and two of its more important shows are the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. Both shows give a humorous analysis of the news and while each of the shows only garner about two million viewers, their followers seem to be extremely loyal. Compare that with the number of viewers for some other popular shows such as Glee (11.5 million) and Dancing with the Stars (15.5 million).

In response to the Beck rally, first Stewart followed by Colbert hatched a plan to hold a similar rally however one which would be for the majority of Americans representing the reasonable elements of the political scene, those who don't have extreme political views and lack a voice in America. Apparently Stewart's first mock motto for the rally was "Take it down a notch America". He offered a protest sign which said, "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler." All of this was considerably amusing in comparison to some of the outrageous statements and signs coming out of the Tea Party end of the political spectrum: Obama compared to Hitler; Obama's health care compared to Nazi death camps, etc.

What is surprising is that more mainstream figures seem to be coming on board as the groundswell for this event has been growing. On the October 14 episode of the Daily Show, none other than Oprah Winfrey showed up via satellite in the New York studios and much to the surprise of the studio audience, gave everybody free airline tickets to attend the rally in Washington, D.C. (Does Oprah have her eye on a political future?) Even President Obama has mentioned the rally at a town hall meeting in Richmond, Va. on Sept 29.

While the rally started out as a single event in Washington, an obvious poke at Beck and ring wing America, various secondary rallies proposed for the same date have sprung up around the U.S. organised by volunteers not affiliated with Stewart and Colbert. This is testimony to the loyalty of their fan base. At last count, there are almost 70 of these secondary rallies planned and even a dozen international rallies including Montréal, Canada, London, England, Pairs, France and even the base camp at Mount Everest.

Estimates for the number of attendees at the Beck rally have varied greatly; a practical one has been several hundred thousand, possibly half a million. Stewart was hoping for something modest of maybe 25 thousand but as of this writing, the Facebook page for the event shows 224,575 people.

What is the Daily Show?
For those of you who are not familiar with this comedy fare, this "fake news" show, as it likes to call itself, is a comedic take on the news. While I'm sure in the beginning it was strictly for the laughs, the show has become something of a symbol even in mainstream journalism as pointing out the absurdities of what's going on in the world with an emphasis, of course, on American politics. I would say that its slant maybe somewhat for the Democrats, maybe more liberal than conservative but at least for a more reasonable, moderate platform. Nevertheless, it takes great delight in skewering the stupid and the pompous in Washington.

Oddly enough, one comedic "bit" of the show is when the host Jon Stewart in reporting on something which is just so absurd that it defies imagination, leans into the camera and says quite seriously, "I'm not making this up, folks." That is probably one of the best aspects of the show. It is a comedy show trying to funny, trying to mock reality when in fact, reality is sometimes just so unbelievably stupid, absurd or weird, Stewart doesn't have to make a joke, just reporting the story is funny enough.

Despite this being a comedy show, it has become quite a serious source of "honest" reporting. Time magazine ran a poll (July 2009) asking the question, "Now that Walter Cronkite has passed on, who is America's most trusted newscaster?" and Jon Stewart scored first place. (see this analysis of the poll)

What is the Colbert Report?
The comedian Stephen Colbert started on the Daily Show but at some point was spun off to a separate show. His character per se, a foil to Jon Stewart is a ring wing conservative pundit, a caricature of somebody like Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck. Unlike Stewart who plays himself as a reporter, Colbert is deliberately playing this outrageous character and his humour stems from repeating many of the extreme things heard from right wing politics.

Colbert's viewers are loyal if not fanatical. In 2006, Colbert asked his viewers to vote online to name a Hungarian bridge after him. He won; of course the joke was that he won with 17,231,724 votes which happens to be 7 million more people than in all of Hungry. The result was that the Hungarian Ambassador to the United States was a guest and presented Colbert with a certificate declaring him the winner of the voting but the bridge ended up being named for somebody else as a law said the name could not be for a living person.

Both shows take a different approach but both do the same thing in a terrific manner showing us the absurd side of the news especially politics. Personally, I find both of the shows excellent. If you haven't seen them, they are well worth a watch.

The Comedy Network Canada
Surfing the news on the Net, one will run across clips from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report however these links, if the source is American, link back to Comedy Central's American site. If you click on the video you will end up with a message saying the video can only be shown in the United States. How unfortunate. The same clip is available on Comedy Central's Canadian site, The Comedy Network but there is the problem of trying to find it. As I pointed out in my blog Internet TV, the various outlets broadcast over the Internet but still try and respect the borders of the country: U.S. videos only for the U.S. This is a bit of a pain and one would hope that at some point in the future, broadcasts like YouTube videos would become available on the Net period; no question of restricting viewers by country.

President Obama on the Daily Show
Yes, the Daily Show scored the big one by having the president of the United States as a guest. Go to Comedy Central in the U.S. ( or The Comedy Network in Canada ( and look for the October 26th show. Why this appearance? First, elections for the 37 out of the 100 seats in the Senate will be held on November 2. Second, to prepare for Saturday's rally, Stewart has been doing his show in Washington all week.

This coming Saturday, October 30, 2010
What will happen at the rally? Everyone at the Stewart camp is quiet however considering the steam this event is taking on, one has reason to believe this is going to end up being larger and consequently a little different from what Stewart may have had in mind in the beginning. What started out as a joke may end up being serious. "Take it down a notch America" indeed.


my blog The Day After: written after the rally

Wikipedia: Restoring Honor Rally

Wikipedia: Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

The Christian Science Monitor - Oct 15/2010
Why Oprah Winfrey is sending Jon Stewart fans to his rally

official site: Rally to Restore Sanity

official site: March to Keep Fear Alive

official site: rallymao - central rally organizer
This page lists local rallies around the United States; each one is totally local being put together by volunteers not actually associated with the TV shows' main rally in Washington. As of this writing I count almost 60 independent rallies! Plus I count 12 international rallies including Montréal, London (England), Paris and even the Base Camp at Mt. Everest, Nepal.

To those of you who have never watched these shows or even if you have, I offer the following links. The articles are comprehensive and contain many interesting stories about the shows.

Wikipedia: The Daily Show

Wikipedia: The Colbert Report

Wikipedia: Cultural Impact of The Colbert Report


Wednesday 27 October 2010

Rob Ford: Day #1, promise #1?

Toronto Sun: A list of Ford's promises - Oct 26/2010
Streetcars: Ford has vowed to rip streetcars off arterial roads and replace them with buses. Red Rockets will still be roaming along the St. Clair right-of-way and other spots where the infrastructure has already been built.

CBC: Rob Ford won't scrap streetcars: report - Oct 27/2010
...a copy of Ford's transportation plan taken from his campaign website states "We will improve traffic flow downtown by removing some streetcars. Streetcars on downtown arterial streets will be replaced with clean buses that provide the same capacity on the same routes."

Rob Ford also told the CBC's Steve D'Souza during the campaign: "Eliminate them all, within, you know, ten years. Get rid of all the streetcars. We don't need them."

The National Post: Ford’s plans for streetcars still up in the air - Oct 27/2010
The future of Toronto’s iconic streetcars remains up in the air, as mayor-elect Rob Ford said that if cancelling a streetcar replacement contract costs “the taxpayers an arm and a leg, then obviously we can’t do it.”

In an interview this week, his brother and councillor-elect Doug Ford corrected a “misnomer” that the Ford’s want to chuck longstanding lines. “Spadina is there to stay, St. Clair is there to stay,” he said.

But on the campaign trail Mr. Ford talked about “phasing out” streetcars over ten years, and replacing them with buses. He is an ardent streetcar opponent and believes the city should be building subways instead.

The city has placed a $1.2-billion order for new streetcars, the first of which are expected to arrive in 2012, and scrapping that plan could cost taxpayers more than $100-million in penalties, the National Post reported last week.

In my article Toronto Mayoral Race: And the winner is... I wrote:
As we congratulate ourselves for having voted for the winner, I would like to temper the enthusiasm with a touch of reality. Politicians curry our favour during a campaign with the typical and sometimes ubiquitous if not trite "campaign promise". Ah how they promise us the world. And when they are out on the campaign trail, miles and months from actually ascending to the throne, the possibility of realising those grandiose promises seems like an almost sure thing.

However, once in office, after taking over the reins, that first bucket of cold reality gets splashed in their face and they are suddenly confronted with practice not hypothesis. Toronto, like any population, represents various diverse and competing interests. There is only so much in the pot, so the mayor as a leader has to strive to meet the demands and arrive at some sort of compromise. If not, we could all find ourselves in a stalemate where nobody wins.

Subways not streetcars
Is Mr. Ford aware of the fact that a subway costs more than a streetcar? Far more?

When Mr. Ford advocates for buses, does he know that streetcars run on electricity as opposed to combustible fuel? Pollution = zero, zip, nada.

Does Mr. Ford realise that a streetcar can carry more passengers than a bus because it is just bigger?

When Mr. Ford talks of people complaining about having to wait behind streetcars when they're driving downtown, may I ask why the complainers are not taking the streetcar? Besides, who says that a bus weaving in and out of traffic is going to cause so much less congestion? I lived in the downtown core for 4 years and I found streetcars to be practical, quiet, efficient and non-polluting.

$100 million? Mr. Ford is not seriously considering the cancellation of the existing contract and making us all pay $100 million? This is exactly what happened in Ottawa a few years back. The newly elected mayor cancels the plan and the city has to pay zillions in penalties. Sorry, just plain foolish.


Comparing the cost of LTR and Subway


Lies, Deception and The (My) Truth

All of us are inundated, no bombarded with information from all sorts of sources: the newspaper, the TV, the radio, even friends and neighbours. What's true and what is not true? It is difficult, no sometimes impossible to sort out just what is actually true and what may be an exaggeration, a little bending of the truth or just an outright lie. Normally I would associate this sort of thing with the political arena but I am more and more seeing the concept of true / not true of the "political arena" extending beyond just the realm of our politicians.

In any of the Medias, I can hear from self-appointed pundits, supposed experts and of course, politicians telling me all sorts of things and I have no idea if they are true or false. Couple with that my precious time being used up with me just living my life day to day and I have little time left over to figure out if what I am being told may in fact represent somebody else's idea of the truth.

I have read that God's truth is immutable, that is, not susceptible to change or variation. However, in trying to decipher the avalanche of "truths" which come my way every day, I have come to realize that while I would have thought truth to be "something factual: the thing that corresponds to fact or reality"(MSN Encarta), I have painfully come to understand that other people have their own "interpretation" of the truth. Note that I preface the word truth with a definite article thinking that somehow, out there somewhere is the actual truth, not just some interpretation of it; the objective as opposed to the subjective.

Where does this leave me? I don't necessarily have the time or am even able to verify what I'm being told so that at some point, I either figure it out myself by guessing, by judging a priori or by just making a plain and simple leap of faith. However, am I doing the right thing; have I sided with the right camp or am I making a leap into the pit of fire?

Stockwell Day: Unreported Crime
“We’re very concerned … about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show are happening,” he said, calling the numbers “alarming.”
Globe and Mail, Aug 3/2010

Mr. Day stated that the Conservatives, following their tough-on-crime agenda, were supposedly slating $9 billion for new prisons. When Mr. Day was confronted by the overwhelming factual evidence from StatsCan that crime has been steadily going down in Canada since 1999, he easily explained away this discrepancy by saying that the plan was based on the "alarming" number of unreported crimes in Canada. Mr. Day then was laughed out of the headlines by everyone pointing out that the Conservative plan was to build prisons for crimes which are unreported, never investigated by police and lead to nobody being arrested. The media outlets made quite a joke of this story by saying that Canada should have unreported prisons for these unreported criminals.

see my blog Stockwell Day Dreaming the Numbers
This entry goes on to discuss a number of Conservative proposals where the outcome does not seem to match the proposal; pretty much like they're claiming that two plus two equals five.

Update #1: StatsCan: General Social Survey 2010

New numbers from StatsCan as part of its GSS supposedly support this "fact" that unreported crimes in Canada are going up. To those who think this somehow vindicates Mr. Day, I would respectfully point out that we return to the original premise presented by the journalists. How can you justify spending on new prisons for crimes which are unreported?

Update #2
Toronto Sun: Lorrie Goldstein - Oct 2, 2010-10-27

Toronto Sun: Lorrie Goldstein - Aug 24, 2010-10-27

I am afraid that Ms. Goldstein shows herself by criticizing the media's questioning of Stockwell Day by saying

But it’s par for the course in Canada, where we’re barraged by hug-a-thug propaganda from soft-on-crime media, politicians, academics, lawyers and prisoners’ rights groups.

I'm afraid I have a hard time accepting her analysis. If unreported crime is going up, we have a completely different issue to be dealing with. I still stick with saying you can't build a prison for a crime which is unreported. The Conservatives are to be hard on (unreported) crime.

Sarah Palin: Tax Increase
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said "Democrats are poised now to cause this largest tax increase in U.S. history." Similar claims have been spread by Republican TV ads, by widely forwarded chain e-mails, in interviews and even by "tweets" and other social media.
Newsweek: The Biggest Misstatements of the Midterms - Oct 26/2010

Ms. Palin has said that the Democrats led by Barack Obama are poised to enact the largest tax increase in American history. The independent fact checking web site PolitiFact.Com said that Sarah was wrong and furnished their sources upon which they based their opinion. I took the time to research this claim by downloading my own copy of the 2011 budget for the United States and discovered that PolitiFact.Com was right; Sarah Palin is wrong. Yes, I read it myself in black and white. I have to conclude that Sarah did not read the budget herself; she misinterpreted what she read or somebody else gave her this misinformation.

see my blog: 3.8 Trillion Reasons to Think of Sarah

Newt Gingrich and Dearborn, Michigan
Upon hearing of the arrest of 4 Christian missionaries outside an Arab festival, Gingrich said that it was "a clear case of freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom being sacrificed in deference to sharia's intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam."
The Washington Post: Why did Sharron Angle think Sharia had taken hold in Dearborn?
by Adam Serwer, Oct 14/2010

For crying out loud, will this nonsense ever stop about Sharia law? A Christian witness complains to the Christian police led by a Christian chief supported by a Christian mayor. Christian officers investigate and find an extremist group is not obeying the law and arrest them. The only thing remotely "Muslim" about this is the Arab festival outside of which all this happened. Okay, what if it was a Jewish festival? How about a Hindu festival? Gosh, what if it was a Christian festival? Stop with the Sharia law business. It's NOT true. Has the world gone completely mad?

Taken directly from Newt Gingrich's own web site, Human Events
Last month, police in Dearborn, Mich., which has a large Muslim population, arrested Christian missionaries for proselytizing at an Arab festival.  They were doing so in a legal, peaceful manner that is completely permissible by law, but, of course, forbidden by sharia's rules on proselytizing. Police may say they were trying to prevent an incident, but why should the 1st amendment right to freedom of speech and the exercise of religious freedom be sacrificed in deference to sharia's intolerance against the preaching of religions other than Islam?

After carefully examining the situation, all sources of information, my conclusion is that Mr. Gingrich's statement above is pure, unadulterated horse manure.
see my blog Dearborn, Michigan: Watch out for extremists!

In following this on the Internet I am absolutely shocked at how people have repeated ad infinitum, or should I say ad nauseum, this Sharia nonsense. It's just not true.

Rob Ford: Toronto's New Major (Oct 25/2010)
Ford's mantra through this campaign has been "Stop the gravy train". At face value, this seems like an idea anybody could get behind. In a YouTube video Ford rattles off a list of perks given to city council members he thinks are unjust to Toronto taxpayers. Seems pretty compelling.

In the Star's analysis (Ford's problem with free perks) of Ford's promise to remove these "free perks" and in so doing save Toronto $20 million a year, I see numbers which add up to a different picture. The total given by the Star is less than a half a million dollars, far short of this $20 million quoted by Ford. This is a perfect example of how Ford's statements sound good but do not hold up to mathematical scrutiny. Even if the Star is wrong on this one, I see nothing from Ford's camp which would substantiate his $20 million claim. This just doesn't add up.

I know that politicians make all sorts of promises during an election then once in office, they discover that realising those promises may not be so easy if at all possible.

see my blog Rob Ford: Let the show begin
This also contains a link to the Toronto Sun's list of Rob Ford promises

Fact Checking, Myth Busting
As somebody who works in the computer field, I have been many times called upon over the years by family, friends and colleagues to verify an email. Somehow my working in the field gives me some sort of "expert" status for verification work.

What do I do? Most of the time it is nothing more than calling up Google typing in "snopes" followed by a piece of text from the email enclosed in quotes. Google does its stuff and I end up with links which generally point me to a specific article on the Snopes site which explains the email in question. Certainly anybody can do this and I'm not really an expert.

However, in doing this for people over and over again, I began to realize that a vast number of us get stuff from other people whether in emails , correspondence or verbally without ever bothering to find out if it's true or not. If I go back a hundred years, 500 years or a thousand years, I can think of how we today generally think that these so called backward people were superstitious because they didn't have all the knowledge we now have. They just didn't know any better.

Yes, while today we do have more information and even more access to information thanks to the Internet and services like Google (no point having information if it isn't organized and searchable!), I do question just how much misinformation, lies and superstitions are floating around out there. The above examples from political leaders seem to point out that we are relying on other people, supposedly experts, to furnish us with "the" truth so we can make a good decision. Is that in fact the case?

True Story
Since 9/11, there have been scads of conspiracy theories about what happened and the biggest revolves around the Bush government somehow being complicit in the event. One of my favourites is how the World Trade Center buildings had been previously set with explosives and what we all witnessed when the towers collapsed was actually a controlled demolition. I've seen the videos; I've heard so called demolition experts interviewed and... well, there you have it, proof positive.

What's screwball is that flying a fuel laden airliner into a building had never occurred before. There is no other actual event with which to compare the WTC catastrophe. On top of it, when people point to the film of the popping and the supposed smoke coming out of every collapsing story as the buildings come down as somehow being indicative of a controlled charge going off, they have totally forgotten that the weight of the top part of the structure was so heavy that if the jet fuel as claimed weakened the supports on the one floor, that weight falling a mere 10 or 12 feet, the height of a story, would generate so much kinetic energy, that the remaining floors would in no way be able to withstand the force. The puffs were not demolition charges, they were the floors blowing out as this massive weight of the upper part of the building slammed downwards.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. I am at work getting a cup of coffee in the lunchroom with another colleague whom I'll call Carol. Somehow we got on the topic of 9/11 and the WTC buildings collapsing. Without a blink of an eye, Carol then tells me that the government has all important buildings wired with explosives so that in the event of a war or some sort of invasion, the government can order a building to be destroyed. I stare at her looking for some sign that she is joking: a smile, a wink, a glint in her eyes. Nothing. She is serious. I keep thinking to myself that she couldn't possibly be serious but as I question her I arrive at the unmistakable conclusion that she actually believes this to be true. "You mean that this building, our office tower, has been set with explosives?" Yep, that's what she believes. "So the government is able to give the command and this building will be demolished." Yep, that's it.

I was stunned. This was bizarre. Carol is not some stupid hick, not some Forrest Gump but how could she believe such a thing? Then it occurred to me. When I took into account the work I had done verifying emails; when I remembered what people had told me in thinking that what they were saying was true when they couldn't substantiate it; when I thought of Carol; I realized that the idea of myths, superstitions and rumours was as alive today as it was a thousand years ago. However now, it wasn't so much that we could or couldn't verify if something was true or not, we deliberately chose to believe. If our leader said it, it's true. If we read it in an email, it's true. If it's on the Internet, it's true.

Hmmm, curious. Then again, as I reflect while starring at the ceiling, do I myself have things that I believe to be true when in fact I may not have the facts to back up what I believe? Probably.

References, let's have some darn references
Since I started blogging, I decided to sometimes include a references section so as to hopefully provide some degree of authority about whatever I was saying. More and more as I examine the work of other bloggers, other so called pundits, experts, I realise that I am reading the opinion of the person in question. Nothing wrong with that but opinions can be based on fact. If, in your opinion, two plus two equals four, can you prove it? Okay, a mathematical problem may be the easiest to prove but when Newt Gingrich shamelessly and irresponsibly tells the public that Sharia law has come to Dearborn, Michigan when in fact a cursory analysis of the situation says anything but, I have to get just a tad miffed at a leadership which disseminates a message that is obviously self-serving and designed to forward a personal, slanted, biased view of the world.

Just now I was doing some research. I ran across an article which was well written but I find no footnotes, no bibliography. The statements made sound good but I read references to "a study" or "research findings" without any list of the actual references. I can't refer to an original work in order to verify what the author says or see the empirical data which would corroborate the opinion. How can I possibly cite such an article?

I go on Google and I end up finding all sorts of references to this article in other blogs and such, but I can make no link between the article and any authoritative studies conducted by a reputable organization like a university. I like the article; I guess I can build on the ideas but I am going to have to look elsewhere to find believable references to use to support anything I say. Yes I have an opinion but I would like to demonstrate that my opinion is defendable. This round robin or circular referencing is something I run into on the Net where the proof of anything being true is that A refers to B. However, in checking B, I find that B's proof is that B refers to A. What!?!

Just sound convincing, no references necessary
In my blog Extremism: I'm right and you're wrong I discuss various "experts" who are telling us "the truth". By sounding convincing, these people do not necessarily have to supply us with proof. By sounding convincing, they can actually say anything they want to and ofttimes, they will garner a following of like-thinking individuals or the undecided.

Remember Donald Rumsfeld? Now here was a man who spoke convincingly. The invasion of Iraq will cost no more than one billion dollars.

I love the word "avuncular" when I first heard it applied to Dick Cheney. The meaning of the word according to Wiktionary is "in the manner of an uncle, pertaining to an uncle; Hence, kind, genial, benevolent or tolerant". Whenever Cheney was interviewed, the smoothness of his voice, his kind manner, the seductiveness of his rapport was just that, avuncular. I wanted to believe him, Uncle Dick.

I have noticed this avuncular style, this seductive type of voice in a variety of settings which I am convinced allows the pundit or the politician to win over supporters without them having to supply one footnote, one documented reference or one shred of empirical evidence to back up anything they are saying. In the end, we are mesmerised; we want to believe.

This leads us to specious reasoning to support a claim. Take a syllogism, a method of argumentation. Here's an example

Major premise: All men are mortal.
Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

The structure, as you can see, is a major premise, a minor premise followed by a conclusion. So far, so good. Now look at this

Major premise: Osama is a terrorist.
Minor premise: Osama is a Muslim.
Conclusion: Muslims are terrorists.

I'm sure you're going to be jumping up and down shouting, "Not right! Not right!" Well, I hope you're jumping up and down. In any case, the point is that argumentation or should I say the "art of argumentation" can sometimes be a questionable talent. In the hands of a master, we could all end up believing that the world is flat. Ah, you do know that the world is spherical, right?

Now you may be thinking that this Muslims are terrorists is me trying to be funny but it is precisely this type of argumentation which has led the right wing conservative religious fundamentalists to tar and feather an entire religion over the actions of extremists. Newt Gingrich spins a good yarn in convincing us that Sharia as a political goal is hell bent on taking over the world and all of us should be voting to have Cordoba House moved to another planet.

Checking my beliefs
The Internet is great; Google is great; it's the world at my fingertips. Now I have no excuse; it's merely a question of me getting off my duff and doing some research, some fact checking. Okay, I'm going to shoot my mouth off but I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. Yes it's my opinion but it's a verifiable opinion.

“It's better to get something worthwhile done using deception than to fail to get something worthwhile done using truth.”
- Carlos Castaneda quotes (Peruvian born American best-selling Author and Writer, 1925-1998)

Hmmm, now that's disturbing. If I think I'm doing something worthwhile, using deception is justified? "Worthwhile" can be a subjective concept.

Then again, as the memorable character of George Costanza said on the TV show Seinfeld:

It's not a lie if you believe it.


MSN Encarta: truth

Wikipedia: Truth

Wikipedia: Lie

Wikipedia: Deception

This web site shows the "Truth-O-Meter", a trade marked


The mother of all fact checkers... if used correctly!

Snopes: Urban Legends
A terrific source of information; a great place to verify one of those email claims.


Tuesday 26 October 2010

Carnography: Vegetarians need not apply

Ah, we're talking about making maps? No, wait! That's cartography.

On May 29, 1972, John Skow wrote a review of the novel First Blood by David Morrell upon which Sylvester Stallone based his film Rambo. In this review, Mr. Skow speaks disparagingly of the "meat movie, the kind in which we pay to see meat fly off someone's head as he is shotgunned" then goes on to describe this book as a "meat novel". The reviewer explains that like pornography and its deliberate creation of a sexual flush to the exclusion of other emotional or intellectual reactions, the term "carnography" describes the deliberate creation of an adrenaline rush in the face of carnage.

I recently had the pleasure, perhaps dubious, of seeing the film Machete. Grindhouse indeed, Mr. Rodriguez. Like The Expendables, one needs to break the rules in the cinema by using the calculator function of a cell phone in order to accurately tally the body count. Is this something we should be bragging about? Unlike Hitchcock where one murder per film would be suspenseful enough, the carnographic œuvre is like suicide hot wings; there is no subtlety of flavours, just mind-numbing, brow sweating cinematic tobasco sauce.  And believe me, the use of the word œuvre seems totally out of context, like using the expression bœuf haché can somehow elevate the status of a hamburger.

However, like suicide wings, after the first one my mouth is so on fire, I am unable to distinguish the taste of anything else. It doesn't matter that I have French fries or a Caesar salad or carrot sticks to put in my favour blue cheese veggie dip; I literally can't taste a damn thing. Bring me the fire extinguisher.

Okay, just what happened to that? Agatha Christie spun a web of intrigue that at its worst, usually only meant one death per story: character development, plot twists, build-up of suspense, the climax of the whole shebang then a gracious dénouement explaining the various unknown details to the scheme. In the film Red, another Bruce Willis drama slash comedy vehicle, Helen Mirren, Queen Elizabeth herself, takes the helm of some mammoth automatic weapon to set about "mowing", yes mowing down like a lawn mower the bad guys by the dozen. Okay, that part was supposed to be funny but how everybody didn't get killed defies imagination.

Gratuitous Violence
The word gratuitous, according to Princeton University's WordNet means without cause, needless or uncalled for as in gratuitous insult. So we can define gratuitous violence as that which isn't necessary to the story. Hmmm, is this how a little T & A always seems to spice up a car commercial?

Considering the viewing public's penchant for this "gratuitous violence", one has to assume there is a need or a desire for it so why not just give the public what they want? Or is that what they want?

Machete had a budget of $20 million and so far (Oct 24/2010) has grossed $32 million worldwide. By my rough calculation, that's 152% or 52% profit. On the other hand, the film Easy A with a budget of $8 million has so far (Oct 24/2010) pulled in $60 million. That's 750% or 650% profit. Whew. I see a few more tickets sold for movie #2 and a higher profit margin.

Of course, The Expendables had a budget of $80 million and has clocked in so far with a gross of $252 million worldwide. That's a respectable 215% profit but look at the list of stars! Who could not go see it! Who cares about the violence?

We could continue to debate the question of whether we, the public, like our violence or whether violence is merely a niche market. However, I think we have to admit that this is a market and violence is part of our entertainment experience.

What is all this violence doing to us?
We as adults would probably put forward the idea that each one of us is free to choose what we want to watch. I suppose that goes without saying in a country which values and promotes freedom. However experts, pundits and professionals have turned their attention to a segment of the population where the "choice" of what to watch may not be so clear cut: children.

In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Brandon Centerwall writes of television and violence.

The impact of television on children is best understood within the context of normal child development...
... infants have an instinctive desire to imitate observed human behavior, they do not possess an instinct for gauging a priori whether a behavior ought to be imitated. They will imitate anything, including behaviors that most adults would regard as destructive and antisocial...
As of 1990, the average American child aged 2 to 5 years was watching over 27 hours of television per week. This might not be bad, if young children understood what they are watching. However, up through ages 3 and 4 years, many children are unable to distinguish fact from fantasy in television programs and remain unable to do so despite adult coaching. In the minds of such young children, television is a source of entirely factual information regarding how the world works

Dr. Centerwall goes on to explain a "live experiment".

In 1973, a small Canadian town (called "Notel" by the investigators) acquired television for the first time. The acquisition of television at such a late date was due to problems with signal reception rather than any hostility toward television. Joy et al investigated the impact of television on this virgin community, using as control groups two similar communities that already had television. In a double blind research design, a cohort of 45 first and second grade students were observed prospectively over a period of 2 years for rates of objectively measured noxious physical aggression (eg, hitting, shoving, and biting). Rates of physical aggression did not change significantly among children in the two control communities. Two years after the introduction of television, rates of physical aggression among children in Notel had increased by 160%.

Various experiments are cited which provide a correlation between the watching of violence and learned behaviours in children. However the author points out that behaviours learned at an early age can be an indicator of behaviour patterns which will persist into adulthood.

It's obvious
We as adults sit and watch our television ofttimes with our children and think nothing particular about what makes up a show. Is there violence? Is there no violence? What is the degree? Does it really seem to matter? Hey! What's the big deal?

Our capacity for imitation must come in to play somewhere. Dr. Centerwall compares data from the United States, Canada and South Africa. What's interesting is that television in South Africa was banned prior to 1975. Consequently comparative data shows the rates of violence with and without television. The doctor subsequently compared data from South Africa after 1976 when TV was available. His conclusion is that

if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults.

That is an amazing statement to make. Are we collectively overlooking the obvious?

This 2005 non-fiction book by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner analyzes several commonly held "truths". I refer here to a chapter devoted to abortion.

During the 90's crime rates dropped and everybody was attributing this to better crime prevention. Levitt proved a correlation between the drop in crime and the legalization of abortion in the U.S. in the 1970s. Apparently, many abortions were occurring in lower income, possibly single parent families; families who were more susceptible to producing children who eventually ended up involved in crime.

Cars vs. Parachutes
In going out to do a tandem parachute jump (Parachuting: If God had meant me to...), I did a little research into the safety of the sport.

In the United States, there are over 3 million jumps each year and about 30 people die as a result. This works out to approximately 1 death for every 100,000 jumps. So, your chances of dying by doing a skydive are 1 in 100,000.

In comparison, 40,000 people die each year in car accidents. That works out to 1.7 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles. If we take the average person driving 10,000 miles a year, you have a 1 in 6,000 chance of dying in a car accident.

You are almost 17 times more likely to die getting in your car than by jumping out of an airplane; 1 in 100,000 versus 1 in 6,000. However the web site howstuffworks explains why we're afraid:
  • Skydiving accidents are so infrequent, they usually hit the headlines. In contrast, car accidents are so frequent, they are either not reported or we just tend to ignore them.
  • Familiarity: we are familiar with cars; we drive them; nothing bad happens; we think it's safe. It's only when we check out the stats we may clue in to just how dangerous cars really are.
Does watching violence affect us?
Norman Herr, Professor of Science Education at the California State University states using data from A. C. Neilson:

The average child will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders. At a meeting in Nashville, TN last July, Dr. John Nelson of the American Medical Association (an endorser of National TV-Turnoff Week) said that if 2,888 out of 3,000 studies show that TV violence is a casual factor in real-life mayhem, "it's a public health problem." The American Psychiatric Association addressed this problem in its endorsement of National TV-Turnoff Week, stating, "We have had a long-standing concern with the impact of television on behavior, especially among children."

Aside: How does TV affect all of us?
I repeat some statistics Norman Herr mentions:

According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of nonstop TV-watching per year). In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube.

Good gravy, square-eyes indeed. (square-eyes = someone who watches too much TV)

Final Word
We as a society seem to have some sort of proclivity for violence. Is it innate? Is it learned? Is it also something we may be all inadvertently passing down to future generations? As with eating spicy foods, our palettes seem to be getting incapable of perceiving a subtlety of flavours and so we seem to keep needing more and more tobasco sauce. Evening television? Movies? There's the body count I'm watching and the kids may very well be watching it right along side me. The protagonists would just as soon kill each other than talk to one another.

At least there is a ray of hope: StatsCan reported in July, 2010 that crime in Canada is continuing a downward trend. Can we hope Canada is escaping a possible trend to violence despite its television?

Oh yeah, by the way, I personally found the movie The Social Network a far more entertaining film than Machete. Picture this: there wasn't a single murder!


Wikipedia: Carnography

Time Magazine - May 29, 1972
Review of First Bood by David Morrell,9171,903556,00.html

Journal of the American Medical Association, June 10, 1992 Vol 267. No. 22
Television and Violence: The Scale of the Problem and Where to Go From Here
Brandon S. Centerwall, MD, MPH

Why South Africa’s Television is only Twenty Years Old
TV banned in South Africa before 1976

Norman Herr, Ph.D.; Professor of Science Education, California State University

StatsCan: 2010 Crime