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Why We Fight

Richard Dalton recently asked if I'd seen the 2005 version of Why We Fight. When I said no, he described it to me:

It was produced in 2005 and includes bits from the earlier Capra film that it describes as "propaganda." It starts with Eisenhower's Military/Industrial Complex speech and keeps looping back through evidence that it exists and what we endure because of it. Here's a description from NetFlix:

"Filmed during the Iraq War, this documentary dissects America's military machine with a keen eye to answering the question: Why does America engage in war? Through personal stories of soldiers, government officials, scholars, journalists and innocent victims, the film examines the political and economic interests and ideological factors, past and present, behind American militarism. Winner of the 2005 Sundance Grand Jury Award."

I think it's a great film, evoking ideas that I haven't considered about our consistently pugnacious, bellicose behavior in international affairs.

Further evidence: This simple pie chart (World Military Spending 2005) shows the US as the source of 48% of the world's military spending in 2005. NATO allies kick in another 23%. The National Priorities Project, which produced this breakdown, estimates that military spending by the "Axis of Evil" is less than 1%. Walk softly and carry a big nuke.


by Craig Reynolds

DRM stupid and useless: its official! everyone agrees that DRM is bad: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Agree DRM Is Bad and Music execs criticise DRM systems (via). It seems like the only clueless losers who still think it is a good idea are the top management and legal departments of the major labels. Why is that not surprising? A handful of idiots ruin it for everyone: What web 2.0 could teach Warner Music’s Edgar Bronfman. New research on why DRM is pointless: Study Finds P2P Has No Effect on Legal Music Sales (via).

IBM v MS: IBM's newly announced Open Client package provides cross-platform desktop applications: IBM software geared to reduce PC costs and IBM delivers an open desktop. This effort grew out of IBM's internal effort to move toward Linux based workstations for its own employees. The apps currently run on Windows and Linux, and soon on Mac OS X. But since Open Client replaces your Microsoft apps, why bother running a second rate, insecure OS like Windows? This move by IBM should help typical users transition to better designed more secure OS like Apple's and Linux. Way to go Big Blue!

Chips: the accelerating trend toward placing more and more processors (aka CPUs, cores) on single chips reached a new high water mark this week when Intel introduced its 80 core Teraflop Research Chip: Intel Prototype May Herald a New Age of Processing and One Small Chip for a PC, One Giant Leap for Computing. In a dual or quad core system, the division of labor between the CPUs is often determined a priori by a programmer. But as processor counts increase, as in the Cell processor in PS3 with 8 cores, the more successful programming techniques are aimed at utilizing an arbitrary number of processors. (I've done some of that myself.) Speaking of Cell: Sony to slash chip spending. Also this week IBM announced a new speed record for eDRAM memory, and D-Wave announced the beginnings of practical quantum computing, a 16 qubit machine to be operational in 2008.

Games and hacks at MIT: Wired surveyed the state of university game studies, particularly Henry Jenkins group at MIT: Today's Homework: Make Good Games. (If you are interested in this sort of thing, please visit my somewhat stale page Game Research and Technology and feel free to suggest new links.) Depending on who you listen to, this is either evidence that the current MIT administration is tone deaf to Institute culture and its illustrious history of hacking, or that these particular hackers crossed an unwrit threshold into criminality (and even so, a potential 20 year prison term?!): MIT prank no joke to authorities and Three Students Face Felony Charges After Tripping E52 Alarm.

Robots and other wacky gizmos: news of progress on micro air vehicles (Not Your Grandma’s Robot "Professor’s insect-based design could revolutionize the world of robotics") and non-rigid robots (Soft Robot Project Gets Rolling squishable, foldable designs allow new applications). A cool conceptual prototype for making tableware from reusable shape-memory plastic: DishMaker (via, via). Between meals the raw material stores in a tiny space.

Technobits: Copyright group seeks digital music levy Canadian music industry wants money for nothing --- How old PCs can bridge the digital divide --- U.S. bee colonies decimated by mysterious ailment (also) --- Hope for end of climate deadlock --- Man-made shape explains how turtles self-right --- Finding Boosts Chances of Martian Life more evidence of water on Mars --- Scientists Reverse Autism-like Symptoms In Genetic Mouse Model Of Rett Syndrome exciting new gene therapy --- Building the Cortex in Silicon --- Computer Model Mimicks How Brain Recognizes Street Scenes --- Israeli researchers promise a more beautiful you --- Computer Program Writes Its Own Fiction.

The Illusionist on DVD

4 stars out of 5

Regular readers know I am a sucker for Edward Norton. The people who are promoting the DVD of his four-star role in The Illusionist (reviewed by both me and Neal Vitale) sent me a copy to encourage me to remind you that this entertaining and well-plotted film is now available to rent or own. It holds up well under a second watching, because of what I like to call the Sixth Sense phenomenon. That is, now that you know how it ends, you can watch the whole film and see if the filmmaker plays fair with you--if every scene is consistent with what you now know is really happening. Of course if you've never seen it, and you enjoy the sensation of watching a film you can't figure out until the last scene, get it and watch it for the first time. It is literate, well-written and well-acted, and (as you can see in the archives), I said that even before they gave me a free copy.

Music and Lyrics: Paul and Neal

3.5 Stars

I'm a sucker for films that supposedly expose the internal workings of the entertainment industry. Despite the fact that almost none of them ever do very well, Hollywood keeps cranking them out--probably because a writing teacher once advised the screenwriter to "write what you know." In any case, Marc Lawrence (Life with Mikey, Two Weeks Notice, Miss Congeniality) has written a lovely little romantic comedy for Hugh and Drew (Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore) that casts them as a pair of writers: he does the music, she does the lyrics. It violates an ironclad rule of romantic comedies. Not the cute meet; of course they meet cute. Not the breakup; of course the breakup. But it is the rare romantic comedy that dares put a kiss--and even sex--about halfway into the film. "Where can they go from here?" you ask. To a completely expectable and yet still satisfying Hollywood ending. All this, and only 96 minutes, close enough to the golden mean (90 minutes) that, minus credits, the film may be perfect. Stay for the credits; there's some funny stuff in the background. Two other brief notes; it is nice to see Kristen "Third Rock from the Sun" Johnston working again--although I am a sucker for tall women, she's also a good comedic actress. And this bit of trivia: Barrymore wears a Brandeis sweatshirt during one longish scene. Perhaps her character ran into my daughter there, or Lisa Simpson's imaginary friend Rachel Cohen.

Neal Vitale rated it slightly higher:

4 stars out of 5

Writer/director Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice) has produced a charming and delightful romantic comedy. It is spot-on send-up of both current and 80s-era pop music, enlivened by excellent performances by Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. Grant returns to his Four Weddings And A Funeral comic form, all sad eyes and wry wit; Barrymore is wonderfully appealing without lapsing into ditziness. Highly recommended.

--Neal Vitale

Dern and the MN Poet Laureate; Lasusa Links, Kent on Text to Voice, Carlin's Rules Aren't Carlin's

Daniel Dern found a proposed Minnesota law appointing a poet laureate; the bill is in rhyme.

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: Eating Fish while Pregnant -- Maybe not as Dangerous as Originally Thought?Why Didnt Prince Get Electrocuted at the Superbowl? (Note, this is a scientific question, not a wish)…. Teacher faces jail time over "accidental porn" in classroomProsthetic mask makers of World War IThe Biology of GodzillaThe Dark Knight Swoops Down on Arizona School… [ed. note: I must share Tom's signature quote; it comes from an episode of the Simpsons that aired this season: "Well excuse me for having enormous flaws that I don't work on!" ~Homer Simpson

Kent Peterman checks in with an amazing find:

Oddcast Text to Voice Conversion. You have your choice of a male or female voice. You type- She speaks. This is quite amazing. Try it and see!! She will say anything you type. I sure don't know how they do this! When you move the mouse around, her eyes follow the pointer. When you write something in the left space and then click on "Say it," she says it! You can also change persons doing the talking and the language they speak. Technology! Wow !!

If you're like me and have a normal-sized list of email correspondents, you have no doubt received a copy of George Carlin's rules for 2007. Except they aren't; this email started as rules for 2006, and in any case is a collection of Bill Maher's new rules.

Dan Grobstein File

Dan took the week off.

True Stories of Teaching

Regular contributor Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe was moved to write by my eulogy for Harold Arendt:

What a lovely tribute to Mr. Arendt! He certainly sounds like he was a very special teacher.

We can never anticipate how our students remember our lessons.

In about 1987, I was teaching a high school course titled, "Occupations I. We were discussing a unit on real estate, real estate brokers, the importance of location, location, location. and the reasons why real estate values increase or decrease. I introduced the acronym, NIMBY--Not In My Backyard.

I gave an example of a group home, which was about to open right in the middle of a local housing development. There was much opposition by the residents of this community, especially the homeowners living in close proximity to the group home.

They were frightened that a group of mentally retarded young adults would be living on their street. They worried about the increased traffic, as these youngsters would be transported to a sheltered workshop. What they were really worried about was that the value of their homes would go down! Who wants to spend $600,000 on a split-level house located right next to a group home?

The students were so attentive as we discussed the problem. They learned the meaning of a cul-de-sac; they learned how one obtains a "listing." They learned how to figure a real estate broker's commission. More important, they felt empathy for the parents of those youngsters who wanted their handicapped children to live nearby so that they could visit them on weekends. They also understood that the purchase of a home was the largest investment a family makes, and that they want to protect that investment.

Many years went by; I was retired. While sitting in a bagel shop, I ran into a student of mine. She looked up at me, smiled, and said one word: NIMBY!

Of all the lessons that I taught during that half year of "Occupations I," this one really captured her attention.

Isn't teaching wonderful!

[Yes, it is]

Positive Journalism Quotes

Many of you are unaware of my journalism quote site, which comprises a collection of pithy epigrams that describe my former profession.

I was discussing this web page with my wife, who noted that every quotation on it was negative. "Hasn't anyone ever said anything positive about journalism?" To get the ball rolling, I have collected some of my favorite newspaper declarations of principle (including one fictional one). I would love to add more, if you'd be kind enough to share them; you can find my email address in the column at the right.


The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
-- Thomas Jefferson
letter to Edward Carrington, 1787.

Monsieur l'abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.''
letter to M. le Riche, 6 February 1770, cited in A Book of French Quotations (1963), Norbert Guterman (variations of this quotation appear on many newspaper editorial pages)

It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is permissible in good society, and give it as early if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interest involved; to make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.
-- Adoph Ochs
August 18, 1896, New York Times

Money is the great power today. Men sell their souls for it. Women sell their bodies for it. Others worship it. The money power has grown so great that the issue of all issues is whether the corporation shall rule this country or the country shall again rule the corporations.

--Joseph Pulitzer
December 1878, St. Louis Dispatch

There is room in this great and growing city for a journal that is not only cheap but bright, not only bright but large, not only large but truly democratic--dedicated tot he cause of the people rather than that of the purse potentates--devoted more to the news of the New than the Old World--that will expose all fraud and sham, fight all public evils and abuses--that will sever and battle for the people with earnest sincerity.

--Joseph Pulitzer
May 1883, New York World

I. I will provide the people of this city with a daily newspaper that will tell all the news honestly.

II. I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and human beings.
--fictional Charles Foster Kane II
New York Inquirer (movie Citizen Kane, 1941)

The [Oregon] Journal in its head and heart will stand for the people, be truly Democratic and free from political entanglements and machinations, believing in the principles that promise the greatest good to the greatest number--to ALL MEN, regardless of race, creed or previous condition of servitude… It will be a fair newspaper, not a dull and selfish sheet…
-- Samuel Jackson
July 23, 1902, Oregon Journal

In journalistic débuts of this kind many talk of principle—political principle, party principle—as a sort of steel trap to catch the public. We … disdain … all principle, as it is called, all party, all politics. Our only guide shall be good, sound, practical common sense, applicable to the business and bosoms of men engaged in every-day life.
-- James Gordon Bennett
1835, New York Herald

Preserve your independence of all demagogues and place-hunters and never submit to their dictation; write boldly and tell the truth fearlessly; criticize whatever is wrong, and denounced whatever is rotten in the administration of your local and state affairs, no matter how much it may offend the guilty or wound the would-be leaders of your party…Make an earnest and conscientious journal; establish its reputation for truth and reliability, frankness and independence. Never willfully deceive the people, or trifle with their confidence. Show that your journal is devoted to the advocacy and promotion of their temporal interests and moral welfare.
--Joseph Medill
May 1869, Chicago Tribune, from a speech give in Indianapolis to editors and publishers

The philosophical basis on which a newspaper rests is extremely important. Why is it published? Only to turn a profit? Or does it have another purpose? The answer is yes, our newspapers have philosophical roots. "What has been this unique character? For one, a caring about the way things are for the ordinary person, caring about the way the world is, the way the state is, the way the city is…The first Bee was founded by men who had a cause, who fervently believed in a just society. It cared about the things that would make this new community a just society – affordable bank interest rates, land for settlers, an honest court system, cheap electricity when it arrived and clean water, trees and parks, good schools and fair treatment for the ordinary man.
--James Briggs McClatchy
Sacramento Bee, address to editors and publishers in 1993

  • Publish and be damned
  • Print the news and raise hell

--Traditional newspaper credos

Journalism is a noble calling. The working journalist is to report, write, and explain in accordance with the highest standards of the profession.
--World Journalism Institute

And I say to you, whether you do environmental reporting or some other kind of journalism, and whether you practice journalism here in the U.S. or in some other place, please keep doing it and doing it well. Despite everything, journalism remains a noble calling.
-- Jim Risser, director emeritus of the Knight Fellowships.