Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Media Notices Obama’s Budget Disaster

30.04.2009 (5:28 am) – Filed under: Finance,Politics ::

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In a sharply worded article the AP has finally taken notice of the Obama budget deficit and called it what it is – an economic nightmare.  Moreover, Mr. Obama is identified as being part of the problem rather than the solution.  Good to see a dose of reality in the morning news, even if the news is bad.

“That wasn’t me,” President Barack Obama said on his 100th day in office, disclaiming responsibility for the huge budget deficit waiting for him on Day One. It actually was him — and the other Democrats controlling Congress the previous two years — who shaped a budget so out of balance.

And as a presidential candidate and president-elect, he backed the twilight Bush-era stimulus plan that made the deficit deeper, all before he took over and promoted spending plans that have made it much deeper still.

The article goes on to explode various of the Obama administration’s claims about the economy, its plans for the country and how it plans to pay for them, saying, among other things, that: “his proposed budget ‘will cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term’ is an eyeball-roller among many economists”.

Cutting to the chase:  The Obama administration and the Democratic Congress don’t plan to pay for any of their ill-advised spending – that’s a future generation’s problem. 

Good article from an unexpected source – read it.

Thought Crimes Bill Expected to Pass House

29.04.2009 (5:03 am) – Filed under: Justice,Law,Politics ::

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HR 1913, the latest far-left attempt to pass special provisions for hate crimes, is expected to pass through the House of Representatives this week, perhaps even tomorrow.

Hate crimes are abominations most often carried out by dullards and xenophobes.  You know, the kind of people your parents warned you about as a youngster.  Nevertheless, all hate crimes legislation is bad legislation.

Why?  One important reason is because these laws discriminate based on the un-provable, specifically the perpetrator’s state of mind.  In many cases it’s not possible to know the killer’s true motive beyond a reasonable doubt.  Is this to be left to jurors?  If so, it’s a recipe for disaster if consistency of the law’s application is of any concern.

Another reason hate crimes bills should be universally rejected is that they deliberately create different sentencing scenarios for criminals for committing the same act.  Is there a significant difference between a random murder and one based on race?  No, the victim is dead in both cases and the killer, if caught, is very, very likely to go down for life, if not to the gas chamber.

Hate crimes bills remind me of that Yankee-goes-south classic My Cousin Vinnie in which the lovely Marisa Tomei has this to say to Joe Pesci, who’s about to go hunting:

Vinny Gambini: What about these pants I got on? You think they’re okay?

Mona Lisa Vito: Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along. You get thirsty. You spot a little brook. You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water – BAM. A fuckin’ bullet rips off part of your head. Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Now I ask ya, would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?

Murder is murder.  Crime is crime.  The punishment fits the crime, or it ought to.  Easy concepts but evidently too difficult for liberal lawmakers to master.

The crime isn’t hating black people or white people or purple people eaters, it’s assault, rape, or murder.  Period.

Equal protection under the law?  No such thing if you’re a patron of the Democratic party – you’re more than equal, a privilege granted quid pro quo for voting Democratic, with little regard for the social, legal, and constitutional principles on which this nation was founded. 

Thus was born the Welfare State, Affirmative Action, forced desegregation, abortion on demand, and now, apparently, state-sanctioned legal discrimination for thought crime – all for the benefit of the voters of one political party.

Some country that the Baby Boomers are leaving my kids.  ‘Preciate ya lots.

If you’re not too busy being gainfully employed tomorrow, call the House switchboard at 866-346-4611 and let them know what a mess they’re about to make.

Time for Democrats to Forget Past and Lead

26.04.2009 (8:48 pm) – Filed under: General News ::

When Barack Obama defeated John McCain the 2008 presidential election it was said that the grownups were taking over, that his presidency would heal America’s divisions, and that his administration would be the most competent and ethical ever.  None of these promises have been kept.

Democrats persist, despite Mr. Obama’s obvious ambivalence on the subject, to push their incredibly divisive and ill-advised plan to publicly punish Bush administration officials whose crime was to prosecute the War on Terror to the best of their ability.  Moreover, they’re doing so while claiming not to be on a partisan witch hunt.  But the black hats and broomsticks give them away.

John McCain says that the new administration should not investigate the former’s leaders and he’s right.  Whatever happened happened.  It’s over and the so-called grownups are in charge now to make sure that it will never happen again.  Or so they say.

The torture issue is both a tempest in a teapot and a red herring.  Perfect, in other words, for brutalizing the political opposition for doing what had to be done, when it had to be done.

Using classic media double-talk, Frank Rich says that America needs to put the Bush administration on trial for the world to see, claiming that “President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai.”

Rich’s statement is ridiculous, as is his attempt to link the interrogations to the Iraq invasion.  First, the vast majority of Americans agree with John McCain when he says that the railroading of our security apparatus needs to stop where it is.  Second, the rough handling of 9/11 conspirator and murderer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a handful of other terrorists, while probably meeting the definition of torture in the minds of the average American, was entirely justified by their bloodthirsty actions and future intentions – see Mumbai for questions.  Third, it is imperative that America’s security leadership and field personnel have the latitude to do what they must to protect this country – again, reference Mumbai to resolve doubts.

None of this is pretty or anything to be proud of.  Americans know that, just as they know that it’s past time to move on and deal with the world as it exists now, not as it was in the shadow of 9/11.  It’s the grownup thing to do and the one thing that Democrats and media pundits eager for political revenge can’t seem to accept the need for.  But it’s what’s best for the country and they need to let the issue go – now – and turn their full attention to the moment.

The fact is that no one died as a result of the harsh interrogation tactics Frank Rich and other liberals decry from the safety of their cushy offices – safety in part derived from the Bush administration’s actions.  Meanwhile the country is now on red alert because of the very real possibility of a swine flu epidemic, a story that much more important than the non-issue that Rich calls bigger than Barack Obama himself.

Over 80 people have already died from the influenza mutation in Mexico and it is spreading northward.  Despite the danger, this deadly situation was not brought to the American public’s attention in a timely manner.  One must believe that it would have received more attention and a higher level of priority had our leaders and our media been doing the real work of keeping America safe instead of sharpening the long knives.

The Color of Energy is Black, not Green

24.04.2009 (2:19 pm) – Filed under: Energy ::

A General Electric wind turbine in Ohio.

James Schlesinger and Robert Hirsch got real today at the Washington Post, laying out in plain language the fact that energy production is more black than green and will be for the foreseeable future:

Solar cells and wind turbines are appealing because they are “renewables” with promising implications and because they emit no carbon dioxide during operation, which is certainly a plus. But because both are intermittent electric power generators, they cannot produce electricity “on demand,” something that the public requires. We expect the lights to go on when we flip a switch, and we do not expect our computers to shut down as nature dictates.

At locations without such hydroelectric dams, which is most places, solar and wind electricity systems must be backed up 100 percent by other forms of generation to ensure against blackouts. In today’s world, that backup power can only come from fossil fuels.

Because of this need for full fossil fuel backup, the public will pay a large premium for solar and wind — paying once for the solar and wind system (made financially feasible through substantial subsidies) and again for the fossil fuel system, which must be kept running at a low level at all times to be able to quickly ramp up in cases of sudden declines in sunshine and wind. Thus, the total cost of such a system includes the cost of the solar and wind machines, their subsidies, and the cost of the full backup power system running in “spinning reserve.”

It’s fine to talk about wind and solar as supplemental energy sources.  In this context it makes sense to invest in them, but strategically, not as an all-in plan to replace the fossil-fuel-driven electric grid. 

The main reason for this measured approach is that it’s likely to be decades longer before a suitable replacement can be on-line and in nationwide production.  Of the alternatives to oil and coal power that actually exist today, only nuclear stands out as being able to provide large amounts of reliable energy.  Sad then that few people seem to be looking in the right direction.

Infiltrating Liberty University

22.04.2009 (8:09 pm) – Filed under: Education,Religion ::

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Unlike many incoming students at Liberty University, Kevin Roose didn’t start school merely to learn from his instructors.  Instead the Brown student went prepared to dig up material for a book deal he’d already signed to write about his experiences at Jerry Falwell’s Christian school. 

He lined up a publisher — Grand Central Publishing — and arrived at the Lynchburg campus prepared for “hostile ideologues who spent all their time plotting abortion clinic protests and sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls.”

Instead, he found that “not only are they not that, but they’re rigorously normal.”

He met students who use Bible class to score dates, apply to top law schools and fret about their futures, and who enjoy gossip, hip-hop and R-rated movies — albeit in a locked dorm room.

A roommate he depicts as aggressively anti-gay — all names are changed in the book — is an outcast on the hall, not a role model.

Yet, some students also grilled him about his relationship with Jesus and condemned non-believers to hell.

After a gunman at Virginia Tech killed 32 people in April 2007, a Liberty student said the deaths paled next to the millions of abortions worldwide — a comment Roose says infuriated him.

The friends Roose made while on the Liberty Campus seem to have forgiven him for his deception, a generous act on their part that was perhaps made easier because the book was not unfair, according to former student body president Brian Colas.  Understandably, the Liberty administration is not persuaded.

Happily, Kevin walked away from his time at Liberty with something more meaningful than academic credits or the approval of his instructors:

Once ambivalent about faith, Roose now prays to God regularly — for his own well-being and on behalf of others. He said he owns several translations of the Bible and has recently been rereading meditations from the letters of John on using love and compassion to solve cultural conflicts.

He’s even considering joining a church.

Bush Foundation’s Economic Leadership Forum

21.04.2009 (8:20 am) – Filed under: Finance,Politics ::
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Below are links to the audio I took at tonight’s Economic Leadership Forum hosted by President George Bush at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center at the George Bush Presidential Library Center.

Featured speakers were Maria Bartiromo, Richard Kovacevich, Lawrence Lindsey, and Rick Santelli.

(Note: Sound quality is not that great…)

Segment 1, Segment 2, Segment 3, Segment 4, Segment 5, Segment 6, Segment 7, Segment 8, Segment 9, Segment 10, Segment 11, Segment 12, Segment 13

Of a Congressman and Term Limits

19.04.2009 (8:01 pm) – Filed under: Politics,Term Limits ::

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I recently had about ninety seconds alone with Congressman John Culberson, the Republican representative from Texas district 7, which includes the west Houston area, and used the opportunity to ask him about congressional term limits.

“What do you stay to those who believe that term limits are necessary to restore representative government to our republic?”  I asked.

Culberson, who had just wrapped up an impromptu meet-and-greet with a friendly crowd at the Houston tea party, initially responded by saying that he was just now getting into a strong position within the house committees on which he serves.  But before completing that argument he changed tacks, saying that term limits can have negative effects, and pointed out that Houston lost Bob Lanier, a very popular mayor, to term limits in 1998 after just 8 years in office.

“Besides,” Culberson said, “voters have a chance to term-limit me every two years.”

That’s not strictly true, of course, since sitting members of Congress are rarely faced with tough challenges in their party’s primary.  When I pointed out that Republican voters in his district – which is not my own, I should add – effectively have no choice because voting Democratic isn’t a viable alternative for most of them, Culberson stuck to his talking point, repeating the every-two-years line again before adding that advocates of small government and local authority have no better friend in Congress than him.

This last is quite possible as Culberson’s voting record is very conservative.  He has a 96.7 rating at the American Conservative Union, a leading tracker of voting records on conservative issues.

I thanked him for him and we parted ways, both of us probably a little confused at the encounter, him because of questions that must have seemed out of context at the conservative protest and me because if a small-government, self-described Jeffersonian doesn’t value turnover in government I had to wonder who would.

As I noted previously, sentiment for term limits was luke-warm at best.  Discussing the interview off-line with a reader, the response I got was that when/if a high quality representative was found that the district needed to hang onto him/her because there aren’t that many good choices out there.

Personally I don’t buy that argument now any more than I ever have.  Being a good representative is about intelligence, character, and knowing right from wrong.  Skill at making back room deals, horse trades, and the quid pro quo of modern politics is nothing to be desired.  Rather, these are symptoms of a system of governmental careerists, the very thing deemed undesirable by the Founding Fathers.

For instance, you cannot tell me with a straight face that there is no suitable replacement for John Murtha anywhere in his district.  That simply is not true.  Yet he’s served 35 years in Congress, most of them after being caught up in the Abscam scandal.

To most unbiased observers – and even some who are – it’s clear that the political culture in Washington D.C. needs changing.  How that is ever supposed to happen when the same players continue to jockey for position after every election is a mystery.  My consternation continues unabated.  What’s needed is obvious.  Who will make it happen is another question entirely. 

The Travails of Citizen Journalism

19.04.2009 (12:56 am) – Filed under: Media ::

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I attended the Houston tea party on April 15th and came away with some nice pictures of the protesters signs/messages, some good audio clips that I’ve now posted, and a new respect for field journalism when it is practiced well.

Of course journalism isn’t always done right, as CNN’s Susan Roesgen showed us in no uncertain terms, and that’s part of the reason for the decline of the great American newspaper, among several others.  Edward R. Murrow, where have you gone?

Perhaps we don’t need CNN anymore.  Jay Rosen of NYU is one of the leading proponents of citizen journalism which he defines thusly:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

So how did my venture into the field go?

Like most new media types I generally write from an editorialist perspective.  Things happen, I note them, and give an opinion on whether the event was good or bad and why.

Field reporting is different because you’re in the event, recording the facts as they happen, and, as Jay says, using your first-hand knowledge of the event to inform others about it.

A “real” journalist has some advantages over the amateur, one of which is a support system that comes in the form of a home office, other aligned personnel, and dedicated equipment.  All of these aids, unseen by the news consumer, are important.

On Wednesday the “equipment in my possession” was a multimedia-capable phone, a digital camera, and a note pad/pen.  This was almost enough.  But I was traveling light and ran into a couple of snags due to lack of practice at being in the field and lack of proper equipment. 

The tea party was both an auditory and visual event.  My phone has a decent camera for its size, which was important.  All of the hot-off-the-presses photos came from the phone cam at 640×480 rez, which is perfectly fine for online publication, and attached to an SMS to Michael’s gmail account, were easily submitted back to base.  The one thing I did have going for me that not every blog writer can count on was an engaged editor in the form of Michael vdG.

I mostly made it a practice to shoot everything twice, once with the phone and again with my real digital camera, a point-and-shoot 8 mega-pixel Nikon.  Most of the photos I published on the my final photo round-up came from the Nikon since they were significantly sharper.

My first hang-up came while trying to do 5 things at the same time: talk to people in the crowd, make notes, formula copy for Michael, photograph the cool signs, which were everywhere, and capture the speakers’ audio.  Not an easy thing to do with only two hands and one phone.

The dedicated camera helped at this point because I could still snap the odd pic here and there while using the phone to text Michael my report.  This did mean an interruption in the flow of pics, however, since the Nikon has no connectivity.  Multitasking was also hindered by texting because it tied up the phone that I planned to use to make the recordings.

As Jay says, it’s the equipment in one’s possession that counts.  My phone is an LG Vu CU920, which is a pretty nice phone, particularly at the going price.  Ideally a one-man-band would have 3 fully-capable phones at hand so as to be able to shoot pics, record audio, and send copy at the same time.

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It was when I made the decision to switch to recording audio that one of the Vu’s subtle flaws made itself known.  I’d fired off several messages to Michael containing text and video before starting recording and he replied to some of them.  Unfortunately, when a text message is received the Vu stops recording – without notifying the operator.  This caused several recordings to be prematurely stopped and audio lost.  Another Vu oddity is that it only records in 6 minute chunks, meaning the recording had to be constantly monitored during long speeches.  A dedicated recording device would have prevented gaps in the audio record of the event.

Another area in which time in the field would have helped was in conducting interviews.  The event was attended by 8000 people and there was a band up prior to the speakers.  Noise was an issue, as was not having a set game-plan for the interviews.  A list of prepared questions would have helped a great deal.  One thing that was a little surprising was how willing people were to talk – no one refused.

The worst problem for me began to occur when the event was about half over.  At that point my texts began to fail to send for unexplained reasons.  I wasn’t able to transmit most of the audio back to Michael, which meant that it couldn’t get published in a timely manner.  Eventually I gave up trying to send messages out.  Ideally I would have had access to a second communications network when AT&T’s started giving me problems. 

A final issue that caused a problem with the delivery of audio to our readers was the file format in which the Vu’s audio is saved.  The AMR format is highly compact and is normally played back by Apple’s QuickTime, a popular media player on Windows, as well as Mac.  Unfortunately it is not a standard MIME type known to all web servers.  Apparently this caused the upload of the audio I was able to send back to fail.  A one-time tweak to the web server configuration would have solved this problem, had it been known in advance.

Although it’s well after the fact now, several of the speeches are well worth a listen and I still highly recommend checking them out.

In conclusion let me say that the news reports we see on television look simple.  But the logistics involved in actually getting the news is more difficult than it appears, particularly when one is going it alone hundreds of miles away from home.

Jay Rosen, Dave Winer, and others are bullish on the future of citizen journalism as an inevitable replacement for the current for-profit model of journalism. 

Certainly the business model for newspapers as we know them is not sustainable.  It can never be so when readers – i.e., customers – see the market price for news as zero.  We expect to get our news for free these days and one effect is that the cost of production must also be zero or as close to it as possible.

Citizen journalism meets that criteria.  My concern is that the integrity that we’ve become accustomed to seeing demonstrated by our leading reporters would be lost if the reporting of news were handed over to ordinary citizens like me.

However, judging from the absolutely shameful reporting and commentary produced by CNN and MSNBC while covering the tea parties, that concern seems less important.  Could John Q. Public have done any worse than David Schuster?

Schuster’s bully-pulpit – Olbermann’s really – gives him both an unearned air of authority and a responsibility to act like an adult while reporting the facts, a responsibility that he failed to even attempt to live up to.  CNN’s Roesgen has gone off on a “vacation” after abusing her interviewee in front of the world.  MSNBC’s Schuster – also of Chelsea Clinton “pimped out” fame – apparently enjoys the full support of his network in lieu of the termination notice he richly deserves.

For these offenses against journalistic integrity CNN and MSNBC should be banned from the link list of all respectable blogs.  They deserve no props for their work and no links from ours.  Their articles should go unread and their videos unseen until such time as they begin to practice their profession with a proper of decorum.

Perhaps in their place a thousand individual flowers can bloom.  I strongly suspect that accountability and quality would both improve in that event.

Houston Tea Party Audio

17.04.2009 (4:37 am) – Filed under: Politics ::

The following are the audio recordings I made during the Houston tea party.  They’re listed in the order in which they occurred the night of the event.

Note that not every speaker was captured in full, so there may be gaps in the audio record.

I particularly recommend Peter Batura and John O’Neill as both men were excellent, engaging, and knowledgeable speakers.

Brigitte Laki, part 1

Brigitte Laki, part 2

George Hernandez

Peter Batura, part 1

Peter Batura, part 2

Peter Batura, part 3

John O’Neill, part 1

John O’Neill, part 2

John O’Neill, part 3

Christopher Scott, part 1

Christopher Scott, part 2

Christopher Scott, part 3

Bill Tofte, part 1

Bill Tofte, part 2

Bill Tofte, part 3

Murphy Klasing

Ben Streusand

Houston Tea Party Pics

17.04.2009 (4:36 am) – Filed under: Politics ::
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