Thursday, August 24, 2006

Isn't there some, oh, real news to report?

When I logged on to AOL today, I was met with the headline that Jessica Lynch is pregnant. You remember her. The was the soldier who was held as a prisoner of war for a period of time at the beginning of the Iraq war, suffering severe injuries int he course of being captured.

Well, apparently she and her boyfriend are going to be parents. I'm happy for her. I really am. I'm glad she's got good things going on in her life now, after having to go through all of that courtesy of George and Dick and the boys and their little adventure in misdirection. But her pregnancy is not news. Surely there are many more important things going on in the world.

And by important, I don't mean the landing in Colorado of the plane carrying that Karr guy who says he's the one who killed Jon Benet Ramsey. But, apparently, MSNBC, which carried the landing live this afternoon, did. It was under the category of "Breaking News", and I guess they thought it was absolutely vital for us all to know that his plane had landed the very moment it happened.

It is very possible that this guy is simply a raving nutjob who is looking for publicity, or is playing out some perverse fantasy, or even just getting some kind of private jollies out of confessing to an infamous crime. In that case, the media is playing right into his...whatever it is that he's doing. Even if he did murder that little girl (something I'm still more than a little skeptical about, honestly), his plane landing is not breaking news. If they find his DNA on crime scene materials, that might be breaking news. Maybe. Personally, I can wait until the next scheduled newscast to find that out.

Then again, I've never seen an adequate explanation as to why the media is so obsessed with this particular killing. Lots of kids get murdered, but the media doesn't spend day and night on the story. Hell, just over two years ago right here in Fresno a man murdered nine of his children and grandchildren (some of the victims were both) one spring afternoon. After an inital spate of publicity, there was very little said about the whole thing in the national media, despite the sensational aspects of the case - incest, polygamy, weird religion, antique coffins, and an apparent obsession with vampires. When the perpetrator was convicted, there was mention in the national press, but just barely. The difference? The victims here, some of them younger than Jon Benet Ramsey, were of mixed race, not especially photogenic, didn't have much money.

I'm not saying that the murder of one child isn't a horrible thing. Of course it is. But the idea that one murder is more horrible, or more important, or just more worth covering because the victim's parents were rich and the victim herself was pretty, is disgusting. And I'm not advocating not reporting any of the cases just because they can't all be covered in depth. All I'm saying is that there is reporting and then there is obsession...and the Jon Benet story long ago reached the level of obsession on the part of the media.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Evolution: it isn't just dissed in the United States anymore...

Most people, at least here in the United States, think that this is the only place where the theory of evolution doesn't get any respect. But I ran across a couple of stories this week that show this isn't the case at all.

First up, in Nairobi, Kenya, according to the Telegraph, evangelical churches in that nation are lobbying the national museum there to put its collection of hominid fossils in a "back room" because evolution is "just one theory". Dr. Richard Leakey, whose team discovered many of the fossils in the museum called the churches' plan to force the museum to downplay anything that looks like evidence for evolution "the most outrageous comments I have ever heard", and that the museum should "be extremely strong in presenting a very forceful case for the evolutionary theory in the origins of mankind". He called the Pentecostal churches in question "fundamentalist" and said that their view of human origins "far from the mainstream".

The public relations manager of the museum was less forceful in his statement, saying that the museum has a responsibility to show the fossils in a way that gives the public "a full understanding of their significance", but that doing so can "get tricky when you have religious beliefs on one side, and intellectuals, scientists or researchers on the other, saying the opposite."

The thing that I don't understand is why people with religion think that they have a right force others to present their viewpoints. I doubt that Richard Leakey has any intention of going into their churches and lecturing them on evolution; they don't have any more right to march into a museum and expect the curators to mount exhibits that cater to their particular beliefs.

In another report, meanwhile, this time from Yahoo news, Greek scientists are calling on their nation's education ministry to begin teaching evolution, which they say is almost unheard of in the country's schools. They say that while information on evolution appears in the textbooks the schools use, it is situated at the end of the books, and most teachers never get to that material before the end of the school eyar. Two hundred scientists signed a petition setting out their request to the ministry. Evidently the influential Greek Orthodox church, which favors creationism, didn't have any comment on the appeal from scientists.

NOTE: Unfortunately, the Yahoo news report has apparently expired, so I've removed the link.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ready, set, conclusions...

I was on vacation last week. It was nice - didn't have to work, didn't have to cook, didn't have to do dishes. I had plenty of time to just sit and veg. That was good; I needed the relaxation. It's been a fairly stressful couple of years since I was last able to get out of town. But it was bad, too, becasue there was plenty of time to read the papers and watch the television, including the news.

Lots of strange stuff going on in the world, and I heard all about it. Even broke my usual rules and watched a high-speed chase...I'm not sure why they cover those things live in Los Angeles, but they do. I would hope that anyone affected by the chase wouldn't be actually watching the reports of it while they are driving. I think maybe I watched because earlier in the week, as I neared my destination, I managed to inadvertently drive into the middle of some kind of police action and almost got hit head-on by a police car. No lights, no siren, no nothing...just pedal to the metal driving down the wrong side of the street. So, my perceptions of such chases are a little different now. Also, they were chasing someone who was very ambitious. He didn't just weave around the surface streets or go freeway hopping. Instead, he headed north, over the Grapevine into the San Joaquin Valley. At night, with all the truck traffic, on Interstate 5, which has one stretch that is so severly downhill that they provide escape ramps for trucks that lose their brakes, because that's the only way to get them stopped if there is any traffic in the way at all.

Anyway, strange was the byword of the week in the news. Should have figured it would was full moon during that period of time. There were two stories, both of which had started earlier but which still had what the news business calls legs. One was the drunk-driving arrest of actor Mel Gibson and his ensuing tirade, which allegedly included both sexist and anti-Semitic rantings. The other was the ongoing controversy over Tour de France winner Floyd Landis's alleged doping during this year's competition. When those stories first entered the news, I figured neither one of them would be more than a three-day wonder. We should have been so lucky. The ongoing nature of both show more than anything, I think, how eager most people are to jump to conclusions in the absence of any sure knowledge of the circumstances of a particular event.

I don't know if Floyd Landis took synthetic testosterone before his big comback day near the end of the Tour. I wasn't there. Two tests of that day's urine sample say that he did. He says he didn't. I think that the jury is still out. But it amazed me how often I heard comments that he must be guilty, because the tests don't lie. Well...maybe they do and maybe they don't. But it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that there were other ways for that substance to get into his urine sample than for him to have deliberately taken a banned substance. Someone could have slipped it in something he ate or drank. Someone could have slipped it into the samples after they were taken. I'm sure there is security around the samples the riders are required to give, but security, as we all know in this age of terrorism, can be gotten around. In any case, as I understand it the substance that was found in the samples is something that must be taken for a period of time in order to have any effect on performance, and as far as I've heard, his earlier samples did not test positive. So, I can't quite figure out why he would have taken it then. He doesn't strike me as an excessively stupid person. Still, much of the commentary I've heard just jumps to the conclusion that Landis is a cheater. Not sure I understand that, either.

And then there's Mel Gibson.

I don't have any idea whether or not he is anti-Semitic...there doesn't seem to be much discussion of whether he is a sexist or not, based on his other reported statements the night he was arrested, but I guess anti-Semitism trumps sexism or something. I don't think either position is ethically tenable, but that's just me. Apparently, he was raised by an anti-Semitic father, which could predispose him to such attitudes. On the other hand, several people who know him well have insisted publicly that he is not anti-Semitic at all. Still, so many of the commentators have dragged out the old saying "in vino veritas" or however it goes (my Latin is a little rusty at the moment), that statements made while inebriated show the true feelings of the one making them. It has been my experience, however, that a lot of the things that a lot of people say while drunk don't have any relation to that person's real feelings or attitudes. Either way, the fact remains that none of those professional pundits who have been so quick to condemn Gibson are in a position to know his mind or his heart on that or any other subject. Still, they don't have any problem jumping to the conclusion that Gibson is a horrible, evil person who should never be allowed to pursue a living again.

All I can do is sit back and shake my head and wonder why people are so eager to think the worst of people. And why they seem even more eager to believe the worst of someone who is successful at what they do. It is almost as if there is the belief out there that anyone who is successful must have lied, cheated, or stole their way to their success. While I know that such is the case in some instances, even I'm not cynical enough to think that everyone who has ever been successful at anything is an evil human being.

And, God knows I'm pretty might have noticed that here before.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Still here...

Just so you'll know, dear readers...I haven't abandoned ship. It's just that, well, there is a real world out here, and it gets hectic sometimes. Also, there are vacations to go on...just finished one of those, which was a nice break. But I'm still thanks to that police car in southern California that tried to hit me lights, no siren, no nothing, but charging down the wrong side of the street chasing someone. If you've ever been thinking that it might be fun and exciting to drive into the middle of a police, it's not.