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My Focus is Space, but Sometimes...

A Stark Reminder - 9 Sep 06

I know that a lot of people will agree with me in that we're in one of the most important struggles in human history. Personally, I believe that the struggle is against radical religious groups who think that I must believe what they believe or else. While there are many groups who fit into that category, I'm currently most concerned about the ones who turned a normal fall day 5 years ago into an unforgettable one.

Now, there's another, smaller struggle taking place over a TV "docudrama". Some say the show should not be broadcast because there are innacuracies in it. Others say it needs to be broadcast to demonstrate the ineptitude of the previous administration. Personally, I like the theory of James Lileks:
Just so you know: 9/11 reset the clock for me. All hands went to midnight. I’m interested in what people did after that date, and if the movie shows that before the attack one side lacked feck and the other was feck-deficient, I don't worry about it. It's like revisiting Congressional debates about Hawaiian harbor security in November 1941. Y'all get a pass. The Etch-A-Sketch's turned over. Now: what have you said lately?
I'll probably watch the special, more so I can moderate heated discussions than so I can go "Aha!" The show is one description of how the water got over the dam. The more important task now his holding back the tide, and if we don't, the next ABC special may have other issues, as described by one of my favorite satirists (though this post is unnervingly possible, in my mind) Scott Ott.

Media...Bias, Cluelessness or Laziness? - 26 Mar 06

I half-heartedly follow the simmering resentment many people hold towards the mainstream media (MSM) about bias. While I don't buy into the 'vast conspiracy' theory of things, and definitely steer clear of the political aspects, here's a case that I can really sink my teeth into.

Airbus just did an emergency evacuation drill on their new aircraft, the A380. 873 people evacuated the huge aircraft in about 80 seconds. The final word isn't in whether that's a pass or not, but, based on the article, the requirement they were required to make was evacuating 650 people in 90 seconds, so things are looking pretty good. The headlines?

CNN: 33 hurt in superjumbo safety drill. This article completely lacks context. How many people were injured in the first 747 drill? Are lakc of injuries part of the success criteria?

New York Sun: 873 People Evacuated From Airbus A380 in 80 Seconds. This article could be described as a propaganda piece for Airbus, so it could be accused of bias as well. In my opinion, while the headline captures the essence of the primary action (the evacuation of a huge plane) the injuries are only mentioned in the last line. Again, though, no context except for where the A380 is compared in size to the 747.

A similar situation exists with a recent Rolling Stone article. Jeff Foust tells that tale.

So what's going on? There's a couple factors. Tight timelines play a part, I'm sure, but I think another factor is that your typical journalist doesn't have a technical background, so they are largely educating themselves on a multi-faceted topic as they're writing the article. Without experience or education in a space parlance, a journalist is vulnerable to taking wrong information as fact, or taking a correct fact out of its context and applying it in the wrong time. I've written several articles about space, so on one level I am a journalist. I would be out of my league, however, to try and write an article about the kings of Persia. Unfortuantely, it appears that simply having a job as a reporter at a newspaper today gives someone the power to write "important" articles about topics which they have very limited experience in. The importance of the article is directly related to the importance of the paper, and to get that information, you have to ask the paper's advertising department.

Of course, that's a whole separate issue, beyond the scope of today's discussion.

Itelligent Design out, and in - 9 Nov 05

I've been following the Dover trial off and on (I grew up very near that town), and was pleasantly surprised to see that most of the school board was voted out of office on the 8th of November. In the same newsday (in fact, in the same article), it's reported that the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 in favor of integrating Intelligent Design into the state science curriculum.

I believe that Intelligent Design has something to teach students, but the lessons are more in the areas of comparative religion, philosophy, or how to run an effective media campaign than science.

I have read the book which is a cornerstone of many of IDs followers, Michael Behe's "Darwin's Black Box", and I will say the following statements about him and his arguments:
  • He is a professor at a college
  • He holds a PhD
  • He uses lots of big words in his arguments
These statements, even if they are all true, do not make his assertions scientific. His primary thesis, paraphrased as: some biological systems are so complex that they had to have been designed, is essentially saying "We can't figure some things out, so why try?" If people had taken that approach years ago, humans would never have questioned age-old tradition and found new ways to do things. Some people have challenged the basis of his assertions, and you can find the challenges in the Wikipedia Article on Intelligent Design.

Note: the webpage with the Kansas Board of Education listing has the members email addresses included. This posting (page down) lists the members who voted against the new guidelines. Do as your conscience sees fit.

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