Friday, February 26, 2010

These Were Not Staged

The Solution to MTV's Ratings Woes Is Obvious to Me, Not Obvious to MTV

From the LA Times:

Can a well-endowed teen make MTV hot again? ¶ The youth-obsessed cable network, seeking to stem a years-long ratings slide, thinks it has found just the thing to get back on track: "The Hard Times of RJ Berger," a scripted comedy about a boy with an, um, anatomical "gift."

You get the idea. I'm not sure that this premise could carry an SNL skit, let alone an entire series. But whatever.

What I am going to say has been said so often by so many people that it has become a tired cliché. But I'll say it anyway: If MTV's ratings are down, why doesn't the channel go back to playing music videos? I understand that I'm no longer part of MTV's target demographic, but I know plenty of people who stopped watching MTV early last decade as music videos were replaced with tacky reality shows. (MTV's only quality reality programming remains the first few seasons of The Real World, and possibly the first season of The Osbournes.) While I often took issue with some of the artists the network decided to promote in the 1990s, I still watched. I watched a lot. So did just about everyone I knew. During those far-from-prime-time hours when nothing else was on television, we could always watch music videos. Even the videos we couldn't stomach made for good conversation starters.

Here's another cliché: MTV legitimized the music video as an art form. While some artists made compelling promo videos in the 1960s and 1970s, the cliché is mostly true. MTV made having a familiarity with a wide variety of music videos a requisite for cultural literacy in the 1980s and 1990s. ("Will rap for food"; a lion roaming the streets of Venice; a classroom full of students frozen in terror and splattered with blood.) During my formative years MTV was a pillar of western popular culture. Now the network just shows the same garbage that one can see on E! or (sadly) Bravo or (sigh) VH1.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'll Be on the Radio (in Canada) on March 12

On March 12 at 8:00 am CST (7:00 am MST, 9:00 am EST), I'll be a guest on The Morning Show With Jon Ramer on AM930 The Light in Edmonton, AB (that's in Canada) to talk about Kneeling in the End Zone. You can listen live on the Internet and even call in to talk to the author of Kneeling in the End Zone. (You should probably buy a copy of the book, if you haven't already, so that you'll be prepared.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

As an Editor . . .

. . . I take comfort in knowing that even the editors at Sports Illustrated overlook the occasional error:

Regardless of What You Think About Anthropogenic Global Warming, Burning Indiscriminate Tons of Fossil Fuels Is a Bad Idea

Here's another reason to be mindful of your carbon footprint even if you're skeptical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). From Yale Environment 360:

When we humans burn fossil fuels, we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where the gas traps heat. But much of that carbon dioxide does not stay in the air. Instead, it gets sucked into the oceans. . . . When carbon dioxide enters the ocean, it lowers the pH by reacting with water.

The carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution has lowered the ocean pH level by .1. That may seem tiny, but it’s not. The pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that there are 10 times more hydrogen ions in a pH 5 liquid than one at pH 6, and 100 times more than pH 7. As a result, a drop of just .1 pH units means that the concentration of hydrogen ions in the ocean has gone up by about 30 percent in the past two centuries.

To see how ocean acidification is going to affect life in the ocean, scientists have run laboratory experiments in which they rear organisms at different pH levels. The results have been worrying — particularly for species that build skeletons out of calcium carbonate, such as corals and amoeba-like organisms called foraminifera. The extra hydrogen in low-pH seawater reacts with calcium carbonate, turning it into other compounds that animals can’t use to build their shells.

These results are worrisome, not just for the particular species the scientists study, but for the ecosystems in which they live.

Here are some other non-global warming reasons to shrink one's carbon footprint:

  • Fossil fuels are nonrenewable resources. It could take several generations, but there will come a day when coal, petroleum, and/or natural gas will be scarce or too costly to harvest. "Clean" energy sources, by contrast, tend to be renewable.

  • Burning fossil fuels not only emits carbon dioxide but also several pollutants that have a negative effect on air quality and, by extension, human (and animal) health.

  • Many of the suggested ways to shrink one's carbon footprint—driving less, using less household electricity and gas, eating less meat—also are good ways to save money. And many of us could stand to save some money right now.

While I'm on the subject of anthropogenic global warming, does anyone else find it strange that AGW has become a partisan political issue? The questions of whether global temperatures are warming, whether global climate patterns are changing, and whether human activity is responsible for these changes are neither political nor moral; they are scientific. I find it strange that pundits and politicians (most of whom have very limited knowledge of the science behind AGW) answer these questions along party lines.

Finally a word to anthropogenic global warming skeptics. If you want to make a fuss about East Anglia, fine. And, if you want to point to data or research that supports your skepticism, great. But please avoid these two arguments:

  • "Record snowfalls on the East Coast prove that the earth is not warming." No they don't. Global warming involves earth-wide atmospheric temperature changes over long periods of time. If you can demonstrate that temperatures are dropping around the world, you may have a point. But a single regional weather event proves nothing. And if you're tempted to crack a joke about record snowfalls and global warming, know that it probably isn't very original.

  • "Global warming proponents have replaced 'global warming' with 'climate change' because they realized that the earth is actually cooling." This is just false. Global warming and climate change are distinct but related concepts. The EPA website explains: "Climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer)." "Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns."

Hat Tip: Rod Dreher

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why I Have Come to Accept "Hopefully" As a Sentence Adverb

Hopefully, after you read this post, you will understand my point.

The intended meaning of that sentence is: "I hope that, after you read this post, you will understand my point."

While the average reader almost certainly inferred the intended meaning of my sentence, many grammarians would say that the actual meaning of the sentence is: "After you read this post, you will, in a hopeful manner, understand my point."

Technically, the adverb "hopefully" should modify the verb "understand" instead of describing the author's feelings toward the rest of the sentence. Many grammarians would prefer "I hope that" to "Hopefully" in a sentence such as the one above. And, if I hadn't been using the sentence to illustrate a point, I would have used "I hope that" myself.

"I hope that" works great as an alternative to "hopefully" in sentences that can be written in the first person. In sentences without an identifiable speaker, substituting for "hopefully" is more difficult. For example:

Hopefully, after adding the half-and-half, your Alfredo sauce will assume the proper consistency.

Were I typing that sentence in an e-mail to a friend, "I hope that" would work. Were I to write it on a recipe website whose readers don't expect the recipe to suddenly refer to itself in the first person, "I hope that" would not be appropriate. The best alternative in this situation would be, "It is hoped that," which is awkward, cumbersome, and uses the passive voice. ("If hopes are realized" is another alternative, but it has the same problems.) In my opinion the technically incorrect "Hopefully" is much better than "It is hoped that." As Wiktionary points out:

Many adverbs are used as sentence modifiers with somewhat less frequent objection such as interestingly, frankly, clearly, luckily, and unfortunately. . . . Compare to the usage of regretfully, which does have the substitute regrettably.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Are We Nothing More Than a Hologram?

Maybe. Kind of. From New Scientist:

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Quick question: What are the theological implications of our being a hologram?

Resha Kate Update

She typed her name and she has a boyfriend.

Monday, February 08, 2010

I Don't Care What Your Tax Rate Is, a Million Dollars Is a Lot of Money

Last week, during a joint appearance with Harold Ford, Jr. at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said, "Trust me, after taxes, a million dollars is not a lot of money." No, it is.

The median (pre-tax) household income in the United States in 2008 was just over $50,000; the median personal income is closer to $40,000. If a person earning a million dollars had to pay 90 percent of his or her income in taxes, he or she still would have more than twice as much money after taxes than the median wage earner would have before taxes. According to Global Rich List a person earning $125,000 is in the top one-half of on percent of wage earners worldwide. Were a person making a million dollars to pay 85 percent of his or her income in taxes, he or she would still take home more money (after taxes) than 99.5 percent of the world's population (before taxes). Currently, those in the highest income bracket pay 35 percent of their income for federal income taxes.

And, as Gawker pointed out, Steele made these comments in a state where the median household income is less than $40,000 to college students facing a depressed job market.

I'm not saying that one can't make a convincing economic argument for cutting taxes on the uber-wealthy. But until the tax rate on millionaires breaks 90 percent, don't tell me that people with million-dollar salaries aren't making a lot of money.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Into the Lava

Last week at school Meyer's teacher asked the class to imagine what became of Goldilocks after she fled the three bears' house. This is what Meyer came up with.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tuesday Night Trivia

It's been a while. Too long. Here you go:

Five Super Bowl-winning NFL franchises are located in metropolitan areas whose teams have never won a World Series or an NBA Championship. Name them.

For example, since the Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors both have won championships in their respective sports, neither the Oakland Raiders nor San Francisco 49ers would be correct answers to this trivia challenge.