Month: April 2006

Emma “Pem” Farnsworth Dies

PemOnTV1931

Elma “Pem” Farnsworth, the wife of Philo T. Farnsworth, died April 27th at the age of 98. Farnsworth, the “Father of Television”, came up with the idea of television as a 14 year old living in Rigby, Idaho

Philo Farnsworth was a 14-year-old Idaho farm boy, plowing his father’s potato field when the furrowed rows gave him the vision that pictures could be transmitted electronically – line by line, row by row. He was 21 when he transmitted the first television image in 1927: a single rotating line from an “image dissector” camera to a cathode ray tube for viewing in another room. “There you are – electronic television,” were his now famous words.

Farnsworth went to his Rigby High Chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, with a sketch of the system for television. Farnsworth constructed a working system in a small lab in San Francisco in 1927. He applied for a patent for television that same year.

Pem worked with him as a lab assistant and was probably the first person to have her picture transmitted through a cathode ray tube. The picture above is thought to be one of the early examples.

Pem’s obiituary is here

If you are are interested in Philo T. Farnsworth’s story, there are some excellent sites. See here, here and ( a for a very detailed biography )here.

Snow Job

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According to CNN, it appears that Tony Snow will be be the new White House Press Secretary replacing Scott McClellen. There is no doubt that Snow will be more articulate than McClellen. He should be quite effective at spinning the truth, deflecting questions, stonewalling and lying with a straight face. After all, that is what he does as “political analyst” at “fair and balanced” Fox.

I have a suggestion for the White House. They seem to be having a problem finding a Wall Street “Name” to replace Treasury Secretary, John Snow. According to Forbes:

“The problem is, it doesn’t look like a leadership position,” says John Silvia, chief economist of Wachovia Securities. “[Top Wall Street] guys aren’t going to hang around and just be salesmen.”

My suggestion? Have Tony Snow serve in a dual capacity- Press Secretary and Treasury Secretary. After all, if they are looking for a salesman as Treasury Secretary, Tony is their man. What is the added benefit? Given Dubya’s notorious problem with names, he won’t have to learn a new one. Snow for Snow simplifies things, doesn’t it?

Net Neutrality Update

Unfortunately, the House Energy & Commerce Committee voted down the Markey Amendment 34-22 yesterday. Butch Otter was one of those who voted against Net Neutrality and we should continue to put the heat on him because the fight is not over. The Senate is next and then back to the full House. Click on the “Save The Internet.Com” link on the sidebar for all the details.

GOP “Solution” to High Gas Prices

This is a classic example of current GOP thinking. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania are co-sponsors of a brilliant solution to the gas crisis- give all Americans a $100 gas rebate check.

Hmm..that will buy one, maybe two, tanks of gas. What is the solution for week two? This goes to every American, including those who don’t even own a car and the CEO of Exxon.

This pathetic attempt at bribery is even more pernicious because:

…it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.

Is it any wonder that the latest NBC/WSJ poll has Congress with a 22% approval rating?

…if the public is dissatisfied with gas prices, its opinion of Congress isn’t much better. According to the poll, just 22 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, a drop of 11 points since March. “That’s a lot of movement in a four- to six-week period,” says McInturff, the GOP pollster, who attributes the drop to a sharp decline in approval by Republican respondents.

Best vs. Worse

fdrbwg-w-bushBW

As I have mentioned before, I have been keeping a mental list of the differences between America’s greatest President (FDR) and America’s worst President (GWB). It turns out that Newsweek magazine has put the comparison in print this week in an article by Jonathan Alter titled “What FDR teaches us.” Too bad Bush is such a slow learner.

Oh, if you happen to prefer Lincoln as America’s best President, there is this.

Deconstructing Bush

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Saturday was Earth Day. I posted a link to the Earth Day Network where there was a thoughtful essay entitled “Climate Change Solutions: What you can do right now.”

Yesterday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush used Earth Day as his theme. Did he take Earth Day as a chance to discuss the real environmental issues facing us, like climate change? No. Did he discuss critical government policy initiatives like setting mandatory caps on CO2 or setting meaningful fuel-efficiency standards for cars? Of course not. The Bush Administration has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol that would have done both.

Instead, he said the following:

Saturday is Earth Day, and many of you are asking how we can meet our growing energy needs while protecting our environment. The key is technology. So I have proposed the Advanced Energy Initiative to change the way we power our homes, businesses, and cars. I will visit the California Fuel Cell Partnership to take a closer look at hydrogen fuel cells, one of the exciting new technologies supported by my initiative. These fuel cells have the potential to revolutionize the way we power our cars by giving us vehicles that will emit no pollution and will be more efficient than gas-powered cars.

Deconstructing this one paragraph says volumes about Bush and his hypocritical and dishonest leadership style.
1) In the the opening sentence he twists the focus of Earth Day to be about meeting our growing energy needs. Unlike Al Gore, Bush refuses to talk honestly to the American people. Real leaders address the American people about real problems. In this administration, environmental crises are dealt with just like Iraq, the deficit, Katrina ( i.e. “progress is being made” and “We have a plan”).

2) The phrase “…many of you are asking…” is such a transparent and feeble rhetorical device that it is laughable. If there is one thing we know about Bush, it is that his handlers have done everything possible to insulate and isolate him from any questions that might be asked by the “many.” In fact, many of us are asking what he plans on doing about global warming or price gouging by oil companies. Somehow he hasn’t heard those questions.

3) “The key is technology.” This is classic sleight of hand. For Bush this is not a problem where government might play an active role in providing solutions. Technology (read corporate America) will solve the problem for us. There is no hint that the average American can or should play any part in solving the problem. We are not asked to take any responsibility or make any sacrifice. Instead, we are expected to remain passive, powerless and silent. This is the exact opposite of the original intent of Earth Day.”

4) “hydrogen fuel cells” are the answer. Rather than discuss solutions that might have an immediate impact on “America’s addiction to oil,” like alternative energy sources or energy conservation, Bush focuses on a “solution” that all experts agree is decades away from implementation. For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council says:

Hydrogen fuel could play a promising long-term role in solving these problems if it is used in high efficiency, non-polluting fuel cells and if it is made from non-polluting energy sources. Hydrogen fuel cells and fuel sources, however, face significant technology, cost, and deployment barriers. A practical assessment of these barriers reveals that it will take at least two decades before hydrogen and fuel cells can begin to make a significant contribution to our energy security, cleaner air, and a safer climate.

Again, the pattern is clear. Like Iraq, like the deficit, solutions to immediate problems are to be found in a hazy and distant future. A future where the “Great Decider” and “Heck of a job Scotty” McClellan will be “rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.”

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

300px-Pogo_-_Earth_Day_1971_poster

HAPPY EARTH DAY!
Today is the 36th Earth Day and the famous Pogo cartoon celebrating the first earth day is more appropriate than ever.

Walt Kelly, the author of the Pogo comic strip, was a brilliant cartoonist and political satirist. Pogo first appeared in the 1950’s during the McCarthy era and continued through the Nixon presidency.

Pogo was the first newspaper comic strip to engage in biting political satire and he often faced harsh complaints from those he was criticizing, and their supporters. As a result (as is the case with Doonesbury today), some papers dropped the strip while others moved it to the editorial page.
According to Wikipedia:

Whenever he would start a controversial storyline, Kelly would usually offer alternate strips that papers could run instead of the political ones for a given week. Sometimes labelled “Special” or with a letter after the date to denote that these were alternate offerings, Kelly referred to these strips as “The Bunny Strips,” because more often than not he would populate the alternate strips with the least offensive material he could imagine, fluffy little bunnies telling stupid jokes. Kelly would tell fans that if all they saw in “Pogo” were fluffy little bunnies, then their newspaper didn’t believe they were capable of thinking for themselves, or didn’t want them to think for themselves

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A number of years ago, my wife gave me a framed and signed copy of the “Earth Day” strip and it hangs above the desk in my office. It serves as a constant reminder of the responsibility each of us has in a democracy.

Walt Kelly was a writer as well as a cartoonist and he understood the quote to be more than just a comment on the environment. Here is what he said in the introduction to “The Pogo Papers,” published in 1953, nine years before the Earth Day strip.

“In the time of Joseph McCarthyism, celebrated in the Pogo strip by a character named Simple J. Malarkey, I attempted to explain each individual is wholly involved in the democratic process, work at it or no. The results of the process fall on the head of the public and he who is recalcitrant or procrastinates in raising his voice can blame no one but himself.

Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly. It is just unfortunate that in the clumsy hands of the cartoonist all traits become ridiculous, leading to a certain amount of self conscious expostulation and the desire to join battle.

There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve, then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tiny blasts of tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.”

On this Earth Day, and in tribute to Walt Kelly, let us each find ways to make our tiny blasts on our tiny trumpets. A good place to begin would be to read the Earth Day Network’s Top 10 Actions to Combat Climate Change. And pass it on to friends.

The Power Elite- Net Neutrality and Digital Identities

power elite

50 years ago C. Wright Mills coined the phrase “The Power Elite” to describe the process by which the leaders of the military, corporate, and political elements of society are able to assume and use decision-making power to insure their own selfish interests. What results, of course, is that the ordinary citizen is a relatively powerless subject of manipulation by the Power Elite. The only thing that has changed over the last 50 years is that the Power Elite has become more efficient and effective in assuming power and limiting dissent. With the Bush Administration the corporate and political connection has reached heights that would astound Mills were he alive today. Of course, critical for this domination to be maintained is control of the media. Knowledge is power and as long as the average citizen is dependent upon talk radio and cable television for news, the erosion of possibilities for participatory democracy continues unseen and unheard.

The one centrifugal force to this consolidation of power in the hand of an elite few is the Internet. The Internet has turned into a potent force for participatory democracy. Not only has the “blogisphere” provided anyone with internet access a chance to talk to anyone else with access, but groups like MoveOn.org have proven the power of the Internet to apply effective political pressure. Consequently, the Power Elite has ramped up the attack on a free and open Internet.

Network Neutrality
The San Francisco Chronicle had an editorial Monday that clearly discusses the latest legislative attempt to undercut internet access and to eliminate “Network Neutrality.”

THE WIDE and unbounded Internet could soon be fenced in by cable and phone firms. Higher prices and less choice may lie ahead under a misguided bill moving forward in Congress.A House committee dumped a plan to enforce network neutrality, a clunky term for an important concept. The phrase stands for an original ideal of Internet — equal access and no hidden charges to climb aboard.On one level, the fight is a battleship clash between consolidating telecoms, such as Verizon and AT&T, and major Internet services, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The standoff is over the next big thing: video direct to your TV or computer screen.But the implications reach beyond what movie to watch. The cable and phone companies, growing bigger with each merger, want to cash in on their increasing leverage. Faster e-mail might cost more. A net-based company might pay more for a faster connection to customers.

What would result would be a limitation on choice and a tiered system benefiting those who could pay.

Customers could face one set of services offered by a cable or phone company — or a higher-priced list of alternatives from outsiders. If Yahoo was part of the standard-priced bundle, would you pay more for Google? It would be a two-tier world, not the even-up access that the Internet offers now. New upstarts would have a hard time cracking the lineup, while the familiar names stayed on top.The Republican majority on the Energy and Commerce Committee directed the Federal Communications Commission not to pass rules on net neutrality though it could take up the problem on a case-by-case basis. This result is lip service to the idea of keeping the net free and open.The Internet isn’t served by layers of government regulation. But it shouldn’t become a captive of one industry. Net neutrality should be a guiding principle to guarantee open use.

A coalition of grassroots organizations, bloggers and concerned citizens from across the political spectrum was formed this week to put political pressure on congress to protect network neutrality. Their website is SavetheInternet.com. I strongly urge you to visit the website and send letters to your members of congress.

Digital Identities
The Power Elite use the media to “Manufacture Consent“, usually through scare tactics, resulting in what David Altheide calls The Culture of Fear. Those interested in controlling the Internet are not going to expose their true motives. Instead, they embark on a misinformation campaign to convince us it is dangerous to allow the Internet to continue to grow without restrictions.

There is an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal, by deputy editor David Henninger, that shows the process in action. Entitled Disinhibition Nation, it provides a textbook case of how the Power Elite use fear to manipulate opinion. The article begins with a bizarre, outlandish example that is intended to frame the argument that the web is a scary and dangerous place and, by implication, ought to be controlled.

Kevin Ray Underwood, the repressed Oklahoma cannibal, kept an Internet “blog” of his compulsions for years before kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old neighbor last week. On his blog, Kevin wrote a lot about Kevin: “The reason for my lackluster social life is a severe case of social anxiety and depression. I’m on medication now, which helps a lot. Well, in ways.”I don’t think the blogosphere is breeding cannibals. But it looks to me as if the world of blogs may be filling up with people who for the previous 200 millennia of human existence kept their weird thoughts more or less to themselves. Now, they don’t have to. They’ve got the Web. Now they can share.

So, just as I suspected, the web has become a place for cannibals to express their weird thoughts. Not only is this “blogging” phenomenon growing at an alarming rate, but it is allowing people, all sorts of people, to express whatever is on their mind.

Technorati, a site that keeps numbers on the blogosphere, reports that as of this month the number of Web logs the site tracks is 35.3 million, and doubling every six months. Technorati claims each day brings 75,000 new blogs. We know something’s happening here but I’m not sure we know what it is.Typically, a blogger creates a Web site and then, in the pale glow of a PC screen, types onto a keyboard what’s on his or her mind.

This results in “Disinhibition” and we understand what happens when people lose their inhibitions- the collapse of society as we know it!

…there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It’s called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park…The human species has spent several hundred thousand years sorting through which emotions and marginal neuroses to keep under control and which to release. Now, with a keyboard, people overnight are “free” to unburden and unhinge themselves continuously and exponentially.

Not scared yet? Well, Henninger uses another ploy common to the fear-mongers- trot out the experts. In this case a clinical psychologist who has created some labels that will allow us to turn Internet use into a potential psychosis.

Not surprisingly, a new vocabulary has emerged from clinical psychology to describe generalized patterns of behavior on the virtual continent. As described by psychologist John Suler, there’s dissociative anonymity (You don’t know me); solipsistic introjection (It’s all in my head); and dissociative imagination (It’s just a game). This is all known as digital identity, and it sounds perfectly plausible to me.

Actually, as is frequently the case in this sort of media manipulation, Herringer misrepresents Suler’s work. He assumes that WSJ readers will not be willing to actually go to the source to read Suler’s rather subtle analysis of The Psychology of Cyberspace

For anyone interested in looking more deeply into how the Power Elite use the media and PR strategies to manipulate us, I recommend two powerful documentaries by Adam Curtis: The Power of Nightmares and Century of the Self. They were originally broadcast on the BBC, but can be downloaded for free viewing here