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Monday, October 03, 2005

The New Vernacular has moved!

My apologies for not posting much lately, but it's because I've been working on a new project. The New Vernacular has a new look and a new home at thenewvernacular.com (that's a whole lot of new).

I was beginning to get frustrated with the lack of design options on blogger and I've always wanted my own Web site, so I bought some space and decided to try a new blogging platform: WordPress. I'm really happy with the results so far, there's a lot more flexibility on WordPress.

This will likely be the last post I make on Blogger, so be sure to check out thenewvernacular.com for fresh content.

Friday, September 30, 2005

'X' marks the spot

When I was younger I loved anything that had to do with sailing, pirates or buried treasure. I must have read Robinson Crusoe four times. And now, on the same island that inspired Daniel Defoe's masterpiece, a Chilean team has found real buried treasure.

From Guardian Unlimited:

A long quest for booty from the Spanish colonial era appears to be culminating in Chile with the announcement by a group of adventurers that they have found an estimated 600 barrels of gold coins and Incan jewels on the remote Pacific island.

"The biggest treasure in history has been located," said Fernando Uribe-Etxeverria, a lawyer for Wagner, the Chilean company leading the search. Mr Uribe-Etxeverria estimated the value of the buried treasure at US$10bn (£5.6bn).


And who atually found it? A robot.

This most recent announcement, however, deserves greater credence because of the equipment used by the treasure hunters: a mini robot that can scan 50 metres deep into the earth. The robot, dubbed "Arturito", was invented by Chileans and over the past year has grabbed headlines by breaking some of the country's biggest criminal mysteries.


Link: 600 barrels of loot found on Crusoe island

Monday, September 26, 2005

A bureaucratic comparison

The criticism of both the United States' political leadership and its extensive bureaucracy over the past month reminds me of something we covered in my "Japan in the World" lecture last semester.

The American bureaucratic system is, for the most part, based not on merit and competency working in civil service, but more upon relationships with those who dole out the jobs. Although this has been painfully apparent during the current administration and the recent issues with FEMA director Michael Brown, it's visible during every presidency and at all levels of government. It's just how our system is set up.

Unfortunately, the system allows individuals to rise to positions they may not be qualified for. According to Wikipedia, Brown "was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, (IAHA), from 1989-2001. After numerous lawsuits were filed against the organization over disciplinary actions, Brown was forced to resign."

In Japan, the system for choosing bureaucrats is much different.

From countrystudies.us:

The University of Tokyo Law Faculty is the single most important source of elite bureaucrats. After graduation from college and, increasingly, some graduate-level study, applicants take a series of extremely difficult higher civil service examinations: in 1988, for example, 28,833 took the tests, but only 1,814, or 6.3 percent, were successful. Of those who were successful, only 721 were actually hired. Like the scholar-officials of imperial China, successful candidates were hardy survivors of a grueling education and testing process that necessarily began in early childhood and demanded total concentration. The typical young bureaucrat, who is in most cases male, is an intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated individual.


By no means am I saying this system is any better than our own. In fact, I don't think it is. It has many of its own problems, including discrimination, corruption and narrow-mindedness. But although many department heads move often, most bureaucrats remain within as single agency for their entire careers, providing a certain amount of expertise in the field.

By looking at different governments and different cultures, we can see where we can improve ourselves.

It's following major events like a natural disaster that we need to consider changes to our system of government. It has been called the "grand experiment" for a reason. There's no reason to think that whatever we have now is the best we can achieve and it's always helpful to look around for new and unique ways of attacking the same problem.

It's obvious that there need to be some changes. We could probably start with requiring the director of FEMA to have some sort of background in disaster relief.

Barrows returns to work in new backup position

It seems as though UW leaders (especially John Wiley) have a death wish. Following the release last week of the Steingass Report, a document investigating UW administrator Paul Barrows' conduct prior to his extended (paid) leave of absence and containing accusations of inappropriate conduct from five different women, Barrows returns today to his position as senior administrative program specialist at a salary of $72,881.

What's worse than the original allegations have been to cover-up from Bascom:

From the Badger Herald:
When Wiley demanded Barrows justify his use of sick leave, the embattled administrator produced an unsigned physician’s note, which did not validate the continuing application of paid sick time.

“[Y]ou and your administrative team should have been aware of the requirement that an employee must be ill in order to charge an absence of sick leave, and should have acted promptly either to obtain the appropriate documentation on Dr. Barrows’ situation or to require his return to work,” Reilly wrote to Wiley.

Not doing so “has hurt the university’s reputation,” Reilly continued.


At least the UW is still in the state legislature's good graces:

“I have lost all faith in both the president (Reilly) as well as the chancellor,” state Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said. “They should have fired Paul Barrows and severely reprimanded Chancellor Wiley, but neither of those actions have been taken.”


Badger Herald reports:

Barrows to return to work

UW releases report: Barrows will not be fired

Reilly reprimands chancellor in letter

Wisconsin State Journal editorial:

Uw Actions Don't Inspire Confidence

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Madison vs. Milwaukee

Having lived my entire life in Milwaukee and Madison, I've got a good idea where James Rowen is coming from when he compares the two cities at MadisonMagazine.com. Each has its own flavor, its own unique charm.

Rowen astutely observes that Madison is more successful in promoting itself than is Milwaukee (it also has an easier task being smaller and focused around the capitol and university):
The Historic Third Ward? Where's that, Madisonians say. Walker's Point? Most Madison residents haven't heard of it. Development along Brady Street or National Avenue or Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, or in Bay View or the Menomonee Valley, or along the ever-expanding RiverWalk north from downtown, towards Commerce Street and the Riverwest neighborhood, and south to the harbor? Sorry, doesn't ring a bell.

Part of this lack of knowledge is because Milwaukee doesn't toot its own horn very loudly. It is curiously adverse to self-promotion; Madison has a much better spin machine running full tilt about itself.

Whether it's Badger football, cutting-edge stem cell work at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), or some national magazine rating as a great place to live, Madison knows how to sell and celebrate itself. Milwaukeeans are more reserved about their hometown, and sometimes offer less praise about their city than do visitors. One friend visited from Kentucky a few years ago and was so taken with the downtown, the museums, the restaurant scene, and the varied and historic architecture that he tried, unsuccessfully, to trade his newspaper career there for a job here.
Since Rowen's article was written, Milwaukee civic leaders, including Mayor Tom Barrett have unveiled a plan to promote the city and its neighboring counties as "Milwaukee". The idea is to take a more branded approach to the region and create a more marketable identity for an area home to a $63 billion economy.

From the Journal Sentinel article titled The Goal: A strong regional economy: 7 counites launch joint effort to brand, sell 'Milwaukee':
The first step involves the creation of a brand or "regional identity" that all seven counties will accept. The "Milwaukee marque," as its planners call it provisionally, will become the centerpiece of the Web site and promotional efforts.

Even small steps amount to big breakthroughs. The seven counties have agreed to use "Milwaukee" as part of the regional brand. At least one regional economic cooperation effort failed five years ago because the collar counties refused to identify with their big urban neighbor. Mitchell, of the Waukesha County Economic Development Corp., said many visitors still cannot pronounce the name "Waukesha," but they all know Milwaukee.

Another big component of the plan will be the retention of businesses.

For that, the Milwaukee Development Corp., an arm of the MMAC, has begun a systematic outreach program to visit major employers in the region. One-on-one meetings with executives will give local governments an early warning when employers are in trouble or might plan to move or expand. That will allow local authorities an opportunity to intervene.

At the same time, the program will methodically collect information on companies and feed a database on regional economic trends that will become an analytical tool.

The biggest effort for now is to topple the "New Berlin Wall," as some call the boundary of suburban New Berlin that lies on the Waukesha-Milwaukee county line.

What Jon Stewart really wanted to say at the Emmy's


If you like The Daily Show, you'll love this. If you're not a fan, don't watch the clip.

Jon Stewart's slightly censored Emmy speech about the handling of Hurrican Katrina

I like soccer too, but not this much

This pretty much speaks for itself. I can't wait to be in Europe during the World Cup next summer.

From CNN.com:

Airliner fakes emergency so passengers can watch soccer game

LIMA, Peru (AP) -- A chartered jet carrying 289 Gambian soccer fans pretended it needed to make an emergency landing so they could watch their team compete in the FIFA Under 17 World Championships, officials said Wednesday.

The plane, claiming to be low on fuel, landed Tuesday near the stadium in Peru's northern coast city of Piura.

"It truly was a scam," said Betty Maldonado, a spokeswoman for Peru's aviation authority, CORPAC. "They tricked the control tower, saying they were low on fuel."

Monday, September 19, 2005

CBS's PublicEye

A week ago, CBSnews.com launched "PublicEye", a blog that attempts to give transparency to the reporting process at CBS and provides a forum to discuss the role of the "4th Estate". Transparency is especially important to CBS after the "rathergate" scandal over forged documents questioning President Bush's National Guard service last year.

It's still too early to tell how PublicEye will develop. Because CBS doesn't have a 24-hour television news network, it important for the organization to build their Internet newsroom and create/sustain an audience without being about to direct TV viewers to their website. So far, it seems like the folks at CBS are doing a decent job, but they're still trying to figure out some of the more technical aspects of blogging, such as regulating comments. Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine shares his take on the topic.

Some notable PublicEye posts from the last week:

Outside Voices: Jay Rosen's Open Letter To CBS

The Morning Meeting

Sunday, September 18, 2005

What's up with the gas tax holiday?

After reading the article "It Is Time for a Gas Tax Holiday" by WI State Senator Mary Lazich (R - New Berlin) on WisOpinion.com, I sent her an e-mail expressing my concern with the proposal:
Dear Senator Lazich,

I read your article on the gas tax holiday and felt the need to
respond. Although it is true that the gas tax holiday would save
motorists over $100 million, that would be $100 million less that the
state could spend on health care, education and property tax relief.
republicans have been complaining that we spend too much on education,
that property taxes are too high. Taking more money from the state is
probably not the way to go about solving these problems.

The individual savings from the gas tax holiday to individuals and
families will be negligible. Filling up a Ford Explorer with a 22.5
gal. gas tank 5 times during the 30 day period would only save the
owner $16.88.

That savings is not enough to balance a loss of over $100 million in state
funding at this time.

If you truly care about lowering gas prices, I urge you to support the
repeal of the minimum markup law so as to eliminate an artificial bump
in gas prices. The law does little to protect "mom and pop" gas
stations today (I don't remember the last time I saw an "independent"
gas station) and isn't necessary to cover the cost of credit card
transactions.

Thank you for your time.

Mike Westling
Here is the e-mail I got in response:
Hi Mike,

Thank you for your e-mail. Wisconsin is a high tax state. We lose
population and taxe revenues because people flee the state. If we
reduce taxes, maybe more people will stay here and the economies of
scale will benefit all Wisconsinites. The price of gas is hurting
people. If affects food and clothing purchases as well as health care
purchasing.

Senator Mary Lazich
In response to Sen. Lazich's response, I first need to say that I agreed that there was a problem with high gas prices... I simply don't believe that a tax holiday is the correct solution.

Secondly, it sounds as though Sen. Lazich's economic basis for the plan is pretty shakey. Just banking on the fact that "maybe" people will stay in the state if we reduce taxes is risky in my book. I dont know if many economists would support tax cuts simply based on the reasoning that "maybe people won't leave". I need some more evidence to convince me that this would make a positive impact.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt that an extra $17 is going to be the difference between someone leaving the state or staying here. Now, taking an extra $100 million from the state budget... enough to fund an entire school district in, say, Florence... that might piss someone off enough to leave.

Gas prices are high around the country... this particular issue shouldn't be dragged into the Republican agenda of cutting taxes so that richer consituents can keep a few extra bucks in their pockets while those who can't afford private education suffer for lack of public funding.

Yes, Wisconsin is a high tax state. I'm not saying that we should never cut taxes... I'm just saying that it's probably not the best idea in this case. It's a PR friendly political publicity stunt that generates a lot of press (holiday just makes me feel warm and gooey inside), but it's poor public policy that won't do anything to relieve the underlying problem. Just because it sounds good and is popular doesn't make it a good idea. Not too many are going to say "no" to an extra holiday.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Even Jack Cafferty's making fun of Wolf Blitzer

One of my new favorite pasttimes is making fun of "The Situation Room" on CNN. It seems like they've expanded it last pretty as long as Wolf Blitzer can stay awake and they're using the "feeds coming in from all over the world" in more and more of their normal reporting.

I'm not the only one that thinks it's all a little over the top:

From today's Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER: That's fascinating, watching a friend or relative flying some place, you go there at flight explorer.com and you can see it almost realtime. Thank you. Useful information in "The Situation Room." Let's get more useful information, Jack cafferty. I almost said useless information, Jack, but i corrected myself.

JACK CAFFERTY: Has that been a Freudian slip? How many hours have you been on your feet? Too many? They should pay you by the hour. This show is a telethon without a disease. It goes on and on and on.

I don't always agree with Cafferty, but I like that he's a kind of check on the utmost seriousness and truth that Blitzer continually attempts to portray on the program. Being an observer for most of the show, it seems like Cafferty is the only one at CNN who will say what the viewers are thinking.

Thanks to Wonkette

When you've gotta go, you've gotta go

...even if it's in the middle of a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations.

link and link

Original BoingBoing post

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Open Letter by Tim Wise

Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racist author and activist responds in an open letter "to the man sitting behind me at La Paz today, in Nashville, at lunchtime, with the Brooks Brothers shirt" about a conversation he overheard blaming those who did not leave New Orleans for their own fate. Understandably angry, Wise defends those who truly need no defending from criticism.

From the letter titled, "Blasphemy about New Orleans, a God with Whom I am Not Familiar":

I watched you wipe salsa from the corners of your mouth, as you nodded agreement to the statement of one of your friends, sitting to your right, her hair neatly coiffed, her makeup flawless, her jewelry sparkling. When you asked, rhetorically, why it was that people were so much more decent amid the tragedy of 9-11, as compared to the aftermath of Katrina, she had offered her response, but only after apologizing for what she admitted was going to sound harsh.

"Well," Buffy explained. "It's probably because in New Orleans, it seems to be mostly poor people, and you know, they just don't have the same regard."

She then added that police should shoot the looters, and should have done so from the beginning, so as to send a message to the rest that theft would not be tolerated. You, who had just thanked Jesus for your chips and guacamole, said you agreed. They should be shot. Praise the Lord.

Your God is one with whom I am not familiar.

I heard Wise speak last year in an event at the UW. He's a wonderful speaker who presents pointed positions on racism that many of us, no matter what your background, have either never considered before or avoided confronting. If you ever get a chance to listen to him, do it.

Tim Wise's Web site

Thanks to Xoff

Media frustration over hurricane response efforts (or lack thereof)

Salon.com (free day pass required) has compiled viedo of reporters expressing their frustration over the government response to Hurricane Katrina.

In my mind, there are a couple different reasons for these dramatic reactions by individuals who are supposed to be objectively covering the story. There are a few things that differentiate the coverage Hurricane Katrina from other natural and unnatural disasters:
  1. This disaster was inside the U.S., in a large city.
  2. Unlike 9/11, the people directly affected (not from fear, but actual loss) are poor Americans who did not have much to begin with. Besides huge death tolls, people have lost their homes, their businesses, their jobs and their city.
  3. Reporters have experienced the suffering of these people first-hand. It didn't happen over the course of a couple of days. There has been suffering and death for weeks. It didn't happened half-way across the world, like the Tsunami did. These people speak the same language and are connected by the same media. Many of these reporters have visited New Orleans before. The before-after comparison is extremely dramatic.
  4. There is an obvious economic and racial contrast between those who were able to flee the are and those who chose to stay in New Orleans.
Brian Williams was in the Superdome with thousands of people seeking shelter from the storm. Other reporters saw firsthand not only the devastation that comes with a hurricane, but the impact that this particular storm had on a poor minority population.

It seemed to many reporters (and myself) that they cared more about the people being directly affected by the storm than those responsible for organizing the relief efforts. There was very little sincere frustration from public officials (besides the mayor of New Orleans). Why would the media know more than those in charge? It's a frustrating thought.

President Bush did say today that he took responsibility for the inadequate federal response to the situation, which is a step in the right direction. A step that is two weeks too late, but a step nonetheless. I don't blame Bush entirely for the piss-poor execution of relief efforts, but I do blame local, state and federal bureaucrats who didn't insist that more be done, immediately. There should have been a call at each rung of the chain command that screamed for more resources, assisted evacuation. In other words, drastic times call for drastic measures... not drastic defense of misinformation and inaction.

Thanks to Wonkette

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Brian Williams talks about hurricane, relief effort problems on Daily Show

Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News, comes on the Daily Show after spending nearly two weeks in New Orleans covering Hurricane Katrina and its consequences. He talks to Jon Stewart about conditions in the Superdome during and immediately after the hurricane, an interview with FEMA Michael Brown, and martial law in New Orleans. Williams shares his experiences with military and police forces attempting to contain the media even during smaller events, like fires, in the area. This interview is one of the better analyses of the situation that I have heard or read yet.

Williams was the only nightly news anchor of the major networks to head down to New Orleans during the hurricane and broadcast from the area.

Williams' blog: The Daily Nightly

Friday, September 09, 2005

I just got a link from Rocketboom!

Earlier today I suggested to Rocketboom that they read my post, higher gas prices are exactly what we need, and they ended up linking to it from today's show. It's the most exciting thing that's happened to The New Vernacular since I started it last year.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, Rocketboom is a video blog, or "vlog", from New York that produces a short segment each weekday dealing with all sorts of news topics, from the highly important to the geeky and inane. Basically, all the stuff I care about.

Here are some articles that go into more detail about the Rocketboom phenomenon:

Rocketboom's powerful lift-off (Business Week)

'Rocketboom' may be future of TV news (ABC)

'Vlogger' cyber-culls the news (CBS)

Hummer or Hybrid? Let Rocketboom help you decide.

Rocketboom for Friday, September 9, 2005

It's worth watching just for the punchline.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Katrina: Reports on treatment of refugees

More information regarding refugees in Texas and Oklahoma. Both from today, September 8.

From BoingBoing:

Katrina: Astrodome lockdown report from blogger volunteer
A blogger who is volunteering at the Astrodome says:
They locked out the people out of the dome, evacuees and volunteers. we have not had volunteers able to come in all morning. people just screaming broke into the gate to get in and all the people and volunteers ran into the dome. hundreds, at least 200 or 300 people started pushing in. no one was on the other side of the locked gate, no traffic no guards, etc. my volunteer guy telling the story from the human rights campaign ran in too. finally one police officer tried to corral people and push them back out. and in ffact everyone was pushed out. except my guy who pretended he had been in all along. and the people who had been in were pushed out and locked out.

rumors: Bush is here or coming here any minute. and/or, FEMA is giving out debit cards and people got very rowdy and so fema locked everything down mega tight.

No reliant empolyees, no one , no officers, no one to ask, people screaming and panicking, locked out of what is now their home, their kids are in here, etc. no one in the dome knows what is happening



Katrina: Blog account from Oklahoma "FEMA Detainment Camp"
FEMA will not allow any of the kitchen facilities in any of the cabins to be used by the occupants due to fire hazards. FEMA will deliver meals to the cabins. The refugees will be given two meals per day by FEMA. They will not be able to cook. In fact, the "host" goes on to explain, some churches had already enquired about whether they could come in on weekends and fix meals for the people staying in their cabin. FEMA won't allow it because there could be a situation where one cabin gets steaks and another gets hot dogs - and... it could cause a riot. It gets worse.

He then precedes to tell us that some churches had already enquired into whether they could send a van or bus on Sundays to pick up any occupants of their cabins who might be interested in attending church. FEMA will not allow this. The occupants of the camp cannot leave the camp for any reason. If they leave the camp they may never return. They will be issued FEMA identification cards and "a sum of money" and they will remain within the camp for the next 5 months.

Katrina Aftermath

Here's some photos ad informatino of the aftermath of Katrina that you may not find in the mainstream media:

Photos from WLTV

Photos from the Astrodome - Flikr Feed

Note: I don't know about the validity of these reports, but here they are:

From BoingBoing: Katrina: "Rape, murder, beatings" in Astrodome, say evacuees

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The land of missed opportunity

I'm repeatedly told by those in positions of governmental leadership that we live in the greatest, most powerful country on the planet, which is why I share Brian Christianson's outrage at the snail's pace that aid and rescue efforts arrived in New Orleans. Where was Team America on this one? I don't usually agree with Christianson, but he's right on the money here.

From Free Will:
I wanted to see, no, expected to see, U.S. Army Rangers parachuting in; the sky clouded with cargo boxes of food, water, medicine, whatever, landing on every block of New Orleans.

I wanted to see, no, expected to see, U.S. Navy Seals and inflatable power boats throwing a wake; nearly capsizing from the weight of rescued children packed shoulder-to-chin.

I wanted to see, no, expected to see, U.S. Marines driving a convoy of 10,000 trucks from Camp Lejeune.

I wanted to see, no, expected to see, the U.S. Air Force, the U. S. Coast Guard, National Guard, Reservists, ROTC, even those currently in boot camp, deployed to New Orleans before the first nightfall.

Never, never, never, did I think I would ever see American refugees, dying in an American city, of starvation, dehydration, heat, lack of medical care.

The pictures I see on FOX, MSNBC, CNN are not images of Africa, Latin America, Haiti. This is America. And those are Americans, dying, in an American city.

Homeland Security? Rapid Response? I am disgusted by my government.
Additional comments circulating the blogosphere:

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC shares his own thoughts on the slow response

J-Walk blog highlights the Bush Administration's plan for recovery... of their reputation

The Republic of T appropriately rips Barbara Bush for her disparaging comments describing refugees in the Houston Astrodome.

From EditorandPublisher.com:
In a segment at the top of the show on the surge of
evacuees to the Texas city, Barbara Bush said: "Almost
everyone I’ve talked to says we're going to move to
Houston."

Then she added: "What I’m hearing which is sort of
scary is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is
so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you
know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she
chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.

Brewers rated as #1 value in MLB

Sports Illustrated ranked major league ballparks in terms of the value they offer fans. Using a combination of scores in categories such as average ticket price, average cost of souviners/concessions, amenities, atmosphere and team, the report placed Miller Park at the top of the list.

Details on Miller Park

Despite high ratings in most categories, the Crew earned a 3 for team performance. SI mentions the major potential of rookies like Weeks, Fielder and Hardy... but seemingly bases their grade solely on the team's record (64-67 at the time of publication). They fail to acknowledge that the Brewers are flirting with .500 in an attempt to finish the season over the mark for the first time since Molitor left in '92. It's not "breaking the curse," but for Brewer fans at least it's hope.

A #1 fan rating is something for Milwaukee to be proud. Having just visited Fenway and Shea stadiums in Boston and New York respectively, I can say that Miller Park is a MUCH more affordable experience. And that's what baseball should be, an opportunity for people of all demographics to take their families to a ball game without breaking their budget. As the Crew (hopefully) improves their play in the next few years, Miller Park's value will only increase and fans will begin to see a return on their investment.

And there's no doubt that Brew Town is living up to it's national reputation:
The 'hood here is merely an asphalt sea -- but it plays host to the greatest tailgating scene in all of Major League Baseball. College-aged Wisconsinites huddle around coolers and pledge their support for Miller products; adults kick back in lawn chairs, grilling meats and swigging MGDs, while their law-abiding kids play catch and have conversations like this one, which I can attest to overhearing in May:
Thirteen-year-old to his friend, while both excitedly observe a nearby tailgate party: "Dude, those guys are getting plastered."
Friend: "If you want to see plastered, just wait 'til I'm 21."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Maybe higher gas prices are exactly what we need

Note: I know it's a little long, but I recommend reading this entire post if you've got the time.


Maybe this is blasphemy, but I'm not so sure that higher gas prices are a bad thing. I know that the price spike affects virtually every aspect of modern convenience, boosting the transportation costs of food and other products, but it could be what is needed to force what I'm going to call "gas reform". It should probably be "fuel efficency reform with an emphasis on the research of renewable energy sources", but that's a little long.

It's kind of like tort reform, but everybody wins. Well, at least in the long run.

Right now America has a bad habit of carelessly guzzling gasoline. Increased fuel prices force a change in habits. In manufacturing habits, in buying habits, in driving habits.

From "Gas prices too high? Try Europe" in the Christian Science Monitor:

"Societies adjust over decades to higher fuel prices," says Jos Dings, head of Transport and Energy, a coalition of European environmental NGOs. "They find many mechanisms."

Chief among them, say experts, is the habit of driving smaller and more fuel-efficient cars. While the average light duty vehicle on US highways gets 21.6 miles per gallon (m.p.g.), according to a study by the Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA), in Paris, its European counterpart manages 32.1 m.p.g.

"European consumers are very sensitive to fuel economy and sophisticated about engine options," says Lew Fulton, a transport analyst with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). "European car magazines are full of comparisons of fuel costs over the life of a vehicle."

When demand changes, manufacturers need to deliver. The Detroit-based auto makers will be forced to produce smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles that exceed the fuel-efficency of today's hybrids and rival luxury cars with their comfort and style. The first step: don't make hybrid cars so damn ugly. The Honda Civic hybrid (Japanese, of course) is a good start. American auto makers aren't making more fuel-efficient vehicles because they don't have to.

Higher gas prices should also make cash-conscious drivers drive more slowly and safely.

"There is really good evidence that higher prices reduce traffic," says Stephen Glaister, a professor of transportation at London's Imperial College. "If fuel prices go up 10 percent ... fuel consumed goes down by about 7 percent, as people start to use fuel more efficiently, not accelerating so aggressively and switching to more fuel-efficient cars. It does change people's behavior."

The US authorities, however, "are unwilling to use resource price as part of their strategy" to conserve oil, says Lee Schipper, head of transportation research at the Washington-based World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

"The biggest hole in our policy today is fuel taxation," he adds. "Tax increases are something Americans should do but don't know how to do, and I wonder if they will ever be able to.

Some additional thoughts:

The gas tax holiday for Wisconsin is a bad idea. It'll save individuals a couple bucks and cost the state millions that could and should be used for other things, such as education. See previous post: Treating what's ailing Wisconsin

Hydrogen cars are the stupidest idea ever. Hydrogen is essentially a battery. It can't be harvested, it has to be created in process that splits the hydrogen from oxygen in a water molecule. For the process to occur, it has to be powered by electricity. How do we get electricity? From fossil fuels, such as coal and gasoline. That should probably proceed any article on the future of hydrogen cars, yeah? Oh, and it's expensive as hell.

The same thing goes for Ethanol. It's made from corn... great! Except that to grow corn you need to transport fertilizer and water. You've got to use machines to plant and harvest... machines that run on gasoline. And you've got to run a refinery to extract the ethanol from the corn. A refinery that, unless there's some new technology I'm not aware of, will run on electricity. And not electricity produced by wind turbines. In total, you're using a lot more energy to create the ethanol than you'll ever get from the final product.

Really, it doesn't help anyone except subsidy-receiving farmers. So, how about taking those subsidies and spending that money on education so that someone in state government can think to call someone who knows something about science and maybe create some public policy that actually helps people.

And well we're at it, maybe someone could tell a reporter to ask a couple questions when they're doing stories on renewable energy because we all know that these blog things are just a fad anyway

Treating what's ailing Wisconsin

The number from the last census show that poverty has been growing more quickly in Wisconsin than any other state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel highlights some of the specifics in an editorial, Taking our medicine:
In the state as a whole, the number of people in poverty jumped 109,960 between 2000 and 2004. In that period, the Milwaukee metropolitan area's number jumped 43,256, or nearly 40% of the total. That's sizable but still means that 60% of poverty growth was elsewhere. Overall, metro Milwaukee accounts for only about 32.6% of the state's total poverty number for 2004.
I share my opinion of the best solution to the problem with Essie Allen, who recently told the Journal Sentinel Editorial board, "Education leads to jobs, which leads to income, which leads to stability."

The JS builds upon her thoughts:

The solution is, as Allen's prescription suggests, getting more students through high school with the skill sets to go on to college or technical training that will land them the jobs capable of supporting families. This means more heat from the public on school boards to start thinking more creatively to achieve this.

Increased poverty, of course, means beefing up, not scaling back, safety net programs and very much calls into question the efficacy of the state's W-2 program. But, ultimately, we'd much rather have a community so rich with meaningful jobs that safety nets are not as necessary.

It's my opinion that public education, both the K-12 and University systems, is the single most important investment the state can make. Highway projects, gas price regulation, property tax "freezes" (I hate that term, by the way) on any level, even medical programs, are nothing when compared with education. Education has an impact on society and the economy at every level.

Maybe if some of our state legislators paid more attention in school themselves, they might realize that providing each young person in Wisconsin with a quality education will reduce the percentage of the state budget that's now spent on the welfare programs they dislike so much.

Spotlight: Slate's Jack Shafer

Jack Shafer, Slate.com's editor at large has been focusing on media coverage of the Katrina aftermath in his last couple of articles.

In his latest piece, News You Can Lose: What I hate about Cable TV Journalism, Shafer focuses on Cable television's shortcomings when it comes to sharing which news is truly important as opposed to structuring a broadcast simply to maximize viewership and profits. They don't want you to check back every couple of hours to see if anything has developed... they want you to watch straight through. And during that time, they want you to watch the same dramatic images they took three days ago because they're better (and cheaper) than new shots.

… I hate the absence of context and continuity. Where are we in the story? What came before? What's next? More than once while watching reports, I've felt as disconnected from the narrative as that guy in Memento, who can only remember the last 20 minutes of what happened to him before his memory purges itself.

I appreciate the difficulty of covering this story, but if the news networks can't bring coherence to it, they can at least offer the disclaimer that circumstances will render their breaking-news accounts fragmented and flawed, and that they promise to sort things out in a 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. broadcast. With so much air to fill, why haven't they produced a 15-minute segment on the engineering of the levees or an animated 3-D representation of how the storm surged into New Orleans and broke upon the coast?

On Friday, Shafer posted an article titled The Rebellion of the Talking Heads about journalists taking on the role of public advocate in the face of politicians who have attempted to put an optimistic and innocent face on the handling of the situation.

Last Wednesday, Shafer was one of the first journalists to bring up that the major news outlets were skirting the fact that almost all of the victims remaining in New Orleans were black and poor. Lost in the Flood: Why no mention of race or class in TV's Katrina coverage?

But I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

What accounts for the broadcasters' timidity? I saw only a couple of black faces anchoring or co-anchoring but didn't see any black faces reporting from New Orleans. So, it's safe to assume that the reluctance to talk about race on the air was a mostly white thing. That would tend to imply that white people don't enjoy discussing the subject. But they do, as long as they get to call another white person racist.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Steve Carell Interview

The Onion's entertainment section, A.V. Club, has an interview with former Daily Show correspondent and star of the new movie 40-Year-Old Virgin, Steve Carell.

The A.V. Club: So, you're a big movie star now.

Steve Carell: Oh, yeah, right. I don't know about that, but man, this is all very surreal. Seriously, it's all very strange and surreal.

AVC: A good place to start would be at the beginning: Were you a funny guy growing up?

SC: No. Not at all. I tend not to be someone who's on all the time, or is always trying to make other people laugh. Because my wife [Nancy Walls] was on Saturday Night Live, and she's very smart and funny, people sometimes ask whether our home life is a continuous laugh riot, and it couldn't be further from that. We enjoy each other, we make each other laugh, but it's not George Burns and Gracie Allen banter constantly. It's changing diapers and chasing kids and... you know. We're very normal.

AVC: You're just an average everyday Joe?

SC: Just an average, everyday person with servants.

AVC: They take care of your children so you can feel free to—

SC: I have all the photo ops with my children so people perceive us to be very hands-on. You have to pick your moments.

The rest of the interview

The Onion also features a newly designed Web site, akin to the straight forward layout of serious publications like the Washington Post and NY Times.

They've also opened up free access to their online archives, previously a subscription service.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Daily Nightly

In addition to taking over for Tom Brokaw on NBC's The Nightly News, Brian Williams is also heading an NBC blog called "The Daily Nightly". The blog provides a transparent view into some of the decisions made in the NBC newsroom and an account of the news-gathering process, as well as a daily roundup of stories featured on the tv program.

Williams' latest post describes how the NBC crew is covering hurricane Katrina in New Orleans:
We're about to attempt to get a few hours sleep from our 10th floor hotel rooms. Our wake-up calls will come insanely early, and the few "down" hours we'll have can't really be called sleep.

New Orleans is ready and worried. Bourbon Street is desolate — the first time in my memory. This great, different world of a city is transformed by this approaching monster with a 32-mile-wide eye. We'll technically have to violate the curfew and take temporary leave of our senses to make the two-mile drive to our satellite truck. Weather permitting, we'll report for the Today show every hour on the hour.

But for now we're in a rain band, the wind is starting, there's brilliant lightning and we're under both a hurricane warning and a tornado warning. I will, like everyone else, have a flashlight at my side all night. The power will go out... it always does. We'll see what Katrina does to this sunken city, and we'll do it safely. See you on the air.
NY Times article: An Anchor by Evening, a Blogger Any Time

On a different note... this is The New Vernacular's 100th post!

McSweeney's Internet Tendency

Dave Eggers, the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (a great read, by the way) is the founder and editor of McSweeney's, a publishing house that features the works of both prominent and upcoming authors in a somewhat quarterly journal.

The publishing house also has a Web site, McSweeney's Internet Tendency that features shorter bits by many of the same authors.

Michael Ian Black has a few features on the site, including "What I Would be Thinking About if I Were Billy Joel Driving Toward a Holiday Party Where I Knew There was Going to be a Piano".

I'm not doing it. I'm just not. I know I say the same thing every year, but this time I mean it—I am not playing it this year. Seriously, how many times can I possibly be expected to play that stupid song? I bet if you counted the number of times I've played it over the years, it probably adds up to, like, a jillion. I'm not even exaggerating. One jillion times. Well, not this year.

This year, I'm just going to say, "Sorry, folks, I'm only playing holiday songs tonight." Yeah, that's a good plan. That's definitely what I'm going to do, and if they don't like it, tough cookies. It'll just be tough cookies for them.

Friday, August 26, 2005

My birthday's coming up...


Imagine how great this blog would look on eight 20" flat screens.

Although I'm sure no one cares, this Dell supercomputer has dual Xeon 3.2 GHz processors, 4GB 266 MHz DDR SDRAM, two 146GB 10K RPM SCSI drives, 8X DVD+RW/+R and 16X DVD, and two Colorgraphic Xentera GT 4 Video Cards.

Original Engadget post

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A lot has changed in the last 20 years

Beloit College puts out a "mindset" list each year of things that are true for the current freshman class that haven't been for their predecessors. Some examples from my class, the class of 2007:

1. Ricky Nelson, Richard Burton, Samantha Smith, Laura Ashley, Orson Welles, Karen Ann Quinlan, Benigno Aquino, and the U.S. Football League have always been dead.

3.
Iraq has always been a problem.

22.
They have never gotten excited over a telegram, a long distance call, or a fax.

23. The Osmonds are just talk show hosts.

24. Undergraduate college athletes have always been a part of the NBA and NFL draft.

33. Banana Republic has always been a store, not a puppet government in Latin America.

42. Michael Eisner has always been in charge of Disney.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Wisconsin = #1 party school

According to the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, Wisconsin ranks #1 in beer drinking and partying.

Here's the story.

UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley dismissed the report as "junk science that results in a day of national media coverage."

The chairman of the campus student government, though, said many students would take pride in the ranking considering the university's other reputation as a top academic institution.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UW-Madison No. 34 among national universities in its annual survey last week.

"It just shows that we work hard but we play hard also," said Eric Varney, chair of the Associated Students of Madison.

The UW's response to the survey

Chancellor Wiley may be right in describing the study as "junk science", but he should also remember that it also attracts those East Coast kids paying their hefty out-of-state tuition.

Thanks to, interestingly enough, Rocketboom.

Google Speaks


Google launched "Google Talk" today, an Instant Messaging client similar to AIM and Yahoo Messenger. Google raises the bar by including a phone-call type feature that lets you speak to others with Google Talk for free (I haven't tested the program yet so I can't comment on the quality). Also, in true Google form, the client lacks any sort of advertising besides the Google logo sitting atop the program window. The program seems similar to DeadAIM, the bare-bones 3rd party version of AIM that I use at home.

I really hate the pop-up windows and ads that AIM tries to make you view, and all of the stupid buttons and features that they try to include. I just want to talk to people. I have an internet browser for all that other stuff.