Wednesday, December 01, 2010

'Project' - the IPad magazine - is the future arriving

LOS ANGELES, Calif., USA - The Los Angeles Times today ran a story about Richard Branson's latest project - a magazine that can only be accessed via an Apple IPad. It's available at Apple stores as an IPad app.

LINK: IPad only magazine - the future has arrived

Its concept - which seems so obvious now that it has been announced and implemented - might at last be the new technology bridge between what my friend Derek Moore of Napa calls the 'dead-tree people' and the newest gizmos in electronic information technology.

And by charging $3 per issue - and no doubt hefty fees for advertising to a pretty upscale market - Branson may be able to overcome the problem of funding that is sinking newspapers and magazines quickly.

If you take away the printing bill for a magazine, you wipe out a major portion of the cost.

Maybe some of that money could go to writers, instead.


It's not surprising that this project comes from Branson and his company. Branson's company has an airline, makes cellphones and is going to be offering people rides in space. A electronic publication - available only on one tablet reader - might seem a gamble to most people. To Branson, it's just another day around the office of his company, Virgin.

Perhaps most important about this new magazine - and app - is that it gives me yet another reason to run out and get an IPad.

Merry Christmas, a little early, por favor.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Airline pilots, politicians won't get scanned or groped, TSA says

WASHINGTON, D.C., USSA - The Transportation Safety Administration - a misnomer if there ever was one - has decreed that for now, airline pilots will not have to go through the same security screenings as passengers.

After being pressured by the pilots' union, the TSA backed off on requiring them to go through the hoops that many thousands of airline passengers go through every day.

Here's the story in the San Francisco Chronicle: Pilots go through untouched

This is not an argument that pilots should have to have full body scans or get groped by poorly paid TSA gate workers who are likely as grossed out by the body searches as the searchees. (In most states, the pat down as performed by TSA agents could get them arrested for sex crimes...)

No, the argument is no one should have to go through this newest level of 'security'.

Charles Krauthammer, hardly my favorite columnist, had it right today when he wrote:

"The ultimate idiocy is the full-body screening of the pilot. The pilot doesn't need a bomb or box cutter to bring down a plane. All he has to do is drive it into the water, like the EgyptAir pilot who crashed his plane off Nantucket while intoning "I rely on God," killing all on board."

Exactly.  Now that that particular idiocy has been resolved, why not realize that it's idiocy to do these new security measures with three-year-old children, senior citizens pushing walkers, wheelchair bound passengers and, and, and...

Krauthammer will no doubt be pilloried for this comment:

"The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches."

Ah those strollers!

To paraphrase the late Art Linkletter: Kids do the darnest things.

You can add D.C. politicians to the list of people who can avoid the screenings, too: No patting the politicians

And Slate magazine asks the right question at this link: Does the TSA EVER catch terrorists?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Adios, Rick Kushman - Bee readers hope for a sequel

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Next week Rick Kushman will walk out the door of The Sacramento Bee newspaper after a great run as a reporter and columnist.

In the last couple of years, Rick has been a real go-to guy for The Bee, a survivor of several rounds of layoffs and down-sizings brought on by a combination of incredibly bad planning on the part of the managers of The Bee and a near free-fall decline in print advertising revenues.

Rick Kushman
Rick's plans? A book for sure is in the works. Some teaching, too, probably. But who knows? He's a talented guy who started to outgrow The Bee several years ago but stayed for all the obvious reasons: a good job, loyalty, a great schedule.

Outgrew The Bee?


 Rick had a loyal following as a TV columnist for years and did an excellent job with that column. He also contributed other stories. But it was his TV commentary that drew readers - lot of readers. It was a colossal blunder to remove him from that, a blunder I wrote about more than a year ago when it happened: No more Rick the TV guy.

Now Rick is joining the talent exodus from The Bee, a talent exodus that is coming at a time when this city really needs a good daily newspaper - and writers who readers can connect to.

Rick has the kind of personality that lends itself to an emerging brand of personal journalism that is fast becoming the standard in the publishing business.

If Rick were to start an on-line TV critic blog, I would sign up right away. In fact, everyone reading this should email him and tell him that would be a good idea:

Rick's leaving The Bee leaves another hole in the lineup of a news team whose bench is getting shallower every month it seems.

Bon voyage Rick. Fans will be watching for a blockbuster career sequel. Maybe he will write the screenplay for a film starting Paul Giamatti: Sideways Again.

Friday, November 05, 2010

A review of the book Freedom, but 'FreedomTM'

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A book titled Freedom by Jonathan Franzen has been grabbing headlines for months, even making Oprah swoon over it. And I have picked Freedom up several times to read (usually at Costco while avoiding grocery shopping). But for now I am waiting patiently for it to show up on the public library shelves here.

That might happen by 2012, the librarians tell me. It's a pretty popular book.

But while waiting, I just finished a book by Daniel Suarez also called Freedom  (its full title is FreedomTM, as in trademark), a science fiction thriller that is all-to-close to reality. Actually close to several realities.
Daniel Suarez

It's an eco-thriller with government/corporation conspiracies mixed in with near-future high tech wonders and what we could call video games.

But the video game in this book is no game. What goes on in something called the darknet is deadly serious for all concerned.

The book is believable and frightening, both on the techno level and the idea that corporations have a tight web of conspiracy in place, essentially running everything - and caring nothing for human beings.

Does that sound at all familiar?

The first book in this series, called Daemon, is supposed to be excellent, too, and should be read before FreedomTM.

But because I have already read the second volume, I am going to wait for Suarez to do another book about the darknet.

I know it's out there, even if I don't have the technology to see it. Not yet, anyway.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

TV attack ads - and campaigns - reaching new lows

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - As political campaigns heat up, so do the television advertisements that would seem to be even more wildly misleading than in the past.

Hard to believe? Probably not.

This TV ad - in the race for California State Treasurer, for Godsakes - is a good example of ugly, deliberately misleading campaigning:

What's wrong with that ad?

Well, to start, it's beyond a stretch to blame Bill Lockyer  personally for problems with pension systems, issues with government accountability, that some businesses have left the state, that unemployment is up - and state spending might be 15 times higher than it was 37 years ago. (That number is very suspect, by the way.)

But if that number is arguably true, well, could it be that the 37 million people who live in California today, (compared to 20.8 million 37 years ago) live in a world that is more complex - and expensive?

Regardless, Bill Lockyer didn't pass all the state bond issues, impose expensive federal mandates or push the state to pay for more and more services (and solve problems). Check his record. Oh, that would uncover how he has really performed as a public servant. Oops, silly thought. Sorry.

The ad, of course, is simply part of an equally simple (or is it simpleton?) nationwide strategy that says throw out anyone who has any experience in government and replace them with anyone who doesn't. (Check the results in the U.S. Senate GOP primary in Delaware for confirmation.)

And if the person running has no experience but is really wealthy (think Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina), well, that's even better.

As a journalist/witness to what has happened to the collective effectiveness of the California State Legislature since term limits have been imposed (by voters), I would suggest that this strategy of throw out the bums is simply nuts.

Just plain old nuts. No need to embellish. 

Perhaps after the elections some people will be able to fling their Tea Bags in the air and feel good about this. But will it be good for the public? Good for the state? Good for democracy?

Of course not.

But then we can blame the next batch of elected officials for all our troubles.

And that is just plain old nuts again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sacramento art-walk shootings revive safety debates

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The shooting death of a 24-year-old man and the injuries sustained by three other persons Saturday night - in an incident a few hours after end of the popular 2nd Saturday Art Walk - has awakened old notions that Sacramento in not a safe place after dark.

The art walk has been in good part credited with helping the revival of the neighborhood called Midtown, an area that fills most weekends with crowds of people mostly in their 20s and 30s. Complaints earlier in the summer led to an increase in police presence for the art walk Saturday when as many as 10,000 additional people swarmed the streets, visiting art galleries and creating an almost-Mardi Gras air.

Now, with a shooting that took place within a few feet of patrolling police officers, the safety question is back - and probably won't go away easily.

Already, the merchants who benefit from the art walk - and Sacramento's Mayor Kevin Johnson  - have been talking bravely that people should not let a thug or two destroy this monthly event.

That's a nice sentiment, but doesn't make people feel any safer who are considering joining the thousands of people who will be wandering that area in October.

The shooting element is what makes this incident so disturbing.

Had this been a brawl in one of the local bars that spilled out onto the street, it would be easier to dismiss. Bar brawls are a common outgrowth of too much alcohol and too many people packed into a small space. And people seldom die in those.

But when bullets start flying on public streets, people are going to think more than twice about putting themselves in the line of fire.

An old friend, stationed at Mare Island Naval Base in the early 1970s (now a resident of suburban Phoenix, Arizona), wrote to say that the incident is very different from the Sacramento he remembers:

"When in Vallejo many years ago, we'd jump in the '66 Chevelle and run up to UC Davis and/or Sacramento.  Sacramento would start with cruising J and K streets, and then going from there.  Sounds like a different place than when it was the '70s, long hair, beer, other substances, and no fear of violence."

Sounds like the good old days.

A 2nd Saturday art walk earlier in 2010

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Arthur C. Clarke's '3001' - a book to read for the future

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - 3001, The Final Odyssey, is the last book in the late Arthur C. Clarke's series that started with 2001, A Space Odyssey, which was a hit in both book and film versions.

Arthur C. Clarke

Sadly, 3001 has never been made into a movie, but it should have been. Maybe it still will be.

It's not a new tome - it was published in 1997 - but somehow it escaped my attention at that time  (I was off sailing somewhere, no doubt). So finding it on the shelves of the lending library at the Oakland Yacht Club last weekend was especially rewarding.

The book fast forwards to the third millennium using the same literary device Washington Irving did in his classic story, Rip Van Winkle. In Clarke's case, however, astronaut Frank Poole has been unconscious (some would say dead) for 1,000 years.

It is science fiction, after all.

The idea works nicely as a way to catapult the reader into the future, with the past shown in snippets as Poole learns about what changes have happened to mankind, and what is left of the Solar System since 2001.

Some of it is pretty ugly, but even then fascinating.

Apes discover the first monolith in 2001, A Space Odyssey

And for those who remember the original book and film's black monoliths, they figure prominently in this volume, too, in ways that would be a spoiler to mention here.

If nothing else, in 3001, Clarke shows that he didn't give any creedence to doomsayers who see the apocalypse coming in 2012.

But then, he didn't in his book, 2061Odyssey Three, published in 1987, either.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Revisiting the song - and topic - 'Eve of Destruction'

VALOIS, New York, USA - The events of the last few years (last few years?) have been weighing heavily on me in recent weeks.

Maybe it's the relentlessly bad news from the Gulf of Mexico, where the continuing British Petroleum oil spill is wrecking economies, the lives of people and animals, and will pose a serious health risk for decades. And spill is a polite word for what happened.  The company cut corners and ignored safety protocols that would likely have prevented this disaster still overwhelming the southeastern United States.

It could be the fact that so many good people are still out of work in the U.S. - and unlikely to get any job that comes close to what they had before they got caught in the economic debacle that was precipitated by greed at all levels. And even as people struggle to recover, big U.S.-based companies like Whirlpool are still shipping jobs out of the country.

Perhaps I feel the weight because so many people seem to have lost faith in almost all institutions to help solve problems. Or perhaps because they are parroting the nonsense they pick up from virulent talk radio or talking heads like Fox News' Gretchen Carlson. Carlson recently said decisions she makes daily in her job - as a news commentator - are as important as those made by the President of the United States. And she was serious.


Gretchen Carlson, Fox News talking head
Gretchen Carlson - as important as the President?

How you unravel any problems in this tangled political and often hysterical, media-satured environment - controlled in large part by soul-less corporations whose only goal is profit and more profit - seems less like the 12 labors of Hercules and more like the fate of Sisyphus.

Still, bright spots pop up from time to time, such as this morning when I received a video clip of Barry McGuire's updated 'Eve of Destruction.' It was sent to me by my amigo, Sanders Lamont, who loves music and commented that the song is: "A reminder of the strength of music in its ability to tell the hard truth."

McGuire's Eve of Destruction - 2012 moves forward from his 1960s hit with new lyrics and stunning video images, creating a powerful piece that is simultaneously depressing and uplifting.


You betcha.

It's uplifting because in watching and listening, you realize that you are not alone in your concern/depression/outrage/disgust. And there is great restorative power in that feeling. If there is one overarching emotion that can be attached to the myriad problems that fill the news, it's that feeling of being powerless to do anything about what's happening in the world.

Sociologists often say that from their perspective, individuals don't matter much.  Practicing random acts of kindness, for example, will not register as even a blip in the cosmic sense.

Maybe not. (Though I think in this case, those sociologists who say that, have been educated way beyond their intelligence.)

But today, after watching the McGuire video, I've decided to start rolling that rock back up the hillside, beginning with learning to play Eve of Destruction - 2012 on my ukulele. Then later this afternoon, I'll be back at the keyboard to write another screed.

And you can bet it will not be a random act of kindness aimed at British Petroleum.

Sisyphus at work

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In rural New York, people are saying: What the frack?

VALOIS, New York, USA - When I arrived in Central New York two weeks ago, I saw signs all over the place that say 'No Fracking.'

Being relatively attuned to the language, I thought, 'What the frack is that all about?'

Fracking indeed.

It turns out that fracking is short for hydrofracking, a method to extract gas from the ground by cracking shale deposits in a fairly complicated process that also produces huge volumes of toxic waste water. And it also seems to be polluting ground water, driving some people out of their homes and, in Pennsylvia, caused at least one well 'explosion.'

What the frack?

Fracking demonstration
Anti-fracking demonstration

If my reading of various reports about this procedure are accurate, fracking might be the best argument for nuclear power. Nuclear power seems less problematic.

Just the amount of water it takes - water that is injected into the shale to basically make it explode to let the gas loose - is incredible, even here in water-rich New York.

The companies involved say that being allowed to use this procedure could provide lots of gas for home heating, industry, etc... And it would create lots of jobs. Unfortunately, many of those jobs will be in the toxic waste cleanup industry.

Here's a quote from the director of a clean-water program:

"Hydrofracking injects large volumes of water (up to six million gallons of water per gas well) mixed with sand and toxic chemical additives at high pressures to release the gas. Most of the water is then returned to the surface as polluted wastewater – that must be treated by wastewater treatment plants already overburdened and not necessarily designed to remove these chemicals. Industry analysts predict it will cost $3 billion to treat the industrial wastewater associated with Marcellus shale development."

And here is the link to that January article:

  • The problems of hydrofracking

  •  Later today, I will be heading out to a local pond, to do some fishing. I hope that I don't get overcome by the smell of methane gas, or have to worry that the fish in the pond (should I actually catch one) have been sucking in toxic waste.

    What the frack, indeed.

    Other hydrofracking links:

  • From

  • Fox News say hydrofracking is fine

  • Scientists disagree on impacts
  • Thursday, April 08, 2010

    Comedy video tells the truth about California education cuts

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - This video, produced at the request of parents fighting cuts to the education budget in California - is hilarious, and, unfortunately, right on target.

    What a mess the schools are in, trying to deal with budget cuts, teacher layoffs and a never-ending string of new administrative solutions (read: ways to save the bureaucracy at the expense of every one else).

    The portions about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are, well, you have to watch for yourself.

    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Save California State University! Set campuses free

    SACRAMENTO, California, USA - The idea is simple, perhaps too simple.

    Disband the California State University system and set the 23 campuses that make it up, free.

    Let's say it again: Disband the California State University system and set the 23 campuses that make it up free.

    At this point the question probably being asked is: Are you nuts?


    But the State of California - more specifically the state Legislature, the CSU administration and CSU Board of Trustees-  clearly are nuts if they believe the current arrangement is acceptable to anyone (except perhaps them...).

    There have been so many egregious things happen because of the hapless (and occasionally malevolent) central administration of the CSU (the Chancellor's Office and the Trustees) they are hard to even catalog.

    No need here to rehash the Common Management System, the subject of a blistering report by the California State Auditor a few years ago. Or recently, the CSU's stated position that it will not put any limits on lodging costs for any of its world-traveling (and well-paid) executives. (This while student fees soar, enrollments are cut, faculty are taking pay reductions - and teaching more students in their classes.)

    The Chancellor's Office needs to be shutdown, shuttered and perhaps its Long Beach building fumigated - or an exorcism performed - to banish the corruption, the bureaucratic thinking (and the anti-student & anti-faculty attitudes) to let ideas (and higher education) flourish again in the state.

    Each of the 23 campuses should be set free to pursue their own destiny, freed from the bureaucracy of the central administration and the CSU Trustees.

    What would that pursuit of destiny look like?

    I don't know.

    There are 23 campuses in 23 different geographic areas of the state with 23 different faculty, staff and students invested in the success of their campuses. And all 23 have spent years under the heel of an administration that treats all 23 campuses almost exactly the same, when they are clearly different.

    And in that difference, in those 23 campuses filled with people who have a real stake in providing quality education (as opposed to simply protecting a bureaucracy) there are likely 23 models waiting to be revealed. Twenty-three!

    It would be a beautiful thing to watch - and in which to participate.

    But the idea is simple, perhaps too simple.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Romans had lead pipes, we have cell phones

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The studies about how much lead in water pipes might have helped the Roman Empire collapse are mixed at best. Some scholars point to the fact that winemakers boiled wine in lead urns as part of the wine-making process.

    And every high school student knows that lead melts easily. Not as low as 212 degrees Farenheit, but still.

    That's history, of course, and is debated mostly by historians working with very sketchy evidence, though modern chemical companies keep up on such debates as they face lawsuits over the effects of their wares. No records of citizen lawsuits in Rome against water companies survived the ages.

  • Lead in more than pencils

  • At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, scientists are more and more worried about a non-chemical problem that might be as potent as any cup of wine slugged by a Roman Senator: cell phones.

    Personally, I hate the damn things, even though like most people, I would never leave home without mine, in Mexico or the U.S.

    But the studies about electromagnetic waves on the brain are chilling.

  • We are all lab rats, it seems

  • LatestCellPhone
    New, tiny cell phone

    For years, as university politics got more and more ugly and nonsensical, I joked that there had to something bad lurking in the university's water fountains (and departmental coffee urns) that was driving faculty and staff (and students) to the brink of madness.

    Perhaps it's was not the water after all. It might have been accumulated use of cell phones, Blackberrys, ITouchs and God-knows-what-else doing the trick.

    It could explain how Arnold Schwarzenegger got elected governor of California. And maybe the popularity of Glenn Beck (and Sarah Palin)

    OK. And Barbara Boxer...

    Glenn Beck Cites NewsBusters to Bash TV's
ClimateGate Boycott
    Glenn Beck

    Damn, I have to run and end this now. Sorry.

    Yup, the Siren of the cell phone is calling me and I can't resist.

    Siren of the cell phone