Sunday, December 16, 2007

Controversy at the Supreme Court

Two of the most difficult and controversial issues are before the Supreme Court in the coming year. The court has already granted cert in a case testing whether the District of Columbia Handgun ban is Constitutional under the 2nd Amendment.
See: http://www.scotuswiki.com/index.php?title=DC_v._Heller for more info.

Even though the court could possibly limit its ruling to handgun ownership, I think considering the current makeup of the court it is likely that they will take the opportunity (the first in 70 years) to define exactly what the those famous words mean:

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

That's the easy case. The more difficult one is Kennedy v. Louisiana, which has a writ before the court currently, and will almost certainly be granted. It asks whether the death penalty should be allowed in non-homicide cases (in this case, child rape). I always cringe at cases like this, because the crime is clearly heinous, vicious, and utterly depraved, but it sets a disturbing precedent to allow the state to kill when the crime did not involve the taking of a life.
See: http://www.scotuswiki.com/index.php?title=Kennedy_v._Louisiana

To take a complicated issue and make it more difficult, the whole idea of Capital punishment is becoming political this year. New Jersey just banned the practice (though the Governor has yet to officially sign the bill, which he will), and death sentencing is at one of the lowest levels it has ever been (the number I remember from the news is 120 death sentences in 2007, down from 300 something in 1997).

Clearly there is evil in the world. Clearly there are crimes and there are people for whom it is our natural reaction to say "I want him dead." But it may be because of that very reaction that the state should not be allowed to kill. If we can truly be considered an enlightened society, it is at least possible that that comes from our greater knowledge that some base human instincts ought to be proscribed for the betterment of society as a whole. That one, or even many may want death to answer for death may very well be the reason we should not allow it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Exploding Glass Bombs: Prince Rupert's Drops Video

glass blobs that explode when you break off the tail end. Watch the video....

read more | digg story

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why NBC podcasts are so cool...

Watching the NBC News Podcast of Meet the Press, I'm struck by the fact that only two networks, ABC and NBC podcast their Sunday morning news show, and only one (NBC) provides a full video podcast. Even more useful, they podcast every episode of The Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Is it that NBC has a better understanding of technology, or is it that they have a greater commitment to educating the public?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Anna Nicole Who?

Yesterday Brian Williams discussed NBC News' coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death on his Daily Nightly Blog. Below is an excerpt that is probably the best explanation of why NBC News is the only broadcast news I watch.

"Deciding the format of this broadcast (and those of our friends at ABC and CBS) is, last night and tonight, a classic example of one of our guiding expressions -- no organization can ever be 'above the news.' While public interest in a given topic cannot rule our judgment or decide our story order for us, it can and does affect our reporting and story order.

It's not as if there aren't other news outlets for those viewers dissatisfied with our treatment of the story and the end of a tragic life. People watch our broadcast presumably because they trust our reporting and our people, and because they agree with our editorial take on the day more often than not.

The great thing about this era of media choice is that all those who find our broadcast lacking in any way are free to go to any number of Web sites where they can find video showing a cat flushing a toilet, or the explosive properties of Diet Coke and Mentos when mixed together."

I'll be the first to say that watching Brian Williams report on the explosive properties of Diet Coke and Mentos would be fantastically cool, but that's entirely because his nightly broadcast doesn't waste its twenty-two minutes each night peddling salacious stories to get viewers, but instead talks about the sometimes boring but always informative topics that impact the lives of his viewers, our country, and the world we live in.

Williams' post reminds me of a speech I first heard recreated in a movie, but have since read many times when looking for the best expression of the responsibility that publishers and broadcasters have to their readers and viewers.

"There used to be an old phrase in this country, employed when someone talked too much. It was: "Go hire a hall." Under this proposal the sponsor would have hired the hall; he has bought the time; the local station operator, no matter how indifferent, is going to carry the program-he has to. Then it's up to the networks to fill the hall.

I am not here talking about editorializing but about straightaway exposition as direct, unadorned and impartial as fallible human beings can make it. Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.

Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up in their wrath and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore the future of the corporations? This method would also provide real competition between the networks as to which could outdo the others in the palatable presentation of information.

It would provide an outlet for the young men of skill, and there are some even of dedication, who would like to do something other than devise methods of insulating while selling."

That was Edward R. Murrow, probably the most popular television news anchor in US history, speaking at the end of his career to the Radio and Television News Directors of America convention in 1958. He offered to an audience already headed toward the news culture he described a warning against what they could expect from the future. The Anna Nicole Smith story, and the non-stop coverage it received epitomized that warning.

Brian Williams is by no means today's Edward R. Murrow; I doubt that with the technologies we have available today that such a news broadcaster or source could ever fill that role. But what I admire about Williams and about NBC news, is that they are trying, where so many others have given up. In spite of so many commercial reasons to run the Smith story first, NBC made the choice to educate rather than titillate its viewers.

Williams, borrowing from Lloyd Bentsen, said it best, "others pointed to the drop-everything, wall-to-wall live coverage all day on all three cable networks. To that argument I responded that I worked in cable for several years. I know cable. Cable is a friend of mine. We are not cable."