Dec 29, 2010

Rick Danko, making a difference

The late Rick Danko --- to me, the heart of The Band --- was born on this date in 1943.

Here he is in The Last Waltz, performing what just might be the greatest love song in rock & roll; never feeling so all alone ...

Dec 27, 2010

Paying debts, hero style

Fred Hargesheimer, American hero and exemplar of the potential of all that can be good about humanity, died this weekend. Please read his story...


EDITOR'S NOTE: The story of Fred Hargesheimer is a saga of the human spirit, a parable for a century of war and strife, or any century. A reporter visits the Pacific island where the story began and interviews Hargesheimer at his California home.

BIALLA, Papua New Guinea — The Japanese fighter caught the American pilot from behind, riddling his plane with machine-gun rounds. The left engine burst into flames. It was time to bail out. READ FULL STORY

Dec 8, 2010

Cosell breaking the Lennon news

One of those "I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about it" moments; thirty years ago today:

In an interesting bit of historical trivia, here is the off-broadcast conversation between Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford, as they debated whether to make the announcement on-air or not:

Dec 7, 2010

Economic externalities and the environment

From the EarthTalk files...

Dear EarthTalk: In my business courses in college, we were taught that ecological degradation was an externality”—something outside the purview of economic analyses. Now that the environment is of such concern, are economists beginning to rethink this? (Josh Dawson)

By definition, economic externalities are the indirect negative (or positive) side effects, considered un-quantifiable in dollar terms, of other economic acts. For example, a negative externality of a power plant that is otherwise producing a useful good (electricity) is the air pollution it generates. In traditional economics, the harmful effect of the pollution (smog, acid rain, global warming) on human health and the environment is not factored in as a cost in the overall economic equation. And as the economists go, so go the governments that rely on them. The result is that most nations do not consider environmental and other externalities in their calculations of gross domestic product (GDP) and other key economic indicators (which by extension are supposed to be indicators of public health and well-being).

For decades environmentalists have argued that economics should take into account the costs borne by such externalities in order to discern the true overall value to society of any given action or activity. The company or utility that operates the polluting factory, for instance, should be required to compensate the larger society by paying for the pollution it produces so as to offset the harm it does.

So-called “cap-and-trade” schemes are one real-world way of monetizing a negative externality: Big polluters must buy the right to generate limited amounts of carbon dioxide (and they can trade such rights with other companies that have found ways to lower their carbon footprints, thus creating an incentive for polluters to clean up their acts). While cap-and-trade was invented in the U.S. to clean up acid rain pollution, it is a model used in Europe but not yet in America, which has yet to pass legislation mandating it. Until Congress acts to regulate the output of carbon dioxide in the U.S.—via cap-and-trade means or others—such emissions will remain “external” to the economics of carrying on business.

Recent news that has many greens excited is that the World Bank, the leading financier of development projects around poorer parts of the globe, is starting to think outside the traditional economic box. This past October, World Bank president Robert Zoellick told participants at a conference for the Convention on Biological Diversity (an international treaty signed by 193 countries—not including the U.S.—that went into effect in 1993 to sustain biodiversity) that “the natural wealth of nations should be a capital asset valued in combination with its financial capital, manufactured capital and human capital.”

Zoellick’s comments are the first sign from the World Bank of its recognition of the need to consider externalities in any overall economic assessment. “[We] need to reflect the vital carbon storage services that forests provide and the coastal protection values that come from coral reefs and mangroves,” he added.

Critics are still waiting to see if the World Bank will walk its talk. “It’s a fine rhetorical start,
” says the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin in his blog. “But the  announcement by the bank of a $10 million ‘Save Our Species’ fund, with the United Nations Global Environmental Facility and International Union for Conservation of Nature, seems quite piddling in a world where money flows in the trillions,” he adds. Indeed, we may still be a ways off from including our environmental impacts into our measures of social wealth and health, but at least the World Bank has gone on record as to the need to do so, and you can be sure that environmental advocates will be working to hold its feet to the fire.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe:; Request a Free Trial Issue:

Image courtesy of "Thinkstock Images."

Dec 5, 2010

Anonymous comments? Yes, of course

Requiring ID has no legit purpose, stifles the convo

An old school trick, uncovered by new school media

An incoming email questioned the policy here, as well as on most similar forums, of accepting and publishing user comments that are offered anonymously; that is without requiring the inclusion of a 'real name' that can (conceivably) be verified prior to hitting the Accept Comment button on any given blog or info portal.

The answer is simple: because a "No Anonymous Comments' policy represents an outdated and unacceptable Old Media philosophy that discourages community participation and dialog while offering no countering benefit for its being in place.

The prior journalism model was this: the broadcast-style media elite in any given niche or local community acted as the gatekeepers of information. In the print media world (the most powerful media type because of its written word format and historical head start), this meant that the news flow was pushed from their end by their hand picked proctors (reporters and wire feeds) for mostly passive consumption by the readership.

The exception to that passive aspect is the Letters to the Editor (or guest commentary, etc) submissions. But early on, the near-universal policy across the print media industry was to refuse publication, based on a number of prerequisites including word length, grammar, style and personal identification of the author.

But whereas the length requirement had its basis with the limited space/inventory justification, the other three were for a more worrisome objective: to keep the conversation nice and polite and not to upset either the newspaper's alleged presentation standards of the reputation of its cherished nor its allied community partners, namely the local (or niche) power brokers and businesses. After all, they would tend to get squirrel'y when a food fight breaks out on the editorial page and the messy fingers and potty mouths are pointing at one of them. And when things get squirrel'y, the offended party is less likely to reward the entity which hosted the beat-down. That's right, we're talking advertising dollars. But if the offensive party is clearly ID'd, then the finger can be diverted into a different direction; but not so with an anonymous opinion.

So, yes, it IS about control. A noisy and chaotic mess does not a good community make; at least in the eyes of a profit-motivated entity that benefits when everyone plays nice. There can be no doubt that we all play a whole lot nicer when our personal brand and identity is front and center than we do with a cloak of anonymity. That's why the Catholics confess behind a curtain.

Right off the bat, though, we have discrimination. The “keep it short” notice prevents long winded types that have a whole lot to say on complicated matters from participating. Likewise, those who can't put coherent sentences together are locked out, as are the passionate ones who tend to pepper their arguments with words such as goddam, fucking, shithead and others. They can't play, because they can't behave properly.

Nor can those who desire to remain anonymous, or unknown to the public (or even to the gatekeepers). This is where the most damage is done, in that some of the most potential valuable and important contributions to the community dialog are stopped from being entered into the record. People desire to remain anonymous because they each have a good reason for it. Can there be any doubt that expressing a negative opinion on the Mayor might put you in a bad spot if you lived next door to him or your kids played together or if you worked for him? Now don't you think that someone in any of those three settings might have a pretty good read on said Mayor?

Besides, the logic of attaching a name to an opinion seems to be absent. If someone submitted it, that means it came from a human – unless you think it might have been done by an algorithm; but even then one could argue that the algorithm was created by a human. If it came from a someone, then we could also conclude that it expressed their view of a matter. Isn't that the ultimate purpose; gathering opinions from humans? What else do we gain by ID'ing the author?

Some would argue that we may gain insight into motivation with that knowledge. “Oh, that's cranky pants Joe, he's been pissed off ever since his wife ran off with the City Hall janitor.” But motivation should not be on our radar. The fact is that there's a member of the community out there with an opinion of X and that opinion is not being expressed unless it is with the cloak of anonymity. Not granting that privilege doesn't make the opinion disappear; it is still there. In that case, it is better for it to be heard than not.

Old Media blowhards will counter with “a Letter to the Editor can also be granted anonymity, if requested.” The bluff-calling here would be that such a process still involves the initial submission of a verified personal identity, which to some degree defeats the purpose. Plus, we can always point to the abuse of such a scenario, such as when the local daily The Saratogian publicly outed (possibly mistakenly, possibly not) a critic from a competing blog that had jumped thru these hoops. That critic/competitor has since disappeared from the scene.

Note: to their credit, many newspapers allow anonymously penned comments within their online properties. Most of them, however, do not have a similar policy in place for their legacy / print editions.)

The Bottom Line

The world has changed, the power has shifted. Information – including personal opinions – flow more freely in the modern (new) media landscape. The old barriers, as dictated by the old power brokers and opinion shapers, have either disappeared (ex: limited space) or have been rendered moot (ex: many blogs do not have the need to placate third parties as part of their survival).

In turn, the requirement of personally identifying any and all contributors to the public discussion serves no positive purpose in the current dynamic; in fact, it acts to suppress the worthy goal of providing the infrastructure and framework of maximizing that discussion.

The Nanoburgh Policy

Keep on topic and avoid making unsubstantiated claims that would be deemed as potentially libelous from our end. Examples:

OK: Whoever believes this is an idiot. (Opinion)
OK: Joe is an idiot, period. (Another opinion)
NOT OK: Joe Smith likes little boys. (Unsubstantiated, possibly libelous)
OK: Joe Smith likes little boys; he just got convicted for it. (Fact, if verified)

Dec 2, 2010

O'Reilly meets his match

A quick dose of the current state of the American dialog -- and of the American broadcast media. But it's at least refreshing to see someone like this woman, pushing back against the Machine.