Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Seth Meyers takes a closer look at the Fox News-Dominion lawsuit

Seth Meyers returned from break with his own take on the problem with Fox News, Dominion Lawsuit Reveals Fox and Murdoch Knew Trump's 2020 Claims Were Lies: A Closer Look.

Seth takes a closer look at Fox News barring its own anchors from covering a billion-dollar lawsuit against the company that revealed their on-air personalities knowingly lied to viewers about the 2020 election.
Watching and listening to this sketch reminds me of two of my favorite and oldest points. First, as I wrote more than a decade ago, projection is the Right's favorite defense mechanism. Fox News is and was doing exactly what it accused its competition of being and doing, a major media company lying to its viewers. As the meme says:

As party television, this applies to Fox News, too.

Second, as I first wrote in 2011, "America is quite clear about its screwed up priorities­. My experience has convinced me that the surest way to get Americans to act is to mess with their entertainm­ent." Telling the Fox News audience a truth they didn't want to hear messed with their entertainment, they reacted to get it back, and Fox gave it back to them.

Considering I've been making both points for more than a decade, I'm surprised it took this long for me to put both of them together. I guess it was inevitable. It just took the right story, pun intended.

This ends February's blogging. Stay tuned for the first post of March.

Monday, February 27, 2023

'Navalny,' 'All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,' and 'A House Made of Splinters' — three political and social issue documentaries nominated at the Oscars

I ended 'Fire of Love' and 'All That Breathes' — two Oscar-nominated documentaries I'm recommending to my students with a preview of coming attractions.
The other three Documentary Feature nominees at the Academy Awards are political and social issue documentaries and I plan on getting to them in a future installment. That's when I'll finish my handicapping of the nominees and maybe even make a prediction. Stay tuned.
In reverse alphabetical order, the three nominees are "Navalny," "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed," and "A House Made of Splinters." This also happens to be order of their likelihood of winning, so I begin with CNN telling its viewers to Watch the trailer for award-winning film ‘Navalny”.

The fly-on-the-wall documentary follows Russian opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, through his political rise, attempted assassination and search to uncover the truth.
This is longest and most complete trailer I found on YouTube. That it's by CNN and promoting an HBO Documentary is not an accident. To paraphrase what I wrote in CNN defends Big Bird after Ted Cruz calls one of the character's tweets 'Propaganda,' a pandemic update, CNN is promoting one of the parent company's productions. Doing so is in its interest, which, in this case, helps the public interest by supporting democracy (and opposing Putin). Still, my readers should keep that relationship in mind when watching the clip above. It's not just news value that's driving it.

Gold Derby interviewed Daniel Roher ('Navalny' director): 'The way that this film came together was such a fever dream' after the movie won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.

Daniel Roher ('Navalny' director): 'The way that this film came together was such a fever dream.' The Russian opposition leader Alexei recovered from an assassination attempt and was arrested upon returning to Moscow. Gold Derby's Tony Ruiz hosts this webchat.
In addition to the BAFTA, "Navalny" just won the PGA Award for Outstanding Producer of Documentary Motion Pictures and won Best Political Documentary and the Bronze Medal at the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards beating the next nominee, "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed." Watch ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED - Official Trailer from Neon.

Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is an epic, emotional and interconnected story about internationally renowned artist and activist Nan Goldin told through her slideshows, intimate interviews, ground-breaking photography, and rare footage of her personal fight to hold the Sackler family accountable for the overdose crisis.
I wrote the following footnote to the previous entry about the Documentary Feature nominees about this film.
Oscar nominee "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed" is about the Sackler family, who are at the center of the opioid crisis, and might just be worth mentioning to my Human Structure and Function class. That way, all my students this semester will have recommended films to watch for extra credit.
I did recommend this to my Human Structure and Function class, although this is more about the activism than the effects of opioids on the human body. In that regard, it's like the last documentary I recommended to the students in that course, "Icarus," which made a political point at Putin's expense. That last phrase is one of the reasons I expect it will lose to "Navalny," which also makes a political point at Putin's expense. The other is that Laura Poitras has already won an Academy Award for "Citizenfour," which also won an Emmy. I'm surprised was even nominated, as I wrote in 'Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution' at the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, "The Documentary Branch normally does not [nominate] films by previous winners." They like to spread the recognition around.

Anti-Putin and pro-Ukraine sentiment also helped "A House Made of Splinters." Watch its official trailer.

A sobering window into the little lives and high hopes of three children seeking refuge at a temporary shelter in eastern Ukraine.
That's a moving story, but "Navalny" makes a more direct point against Putin. "Navalny" is also more recognized, so I think it's favored.

To determine how favored, I'm turning to Gold Derby, where nine experts, including my two favorites Joyce Eng and Christopher Rosen, have it winning. Eight experts currently have "Fire of Love," six have picked "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed," and one lone expert thinks the Oscar will go to "All That Breathes." Looks like it will be close among the top three choices.

Stay tuned for more awards show coverage.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

'SNL' sends up Trump's visit to the train derailment site in Ohio in its cold open and Weekend Update

"Saturday Night Live" began last night's episode with Trump Train Visit Cold Open.

Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson) delivers a message to the residents of East Palestine, Ohio, following the train derailment.
SNL's writers decided that the best news story for comedy since it shot down the Chinese 'spy balloon' in its cold open and Weekend Update to begin the month was the Ohio train derailment. I'm not surprised. It resumed the roast in Weekend Update: Biden Meets with Zelensky in Ukraine, The Oscars' Crisis Team.

Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che tackle the week's biggest news, like Donald Trump visiting East Palestine, Ohio, after the recent train derailment.
Both The Former Guy and Pete Buttigieg earned laughs for their appearances, although TFG was tacky and Buttigieg was just a little overdressed. I prefer the latter. Both had to wait until Jost and Che invited the audience to have a good laugh at Biden's visit to Ukraine on Presidents Day. That was bigger news, but I guess Jost, Che, and their writers didn't find it as funny as TFG in Ohio.

The mention of the "Oscars crisis team" in the first video of Weekend Update already qualified this post as the Sunday entertainment feature; Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly's Prison Sentences, NBA Slam Dunk Contest leaned heavily into stories about books, movies, music, and sports to further justify its status.

Weekend Update anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che tackle the week's biggest news, like an alligator being found at Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Also animals and art, making this a quick-paced roundup of lighter news.

Speaking of lighter news, follow over the jump for a couple of clips from the first show of this month that I'm serving as dessert made of leftovers.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Vox asks 'Why is everything getting so expensive?'

I reminded my readers and myself that "I should write something about inflation again" in the middle of Closer looks at the State of the Union Address from Seth Meyers, Tooning Out the News, and FiveThirtyEight. Vox helped me do that when it asked Why is everything getting so expensive?

Diapers, food, rent — around the world, prices are rising. So what can we do about it?
Right now, inflation is inescapable. At the grocery store, the gas station, and in almost every country in the world, people are playing more — way more — than they did just a couple of years ago for everything.

In this video, we explore three explanations for why prices are rising, as well as different policy options for bringing them down.
The traditional explanation for inflation is "too much money chasing too few goods." The people who give this answer, like Larry Summers, are usually arguing for less money. Summers thought the U.S. and other industrial democracies were pumping too much money into the economy to keep it on life support during the pandemic. While I think that money could have been better targeted to consumers and workers and not so much to business owners — I should write at least one entry about business owners being prosecuted for fraudulent use of these funds — that money helped end that recession almost as soon as it began. The alternative would have been much worse, especially since peak unemployment was the highest since the Great Depression. As much as it could be an example of "everything is connected to everything else and there is no free lunch," I'll take a temporary surge in inflation as the price to pay for preventing more suffering while people were staying safe at home.

In addition to being callous, the advocates of "too much money chasing too few goods" usually aren't as vocal about making more goods, which leads directly to supply shocks, the second explanation for inflation. I've written about supply shocks to explain the causes and effects of the chip shortage, baby formula shortage, and gas prices. That works very well as an explanation for why specific goods increase in price, but other than energy prices, which affect the prices of everything else, it doesn't work as a general explanation.

By the way, it's not just goods that are in short supply relative to demand; services and labor are in short supply as well. That means that the full version of the first explanation should be "too much money chasing too few goods, services, and employees." Increasing interest rates, which is inverting the yield curve, would be counterproductive on the supply side of the equation. Instead, it works by reducing demand. I'm an environmentalist who thinks over-consumption is a problem, but deliberately increasing suffering to destroy demand is not the way I want to do this. I'd prefer greater efficiency to reduce waste and a more educated populace who will choose to consume more responsibly and sustainably. Inflation while keeping people employed might actually help that goal.

Companies investing in their factories or other facilities and hiring more employees and paying them better would also help with increasing supply of goods and services, as well as induce more people to join the labor force.* Instead, they are engaging in massive markups, i.e., profiteering, and sending the increased profits to their investors and executives. This is normal capitalist behavior, but that doesn't mean it's desirable. It's particularly bad when it's the result of monopoly power, which I wrote about in Vox explains how 4 companies control the beef industry for a late National Food Day and John Oliver examines tickets plus MSNBC covers Ticketmaster hearing. The solution to that is regulation and breaking up monopolies, which Vox recommends, but doesn't elaborate on. Maybe Vox will do so in a future video. If so, I'll post it here.

A fringe idea that Vox didn't list is one I mentioned in passing this past August.
One of these days, I should write a post about the Kondratiev Cycle, how it relates to inflation, and why the time of the current rise in prices fits the cycle. Maybe when I'm on vacation, which isn't now.
I am on break, but I think this idea deserves a post of its own and I've blogged enough for today. In the meantime, stay tuned for the highlights of tonight's episode of "Saturday Night Live" as the Sunday entertainment feature.

*I acknowledge there are limits to increasing the labor force. The pandemic has killed more than one million Americans, disabled many more, and prompted a lot of retirements. I have a long rant about the long-term effects of a decreasing labor force and what to do about it in CNBC asks 'Is The U.S. Running Out Of People?' Read more there.

Friday, February 24, 2023

'Russia’s private military force, explained' by Vox for the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

I closed Biden visits Ukraine on Presidents Day with "The first anniversary of Putin's war on Ukraine beginning is this Friday and I might have more to say about it then." Vox did the work for me by uploading Russia’s private military force, explained last week.

Inside the Wagner Group’s playbook.
On January 10, 2023, the Ukrainian town of Soledar was reportedly captured. But it wasn’t captured by the Russian army under Vladimir Putin’s command. The announcement came from a relatively unknown man, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who said his troops now controlled the town. The troops are part of the Wagner Group, a private army that has become a prominent force alongside Russian troops in the war against Ukraine.

But they aren’t new. They've been secretly fighting for Russia around the world since 2014. In this video, we take a look at their playbook and examine the three main steps they use to spread Russian influence around the world in brutal ways. We also look at how they’ve transformed from a ghost army to a recognizable private military group with insignias and an online brand, changing the nature of this secret group and its role in the world.
Wagner Group's "Little Green Men" aren't just fighting for Russian interests in Ukraine. They're also in Syria, Mali, and Sudan, a Russian proxy presence on three continents. Wagner Group's mining operations are also all over Africa. Now I'm wondering what the Chinese think of this.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about the war in Ukraine. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Jon Stewart examines the problem with Fox News

I concluded Sarah Silverman on 'The Daily Show' examines 'The Economy of Anger' with a preview of coming attractions.
As for cable news, I've known all along they cater to their audiences beginning in 2011, when I asked Who watches Cable News? (Teaser). That pandering may have finally raced to the top of a cliff, as Dominion is not only suing Sidney Powell, but also Fox News. There are new developments in that case, which I might cover. Stay tuned to see if Fox News ends up going over the cliff.
I mentioned that MSNBC was all over this story in Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and others call for accountability in response to the Georgia grand jury report on MSNBC, but I'm turning to comedy instead, as "The Problem with Jon Stewart" examined the story, beginning with Dominion Voting v. Fox Filing: What the Media Got Wrong About ‘The Right’.

On this week’s podcast, Jon is joined by writers Jay Jurden and Robby Slowik, who break down the revelations contained in the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News filing. They talk about how Fox is even worse than everyone suspected, the time Jon sat down with Roger Ailes, and what Fox News has in common with “The Last of Us.”
I like the conceit of calling Fox News "news product" — it looks and sounds like news, but it isn't really. Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University, stated what it really is in this tweet. This adds another layer to Jon's comparison of the Fox News audience to the fungus-infected fast zombies of "The Last of Us." This incident shows that Fox News lost control of the movement they helped create; it has its own agenda. That's not a new insight, as the election of The Former Guy and his continued popularity showed this happened to the Republican Party because a plurality of Republican voters revolted against the party's leadership, which proved to be too weak to fight them and TFG. The politicians couldn't control the movement, either.* Jay Rosen pointed that out in his next tweet. As I first wrote in 2011, "America is quite clear about its screwed up priorities­. My experience has convinced me that the surest way to get Americans to act is to mess with their entertainm­ent." Telling the Fox News audience a truth they didn't want to hear messed with their entertainment and they reacted to get it back.

Jon brought in an expert to analyze Dominion's summary judgment filing in Liar, Liar Network On Fire: The Legal Case Against Fox News | The Problem With Jon Stewart Podcast.

Thanks to the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News filing, we now know what we’ve always believed is true: Fox News will do or say anything to retain their power, even if it means lying – over and over and over again – to their viewers. The question is, will they ever be held accountable? We’re joined this week by RonNell Anderson Jones, Professor of Law at the University of Utah, for a lively discussion about defamation law and the possibility that Fox News might actually have to face the music.
After listening to this conversation, I think Fox News will likely go over a cliff, but it won't be the cliff its critics, including Jon Stewart, hope it falls off. Will they lose the case? Most likely, but not certainly for reasons I described two years ago.
I agree that no reasonable person should have taken Powell's claims seriously. The problem is that there were so many unreasonable people who did.
Even if the judge or more likely a jury holds Fox News liable, the damage will almost certainly not end Fox News, not even wound it like another legal action did Alex Jones. There is a market for what Fox News and its competitors like Newsmax are selling, and outlets will keep providing it as long as it's still profitable. The challenge is how to make it unprofitable. I don't know how to do that. Do any of you have any ideas?

*A fellow guest at a party I attended in the summer of 2016 asked me how we got TFG and Hillary Clinton as nominees. I told him that the parties got the nominees they deserved. The Republicans got TFG because the party was too weak and the Democrats got Hillary Clinton because the party was too strong. He laughed ruefully and asked if the American people deserved the nominees. I told him that was another matter entirely.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

PBS NewsHour reports 'Pedestrian deaths in U.S. reach highest level in 40 years,' a driving update

Last November, I posted U.S. traffic deaths reached nearly 43,000 in 2021, the most in 16 years, a driving update. Today, I'm sharing PBS NewsHour's report on a fast-growing segment of that grim statistic, Pedestrian deaths in U.S. reach highest level in 40 years.

Pedestrian deaths in the U.S. have reached their highest level in 40 years. Using funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is spearheading the allocation of $5 billion to state and local governments through a federal grant known as Safe Streets and Roads for All to try and prevent roadway deaths. Buttigieg joined Geoff Bennett to discuss the program.
As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated in a press release last year, "Behind each of these numbers is a life tragically lost, and a family left behind." PBS shared just a few of those stories. Imagine the rest of them. Here's to Pete Buttigieg leading the effort to decrease traffic deaths, although I think a lot of it is reckless behavior by people, especially drivers, not infrastructure. Cheddar disagrees, pointing to structural causes in The Real Reason Pedestrian Deaths Are Rising - Cheddar Explains.

6,283 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in the United States in 2018 - the highest number of fatalities since 1990. But what's causing this spike in pedestrian deaths, when driver deaths continue to decline? Cheddar explains the real reason why the numbers keep climbing.
Pedestrian deaths were increasing pre-pandemic, so while I think the pandemic and the responses to it drove a lot of Americans crazy, that isn't the reason for the long-term trend before 2020. Also, when Secretary Buttigieg talked about looking at car safety from the perspective of other people besides the occupants of cars, the features of SUVs Cheddar described are likely among them.

That's the general driving update for today. Follow over the jump for my personal driving report.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Debbie Dingell delivers paczki and talks about democracy on WDIV in Detroit for Fat Tuesday

Happy Paczki Day AKA Fat Tuesday! Like last year, I begin with Rep. Debbie Dingell delivers paczkis to Local 4 (and tells us what she's working on), an annual tradition of the representative and WDIV/Click On Detroit.

In a well-loved tradition, U.S. Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell brought paczkis to our newsroom for Fat Tuesday -- and she's updating us on what she's currently working on.
I'm glad Dingell is settling into her not-so-new district after the game of redistricting musical chairs that shuffled Michigan's U.S. representatives around last year. I'm also glad that she pointed out that the war in Ukraine has become a war for democracy and that Biden's trip takes him to Poland, where he can eat paczki in their home country. Euronews reports on his arrival in US President Joe Biden in Poland after a surprise visit to Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden arrived in Poland Monday night after making a surprise visit to Kyiv in a show of solidarity with Ukraine just days before the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion.
Looking forward to writing more about Biden's trip in coming days.

I conclude by returning to metro Detroit with CBS Detroit's Detroit bakery prepares for Paczki Day.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, hundreds of the Polish pasties will be sold, and one bakery in Detroit is preparing for the influx of customers[.]
It wasn't until I moved to Michigan and discovered paczki that I found out why today is Fat Tuesday. Here's to spreading that knowledge to my readers.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Biden visits Ukraine on Presidents Day

Happy Presidents Day! For today's celebration, I'm covering current events as CNN reports Biden makes surprise visit to Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden made an unannounced trip to Kyiv early for the first time since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago.
I'm glad to see Joe Biden paying Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Time's Person of the Year for 2022, a visit in Ukraine instead of having Zelenskyy come to the U.S. It shows how much the U.S. supports his country.

CNN explains what this visit and US support mean in ‘A really big deal’: Retired colonel on Biden’s wartime visit to Ukraine.

CNN military analyst Col. Cedric Leighton (Ret.) explains the significance of President Joe Biden’s surprise trip to Kyiv nearly one year after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
I'm especially glad to hear that Lindsey Graham is calling for training Ukrainian pilots to start as soon as possible. That's a sign of bipartisan support, which Ukraine needs. Now I want to hear that from a member of the Republican House majority.

I turn to MSNBC to wrap up this part of Biden's trip with President Biden leaves Kyiv after historic visit.

President Biden has now left Kyiv on his historic visit to Ukraine. NBC News' Richard Engel reports.
The first anniversary of Putin's war on Ukraine beginning is this Friday and I might have more to say about it then. In the meantime, stay tuned for Paczki Day AKA Fat Tuesday tomorrow.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

'Fire of Love' and 'All That Breathes' — two Oscar-nominated documentaries I'm recommending to my students

I have been recommending two documentaries to my students since the Academy Awards nominations came out, "Fire of Love" and "All That Breathes," the first to my geology classes and the second to my environmental science classes.* That's a good enough reason to share my thoughts about them for today's Sunday entertainment feature. I begin with National Geographic's Fire of Love Trailer.

From National Geographic Documentary Films comes the extraordinary love story of intrepid French scientists Katia and Maurice Krafft, who died just as explosively as they lived — capturing the most spectacular imagery ever recorded of their greatest passion: volcanoes.
I'm a paleontologist, not a volcanologist, but I'm still a geologist, so I'm thrilled to see an award-winning documentary about geology being recognized at the Academy Awards and happy to recommend my students watch a tragic love story about scientists and their subject. It helps that the documentary is streaming on Disney+, so they don't even have to leave home or spend extra money on to see it.

Next, All That Breathes | Official Trailer | HBO.

“We’re all a community of air.”

Oscar-nominated film #AllThatBreathes, an exploration of humankind’s connection to wildlife and climate change, premieres February 7 on @HBOMax.
I'm also sharing the description from Dogwoof's upload of this trailer.
As legions of birds fall from New Delhi’s darkening skies, and the city smoulders with social unrest, two brothers race to save a casualty of the turbulent times: the black kite, a majestic bird of prey essential to their city's ecosystem.
As the first video description notes, my students can stream this film at home on HBO Max, although I think fewer of them have the Warner Brothers-Discovery streaming service than Disney's. It still looks like a documentary they will find both enjoyable and educational.

Before I move on, the trailer's claim that this is "the most awarded documentary of the year" may or may not have been true at the time of the trailer's release, but it certainly isn't true now. IMDB lists 19 wins and 39 nominations for "All That Breathes" but 27 wins and 65 nominations for "Fire of Love." One of those is the DGA Awards, where "Fire of Love" won Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary, beating "All That Breathes," two other Oscar nominees, "Navalny" and "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed," and "Retrograde," which substitutes for the Oscar-nominated "A House Made of Splinters." According to IMDB, "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed" ties "Fire of Love" with 27 wins but lags behind with 47 nominations, while "Navalny" has 11 wins and 28 nominations and "A House Made of Splinters" has 8 wins and 14 nominations. All that places "All That Breathes" in third, not first.

Follow over the jump for Gold Derby's interviews of the directors for both "Fire of Love" and "All That Breathes."

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and others call for accountability in response to the Georgia grand jury report on MSNBC

I chose one shiny object over another yesterday when I posted Sarah Silverman on 'The Daily Show' examines 'The Economy of Anger' instead of writing an entry featuring Grand Jury Suggests Charges in Trump Election Case; Trump Docs Found on Laptop: A Closer Look. I decided I needed a break from Seth Meyers. I've decided I need a break from comedy as well by looking at one of the criminal investigations into The Big Lie through MSNBC's serious news coverage, beginning with Jocelyn Benson: I’m looking for consequences up and down.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on how election officials across the country are still looking for accountability for the Big Lie after facing pressure from the ex-president and his band of loyalists.
Consider this a follow-up of sorts to Michigan Secretary of State Benson warns of anti-democracy agenda from November 2021. At least the 2022 midterm election results prevented the worst of that from coming true. Just the same I'm with Benson on this one; the people responsible need to be held accountable.

Nicolle Wallace, Benson, and her other guests were reacting to Judge releases parts of GA grand jury report.

A Georgia grand jury investigating possible election interference from former President Trump found perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses. It comes as the grand jury unanimously found no widespread election fraud in the state despite Trump’s repeated claims that there was.
MSNBC connected the Georgia election probe to something I mentioned yesterday.
As for cable news, I've known all along they cater to their audiences beginning in 2011, when I asked Who watches Cable News? (Teaser). That pandering may have finally raced to the top of a cliff, as Dominion is not only suing Sidney Powell, but also Fox News. There are new developments in that case, which I might cover. Stay tuned to see if Fox News ends up going over the cliff.

MSNBC is all over that story, too, but that's a topic for another time. Follow over the jump for two more clips that comment on the released portions of the Georgia grand jury report.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Sarah Silverman on 'The Daily Show' examines 'The Economy of Anger'

It's time for a different kind of "closer look" from Sarah Silverman on "The Daily Show" explains How Tech Companies Are Profiting Off Your Anger - Long Story Short.

Wondering why you're so angry all the time? It's not a coincidence. Sarah Silverman explains how big companies profit off our rage and attention.
None of this is news to me. I've been examining how social media profits from anger since at least 2018, when I posted Vox explains how social media contributes to polarization and promotes trolls, conspiracy theorists, and fake news. I've been blogging about how political actors have been exploiting social media for even longer, going back at least as far as Sith Jihad's use of social media a double-edged sword in June 2018, followed up by Putin's hackers and agents later that same month, and Vox explains how Russian trolls weaponized social media in June 2018 and that's just foreign actors. I don't feel up to chasing down all the of my posts about domestic political actors using social media to their advantage, so I'm just referring my readers to Brad Parscale calls the Trump digital campaign the 'Death Star' in a tweet. Fortunately, that campaign blew up just like its namesake.

As for cable news, I've known all along they cater to their audiences beginning in 2011, when I asked Who watches Cable News? (Teaser). That pandering may have finally raced to the top of a cliff, as Dominion is not only suing Sidney Powell, but also Fox News. There are new developments in that case, which I might cover. Stay tuned to see if Fox News ends up going over the cliff.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Seth Meyers takes a closer look at Republicans reacting to the Ohio train derailment

As I mention here repeatedly, I'm an environmentalist, so it's about time I examine an environmental disaster one state over in Ohio. Seth Meyers made it easy for me to do so, uploading GOP Blames Ohio Train Crisis on Culture Wars; MTG Says Wind Farms Kill Whales: A Closer Look last night.

Seth takes a closer look at Marjorie Taylor Greene saying whales are being killed by wind turbines all while the catastrophic train derailment in Ohio continues to upend the lives of residents and pose significant health risks.
First, Seth is right to be skeptical of the GOP claim to be a working-class party; their efforts to help working-class voters economically only works through allowing business owners to create more jobs, but not improving pay or working conditions. Socially, it works by promising their White working-class voters that the GOP will hurt the people they don't like worse than the party will hurt them. As Seth showed, The Former Guy made that explicit.

Second, blaming environmental problems on liberal social policy looks like changing the rationale for attacking the same targets the GOP is aiming at already. They're more interested in beating up on the recipients of their ire than actually solving the problems. It also comes off as hypocrisy and projection. That's especially true of what J.D. Vance said on Tucker Carlson's show. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and all that.

Finally, Seth is right that the Biden Administration has been slacking in at least saying something about the disaster, if not actually doing something. I'll leave it at that, as I have to go to work. See you all tomorrow!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

FiveThirtyEight asks 'Who is Nikki Haley?'

While The Former Guy declared his candidacy last November, just after the 2022 midterm election, within a week of the last episode of "The Good Fight," which ended with TFG declaring he was running, and Joe Biden already making a case for a second term, the 2024 finally began in earnest as Nikki Haley declared her candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. For all of you who ask "Nikki who?" FiveThirtyEight has an answer in Who Is Nikki Haley, Trump's First Major Challenger For The GOP Presidential Nomination?

Nikki Haley just announced that she'll be running for president in 2024. She's the first woman of color to seek the Republican nomination.
I've only mentioned Haley once, in Stephen Colbert and FiveThirtyEight recap the first night of the Republican National Convention.
Despite the attempts by Nikki Haley (not "Hayley") and Rick Scott to make the party and convention seem normal and non-threatening, Kimberly Guilfoyle managed to set the tone that viewers on the other side of the aisle found believable. If the Republicans wanted to get the Fox News viewers fired up, she was the one to do it. If they wanted to convince persuadable voters to vote Republicans, she wasn't.
The flip side of this would be neither Haley nor Scott, both from South Carolina, would be the ones to fire up the Republican base. Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog disposed of the chances of both Scott and Haley this week, Scott in YOU MUST HAVE THESE PEOPLE CONFUSED WITH SOME OTHER REPUBLICAN PARTY and Haley in CALLING IT NOW: NIKKI HALEY WON'T EVEN BE A RUNNING MATE. I'm glad he wrote those posts so I didn't have to. Besides, Steve M. has this blog on his blogroll and I've been getting a lot of visitors from it. It's about time I thanked him and sent some of my readers his way.

I might get around to suggesting original drinks for Haley before the Republican debates, but right now I'm being a good environmentalist by recycling the South Carolina Swizzle Cocktail - The Proper Pour with Charlotte Voisey - Small Screen, which I used for Lindsey Graham.

Inspired by the delicious produce of South Carolina and Georgia, Charlotte created the South Carolina Swizzle Cocktail to celebrate one of her favorite regions of the United States. Served in a julep style, this refreshing libation is perfect as a summer sipper.

Remember, great cocktails start with measuring responsibly.
1 1/2 parts Hendrick's Gin - Watch The Unusual Times: http://bit.ly/hendricks_reservebar
1/2 part Bitter Truth Apricot Liqueur
3/4 part fresh lime juice
3/4 part simple syrup
1/4 part Yellow Chartreuse

Shake ingredients with ice.
Strain over crushed ice into hurricane or tall glass.
Garnish with a mint sprig.
Now I'm wondering if it's worth creating a label for her. Darling Nikki, anyone?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Randy Rainbow's 'Thoughts and Prayers' on the fifth anniversary of Parkland shooting

I closed Mass shooting at Michigan State University on eve of fifth anniversary of Parkland shooting by telling my readers "I have a song from Randy Rainbow for events like these. Stay tuned." Watch and listen to Thoughts and Prayers - A Randy Rainbow Song Parody.

Parody Written and Performed by Randy Rainbow (Based on "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three" by Marvin Hamlisch from A Chorus Line)
Thanks to Randy Rainbow, I now have a better response than Professor Farnsworth and Grumpy Cat memes or throwing up my virtual hands in response to mass shootings. The song makes me cheerful enough to wish my readers a Happy Valentines Day! It also directs my anger to the people standing in the way of reform that would reduce deaths. I find all of these helpful. What about my readers?

Mass shooting at Michigan State University on eve of fifth anniversary of Parkland shooting

I wanted to wish my readers a Happy Valentines Day today, but I'm not feeling it because there were 3 killed, 5 injured in shootings at Michigan State University; suspect dead last night as KABC 7 in Los Angeles reported this morning.

Three people are dead and five others injured after a shooting at multiple locations on Michigan State University's East Lansing campus Monday night, police said, and a suspect has died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, ABC News reported.
Jory Rand opened his report with "This is an American story, an unwell person with access to guns." He closed it with "This is a uniquely American story. These kinds of things don't happen in other developed countries like this. And as we said after Ulvade, this is our latest mass shooting. It won't be our last." That's depressing. It's also not the kind of "American exceptionalism" I wish to celebrate.

One of the ironies in the previous clip is that one of the Michigan State students being interviewed was wearing an Oxford Strong sweatshirt. That honors the victims and survivors of the mass shooting at Oxford High School, which I found too distressing to cover at the time.
I find myself unable to blog about the shooting at Oxford High School and its ongoing fallout. It's too fast moving and too close to home, literally. I might get to it later, but then again, I didn't blog about the Larry Nassar scandal until 2019.* It may be a while.
More than a year, to be precise. At least one MSU student survived both mass shootings. WDIV/Click On Detroit interviewed her mother in Michigan State student who survived Oxford shooting was sheltered in place in East Lansing.

Andrea Ferguson’s daughter survived the Oxford High School shooting in 2021 and in her first semester at Michigan State was sheltered in place on campus during the active shooter situation.
On the one hand, I'm glad Andrea Ferguson’s daughter is O.K. On the other, I find it horrifying that she's had to go through this terrifying experience twice in just over a year.

Speaking of horrifying, today is the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. WUSA 9 observed the grim occasion in Remembering the 17 lives lost in the Parkland school shooting, 5 years later.

It was February 14, 2018, when Hogg, then 17, and other terrified students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Seeing this reminds me that I need to follow up on 'Teenage Dream' and 'The Lost Class' — two PSAs about gun violence nominated for Outstanding Commercial at the 2022 Emmy Awards. "Teenage Dream" won Outstanding Commercial. Now, may it change hearts and minds in addition to winning awards.

Speaking of hearts and minds, I have a song from Randy Rainbow for events like these. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 13, 2023

DeSantis to sign replacement for Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney World's own government

Happy Monday the 13th! Since I blogged about the effects of the pandemic on Disney parks on 2020's Monday the 13th, it's only appropriate that I cover the effects of another plague on "The Most Magical Place on Earth," Ron DeSantis. The Florida Legislature following up on the repeal of the legislation authorizing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney World's own government is the reason the story is back in the news, which I mentioned .yesterday. Watch WESH 2 in Orlando reporting Florida Senate passes bill to appoint new Reedy Creek governing board.

I'm glad WESH included Florida State Senators Linda Stewart and Geraldine Thompson pointing out how this bill meddled in the affairs of a private company and how it was retaliation for Disney standing up for its LGBT employees and customers.

WESH added more analysis in its next report, Bill to appoint new Reedy Creek governing board heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk.

I weighed in on the reasons DeSantis's action against Disney mattered last year.
As I first wrote in 2011, "America is quite clear about its screwed up priorities­. My experience has convinced me that the surest way to get Americans to act is to mess with their entertainm­ent." Retaliating against Disney in ways that might affect its ability to provide services for its guests has at least the appearance and maybe even the reality of messing with Americans' entertainment. This might not end well for DeSantis.

Another reason for the attention this story has attracted is its "man bites dog" aspect. Aren't Republicans supposed to be the business-friendly party? Well, they were, but this split has been building for a decade since I wrote about how Newt Gingrich threw big business under the bus while campaigning against Mitt Romney. Ten years later, the rift between Republicans and big business has opened up wide enough for everyone to see. Who knows? Maybe the Republican Party or at least DeSantis will fall into it. Break out the popcorn.
So, how did this end up turning out. The answer can be seen in the question Disney YouTuber Fresh Baked asked: Did Bob Iger just defeat DeSantis in the fight over Reedy Creek?

The era of Reedy Creek as we know it may be over, as the state of Florida approved a bill on Friday that would replace it. But is this still a win for Disney? I think so and I'll explain why.
His answer is mostly yes. DeSantis gets to say that he renamed the district to one that sounds like government is in charge of business and not the other way around and removed Disney's control of the board. On the other hand, the district still has most of the powers it had before, which helps Disney. The result salvages a win-win scenario for both Disney and DeSantis. This is as good an outcome as I could imagine given how it began as a surreal right-wing attack on the company, as I mentioned in 'SNL' satirizes 'Fox & Friends' in its Supreme Court cold open. Consequently, DeSantis and the Florida Republican Party didn't fall into the rift between them and big business.

By the way, this development has an unexpected silver lining, as the tweet quoting the Orlando Sentinel below mentions. That might just solve the housing affordability crisis facing cast members!

Sunday, February 12, 2023

John Oliver examines tickets plus MSNBC covers Ticketmaster hearing

I'm being a good environmentalist by recycling this paragraph from 'SNL' searches for comedy in classified documents.
Both the Ticketmaster hearings and the closing of Splash Mountain at Disney World qualify this entry as the Sunday entertainment feature. Both news items tie into what I first wrote in 2011, "America is quite clear about its screwed up priorities­. My experience has convinced me that the surest way to get Americans to act is to mess with their entertainm­ent." Both Ticketmaster and Disney messed with (some) Americans' entertainment, although I'm more sympathetic [to] the Swifties than those complaining about Splash Mountain. The former are reacting to a monopoly, while the latter strike me as a bit selfish and insensitive.
I initially thought about revisiting Splash Mountain, but since the Super Bowl is today, I'm going to revisit Ticketmaster instead, since so many sports arenas are also concert venues.* Watch Tickets: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).

John Oliver explains why concert tickets are so expensive, who’s making money off of them, and which One Direction is his favorite.
As I wrote above, Ticketmaster is a monopoly, which are bad for consumers since there is no competition to drive down prices, so monopolies require regulation. Where's the regulation in this picture? Maybe that's why there were hearings last month. Watch MSNBC's Musicians, executives face Senate hearing on frustration of dealing with Ticketmaster.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Ticketmaster's role in the ticketing industry featured testimony from musician Clyde Lawrence, industry competitors and the CFO of Live Nation. NBC News' Savannah Sellers recaps highlights from the hearing and Danny Cevallos explains whether Ticketmaster is a monopoly and how the government could take action against it.
The discussion bypassed regulation entirely and went directly to using anti-trust action to break up Ticketmaster and Live Nation. Wow! That would be radical action that would create competition, which the market needs.

I have videos about Ticketmaster from Bloomberg, CBC News, CNBC, and Company Man saved for future features. If this post proves popular, I will share them. After all, I'm an environmentalist. I don't just recycle my resources, I conserve them.

*I may still return to Splash Mountain, as it touches on Black History Month. I also might revisit the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney World's own government, which is back in the news. Stay tuned.

PBS Eons on barnacles, 'Darwin's Greatest Enemy,' on Darwin Day

Happy Darwin Day! I'm continuing my tradition of featuring PBS videos and particularly PBS Eons videos for this day with These Creatures Were Darwin's Greatest Enemy.

They may not look like much, but beneath that shell lies an evolutionary mystery - one that stumped the biggest names in natural history for over a hundred years.
I remember one of my M.S. Geology thesis advisors telling me about Darwin and his barnacles and that it took him a long time, but I never heard the story in such detail. While I can relate to being frustrated with my study organisms, I never got so frustrated with them as Darwin. I think I was lucky. Also, I didn't have the luxury of so many years. Still, I'm glad Darwin figured out where barnacles belonged in the tree of animal life and that it helped him learn so much about evolution.

Enough of this science holiday. Stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment feature.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Company Man asks 'The Decline of Bed Bath & Beyond...What Happened?' — a tale of the Retail Apocalypse

I posted Bed Bath & Beyond facing bankruptcy, a tale of the Retail Apocalypse for Friday the 13th last month. Since then, the chain's situation has continued to worsen, prompting Company Man Mike to ask The Decline of Bed Bath & Beyond...What Happened?

Bed Bath & Beyond has been going through some tough times lately. This video tries to identify the causes of those problems.
Company Man Mike compiled this list to explain what happened.

When I told my wife that I was writing a blog post about Bed Bath & Beyond, she immediately brought up how their weak online presence hurt them in competition with Amazon based on her personal shopping experience. The pandemic just exacerbated that problem. We haven't been in one of their stores since COVID-19 hit, but we've bought plenty through Amazon. On the other hand, I've gone into the nearest Target if only to pick up online orders, which I did when I had an eventful three days and two nights because of a severe storm knocking out my power, and my wife and I have had a lot of Target orders delivered to our house. Target is beating Bed Bath & Beyond both online and in the store, which Erik of Retail Archaeology showed that he did when he declared Bed Bath & Beyond: Headed For Bankruptcy!

Bed Bath & Beyond is a failure: In this episode we take an updated look at Bed Bath & Beyond.
Disappointed with Bed Bath & Beyond's selection, prices, and quality, Erik went to Target. He could also see the handwriting on the wall this past summer. The company hasn't filed for bankruptcy yet, but it's very close, as The Wall Street Journal reported Bed Bath & Beyond Misses Interest Payments as It Weighs Chapter 11 resulting in its lenders sending it a notice of default and CNN reported Bed Bath & Beyond is closing 149 more stores. See the list.
Bed Bath & Beyond has revealed the locations of the 149 stores it’s closing.

The new list of closures comes just a week after it announced it was shuttering 87 other stores. Over the past several months, it has closed or in the process of closing about 400 locations, which includes the closure of 5 buybuy Baby locations and all 49 remaining Harmon Face Value stores.

In total, the company is reducing the number of Bed Bath & Beyond stores from 760 to about 360, with the company keeping its most profitable stores open in key markets. At its peak in 2017, the storied brand had 1,552 stores open.
Wow! I was pretty sanguine in 2019 when I wrote "the chain is facing a crisis, but it's not in imminent danger of going out of business," but things have become much worse since then. For example, I wrote then that "I'm not terribly worried that the nearest location, just a little more than two miles west of me, is going to close any time soon." It closed last fall, so I guess three years was just longer than "any time soon" in August 2019.

Returning to Company Man Mike's list, he noted that the problem with the turnaround plan wasn't the plan itself, but management's rushing it in its impatience to get it to work. I think that's a common problem with American businesses, particularly publicly traded ones that are driven by quarterly bottom lines. Speaking of public trading, this is the second time I've seen stock buybacks being a driver of debt since GNC's bankruptcy. I wrote then "I might see stock buybacks as a cause of cash flow problems more often as the pandemic-caused recession continues." That recession ended almost as soon as it began and we may be closer to another recession later this year, but that prediction still came true.

That's it for the latest on the Retail 'Apocalypse. Stay tuned for Darwin Day and the Sunday entertainment feature.

Friday, February 10, 2023

'The Daily Show,' Seth Meyers, and James Corden take more closer looks at the State of the Union and Twitter hearings

I'm not done taking closer looks at the State of the Union Address from Seth Meyers and others. For a change of pace, I'm beginning with MTG Screams "Liar!" as Biden Delivers State of the Union Address | The Daily Show with Chelsea Handler as guest host.

President Biden delivers the State of the Union address and gets heckled by Republicans. Plus, Mitt Romney has a heated exchange with George Santos, and the Twitter hearings address Chrissy Teigen's insults directed at Donald Trump.
I miss Samantha Bee, but Handler's breezy style makes for a good short-term substitute for Bee and her unique perspective.

For a more investigative approach, I return to Seth Meyers for Greene and Boebert Unravel at Twitter Hearing While Biden Gloats About SOTU: A Closer Look.

Seth takes a closer look at President Biden making a point of focusing on kitchen table issues during his State of the Union address while House Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene focused on things like why Twitter censored Hunter Biden's Nudes.
Seeing Greene together with Lauren Boebert reminds me of this meme that my friend Nonnie9999 made for me.

Given what both of them sounded like at the hearing and what Greene sounded and looked like at the State of the Union, that cartoon strikes me as about right.

I close with "The Late, Late Show" declaring that The State of Our Union Is Pretty Weird.

Gordon Ramsay is on the show tonight and that always puts us in a great mood. But that good mood becomes testy when James and his producers squabble over some calendar math. In the news, LeBron and President Joe Biden broke records. And James gives a State of the Union recap, including Mitt Romney's exchange with George Santos, Kyrsten Sinema's bowtie pasta look and lots of booing.
On the one hand, this clip shows the lack of focus that discourages me from using Corden's clips. On the other hand, what he and his writers planned reinforced the points made in the clip from "The Daily Show": more people cared about LeBron James beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record than the State of the Union, Mitt Romney dissed George Santos, who deserved it, whatever Romney said, and Kyrsten Sinema dressed to draw attention to herself. On balance, it was worth embedding.

I've had enough of the State of the Union. Let's see if I can blog about something else tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Closer looks at the State of the Union Address from Seth Meyers, Tooning Out the News, and FiveThirtyEight

President Joe Biden gave his second State of the Union Address Tuesday night. Along with the Republican response, it made for great fodder for comedy and analysis, sometimes at the same time. Watch Greene Melts Down and GOP Gets Caught Lying During Biden's State of the Union: A Closer Look from Seth Meyers to see both.

Seth takes a closer look at the GOP facing blowback for heckling President Biden during his State of the Union address after he accurately pointed out that several Republicans had proposed cutting Social Security and Medicare.
Biden is in no mood for a repeat of 2011, when the Tea Party in Congress served Satan Sandwich to the American people. He was also in no mood to suffer the opposition silently.

Tooning Out The News had even sillier comedy along with some expert analysis in Rowdy Republicans Heckle Biden's State of the Union | Special Coverage.

Tooning Out The News' all-star Special Coverage team tackles President Biden's State of the Union address including Biden's economic message and Freedom Caucus heckling with New York Times Columnist Charles Blow. Plus, Tyler Templeton chastises chickens for rising egg prices.
According to Charles Blow, the Republicans heckling Biden played right into his hands. I think Blow's right. Also, it reminds me that I should write something about inflation again.

"Tooning Out The News" observed that Tuesday's speech sounded like Biden making a case for a second term based on his Administration's handling of the economy, which the President actually has little control over. The panel at FiveThirtyEight agreed, saying Biden's Second State Of The Union Was His First Campaign Speech | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast.

President Biden delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday to a newly divided Congress. It was his first big national speech since the midterms and a preview of the arguments he could make in his likely 2024 reelection bid. In the installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses the arguments Biden laid out and where he stands with American voters two years into his presidency.
While this episode of the podcast was supposed to be analysis, it still had its lighter moments. The panelists also worried that emphasizing the economy looks good now, but might not age well, as the economy might experience a recession later this year. I promise to keep an eye on that, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Vox explains 'Why China is losing the microchip war'

While U.S.-China tensions are high because of a balloon, there are other important issues between the two largest economies. Vox examines one of them in Why China is losing the microchip war.

And why the US and China are fighting over silicon in the first place.
In October 2022, the Biden administration placed a large-scale ban on the sale of advanced semiconductor chips to China. They also implemented a series of other rules that prevents China from making these chips on their own. These chips are used in everyday technology, like our mobile phones and computers. They’re also crucial to military and intelligence systems, which is one of the main reasons they're at the center of a feud between the United States and China.

Microchips were first invented in the US in the 1950s, after which their use rapidly expanded worldwide. Since then, the supply chain for these chips has grown and spread to include countries in Europe and Asia. And while some countries have caught up to the US's edge in making these advanced chips, China still falls far behind despite multiple attempts to gain an advantage.

Watch the latest episode of Vox Atlas to understand why China is losing a new cold war with the US over microchips.
The chip shortage is not just about consumer goods. It's also about national security. To elaborate, I'm being a good environmentalist and recycling.
Ugh, the U.S.-China trade war. I wrote about how it might accelerate the Retail Apocalypse, restrict U.S. access to Chinese rare earths, reduce GDP and increase inflation, trigger a recession, threaten...Family Dollar, and cause Dollar Tree to increase prices, but I didn't expect it would show up in this story, yet here it is. This entire story serves as another example of everything is connected to everything else and there is no free lunch; mess with some part of a system and the effects will move through all the connections at rates and sizes ranging from ripples to cascades. In this case, it looked more like a cascade.
This video shows even more of the connections, as well as the role technology plays in national security. Welcome to science fiction times.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Seth Meyers and 'The Daily Show' take closer looks at the Chinese spy balloon and other stories

I'm returning to the Chinese spy balloon today, beginning with "The Late Show with Seth Meyers" in Biden Takes Out Chinese Spy Balloon After Fox News Spends Days Freaking Out: A Closer Look.

Seth takes a closer look at the incredibly dumb Chinese spy balloon melodrama that exposed just how vacuous and silly much of the right-wing media discourse is.
Seth packed more facts and jokes in this segment than "Saturday Night Live" did in its two segments on the story. We can still learn more with laughs, so I'm turning to "The Daily Show" with this week's guest host, Chelsea Handler, beginning her week with Biden Murders a Chinese Spy Balloon & Marjorie Taylor Greene Hates Her Job | The Daily Show.

Chelsea Handler tackles the latest news including the Chinese spy balloon shot down in South Carolina, Marjorie Taylor Greene complaining about her job, George Santos accused of groping an aide, and Mt. Washington being reportedly colder than Mars.
Yes, Chelsea and her writers had the gas to get fresh clips and jokes about the balloon. I'm passing over Marjorie Taylor Greene complaining about her job to point out that while the latest thing George Santos did wasn't funny, he continues to make my prediction that he will be a great inspiration for comedy as long as he stays in the news true. Unlike Chelsea, I understand what Mt. Washington being colder than Mars means. Just the same, Chelsea is my first choice to replace Trevor, followed by Wanda Sykes. Let's see if that ranking holds. Stay tuned.