Nov 14

Media drivel

Even before September 11, I didn’t hold the news media in very high esteem. But since then, my opinion of them has plummeted to an all-time low. Their hysterical, overhyped handling of the hijack attacks and the anthrax-by-mail story thoroughly disgusted me. Now, in the wake of Monday’s plane crash in New York, they’re busily squandering what little credibility they had left.
This CNNmoney article is a perfect example. There’s not a single fact in the entire piece; it’s nothing but guesses, conjecture, and idle speculation. The crash might affect consumer spending. The holiday season could be in trouble. People may stay at home instead of going to the mall. And so forth. The article is full of statements like “at this point in time it’s hard to predict what will happen” and “the impact of this latest crash has yet to be determined.” In other words, we don’t know anything. But we’re not going to let that stop us from blathering on for 19 paragraphs about how everything is going to get worse.
The low point of the article is this statement: “Americans, who have been shying away from malls and other large public places since Sept. 11 for fear of another attack, could hunker down at home even more now that another plane has crashed, experts said.” I have been reading claims like this for the last two months, and as far as I can tell, they are completely false. I’ve gone to malls, restaurants, and movie theaters numerous times since 9/11, and they have been as crowded as ever. I can only recall one exception: at lunchtime on September 12, the parking lot and food court at Prime Outlets near Research Triangle Park were semi-deserted. But that was no surprise, because most of the lunch business at Prime Outlets comes from the nearby airport, which was closed that day by federal order.
Other than that, I have seen zero evidence that people are avoiding public places. In fact, on November 11, I drove a friend to Crabtree Valley Mall, where she was meeting someone else. I tried to park in the lot at the Hudson Belk end of the mall, but that lot was completely full. So I tried parking in the lot in front of Toys ‘R’ Us nearby, something I normally only have to do during the holiday shopping period. There was no parking there either — not a single space. I ended up having to drop off my passenger and leave without parking at all. Does that sound like people are “shying away” from Crabtree? On the contrary, I took it as evidence that holiday shopping has started early this year.
The assertion that Monday’s plane crash will prompt people to “hunker down” at home is particularly stupid, since the plane crashed in a residential area. This means that people on the ground were killed because they were at home. If this disaster prompts people to change their behavior at all (which I doubt), it will make them avoid their homes and spend more time in public places, not less. But that’s a logical conclusion, and I don’t expect logic from journalists any more than I expect facts. They’re too absorbed in their mission of telling us we should panic and predicting economic disaster to waste time on such things.

Nov 13


Now that The New Republic has retired its Idiocy Watch feature, I’m going to steal the title (with a slight modification) and use it here to report dumb actions and statements that come to my attention from time to time. And I already have an introductory item. In an Associated Press article published today, Ireland’s Foreign Minister Brian Cowen is quoted as saying, “We must reject a world order in which the 200 richest people have greater assets than the two billion people at the other end of the spectrum.”
If they are the 200 richest people in the world, then by definition they have greater assets than everyone else. That’s what the word “richest” means.
I don’t know what qualifications are required for the position of Foreign Minister in Ireland, but apparently a high verbal score on the SAT isn’t one of them.
Update: It’s been suggested to me that Cowen was trying to say “the combined assets of the 200 richest people exceed the combined assets of the two billion poorest.” OK, perhaps that’s what he meant — but it’s not what he said.

Nov 01

Coffee continued

Of course there is a downside to drinking coffee. And it’s not the caffeine addiction (I already had that) or the risk of coffee stains. No, it’s that joining the global fraternity of coffee drinkers has made me aware of a whole new realm of human dimwittedness: coffee idiots.
I don’t mean the people who pour themselves a cup and leave half an ounce in the pot instead of brewing more. Everyone knows about those idiots. I’m talking about the ones who, as soon as a new pot is brewed, immediately reach past the previously existing one and go for the pot that’s ten whole minutes fresher. And, for that matter, the people who brew a new pot when the previous one (I refuse to say “old,” because it’s not) is more than half full. What are they thinking? At first I theorized that these people couldn’t stand the sight of an empty pot, or that they were simply anticipating future demand. But yesterday, I had both of those theories shot down. I walked into the break room and saw a mostly-full pot of regular coffee, another pot just starting to fill with more regular coffee, and, on the rear burner of the coffee maker, the decaf pot sitting completely empty.
And what’s the point of these plastic or wooden stirrers? If you put the sweetener and creamer into your mug first and then fill it with coffee, you generate more than enough turbulence to dissolve everything. As far as I can see, the stirrers are completely redundant.
No, all the caffeine is not making me cranky. Shut up or I’ll whack you with my thermal mug. (Hey, it’s empty — time for a refill.)

Nov 01

It’s going to take more than 24 days

The news media have been making fools of themselves in recent days by claiming the the war in Afghanistan has somehow “bogged down” or “reached a stalemate” because we’ve been bombing for three whole weeks and we still haven’t won. (Some observers have pointed out that news conferences are beginning to sound like the Saturday Night Live “Gulf War Briefing” skit.) Finally, in today’s prepared statement, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld addressed the question head-on and, in essence, told the press that they are behaving like idiots. Woohoo! After their disgracefully overblown coverage of the anthrax scare, it’s very satisfying to see them reprimanded so effectively.

Oct 04

Bad ideas

Listening to All Things Considered on the way home this evening, I heard how Washington is celebrating the reopening of Reagan National Airport. Am I the only one who thinks this is a mistake? DCA (that’s its three-letter code) is dangerous for reasons that have nothing to do with the recent terrorist attacks. No airport should be where it is in the first place. I’ve been there, and you can literally look out the terminal window and see the dome of the Capitol.
The FAA can tweak the security procedures and flight paths all they want, but it will always be insanely risky to have jumbo jets taking off and landing inside a city. DCA should have been permanently closed years ago, and I was hoping that after September 11, it finally would be. But apparently convenience still trumps safety in Washington.
NPR’s next story made me forget all about that by giving me something even worse to worry about. Since the World Trade Center was destroyed, I’ve seen quite a few harebrained and ill-considered proposals for anti-hijacking measures, but by far the worst is the notion of remote-control systems for airliners. The idea is that if a plane is hijacked, or the pilot incapacitated, people on the ground can send a signal to disable the controls in the cockpit, take control of the plane remotely, and land it safely in a secure location.
But if the FAA can seize control of a plane remotely, then terrorists can do it too. In fact, it will make their task much easier — now they can fly airliners into skyscrapers without putting themselves at risk. They won’t even have to go through the security checkpoint at an airport. Sure, you can build security features into the system, but can you guarantee that nobody can hack their way in or steal the password? The system has to be absolutely bulletproof, or you get a repeat of September 11.
Linda Wertheimer discussed this proposal with the president of the National Air Transportation Society for over four minutes, but it apparently never occurred to her to ask what would prevent terrorists from exploiting it. The closest she got was to suggest that terrorists could take over the control tower at an airport and seize control of airplanes from there. But why would they need to? All they need is the right kind of signal. I can’t believe anyone is taking this proposal seriously.