Oct 23, 2009

Bias: How the Media Distort the News

Align Center
Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News
by Bernard Goldberg, (2002-3, Perennial/Harper Collins)

I'm currently working on a book about the global warming debate. The way environmental issues get presented by the media has become a major theme. This volume, written by a gent who worked on CBS television news shows for 28 years, has provided food for thought. Below is a quick-and-dirty list of some interesting quotes that appear within. Page numbers refer to the US/Canadian paperback edition (the first 14 pages of which comprise a new introduction).
  • "When it comes to arrogance, power, and lack of accountability, journalists are probably the only people on the planet who make lawyers look good." - attributed to Steven Brill (the book's opening epigraph)
  • "...the media divide Americans into two groups - moderates and right-wing nuts." p. 1
  • "...the media elites [are] a bunch of powerful, arrogant, thin-skinned celebrity journalists who can dish it out...but can't take it." p. 2
  • "I kept thinking of how my colleagues treat cigarette...oil, and other company executives in the media glare. The news business deserves the same hard look..." p. 3
  • "When I wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in 1996 about liberal bias among the media elites, my professional life was turned upside down. I became radioactive. People I had known and worked with for years stopped talking to me." p. 4
  • "Right after the WSJ piece came out, I was taken off the air, pending some decision on whether I would be fired." p. 36
  • "...in the elegant phrase of the journalist Brian Brown, liberals these days have forgotten how to be liberal." p. 36
  • "...God forbid someone in their diverse newsroom has a diverse view about how the news ought to be presented." p. 38
  • "Reporters who see more death and destruction than the Red Cross were in pain and suffering over..my opinion?" p. 39
  • "...the rules, which clearly state: We journalists can scrutinize anyone we want...But you had better not scrutinize us or we'll bury you." p. 8
  • "I couldn't get on any network TV news program at any time of the day or night to talk about [this book], despite the fact that it had been a number-one bestseller" p. 11
  • "Remember, these are the people who investigate everybody else - but they didn't want me on their networks talking about their shortcomings." p. 12
  • "The president of a major network news division says he doesn't have any interest in a book about a major problem facing his own news business." p 12
  • "...the media label conservatives far more often than the do liberals because the media elites think conservatives need those warning labels; they think conservatives are out of the mainstream - and therefore must be identified - while at the same time thinking that liberals are the mainstream." p. 13
  • "There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I'm more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don't trust us." p. 19
  • "...everybody to the right of Lenin is a 'right-winger' as far as the media elites are concerned..." p. 19
  • "...TV journalism had become: a showcase for smart-ass reporters with attitudes, reporters who don't even pretend to hide their disdain for certain people and certain ideas that they and their sophisticated friends don't particularly like." p. 21
  • "There is absolutely no way - not one chance in a million - that [CBS] would have aired a flat-tax story with that same contemptuous tone if Teddy Kennedy or Hillary Clinton had come up with the idea." p. 22
  • "Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, a network news reporter calling Hillary Clinton's health care plan 'wacky'? p. 23
  • "...many TV journalists simply don't know what to think about certain issues until the New York Times and the Washington Post tell them what to think. Those big, important newspapers set the agenda that network news people follow." p. 24
  • "I understand why Al Gore and other liberals call something they don't like a 'scheme.' Politicians and partisans are allowed to do that. But should supposedly objective people like news reporters...use that kind of loaded language?"p. 25
  • "...here's one of those dirty little secrets journalists are never supposed to reveal...a reporter can find an expert to say anything the reporter wants - anything!" p 26
  • "The problem comes in the big social and cultural issues, where we often sound more like flacks for liberal causes than objective journalists." p. 28
  • "I had always expressed my concerns privately...All I wanted was a discussion, someone to take these concerns seriously. But no one ever did."p. 28
  • ...the New Yorker's otherwise brilliant film critic Pauline Kael, who in 1972 couldn't figure out how Richard Nixon had won the presidency. 'I can't believe it!" she said. "I don't know a single person who voted for him!" Nixon carried forty-nine states to McGovern's one,for God's sake - and she wasn't kidding!" p. 30
  • "[journalism's] elites are hopelessly out of touch with everyday Americans. Their friends are liberals, just as they are. They share the same values. Almost all of them think the same way on the big social issues of our time...After a while they start to believe that all civilized people think the same way they and their friends do. That's why they don't simply disagree with conservatives. They see them as morally deficient." p. 30
  • "The sophisticated media elites don't categorize their beliefs as liberal but as simply the correct way to look at things." p. 30
  • "I see myself as an old-fashioned liberal. I'm a liberal the way liberals used to be." p. 57
  • "...the national news media...were not just covering this important trend in American culture. They were taking sides." p. 62
  • "...we pointedly identified conservatives as conservatives, for example, but for some crazy reason didn't bother to identify liberals as liberals." p. 62
  • "If we do a Hollywood story, it's not unusual to identify certain actors, like Tom Selleck or Bruce Willis, as conservatives. But Barbra Streisand or Rob Reiner, no matter how active they are in liberal Democratic politics, are just Barbra Streisand and Rob Reiner." p. 63
  • "To Dan Rather and to a lot of other powerful members of the chattering class, that which is right of center is conservative. That which is left of center is middle of the road." p. 65
  • "Why is it that the word 'left-wing' has virtually vanished from the media's vocabulary?...We have right-wing Republicans and right-wing Christians and right-wing Miami Cubans and right-wing radio talk show hosts. Isn't anybody left-wing anymore?" p. 66
  • "...we must make sure to identify them as conservatives so our audience won't think that they're objective - or worse, heaven forfend, that they're also sensible, reasonable, and rational." p. 67
  • "If you hooked network news reporters and producers to polygraph machines and asked them, 'Do you think you are guilty of liberal bias?' most would almost certainly answer, 'No.' And they would pass the polygraph test because they're not lying. They honestly believe what they're saying." p. 68
  • "No matter how bad a problem really is, advocates think they need to portray it as worse. This is standard operating procedure with lobbies...We have come to expect this of advocates. They know their cause is worthy, so what harm can a little exaggeration do? But reporters - when they also see the cause as worthy - buy into it. They also become advocates." p. 72
  • "It's as if our coverage...was being directed not by objective journalists but by the advocates for the homeless themselves. We took what they said at face value even though we would never do that with advocates for causes we did not embrace." p. 73
  • "...advocates for the homeless misled us about all sorts of things - the number of the homeless, who they were, why they were homeless - and because we embraced their cause...we pretty much said, 'Hey, no problem,' and passed their misinformation on to the American people." p. 73
  • "For years,the activists played the media as if they were part of the homeless PR machine...A lot of news people, after all, got into journalism in the first place so they could change the world and make it a better place...showing compassion makes us feel good about ourselves..." p. 74
  • "Did anyone, least of all seasoned reporters who pride themselves on their skepticism, really believe that the vast majority of the homeless - the addicted and the mentally ill - would virtually disappear from America's streets if only Ronald Reagan hadn't cut housing programs?" p. 76
  • "Once again, the media were more than willing to set aside their usual skepticism and go right along. While AIDS was devastating minority and gay communities in America, while it was leaving Middle America virtually untouched, the news stories conjured up some other reality." p. 83
  • Oprah Winfrey in 1987: "Research studies now project that one in five - listen to me, hard to believe - one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That's by 1990. One in five. It is no longer just a gay disease. Believe me." p.83
  • "...an epidemic was racing across America. An epidemic of fear. You couldn't open a newspaper, turn the page of a magazine, or tune in to the nightly news without reading or hearing about the deadly link between AIDS and heterosexuals." p. 84
  • "In 1987 the highly respected surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, said AIDS was 'the biggest threat to health this nation has ever faced.'" p. 84
  • "...journalism by sentiment...Victims of America correspondents, the ones who specialize in uncritical stories about the downtrodden." p. 85
  • "That anyone is still contracting HIV is a tragedy of huge proportions. That the gay lobby would try to mislead us is understandable. That the media go along is disgraceful." p. 90
  • "When the cover of Life told us in1985 that 'No No One is Safe from AIDS,' it had the story all wrong. So did all the others that warned of the coming heterosexual AIDS epidemic." p. 95
  • "This is what happens when entertainment 'values' infect the news." p. 96
  • "48 Hours point was to scare the hell out of America. Scaring the hell out of people makes for good television even when it makes for shallow journalism." p. 97
  • "The men who started up the networks in the earliest days of television thought news was special. They made their money on Lucy and Ricky and Jackie Gleason and Jack Benny. For years and years, news wasn't a money-maker and wasn't expected to be. Don Hewitt, the creator...of 60 Minutes, loves to tell the story about how, when the show first went on the air, Bill Paley, the founder of CBS, told him, 'Make us proud!' 'Now,' Hewitt says, 'they tell us: Make us money!'" p. 98
  • "infotainment" p. 98
  • "If news could actually make money, the suits who ran the network would expect just that. Sure they would want quality, in theory. But they wanted ratings and money, in fact." pp. 98-99
  • "So if Andrew Heyward didn't get ratings for 48 Hours and didn't make the network money, they'd cancel it. He knew it, and he lived with that sword hanging over his head every single week." p. 99
  • "So do I believe my good friend Andrew Heyward would put on a scary program whose primary goal was to get high ratings even if it meant telling half-truths about who was getting AIDS in America and how they were getting it? In a word, Yes!" p. 99
  • "If you want to sell newspapers or get people to watch your show, you want to say, 'This is a threat to you, too.'" - attributed to the late Randy Shilts "the best-informed journalist on AIDS in all of America" who later succumbed to the disease p. 100
  • "...the activists did what they felt they had to do. They got the word out that it would spread to all of us. And the media passed it along to America, at first because they didn't know better, then because they thought heterosexual AIDS was a better story, but eventually because it was another way to show compassion." p. 101
  • "...perhaps on Planet Bizarro in some parallel universe [journalists'] personal views about life and the world really wouldn't matter. But they do here on Earth, because...reporters and editors really are only human, which means they bring all their biases and life experiences to their stories." p. 124
  • "Does anyone think a 'diverse' group of conservative journalists would give us the news straight? I sure as hell don't. They'd be just like the Left...It's the human condition." p. 126
  • "No conspiracies. No deliberate attempts to slant the news. It just happens. Because the way reporters and editors see the world, the way their friends and colleagues see the world, matters." p. 127
  • "...if long ago we came to the conclusion that newsrooms with too many white men were a bad idea because all we got was the white male perspective, then why isn't it just as bad to have so many liberals dominating the culture of the newsroom?" p. 127
  • "This is a big country with a lot of people, and there's room for all sorts of views." p. 128
  • "89 percent of journalists said they voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, compared with just 43 percent of the nonjournalist voters." p. 129
  • "There's hardly a candidate in the entire United States of America who carries his or her district with 89 percent of the vote. This is way beyond landslide numbers. The only politicians who get numbers like that are called Fidel Castro or Saddam Hussein." p. 129
  • "In the world of media elites, Democrats outnumber Republicans by twelve to one and liberals outnumber conservatives by seven to one." p. 130
  • "...it's not just that so many journalists are so different from mainstream America. It's that some are downright hostile to what many Americans hold sacred." p. 133
  • "...some real diversity to the newsroom, not the make-believe kind we have now." p. 136
  • "News executives are always saying we need our staffs to look more like the real America. How about if those reporters and editors and executives also thought just a little more like the real America? And shared just a little more of their values?" p. 136
  • "...over the years, news has morphed into entertainment...News isn't special, the way it was in the early days of television. News magazines aren't on the air to perform some public service. Maybe they were when 60 Minutes first got started, but not anymore. Prime-time news magazines are on TV to make money, just like everything else on television. So they have to play by entertainment's rules." p. 160
  • "...national TV reporters, as a group, are lazy. I know this is a generalization, and I know that Mark Twain said generalizations aren't worth a damn, but it's generally true nonetheless. 'There's no culture of ideas around here,' one CBS News executive told me, meaning hardly any of his reporters ever look out at the bigger American culture and wonder why certain things are happening and come up with something resembling an original story. These reporters and producers cover news conferences and plane crashes and hurricanes and easy stuff like that." pp. 173-174
  • "One can be in favor of women's advances and still be concerned about the attendant costs, especially when the costs are borne by children. If the media were open-minded, there would be a true debate about this issue." p. 175"
  • "...once again the elite journalists on television have taken sides...I am not against 'better day care,' and I have no problem with the evening news doing stories about how that might be done. The problem is that they don't let the other voices on." p. 177
  • "...whenever you hear an anchorman or reporter use the word 'controversial,' it is usually a signal that the idea that follows is one the media elites do not agree with." p. 178
  • "Why is one point of view valid and the other nonexistent on the evening news?" p. 181
  • "Why is it that when liberal media stars say nasty things they're merely sharing their thoughts with us and (even more important) their feelings, but when the same sentiment comes out of a conservative's mouth, it's seen as mean-spirited?" p. 191
  • "The media elites...can hear even the whispers of what they consider hate speech fifty miles away - whether they imagine it's coming from conservative talk show hosts or right-wing religious fundamentalists or just about anyone opposed to affirmative action. But they can't hear it dripping off their own nasty tongues..." p. 192
  • "...twenty-one years later, in 2001, the share of the audience watching network news had sunk [from 75 percent] all the way to 43 percent." p. 194
  • "...that's not entirely the fault of the evening stars...Today, there are cable and satellite TV and the Internet, competition that Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley didn't even have to think about....[Americans] haven't abandoned the news. Just the news people they no longer trust." p. 194
  • "It's about how they frame the big issues of the day...On these issues they are reliably and predictably left of center." p. 197
  • "...because of newsroom framing, the real national conversation on homosexuality is not really being reported." p. 199
  • "In an 'entertainment culture,' even the news is entertainment." p. 201
  • "The message was clear: Conservative talk radio and conservative politicians created an anti-government atmosphere in America that spawned Timothy McVeigh and therefore were at least partially to blame for his [Oklahoma City federal building] terrorism." p. 204
  • "Why would journalists, so interested in connecting the dots when they thought they led to Rush Limbaugh, be so uninterested in connecting the dots when there might actually be dots to connect - from the hateful, widely held popular attitudes in much of the Arab world straight to the cockpits of those hijacked [9/11] jetliners?" p. 205
  • "...sometimes even the underdog can be evil." p. 212
  • "...to a lot of liberals, Fidel isn't a communist dictator. I mean, technically, he is. They know, for example, that he hasn't allowed a free election in the last forty years or so, that he doesn't tolerate dissent, and that he'd rather drink battery acid on the rocks with a touch of lime than allow a free press. Mere technicalities...To the...liberal cognoscenti in the media - Fidel is a celebrity. So what if he doesn't tolerate freedom of the press? That doesn't mean an American newsman can't like the guy, does it?" p. 215
  • "...a high percentage of the American public has been lectured to since the early sixties and is a little fed up with it." - attributed to Michael Jordan, then chairman of Westinghouse, CBS' parent company p. 216
  • "...it's just Newzak, the TV news version of elevator music." p. 220
  • "The [New York] Times is a newspaper that has taken the liberal side of every important social issue of our time, which is fine with me. But if you see the New York Times editorial page as middle of the road, one thing is clear: You don't have a clue." p. 227-228
  • "Conservatives must be identified because the audience needs to know these are people with axes to grind. But liberals don't need to be identified because their views on all the big social issues - from abortion and gun control to the death penalty and affirmative action - aren't liberal views at all. They're simply reasonable views, shared by all the reasonable people the media elites mingle with at all their reasonable dinner parties in Manhattan and Georgetown." p. 228
  • "Liberal bias among the television networks has done something that market forces could not have engendered, the revitalization of radio. Rush Limbaugh would never have become the success he has if the firm of Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings had done its job." - attributed to Herbert T. Russell, p. 237

Oct 18, 2009

The Folly of "Us" and "Them" Thinking

A friend of whom I'm fond, posted a provocative piece on Facebook recently. It was written by a FB friend of his, whom I'll call Sue.

Titled Random Thoughts On The Difference Between “Us” And “Them” it's a 9-point list which begins with the following:

If a conservative doesn’t like guns, they don’t buy one.
If a liberal doesn’t like guns, then no one should have one.

Points 2 and 7 are in a similar vein:

If a conservative is a vegetarian, they don’t eat meat.
If a liberal is, they want to ban all meat products for everyone.

If a conservative doesn’t like a talk show host, he switches channels.
Liberals demand that those they don’t like be shut down.

I think these are valid observations. The Left thinks of itself as tolerant, but often it doesn't behave that way.

The difficulty, however, is that Sue implies that the Right is composed of broad-minded free-thinkers by comparison. Not quite. I left this comment on Facebook, beneath Sue's list:

Some valid points, but alas, life is perhaps not so simple. Many conservatives have their own laundry list of things they want to prevent other people from doing:
  • watching pornos
  • smoking pot
  • drinking booze (there still are dry counties)
  • marrying someone of their own sex
  • having an abortion
Independents like moi are kept busy fending off the busybodies from both directions.

I felt my contribution was polite and respectful. Nevertheless, Sue's response was telling. She likes to present herself as tolerant, but when she encounters someone who values different things than she does, she's quick to reach for the ridicule. Here's the response she posted a few hours later:

i won't be complete until I'm smokin pot and chuggin' a brewski, while watching cheap porn with my newlywed lesbian lover, after having had my abortion after that crappy "other" relationship folded. yeah! Now I am really liberated, unopressed and my life is complete! burp! do I feel better now!!! thanks for the input.

The moral of this story is that there is no "Us" and "Them." The more we insist we're better than other people, the more we embrace the very characteristics we say we despise.

True tolerance is hard work.


Sep 15, 2009

Free Speech Rules

I've stumbled across a brand new Facebook group. It's called End the Hate! and was started by Emily Chatman Duffy from East Bay, California. The description of the group is as follows:
It's long past time to put a stop to the cult of hating in our media. This style of so-called "reporting" which more honestly recalls it's roots from the Jerry Springer Show, than from the work of Walter Cronkite, began with FAUX (Fox) News owned by right wing Australian Rupert Murdoch. Hate is not a commodity to sell. It's a volatile emotional state that should be respected. It's not packaging for right wing dogma. THIS MUST END!
In a discussion board post titled "Clean Up the Media" Emily writes:
If we don't clean up the media then America's big issues will continue to be shown as screaming matches rather than actual debates. Facts will not be aired and wicked threats against the President and Congress will continue to be. The fact is, this shit SELLS! The best way to stop it is to make it UNPROFITABLE for the sponsors of hate media. I know many of you have some great resources to share on how we can do that. Let's get to work! I'm posting two of my favorite sites in the links section of this group. Please post any you have and also please share this group around even of you don't want to join yourself.
Let's get this done!
This is followed by a wall post from her that reads:
Two great organizations that research and report on the media:



Finally, under the page's Recent News heading, appears the following:
Already one of the biggest mouths in right wing TV, Glenn Beck, has lost 54% of his advertising for his inflaming of hatred against President Obama. Let's work together to get these haters off the public airwaves. [emphasis added]
Well, Emily, now would be a good time to recall those wise words from Noam Chomsky: "If we don't believe in free speech for those we despise, we don't believe in it at all."


Zero Visibility Possible

During my undergraduate years, one English course in particular left a lasting mark. Called the "Rhetoric of Fiction," it began by examining some non-fiction. We read George Orwell's thoughts on the importance of writing clearly. We read Martin Luther King Jr.'s masterful "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

We were encouraged to notice how such writers constructed their arguments - what techniques they used in their attempts to persuade the reader. Did they appeal to emotions or to the intellect? If they cited authorities and authoritative texts, how apt were their choices under the circumstances? Were they careful about not overstating their facts, charitable toward those with whom they disagreed, circumspect in their choice of words?

Today, two decades later, whenever I read a newspaper opinion piece, these ideas still jump to the foreground. They remain the criteria by which I judge a person's argument.

Sadly, there's no shortage of folks whose thinking doesn't measure up when judged by these standards. Yesterday, while conducting research for a book I'm writing about the global warming debate, I started keeping track of examples of the outrageous hyperbole that now dominates this topic in the popular media.

What struck me most is the tone of certainty with which people are making pronouncements. These folks sound as though they have access to a crystal ball whose reliability has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

They know what the future holds. They know how a fundamentally unpredictable system such as Earth's climate is going to behave if we fail to reduce C02 emissions. They know the results will be catastrophic. They know, well before it has transpired, that humanity will have a last chance to avert disaster. They know, before future generations are even born, that those generations will be powerless to affect their own fates.

Right. And if the fortune teller down the street could actually predict the future, she'd buy a lottery ticket, collect her winnings, and abandon her tacky storefront.

Far too much of what is being published about global warming is utter nonsense. It's a waste of readers' time. The media needs to get a grip. Wild-eyed, apocalyptic predictions about the future are not news. They amount to overwrought speculation - nothing more.

So here's the list I compiled yesterday, as I worked my way through a few days' backlog of reading:

  • “We are rapidly losing time and options to save ourselves from the worst effects of catastrophic climate change.”- Canadian politician, Bruce Hyer

  • "If we have a catastrophic failure to reach an agreement...at the end of that process there will be full climactic destabilization." - Tim Flannery, Chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council

  • "To maximise our chances of preventing runaway climate change...we need a binding international treaty and the last chance we have to get that within the timescale of the physics of the planet is the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in December." - Franny Armstrong, UK filmmaker

  • "Two degrees is where we trigger runaway climate change: two leads to three, three to four, four to five, five to six … by which time it’s about over for life on earth. In other words, our elected leaders are giving us -- at best -- a coin-flip chance of avoiding catastrophe." - Franny Armstrong, UK filmmaker

  • "The people who came before us didn’t know about climate change and the ones who come after will be powerless to stop it." - Franny Armstrong, UK filmmaker

  • "...which gives us, at best, only a 50/50 chance of avoiding runaway global warming....CO2 levels must be reduced to below 350 parts per million to avoid climate catastrophe...required to avert catastrophic climate impacts..." - Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity

  • "I write about the human migrations that will result from future environmental collapse of our continent in my forthcoming book, North American Ark, but most people, I believe, already share a vague sense of some overwhelming danger...My main point is that climate change is very real and is already causing disastrous, irreversible and extensive environmental change right here in North America." - Giles Slade, author

  • "A deal is not just desirable, but an imperative...on a par with the fight against terrorism...the effects on the planet could be catastrophic. Worse still, there is a sharply increased risk they will create vicious cycles that cause runaway climate change..." - David Miliband, UK Secretary of State

  • ..
    [hat tip to a gent named Tom Nelson, who collects these stories from far and wide and shares them here]

    Aug 22, 2009

    George Carlin on Saving the Planet

    In addition to making us laugh, comedians serve a useful social purpose. They often say things we feel we aren't able to. In our professional (and social) lives, we frequently avoid topics that are politically sensitive or emotionally charged, since few of us enjoy confrontation. But difficult topics often benefit from a fresh, fearless perspective.

    In this 7-minute clip, the late great Carlin is unkind to environmentalists, but his larger point is impressively well-informed. When he discusses the various forces with which planet Earth has contended over its 4.5-billion lifespan he isn't making any of this up. It's all true.
    "The planet has been through a lot worse than us; been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate techtonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages - and we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?"
    We humans have a nasty habit of believing that everything is about us. We must be the cause of everything bad that happens. Natural forces - even ones that were in motion long before we arrived - must be susceptible to our influence. The entire theory of human-caused global warming may one day be seen as a textbook case of this humanity-as-the-center-of-the-universe approach to the world.

    Carlin is right. As a species, we're capable of supreme arrogance. That we're obsessing about saving the planet when so much of humanity still lacks clean water and adequate food may qualify as "the greatest arrogance of all."

    visit NOconsensus.org for more on the global warming debate

    Aug 21, 2009

    Afghanistan's Child Brides

    Photographer Stephanie Sinclair narrates this 10-minute photo slideshow examining the lives of young women in rural Afghanistan. The print version of The Economist notes that: "Around 60% of girls are married off before they reach the legal minimum age of 16...Pregnancies among 10-to-14-year-old girls contribute to the country's high incidence of maternal mortality."

    The child in this photo is eleven. She is seen here meeting her husband for the first time.


    Aug 19, 2009

    TripodGirl.com's Second Anniversary!

    My photography website, TripodGirl.com, was launched two years ago this month. Since then I've posted a new photo gallery each Monday.

    There are now more than 930 low-resolution images available on the site. All have been formatted as computer wallpaper/backgrounds and are free for students and private individuals to use for non-commercial (non-money-making) purposes.

    There are photos of Paris, Venice and Hawaii. Of vintage cars, exotic animals, and breathtaking flowers.

    It's been fun!


    Jul 26, 2009


    Daybreak on Lake Simcoe.

    Download wallpaper versions of this photo here:


    Jul 24, 2009

    Big Water

    The waves off Oahu, Hawaii, are among the world's most spectacular. See more photos like this and download wallpaper versions here:



    Jul 22, 2009

    Al Gore Thinks Your Brain Is Too Primitive

    For 20 years, Al Gore has been a global warming activist. He has delivered speeches, written books, starred in a documentary film, won an Oscar and a Nobel Prize. But Mr. Gore has a big fat problem. Most of us have tuned out.

    "Any measure that we look at shows Al Gore's losing at the moment," declared a Gallup Poll spokesperson in May. "The public is just not that concerned." When asked what they worry about, most people say the economy. Only two percent even mention the environment.

    In 2007, when NBC television devoted three hours of prime time to Mr. Gore's celebrity-studded Live Earth event, the network came last in viewership that evening. Only 2.8 million people tuned in, compared to the 4.2 million who watched reruns of Cops and America's Most Wanted on Fox, and the 3.4 million who preferred the five-year-old animated movie Monsters, Inc. on ABC.

    Every era has its doomsayers who bemoan some threat or another. The planet is cooling, so we'd better stockpile food. Now it's warming and catastrophe looms. Zealots who insist we must repent before it's too late are hardly a new phenomenon.

    In free and democratic societies, ordinary people get to decide how much attention they pay to gloom-and-doomsters. But Mr. Gore appears to be having trouble with this concept. Instead, he's proposed a novel explanation for why the public isn't buying his message.

    According to a breathless account published on a blog associated with Nature (one of the world's most prestigious scientific journals), Mr. Gore recently explained to an Oxford University conference that there are evolutionary and neurological reasons why others don't see the world the way he does.

    "Gore opened by talking about human psychology and physiology" rather than climate, reports the blogger. "I was amazed to be treated to a pop neuroscience lecture." It seems that Mr. Gore now views environmental awareness as being "ultimately a problem of consciousness." Referring to MRI scans and human brain structure, he insists that "What is being tested is the proposition of whether or not the combination of an opposable thumb and a neo cortex is a viable construct on this planet."

    I'm no psychologist, but this sounds to me like an attempt to apply a natural science veneer to self-serving rationalization, to invent a clinical-sounding explanation for what are, in fact, shortcomings associated with Mr. Gore's powers of persuasion.

    It seems not to have crossed his mind that some of us consider his arguments flawed, his data suspect, his climate analysis simplistic, and his rhetoric overwrought. It's as though it has never occurred to Mr. Gore that, to paraphrase the title of a popular book/movie, we're just not that into him.

    Nor does he appear to have considered the idea that Joe the Plumber might resent being told to desire/consume less by a man who owns three homes (including a 20-room mansion), travels by private jet, and charges $175,000 to deliver a speech. And let's not even talk about the company he keeps – such as his science advisor, James Hansen, who advocates crimes-against-humanity trials for oil executives and refers to coal-fired power plants as "factories of death."

    Rather than recognizing our rejection of his worldview, Mr. Gore prefers to regard the rest of as defective. If we don't behave the way he thinks we should, there's only one explanation. Our neo cortexes are too primitive to grasp what someone of his intellect and discernment considers self-evident.

    visit NOconsensus.org for more on the global warming debate

    Jul 4, 2009

    Happy Fourth of July

    See more and download wallpaper versions of this image here:


    Jul 3, 2009

    Do As I Say, Not As I Do

    Greens reject the scientific consensus on genetically modified foods

    In the global warming debate, those of us who are skeptical that catastrophic climate change is just around the corner are repeatedly bludgeoned with the cudgel of "scientific consensus." We're told that thousands of scientists, under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have examined all the evidence and made a decision. We're reminded that prestigious scientific bodies endorse the idea of man-made global warming - and that the best scientific journals do, as well.

    Don't we understand the debate is over? That science has spoken? That challenging the theory of global warming is on a par with believing that the moon landings were faked?

    Over and over again we're advised that this "scientific consensus" trumps all else. Greenpeace tells us this. So do its activist pals, Friends of the Earth.

    Except that neither of these groups display one bit of respect for scientific consensus when the topic isn't global warming but is instead genetically modified foods. The consensus that such foods are safe for humans, animals and the environment is extraordinarily broad-based. Indeed, one might argue that the list of scientific bodies that agree on this point is longer than the list of organizations that concur with global warming theory.

    On June 28th, scientists at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) joined this consensus. They ruled that there is no reason to forbid the planting of genetically-modified corn in the European Union.

    How did Greenpeace respond? It so happens that Greenpeace opposes genetically modified foods for philosophical reasons. It argues that, no matter what humanity might gain from biotechnology (such as drought-resistant crops, blindness-preventing rice and medical discoveries) these aren't sufficient "justification to turn the environment into a giant genetic experiment by commercial interests."

    So rather than being swayed by "scientific consensus," Greenpeace chose to attack. It says the scientists who made this decision are unqualified. "Allowing EFSA to express opinions on GM crops while it cannot assess long-term environmental impacts is like allowing someone into a Formula 1 race just because they have a driving license," says Marco Contier.

    The response by Friends of the Earth was even more disturbing. Its spokesperson, Helen Holder, isn't fazed by the fact most scientists appear to support genetically modified organisms [GMOs]. "It's time to sack the EFSA scientists, to disband its GMO panel, and move GMO risk assessment" into the hands of a different decision-making body she says.

    In other words, because they disagree with her, she thinks these scientists should all lose their jobs – and that their organization should not only be restructured, but stripped of its responsibilities. A tad harsh, don't you think?

    So it turns out that "scientific consensus" appears to be meaningless to these folks. When it suits them, they'll use it as a club to beat people like me into submission. Otherwise, they're fully prepared to ignore its existence. Which is something worth thinking about.

    And here's one more thought. Skeptics are sometimes accused of being conspiracy theorists. Why would so many scientists go along with the idea of global warming if it weren't true, we're asked? Is it really plausible that so many people would sign on if they weren't absolutely convinced it were happening?

    Well, if you were a scientist who knew that your honestly-held belief would get you bad-mouthed in the media by aggressive environmental groups, might you not be tempted to go with the flow? If you knew that expressing certain views would result in people loudly attacking your credentials and calling for your dismissal, might you not take the path of least resistance, too?

    visit NOconsensus.org for more on the global warming debate

    Jul 1, 2009

    Jun 30, 2009

    Being a Hero

    I've taken to watching this video when I feel a bit down about the human race. This incident occurred in April 2003, at the beginning of an NBA playoff game. The 13-year-old eighth-grader had won a contest to sing the national anthem. When her big day came, in front of an audience of 21,000 people she forgot the words and got stage fright. Standing there all alone, not sure what to do, with everyone watching, she's clearly mortified. It's impossible not to empathize with her.

    And then something magnificent happens. Maurice Cheeks, the head coach of one of the basketball teams, appears at her side. He puts a fatherly arm around her, repositions her microphone, and starts singing along with her. She recovers her composure, he encourages the audience to join in, and shortly afterward the anthem ends on a high note.

    The songbird's voice became strong again. The few moments during which her acute embarrassment could have spread to everyone present became instead the set-up for an inspiring demonstration of kindness, leadership and redemption.

    I'm not a huge sports fan. But playing sports encourages us to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and keep moving forward. It teaches us that stumbling is normal, no big deal. And if we're really lucky, it exposes us to coaches who really do help those around them reach their potential.


    Jun 18, 2009

    What Tyranny Looks Like

    This photo was snagged from CNN's website here:

    The caption reads: "The aftermath of anti-riot police actions at Tehran University shows smashed computer terminals."

    The impulse to silence those with different points of view may be more widespread, and closer to the surface, than we realize. Visual representations of this impulse are therefore important.


    Jun 13, 2009

    The Wrong Trousers: Common Ground Between Climate Change Skeptics & Believers

    I recently re-watched the Academy Award-winning animated short Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers. Like other titles produced by the Aardman Animations company, the film is non-stop eye-candy.

    My reason for re-visiting it is a 2007 paper authored by a pair of professors from Oxford University and the London School of Economics. Titled The Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy, this 47-page document accepts the premise that dangerous global warming has, indeed, commenced and that the planet faces long-term harmful consequences as a result.

    Personally, I consider said premise debatable. But that's a separate issue. The professors, Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner, say they purposely named their paper after the Wallace & Gromit film. In their view, the mechanical trousers that start out as a cool invention but end up kidnapping Wallace, are an apt metaphor for the Kyoto Protocol.

    Their main argument: "the Kyoto Protocol has also marched us involuntarily to unintended and unwelcome places."

    Their writing is intelligent and eloquent. It's also direct. Kyoto, they say, was always a "fundamentally flawed" instrument that "was doomed from birth." Due to its single-minded focus on reducing emissions, they feel Kyoto made discussing other responses to climate change "taboo." Kyoto has assumed the status of "creed" and "dogma" they say and, as a result, the world has "wasted fifteen years."

    Their paper is a fabulous demonstration of the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It also reveals that there's plenty of common ground between individuals who believe dangerous global warming is occurring and those who remain unconvinced.

    Like Prins and Rayner, many climate skeptics believe our focus should shift to adaptation. Encouraging populations to prepare for the risks associated with droughts, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis is guaranteed to save lives - since such events will continue to be facts of life irrespective of global warming.

    Like many skeptics, Prins and Rayner argue that Kyoto's emission-reduction targets were always too low to have had any significant impact on the big picture. Moreover, their paper demonstrates that, while some countries have worked hard to meet their Kyoto obligations, these efforts have been neutralized by other factors.

    For example, because the European Union allowed national governments to distribute unlimited carbon emission permits:

    "European governments did what governments seeking popular approval always do, namely look after their own national interests. They therefore issued permits to European industry to the value of more than the then estimated total European carbon emission...There were many guilty parties. But the worst culprit was the Italian government, which showered this free subsidy onto Italian industry on a heroic scale (close to the total estimate for all of Europe). The carbon price crashed from over 30 Euros/ton to 20 cents in the spring of 2006."

    It's sobering for the authors to admit - and for us to read - that:

    "The failure of Kyoto in its own terms is most eloquently attested by the finding that the (working) Montreal Protocol on CFC reductions may have had a larger net physical impact on the greenhouse effect as an incidental consequence, than Kyoto would have had if it had been fully implemented. Perhaps even more startling is that the Bush Administration’s “Methane to markets” programme, launched before the Kyoto Protocol was activated, may have done more to reduce emissions than all of Kyoto."

    A meeting is scheduled for this December in Copenhagen. Its purpose is to help establish international policies to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. In tune with climate skeptics, Prins and Rayner are adamant that more of the same is not the answer.

    But here's the problem. More of the same is exactly what's being promoted loudly by activist groups. Greenpeace Canada is running a campaign called KYOTOplus. The petition Canadians are urged to sign targets emissions exclusively. As usual, Greenpeace's language is apocalyptic:

    "Global warming is the greatest threat to life on earth...only urgent action can avert uncontrollable, runaway climate change."

    According to the US-based Environmental Defense Fund's website, four elements are critical with respect to the Copenhagen meeting: "The first is clarity on how far industrialized countries are willing and able to cut their emissions, and the second is what developing countries are willing and able to do. The third is clarity on what financing will be available to support developing nations, and the fourth is a governance framework for implementing the agreement."

    In other words: emissions, emissions, emissions, emissions.

    Friends of the Earth International has its own website petition regarding the Copenhagen meeting. It calls on governments of the rich world to do three things:
    1. cut emissions by "at least 40%" by 2020
    2. refrain from purchasing carbon credits or offsets from the developing world
    3. finance clean energy solutions in poorer countries and help such countries cope "with the floods, droughts and famines caused by climate change"

    While the final clause in the final point is encouraging, it's clearly an afterthought. The main focus is dramatic emission cuts over an unrealistically short period of time.

    It's difficult not to sympathize with Prins and Rayner. Like skeptics, they find themselves at odds with activists who remain deaf to reasoned argument and new perspectives. Like skeptics they, too, worry about the consequences should their efforts to change minds fail:

    "Both writers of this essay began to be engaged with the issue of climate change in the mid-1980s when the task was to gain any audience at all for the discussion...Today, we find that we are like coachmen on a runaway stage-coach, trying to rein back bolting horses, crying “Whoa! Whoa!” before an accident happens."

    visit NOconsensus.org for more on the global warming debate

    Jun 8, 2009

    Lincoln's Grasp

    Taken a week ago at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This sculpture is given an extended cameo in the new Night at the Museum movie. The film also features the 19-building wonder of the world known as The Smithsonian. All of its museums - as well as a zoo - have free admission.

    See more and download wallpaper versions of this image at:


    May 29, 2009

    Censored at the Coffee Bar

    It may be 2009 and those of us who live in urban centers may consider ourselves oh-so-sophisticated. But artistic portrayals of the human body still have the power to send us into a tizzy.

    In recent months I've had the good fortune to hang my photography in downtown Toronto coffee shops. More than one chain in Canada's largest city makes its walls available to visual artists for weeks at a time. This is a wonderful thing. It would be a shame if such policies ended (which is why I'm not going to identify the corporate entity or the address of the shop in this case).

    Earlier this month, one of my photos was removed from the wall by the manager of a store hosting my work. A male customer apparently complained that my 5x5-inch photo set into a 17x17-inch frame was something to which his two young sons shouldn't be exposed.

    (It was hung at eye-level above a counter used by those adding cream and sugar to their beverages. Honestly, given its placement and size, it would have been difficult for a young child to see much of it.)

    The photo was taken at a public beach earlier this year. The subject is male. He's wearing swimming trunks and has his back to the camera. Yes, that back is tanned, glistening, and has a lovely line to it. But when compared to Calvin Klein billboards, this image is tiny. When compared to many American Apparel ads, it's wholesome.

    The shop's manager is youngish. Perhaps, had she been more experienced, she might have responded differently. But when confronted by a customer who asked how she'd feel if the photo were of a woman dressed only in her bikini bottom, she acquiesced to his demands for censorship rather than defend artistic expression.

    I don't envy her. Her primary business is not running an art gallery. It's selling coffee. As a private business, the owners and managers of the shop have a perfect right to decide what hangs on their walls.

    Yes, this shop is in an affluent part of town that's home to many different kinds of artists. But that's no guarantee that someone won't find a photograph of the human body so offensive they'll demand that their children be shielded from it.

    The photo in question is available as free computer wallpaper:


    May 26, 2009

    Lava Rock

    Hawaii's Big Island is a world of contrasts. There's lush rainforest, windswept desert, and an active volvanco that has been spewing lava for hundreds of thousands of years. When the lava hardens it turns to ragged, forbidding rock. Vast areas resemble the Land of Mordor. Vegetation, ever optimistic, works hard at finding a foothold amidst the desolation, but the battle to turn these areas green again will continue for decades, perhaps centuries.

    I took this shot from a moving vehicle - thus the blur in the foreground. At wallpaper size, the image is quite haunting. It reminds me how puny humans are compared to certain forces of nature. When the volcano begins spewing molten lava from a new direction there's not a thing we homo sapiens can do about it - other than get out of the way.

    Download wallpaper versions of this image here:


    May 16, 2009

    On the Cusp

    I've been busy, immersed, distracted lately. I've been reading, reading, reading. Books and websites and scientific journals. News stories and blogs and Twitter feeds. My brain is bursting with facts and figures I'm struggling to make sense of.

    It has been 14 years since I wrote my first and only book. Until now, I've felt no need to repeat the experience. But I may be on the cusp of changing my mind.

    I believe in debate. I believe in questions. I believe anyone who wants anyone else to dramatically change their lives had better have a strong and persuasive argument.

    My reading about global warming has left me bewildered, bemused - and alarmed. I've spent the past several weeks educating myself, and what I've learned isn't pretty.

    There's a whole side of the global warming discussion that 90% of the mainstream media ignores. This is because editors and journalists are as susceptible to "group think" as anyone else. It's also because reporters are often too rushed or too lazy to read anything more than the press release when a new study claims to have found yet another reason why global warming should scare us out of our wits.

    I wish I didn't feel the need to say anything at all about this topic. There are lots of other things I'd rather be thinking about in my spare time. But the current state of affairs is wrong.

    Download wallpaper versions of the above image (and see more) on my website:


    Apr 24, 2009

    Mind Over Matter

    Mind over matter, aka using your very own brainwaves to manipulate physical objects, is no longer science fiction. Two toys that employ this concept will hit the market in time for Christmas.

    The future is here and it's gonna be awesome.

    An article about this (with a cool video embedded) appears here:


    Apr 22, 2009

    Past, Present & Future

    If you're interested in ideas and in the future, this video is guaranteed to make your eyes go wide.

    Juan Enriquez is an impressive - and humorous - speaker. He delivers grim news about the current state of the US economy, but also suggests a mind-blowing future that won't be like anything we've seen before. Really.

    One of the best uses of 20 minutes I can think of.

    If you have trouble playing this video, try it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/463

    Visit TED.com to hear lots more smart, insightful people.


    Apr 19, 2009

    Places To Be, Babies To Kiss...

    Feral poultry is commonplace in Hawaii. One sees hens, roosters and chicks stepping gingerly through downtown parking lots and pecking apart garbage alongside highways.

    On Kauai, one of the islands, loud and aggressive roosters have become so numerous they're considered a public nuisance. Our guidebook recommends bringing along earplugs if visiting this island, since the cock-a-doodle-doo-ing is not confined to daylight hours.

    Watch a Wall Street Journal newsreel about this here.

    Click the photo for a larger view. Wallpaper-sized versions may be downloaded here:


    Apr 17, 2009

    Freshly Baked

    Crusty on the outside, silken on the inside. I took this shot last weekend at Toronto's St. Lawrence Market.

    Download wallpaper versions of this image here:

    Apr 14, 2009

    Good Girl, Bad Girl

    The United Nations can point to many decent, heroic achievements over the years, but its crusade against climate change has now turned scary.

    The only people in this world who are not entitled to ask questions are slaves (of their masters) and worshippers (of their prophets, priests and gods). One cannot be considered free if one is prohibited from asking questions - of any sort, but particularly regarding a topic that is rarely absent from the daily news.

    Yet according to a spokeswoman for the United Nations, its experts have not only declared the global warming debate to be over before all sides agree that it is, they've also decided that our right to ask questions is a mere triviality. They're in a hurry to save the planet, you see, so they don't have time for silly little things like free speech.

    Gro Harlem Brundtland used to be the first female Prime Minister of Norway. Today she's the United Nations' Special Envoy on Climate Change. She reports directly to the UN's Secretary General.

    And what does she whisper into that gentleman's ear? We have no way of knowing, but what she says in public speeches to rooms full of people is no secret.

    On the 17th of March, just a few weeks ago, Ms. Brundtland addressed the United Nations' Forestry Committee. Her full comments are posted on a UN web site. The third paragraph on page 2 is of particular interest:

    "It is irresponsible, reckless and deeply immoral to question the seriousness of the situation we are in," she says.

    Pardon me, but I don't accept anyone's word as gospel. I make up my own mind, thanks very much - and I'll ask whatever questions I please, for as long as I please.

    When the United Nations starts declaring mere questions irresponsible and immoral, Houston we've got a problem.

    visit NOconsensus.org for more on the global warming debate

    Apr 12, 2009

    Happy Easter

    "The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day He created Spring" - Bern Williams

    Download wallpaper versions of this image here:


    Apr 7, 2009

    Earth Hour Hysteria

    Earth Hour 2009 finally pushed me over the edge. Anyone who hasn't been living in a cave knows about global warming and how we should all do our part to avert impending disaster.

    I've been skeptical of the hype for some time, but life is short and until now I've felt I had other battles to attend.

    But matters have gotten out of hand. Earth Hour started out as an entirely voluntary, highly symbolic expression of environmental concern. In astonishingly short order, however, it has morphed into something approaching a civic duty.

    My hydro bill arrived two days after Earth Hour. But printed below my "daily usage" graph is the following:

    Participate in Earth Hour by turning off all your lights on March 28 between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. To learn more, visit www.earthhourcanada.org/

    That web address belongs to the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF describes itself as "one of the country's leading conservation organizations, enjoying the active support of more than 150,000 Canadians."

    33 million people live in Canada. The WWF is, let's admit it, merely one among hundreds of groups devoted to good causes. So why is my public utility - the Toronto Hydro Electric System - promoting the activities of this particular lobby group?

    The most recent issue of NOW, a free Toronto entertainment weekly, has a full-page ad inside its front cover promoting a free Earth Hour music concert. The ad was paid for, apparently, by the WWF and the City of Toronto. "Switch off & sign up at EarthHourCanada.org" it reads.

    Given the enormous media coverage, why would additional government funds be spent on the promotion of such activities? The Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper, didn't write an article or two, it published an Earth Hour section.

    At the top of the online version there's an ad for, you guessed it, the WWF. The page contains prominent links to dozens of stories published by The Star during the weeks leading up to Earth Hour. Then there's an additional 17 articles by columnists and guest writers ranging from Margaret Atwood (novelist) to Robert Bateman (painter) to Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Nobel laureate).

    The headlines on these articles leave no room for doubt or debate. They refer to the "moral aspect of climate change," the "apocalypse" of urban sprawl, and warn that we have mere hours to "prevent climate disaster."

    One guest essay, titled "On a Leap of Faith," bears this as its subtitle:
    If we stop flying and shipping, take bicycles to work and slash electricity use, would we sidestep the predicted environmental catastrophe? We don't know...But it would be immoral not to try.
    I'm very sorry, but all of this amounts to hysteria. It really is time that sensible people started speaking up and pushing back.


    Mar 27, 2009

    Heavenly Hibiscus

    It's only recently that I put 2 and 2 together and realized that the flowers that appear on traditional Hawaiian shirts are, indeed, hibiscus flowers. This image is part of a photo series titled Heavenly Hibiscus - spectacular specimens shot in Hawaii.

    See more and download wallpaper versions of this image here:



    Mar 25, 2009

    Honor Killing in Turkey

    Rarely do my feminist, journalist, and civil libertarian selves all experience cardiac arrest at the same time. But a recent article in Today's Zaman, a Turkish newspaper, has induced that response. [A PDF is also available]

    The article is about honor killing. You know that civilized practice in which girls and women are murdered by their male relatives for wearing makeup or inappropriate dress, for talking to men who aren't related to them, or for wanting a divorce? (Recently, the term has also been used to describe familial murders of gays and lesbians.)

    The headline on this story reads: "Media help escalate honor killings, study reveals." Usually, the opposite is true. Shining light on a social problem can raise the sort of awareness that eventually changes attitudes and laws, establishes support services, and encourages prevention.

    So where's the evidence for such a startling claim? It turns out, no academic study was ever undertaken. Rather, Turkey's Ministry of Education conducted a public opinion poll.

    In the process of surveying 440 high school students and their parents, it discovered alarming things. 13% of the parents and 10% of the students said they had personally witnessed an honor-killing. Yes, you heard that right. One in ten Turkish high school students have witnessed a murder.

    Moreover, 25% of both parents and students said they support honor killings.

    Then there's the data that gave birth to the headline: 23% of the parents and 29% of the students happen to believe that media reporting of honor-killings increases the incidence of such crimes.

    Whatever the original intent of this poll, it's clear the results will now be used against the Turkish press. The geniuses running the country didn't actually investigate whether media attentions hurts or helps. Nor do they seem concerned about the damage done to young people who witness murder firsthand.

    Instead, the government is preoccupied with how the media portrays such events. The press is being urged to cover honor killings "with the utmost prudence so as not to negatively affect children." Moreover, the government now says proper education of the "reporters who are covering such stories" is important. Right.

    In Turkey, the media is obviously in the wrong if high school students don't consider "the programs aired or the stories printed...to be impartial or close to reality." Perish the thought that the students might be less-than-fully-informed.

    Its application to join the European Union notwithstanding, freedom-of-the-press is still a distant dream in Turkey. Imagine North American newspapers being instructed to "stress the outcomes - not the causes" when describing certain kinds of murders.

    I've never been to Turkey. But speaking as someone who was a print journalist for more than a decade, this translates as: Never mind that a teenage girl was murdered simply because she talked to a boy. What matters is that lots of people think she deserved to have her skull bashed in.


    Mar 23, 2009

    Southern Gothic 1

    During the years I've owned an iPod, grouping together songs that share a similar tempo, sound, or theme has become a habit. One of my longstanding playlists is titled Southern Gothic.

    In American literature, writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote and Tennesse Williams typify this genre. Their work evokes a shadowy, dark, dysfunctional Southern US inhabited by people whose lives have become twisted and whose promise has withered.

    At the top of my Southern Gothic playlist is a tune titled "Real Money" by songwriter extraordinaire Robbie Fulks. My husband and I had the pleasure of seeing Fulks live at Nashville's iconic Blue Bird Cafe nearly a decade ago. Prior to the show, we'd never heard of him. It turns out that describing him as a "honky tonk smartass" and "monster talent" covers things nicely.

    Play this song loud and you'll enter a creepy world of political corruption and neglected children.

    Get a playlist! Standalone player

    Couples in Trouble - the CD on which this song appears - is not available on iTunes. It can be purchased from Fulks' web site for $13.00 USD or for $12.99 CDN from Amazon.ca (Personally, I prefer purchasing from the artists themselves so that more of my money makes it into their hands.)


    Mar 21, 2009


    A Honolulu park in the middle of February.

    See more and download wallpaper versions of this image here:



    Mar 18, 2009

    George W. Makes the Pope Look Small

    Yesterday former US president George W. Bush delivered his first public address since leaving the Oval Office. The setting was Calgary, a city in Western Canada, and the event was organized by the Chamber of Commerce.

    Whether or not Bush was a good president is not the issue here.
    What's noteworthy is that he made a point of expressing his full support for President Barack Obama. [source] Publicly repudiating the odious Rush Limbaugh, he declared:

    "I want the President to succeed."
    Then he got truly impressive:

    "I love my country a lot more than I love politics."

    On the same day that Bush was putting political dogma firmly in its place, Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Roman Catholic church, was touring AIDS-ravaged Africa with rather a different approach to divided loyalties.

    Two out of three people who suffer from HIV live in Africa. In 2007, 75% of AIDS deaths occurred there. [source]

    According to one report:
    "HIV/AIDS is reversing the gains in life expectancy that much of southern Africa had made prior to the onset of the epidemic. Lesotho, a country with an average life expectancy of almost 60 years in 1995, has since seen that figure drop to 36 years." [source]

    Put simply: AIDS continues to devastate Africa, robbing these struggling countries of productive workers and orphaning millions of children.

    Organizations that do nothing but fight AIDS year after year insist every available means of combating this disease needs to be utilized. They say education, treatment, male circumcision, encouraging people to have fewer sexual partners, encouraging them to wait longer before having sex, all have a role to play. They also insist that condoms are one of the most effective counter-measures available. [source]

    But the organization that Pope Benedict heads isn't devoted primarily to fighting AIDS. Rather, his church (in whose traditions I was personally raised) has spent centuries trying to regulate human sexuality per se. It condemns masturbation, birth control, homosexuality, sexual relations between consenting adults who don't happen to be married, and so forth.

    Given this history, the Pope was perfectly consistent yesterday when, once again, he rejected the use of condoms to combat AIDS, suggesting they do more harm than good. [source]

    The Pope's first concern isn't the suffering, grief, loss, and tragedy that AIDS is visiting on the blighted continent that is Africa. Compassion, love for his fellow man, concern for African children - none of these things have the power to trump his church's antiquated sexual teachings. To quote an anti-AIDS spokesperson, the Pope's position demonstrates "that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans." [source]

    Who'd have thought that George W. Bush would, with intelligence and good grace, make the Pope himself look callous and small-minded?


    Mar 16, 2009


    I took this shot last month, on the Kona coast of Hawaii's Big Island.

    Mist. A church steeple. Lush, multiple levels of green.

    Download wallpaper versions of this image and see more here:


    Mar 15, 2009

    Coqui Frogs

    Pronounced "coke - ee", these little noisemakers are both adored and despised in Hawaii (they have no natural predators and large numbers of them in any given locale can, apparently, be outrageously loud).

    Their song reminds me a whip-poor-will bird

    which I associate fondly with warm summer evenings from my childhood.

    I had the pleasure of hearing coquis in Hilo, on the Big Island. The climate there is pretty much that of a rainforest, so I fell asleep on those two nights listening to the sound of the rain intermingled with the coquis.

    Now that I'm back in Canada, I'm grateful that other similarly-entranced Hawaii tourists have posted recordings on YouTube.


    Mar 11, 2009


    The snow is melting away here in Toronto, and my calendar advises that the first day of Spring is only nine days hence. For me, lilacs are one of the great blessings of that season. Vibrant, fleeting, unforgettable.

    Wallpaper versions of this photo may be downloaded here:


    Other Spring images may be seen here:



    Mar 9, 2009

    Beautiful Bodies

    Photographing the human body can be a tricky business. Art students at both the high school and college level routinely take "figure" or "life" drawing classes - in which the human body (often unclothed) is the focus of study.

    But in photography, the line between art and its less respectable cousin, pornography, is more blurred. Where does one end and the other begin? Ask 10 different people and you'll get 10 different answers.

    My photography web site advertises itself as "student friendly." This means students may use my images freely in their school assignments, without worrying about copyright infringement.

    But does being student friendly mean I should censor the work I display there? I surely don't want to cause problems for those wonderful teachers who now tell their students about my site.

    Isn't it odd that the human body still has the power to discomfit us so?

    Download wallpaper versions of this image and see more here: