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exploring how the world works and why it works that way …

Archive for August 2007

Who will provide answers for the most basic of questions?

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As an inquisitive person trying to survive life relatively unscathed and to leave the world at least a little better off for my presence, I need answers to two fundamental questions:

How does the world work?

Why does it work that way?

We all struggle, I suppose, with the really big question: What is the meaning of life? Or, if you’re a socially conscious, progressive person, this somewhat smaller question: How can I try to fix what’s wrong? But I can’t consider either of those without compelling answers to the first two.

I do not need or want the media to give me presumptive or allegedly definitive answers to how the world works and why. I’m 61 years old; the world works differently today than it did in my youth. Change is constant, so studying how the answers change is important. I’ve got a mind of my own; I’ll decide what’s definitive for me.

As a professor, I try to help my journalism students begin to find their own answers to those questions. I no longer rail at them for failing to read newspapers to “keep up on current events.” Now I tell them that the student who spends a half hour each day seeking answers to those two questions in some purposefully analytical way is likely to be better prepared for life after graduation than the student who does not.

These days, when I hold up a newspaper in class, I call it an “instruction manual for operating in the world.” Again, that’s an instruction manual, not the manual. But it is a manual we all need.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 31, 2007 at 5:47 pm

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Quotabull

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Q: The Lower 9th Ward is one of the most impoverished areas of the region. Many residents who lived there before felt neglected. What do you say if they today now feel that way, that, well, they’re not back up to snuff, whereas everybody else is much further ahead?

CHAIRMAN POWELL: I say to those people — and I have a sense of responsibility — but one of the things I remember looking at is St. Bernard Parish and the 9th Ward and New Orleans East was some of the most devastated areas as it relates to the storm. If you look at those flood maps, it is dramatic in those areas how much they’re improved.

So, again, that’s the federal government’s commitment, to making sure that it crosses the entire section of those areas. There is some activity going on in the 9th Ward. I go to the 9th Ward often. I see some people going — that area was devastated, as was St. Bernard Parish. They’re a little slower than others coming back, but it’s a result of — I mean, the devastation there was just extraordinary.

— Don Powell, federal coordinator for Gulf Coast Recovery, at an Aug. 28 White House press briefing.

It’s a depression going on. It’s not like the ’20s and ’30s. It’s right here. Let the world know, the depression is on.

— Darrel Ellis, a truck driver, on Aug. 29, standing next to a “recovery celebration” parade near the 9th Ward, pointing to his head and referring to the mental state of residents.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 30, 2007 at 12:42 pm

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How should we evaluate the job performance of Congress?

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Most people who work usually get “evaluated” by a boss of some sort. Sometimes it’s formal (with official rubrics and goals and outcomes and such) and sometimes it’s informal (“Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’ and show up to work on time.”).

A good (and presumably fair) evaluation means, you hope, that you get that raise and you keep that job or you get promoted. But suppose you had a job in which the most common means of evaluation don’t seem to have much to do with assessing the job you were hired to do?

We elect 535 members of Congress (representatives every two years and senators every six years). But do we vote to keep them in their jobs based on a sensible, formal evaluation of what we hired them to do?
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 26, 2007 at 5:10 pm

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Skepticism is a weapon

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I always marvel at my ability to be unduly influenced when reading an editorial, op-ed column or blog post that expresses the writer’s point of view with such unyielding conviction that an aura of concrete certainty seems to attach to it.

I will adopt this point of view, I chant to myself, mesmerized by the apparent inevitability of the writer’s argument. This must be the definitive position, I humbly acknowledge. No other argument can refute this.

Then I wake up. Some inner sense, deeply buried but carefully voiced by a decade of writing editorials and another decade of teaching opinion writing, whispers authoritatively in my ear: Denny, it’s really bullshit. You know that, don’t you?

That’s my problem. I often don’t know. And I bet I’m not alone in that admission, either.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 25, 2007 at 4:08 pm

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Quotabull

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Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.’

— President Bush in Aug. 22 speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City.

The only relevant analogy of Vietnam to Iraq is this: In Iraq, just as we did in Vietnam, we are clinging to a central government that does not and will not enjoy the support of the people. Unless the president acts on that lesson from history and works toward a federal solution in Iraq, there is no prospect that when we leave, we will leave anything stable behind. In fact, the president’s policies are pushing us toward another Saigon moment — with helicopters fleeing the roof of our embassy — which he says he wants to avoid. Al Qaeda in Iraq didn’t exist before we invaded. It is a Bush fulfilling prophecy.

— Presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticizing the president’s speech, saying the president “continues to play the American people for fools.”
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 23, 2007 at 5:20 pm

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Quotabull

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And Brian will be back in our next hour with a look at the life- and-death question that is now being asked in Utah. Is it possible for those trapped miners to still be alive?

Well, they are cute, colorful, and they may be dangerous to your kids. Mattel is recalling more than 20 million toys made in China. They include Polly Pocket dolls, Batman action figures, and Sarge toy cars.

— a transition from a Aug. 14 story on six miners trapped more than week at a Utah mine to a story on the recall of children’s toys tainted by lead paint, by Suzanne Malveaux, subbing for Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room.”

There is absolutely no excuse for lead to be found in toys entering this country. It is totally unacceptable and it needs to stop.

an Aug. 14 comment on CNN by Nancy Nord, acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency with 400 full-time staff, halved primarily during the Reagan administration because of industry complaints about the agency, and whose most recent nominee as chair was pulled by President Bush “after strong opposition from some Senate Democrats because of his career as a manufacturers’ lobbyist.”
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 15, 2007 at 9:02 pm

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Hate the press? You’re probably a Republican Fox News viewer

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The headline in Editor & Publisher screams in tabloid style: “Poll: U.S. Public Sees Media as Biased, Inaccurate and Uncaring.” But that’s not the real news to be found in the latest Pew Research Center report on the public’s views of the press.

The report says much about how the public views the press, but it says far more about the public itself and how it has become polarized in those views. Instead of assessing the Pew report for perceptions of press failures, study it to see who is critical of what and how their ideologies color their views of the press.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 10, 2007 at 3:06 pm

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Quotabull

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[C]learly this was not something that we expected to happen, given the history of this bridge, the inspection process, and how this bridge was rated.

— Mary Peters, secretary of Transportation, during an Aug. 4 White House press briefing about the collapsed Minnesota I-35W bridge that “[s]tate bridge inspectors [had] warned for nearly a decade before its collapse that the Interstate 35W bridge had ‘severe’ and ‘extensive’ corrosion of its beams and trusses, ‘widespread cracking’ in spans and missing or broken bolts … [with] certain components were ‘beyond tolerable limits’ … ”

This record is not tainted at all, at all. Period. You guys can say whatever you want.

— San Francisco Giants right fielder Barry Bonds at a press conference after breaking Hank Aaron’s career home-run record of 755 home runs Tuesday night.

Tonight, Barry Bonds etched his name into baseball’s history books and took his rightful place among the sport’s immortals. … As a season ticket holder, I am particularly glad it happened on the Giants’ Italian night.

— excerpt from statement by Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House, who represents the Eight Congressional District in California, which includes San Francisco.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 9, 2007 at 5:29 pm

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Hagel-Dodd bill to fix infrastructure a limited vision of the task

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At least one candidate and one almost-was candidate for president in 2008 believe that the United States cannot afford — through federal funding — to pay for desperately needed repairs to 160,000 bridges nationwide and other just-as-critical infrastructure needs. They want to privatize much of it, although they label the effort a “partnership.”

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room Thursday to push their National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2007 proposal. The bill leans heavily on research conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, resulting in the center’s “Guiding Principles for Strengthening America’s Infrastructure.”

Sens. Dodd and Hagel told host Wolf Blitzer that the nation’s infrastructure issues are so dire that the federal government cannot financially resolve them on its own.

That isn’t necessarily true. What they propose is a political choice. The federal government, through presidential and congressional leadership, has sufficient ability to do resolve infrastructure issues if it chooses to.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 3, 2007 at 4:34 pm

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A special White House press secretary Quotabull

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We want fresh thinking, to charge the batteries, and passionate participation. There is a lot of value added in Tony coming on board and helping us internally with his own views and ideas. It fits into the mold.

— Dan Bartlett, an adviser to President Bush, April 27, 2006, on the appointment of former Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow as White House press secretary.

The president’s message and vision are firmly in place and are not going to change. But it still helps to have a new messenger. It helps to wipe the slate clean.

— Mark McKinnon, a political adviser to President Bush, April 27, 2006, on the appointment of former Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow as White House press secretary.

Tony Snow should provide a smooth presence at the podium. But the problems that presidents have are political problems and policy problems, not press problems. But it is often the press problems that get addressed.

— Martha Joynt Kumar, a Towson University professor who studies presidential communication, April 27, 2006, on the appointment of former Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow as White House press secretary.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

August 1, 2007 at 8:05 pm

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