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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

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Posted in Uncategorized

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

Posted in Uncategorized