Write all the white papers you want

When environmental debates are waged, the option of nuclear energy is rarely mentioned as a potential solution despite compelling benefits.  Professor Bill Irwin at King’s College in good old Wilkes-Barre, Pa. blames television’s most famous nuclear family:

The editor of the book The Simpsons and Philosophy says television and movies about nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have also added to negative publicity surrounding nuclear power.

With such shows as The Simpsons poking fun at the nuclear industry and movies that focus on disasters, Irwin says it’s somewhat disappointing there are so many negative stereotypes in the media about nuclear power.

The pro-nuclear energy side has their advocates, of course.  The Nuclear Energy Institute is a quality group, and they make a strong case:

Nuclear energy is America’s largest source of clean-air, carbon-free electricity, producing no greenhouse gases or air pollutants. The industry’s commitment to the environment extends to protecting wildlife and their habitats.

Unfortunately, the American public is more familiar with Blinky the Fish – who makes a more direct point in a joke than NEI could in a ten-page paper:

The Year in Google

Google has released their 2009 Zeitgeist report – a summary of popular search trends along various topics.  Lists like this are usually predictable – the most-searched-for baseball team was the Yankees; the alphabet soup of AIG, GM, and TARP led bailout-related searches.

But search results can also give a good concept of popular thinking on key news topics.  For instance, the top term used in healthcare-related searches is “Obama.”  That seems to indicate that, for better or worse, people are closely identifying the President with the health care reform issue.  Also interesting is that the Heritage Foundation was the #5 search term in this category – which could mean that Americans are open to hearing alternatives to what has been circulating on Capitol Hill.

Google also looks at localized search topics for several major cities.  Movie theaters and school websites dominated the results, especially colleges.  In DC, the top term was “fcps blackboard” – the portal for the Fairfax County public school system.  This actually says a lot about the Washington, DC workforce and commuting patterns.  (I knew I had company on my daily commutes into and out of Your Nation’s Capital from Merrifield, but had no idea it was enough to alter search results; Metro clearly needs more trains.)

That education websites are so popular also notes another trend.  Around the Thanksgiving table this year, my soon-to-be brother and sister in law commented that they hadn’t seen their daughter’s recent report card, despite the marking period having ended.  They explained that they just check her grades online.

Pollsters can call voters, ask questions, track answers, and get a pretty good idea of what folks are thinking.  Still, there’s an element of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in that method – that the very act of measuring could affect the responses to poll questions.  Internet searches are somewhat anonymous.

As the old saying goes, you are who you are when no one is watching.

New Moon, Old fashioned?

Conservatives complaining about the left-leaning bias of movies and TV shows is nothing new – and with each shrill criticism comes another round of shut-up-and-just-enjoy-the-movie eye rolling.  It turns out the whining comes from both sides of the aisle.

Campus Progress is none too fond of the #1 movie of last weekend; apparently the vampire flick New Moon is rife with disturbing hidden messages. For instance, a conversation about whether werewolves are born as werewolves or whether they choose to become werewolves is decried in light of the lack of gay relationships in the movie.  On top of this is what the author calls:

“[A] disturbingly explicit anti-premarital sex message which ends the movie… despite knowing the Mormon background of Meyer, I couldn’t believe that the director and screenwriter would have let the end credits roll without undertaking some sort of criticism of the ideas espoused by the main characters in the final scene.”

It sounds like these Mormon vampires are undead-set on pushing a social agenda.  Clearly, this movie about werewolves fighting vampires must be answered; and the best way to fight speech is, as always, with speech.  Maybe the folks who agree with Campus Progress can find some way to get a movie made which deals with alternative lifestyles, or one that puts promiscuous teenagers in a more positive light.

How big was the fall of the Wall?

Today, the world commemorates the symbolic victory in the Cold War against Soviet Communism.  It is telling about the nature of humanity how that oppressive regime, despite having occasional military advantages, collapsed under its own weight.

There is no shortage of excellent intellectual commentary about what the Berlin Wall meant – and means.  But sometimes it is the mundane or non-intellectual items which put the development in the best perspective.

When the news of the wall falling broke, my fifth grade history teacher told me that it was one of the most significant events of my lifetime.  Still, it was hard for a ten-year-old to grasp history.  A few years later, I heard an Elton John song from the mid-80s with the line “The reputation / of the woman you’re datin’ / Is ’bout as nasty as the Berlin Wall.”  As poetry goes, it wasn’t Bernie Taupin’s best effort.  But the fact that the Berlin Wall was such an easy simile puts the wall itself in perspective.  It wasn’t just a dividing line – it was a kill zone for anyone seeking the fundamental human right of freedom.  Nasty indeed.

The relief the world felt after the wall unofficially ended a half-century of nuclear brinkmanship was also chronicled by songs that actually made it to the top 40 charts.  Trite?  Maybe.  There are millions people unshackled from Soviet slavery who could offer poignant, personal testimonials about what the fall of the Wall meant to them.   But what better way to see the broad impact of an event than to examine how it seeps into society’s personal time – such as art and pop culture?

J. Geils Band angles for guest spot on The Simpsons

The news that Marge Simpson will be Playboy’s Ms. November is more than an unlikely pairing of cultural icons, it is desperate grab for relevance in a changing world.

The digital age has left Playboy plodding along like it’s run by an 80 year old guy who hangs around a house all day in his bathrobe and slippers.  Pursuit of other business models is a tacit admission that the heydays of Playboy and other girlie mags are over. Taking a peek into the Bouvier boudoir – and making the issue available only at newsstands – will likely give Playboy a temporary uptick in sales and find their way into the news pages and blogosphere for a day or two.

Marge’s centerfold also gives The Simpsons a chance to re-assert their pop culture street cred in their subtle rivalry with Family Guy – but Playboy clearly needed the boost more.

Has everyone forgotten the true meaning of Columbus Day?

Today, the observed date of Columbus Day (the second Monday in October) actually coincides with the real Columbus Day, the anniversary of the day Columbus’s mini-fleet touched down in the Bahamas.  Depending on your point of view, this is either a day to celebrate or mourn.

Brown University changed their academic calender to call the past three days “Fall Weekend” – apparently choosing not to honor an explorer who charted a new path to a new world, but keeping a three-day weekend.  Other voices credit the landing of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria as the root cause of centuries of cultural clashes between natives and explorers.

The anti-Columbus sentiment has been building for decades, and has marginalized the discovery of the new world – not just in reduced participation in the holiday, but in elementary school classrooms as well.

There can be no doubt that native inhabitants of the Americas were mistreated, and it’s a black mark on Western civilization.  Blaming Columbus, though, is like blaming Henry Ford for every car accident.  Blame would better rest with someone who actually committed acts against American Indian tribes, acts such as the forcible removal of tribes from their lands to reservations, announced so benevolently by President Andrew Jackson:

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.

Not only does Jackson get a free pass on his role in the Trail of Tears, we honor him on the $20 bill – not to mention yearly tributes to him (and a guy who kept slaves) from local Democrat parties.

Christopher Columbus himself was no saint, despite the bravery and skill he exhibited in opening up passage to the New World.  Even Columbus’s celebrants freely admit his flaws.  But it isn’t much of a stretch to have a federal holiday to honor the positive achievements of a flawed individual – in fact, there’s one every January.  Just as overlooking Columbus’s flaws would lead to an incomplete view of history, so too would overlooking his achievements.

Happy Columbus Day.

In support of Capitalism

There’s no way to protest capitalism like champagne in a penthouse.  That’s how the afterparty for the premiere of Michael Moore’s newest movie, Capitalism: A Love Story supposedly went down.

This stunt invites the typical criticism of Moore: that he’s a hypocrite enamored with the idea of himself as a Hollywood star.  He’s an easy target for ridicule from the right, and his methods are questionable, but that’s not why Moore fails as a filmmaker.  Moore’s shortcoming is in the types of movies he makes.

Ever see Canadian Bacon?  It’s a great movie about the military industrial complex hijacking the US government written and directed by Michael Moore.  There’s a strong anti-military undercurrent if you are looking for social commentary; if you aren’t, it’s just a funny movie that paints the picture of a country bought and sold by military contractors.

Could a similar movie have gotten Moore’s points across better than Bowling for Columbine or Sicko?  Probably – just as a novel is more memorable than a textbook.  Of course, that may not be Moore’s goal.  Perhaps he is trying to be the conscience of Hollywood – the compass which gives direction to other movies which hit the same themes.  In DC, the analogy might be to think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or Center for American Progress supplying research and ideas to political candidates.

Either way, come October 2, Michael Moore’s movie is coming to a theater near you.  I’m looking forward to it.  And the irony of decrying capitalism in a venue which costs $10 in admission will not likely be lost.

Reach out and touch a hornet’s nest

A simple move by AT&T to block part of a website which most of us have never seen may spark a broad debate over how we get access to the internet.

4chan is more than a home for crude images; it is also a hub of online mavens and connectors – part community, part cultural incubator.  Now-ubiquitous internet themes and memes – like the phrase “epic fail,” those “I can has cheezburger?” LOL cats, and of course, the Rickroll – all originated on 4chan’s message boards before spreading to all corners of the internet.  So when AT&T partially pulled the plug on access to some parts of 4chan for their DSL subscribers, it was only a matter of time before word was spread far and wide (digitally, at least).

DailyKos actually has a pretty good timeline on what happened as well as the ongoing conversation – much of which includes calls to action against AT&T.  Lost among the various accounts is a report – mentioned in a 4chan community alert on YouTube – that AT&T may have blocked sections of the site due to child pornography.  And when AT&T finally announced the reasoning behind the shutdown, they blamed hacker attacks that appeared to be originating from a 4chan IP address.

Either way, the controversy has stirred up the debate over net neutrality – the idea that the government would make it illegal for an internet provider, like AT&T, to regulate internet traffic by prioritizing some destinations or users.  Of course, if the service provider isn’t acting as the traffic cop, someone will – which will make entities like Google and Facebook more influential in what content you see (which is a big reason companies like Google tend to love net neutrality).

The debate is, however, moot in many ways.  Very passionate members of the 4chan community – as well as their sympathizers – discussed ways to take action and make their voices heard, including the contact information of top AT&T executives.  Regardless of what federal regulations are or are not in place, nothing moves a company like dissatisfied customers.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I work for a company whose parent company has AT&T as a client.  Though I have offered strategic advice on the account, including offering my take on some of the issues discussed above, I’ve never executed any actual projects for them.)

Slowing down the media cycle

From 24-hour cable news to constantly-updated online news sources to social networks like Twitter and Facebook, it seems like our information comes at us in streams.  (And come to think of it, a fire hose may be a more appropriate metaphor than a stream.)  Conceptual artist Jonathan Keats is slowing the information cycle down on the cover of the most recent issue of Opium Magazine, where he has printed “the longest story ever told.”

Though the actual story is only nine words long, the printing process was done in such a way that each word will be revealed only as the ink fades – which, if their calculations are correct, will expose just one word every hundred years.

As if underscoring Keats’s point, my first reaction was to wonder if I could find a spoiler online.