Saturday, December 22, 2007

Taser Humor + Steroids 'R Us + One Laptop Per Child

Watching TV today as a way of diverting my attention from this cough that is drilling straight up through my throat, I had to turn off CNN, after watching correspondent Fredricka Whitfield giggling like a teenager on whippets over a video clip of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer screaming out the phrase "Don't Tase me, Bro!" just before out of control security guards Tasered him this past September 17. His transgression, you may remember, was pressing that hapless boob Senator John Kerry at a university forum. Anchor T. J. Holmes had initially responded to the Meyer cry clip, which he announced had been named the year's most memorable quote by the Yale Book of Quotations, by pitying the rambling, incoherent reply Miss Teen South Carolina, Caitlin Upton, gave at this past year's Miss Teen America competition. But he quickly joined in the giggling as well. Last night, I saw WPIX anchors Lolita Lopez and Jim Watkins chuckling heartily over the same clip. Assuming these people are not all psychopaths, is watching someone being violently assaulted by cops wielding a potentially lethal electrical device that funny? Are these people that jaded and desensitized, is Tasering people that passé? Yes, I know that we're living in a time in which not only police brutality, but state-sanctioned brutality and torture, have become so normalized they barely merit public comment, let alone outrage, but still, the drollery disturbed the hell out of me. Which makes me wonder: am I being too sensitive, serious? Or is it that the detached, zombified, overpaid media bobbleheads emblematic of so much that's wrong with our media and our society?

UPDATE: Digby notes another appalling CNN moment, this time involving anchor Kyra Phillips, who indifferently described and downplayed the fact that police were attacking the people protesting the Department of Housing and Urban Development's plans to demolish several longstanding housing projects in New Orleans. She then slanted her on-air riff to openly defend the police, using tortured and disengaged language to describe the assaults on the protesters. (I should add that my great uncle has worked for HUD for many years, and is none too fond of the clown now running it, the scandal-plagued Alphonso Jackson, the other Black person in W's Cabinet of Horrors.) One of the commenters in the Digby thread points out that the New York Times's architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff recently penned an excellent piece criticizing HUD's terrible plans. Ourousoff argues that HUD is failing not only to recognize the value of the architecture it seeks to destroy and replace with shoddier, less hurricane-worthy housing in a misguided fantasy of suburbanizing the city, but also to acknowledge the symbolic and social violence of the plans as well. He writes:

The agency refuses to make distinctions between the worst of the housing projects and those, like Lafitte, that could be at least partly salvaged. Nor will it acknowledge the trauma it causes by boarding up and then eradicating entire communities in a reeling city.

In an eerie echo of the slum clearance projects of the 1960s, government officials are once again denying that these projects and communities can be salvaged through a human, incremental approach to planning. For them, only demolition will do.

The difference between then and now is what will exist once the land is cleared. If the urban renewal projects of the 1960s replaced decaying historic neighborhoods with vast warehouses for the poor, HUD’s vision would yield saccharine, suburban-style houses. And the situation is likely to get worse. The government has identified some other historically important public buildings for demolition as part of its push for privatization. Charity Hospital, an Art Deco structure built downtown in the late 1930s, was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, and its fate is uncertain.

I cannot say it enough, but the crimes against the city and people of New Orleans embody everything that is wrong with this administration and this country we're living in.


Sammy Sosa and sonsI've passed on commenting on Major League Baseball's very flawed Mitchell Report, which despite its flawed methodology has revealed that a far wider array of major league baseball players than previously assumed were using various kinds of performance enhancement drugs, while the owners, the players union and other players, and the MLB hierarchy looked the other way. One immediate effect of this news, and subsequent reports, should be that fanatical sportswriters need to issue a collective, stentorian apology to Barry Bonds, who has been crucified in the media for denying being a roider, and then to Sammy Sosa (at right, from the Monaga Blog) who until the most recent news about pitcher Jason Grimsley's affidavit, had not been tied conclusively to any performance enhancement drug use.

The false shock and piety, which is to say, sanctimony, from people in the baseball world, including former baseball owner and public welfare maven George W., was totally predictable. What I'm still waiting for some of these folks to admit is how much baseball benefitted from the bulked up stats, and the fact that players began earning outsized salaries compared to other professions in the early 1980s if they made the major leagues and could sustain even a modest career, so there was every incentive to juice up. There still is. For hitting a ball around a field or getting it over the plate, baseball players earn more than most CEOs, who are grossly overpaid as it is. The truth is, an entire era, up through now, will have to be viewed with "enhancements" as the norm, rather than the exceptions. This new realization must be taken into account with all of the stats and records set or none of them. Before steroids there were amphetamines, which still exist, and who knows what someone is cooking up in a laboratory even as I type these words. "Clear" was out there for a while before track and field's authorities discovered it, and only they did so as quickly as they did only with the help of whistleblowers. So long as the financial incentives exist to cheat, people will do so. My question is, who really believes that baseball is the only sport where this is a serious problem? What about the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and every other sport where chemical enhancement gives athletes an edge? Could the Beijing Olympics possibly be clean? I doubt it.

Which leads me to this link, from the Dallas Morning News: "More professionals, students using brain performance enhancing drugs." Business people, musicians, professional gamers,'s definitely not just pro athletes, but our society in general that needs to undergo more thorough self-analysis and critique....


Yesterday brought a pleasant surprise: an XO computer arrived in the mail, though I'd hardly expected to see it anytime soon. The computer is the result of my participation in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, the brainchild of visionary MIT professor and Media Laboratory founder and former head Nicholas Negroponte, who decided to develop affordable, networkable computers to empower children in the developing world. The original prototype, which I blogged about here two years ago, has been modified to some extent, but the model I received is a robust, fully loaded little portable machine containing an easy-to-figure, Graphical User Interface (GUI) atop a Linux platform. The software includes a browser, a writing program, several layers of music-making software (which I sampled right away), a recording studio with a camera (for photos, videos and audio--that's me, at left, on screen, photographing myself photographing myself), lots of games, a basic programming tutorial, and the means for children to network with others very easily, either in class or outside it. In fact, I could see children getting started on these machines swiftly and learning not only to write, but to create group projects, make music and visual art projects, create mathematical and statistical programs, write software programs, and even learn to repair their computers and troubleshoot hardware problems.

The XO has great Wifi capability (in fact, its literature say it's a fulltime wireless router), and after C added its MAC address to the base stations here, I was on the less than 5 minutes. It also easily links to local networks and fosters their creation. It has ports for a microphone (in), headphones (out), and USB-connective devices, a slot for memory upgrades, no harddrive, and only two internal cables--and it saves all projects unless you delete them. The computer's CPU suspends its CPU operation selective, allowing it amazing power savings, or about 1/10th of what a standard laptop consumes. This aspect of the computer mirrors its battery, which lasts between 6-8 hours with average use and can be recharged using a variable energy powercord, as well as via a crank or a solar or wind-powered source, to facilitate use in the many countries where electricity is a premium. The screen rotates so that it can function as an e-book, and the overall machine is compact enough that it can fit in a backpack and appears to be fairly robust, though real world use will probably assist its manufacturers in making it even more so. The only drawback I can see so far is the tiny keyboard, which is perfect for children but a challenge for anyone with larger fingers--but that's the point, this is a computer for children, though I can foresee someone down the road creating something along these lines, affordable and very robust, for adults as well. I certainly hope someone does, because the XO is a sweet little machine.

All in all I think Negroponte's idea was a remarkable one, and I'm very interested to see how the OLPC program unfolds. So far, from what I can tell, it has worked out pretty well where it's been implemented. The computers have been piloted in Nigeria, Brazil, Thailand, Peru, Uruguay, and India, and I sincerely hope that they can be offered to children in many more countries. Here's a quote from one child in Nigeria:

“I use my computer very carefully so that it will not spoil. I use it to type, I use it to write, I use it to draw, I use it to play games... I'm using my computer at home to type assignments.” — T. (Primary 4), Galadima School, Abuja, Nigeria

If you'd like to learn more, you can click on the link above, and if you think you'd like to contribute to the program, donate a computer or volunteer your time and services, click here. If you know of people who write open source, educationally-oriented software that might children can use, please urge them to contact OPLC as well.×


  1. Hi John,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog recently and leaving a comment! I'm glad to find your blog here, too! I can't wait until I get my OLPC laptop. How is it? Chennessy @

  2. It's a great little machine, which requires a bit of practice but which I bet a child could quickly grow to love. What's most amazing about it to me is its robustness. Review the wiki to figure out some of the kinks, like how to get out of full-screen mode in Browser....

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