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Animal Tool Use

It's impressive watching animals use tools, particularly animals one does not expect to use tools. (If anyone's visiting after the link is long dead, this is a BBCNews Science blurb about octopi digging out coconut shells and walking(!) awkwardly off with them to use them as homes - it's neat that this made the front page on their site)

Balkan Beat Box - very good music (anyone who likes Firewater or Klezmer music would probably dig it).

Been thinking a bit more about the deficiency of FoxNews as a news organisation, after having seen bits of some other channels. Is it that news was once "straight" and that their network isn't? Maybe, but if so, it was only "straight" for a time - in times long distant (say 60 years in both directions from the founding of the US), news was not generally that straight, and the personalities of press owners were well known and were reflected in their newsletters and other publications. If we call that the "early times of modern journalism" (maybe the term modern journalism doesn't fit there, but let's say it does for now), eventually there was a development of a certain consensus on journalistic ethics and a certain style where personality mattered less and content was usually phrased without a strong particular judgement based on differences in perspective (no strong party or philosophy orientation) - topics were based on broad interest, rigorous and reasonably broad factchecking replaced cherry-picking, and the only systemic perspective was a cynical "people will try to manipulate other people and the news and we want to expose them when they try" one. Let's call this the "middle ages of modern journalism. We identify that period coming to a close when media consolidation begins to pick up steam - newspapers (and eventually other media) become owned in bulk by a few people; AP, UPI, Reuters, and a few other organisations create economies of scale that reduce the numbers of reporters. The industry begins to hollow out, while small newsletters that never bought into modern journalism experiment with moving upwards in scale again, giving us "late middle modern journalism". The combination of consolidation, regrowth of small media, internet news, spectacular failures of the educational system causing loss of interest in news, and growing perspective gaps (polarisation making "neutral" unpaletable) among american society eventually begin to collapse the financial model of the now very central news organisations, bringing us to the modern time.

Is Fox ahistorical? It probably would've fit in well with early media organisations in the US (at least in its practices - its political perspective didn't really exist back then). It would not fit with what I call middle modern journalism - it fails both by failing to have an adequate wall between commentary and journalism (in an ideal world, the commentary would be on a separate channel on TV) and its news content has a definite and strong perspective. In an ideal world, it might operate under the maxim of "if you don't have to ask my politics on casual viewing, I am doing journalism wrong", but it does not.

That said, I disagree with certain Obama administration officials who say that it acts as an unofficial branch of the Republican party - Fox is a particular flavour of conservative, ideologically - it does not line up perfectly with the medium-size tent of the Republican party (the current form of the "William F Buckley consensus") that tries to cover a reasonable portion of that space. It has a definite and strong political perspective that comes out in its news and commentary, but in the long run it acts not to reinforce the Republican party so much as redefine it (we might imagine Rupert Murdoch as attempting to redo that consensus based on conservative Australian lines).

There are a variety of ways we could've attempted to fix this 20 years ago - having a different tax status for pure-news stations, overseen by instutitions aiming to regulate journalistic integrity (as the Bar associations regulate lawyers). The idea would not be unprecedented - in the very early US, there was a special postal status (costs based solely on the amount of advertising) for political journals, with several founding fathers explicitly discussing the importance and role of journalism in a democracy and aiming to shape the markets and institutions to make it as vibrant as possible (as irrelevant as it should be what the founding fathers thought, maybe it's important that people occasionally bring up their positions when discussing these matters so cherry-picking free-market-fundies don't paint them all as being just like them? Hard to say - we really should want to shoot down that line of reasoning and move on as soon as possible). Alternatively or additionally, if we had fixed our pre-university educational system (somehow - this is a major topic on which I'm probably not qualified to talk), perhaps the appetite for (non self-flattering) news would be better (although the transition to internet technologies and the supply issues would still be concerns).

Thinking again about 470 and the WV/PA/OH borders there, it might be interesting to visit Wheeling someday. This area of the country has an interesting set of small towns... (not as interesting as Arkham and surrounding towns in Mass's Miskatonic River-Valley, but few places are)


I like BBB.

I stopped in Wheeling for coffee and gas either on the way to Pittsburgh once, or on the way back. The small area I saw was pleasant, with old buildings and not too much traffic.