Monday, June 28, 2004

Conglomerates and Safe News

How safe is any democracy where a few control our information?

The New York Times for June 24, along with many newspapers in the United States, reported that “A federal appeals court on Thursday dealt a setback to the nation's largest media companies by ordering the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider the rules it issued last summer, easing the way for them to grow and enter new markets.

The Bush administration, with its “what’s good for business is good for the nationĂ‚” philosophy had hoped to make ownership of broadcast facilities even easier than it is now. So the New York Times reporter suggested “The decision was also a setback for the Bush administration, which supported easing the ownership limitations, and for Michael K. Powell, the chairman of the commission and the main architect of the new rules.” This trend toward fewer owners of communications media have “allowed companies to own as many as three television stations, eight radio stations and a cable operator, as well as a newspaper.

My concern continues to be the concentration of ownership of all media, but in particular, the electronic media. Almost everyone in the United States listens to the radio at least once each week. The same thing is true about watching TV. If just a few corporations own a bulk of the electronic media, the temptation to present lopsided information may be too great to resist. These owners are already adept at presenting what the audience wants to see and wants hear. If, for any reason, the owners want to present politics, law, current events and world affairs in the same "unworrisome" packaging . . . presenting programming that is desirable to very large audiences, an unaware audience might be deceived. If the people of the nation believe that they really know what is going on in the world and they are not aware of how a few owners control a bulk of the mass media, they may be in for a rude surprise.

It is clear that we must use every resource to provide ourselves with a balanced view of the world we live in and avoid being swept along by those more interested in profits than accurate and balanced information or freedoms.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Enrons of the Future?

Enrons of the Future?

Bernard Wasow, Martha Paskoff
The Century Foundation, 6/18/04

An overlooked but important new study has uncovered yet another ingenious sleight-of-hand that top executives have been using to enrich themselves at the expense of their employees. The report by three economists—Daniel Bergstresser and Mihir Desai of the Harvard Business School and Joshua Rauh of MIT— provides evidence that CEOs systematically manipulate their employees' pension funds for their own personal gain.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Let's Rethink Brains

When I was young, it bothered me a lot that my parents didn’t think that I could be trusted to reason through situations safely and properly. After all, how are you going to learn to think and reason unless you are allowed to do it on a regular basis? Now some recent research is coming together that is beginning to explain why my parents were so uncomfortable with my youthful reasoning. Now that I’ve lived through that time in my life and watched my children live through that time, this research makes a lot of sense.

The first paragraph of an article entitled "Getting Inside a Teen Brain" in Newsweek, February 28, 2000, Sharon Begley spells out the observable data. “You probably recognize the species: it's known for making stupid decisions... barely able to plan beyond the next minute... clueless when it comes to reading parents' facial expressions... exhibits poor self-control... seems to think with its hormones more than its brain... all thumbs when juggling several tasks. Such is Homo teenageris.”

Jay Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health: “What is most surprising is that you get a second wave of overproduction of gray matter, something that was thought to happen only in the first 18 months of life.

The first surprise came last May, with the discovery that the corpus callosum, the cable of nerves that connects the right half of the brain to the left, ‘continues growing into your 20s,’ says Giedd.

In a piece entitled “Adolescent Brains are Works in Progress” by Frontline producer Sarah Spinks: “What the researchers have found has shed light on how the brain grows and when it grows. It was thought at one time that the foundation of the brain's architecture was laid down by the time a child is five or six. Indeed, 95 percent of the structure of the brain has been formed by then. But these researchers have discovered changes in the structure of the brain that appear relatively late in child development.”

At the NIMH web site there is a review of research into the development of human brains. The article entitled, “Teenage Brain: A work in progress” the following statement is made: ”The observed late maturation of the frontal lobe conspicuously coincides with the typical age-of-onset of schizophrenia—late teens, early twenties—which, as noted earlier, is characterized by impaired ‘executive’ functioning.” This, coupled with our own observations of others and ourselves might lead us to change many of the ways we do things.

It could be that we, as a nation, need to rethink several things: 1) parenting, what is involved and how long it takes, 2) voting age, 3) drinking and driving age, 4) minimum age for marriage 5) minimum age for the death penalty and possibly 6) minimum ages for becoming a soldier. It appears that our brains finally mature somewhere in the mid-twenties.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Give Us What We Need

Mass media seems to have abandoned the charge to provide the United States with news. Instead, it spends very nearly all its time trying to build yet bigger audiences. Right now, we read, see and hear constant comments about all the wonderful things President Reagan did for America and the world. Indeed, he did many good things.

On the other hand, it is increasingly customary for reporters to insert words and ideas that don't reflect the facts nearly as much as the reflect their ideas or their "corporate ideals." Two skilled writers published columns in the New York Times commenting on this problem. Paul Krugman points out information that doesn't seem to match what is being said in the media. It isn't the job of the media to rewrite history so that we can feel less pain or gain more political strength. When reporting news, its their job to give us the facts: what is happening, where is it happening, why is it happening and who is involved.

Maureen Dowd talks about the same problem in thought in her column "Epitaph and Epigone." In our grief, we must keep our balance. In our sadness at the loss of president that could bring thousands of people to unite behind ideas, we must not misrepresent either him or his achievements. Give us the facts. Then, in clearly marked areas let our columnists and others say how they feel about what is going on.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Patterns And Education

If we look at learning, brainpower, in another way, it might help us to break out of patterns that we seem to follow year after year.

Steven Johnson in his book Emergence says, “. . .unlike most computers, the brain is a massively parallel system, with 100 billion neurons all working away at the same time. That parallelism allows the brain to perform amazing feats of pattern recognition, feats that continue to confound digital computers—such as remembering faces or creating metaphors. Because each individual neuron is so slow, Kursweil explains, ‘we don’t have time . . . to think too many new thoughts when we are pressed to make a decision. The human brain relies on precomputing its analyses and storing them for future reference. We then use our pattern-recognition capability to recognize a situation as compatible to one we have thought about and then draw upon our previously considered conclusions.’ “

Education is a process that adds and teaches students how to continue adding to the patterns their brain recognizes. Education doesn’t have to be in some school, college or university. Education is the process of adding new and varying patterns to your memory increasing your abilities to “analyze” or spot similar patterns. Education should never stop. You are your own best teacher. Next best are those with whom you travel. Never stop.