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Monday, May 31, 2004  

Technology: The Digital Home

Does a refrigerator really need an Internet connection? That is the kind of question I'm asking myself more and more often as I continue to read articles about The Digital Home. The high tech geek part of my personality latched on to the topic about four years ago and hasn't let go. Much of what is being said about TDH has changed during that time because early ideas about poducts turned out to be vaporware, or, new technology outpaced them. A look through aging editions of MacWorld, Business 2.0 and Wired is telling since many of the innovations suggested relied on wired Ethernet or old phone network connections. Now, the emphasis is on going wireless.

Before we go on, let me clarify what I mean by The Digital Home. ZDNet's Anchordesk has a current piece that familiarizes readers with what the concept is and where it is going.

SEOUL, South Korea -- At the Samsung Tower Palace, even the refrigerators are logged onto the Net.

The luxury apartment complex here is a showcase for Samsung Electronics' burgeoning digital home business -- an idea that once was dismissed as a pie-in-the-sky but now is starting to gain traction. Besides refrigerators, Samsung Tower's $1 million-plus apartments are outfitted with Internet-enabled ovens, security cameras and wall-mounted flat-panel displays.

Samsung has sold more than 6,000 networked homes in South Korea, and now it's eager to export its success. The company has tests under way in Canada, Australia and Europe, and it recently struck deals with two U.S.-based home builders to conduct digital home trials in the United States. According to Samsung, wiring homes in the United States with the necessary networking gear will cost from $2,000 to $10,000--making adoption relatively affordable.

The basic concept of TDH is that consumers will benefit from having just about every electrical appliance in their abodes connected to the Internet. The success of high speed Internet access -- digital subscriber lines and cable -- is making the idea seem more and more achievable. Improved 802.11 (WiFi) connectability will make that even more so. A pragmatic use of TDH is a product like a media adapter. Linksys explains why one might want to use such a product.

The Wireless-B Media Adapter sits by your home stereo and television and connects to them using standard consumer electronics cables. Then it connects to your home network by Wireless-B (802.11b) wireless networking, or if you prefer, it can be connected via standard 10/100 Ethernet cabling. Using the included remote control and the user-friendly menus on your TV, you can browse through the digital pictures on your computer by folder, filename, or thumbnail.

. . .You can also use the remote to browse your MP3 or WMA formatted music collection by title, artist, genre, folder, or playlist.

However, it seems to me that designers are putting the cart ahead of the donkey much of the time. Consider this description of an Internet ice box.

LG Electronics' Digital Multimedia Side-By-Side Fridge Freezer with LCD Display was one of the first available products; its features include a touch screen in a 15.1-inch thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT-LCD ) and its own LAN (local area network) port. This refrigerator can keep track of what foods are stored in it and how long they've been there. There's a built-in video camera, so you can leave video memos for other household members, and a built-in digital camera, so you can take a photograph and save it to an album, post it to a Web site, or send it out to an e-mail recipient. You can also watch television, play MP3 files, or listen to the radio.

Some of the uses of TDH products, such as the media adapter and its predecessor, the wireless music adapter, make sense. A New York Times story which described how having computers in rooms other than the home office or livingroom, including the kitchen, increases the likelihood of their actually being used instead of gathering dust was convincing. I can also relate to having some appliances connectable to the Internet so they can be accessed for troubleshooting. However, The Digital Home loses me at the point when the frig and the microwave are supposed to call home. Most appliances don't fail often enough for such access to be necessary. It strikes me as technology in search of a need. I get the same feeling thinking about TDH that I do browsing the Sharper Image catalog or hanging out in the store. Yes, some of these inventions are gee whiz clever, I think, but they are also easily done without because they serve no even semi-pressing need. It seems to me that the tenants of Samsung Tower Palace could surely find more practical ways to spend their money -- unless pointless consumption is the point.

Reasonably related

•There is a a magazine dedicated to The Digital Home.

Intel offers a series of articles and white papers on The Digital Home technology.

•A consortium called Digital Home Working Group is attempting to establish standards for products and champion interoperability.

6:30 PM

Saturday, May 29, 2004  

News: Tillman fell to friendly fire

In an effort to explain why I think the word 'hero' is often misused, I offered several hypothetical situations involving the death of former National Football League player Pat Tillman a few weeks ago. The discussion, at a Right Wing blog, occurred before the luster on the word 'hero' had been eroded by revelations that American troops in Iraq have been torturing helpless Iraqi detainees. Along with a couple allies, I was roundly condemned for not declaring Tillman a hero. It appears that one of my examples of non-heroic death in the military, an accidental shooting by a comrade, is the truth about what happened to the pro athlete turned soldier.

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Pat Tillman was probably killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after a U.S. solider mistakenly shot at an Afghan soldier in the former NFL player's unit, military officials said Saturday.

Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Previous military statements suggested he was killed by enemy fire.

According to an Army investigation, Tillman was shot to death on April 22 after the friendly Afghan soldier in Tillman's unit was mistakenly fired upon, and other U.S. soldiers then fired in the same direction.

. . .But an Afghan military official told The Associated Press on Saturday that Tillman died because of a ``misunderstanding'' when two mixed groups of American and Afghan soldiers began firing wildly in the confusion following a land mine explosion.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Afghan official said, ``(There) were no enemy forces'' present when Tillman died.

The circumstances of Tillman's death do not detract from his willingness to put his body where his mouth was. Many people who share his Right Wing politics eschew any actions that might put them at risk. Other people are supposed to sacrifice themselves to protect them. Pat Tillman was not a coward. But, based on what is now known, I cannot say he is a hero, either. Tillman died because of an accidental shooting. He was not in the process of sacrificing his interests for anyone else's at the time, the key component of being a hero.

I hope that any American personnel or agents who performed ineptly at the time will be disciplined appropriately. The needlessness of Tillman's death should not be ignored.

Reasonably related

Why did white, middle-class America want Pat Tillman to be a hero?

6:00 PM

Thursday, May 27, 2004  

Blogospherics: Time and the blogger

A reporter for the New York Times recently visited with some bloggers and discovered they have problems. Wait! Don't go! Jumping to the conclusion that a newspaper is bashing blogging again doesn't solve anything, you know. Besides, Katie Hafner, writing for the NYT, is mainly right. Much of what ails the bloggers profiled in the story turns on time. Readers' time. But, of more importance, bloggers.' How much time should bloggers put into preparing material that only four percent of Internet users will even glance at, anyway? Which comes first - blogging or work? Are there times when one should not blog at all?

To celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

"I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.

Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

"It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.

Wiggins, the Bathroom Blogger, acknowledges having few readers. He also admits that he makes no money from his blog. Still, he devotes numerous hours per week to it.

Entertainment blogger Tony Pierce has plenty of readers, probably because he posts cheesecake photographs of women to his blog. But, having a lot of readers can can be a problem, too. No one should feel that he or she has to blog, which Pierce, and some bloggers I know, do. It becomes an obligation. They feel like they are skipping out on what is expected of them if they don't do it.

Where some frequent bloggers might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Pierce is more realistic. "I wouldn't call it dedicated, I would call it a problem," he said. "If this were beer, I'd be an alcoholic."

But, Wiggins may beat him in blogging pathology still. He has actually passed up renumerated activity to blog for free.

Mr. Wiggins has missed deadline after deadline at Searcher, an online periodical for which he is a paid contributor.

Barbara Quint, the editor of the magazine, said she did all she could to get him to deliver his columns on time. Then she discovered that Mr. Wiggins was busily posting articles to his blog instead of sending her the ones he had promised, she said. "Here he is working all night on something read by five second cousins and a dog, and I'm willing to pay him," she said.

Other bloggers in the article echo Wiggins' and Pierce's problems or expand on them. A researcher who has considered blogging thinks it may come down to delusion. Bloggers create a sense of productivity by their continual activity and having a tangible result to point to. The communal nature of blogging can actually make the situation worse by creating the impression that 'everyone is doing it.'

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.

The procrastination, said Scott Lederer, 31, a fellow graduate student with Mr. Hall, has a collective feel to it. "You feel like you're participating in something important, because we're all doing it together," he said.

The echo chamber aspect of the blogosphere leads people to believe they are having a much more significant impact on others, and society, than they are. So, I think it is a good idea to rely on other forms of communication, remembering the blogosphere is tiny. When I find myself reading fewer newspapers, magazines and books, I make a point of easing up on the blog reading and writing and going back to those sources of information and insight. Their publishers have the resources to invest into real mining of information that bloggers don't. I believe anyone who relies on the blogosphere for most or all of his information is depriving himself of factual content, largely missing from it.

I haven't experienced the tendency to give personal relationships short shrift that some of the bloggers in the article describe. They say they find themselves spending time they would use interacting with other people blogging instead. However, the answer to those dilemmas seems rather clear. If you are neglecting your job, your significant other or your child to blog, I think you should have stopped blogging yesterday. It is not nearly as important as any of those. The content of nearly all blogs will prove to be ephemeral. Your need to pay the bills, your marriage and your children will not.

Some people like to believe whatever they're involved in is perfect. I've always been skeptical about that attitude. Everything I've ever done had its pitfalls. I believe it behooves anyone who blogs or reads blogs to consider what the medium is, does and means. Reading Hafner's article, and others like it, can provide worthwhile food for thought. At the very least, it will make you think about how you spend your blogging and/or blog reading time.

5:59 PM

Wednesday, May 19, 2004  

Health: Anesthesia failure hurts

I don't drug easily. Normal dosages of anesthesia doesn't take with me. Never have. I felt just about everything during a surgery as a teenager and again when I had my wisdom teeth removed at 19. I suffered in silence. But, I was well-informed enough to raise the issue with doctors in later years. Needing large does of anesthesia continues to be a problem mainly in regard to dentistry. I have known most ot the endo I've had intimately. Those root canals have been so painful that I prefer breaking my ankle. At least that pain ended quickly. So, I fully support a woman who has made a crusade of informing the public and the medical community that not every patient is out when she is down.

McLEAN, Va. (AP) - The pain in Carol Weihrer's eye was so severe she decided to have it surgically removed, believing it was the only way to get on with life.

Instead, the surgery was the beginning of an unending nightmare. Her anesthesia failed, leaving her awake but paralyzed for a five-hour surgery in which doctors cut and gouged to remove her right eye.

``You feel really grueling pulling on your eye, but you can't move to relieve the pressure,'' Weihrer said recently.

She felt no pain from the cutting, because the painkilling portion of the anesthesia was effective. But the tremendous pressure exerted to remove the eye was painful in its own way.

I agree with Weihrer that what one feels when inadequately drugged during surgery is often excessive pressure -- pulling or pressing down to the point that you thinks something has to give. Except when it comes to mouth surgery. What I feel then is just plain pain. The paralysis the drugs cause makes it impossible to complain.

I've had some success with doctors when I say I need high doses of anesthesia. However, dentists' balk. I guess they get so many people who complain about ordinary discomfort they don't believe the handful who have a legitimate problem with anesthesia. Another possiblity may be they think patients who seek additional medication, particularly post-op, are drug addicts. I've had several experiences when I got that impression.

Weihrer is spreading the word that the problem is real.

Since her ordeal in 1998, which brought her an out-of-court settlement, she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeps in a chair because lying down triggers the feelings of fear and helplessness.

Weihrer, who lives in Reston, has since dedicated her life to warning of the dangers of anesthesia awareness and agitating for changes in how doctors monitor a patient's consciousness.

She has won significant attention in the medical community, but some anesthesiologists worry her campaign may be causing undue fear.

Roger Litwiller, a Roanoke anesthesiologist and president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, said it's important to keep the issue in perspective - that awareness during surgery occurs only in about one or two of every 1,000 procedures.

One or two people per thousand for full awareness when supposedly anesthesized seems like a rather high number of patients to me. I have not seen estimates of the number of people who are semi-aware. I suspect the ASA is more concerned about its image than what may be a widespread and painful problem. The organization also dismisses the suggestion that a device that can identify wakefulness in a supposedly drugged patient be used.

As for prevention, Weihrer points to a simple, relatively inexpensive brain activity monitor.

The technology, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, is called a bispectral index (BIS) monitor. The theory is that if a patient is awake but paralyzed, it will show a high level of awareness to alert the anesthesiologist to adjust the medication and put the patient to sleep.

Litwiller contends the research is inconclusive on a BIS monitor's usefulness to an anesthesiologist.

I have been putting off an operation to remove a defective cornea for more than a year. Part of the reason for the delay is that I fear being paralyzed under anesthesia and in pain. One of the criteria for choosing a doctor for the surgery will be the availability of a BIS monitor.

I wish Weihrer the best in her crusade for anesthesia awareness.

Reasonably related

•More information about failure of anesthesia.

•The Anesthesia Awareness homepage.

6:42 AM

Monday, May 17, 2004  

News and analysis: Goldschmidt betrayed all

A regional story I'm following is about a former Portland mayor, Oregon governor and member of President Jimmy Carter's administration. Neil Goldschmidt carried on a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl while he was in his thirties and mayor of Portland. The local alternative weekly finally reported what happened last week -- 30 years after the events. The Oregonian, known for its chummy relationship with the business community, provided a platform for Goldschmidt to try to wriggle out of responsibility. Once he learned another medium was about to publish a well-researched article about the sexual predation, Goldschmidt hurriedly 'confessed'. The crafty old power broker used the Oregonian to color the molestation an 'affair.' He masterfully spun the episode and coverup so that he appeared to be the victim. Molestation of a minor is a felony in Oregon.

The woman's life went down the drain after the three-year period of molestation and a subsequent rape. She is permanently mentally disabled. Meanwhile, Goldschmidt prospered, becoming an extremely wealthy lobbyist for big business. The Seattle Times described his impact on Pacific Northwest politics.

The revelations dramatically end the career of one of Oregon's most influential public figures. At age 32, he became the nation's youngest big-city mayor, going on to become transportation secretary for the Carter administration and Oregon governor from 1986 to 1990. He was an executive with Nike and has been a successful international trade consultant since the early 1990s.

People usually prefer to identify with the victors, not the victims. Much of commentary about the episode posted at Willamette Week, which broke the story, supports Goldschmidt. Some people say the exploitation of the child -- both a felony and a violation of the public trust -- should have remained a secret. Several persons blame the woman, saying she must be a grifter or seducer. It doesn't seem to matter that she was in junior high school when the episode occurred. The most strikng reason to side with a powerful man offered is that he is a liberal and a Democrat. The commenter says that Willamette Week should not have published the article because of its liberal editorial stance.

Posted by James on Saturday, May 8 2004

Liberal Newspaper Deals Out Conservat[i]ve Victory

The Willamette Week is a paper that is read primarily by common Portland liberals, but with this article, you work against yourselves and inflict extreme damage to the Oregon Democratic Party. This story should never have been published. If you people consider yourselves democrats , then you must certainly are also hipocrites. Go get real jobs. This kind of newsreporting is the equivalent of flipping hamburgers. I will never read the Willamette Week again. [Unedited, except for title.]

'James' and some others continue on in that vein. As if those of us who consider ourselves on the Left wing of political spectrum don't already know that we have our share of miscreants among us, and, that some of them are our leaders. It matters not a whit that Goldschmidt was a liberal Democrat during his political career. He was also a child molester. To refrain from reporting the story if one is a journalist or to refrain from holding Goldschmidt responsible because one is a liberal would be the height of hypocrisy. Felonous behavior overrules political considerations. It is amazing that there are people too myopic to see such an obvious truth.

Willamette Week's cover story describing how a popular, powerful man molested a powerless minor, and kept the situation secret for three decades, is a fine example of investigative reporting. I urge you to read it.

9:15 PM

Thursday, May 13, 2004  

News: Berg's journey described and disputed

I am not going to claim to know The Truth about how Nick Berg came to be where he was when he fell into the hands of Al Qaeda. Though I've read all I could about the Berg situation, what I see emerging is not The Truth, but several truths, and probably some untruths, too. They will be sorted out in the press, and, likely, in a court of law.

Berg's elderly father, Michael, has courageously spoken out before and after his son's decapitation by zealots. He believes the government of the United States could have done more to help a stranger in a strange land.

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The father of Nick Berg, the American beheaded in Iraq, directly blamed President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday for his son's death.

"My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this," Berg said in an interview with radio station KYW-AM.

The grief-stricken father seems to be at least partly right about the logistics. Nick Berg was picked up by the Iraqi police, jailed and questioned -- just like Iraqis are, in March. The military and the FBI thought him 'suspicious.' His family believes he would have left Iraq before the tragic event if he had not been delayed by the incarceration. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they did not jail Berg. That may be technically true. The facility Berg was held in is under Iraqi administration. But, the superiors of the Iraqis there, and at other penal facilities in Iraq, are the mainly American occupation forces.

Michael Berg rejected U.S. government claims that his son had never been held by American authorities in Iraq. The Iraqi police chief in the city of Mosul has also contradicted statements by the U.S.-led coalition concerning the younger Berg's detention.

"I have a written statement from the State Department in Baghdad ... saying that my son was being held by the military," Berg said. "I can also assure you that the FBI came to my house on March 31 and told me that the FBI had him in Mosul in an Iraqi prison."

Dan Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, said this week that Nick Berg was arrested in Mosul by Iraqi police on March 24 and released on April 6.

The parties seem to agree on Berg's movements after his release.

Berg returned to Baghdad from Mosul in April and went missing on April 9, during a chaotic period when dozens of foreigners were snatched by guerrillas west of the capital.

His body was discovered by a road near Baghdad on Saturday. The video of his decapitation was posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

Berg was on his second trip to Iraq. He had visited Baghdad from late December to Feb. 1. He returned in March, hoping to further a business venture. He would have left at the end of that month if fate had not intervened.

Berg's communications to his parents stopped on March 24 and he told them later he was jailed by Iraqi officials after being picked up at a checkpoint in Mosul.

On April 5, the Bergs filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, naming Rumsfeld and alleging their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military in Iraq. The next day, he was released.

It is apparently true that the government and Berg were involved with each other, at the very least. I expect that point to be ceded eventually.

Some of the material reported here is from a heartrending story the New York Times published about Berg yesterday. I encourage everyone to read it. (If you aren't a member, the article has been reprinted by the Wilmington Star.) One thing you will take away from the piece is an understanding that -- as is true in most messes -- there's quite a chain of causality. The terrorists are the proximate cause of his death, but all kinds of mistakes appear to have been made. A second advantage of reading this story is that you will come to know Nick Berg, to the extent strangers can know a man they never met. The redhead from Philadelphia comes across as impetuous, adventuresome, nonjudgmental and stubborn. I believe the best memorial to a deceased person is recognizing his or her individuality. Berg will be more than a name or a gruesome image after you read this article.

11:45 PM

Wednesday, May 12, 2004  

Internet: Information on beheading is a mixed bag

Curt Fisher, writing at The Apologist, made me curious about how long a person who is beheaded remains conscious. Of course, the current event that sparked my interest is the decapitation of American civilian Nick Berg in Iraq by terrorists yesterday. It is difficult to imagine a more terrifying way to face death, especially if the executioners eschew medication, as Al Qaeda appears to have.

I found myself wondering: Does the mind know what is happening? How long does the brain continue to process information after the decapitation? Is the pain so overwhelming that any kind of reasoned response to it is impossible?

Fisher approached the matter as a physical and philosophical concern.

Does Beheading Hurt?

On many levels, it's one of life's great unanswerables. Does beheading hurt? Who would know?

On a spiritual level, many would agree, beheading hurts us all. It's designed to. The mere sight of a severed head seals itself into every witness; always we wonder as we tug at our throats: But does it hurt? Is there pain? Does the brain remain aware?

Yes to all. Yes, it hurts very much to have your head cut off, and the longer it takes, the worse it hurts. Once your spinal cord is cut and your head is severed you will continue to experience the full spectrum of pain, without the heavenly numb of shock-absorbing chemicals, which are back there with your body. You can't talk, of course, but you can move your lips and appear to scream, and you can focus and blink your eyes, as proved by dozens of deathhouse deals.

A severed head is conscious, and in some ways hyperconscious. The head knows it's been picked up by the hair and shown to the crowd. The head sees the crowd, hears the crowd, smells the breath of the executioner, thinks happy thoughts, cannot believe how long 40 seconds is, because 40 seconds is how long the average head remains fully aware, if not alive. Forty seconds of indescribable pain and horror.

Wanting more information, I decided to delve deeper. Unfortunately, as is usually the case on the Internet, opinion is much easier to find than facts. Some of the entries I've read are clearly a mixture.

Among the sites claiming to provide information is New Scientist, which Fisher linked to.

Does beheading hurt? And, if so, for how long is the severed head aware of its plight?

Yes, beheading hurts. How much depends on the executioner's skill, or lack of it.

When Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Fotheringay Castle in 1587, a clumsy headsman gave her three strokes without quite managing to sever her head. The headsman then had to saw though the skin and gristle with his sheath knife before the job could be regarded as complete. The profound, protracted groan Mary gave when the axe first hit left the horrified witnesses in no doubt that her pain was excruciating.

How long is the interval of consciousness after the head is severed? In France, in the days of the guillotine, some of the condemned were asked to blink their eyes if they were still conscious after the knife fell. Reportedly, their heads blinked for up to 30 seconds after decapitation. How much of this was voluntary and how much due to reflex nerve action is speculation. Most nations with science sophisticated enough to determine this question have long since abandoned decapitation as a legal tool.

However, a commenter dismisses the Mary, Queen of of Scots story as apocryphal.

Steven B. Harris, apparently a blogging doctor, made a contribution.

How long can does the head survive after you've been beheaded?

Consciousness lasts only 10-15 seconds after blood pressure goes to zero. How long the brain "survives" a blood pressure of zero is a matter of philosophy. What do you mean by "survive"? Brain cells don't blow up after 5 minutes, nor (unfortunately) do they issue up little cellular ghosts, shaped like little neurons, but whispy and transparent and with blank eye holes. So how do you tell if a brain cell is not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead? Goooood question.

With fancy drug protocols and machinery, dogs have been resuscitated after as long as 15 minutes of normothermic total ischemia (cardiac arrest), and they are about as sensitive to hypoxia as humans. So the brain lasts at least that long, at normal body temperature. What's the ultimate limit? Hours, maybe? Depends on your technology. Also depends on how much of the stored information you are willing to have lost, and still count the "person" who results, as having "survived."

The Spirit Rambler, Hal Milo, did not provide any convincing new information. But, he has a great quotation from Leo Tolstoy, who witnessed a beheading.

During my stay in Paris, the sight of a public execution revealed to me the weakness of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head divided from the body, and heard the sound with which they fell separately into the box, I understood, not with my reason, but with my whole being, that no theory of the wisdom of all established things, nor of progress, could justify such an act; and that if all the men in the world from the day of creation, by whatever theory, had found this thing necessary, it was not so; it was a bad thing, and that therefore I must judge of what was right and necessary, not by what men said and did, not by progress, but what I felt to be true in my heart.

The On-Line Medical Dictonary doesn't list 'beheading' and dismisses decapitation as obsolete. That seems odd since accidental decapitations still occur in countries where beheading is not a form of capital punishment.

The other entries I read about beheading during the hour I allotted were of equally mixed provenance. I came away from the endeavor feeling frustrated.

What's the art?

It is a picture of a guillotine. The basket at the bottom was used to collect the heads.

11:45 PM

Tuesday, May 11, 2004  

News and analysis: Truth and consequences

Yes, I've seen the beheading. Once purposely because of The Need to Know. A couple more times inadvertently because I did not look away fast enough. Your correspondent has a low threshhold for violent images. I tend to replay them in my mind or have nightmares about them. So, in the interest of mental hygiene, I avoid photos and videos of beatings and beheadings.

(You guessed it. The Diva will not be seeing Kill Bill, I or II.)

So, what does it all mean? All, in this case, being Americans tortured innocent Iraqis and Al Qaeda has retaliated by beheading a contractor from the United States on video. Writer and blogger Rick Heller anticipated some of my thoughts at the Centrist Coalition Blog.

Did Pictures Cause A Beheading?

An American has been beheaded by Al Qaeda, supposedly to avenge American prisoner abuses.

I've been uncomfortable about the release of pictures of American abuse. Avenging humiliation is a basic part of the culture in that part of the world. If those pictures create an emotional response in Americans, you can imagine how the people who identify with the person in the dog collar are feeling.

Arguably, Al Qaeda wants to kill Americans, and doesn't need an excuse to do so. But I feel the Army was right to try to put a lid of the pictures, even as it should investigate what caused the abuse to take place.

I agree with Heller that the pictures of prisoner abuse are likely the proximate cause of today's beheading, in regard to motivation. However, I still believe, as I said in an earlier entry, that the photographs and videos of abuse in Abu Ghraib deserve our attention. Part of the reason may be that, according to some of my friends from law school, I have reporter's ethics. I respect leaks and the people who make them. The effect of most leaks is to add more information about a situation to what is available through official channels. That allows people to make more informed decisions. I will stop there because I am not really an advocate of the John Stuart Mill perspective on free speech. I do not believe that truth necessarily trumps falsehood. Power often decides what most people consider 'truth' in my opinion. But, I do prefer to have as much information as possible become public.

Wait a minute, close readers are thinking. A few paragraphs ago, you said that you are so squeamish about gory images you avoid looking at them. Indeed, I did. And, I do. But, the fact that I can barely bring myself to look at images like the abuse at Abu Ghraib and the beheading does not mean those images should not be available. They tell peope what is going on. People have right to know that. So, I gladly sacrifice my squeamishness for the common good.

Heller is concerned that the pictures from the prison caused an American civilian to lose his life in a horrible manner. I regret the death of Nick Berg, too. I also regret the cycle of vengeance that has begun. Somewhere an Iraqi boy or man is probably being tortured, even killed, to retaliate for the killing of Berg . His murder will then be avenged, by Al Qaeda or others. The U.S. and its few allies will strike back, both openly and secretly. And, afterward. . . . However, if the images from Abu Ghraib had been suppressed, not just terrorists would have been deprived of that information. Everyone would have been. Without knowing how badly some American military personnel are behaving in Iraq, it would be more difficult to make a decision about American forces staying or withdrawing. People deserve the information the images convey.

9:21 PM


News: Love bite kills man

I often ask bloggers not to write about subjects they aren't familiar with or haven't done research on. Because when we do, we spread disinformation and misinformation. I would prefer that someone not say anything about, say string theory or Turner's Syndrome, than say something that is inaccurate. So, I am going to say very little about this weird news story that has caught my eye.

Aroused horse bites Pole dead

WARSAW, May 8 (Reuters) - A sexually excited stallion bit a Polish man to death when he tried to calm the beast which had become uncontrollably aroused by a nearby mare, police said.

"The 24-year-old man, identified as Robert R., was bitten when he tried to calm his horse which had become unsettled by the presence of a mare in the vicinity," a duty officer in the Baltic port of Szczecin told Reuters.

The horse went wild and began straining and bucking while pulling a farm cart through the village.

An autopsy would determine whether the direct cause of death was a severed jugular vein or damaged spine, the officer added.

I know next to nothing about horses. After reading this article, I feel I know a bit more -- but not necessarily what I would have asked to learn.

8:49 AM

Sunday, May 09, 2004  

Technology: Sony wants MP3 fans to Connect

There was a time when megacorp Sony owned the hip music gadget market. Sure, Bang & Olufsen and Bose were popular with many audiophiles, but for the larger segment of the population seeking better quality, but somewhat reasonable prices, Sony was it. The slogan "It's a Sony," meant something. Sony's introduction of the portable music player 20 years ago sealed the deal.

But then, when Sony's mastery of music to go seemed complete, Apple claimed part of the market, hardware and content, for itself.

ZDnet's Anchordesk reports Sony is fighting back. Eliot van Buskirk tells us how.

For years, Sony has seemed reticent to embrace the Internet as a means of distributing music, despite its unique positioning as the only company in the world with a major music label, a computer hardware division, and a consumer electronics arm. But finally, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, Sony executives admitted that this is the year of the online music store and that it couldn't risk letting the likes of Apple steal the show, the way Sony itself did with its introduction of the Walkman more than 20 years ago. Yesterday, the company announced its own online music store, called Connect, to compete with Apple's market-leading iTunes Music Store and other services.

He reminds us that Sony previously, along with other music purveyors, refused agreements with online resellers. The success of Apple's iPod and iTunes Music Store, along with prosecutions of users of peer-to-peer services, has changed that. It is a brave new world, and Sony wants a piece of it. Connect will be entering a market with a bevy of competitors. They include Wal-Mart, second to iTMS in sells, Napster and BuyMusic.

Van Buskirk has tested the new service.

But these are different times, and Sony has finally decided to quit experimenting. Instead, it has released a full-featured online music store called Connect, embedded in its jukebox software, SonicStage. From initial inspection, the software and the store appear to run fairly smoothly and intuitively. Like iTunes, the store generally sells music downloads à la carte for 99 cents a pop and complete albums for $9.99, and it's designed to work with Sony audio devices. Although Apple is entrenched in the top MP3 player and MSP [music service provider] spots, Sony has two competitive advantages: it offers more than one portable device that can play the music it sells, and it owns a substantial catalog, so the company has to pay licensing fees only to the other labels. In contrast, Apple must pay Sony as well as the different labels, and it owns no music.

Van Buskirk acknowledges that there is still no way to play MP3s on Sony's proprietary Memory Stick modules. The alternative to hard drives, secure digital and compact flash devices, is favored for Sony portable devices, including its Clie personal digital assistants. But, there is a strange bifurcation between the computer and the portable device when it comes to installing music. One must convert the music into Sony's proprietary OpenMG codec on one's hard drive and then transfer it to the MP3 player.

Another oddity is that Sony has blocked sharing of its music store downloads on networks. Short of hacks, an individual user's music remains his, even when he wants to share.

I'm not as sanguine as van Buskirk about the potential of Sony's efforts. iTMS is well thought of and has a significant headstart. I suspect owners of Clies and other devices that support Memory Stick will be annoyed anew. And, having a new codec to fiddle with is not exactly what consumers have been clamoring for. Another dark cloud, pointed out by a commenter to van Buskirk's column, is Connect only works with Windows 98SE and later. It will be interesting to see if Connect has made any inroads into Apple and Wal-mart's domination of the online music store market a year from now.

1:33 PM

Friday, May 07, 2004  

News and analysis: The face of Iraqi prisoner abuse

Sometimes looking at the actions of a single person can tell us what has occurred collectively. The apparent torture campaign against Iraqi prisoners by American forces may have involved thousands of American military personnel over the months, but I've found myself focusing on one of them. We have learned about what is occurring there because the media did not fall for efforts to suppress photographs of American soldiers in that occupied country. Among those presenting evidence of American misconduct is The Washington Post. It describes hundreds of photographs of troops engaged in various activities in Iraq, including humiliation and torture of prisoners and abuse of corpses, it has at hand.

The collection of photographs begins like a travelogue from Iraq. Here are U.S. soldiers posing in front of a mosque. Here is a soldier riding a camel in the desert. And then: a soldier holding a leash tied around a man's neck in an Iraqi prison. He is naked, grimacing and lying on the floor.

Mixed in with more than 1,000 digital pictures obtained by The Washington Post are photographs of naked men, apparently prisoners, sprawled on top of one another while soldiers stand around them. There is another photograph of a naked man with a dark hood over his head, handcuffed to a cell door. And another of a naked man handcuffed to a bunk bed, his arms splayed so wide that his back is arched. A pair of women's underwear covers his head and face.

The pictures were taken at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, copied to compact discs and passed among soldiers. Many of those who participated in the apparent abuse and distribution of the photographs were military police entrusted with upholding the law.

Six soldiers have been charged with prisoner abuse so far, but it is one who hasn't been who interests me.

Yesterday, in Fort Ashby, W.Va., two siblings and a friend identified Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, as the soldier appearing in a picture holding a leash tied to the neck of a man on the floor. England, a member of the 372nd, [a military police company] has also been identified in published reports as one of the soldiers in the earlier set of pictures that were made public, which her relatives also confirmed yesterday. England has been reassigned to Fort Bragg, N.C., her family said. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful. The military has not charged her in the case.

England's friends and relatives said the photographs must have been staged. "It just makes me laugh, because that's not Lynn," said Destiny Goin, 21, a friend. "She wouldn't pull a dog by its neck, let alone drag a human across a floor."

England worked as a clerk in the unit, processing prisoners before they were put in cells, taking their names, fingerprinting them and giving them identification numbers, her family said. Other soldiers would ask her to pose for photographs, said her father, Kenneth England. "That's how it happened," he said.

Soon after CBS aired its photographs, Terrie England said she received a call from her daughter.

"'Mom,' she told me, 'I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,'" Terrie England said.

England is of interest to me because I believe she represents the typical abuser, assuming of course that the pictures tell the truth. She is a lowly clerk, nondescript in appearance and sounds rather vapid. Yet, because she has the power of the wealthiest, most influential country in the world behind her, she is empowered to beat Iraqi prisoners, even lead one around on a leash as if he is a dog. Her superiors created the environment in which widespread abuse appears to be occurring, but they rely on people like England to carry it out. I suspect those underlings do so very willingly, considering the humiliation, crippling and even killing of other human beings just fooling around. Unfortunately, when it comes to interaction with the Other, that is the American way.

Defenders of whatever the Bush administration does are trotting out various evasions to counter facing the growing scandal. They say the allegations are made up. After all, you can't trust what 'those people' -- Iraqis who claimed they were abused or witnessed abuse -- say. Americans who say the same thing are fifth columnists. The photographs? Maybe they have been faked by persons unknown. Or, the American soldiers staged them. (Yet, so far no Americans have been identified as posing as Iraqi inmates.) Commenters at a large Right Wing group blog, Blogcritics, claim torture is not occuring at all. They've yet to address the matter of 25 or more Iraqi prisoners killed in American custody. Perhaps they will say death is not really death.

Last week, I read about and listened to a toothless inquest into the killing of an unarmed African-American motorist here at home. The justifications for mistreating, even killing, someone who was considered subhuman were the same ones I am hearing in regard to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The gist is that whatever those empowered in America do is acceptable because they are empowered and American. Again, I am reminded that my countrymen perceive internal and external 'enemies' the same way.

I don't know whether Pfc. Lynndie England will be charged with her participation in abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The fact she appears in numerous photographs over a period of time, and, that those pictures have become public, may lead the powers that be to turn on her. In the absence of the publicity, I believe England and her compatriots would have continued to do what they have apparently been doing, with their superiors' knowledge and support.

Reasonably related

Seymour Hersh tells it like it is at the New Yorker.

See Lynndie England in action at Democratic Underground.

3:30 PM

Thursday, May 06, 2004  

Blogosphere: People are saying

Bush family values

Byte Back is wondering about Bush family values. Laura and George W. will not be at their daughters' college graduations. He is skeptical about the purported reason.

(Not) There in Good Times and Bad

Laura and George Bush Junior will not attend their daughters' graduations. Don't want to be a distraction? Please. I understand Dick Cheney not showing up to his daughter's wedding but, c'mon these are IMPORTANT dates in any family.

Spare me the piety and the matyrdom and go.

Jeb Bush and family did not turn up for his daughter Noelle Bush's drug conviction arraignment.

George HW Bush and Barbara Bush did not attend their oldest son's high school graduation. Oh, wait. nevermind.

Salon.com - May 6, 2004  |  New Haven -- President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will skip their twin daughters' college graduations later this month to avoid creating a distraction at the respective schools, the White House said Thursday.

"There are no plans at this time to attend these ceremonies,'' said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Laura Bush. "The Bushes felt the focus should be on the students, and not how long the lines are to go through the metal detectors.''

Jenna Bush is slated to graduate May 22 from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in English. Barbara Bush graduates May 24 with a bachelor's in humanities from Yale University.

Conservatives often say they are upset that Bush is not a Reagan Republican. In regard to family relationships, maybe the Bushes are. Nancy and Ronald Reagan managed to alienate all four of his children, often at the same time. Daughter Patty Davis did not speak to them for more than a decade. Perhaps the Bushes are vying for equal distance from those distractions known as offspring.

Heller weighs words

I recently wrote that I agree with editorial writer Myriam Marquez that John Kerry's remarks are too 'nuanced.' Writer and blogger Rick Heller is also thinking about how to describe the presidential candidates' communications.

Bush Isn't Decisive, He's Rash

The NY Times reports that the Kerry campaign is struggling to find a theme for the fall campaign. Meanwhile, the incumbent's message is that Bush "is a steady leader and Kerry's a flip-flopper."

I think a little jujitsu is called for--using the opponents strength against him.

The Kerry campaign needs to portray Bush's decisiveness as "rashness."

Bush rashly led us into an unnecessary war in Iraq when waiting for the inspection process to complete would have proved there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Bush has rashly pursued radical tax cuts which turned a budget surplus into a yawning deficit that will burden the next generation.

Bush makes critical decisions prematurely, pre-emptively, and in a seat-of-the-pants manner. He sticks to failing policies because he's unwilling to admit mistakes.

If an election is a referendum on the incumbent, it should be made a referendum on Bush's rashness, not Kerry's caution.

Yes, writers love to locate the 'right' adjective or adverb. With good reason, I think. Applying a label, and getting it to stick, can have longlasting implications. If what George W. Bush wants to market as 'boldness' becomes known as 'rashness' instead, the impression that has been conveyed could decide the outcome of the upcoming election. If Kerry's 'nuanced' messages paint him as 'cautious' in the public mind, that could be equally decisive.

Join the discussion at Heller's Swing Voter Weblog.

City drags feet in domestic violence case

Sometimes local politics can have national import. A tragedy that has played out in Tacoma, Washington, over the last year is a fine reminder that domestic violence remains one of the most intractable problems Americans contend with.

Fallout from Brame murder limited

Let's revisit the facts.

Police Chief David Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, then killed himself in a Gig Harbor parking lot on April 26, 2003, as their two young children watched.

A report by the state patrol was presented to the mayor and other city officials this week. A previous investigation by the city itself claimed that neither it nor its officials are responsible for the murder and suicide.

The state's administrative investigation, which was agreed to by city leaders, followed a six-month state criminal investigation that concluded no crimes were committed by employees of the city or the police department in the Brame case. The administrative review focused on whether employees violated city or department policies, including those on sexual harassment.

The state's investigation was expected to be more objective.

The patrol was looking into whether promotions were given out based on alleged participation in sex clubs, as well as the alleged practice of looking the other way when local big shots were suspected of wrongdoing. Former State Patrol Chief Ronal Serpas said earlier that department culture put rank-and-file cops in a position where "they see corruption running rampant and they just lay low."

The administrative review also was to examine the failure by city leaders to act on Brame's deterioration as his marriage came apart, his preoccupation with sex and sexual topics, his 1981 hiring despite two psychological profiles that indicated he was ill-suited to the work, and his rise through the ranks despite a 1988 rape allegation.

In the fallout over the shooting, Assistant Police Chief Catherine Woodard, who was close to Brame, took disability retirement and City Manager Ray Corpuz Jr., who appointed him, lost his job.

Learn more about the Brame tragedy and how a bureacracy is seeking to continue the status quo at Silver Rights.

11:12 PM

Wednesday, May 05, 2004  

Law: Flemming challenges Schwarzenegger

Talking about pushing the envelope. Fair Use Press has decided to shove the envelope. The chief executive of a blogger's state has misbehaved in a manner that begs to be challenged. In response, someone has stepped forward to do just that. Blogger and auteur Brian Flemming, who is FUP, has the details.

A revealing new mini e-book from Fair Use Press attacks California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for using intellectual property law as a tool to intimidate his critics. Making its point through parody and ridicule, the book's cover features a 1970's-era nude photo exposing the Governor's under-sized genitalia.

To enrage Schwarzenegger attorney Martin D. Singer, the book also reprints in its entirety a blistering letter by Singer that the lawyer claims is "confidential." Singer has threatened legal action for any republishing of the letter.

The title of this purposefully provocative book is "Sue Me, A***ole." The twin goals of Fair Use Press are to cause the governor and his attorney to regret their sinister abuses of power and to demonstrate to the public that it has a right to criticize public figures.

Download the book right now at


The impetus for the episode is Schwarzenegger's lawsuit against Todd Bosley, a fellow who created a bobble-head miniature of the actor in the governor's seat. Shwarzenegger claims he owns the rights to publicity about himself. Therefore, he says, Bosley's invention is a tortious. Yes, you read that right.

Now seems like a good time to review some First Amendment law. The chorus of outrage that will doubtlessly follow Fair Use's actions will turn on purported insult and injury to Schwarzenegger. However, Schwarzenegger's hurt feelings are not the concern of the law, unless a very high standard of proof can be met. As a well-known B (more accurately D) movie actor, Schwarzenegger has been a public figure for years. When he was elected governor of California, the kind of excess that makes one pray despite being an agnostic, he became a public official. Though many laymen don't realize it, those descriptions matter a great deal.

When a public figure or public official claims he has been slandered or libeled, he must prove the slight is both untrue and maliciously intended. Even if the allegation is untrue, that is not adequate grounds for him prevailing. Sometimes, people are in error when they contribute to discussions. To punish them for those mistakes would cause the citizenry to become afraid to publicly express opinions about issues, including vital political concerns. The seminal case for making a distinction between private citizens and public citizens is New York Times v. Sulllivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

We hold today that the Constitution delimits a State's power to award damages for libel in actions brought by public officials against critics of their official conduct. Since this is such an action, the rule requiring proof of actual malice is applicable.

It is helpful to revisit the facts of the case.

Respondent, an elected official in Montgomery, Alabama, brought suit in a state court alleging that he had been libeled by an advertisement in corporate petitioner's newspaper, the text of which appeared over the names of the four individual petitioners and many others. The advertisement included statements, some of which were false, about police action allegedly directed against students who participated in a civil rights demonstration and against a leader of the civil rights movement; respondent claimed the statements referred to him because his duties included supervision of the police department.

A response to Sullivan that recurs is 'why should public persons be treated differently than you and me?' The answer is because they have much more power at their disposal than we do. The officials in Sullivan were using lawsuits against supporters of the civil rights movement to try to silence it. In other words, their official capacity allowed them to tap tax dollars to defend American apartheid. But, anyone who spoke out against them would have been subject to a slander or libel judgment before the ruling in Sullivan. The actions of a governor are also powerful. To offset that imbalance in power, the law allows us to question, or even ridicule, his behavior, liberally.

Scwarzenegger has styled has case against Bosley as protecting his "publicity rights." Novel, but, not convincing. I believe any right to control publicity about himself would apply only to his role as an actor. Furthermore, the role of public official, someone vested with power by government, trumps the role of public figure, in my opinion. It raises the very concern that Sullivan addresses, a government official using power he has been endowed with by citizens against some of them.

There's another galling aspect of the governor and his mouthpiece's performance.

Additionally, Martin Singer even claims a *copyright* on the letter he sent to Bosley. In other words, not only is it forbidden to criticize the governor via caricature, but also one is not even allowed to expose the vicious tone of the threat letters Governor Schwarzenegger employs to enforce that moratorium.

This behavior makes the White Citizens Council types who sued the New York Times appear to be lightweights. Let's support Brian Flemming in his efforts to inform people about their right to more than question authority.

Flemming's weblog has become "Sue Me" Central. Visit it to learn more about the challenge to Schwarzenegger.

11:41 PM

Tuesday, May 04, 2004  

Politics: Kerry critics, right and wrong

Much of the criticism I read of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is irrational, often accusing him of positions he hasn't taken or claiming George W. Bush has abilities he does not. As anyone who reads the mainstream press should know, Kerry stacks up as a much more intelligent and resourceful person in any comparison to Bush. The current occupant of the White House proves that mediocrity, money and a malleable Supreme Court can land a person at that address.

Scott Pepper, a Right Winger who surely will vote for Bush, says Kerry isn't a viable candidate because of organizational problems in his fledgling campaign.

As a disillusioned Republican, I would like nothing more than to have a viable alternative to voting for George W. Bush when the November elections roll around. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly obvious that John Kerry is not that alternative.

Last month, I blogged about the ineffectiveness of the ABB (Anybody But Bush) strategy and Kerry's lack of direction. Sunday's New York Times makes it clear that the junior Senator from Massachusetts has yet to get his campaign out of the starting gate:

In one example of how this has hindered the operation, Mr. Kerry's aides fielded complaints from donors and party leaders this week when the candidate went on television to respond, in a contentious interview, to questions about his anti-Vietnam activities 30 years ago.

One has to wonder how we can expect this man to run our country when he can't even get the bare basics of a campaign strategy together. . . .

The article in the New York Times does paint a picture of a campaign that needs to be better organized. But, it doesn't reach the substantive issues that should determine whether a candidate is qualified to be president or not. Therefore, I believe offering it as evidence of incompetence on Kerry's part is reaching.

That does not mean there aren't valid criticisms of John Kerry. Editorial writer Myriam Marquez of the Orlando Sentinel says Kerry may lose voters because his views are too "nuanced."

King of Nuance has own deficits

Kerry's not only in denial about his liberal voting record, he nuances most every issue to his peril. He's trying to win over as many undecided voters as possible, of course. But in the process, he comes off as a mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy politician. At worst, he flip-flops, an accusation the Bush campaign has managed to make stick on the Massachusetts senator. The label surely has helped drag down Kerry's popularity among voters.

Marquez offers an example.

During a recent stop to secure South Florida's Jewish community in Palm Beach County, Kerry noted his "100 percent record of sustaining the special relationship and friendship with Israel."

Israel surely has every right to exist, but how would Kerry end the impasse with the Palestinians and help Israel secure lasting peace and give Palestinians the homeland they, too, deserve? It's 100 percent unclear.

She believes Kerry has also 'nuanced' himself into trouble regarding relations between the United States and Cuba. Apparently, Kerry, reasonably enough, has said in the past that he favors allowing people to travel to that socialist island, and, that it should not be treated differently from other Leftist regimes in regard to trade. More recently, perhaps in an effort to appeal to Cuban exiles in Florida, he has said he is against lifting the trade embargo against Cuba. To have an understandable position in regard to Cuba, Kerry needs to explain why he supports travel to Cuba, but has changed his mind about trade.

Marquez's criticism strikes me as reasonable. The nitpicking of the Right doesn't. She wants Kerry to state his positions in clear, concise language that acknowledges the complexities of some issues. That would be in stark contrast to the behavior of the Bush administration, which favors jingoism and simplicity to the point of stupidity. Much of its appeal is that it reassures its constituency that the populace does not need to think. If Kerry is to mount a meaningful challenge to Bush, he must overcome his 'nuance' problem. But, it is just as important that he not resort to the fallacious reasoning and falsehoods of the opposition.

7:45 PM

Monday, May 03, 2004  

Consumers: Where's my rebate?

Having scored some spiffy and expensive new tech gear for Christmas and my birthday, I'm beginning to wonder: 'Where's my rebate?' Among the items I'm due a reduction in price paid on is the Palm Tungsten C wireless personal digital assistant pictured. A rough calculation says I'm owed about $350 if the companies offering the rebates honor their promises.

However, being a consumer who has been around for a while, I know that I may never see a penny. CBS 2 has looked into the world of rebates.

Each year Americans are bombarded with 50 billion rebate offers on everything from coffee machines to personal PC’s. The Federal Trade Commission says many companies use excessive paperwork and slow processing to discourage redemption’s, and it's effective, only 10 percent of consumers actually apply for their rebates.

“There is a deliberate effort to trick consumers,” says the FTC’s Barbara Anthony.

At Christmas CBS 2 randomly bought four products offering mail in rebates, a Fellowes Home/Office Power Adapter, a pack of TKD CD’s, a Schick razor and a Windmere Coffee Maker. We sent the forms in, and according to the manufacturers we would receive our money within six to eight weeks. But as you'll see, there's a big difference between getting a rebate offer and getting a check in the mail.

“Nobody gives you anything for nothing and in some cases you really need to be careful with these rebates,” adds Anthony.

My custom is to skip small rebate offers, but pursue those worth ten dollars or more. Two of the currently delayed rebate checks are for $100 each. My calls and emails to 'Where's My Rebate?,' an online clearinghouse, and manufacturers, resulted in 'getting paid' for most of 2003's dubious promises. I've yet to open the mailbox and say 'yeah' to any of the rebates I've applied for in 2004. That isn't surprising. It took nearly a year to be compensated via rebate for buying a new VCR/DVD player last year.

The most egregious promise breaker this year is Palm. It owes me $200 in rebates.

Most manufacturers get away with their delay or no pay practices because consumers give up. But, occassionally, a big corporate fly gets swatted.

Harry Nobel says he was more than careful, he was meticulous about filling out and mailing in the $40 rebate forms for his Philips CD drive to be refunded in 8 weeks, “I had to send the UPC, I had to send the cash register receipt and I had to send the form.”

But when the time was up and no check arrived in the mail Nobel says the manufacturer gave him the rebate runaround, “They said 4 to 6 weeks, 4 to 6 weeks were up and they said that again another 4 to 6 weeks, they reset the clock.”

Nobel was in good company, an investigation by the FTC found some 50,000 Philips Electronics customers ran into the same rebate roadblock in 2001, they couldn't collect because of what the FTC called "unfair or deceptive acts or practices."

However, such a response is much too rare. Both federal and state consumer agencies do little about the deceptive trade practices associated with rebates.

Some consumers have become fed up. They would rather have a manufacturer acknowledge the true cost of its product than lead them on. I agree. I might have bought the same VCR/DVD player it took months to get a rebate for at exactly the same price. But, by offering the rebate and then trying to renege on the offer, the manufacturer left a customer disgruntled. In legal terms, promisers of rebates create an expectation interest. Then, manufacturers dash that interest more often than not. The problem with such behavior is that people rely on the promises made. They think of that new cell phone or PDA as having cost the price with the rebate deducted, when, in fact, they paid significantly more for it. The check that doesn't come represents another product not purchased or a bill not paid with those funds. Consumers who have had enough are encouraging the government to put an end to rebate rip-offs, by putting an end to rebates. You can learn more about the movement at stopmailinrebates.com.

CBS 2 has received two of its rebates and is still waiting for the others. Nobel got his rebate when the FTC strong-armed Philips. I expect to eventually recoup maybe half of what I'm owed in rebates -- after phoning and emailing complaints.

Reasonably related

•Who decides whether you get a rebate? Warning: you will not be pleased.

•The problem with 1967 or 'how old is your firewall?'

9:00 PM

Saturday, May 01, 2004  

News and analysis: Nightline put the facts first

Having been an admirer of Nightline since I was in my teens, I watch it whenever I can. One would be hard put to find a program that has consistently reported on serious issues with both professionalism and empathy more often than Nightline. So, when the some folks began trying to bully Ted Koppel (pictured) into not running Friday's program, a tribute to Americans who have died in military service in Iraq, I was steadfastly in his corner. Nothing I've read or heard since has changed my mind, including viewing the show.

WCJB in Gainesville, Florida reported on an effort by an affiliate group to stifle Koppel.

The ABC news program Nightline will devote a special edition of its broadcast Friday night to US troops. Anchorman Ted Koppel will read the name of every soldier who has died in Iraq. The broadcast is being called "The Fallen." But, viewers in eight cities will not see Nightline the special because Sinclair Media Group objects to the format.

People in Gainesville we spoke to say they have no problem with the program. Tinone Purton says, "I feel like it’s a good gesture to read out the names of all the men and women who took the courage and went out and died for the country." Deloris Gaitainus agrees, "I realize that some people are concerned about it bringing up the bad memories, but for people that have suffered that loss, the memories are there." Eric Bendler is a reservist, "It seems like a large pill to swallow to put it on a prestigious show like Nightline."

A pill Sinclair says their viewer's don't need to swallow. Vice President Mark Hyman told ABC news that, "We don't want to see Nightline trivialize the deaths of our brave service men in the fashion that they are doing."

Trivialize? The program consisted of the names of the service men and women being read aloud while photographs of them, usually in uniform, were shown. The only trivial aspect of it as broadcast on KATU here, was that a disclaimer, basically apologizing for daring to air "The Fallen," ran in place of commercials. The interruptions deprived the program of what would have otherwise been a dignified display. The disclaimer also revealed the station's management to be craven people.

The persons who complained about the episode cite the supposed trauma to family members caused by hearing the names and seeing the pictures. That makes no sense. Anyone who has lost a family member in Iraq is very much aware of it already. Grief will occur whether the loss is acknowledged on a television show or not. Furthermore, most survivors interviewed about the "The Fallen" do not object. They want their relatives' names and faces known.

Nor has Sinclair necessarily won the approval from people deprived of the broadcast it likely expected.

ASHEVILLE - A somber crowd of nearly 100 gathered on the lawn of WLOS-TV's property in Biltmore Park late Friday night to protest the station's parent company's decision to black out a Nightline broadcast in which the names of more than 700 war dead were read.

"If they were my children, I'd want you to know their names,'' read a sign carried by one older woman, signaling the anger generated by Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to pre-empt the Nightline broadcast in Asheville and seven of its other markets.

. . .Sinclair aired a special program in place of Nightline. The program discussed the merits of the war and Sinclair's decision to pre-empt Nightline.

Illuminated by the glow of candles flickering in a light breeze, the protesters spoke quietly among themselves before organizers began reading the names of the 700 men and women who have died during the war in Iraq.

So what is it that those harassing Nightline really object to? I think what they oppose is the dissemination of information. If the program had consisted of cheerleading for the war they would not be up in virtual arms. But, it didn't. Instead one came face to face with facts -- the faces of the Americans who have died in an ill-conceived invasion and occupation. It is much more difficult to sell 'heroic' myths about the war when the populace is presented with information. It is that harm to continued myth making these people fear.

Ted Koppel should be commended for his contribution to truth telling about a war that continues to claim lives, both American and Iraqi, daily.

6:45 PM