Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Huygens Base

15 centimeters = 5.91 inches, 8 centimeters = 3.15 inches, 4 centimeters = 1.57 inches

Again, this morning the European Space Agency presents stunning visuals of the Titanian descent and surface.
According to ESA, NASA and the University of Arizona:

The surface is darker than originally expected, consisting of a mixture of water and hydrocarbon ice. There is also evidence of erosion at the base of these objects, indicating possible fluvial activity.

The color image of the initial surface image, processed to add reflection and spectral data, is an “indication of the actual color of the surface.”
The most interesting aspect of the black and white image overlaid with measurement data, to me, is the closeness of the horizon and the smaller size of the ice chunks or rocks.
The ESA is also making two sound files available to the public.
The sound of Titanian winds during the probe's descent is most dramatic.

The 360 degree view around the Huygens probe, again according to ESA, NASA and the University of Arizona shows:

A boundary between light and dark areas. The white streaks seen near this boundary could be ground 'fog' of methane or ethane vapour, as they were not immediately visible from higher altitudes. As the probe descended, it drifted over a plateau (center of image) and was heading towards its landing site in a dark area (right). This dark area is possibly a drainage channel which might still contain liquid material. From the drift of the probe, the wind speed has been estimated at around 6-7 metres (19.68 to 22.96 feet) per second. These images were taken from an altitude of about 8 kilometres (4.97 miles).

Images: ESA

Friday, January 14, 2005
On Titan!

A hard surface landing for the Huygens probe and Earth's scientific minds are blown!
The European Space Agency along with NASA and the Italian Space Agency have not yet analyzed the hours old images and so cannot provide information about the rocks or ice chunks with litter the hard granular surface.

This images was taken 16.2 km from the surface of Saturn's largest moon and, amazingly, seems to show drainage channels leading to a shoreline.

Elsewhere in the Solar System...

A true color rendering of the Mars Rover Opportunity's inverted heat shield along with a spring and other metal debris on the Meridiani Planum.
The image was taken on January 2, 2005 or, rather, on the Rover's 335th Martian day.

Images: ESA, NASA

Earthling Revenge!
We Probe Titan

The European Space Agency has, this morning, reported that a “carrier tone” signal detected by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia between 11:20 and 11:25 CET (5:20-5:25am EST) indicates that the Huygens probe “is alive” within the atmosphere of the Saturnian moon Titan.
According to the ESA, the detection of the carrier signal:

Indicates that the back cover of Huygens must have been ejected, the main parachute must have been deployed and that the probe has begun to transmit…This, however, still does not mean that any data have been acquired, nor that they have been received by Cassini. The carrier signal is sent continuously throughout the descent and as such does not contain any scientific data.

Substantive datasets, including images from the probes DISR (Descent Imager Spectral Radiometer), are expected via a relay through the Cassini mother ship at the European Space Operations Center later this afternoon.
According to the New York Times:

ESA's science director, David Southwood, said the mission had successfully passed a difficult and critical step. ``We didn't promise we could do this. We were pushing the limit just to do this.”

The Huygens descent is expected to take 2 ½ hours through a nitrogen and methane atmosphere that is 1 ½ times thicker than Earth’s atmosphere.
Scientists do not know what to expect when Huygens hits the surface of Titan at 20 kilometers per hour but have prepared the probe for a liquid or hard landing and, at best, expect at least 3 minutes of transmission time from the moon’s chemically corrosive surface.

Images: Lawrence Livermore Labs (Keck Telescope), ESA

Thursday, January 13, 2005
The dying travails of CNN’s Crossfire continue to provide curious points of interest to those savvy enough to notice and hearty enough to endure a sometimes painful parade of egotistical screaming, cheap comic sound effects or, in this case, dry sobs.

In this morning’s New York Times, columnist Frank Rich echoes, with, as behooves a Times columnist, a bit more detail and, surprisingly, a bit of righteous indignation, some of the thoughts expressed in my Friday January 7 post about the odd appearance of a not quite teary Armstrong Williams on the allegedly rough and tumble cable chat show.
Unlike Times articles about frivolous subjects like war, Rich got to the meat in the first paragraph:

"Crossfire" came up with the worst show in its fabled 23-year history.

The Rich column is well worth your attention for his voice, amongst the vast research and video library-supported big media choir, is a plaintive solo that accuses the CNN program of witting or unwitting complicity “in the cover-up of a scandal.”
During my TV years the videotape library was perhaps overused to illustrate ongoing stories or permutations in those stories.
But the CNN producers like so many in big media, as regards this particular paid pundit scandal and other major Bush agenda-related stories, can’t seem to locate previously broadcast video, accurately quote critical statements by major public figures or remember important dates.
Armstrong Williams, as the Rich column relates, paid frequent visits to the CNN anchor desk throughout 2004 and offered his bought and paid for musings on a wide assortment of election year topics not limited to No Child Left Behind.
Why the normally aggressive Crossfire hosts chose to baste the oven-ready Williams with creamy plaudits and accolades instead of reviewing his past appearances under their program’s broiling klieg lights remains a mystery unless one believes CNN consciously and subtly manipulates the information we loosely call “the news”.
Read the Rich column.

Now that I know of Crossfire’s fate, I have found my infrequent viewings less upsetting
However, yesterday, personal ire was kindled when a different set of Crossfire hosts briefly mentioned C.A. Tripp’s The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln and quickly tossed it into their version of history’s ashcan with the addlepated squeamishness of the sexually naive.
Considering his wife and his surprise at the sexual antics of his President along with her clam-handed homophobe brother, I doubt I’d recommend these two for reasoned advice on any type of sexuality much less bi or homosexuality.
In two or three uninformed, factually incorrect and blush-riddled sentences James Carville and Bayh Buchanan dismissed Tripp’s heavily researched theory of Lincoln’s possible sexuality with a malevolent prejudice rarely observed nowadays outside our variously Puritanical media.
“I don’t buy it,” pronounced the mate less Bayh through her thin rigid lips.
A brief impartial synopsis of the book could have been in order if Crossfire’s intention was to inform instead of to mock and smear through implied innuendo, a big media specialty.
Indeed, I would have enjoyed watching Mr. Carville and Miss Buchanan discussing the youthful Lincoln’s 713-word satirical narrative, First Chronicles of Reuben, first reported by the 16th President’s law partner and biographer William Herndon in his 1889 Life of Lincoln; a narrative expurgated from all later editions until 1942.
But let us, please, not get lost in pesky details because Carville is “not that interested in the topic” and “will leave my curiosity up to the book review” for “what difference does it make?”
Well, Jim, when you put it that way it’s kind of easy to dismiss.
Kind of like trashing Gore or Dean’s scream or Iraqi nukes or, the latest, Social Security’s phony insolvency these nutrition-less news nuggets only add luster to Jon Stewart’s claim that “Crossfire is hurting America”.
Impartial and factual information, however uncomfortable to the comfortable, cannot cause physical harm but partial and non-factual disinformation can cause a full range of havoc as many of us so clearly see in our world today.
Once scrubbed of Crossfire, the scabrous CNN, like most of big media, will remain tainted.
As I said last Friday, I’m hoping for big, messy and dramatic show trials and not just a couple of plank-walking pundits and cancelled programs.
I’ll grab my knitting and hunt for a warm seat near the guillotine!

An excellent article on Novak by Amy Sullivan, Bob in Paradise, can be found in this month's Washington Monthly.
Also, apologies for today's late post.

Images: New York Times, CNN, AP, Google

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Drink Up!

This morning's Washington Post Metro Section story explains a lot:

Capitol Hill employees have been advised not to use water from bathroom and kitchen faucets...after tests last month discovered excessive levels of lead in water at the Library of Congress.

One can assume that certain Congressional leaders have been hogging the water fountains for many years!
This link will take you to the EPA page on lead in Washington, DC drinking water.

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, following a long drink from a Capitol Hill water fountain, does his remarkable Hooty the Owl impression for reporters this morning.

Images: EPA,, Reuters

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Death Throes

Throwing money at an unsolvable problem is exemplified by this $500k local TV news set design leaked to

During this past Sunday’s typically gruesome edition of Timmy Russert’s pretend political roundtable, the “journalists” reached new heights of purposely-misdirected hypocrisy when discussing the Armstrong Williams pundit-for-pay contretemps.
But, within the faux outrage and I’d like to think purposeful fingering of competitive punditry, was a not quite frank mention of the more ubiquitous than discussed Video News Release:

MR. RUSSERT: These are pseudo news releases where you have a fake journalist sitting there interviewing a Cabinet secretary and materials are sent out across the country. What serious or legitimate news organization would ever air something like that?
MR. YORK: Well, obviously, the networks don't do it, but they are aired on smaller stations or on very small cable outlets.

Not quite, guys.
Far from Tim’s misleading description of fake journalists and Cabinet Secretaries, for more than 20 years and based on knowledge stemming from my 30-year career in television, the Video News Release has been a staple of local television medical and show business news.
Thanks to the convenient and widely applied excuse of budget cutbacks, as time passed, VNR’s intruded deeper into spot news (police blotter stuff like fires, drownings and robberies) and local political news coverage of national issues and into, what some would like to consider, the sacred territory of network news no matter some punditry’s claim to the contrary.
Budget cutbacks also allowed, increasingly powerful and downsized by merger, corporate heads to slowly eliminate more senior and less malleable journalistic voices in newsrooms across America while increasingly intimidating those who remained.
It all began with the introduction of 3rd party “experts” who celebrated images, or more particularly dramatic images, over all other journalistic considerations.
As cable began to erode broadcast media’s hold on the American audience in the early 1980’s, panicked executives, eager to avoid responsibility for decisions in an increasingly arbitrary marketplace, sought the addictive comforts of 3rd party marketing consultants.
These outside marketing strategists discovered they could achieve incremental rating increases within the continuous downtrends by luring the weakest viewing mentalities with escalating flash and titillation.
To achieve those ends, under the lofty guise of deregulation, rules that had moderated media excess and promoted fairness were jettisoned and corporate accountants began their slow synergistic creep into the once federally protected newsrooms.
The 3rd party marketers earliest mocking assaults were against stories or televised discussions unsupported with illustrative images.
The best stories, in the marketer’s opinion, were not just those with supporting images but those with dramatic supporting images.
Ad rates could still be floated with rating winners no matter the declining size of the winning slice of pie and corporate media profit remained at their normally obscene levels.
Over the passing years a story’s relevance to a given local audience grew to become irrelevant if an image dripped a marketer’s idea of drama and the phrase “if it bleeds it leads” was born, to the American peoples’ detriment, out of journalistic wedlock.
Video News Releases not only offer images for hard to visualize stories they also offer completed productions that emulate the stories produced by local and national television reporters.
These “fake news releases”, as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell describes them, arrive in cutback gutted newsrooms with completed scripts and editing guidelines so that a local producer can remove the generic VNR reporter and insert a more familiar local face reading a script prepared by an unmentioned pharmaceutical house, movie studio, another television station or, nowadays, a political party or government agency.
But the 1980’s brought more than the birth of TV marketing consultants, sizzle outpacing steak and the erosion of audience trust for a media business most executives, until quite recently, considered the only game in town.
Sadly for big established media the 1980’s also saw the germination of the electronic seeds of their destruction within the expanding and personally empowering reaches of what in 1989 would become the World Wide Web.
The 3rd party marketers have always felt that increasing titillation or sizzle through brightly colored and increasingly graphic images could insure large audiences and established media profit.
And, perhaps there is a baseline of humanity’s dregs that will, as long as old-style mass audience television survives, fall prey to this demeaning bait but I, personally, don’t think so.
Big media never envisioned that they would grow to be so hated and ensnared in trust-evaporating scandals.
But, they are and they have.
Personalized content on demand is the future.
We will surely see more years of mass media’s death-throes and the successful adaptation of some big media to the new environment.
It won’t be pretty.
Big media, not likely to be regulated any time soon, remains more than capable of harming the unread masses of American people with salacious falsifications as they are dragged kicking and screaming from center stage.
I know many on the web are trying to correct this and I pray that more people forge their own unique informational path along, this ironic blessing to democracy, the Pentagon’s old Internet.

Watch the Museum of Media History 2014

A great article on TV News in the postmodern world of 2005 can be found on the fantastic Digital Journalist site.
And, for those of you with broadband connections this excellent 8-minute flash production from the Museum of Media History 2014 shows where we are headed.


Sunday, January 09, 2005
Add "democracy" and watch it grow!

Modified Image: Getty,

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