19 July 2016

Pastor's Polemic Prayer Kicks Off RNC Convention

Pastor Mark Burns Prays for Donald Trump at Republican National Convention

As the 2016 Republican National Convention, a.k.a. "The Trump Show", kicked off in Cleveland, it was centered by a "special" prayer  from Pastor Mark Burns. Ordinarily, invocations are placid, pro-forma prayers which remind attendees of Divine Providence. But this is the Trump Show.

Pastor Burns was introduced as being from the Harvest Praise and Worship Center, but that's too modest of a pedigree.  Burns is a televangelist is co-founder and CEO of Now Network, which brags that it has an audience of 11 million.  Burns also is Creator, Executive Producer and Host of Lift Up Your Voice Gospel Show which allegedly has an audience of 45 million  on the Impact Network, But Burns hasn't abandoned his home, as he also co-hosts with his wife Tomorra Burns  "Rejoice TODAY" on the Dove Nework which reaches 2 million homes in Upstate South Carolina, Western North Carolina and Northern Georgia.

Well, the Trump Show promised that is was going to have star power and entertainment, so the choice of a televangelist for a benediction is not surprising. However, the content of Burns' polemic prayer deserves some discernment.

The prayer seems to elevate Donald Trump into an ascending super saint, which seems ironic considering Trump's ambivalent approach to religion.  There are numerous examples in which Trump's biblical knowledge has been tested (e.g. his favorite book in the Bible), Trump's emphatic onomania that "I'm a Presbyterian" while he was slagging erstwhile Seventh Day Adventist enemy Dr. Ben Carson, as well as Trump's faux pas of mistaking communion with the collection plate in Iowa. But Burns blustered that Trump believes in Jesus Christ so God bless him.

What seemed remarkable was a prayer which cast Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party as the enemy.  Put in a theological framework, they are the Devil incarnate.  There is no rationale given as to why liberal's are not following an orthodox path for the polity, just that they are the enemy.  Four years ago, the Catholic Archbishop of New York Timothy Cardinal Dolan gave an ecumenical benediction to the GOP which extolled the virtues of America( freedom and liberty), challenged the faithful to remember all Americans, and humbly asked God for guidance and protection of  Governor Romney and Representative Ryan.  It should be noted that Cardinal Dolan also gave the closing benediction at the 2012 Democrat Convention, in which he challenged those gathered about religious liberty and abortion as he prayed for those gathered. 

The Pastor's prayer claims Trump as a conservative.  It is best not to lie when approaching the Divine.  Trump may have won the nomination, but it is deceitful to call an unprincipled populist like Trump a conservative. Such a perception may unjustly taint conservatism for a generation.

Burns' benediction prayed for unity among the GOP.  But those prayers were not answered as Trump Convention Manager Paul Manafort soon after crushed a motion from the floor to vote on alternative party  rules measures which were doomed to fail, but their voices were officially ignored via a rigged voice vote.  This caused several delegations to walk out and enraged vocal party regulars like radio talk show host Mark Levin. Unity does not come from showing your cohorts the back of your hand, that may cause compliance but not melting a heart of stone.

Perhaps it is a difference in approach and theological grounding, but Pastor Burns commanded God to give Donald Trump authority to become President and defeat the enemy rather than beseeching Divine Providence for wisdom and humility to lead our Nation. 

Despite Pastor Burns' benediction, hopes that the Trump Show will spur party unity needs more than hype and a prayer. Aside from ephemeral politics, this prayer epitomizes how so many born agains hopped on the Trump Train while regular church going evangelicals fret about a leader who publicly lacks humility, evokes values which seem counter to Christianity and seems to use his associations with faith communities rather than walking in faith on the campaign trail.

15 June 2016

Firefly Spotting

Did this video for my beloved to promote the 2016 Firefly Music Festival.

06 June 2016

Honoring Valor, Fidelity and Sacrifice at National D-Day Memorial

Ike Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day

The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia.  This site in in the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural southwest Virginia was chosen because it was the community the suffered the most per capita D-Day losses in the nation.

 There were 150,000 Allied troops that landed on the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy, including 34 troops from Bedford.  Of the 9,000 killed and wounded during the D-Day invasion, 19 of the Boys of Bedford paid the ultimate price to preserve freedom and four more died later during the Normandy campaign.

The National D-Day Memorial was dedicated on June 6th, 2001 by President George W. Bush. America's 43rd Commander-in-Chief implored:

 "Fifty-seven years ago, America and the nations of Europe formed a bond that has never been broken.  And all of us incurred a debt that can never be repaid. Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world." 

The National D-Day Memorial honors by name all 4,413 Allied soldiers who died on D-Day during Operation Overlord (the actual invasion) and Operation Neptune (transporting the troops across the English channel). But the 88 acre National D-Day Memorial does much more serve as a site for necrology. The Memorial seeks to tell the story of D-Day , from its planning, execution and aftermath. 

The first Plaza is a stylized English garden  symbolizes the planning and preparations for the greatest amphibious invasion in history.  The Reynolds Garden is dedicated to the visionary industrialist who forsaw America's need for aluminum. In the late 1930s, Richard Reynolds put his fortune and reputation on the line to provide enough aluminum for the United States to build and sustain the air force that gave the Allies overwhelming air superiority for the retaking of Europe on D-Day. 

The plaza is in the shape of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force combat patch. Following British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's sense of history and drama, the invasion code name was Overlord, evoking crusader knights and chivalric quests, the SHAEF insignia features a crusader shield with a flaming sword of expulsion. 

The Reynolds Garden is peaked by a  domed Tuscan folly with a full figured bronze of General Dwight Eisenhower standing below a canopied mosaic of the D-Day battle map. This classical revival feature recalls the architecture of Southwick House, where Ike decided to launch the invasion despite less than ideal weather. 

The the parameter of the plaza also includes busts of the six Allied Generals who were involved with D-Day invasion: Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Air Chief Marshal, Leigh-Mallory, Admiral Ramsey, Field Marshall Montgomery, Lt. General Omar Bradley,  and Lt. General Walter Smith.

Circle of Generals involved in Allied D-Day Invasion, Reynolds Garden, National D-Day Memorial [photo: BD Matt]

The next level is Gray Plaza iis an assault tableau which depicts the landing and fighting stage of the invasion.  Across the Beach (includes an invasion pool with beach obstacles in the water, a Higgins invasion craft and sculptures of soldiers struggling to get onshore. The names of the American fallen appear on the western walls of the central plaza while the rest of the Allied losses are on the eastern wall. 

Soldier under fire detail of Across the Beach (2008) by Jim Brothers at National D-Day Memorial [photo credit: BD Matt]

Across the Beach tableau (2008) by Jim Brothers, National D-Day Memorial [photo credit: BD Matt]

Across the Beach tableau (2008) by Jim Brothers, National D-Day Memorial, Bedford Virginia [photo credit: BD Matt]

POV from Higgins boat, Across the Beach (2008) tableau by Jim Brothers, National D-Day Memorial 

Scaling the Wall , National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia
[photo credit: BD Matt]

Detail, Scaling the Wall (2001) by Jim Brothers, National D-Day Memorial, Bedford Virginia [photo credit: BD Matt]
There are also airplanes which represent the importance that air power had in the Allied invasion.

Representation of Aircraft used on June 6th 1944, National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia

Propellers from D-Day era aircraft, National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia [photo credit: BD Matt]

The upper level is the Estes Plaza which is dominated by Overlord Arch which is flanked by the twelve flags of the Allied Expeditionary Force.  The Arch stands 44 feet and six inches tall. 

Honor Guard practicing before D-Day ceremonies, National D-Day Memorial

Valor, Fidelity Sacrifice Bronze by Jim Brothers (2001) and Overlord Victory Arch at D-Day Memorial,
Bedford, Virginia [photo credit: BD Matt]

Valor, Fidelity Sacrifice Bronze by Jim Brothers(2001), National D-Day Memorial,
Bedford, Virginia [photo credit: BD Matt]

The planners of the National D-Day Memorial had not forgotten the horrors of war along with the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of Allied troops.  The final section of the National D-Day Memorial includes a haunting bronze of Edmond de Laheudri's Le Monument aux Morts (1921), which stood monument to those fallen in combat in the Great War (a.k.a. World War I) besides St. Aignan in Trevieres, France. Shortly after the Allied D-Day invasion, there was an intense battle around the statue during which removed the face and some of the fingers of the doughboy Nike. 

Recast bronze of Le Monument aux Morts (1921) by Edmond de  Laheudri,
National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia [Photo credit: BD Matt]

Transformed by battle, Le Monument aux Morts stands in Trevieres and at the National D-Day memorial as a haunting testament to the destructiveness of war, the fleeting fruits of victory and the fragility of peace. 

Brronze of Le Monument aux Morts (1921) by Edmond de  Laheudri, 
National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia [Photo credit: BD Matt]

Inverted M1 Garland Rifle bronze by Matt Kirby (2001) at National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia

The National D-Day Memorial's attempt to tell a broader story about the Second World War caused some controversy.  As the Reynolds Garden is circled by the military leaders of D-Day, the planners wanted to include a garden which depicted political leaders after D-Day who ensured the peace after World War II. The circle included President Franklin Roosevelt (who died shortly before V-E Day), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (who was ousted from office shortly after victory over Germany), President Harry Truman, Prime Minister Clement Attlee, French leader Charles De Gaulle and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. 

The latter bust went over like a lead zepplin with veterans' groups  as Stalin had no involvement with the Allies in the Western front and arguably triggered the Cold War with forceful imposition of communism in most places the Red Army occupied.  While the National D-Day Memorial board still believed that war makes strange bedfellows and wanted to depict that within the site, they bowed to public pressure and relocated the Stalin bust.  Perhaps when the interpretation center is completed with a monument to post World War II Secretary of State George Marshall, there will be a fuller picture of the interpreted history.  For now, Stalin is not in "The Winner's Circle".  However, based upon the horrors depicted in the transformed Le Monument aux Morts, it is questionable if anyone is truly a winner in the aftermath of war.

h/t: National D-Day Memorial

08 April 2016

Discerning Marquette Values from the Academic Inquisition of Professor John Mc Adams

Marquette University Professor John McAdams on Academic Intolerance and a Politically Correct Inquisition
In the fall of 2014, a Marquette University Undergraduate student had an encounter with his lecturer after a  “Theory of Ethics” class as the Graduate Teaching Assistant instructor Cheryl Abbate applied a philosophy text to contemporary political controversies.  After class, the undergraduate questioned how John Rawl’s Theory of Justice was blithely applied to gay rights.

The Undergraduate student argued against same-sex marriage and gay adoption. After engaging in some academic exchanges with the undergraduate who endorsed traditional family values, Abbate played the trump card of political correct “Offensiveness”.  The philosophy graduate student interrogated the  undergraduate as to whether he knew if there were any gay students in the class.  Abbate declared that no homophobic or racist comments would be tolerated and encouraged him to drop the class.

During the colloquy, the undergraduate student recorded the exchange with his cell phone.  When questioned by Abbate if the conversation was being recorded, the student denied that it was. Abbate demanded to see the phone, and when it was surrendered, indeed the conversation was being recorded.

Marquette Asst. Prof. John McAdams
Although the Undergraduate student did succumb to the pressure to exit that ethics class, he did try to work through the system to register his displeasure. The Arts and Science Dean shuffled the complaint to the Philosophy Chair who subsequently ignored the issue. Afterwards, the shunted student turned to Marquette Political Science Assistant Professor John McAdams, who also publishes “Marquette Warrior”, a new media news and analysis site that is often critical of the Marquette University Administration.

McAdams coverage of the free speech and academic freedom scandal spread like wildfire, reaching the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and  Fox News.  This publicity generated hate mail towards Abbate and exposed Marquette University’s progressive embrace of political correctness. Subsequently, the Marquette University Dean of the Arts and Sciences Richard C. Holtz suspended the tenured McAdams (with pay) and barred the Professor who taught at the institution for 33 years from visiting the downtown Milwaukee campus.

This controversy came to a head a fortnight ago, when Marquette University moved to suspend McAdams for a semester without pay but the Arts and Science Faulty stipulated as a condition for readmittance that McAdams profess his “guilt” for the incident and pledge that he would adhere to Marquette’s Guiding Values, whatever those are. 
Banner for the inaugural of Marquette University President  Michael Lovell

Essentially, this move puts McAdams on the tenure track for termination.

Seen from the progressive establishment’s perspective, McAdams is an outlier academic as he is a conservative Poly-Sci professor.  Moreover, McAdams is a gadfly, a tenured voice of discord with the progressive descent of Marquette Hall into political correctness.

 In addition, McAdams’ publishes “Marquette Warrior” which in itself is a slap in the face to Marquette’s administration.  In the early 1990s, then Marquette President Fr. Robert Wilde, S.J., banished the beloved Marquette Warrior citing political correct principles.  Despite having a ballot for another mascot which included “the Jellyfish”, “The Yacks” and “The Jumpin’ Jesuits”, it seemed that the “Golden Eagle” was predestined to win.  A quarter century later, Marquette Alums still defiantly cheer “Let’s Go Warriors” at Men’s basketball games.

Academia is up in arms over McAdams for self serving but parochial professional reasons.  Pieces defending Abbate insist that she was being smeared, that she was exposed to hate speech through publicity, that did not have proper time to respond and that McAdams used questionable journalism in reporting the incident.  The thing is if one reads McAdams piece, he exposes liberal fascism with the tactics of other Marquette professors and names names.  So the best way to shut him up is to claim Harassment and demand that he do political re-education via the Guiding Values mau-mau.

Why is this political inquisition on a college campus important?

Firstly, it again exposes liberal academic intolerance in the classroom. The legally taped recording memorialized how free speech was limited on behalf of not offending anyone (except those who disagree with political correct ideology).  Concomitantly, the reinstatement demand by the Marquette faculty essentially abates free speech.

Secondly, the incident impeaches Marquette University’s credibility as a Catholic university.  To have Teaching Assistants prohibiting even discussing views which align with the Magisterium (as reaffirmed by Pope Francis’ recent encyclical "Amoris Laetitia”) as it is homophobic or racist speech.  The Marquette Guiding Values trumpet Jesuit and  Catholic virtues but those seem to be a veneer.

Thirdly, it calls into question the value of tenure.  McAdams has been associated with Marquette for 34 ½ years and has tenure.  In order for his faculty rights to be re-instated, the Marquette Administration insists that he bow down to his colleagues, publically announce his guilt and swear fealty to Guiding Values which are amorphous and are being capriciously followed (see Catholic Magisterium).

Fourthly, the Marquette Warrior blog shows the value of the New Media and Internet 2.0.  After getting the run around from the Administration, a citizen journalist (in the person of a tenured faculty member) spread the news and the abuse was exposed.  Some argue that McAdams did not follow journalistic practice.  But he had a primary source, legally taped proof and wrote an opinion analysis, which certainly fell within his Political Science bailiwick.  It shows how administrators, be they academic or corporate, can infringe on personal liberty and free speech via monitoring social media.

Fifthly, it shows liberal hypocrisy.  Marquette’s Administration is all in a twitter about their former Teaching Assistant being harassed (but not by McAdams) and receiving hate mail.  However, as the matter was being adjudicated, they have no concern that the whistle-blower was also receiving hateful blowback.

It seems as if Marquette’s Administration is trying to settle old grudges through this incident.  McAdams clearly is not beloved by the Arts and Science Faculty as he is a conservative and one who will call out his colleagues.  McAdams embarrassed the Marquette Administration by getting national attention.  By suspending McAdams and demanding terms which violate his tenure and contractually guaranteed Freedom of Speech, Marquette sets McAdams up to be terminated and fight in court.  Law-fare is a long and expensive process in which litigants can claim privilege and not discuss the case. The seventy year old McAdams might drop the costly case or it will become moot in the long process of adjudication.

At the heart of the matter, we must discern what are Marquette’s values in this academic inquisition. Liberal education in the classical sense, a study of the higher things which draws forth and hones inquisitiveness and debate that empowers students to deal with the complexities of life?  Or is it expensive inculcation of au currant politically correct values and an appreciation of liberal fascism?

Marquette proclaims itself a Catholic academic institution which is committed to Catholic social teaching and  gives “our support of Catholic beliefs and values”.  While it has long had progressive theologian Dan McGuire (who incidentally supports McAdams academic freedom) it has also produced Scott Hahn, a convert Catholic who has revolutionized Covenant theology.  Is barring even the defense of the Magisterium in the form of supporting traditional marriage in the classroom impermissible?  Really?

Marquette’s Guiding Values manifesto exhorts reaching beyond traditional academic boundaries and embracing new methods.  Do these values include using the new media to expose academic intimidation in the classroom, documenting political correctness and sharing the truth with the world?

The Guiding Values close with an admonition that echoes St. Ignatius of Loyola to “set the world on fire.”  I fear that the McAdams affair sets Marquette’s supposed “Guiding Values” on fire. But a blaze of truth can purify.

Tell that to Joan of Arc. The Maid of Orleans was burned at the stake in 1431 in Rouen by the English powers that be because she espoused God's truths.  When the ecclesiastic establishment could not trip Joan of Arc up during her testimony, they charged her with scandal about cross-dressing.  Joan's captures gave her a chance to recant but when she again followed God's will, she was burned at the stake for repeated heresy.  This was brilliantly portrayed in the mesmerizing Carl Theodore Dreyer film "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928). Pope Benedict XV canonized St. Joan of Arc in 1920.

The Joan of Arc chapel was transferred brick by brick from Orleans, France to Long Island in 1927.  The Joan of Arc Chapel was brought to Milwaukee in 1964 and is the centerpiece of the campus. What an ironic parallel for Marquette to honor the virtues of St. Joan of Arc but acts so inquisitorially towards a tenured academician following truth.

Bronze of (Pere) Jacques Marquette (2004) by Ronald Knepper in front of
St. Joan of Arc Chapel, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Post Scriptus:  Marquette University President Michael Lovell assessed the McAdams mess as making a "personal attack" on a student.  The salient point was what capacity was then Marquette Teaching Assistant Cheryl Abbate acting when she barred free speech in the classroom concerning Same-Sex Marriage.  Res ipsa loquitur. Abbate was acting as an instructor as she dictated acceptable rhetoric and viewpoints within her classroom.  Moreover Abbate pressured the undergraduate philosophy student to drop the class. 

29 March 2016

Weighing Why Scott Walker Enthusiastically Endorsed Ted Cruz

A week before the crucial Republican Wisconsin primary, Governor Scott Walker called into WTMJ AM's Charlie Sykes program to endorse Senator Ted Cruz for President.

Wisconsin is important in the GOP primary process, as it is a winner-take-all state at a time in which Donald Trump needs to convincingly win delegates to lock up the Republican nomination.  If Trump fails to win in the Badger State, it is increasingly likely that the GOP will have a contested convention in Cleveland.

Governor Walker withdrew from the 2016 Republican Presidential field in September 2015, well before any ballots were cast. This may be attributable to running a prematurely bloated campaign, lackluster debate performances and wanting to clear the field so Republicans could elect a conservative. Walker obviously had animus against Donald Trump's campaign, as Walker lamented how the 2016 campaign had devolved into personal attacks.

However, Governor Walker's full throated endorsement of Cruz for President is noteworthy for his commitment.  Walker is a youthful politician with a bright future.  And there are no term limits for  Cheesehead Governors. Walker won three gubernatorial elections in four years (including the 2012 recall election).  If Walker endorsement translates to a resounding victory for Cruz in the Wisconsin primary, Walker vaults back into the 2016 GOP Election cycle.  

If Walker's endorsement is seen as turning point in the primaries, Walker would be a hero to conservatives by preventing an unprincipled populist enough delegates for a first ballot nomination victory.  If Cruz is able to win the nomination (even in a contested convention second ballot), Walker can be seen as Kingmaker and Cruz may feel compelled to reward him as a running mate, along with his virtues of geographical balance, outsider appeal and reputation to fight progressives (along with his sizable donors list). It is akin to Florida in 2008 when former Governor Charlie Crist (FL- R-I-D) late endorsement of Senator John McCain vaulting his prospects, without the orange tan and RINO tendencies. 

But in the event that the GOP Cleveland Convention becomes deadlocked, Walker becomes an attractive alternative choice. Walker could appeal to evangelicals, conservatives, populists, angry "Reagan Democrats".  Walker can rightly claim that he is an outsider, with a track record of accomplishments and who has fought political correctness and unions and won. Walker dropped out because of needless name calling, so he has not alienated large segments of the party. 

22 March 2016

Re-Kindling Appreciation for Amazon's E-Book Reader

Recently, I took a trip to a quiet rural retreat where there was no television, WiFi was non-existent and internet was iffy on my cellular phone. In times past, if one quickly finished reading the books brought on a rainy weekend, it would be time to bide time by polishing doorknobs. Instead, I was able to reach for my Kindle e-ink reader and the literary world was at my fingertips.

I have reveled over Kindles since they initially came on the market.  This travel saga rekindled my appreciation for the Amazon's extraordinary e-book reader. In fact, my household is so fond of our Kindles that each of them is named.  For example, my first Kindle was dubbed  Isadore (named after the patron saint of libraries).  

While I now own several Kindles, I brought my beloved Kindle 2 Keyboard on the get-away. The Kindle 2  series had two types of Whispernet (the complimentary Amazon 3G series).  Fortunately, “Striker” was on the AT&T network, where I was getting five bars of coverage.  So I downloaded a number of samples and tried to choose my next title.  Several of the sample books displayed no more than the table of contents. A couple of sample choices included some of the preface and the first chapter. By surveying the samples, I could narrow down my choice. In fact, reading the samples eliminated titles from a couple of favorite authors based upon style and content.  

When I made my pick, I was able to buy the book and download it in one click and read away. I was excited about a couple of key passages so I highlighted the notes and shared them via Facebook and Twitter through the Whispernet 3G connection.

Although I finished a good chunk of the new book, but my eyes were closing while my mind was still active.  Fortunately, this generation of Kindles still had the text to speech option and built in speaker so a synthetic voice could read me to sleep.   The next morning, my traveling companion who is a techno-luddite seem amazed that I bought and read another book even in this remote retreat.

The Kindle came in handy as I purused other books because of the built in dictionary. The Kindle 2 has a keyboard which is OK for short notetaking, but one should not expect to pen the great American novel on it, and transferring the files can be challenging.

The feature that I treasure from this version of the Kindle E-reader is the “Experimental” internet browser.  Later versions of the Kindle e-reader restricted internet access to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  The Kindle 2 allowed for some web surfing of text based websites.  This was a God send for a news junkie like me. 

One new glitch from “Striker” is that it would not display Wikipedia listings neither from the experimental browser nor the automated Wikipedia search.  As the weekend progressed, I was disappointed as I had grown accustomed to spot checking facts and could not do so easily with this Kindle.  Perhaps on a related note, this Kindle was not recognizing the Kininstant bookmark shortener.

“Striker” is my third Kindle e-reader, as two had to be replaced because of screen problems thru Amazon’s unconditional return policy (at the time) for Kindles. The design was a marked improvement over the large cheese wedge Kindle 1. That being said, the unit did have a replaceable battery and allowed SD card storage. But the only difference that “Striker” had over my first K2 was that it was on the AT&T  Whispernet  which could get international 3G as opposed to just the Sprint CDMA Whispernet in the USA.

Alas, “Striker” was showing its age, as the Lithium Polymer battery could only hold a charge for several hours and then would immediately drain out. Perhaps this was due to battery memory as well as a battery which needed to be replaced.  I have considered acquiring a Kindle replacement battery for around $25 but I worry about doing the installation myself and bricking it.  Unfortunately, computer repair shops don’t want to take on the challenge of installation either.

Most people would be inclined just to get a new device, as surely Amazon has developed the latest and greatest e-reader.  But a Thrifty Techie realizes that it ain’t necessarily so. The Kindle Voyager and Kindle Paperwhite models (7th & 6th Generations) do have lit screens for night reading and extended battery life.  The Kindles has have  some new features like Vocabulary Builder and X-Ray title summaries.  Alas, when Amazon giveth, it has also taken away.  No longer do e-readers have speakers or headphone jacks, so text to speech is out of the question (it is available on the Kindle Fire models though).  If you pay $50 more, a Voyage or Paperwhite can have 3G capabilities, but that it now restricted to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  Amazon also sells an 8 Gig Kindle Fire tablet for $49 (which has text to speech) but the color backlit screen can cause eye fatigue for prolonged reading stints and may be tough the see reading outside. From a Thrifty-Techie’s perspective, newer isn’t necessarily better.   

I was resigned to make do with what I had, but an imminent Amazon Kindle software update forced my hand. As I was prepping my vintage e-readers for the mandatory download, I noticed that “Herbie 2", a Kindle Keyboard 3rd Gen (with WiFi) that I inherited from an inlaw was showing dead pixels.  These e-reader screens can be quite sensitive to pressure.  Herbie 1 had to be replaced when a teacup poodle sat on it. All but the top of the screen displayed correctly, but it would be maddening to use it as an e-reader.

After some investigation on E-bay, I found an upgraded used Kindle Keyboard 3rd Gen with WiFi and 3G for $32 with shipping.  This means that it would have text to speech, the ungoverned experimental browser with about 4 gig of storage (enough for 3500 books). This design does not have a touch screen, which I consider is an advantage on a dedicated e-reader, so as not having fingerprints on the screen.  The downsides are that it does not come with a power cord (but I already have several).  Another variable is the condition of the battery. 

Although I will probably have to manually do the software update, it seems like it is worth the trade off. So I am happy to include another Kindle into the Thrifty-Techie family.

17 March 2016

Knights of Columbus Picks Up Its Crux

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson on Saving The Crux

Recently  the Boston Globe indicated that it would be withdrawing its financial support for "The Crux", a website covering "All things Catholic", on April 1st 2016, citing a lack of Catholic advertisers.   But within a week, the Knights of Columbus announced that it would partner with the website so that the Crux could continue to be "Keeping its finger on the Catholic Pulse".

The Crux coverage featured veteran Vatincanista reporter John Allen, Jr., who was respected on both sides of the Catholic spectrum.  When it  began in September 2014, The Crux sought to cover all things Catholic, appealing to active Catholics, "casual" Catholics and those who were just interested in spirituality, religion and Pope Francis.

This new partnership between the Knights of Columbus and The Crux will allow esteemed Vatican reporter John Allen, Jr. and Ines San Martin to continue to report on the Holy See, the Church and religious liberty around the world.

The Knights of Columbus plan to merge their current Catholic Pulse web effort with The Crux.  The hope is that the combination of skills and resources will bolster informed, responsible and fair journalism that sets the tone for consideration of Catholic issues nationally and world wide.

The Knights of Columbus will become The Crux's main sponsor and advertiser but it will continue to solicit appropriate advertising.  There is some consideration that The Crux may allow for co-sponsorship on specific topics which align with the Knights of Columbus and The Crux mission.

When the Boston Globe announced its intentions to abandon The Crux, national reporter Michael O'Laughlin and spirituality columnist Margery Eagan decided to leave The Crux.  Eagan's departure may be fortuitous, as traditional Catholics have been irked by some of her thought pieces, particularly on homosexuality and the Church.

Card. Donald Wuerl dedicates JPII Shrine altar 10/02/15
This is not the only high profile effort the Knights of Columbus have done to preserve and spread the faith.  The Knights of Columbus bought the struggling  John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington DC  for $27 million in 2011 and converted it into the St. John Paul II Shrine, featuring Redemptor Hominis Church, featuring the mosaics of Fr. Marko Rupnik (also the artist of Pope John Paul's II's personal chapel).

I believe that it is good news that the K of C has picked up its Crux, as the New Evangelization requires re-introducing the faith and standing for religious liberty, alas neither of which will occur through the secular mainstream media. 

22 February 2016

On Earned Media and Enabling

Campaigns must be able to spread the word about their campaigns when doing wholesale politics.  Thus campaigns must either buy media spots (paid media) or generate free media coverage (earned media).  This may be accomplished from  a spectacular campaign event, an unusual comment which is considered "newsworthy" or from media hits.

The 2016 Republican field has used different media strategies to varying effect. For example, former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) and his independent (but sympathetic) Right to Rise Super-PAC gathered a huge war chest to sway voters.  The Jeb! strategy was to earn legitimacy in Republican voters eyes by amassing a cornucopia of endorsements and shape the field by flooding the airways with paid media.

Obviously, this strategy did not work out well for the Bush scion.  Pointing to a score of retired generals who endorsed Jeb did not prove to have much sway.  Some of the name endorsements, like former Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) really seemed dated.  And Jeb bringing out his mother and former President brother in South Carolina smacked of desperation. This was too little too late and did not generate significant (or particularly positive) earned media

More telling was the money that Jeb and the Right to Rise Super-PAC burned through tens of millions of dollars on paid media.  The Jeb campaign and Right to Rise  flooded the airwaves in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina but Bush fell in towards the back of the pack and suspended his campaign early in the voting.

The Washington Post published a telling graphic to illustrate the cost benefit of Republican Primary campaigns on paid media and actual votes.

The only campaign which spent more per vote than Jeb Bush did is Dr. Ben Carson. But as Carson Campaign's Business Manager (tellingly NOT a Campaign Manager) Armstrong Williams knows, branding can be quite expensive.  But it can also be lucrative for those charged with placing the ads.  Bush confidant Mike Murphy worked at the Jeb oriented Right to Rise Super-PAC but reportedly earned $14 million for buying the earned media.  Nice job if you can get it.

On the other end of the campaign publicity spectrum,  there is earned media.  Capitalizing on earned media has been one of the keys of Donald Trump's current success in the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary race.  Donald Trump has been a master creating controversy to keep the spotlight focused on him and earning lots of earned media. During the summer of 2015, Trump received saturation media coverage by the networks.   Trump's experience doing reality television already established name recognition and a branding of successful businessman in the eyes of many non-political low information voters.  By saying outrageous things and constantly attacking opponents who threaten his perch, Trump generates tons of earned media.

Another characteristic of the 2016 Trump campaign is a persistent attack on the media. Trump complains seemingly whenever a media organization reports something critical.  Trump will label them nasty, unfair or stupid.  Trump has gone so far to eject credentialed media with whom Trump does not like the line of their questions.

Trump has a trend of disparaging journalists who challenge him, from benign interviews with Katy Tor to hostile news conference exchanges with Jorge Ramos.  Most famously, Donald Trump launched myriad mysogenic slurs against Megyn Kelly, a Fox News anchor who questioned how Trump treated women. Several months later, Trump claimed that he was boycotting Fox News debates because of Megyn Kelly's inclusion, but later relented when Trump discovered that missing debates could hurt him amongst the electorate. To be fair, it might also have been a Trump technique of truthful hyperbole to further self promotion.

The attack dog mentality plays well for the angry electorate but Trump's tirades against Fox News seem somewhat counter-intuitive. Fox News has long been considered the major media outlet most friendly to Republican voices. Despite what Trump-eteers trumpet on social media, much of Fox News is friendly towards Donald Trump.  Trump has long done weekly call ins with Fox & Friends.  Judge Janine Pirro has a longstanding friendship with Trump and has formally endorsed him.  In addition, Sean Hannity is a personal friend, as is Bill O'Reilly.  Both are happy to give the Manhattan mogul airtime, but these shows do not necessarily endorse the candidate, although O'Reilly was obsequious in begging Trump to participate in debates (even promising to take milkshakes off the ledger).

So why does Trump peseverate on complaining about Fox News? The answer may be several fold. Trump loves positive news stories about himself. Despite all of the earned media, news hooks and friendly airtime through the auspices of Fox News, Trump has not won over Megyn Kelly thus he feels justified to rail against Fox.  Cynically, Trump might deduce that attacking Trump may appeal to his "silent majority" of blue collar (Reagan) Democrats that are poised to support a populist like Trump but their perspectives have been poisoned by constant Democrat lambasting of Fox News.  From a Machiavellian mode, by intimidating a strong opponent, it sends a bully message to the rest of the media and harbors a hint that they might lose access if they do not say nice things about Trump.

For running a comparatively shoe-string budget campaign, Trump has done well trading on celebrity, controversy and earned media access.  Cable channels love to run with Trump quips because they attract eyeballs and create controversy, which improves ratings. Trump tends to speak unscripted, so you never know what he is going to say.  As many campaign rallies have been at large venues, live media coverage can be justified as being newsworthy. Trump is not shy about doing interviews with those he can rely upon not to be hostile interviews, so he gets lots of airtime.

It is a curiosity that progressive channels like MSNBC and CNN have also been Trump obsessed. Is it because it is newsworthy? Does it attract eyeballs? Or could it be media manipulation to help pick the Republican nominee who will be easiest for a progressive to beat? Enabling through earned media isn't always an endorsement.

Some might conclude that Trump is brilliant in leveraging earned media to his advantage in the 2016 Election. But glowing coverage and earned media can only get a candidate so far.  And those who live by the media can perish by the media.  Senator John McCain had such a chummy relationship with the media on his Straight Talk Express, but the media mob turned on him after he won the 2008 Republican nomination. NBC News has bought all of the footage from Selena Scott's BBC documentary on Donald Trump but is holding the damning information until after the convention. The Lamestream Media has not focused on some of the business connections of the real estate tycoon.

Unless the Republican electorate is convinced that it is a Trump landslide, it is difficult to see how an earned media oriented strategy works to appeal in nine separate primary races during the so called SEC primary on March 1st.  Then on March 15th, there are several big winner take all states in Florida, Ohio and Illinois which have many media markets and are not built for quick barnstorming campaigns.

But Trump is not the only seriously competitive candidate in the Republican nomination race.  Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) campaign relies heavily on endorsements and paid media.  Rubio and his independent (but aligned) Conservative Solutions Super-PAC had amassed a vast war chest.  Moreover, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his four independent (but aligned) Keep the Promise Super-PACs have raised lots of money and have been have resisted the temptation to blow the war chest early.  This paid media, combined with strategic earned media news hooks and organized Get Out the Vote drives, could deflate the Trump balloon.

Trump is short on specifics but loves to taut his poll ratings and his greatness on media availability, might not look as promising for earned media if the so called Trump Train is slowed down.  For example, Donald Trump accepted his second place finish in the Iowa Caucus' gracefully and did not use social media much the next day.  Consequently, Trump disappeared from the media spotlight.  The next day, Trump cranked up the smear machine questioning Cruz's eligibility and other outrageous claims that Carson had votes stolen from him during the Iowa Caucus.  That media circus strategy works well  for Trump when everyone is concentrating on the next state.  But when there are many simultaneous contests in diverse regions, that might not be a successful strategy, especially if the media (or the establishment) has anointed the new "golden boy" for saturation coverage.

Looking forward to the General Election, once the Republican nomination is decided, even friendly foils in the media become fierce foes. This is to maintain impartiality, to create controversy to become newsworthy and often reflects the liberal Lamesteam Media bias.  If a candidate is overly reliant on earned media from chaos campaigning and chummy Manhattan media ties, it could endanger the viability of such a candidacy. Oppo research leaks to the media about a candidate's shortcomings (or even silly stuff like crating a dog on top of a station wagon for a summer vacation) can dominate the media landscape and besmirch the reputation of a former media darling. While such jaundiced journalism would not alienate the hardened core of Trump supporters, it would bolster the ceiling of popularity and drive the debate to terra incognita

16 February 2016

Parsing Political Polling

In the 2016 Election Cycle, the Republican Presidential Primary has been driven by plethora of political polls.  In fact, Donald Trump regularly trumpets his lead in “all the polls”.  Yet Trump was surprised when he underperformed in the Iowa Caucuses, which has prompted bizarre tangents that the Manhattan Mogul really should have won the contest.

To try to educate enthusiastic but unsophisticated political partisans, here are some things to look for when considering  the merits of polls.

Internet polls are unreliable.  If this were not the case, former Representative RON Paul (R-TX 14th & 22nd) would have been the GOP nominee in 2008 and 2012 based on Internet Polling.  There is no sampling, nor fail-safe ways to prevent over-voting.  Internet polls do give an indication of social media enthusiasm, but this can be gamed and is not indicative of real grassroots support.

For the primaries, national polls are misleading as they mainly give a gauge of name recognition. If a candidate is well known, such as Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for the Democrats or Donald Trump competing in the Republican primaries, national polls can seem skewed towards them.

Given this reality, such candidates may craft their message to be one of inevitability.  This pitch can be a perception that the nomination process is a coronation or that the leader in the national polls will sweep the table.

There are some sources, such as Real Clear Politics, which will combine polls to give a national average. This can give some indication about movements by candidates, but since this merges different methodologies, it is dangerous to rely upon the specific numbers.

 In our system, however, states hold primaries.  These states have different primary electorates, and often vote on different dates  so candidates’ messages are often tailored to appeal (perhaps pandering) to particular audiences.  For example, Ohio Governor John Kasich started to drop his “n”s in  and be downhome in evangelical appeal at the last South Carolina primary. Sometimes this strategy works, but it can come off as unctuous and inauthentic.

While state polls can be more illuminating, there are still lots of details one must discern in the cross tabs.  Most casual consumers of campaign news only listen for the top line results, either the pecking order or the purported percentage of support.  The crosstabs involve the margin of error.

For example, this CBS GOP bar graph for the South Carolina polling has a Margin of Error (MOE) of 5.7%.   A useful rule of thumb is that ANY poll with a Margin of Error of more than 5% is practically meaningless.   In this instance, Senator Ted Cruz could have  25.7% support or as little as 14.3%. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) could vault into second with up to 20.7% or drop into a tie for fourth place at 9.3%.  That large range makes most of the pecking order suspect.

Then there is the question of who makes up the body of those who are polled.  Asking any American is dubious for primaries as most of those contests are closed. So if a poll’s sample is skewed 80% Democrats for a Republican primary, the results will be apple-sauce.  A slightly more reliable class is registered voters, but without separating party affiliation, this will still be suspect.  The gold standard is likely voters for a given party.

In order to find a pool of likely voters, pollsters will ask vetting questions to ensure that the surveyed voter has cast ballots in several past elections.  This takes time and costs the pollster money, but is much more reliable than something like an internet poll with trolls clicking out of their parents’ basement.

Polling is both an art and a science.  The pollster needs to predict what is the right turnout model for an election.  Grassroots Republicans are more likely to turn out in off-year elections.  There were extraordinary turnouts of new voters and African American voters who turned out for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.  Will the same numbers of voters return in elections where Mr. Obama is not standing?  It can be a major mistake for pollsters to use the wrong model when predicting elections

Determining the right sample is imperative and may explain the disparity between the polls and the Iowa Caucus results.  Prior to the Hawkeye Cauci, it was postulated that Trump needed to turn out a large swell of new participants to the caucus.  The Trump campaign did not concentrate on Get Out the Vote efforts.  Nevertheless, there was a large contingent of “new voters”, but the new voters were disinclined to support Trump.

Public polls are only news if a news source determines that it is fit to print and advances their narrative.  Some news sources have sat on poll results which do not augment their desired narrative, or they will bury them with Friday afternoon releases or on the back pages.

It used to be Gallup that was the standard, but they seemingly have bowed out of election polls. But not every polling company is the same For instance, Public Policy Polling tends to be a Democrat operation. So their results may be crafted to make mischief for Republicans or have flawed methodology.

The manner which a prospective pollee is contacted may influence the results.  It used to be that telephone polling was pretty reliable. However, now that many households have dropped land-lines, results including cell-phone callers can be questionable.  When you call also matters. If pollsters will reach fewer Republicans at home during weekends, which may adversely affect the numbers. There is some thought that people are more likely to tell pollsters that they support Trump if it is an automated call rather than person to person.

Robo-call polls are not really meant to measure support for an election field but are the cover for push polling.  In puah polla, if a voter indicates that they like candidate X, they may be told adverse information meant to dampen support for that candidate. Trump has been complaining about Cruz’s robo calls about Trump dropping out, but it seems like Trump is fulfilling that premise with insinuations that he might quit if the GOP does not treat him right.

Exit polls, which are conducted on election day, after a voter has casted his ballot, often are instructive in the eleventh hour.  These exit polls can be off the mark if there is too small of a sample, if the chosen precincts are not representative of the electorate and the reality of some voters will not tell the whole truth to their interviewers.  Exit polls give news organizations a heads up on probable election results before the polls close and facilitate in forecasting end of the evening winners. Aside from inquiring about the actual candidate, exit polls can be a barometer about what were the real hot button issues for voters and give the media something to talk about as the election returns start to come in.

It is unfortunate that in the 24/7 news cycle, many media sources will use horse race polls of dubious merit to fill their time and create excitement in the electorate.  This can create false expectations by those who just scan the headlines.

There are internal polls which are commissioned by campaigns.  These internal polls can give politicians a real reading of the electorate.  These internal polls can also be enlisted to hone a message to find out what are hot button issues or what is a better way to couch a policy proposal.  But these internal polls can also convey wishful thinking.  When a campaign leaks an internal poll, they may be giving credible alternative information ignored by the drive-by media.  Or it could be releasing agiprop to staunch waning support or to create a perception of a surge.

Instead of premising political support on the bandwagon effect, voters should make up their own minds
and not be framed by the primary polls.  The reality is that the only poll that counts is on Election Day.
If the eventual winner of the primaries is not one’s cup of tea, other metrics may be called for in the General Election.