31 December 2007

State of Talk Radio in the Valley 2007

I admit, it's a struggle to compose this annual roundup. I love radio, but podcasts on my iPod have supplanted much of my allotted news/talk listen time. Still, I've managed to cobble together another appraisal of Phoenix talk radio offerings. Every year that I've logged this account, the state of talk radio in the Phoenix market has deteriorated. And 2007 is no exception.

2007 ushered in the big KTAR AM/FM split, with 620 AM now devoted to sports and 92.3 FM the home of news/talk. Yes, "it just sounds better" on FM, but the lords of KTAR programming seem to have neglected the content factor. Worse, KTAR seems to be engaged in a deep identity crisis, at least from the vantage point of their proclamations:

  • First championing "live and local" as their trademark, but then dumping that notion for delayed syndicated fare, and bringing "local" hosts in from other parts of the country who themselves are self-proclaimed host-a-likes for the syndicated Glenn Beck.
  • KTAR programmer Russ Hill decries the attention to politics on talk shows, but the station now is even more political than it's competitor that it is falling behind in the ratings, KFYI.
  • KTAR boasted via on-air promotional bits how they are "not Republicans or Democrats", yet their programming is nothing but rabid right wingers.
  • Blasting the rival station for airing a "local" show that's not really local (Joe Crummey, who was replaced by J.D. Hayworth, broadcasted his Phoenix talk show from California), yet turns around and hires Crummey for their own station.

Seriously, KTAR has swayed on these and other matters, sometimes in a span as small as weeks. But contrary to these announcements, it does appear that KTAR does have an identity and it's in the mold of Glenn Beck and wannabe imitators.

Up and down the dial, on the other talk stations, things are pretty much as they were a year ago:

  • Joe Crummey, after the uproar over his local deception, was replaced by former Arizona congressman J.D. Hayworth.
  • KFYI axed its nightly "wheel of hosts" format for the hate spew of Michael Savage.
  • KFNX continues its spate of colon blow and gold hawking shows, sans Charles Goyette in morning drive time.
  • Long time Phoenix radio legend John Dayl passed away.
  • On KKNT 960 AM, Liddy and Hill ended their on-air marriage.
  • Legendary Pat McMahon exits, again, from daytime KTAR radio.

Across the net, in blog posts and forum threads, I read a chorus of complaints about the stale state of the genre, and a never ceasing stream of queries on what new trends or rising stars can save talk radio from the sorrowful morass it has become. But it's not a perplexing puzzle at all — there is a tried and true formula that could easily restore the medium. It goes like this:

  1. An intelligent host lines up representative or experts from both sides of an issue (i.e., immigration, Iraq War, school vouchers, etc.…). It doesn't have to be always "political", but nothing stirs the soup like a heated political debate. But topics could easily extend to lighter fare, any subject where there exists a sizable listener interest.
  2. Host lobs a set of questions at each of the issue opponents. No way does the host have to be neutral, but he or she most certainly should conduct the interview in an objective manner. Nothing wrong with an opinionated narrator with their own slants and takes, but they must accommodate criticism and feedback for their adopted planks.
  3. Open up guest questioning to callers, and grant them a crack at addressing the declarations and points made and/or not made by the experts (or representatives). The dialogue and tone needs to be respectful, but the host shouldn't serve as public relations handler either.
  4. On a weekly or monthly basis, feature a special forum staffed by the most colorful and erudite callers, and let them have a chance to go mano to mano against each other and even enable other callers to challenge them.
  5. Incorporate an online presence for the radio show that serves as an extension or addendum, allowing devoted listeners denied the opportunity to call in and have their say. Or set up virtual buckets for show topic suggestions. Maybe voting on best guest of the week, or best call of the day.

While this model of conducting a radio talk show has disappeared from the airwaves, it has surfaced in the form of podcasts, albeit without much in the caller participation aspect (though with technology advances, that may soon change).

Regardless, the same old approach that's rolled out — put on an obnoxious host that just uses callers to as a prop for a diatribe — has become so tired and stale, and continues to chase listeners away. Yes, it worked for Rush Limbaugh, and for that exact age, may have been a marvelous strategy for a select number of programs. But it's a new age, and time for change, or at least a return to producing intelligent shows, without name calling and riled up, angry, frothing at the mouth listeners.

At any rate, off to the roundup:
» read more

9 December 2007

Clearly, the XO’s mission has sailed over these people’s heads like a 747

If you're not familiar with the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) program it is a mission of a non-profit organization to develop a low cost laptop for the world's children.

Some people just don't get it, though.

So what to do? Let's give these kids these little green computers. That will do it! That will solve the poverty problem and everything else, for that matter. Does anyone but me see this as an insulting "let them eat cake" sort of message to the world's poor?

"Sir, our village has no water!" "Jenkins, get these people some glassware!"

But, wait. Think of how cool it would be! Think of how many families will get to experience the friendly spam-ridden Information Super Ad-way laced with Nigerian scams, hoaxes, porn, blogs, wikis, spam, urban folklore, misinformation, sites selling junk from China, bomb-making instructions, jihad initiatives, communist propaganda, Nazi propaganda, exhortations, movie clips of cats playing the piano, advertising, advertising, and more advertising. Do you now feel better about the world's problems, knowing that some poor tribesman's child has a laptop? What African kid doesn't want access to Slashdot?

It's really not about giving away computers. It is an effort to change the world by placing powerful tools in the hands of the "least of these". Yes, the poverty stricken need food, but more important they need to learn how to secure resources, gain knowledge, apply it, build community and nurture mastermind alliances.

Giving food is swell and saves lives, but a permanent resolution lies in addressing the social institutions that are failing their people. Knowledge and education pave the way to defining such entities and provide for greater justice.

I haven't put my hands on an XO laptop but from my research it looks like a super machine for its intended audience.

  • Durable, able to withstand elemental rigors like dropping, dust, and water.
  • Efficient power supply usage and longer life battery.
  • Readable in sunlight, and high DPI (1200 x 900 pixels on a 7.5 inch screen).
  • Not for running Windows and Microsoft Office to crank out spreadsheets. Instead, its Linux OS is intended for creation and play — programming environments, multimedia programs, music programs, painting programs, etc.…
  • Sadly, Dvorak plays the Luddite card, decrying the internet as the bane of existence, while ironically writing this drivel for a computer magazine (which is evolving into a e-zine).

The XO has been in the crosshairs of more than just cranky internet curmudgeons. Major players like Intel and Microsoft have also geared up the attack as they view global markets of unserved computer users as their domain. Intel embarked upon their own "emerging market" solution. And Microsoft wants to mess with the OLPC XO to make it Windows friendly.

Read a more balanced review of the XO.

The Give One, Get One promotion, where you can donate a laptop to child in a developing nation and receive one for a child here runs until December 31.

7 December 2007

Who Should Be Allowed to Vote?

On a recent radio show, the host posed the question of voting rights and decried the notion of one person, one vote. He is bothered that his informed vote is easily nullified by an "idiot vote".

In America, our system is simple: every citizen over 18 can vote as long as he isn’t a criminal or insane (generally). But these rules seem much more like a practical system than a theoretically coherent system. Should illiterate people vote? They haven’t read the Constitution. Should people who don’t pay taxes vote? They don’t suffer the consequences of their decisions. Should women vote? They can’t be drafted. Should the elderly vote? They have wisdom, but they won’t have to live with the consequences very long. Should children vote? They certainly have the most to lose by bad decisions. We require all sorts of tests before we let someone drive a car, but any old idiot can influence all of our lives by voting. So lets pretend that we are setting up a new system for voting…what would that system require of someone, if anything, before voting?

Yes, Mr. Tallman, you are being an elitist and you erroneously equate the rule of kings with we the people. What made America great in the evolution of government was emphasis on “we the people”, a product of the Enlightenment, that people had rights, unlike the previous ages of world history where no such social contract ever was in existence, at least on a scale as grand as America.

“We the people” means we are the government and the government is us. The host brands government as sanctioned “steal, kidnap, and kill” but that assertion is not apt for our form of government. Is it a fitting moniker for monarchies or dictatorships, but not a model of representative government. How can one “steal or kidnap” ourselves? I left “kill” out, because a nation does go to war, but unfortunately, our history is stained by those occurrences where America was led to war not by democratic sway, but by principle of unitary executive, in flagrant violation of our constitutional charter.

Addressing some of the list points made in favor of voter suppression:

Illiterate people?

On the surface, the notion of banning the illiterate seems sensible. But at the other end, does that mean a voracious reader like me that consumes dozens of books a week is inherently more qualified than someone who primarily gains their knowledge from watching CNN or Fox News? Of course not. And going forth, our culture is transitioning from a written word culture to a visual culture. It’s been established that we’re not exactly a people that like to read:

58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school. 42% of college graduates never read another book. 80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year. 70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. 57% of new books are not read to completion.

How about “computer illiterate” people? Are they also acknowledged as lesser informed, and thus mete out their vote in unqualified fashion? Our society is one now where one is required to grasp technology to function in it, at least in terms of holding down a job. And increasingly, with media ownership consolidation, the internet (or possibly your public library) is the only resource where you can get more than one side of a story. Or be able to explore all the facets of an issue, not just the strawman hoisted by clever propagandists.

Elderly Vote?

The assumption that the elderly “won’t have to live with the consequences” is flawed — elderly are not only endowed with greater wisdom, but their voting is motivated to see a better world for their children and their children’s children. Though issuing a universal edict on the matter is not a sensible proposition, I would gauge that older, wiser citizens possess a much more forward looking perspective, as opposed to younger people, whose focus is often solely confined to immediacy and interests in their own selfish sphere.

As an aside, the host’s attacks on social security are completely without merit. Social security was established to keep the elderly from dying in the streets, and measured on that criteria, it’s been a success that serves people of all ages. Folks of his political persuasion continue to attack the doings of the New Deal, despite the historical truth that those measures created the middle class in America.

People who don’t pay taxes?

Even people who don’t pay taxes are affected by policies and legislation. I would venture that workers who pay very little in taxes are the foundation of society — they do the work and provide for the riches that do flow to the financially powered. Others like students enrolled in study of a scientific discipline or profession represent the nation's investment to ensure its future prospects are rosier than previous times, and thus, are principle players of equal or greater value than many other tax payers.

Citizenship Tests?

The host defended his ideal system has discriminatory against “dumb people” and not in the spirit of Jim Crow. But there is much hubris in this notion — simple “citizenship tests” are naive and simplistic, and that retaining overly simplistic historical tidbits, taken outside of historical context, grant no meaningful benefit by themselves. Sure, a citizen should be versed in the composition, structure and process of government, but I’m not so certain that a “citizenship test” can effectively serve proof. It’s far more likely that such measures would enable those striving to disenfranchise those of lesser means. Even today, there are still atrocious accounts of voter suppression and campaigns to nullify blocks of voters.


The present mark, 18, is suitable, and should not be raised or lowered — as it would be a travesty (and was prior to a constitutional amendment) to be able to fight and die for your country, but be denied suffrage. Granted, there may be small set of younger folks who should be allotted suffrage, but I don’t see how that group could be properly delineated with “citizenship tests” or other criteria.

On another thread spun by the host, why should extra votes or increased weight be given to married families or larger families? In fact, if such a system were to be implemented, the reverse should apply — that extra resources that all have to pay for (education, security, increased resource consumption) are incurred by “we the people”.

Poll taxes

The idea that citizens should pay to vote or be given extra weight according to their wealth is a crass, gross concept.

In looking at our system, the points at which money is given extraordinary weigh, are the flaws in need of correction. Senators were appointed by state legislatures but this practice became so corrupt a constitutional amendment was passed to stop financial overlords from swallowing the legislative process whole. Absolutely, the founding fathers framework divided the parts of government for the sake of checks and balances, but the legislative branch was envisioned to be the will of the people and the Senate/House split setup for the internal check within the legislative body. Via state legislatures, this was a still part of democratic construct — with the U.S. rise to global powerhouse, the institutions served the money men, not “we the people”.

Defense of the current system

It means we get the government we deserve. Aristocracy is not superior to democracy, and the real life stage of world history is illustrative of this truth. Aristocracy is the enemy of “we the people” — it subverts justice to the interests of the rulers, denies opportunity except to patrons of them in power, and regresses culture and society. All through history, aristocrats have drained the fountain of progress, it’s been only since the social contract implicit in our Constitution that political and economical freedom became a reality for a majority of the nation’s people.

Another system?

I must confess that the citizenship model in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is appealing to me, though Heinlien’s model is criticized for its militarism. In the fictional Starship Troopers world, citizenship was earned by volunteering for service and could only be exercised after honorable discharge from such service. Others had rights including freedom of speech but only those who serve get a say in governance. It strikes me as a just system when only those who have made the sacrifice of service to their country should be in command of its charter.

Such a system, however, would require we totally discard the current constitution and begin anew. Yes, this a theoretical discussion — but the successful application of the U.S. Constitution is a solid practical argument against such a radical change. It’s not free of deficiencies, though, and going forth, maybe our framework will prove to be unsuitable for the 21st century and beyond.

Tinkering with the present system

One of the great things about our system is that is has been tinkered with, and improved through generations of Americans. Contrary to the wishes of “philosopher kings”, most believe that opening the vote up to non-property owners, women, non-white people, etc.… is a most beneficial and just course.

  1. An informed and educated citizenry — democracy requires an informed and educated citizenry to operate property. Literacy means nothing if the media channels are completely controlled by corporate interests who fill them nothing with propaganda. Recently, the internet has evolved as a great equalizer, offering a marketplace of knowledge and ideas not being served by traditional media entities. Hence, issues like consolidation of media ownership and net neutrality must be cornerstones of real democratic reform. This is so essential to proper government that the media industry is the only explicitly specified in the Constitution. And even early on, the press was heavily subsidized, through the establishment of the Post Office and other means, to nourish and promote the idea of a “free press”.

    I think right now there’s some important scholarship that is coming out, not just myself, Paul Starr at Princeton has a new book out “The Creation of the Media,” which discusses this, too, which really demonstrates that our media system historically, through to the present day, has nothing to do with free markets and magical technologies. It has nothing to do with some biblical command from Moses or the founding fares, but in fact it’s due to a policy making, subsidies, government monopoly franchises that lay the foundation for how our media system will work, who has power, who doesn’t what the logic is going to be. And what’s extraordinary, when you look at the history, is, at the founding period of this republic, there were tremendous media subsidies, press subsidies or printing subsidies and especially postal subsidies, which were used to really spawn a much more diverse, wide open and democratic press then would have existed if we just left it to the market. And the moral of the story, why this is important is, it gives us today as citizens who are dissatisfied of the caliber of journalism we’re getting and dissatisfied with the type of media that we’re getting, the power to know that the system we have today isn’t natural law, but a result of policies. Today though unlike in the first generation of the republic, they’re made extraordinarily corruptly behind closed doors by powerful special interests. But armed with this knowledge, as real citizens in a democracy, we have an obligation, not just a right, but obligation to establish free press.

  2. Instant runoff voting — the two party system in America has a stranglehold on the political process. While I don’t agree with those who claim that there is no significant difference in the parties, there indeed is a relevant set of issues where both parties stand in unison as the “Washington party”, and completely in opposition to the interests of the American people. The implementation of instant runoff voting would be a healthy tonic, and do a great part in breaking the two party monopoly on the political process. Voters could then vote their conscience without any qualms about unwittingly serving a underhanded vote to a lesser preferred candidate in the two party system.

  3. Disproportionate weight given to rural populations — 10% of the American population easily trumps the other 90% in the Senate,by virtue of the unbalanced nature of state populations, ensuring that this body is quite paralyzed in its constitutional role. The interests of urban workers are drowned but worse, the rural voting block is hijacked by corporate special interests that mainly revolve around funneling government largess into corporate windfalls. At the time of the nation’s founding, such divisions, though present were nowhere near the extreme outliers that exist in today’s geographic alignment.

  4. Corporations citizen status revoked — the notion of corporate citizenship is a gross affront to the sensibilities and vision of America’s founding fathers. It is ironic, because the American rebellion was a strike against the chartered corporate giants of the day, like the British East India Company. Now, in the legal and political realm, corporations are immortal entities, borderless leviathans that easily trump “we the people”. Nothing is sacred — life, justice, sovereignty — all sacrificed on the altar of the almighty dollar.

  5. Gerrymandering — slicing up voting districts not by geographic bounds, but by voter demographics and tendencies needs to end.

I reject the fatalist view that “we the people” are flawed — in fact, it represented an evolutionary factor in the advance of government. One that empowered all of its citizens to realize life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The alternative, which prevailed overwhelmingly, outside of an occasional spark, of rule by aristocrats, was only of benefit to a small cartel of privilege. The majority were confined to filling the coffers of corrupt overlords.

In America, as a result of the Enlightenment and prescient thinkers, that through the ages tyranny was shattered. No, not completely, and still, there are drawbacks and foibles in need of remedy with the system. But one would have to deny historical truth to believe we have been ill served by "we the people".