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Archive for August, 2007

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The Gaffe Machine

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Let’s talk for a minute about this woman:

Her name is Caitlin Upton, and she was the fourth place finisher in the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant. Despite the fact that the pageant didn’t even make the Top 20 Nielsen ratings, the above video has (as of this writing) been viewed by approximately 1.5 million people. Other versions of the video are on YouTube as well, and two of them are currently listed in YouTube’s Top 10 Most Viewed video list. It’s safe to say that more people have seen the video clip than watched the actual pageant to begin with.

It’s also safe to say that every last one of them thinks Ms. Upton is as dumb as a brick. The user comments on the above video call her everything from a “moron” to a “dumb bitch” to one who “only exists to give pleasure to men.” The thing is, she’s not so dumb. This from MSNBC:

Held up on the Internet as the quintessential dumb blonde, Upton was an honor student in high school who played varsity soccer for four years. This summer, she traveled to Germany with an elite soccer team that placed second in a tournament involving teams from a number of European countries. In her junior and senior years, she was her school’s president of SkillsUSA, which describes itself as “a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled work force.”

Upton’s long-term goals include enrolling in Appalachian State University to major in graphic design. On graduation, she wants to study special effects at the International Academy of Design Technology in Los Angeles and embark on a career designing special effects for movies and television.

On the Today Show the following day, she gave a much more coherent answer to the pageant’s question, and also came back later in the show to deliver “a flawless explanation of lunar eclipses.”

So what we have here is a character assassination. Caitlin Upton is not a dumb blonde, but she did commit the worst sin in America: she looked bad on television. Once she did that, millions of Americans formed and cemented their opinions, and no amount of explanation or second chances was going to help.

She’s also not the first non-moron to fall victim to this phenomenon. President Bush jumps immediately to mind. As does former Vice President Dan Quayle, and Vice Presidential candidate James Stockdale (of “Who am I? Why am I here?” infamy).

But there’s something else going on here as well. This is a new, 21st Century version of character assassination, in which no individual or group conspires to destroy a person. At least in the cases of Bush or Quayle, one could argue that their political enemies conspired to spin up injurious tales about them, altering public perceptions to achieve their own ends. In Ms. Upton’s case, our cultural mechanisms, including the glut of entertainment content available across thousands of cable and satellite channels, not to mention the almighty Internet, seem to automatically generate this kind of story, leaving the victim no one to blame and no effective recourse, despite the fact that the message is horribly inaccurate.

It feels as though the pageant is not so much televised to be viewed by the public, but to provide raw materials for those who would scan through it, find an embarrassing or humorous moment, and then highlight it for the world via YouTube or some similar vehicle. Then, social networking takes over and distributes the “gaffe” around the world, pointing people back to the source material only if they’d like further context.

In a weird way, the same can be said of the 29 “Presidential” debates that have been scheduled so far. I put the word “Presidential” in quotes because we all seem to be ignoring the fact that there is no presidential election this year, and so these debates are really about giving the candidates the opportunity to say something newsworthy. There is no real reason to watch them when they happen (and, in fact, very few people have). Instead, we count on the teeming millions out there (mainstream media and bloggers alike) to extract any controversial, embarrassing, humorous, or otherwise interesting snippet from them, post them in a publicly viewable forum, and then spread the word to the rest of us.

Both the pageants and the debates (and while you’re at it, throw in Reality TV shows, Award shows, most sporting events, and anything that’s ever been on C-SPAN), are no longer the end product. They are inputs for the giant Gaffe Machine that we’ve built with our technological capabilities and our short attention spans.

It all makes me wonder whether this Gaffe Machine is the cause or the effect. If the only way to see the gaffe was to watch the debate, might the entire debate be more informative? If the only way to hear Ms. Upton fumble on about “U.S. Americans” was to watch the pageant, would the pageant itself be more popular, and by extension, more entertaining?

Categories: News and/or Media | 5 Comments »

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over…

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Coming up on September 1st, and the Red Sox lead the Yankees by six games in the American League East. As Mike Francesa of Mike and the Mad Dog (WFAN, New York) says, “The Red Sox are like the timezones – ahead in the spring and behind in the fall.” Look at this chart:

With the exception of 2004 (their World Series year), where they actually made a mini-run at the division at the end of the season, the pattern is always the same – build a small lead in the beginning of the season, and then watch it fade away by October.

This year, unfortunately, has been a bit different. The annual, mid-season lead spiked to double digits for the first time in six years, and this is their biggest lead for September 1st in that timeframe (data prior to 2001 was not easily available on the web). The biggest 9/1 lead they’ve blown has been 5.5 games (in 2001), so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities, but it’s going to be tough…


Categories: Sports Talk | 2 Comments »

Strange Bedfellows…

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

TO:Senator Larry Craig
FROM:Fmr. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez
DATE:August 28, 2007


Thanks for the air cover. Your timing is impeccable. Sorry I couldn’t meet you in that bathroom stall in Minneapolis like we’d planned. Maybe next time, OK?


Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

In Minnesota, Your 15 Minutes Is Easier to Come By…

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Just got back from a wonderful four-day weekend visiting family in Maple Grove, Minnesota (just outside of Minneapolis). We did the standard things, I suppose – marvelled at the Mall of America (including the theme park formerly known as Camp Snoopy), sampled some local restaurants, and cooked S’mores in a bonfire on the driveway while neighborhood kids came by to play and dance to various Hannah Montana & High School Musical tunes.

As a daily Bleat reader, I made one additional suggestion. Isn’t the Minnesota State Fair going on? Wouldn’t the kids enjoy spending a day there? Also, I know someone who’s working there (well, “know” in the web-sense of the word – read what he writes every day & send him an occasional e-mail, which he reads and occasionally responds to as one of a sea of e-mails he receives from loyal readers).

Anyway, off to the fair we went:

A few rides, a TON of food (including several things “on a stick” that you wouldn’t expect to find on a stick – including a Snickers Bar), and then the long walk back to the car (we had a pretty good parking spot. I believe they call the lot “Wisconsin.”) Anyway, on the way back we passed the Star Tribune booth and I dragged the family off the beaten path for a second. “Excuse me, is James Lileks here?” “Why sure – he’s on the back porch.”


And so it was that I got to meet the man who writes the words I read every morning on my way to work. I told him so, and he said it made his day. Then he gave us some sage advice about holding our breath during the tour of the animal exhibits, and we were off – him to his Buzz.mn writing, us to our car. The next morning, this time at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport waiting for our flight, I pull up the today’s Daily Bleat. Lo & behold, look what I see:

It’s wonderfully gratifying to meet people at the Fair who read the stuff and enjoy it. (One fellow came up to the Official Buzz.mn Porch today, and told me he reads the Bleat on his Blackberry while taking the train into NYC. To Rockefeller Center! Made my day.)

Now how friggin’ cool is that? James, if you’re reading this (and there’s a chance you are, since I’m going to e-mail it to you as soon as I’m done posting it), please know that reading the reference to us the next morning made my day as well (and my wife’s day & my kids’ day…)

One more picture from the fair. It strikes me as something the Bleat-master himself might have posted if he had taken it (and, of course, he’s free to pilfer it as his discretion if he so chooses). Some contextual irony that can only be understood after passing the “Gator on a Stick” and “Teriyaki Ostrich on a Stick” booths:

Like I said – Perfect.

Categories: Blogging about Blogs, Family Matters, Travel Talk | 1 Comment »

Welcome, Class of 2011

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Beloit College has released it’s Class of 2011 Mindset list. This is a list of 70 things the incoming college freshmen have always believed to be true. The link has the whole list, of course, but here are my Top Ten:

4. They’ve never

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 1 Comment »

For those keeping score at home…

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Paris Hilton: 3 weeks in jail for violating probation due to DUI.
Lindsay Lohan: 1 day in jail for cocaine posession and DUI.
Nicole Richie: 1 hour in jail for driving while on drugs.

Quite the impressive bunch, huh?

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | No Comments »

I’m Sure Someone Else is Curing Cancer – Part Three

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found a way to induce an out-of-body experience in people without using drugs.

Now, first of all, thank God they didn’t use drugs, because we all remember those scientist doping scandals in the 1990′s. Heck, there are still those out there who think the whole Viagra discovery should have an asterisk.

But beyond that, the two main questions here are 1) What exactly have they done here, and 2) For the love of everything holy, WHY?!?!?

Taking the first question first:

Using virtual reality goggles to mix up the sensory signals reaching the brain, they induced the volunteers into projecting their awareness into a virtual body. Participants confirmed they had experienced sitting behind their physical body and looking at it. The illusion was so strong that the volunteers reacted with a palpable sense of fear when their virtual selves were threatened with physical force.

So they’re temporarily re-wiring your brain in order to give you a hallucination that you’re outside of your body. OK, moving on to question #2:

Inducing people to have out-of-body experiences could have wide-ranging uses, [says Henrik Ehrsson, a neuroscientist formerly of University College London, and now at the Karolinska Institute].

“This is essentially a means of projecting yourself, a form of teleportation. If we can project people into a virtual character, so they feel and respond as if they were really in a virtual version of themselves, just imagine the implications.

The experience of video games could reach a whole new level, but it could go much beyond that. For example, a surgeon could perform remote surgery, by controlling their virtual self from a different location.”

Say what?!?

OK, granted, I should have seen the video game thing coming, but surgery? First of all, we understand that the surgeon would only think he were somewhere else, but not actually be somewhere else, right? Second, anyone want their surgeon operating on them while experiencing a scientifically induced delusion?

Categories: The Future is Now, The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Rangers miss extra point, win by four touchdowns

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Now this, my friends, is a baseball game:

This game set so many records, it probably set a record for setting records. I’ll spare you the very long list and just throw out three fun facts:

1) The last time a team scored 30 or more runs in a game was 110 years ago (that’s 1897, for the math-impaired)

2) The Baltimore Ravens haven’t allowed 30 points in a game since Week 12 of 2005.

3) After three innings, Baltimore was leading this game 3-0.

Man, what a game…

Categories: Sports Talk | No Comments »

The I Should Be Sleeping Museum

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

A little bit of tech-geek history, for those who like that sort of thing:

Ladies and gentelmen, my second modem. The first was a 1200 baud model that someone gave me when I was in high school. This one, though, is the first modem I purchased myself, and it’s the one that got me through college. It’s a Hayes Accura 288 V.34 + Fax, maximum speed – a scorching 28.8 kilobits per second. Or, to put it another way, about 100 times slower than my current internet connection.

My, how far we’ve come…

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Yankee Stadium Blogging…

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Here’s something most people who go to Yankee Stadium don’t see:

That’s the construction site across the street from the stadium, which will become the new Yankee Stadium at the beginning of the 2009 season. When Phil Rizzuto died, the construction workers apparently spray-painted “Scooter Rizzuto, MVP” on some of their materials. From the picture, it looks like temporary wooden boards used during the building process, but I’d like to think that those boards will somehow become part of the completed stadium, and that Scooter’s name will be entombed in the new stadium for as long as it stands. Unless I find out differently, I think I’ll choose to believe that story from now on…

Oh, and as long as I have your attention, here’s something most people who go to Yankee Stadium do see:


Categories: Family Matters, Sports Talk | No Comments »

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