Saturday, December 30, 2006

On being 77 and married 38 years

On being 77 and married 38 years.

After 30 years of listening to people’s problems--about 50,000 hours--after hearing many confessions as a Catholic priest, having been a monk alone with God and myself, also an athlete and a coach, having served in or with all four branches of the U.S. Military, and after 38 years of marriage, my views about life, love and this mystery we call God have changed.

I am lucky to have several loves. The most unexpected are my grandchildren. They are such a delight and keep on surprising us. I am lucky in love. I have friends who have not been lucky. Others not near as lucky as me. A marriage of 38 years is a miracle but also the outcome of much hard work --in accepting one’s own imperfections. There is nothing like having someone to tell you regularly but who still loves you. I am still an unfinished project married to a woman who likes finishing things. She has been a partner in a great outdoor life: gardning and creating a place of beauty, camping, boating, waterskiing, snow skiing, play with children, up time, down time.

I no longer think being some call God is up there somewhere pulling strings: this is way too small a God. The most powerful force in the universe is love. It can appear anywhere and everywhere. I believe in God as a vast mystery, call it the Holy Spirit if you will, of which Jesus is the best expression for me. I have found this Mystery in many places: in the good and evil in myself. In the remarkable gifts and caring of others, among inmates in our jail group, in many lovings and failures to love, in a remarkable diversity, among nature, deep inside the mystery of the universe. Where there is self giving love, there is God. God as I understand this mystery.

I do not understand those sincere believers ready to use their view of God to judge others. Judgment belongs to this mystery beyond us. The hidden power of pride among religious believers is vast. Also destructive of community. The longer I live the more I meet the Holy everywhere and the more I am humbled and can only live with humility and gratitude, determined to give something back for such blessings as I have experienced. If we have met the Holy, we are humbled and can only live in humility and gratitude and service. Servant leadership. Which may be my favorite phrase and there is a favorite book of the title. Faith itself is my most precious gift.

Yesterday I witnessed one wedding in town and helped plan another scheduled for today of a young couple together for five years who have a two month old precious baby, Nicholas. Every child, every person is a Divine Amazement. My storytelling with the Spellbinders chapter and local public schools aims to help children discovee Amazement–even though I cannot use religious concepts.

Yesterday Janette and I celebrated the miracle and mystery of 38 years of being married. Amazing. In so many ways. We planned to go skiing but decided not to risk being on the Interstate for three hours because a couple was depending on my witnessing their wedding at 5:30 p.m. We had a more leisurely day and lunch. I have now been married for about one half of my life. Sixteen years as a Benedictine monk. I prefer marriage with all its challenges and joys, raising three children and making a living and a home. Creating memories, Welcoming others into our lives. Living deeply, awake and aware to the mysteries of love. We are privileges to still offer hospitality to some forty couples seeking marriage each year and a place of beauty for the Spiritual Growth Network for 17 years and counting, to meet weekly and monthly.

Every day I sing and pray Mary’s Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord." My most favorite song is "How Can I Keep from Singing."
Paschal Bernard Baute. December 30, 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Great Ideas of 2006, a view

2006: A Vintage Year For Ideas That Will Change Our World
Thanks to some truly original thinking - on subjects as diverse as the web and global warming - mankind stands on a glorious threshold
by Will Hutton


When words fade, it is the great ideas and arguments that move the world on. John Maynard Keynes couldn't bear the 'practical' men and women who forged economies and societies by getting their hands dirty and mocking the thinkers. All, he said, were, in truth, slaves to some intellectual, theorist or philosopher (usually dead) who had
given them their lines. He was right. We need an intellectual compass to make sense of reality around us.

And yet the ideas that illuminate and change our lives are hard to spot among the turkeys. Arguments need not only to be insightful, but they have to be useful. After a year of reading, watching and listening, here are five ideas that meet those criteria, all produced by people very much alive and kicking. They are five ideas that I think have moved humanity forward in 2006.

Youtube and the new web community

Predictions that the net was going to change everything have proved wrong - until now. So argues influential web guru Tim O'Reilly. Web 1.0 was the first phase when we used it as little more than a vast library and efficient messaging system. We surfed from website to website and sent emails to each other.

But now we are in the era of web 2.0. A new architecture is emerging, which allows people to connect with each other in revolutionary ways. Hence blogging or YouTube, where users post and exchange videos they have taken themselves The mushrooming of participative and enabling sites such as MySpace, Wikipedia, Skype, Flickr, Facebook, Second Life and so on are all part of the same trend.

This is but the precursor of web 3.0, when the architecture will become yet more sophisticated. Search engines will no longer list data; they will answer your questions. Web 3.0 will mean that the web becomes a permanent part of our consciousness, conversation and cognition. Ultimately, a chip in our brain will connect us in real time to the entire web, adding immeasurably to the power of memory.

Immortality is on its way

If web 3.0 stretches the limits of the possible, inventor, entrepreneur and author Ray Kurzweil goes into realms of apparent fantasy. Moore's law (named after George Moore, co-founder of Intel) predicts that computing power will double every year. Kurzweil pushes the logic to its conclusion; chip power is growing so exponentially that by the late 2020s there will be sufficient cheap computing power to reproduce every single minute function of the human brain. Kurzweil sounds crazy, but his track record of predictions over 20 years has been eerily accurate.

Machines and human beings, he argues, are on a convergent course. Machines will increasingly assume human characteristics and humans the facilities of machines. Kurzweil even dares to believe that via three 'ibridges' - bio-engineering, artificial intelligence and new foods - human beings will keep death at bay. Chips in our brains and bodies will freeze the ageing process and via the successors to web 3.0 ensure that everyone will be at the frontier of knowledge.

Happiness is what counts

For two or three decades, economists and philosophers have questioned whether technology and rising wealth automatically mean greater well-being. In 2006, we finally realised that we are too inattentive to what makes us happy, a crucial step forward. Happiness is about earning the esteem of others, behaving ethically, contributing selflessly to human betterment and assuaging the need to belong. We have finally understood it is not economic growth that delivers these results - it is the way we behave

David Cameron caught the mood by saying that the object of the next Tory government would be greater well-being. The Observer published Professor Richard Layard's Depression Report, arguing that because one in six of us suffers from anxiety or depression, the greatest contribution the government could make to promoting well-being is to prioritise the improvement of mental-health care.

We're independent, stupid

For more than a decade, neoconservatives and Eurosceptics have denounced every shackle on national sovereignty; 2006 was the year they lost their self-confidence. Part of the story was the unfolding disaster in Iraq; even the US began to accept that allies have uses. The news that the Iraq war would cost the US taxpayer as much as $2tn with no one to share the burden was immensely sobering. One of the central tenets of the Iraq Study Group, set up by President Bush to review the US's options in Iraq, was that the US would have to talk to Iran and Syria if it wanted to withdraw in good order from Iraq. In Britain, even Eurosceptics, like the Tory leadership and acolytes of Gordon Brown, began to make more soothing noises about the EU. Globalisation makes countries more interdependent. Perhaps, after a decade of interference, there is about to be a great leap forward.

None of this matters if we fry

Campaigners have been doughtily insisting for decades that the explosion of carbon particles in the atmosphere is associated with a rise in temperatures. But the combination of 2006 being the warmest year on record and a series of epic reports, notably Al Gore's book and film An Inconvenient Truth, meant that only conspiracy theorists could carry on believing that the Earth is not warming. It was the beautifully presented argument that began to change the minds of Americans.

There were dark arguments in 2006, among them a generalised fear of the foreign other, but the force of ideas expressed above will, I feel, carry us forward. And that is cause enough for celebration.

© 2006 Guardian News and Media Limited

Paschal's comment
This is but a beginning. There are other great ideas that are transforming the world more of which I will relate here soon, such as the micro-loans to the poor that is chaning the lives of millions of poor/ This did not begin this year but the founder received the Nobel for his work, and we had the first big pension funds sign on to support the trend. Other big ideas follow soon. 12/26

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Letter to Herald Leader: It is now clear....

Editors, Editoral page, Letters
Herald-Leader
Lexington, Ky
Fax 231-3332

Re: HL Dec. 20; Bush leaning to more troops; Druen blows the whistle on the big boss.

It is now clear in DC and Frankfort

It is now clear that Bush lied us into this Iraqi war, He has lied us into the unnecessary deaths not only of thousands of our military but many thousands of civilians. If he pursues this war as he apparently intends, and if Congress accedes by funding his plan, then, in honor of all who have died in this unjust and unnecessary cause, both he and Congress should ALL be indicted as criminals. If we do not object we are complicit in criminal behavior, with terrible consequences for lives of many more.

It is now clear that Fletcher’s administration broke the law protecting merit employees after the candidate Fletcher promised to clean up the mess. Stumbo was required to do what he did. He was doing his job. It is absurd that an ethics committee says if he runs for election now there exists an appearance of impropriety. Let Stumbo run if he chooses, and let the people decide.

Paschal Baute.
Tel 293-5302

Saturday, December 16, 2006

When Love Happens

WHEN LOVE HAPPENS

There is a great love waiting for each of us,
I believe, regardless of our age.
It may happen at 40, or 50, or 60 or even 70+

It is a love that will transform our hearts,
lift them and all of what we are
to a new level of becoming.

We are likely to find this love mostly
when several things have already happened.
We need to be open, ready, and vulnerable
to receive it.
Love is a fickle mistress.
Some give while always measuring
They are “Scrooges in love.�
They will never taste the ambrosia.
To discover this love, we must already have
a generous heart, be a giving person,
involved somehow, somewhere
in caring for others.
When we are open, we find dimples,
not merely pimples, transparent,
and recognize we are each wounded,
imperfect and are able to
receive feedback.
Finally we must be able to risk ourselves.
Some have been so hurt they live guardedly,
birds perched on the window sill readyto fly away.

I believe that when these conditions are present,
the love of your life can appear at any time.
But unless you have learned to be present to
yourself and to beauty anywhere,
you will not recognize it.

When the conditions are right,
serendipity is always around the corner.
You are ready for a love that is beyond anything
you ever imagined or yet grasped.

You will find flowers in the winter.
Snowflakes in summer.
Fresh buds in the fall,
Rainbows in spring,
and beauty everywhere.
Prepare yourself.
You can never be worthy
It will always be undeserved.
From that moment you will
live with gratitude and humility.

How do I know this?
Because the heart is made for love.
We are made for loving.
Also because love is the
most constant force
in the Universe.

The poets of every age
have addressed the richness and
diversity of human loving.
Novelists of every culture.
we are today readers of many stories
and captured by many movies
and dramas..

I am as certain as I am of death
that not only love, but
Transforming Love awaits
each one of us.

We cannot imagine the ecstacy,
the richness and the immensity
–and the scare--of this invitation
until
it is upon us.

Paschal, you have said enough.
Some already think you are crazy.
( But they do not know how crazy
you really are. . .).

Speak, Lord, my restless heart
awaits your whispers.
Be still, my soul
and patient..
She is not here yet, but she
is on her haunting way. Be ready.
She does not appear to those
who are not already loving.
Have your heart’s lamp lit


Paschal Baute, 12.16.06

Saturday, December 09, 2006

TRUTHINESS, New word of the year, coined by Stephen Colbert

SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts (AP) -- After 12 months of naked partisanship on Capitol Hill, on cable TV and in the blogosphere, the word of the year for 2006 is ... "truthiness."

The word -- if one can call it that -- best summed up 2006, according to an online survey by dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster.

"Truthiness" was credited to Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert, who defined it as "truth that comes from the gut, not books."

"We're at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people's minds, and truth has become up for grabs," said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. "'Truthiness' is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue."

Other Top 10 finishers included "war," "insurgent," "sectarian" and "corruption." But "truthiness" won 5-to-1, Morse said.

Colbert -- who once derided the folks at Springfield-based Merriam-Webster as the "word police" and a bunch of "wordinistas" -- was pleased.

"Though I'm no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me," he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"And what an honor," he said. "Truthiness now joins the lexicographical pantheon with words like 'squash,' 'merry,' 'crumpet,' 'the,' 'xylophone,' 'circuitous,' 'others' and others."

Colbert first uttered "truthiness" during an October 2005 broadcast of "The Colbert Report," his parody of combative, conservative talk shows.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Fair use.

Friday, December 08, 2006

ATale of 2 frogs, on global warming.

A Tale of Two Frogs
By Kelpie Wilson
t r u t h o u t | Environmental Editor

Friday 08 December 2006

I learned something fascinating this week. I am in San Francisco, staying with friends, and my host Dave Parks is a physicist as well as an accomplished naturalist.

The last time I saw him, Dave told me that under an ultraviolet light, scorpions will glow with a green fluorescence. To prove it, he brought a portable black light and we went into my yard that night and started lifting rotten logs and shining the light under them. Sure enough, we soon saw a bright green scorpion, looking like a creepy rubber glow-in-the-dark toy. Dave couldn't tell me why scorpions do that, but he could prove that they do.

This week, Dave told me that frogs in Alaska will freeze solid in the winter. Not surprising in itself, but I was amazed to learn that in the spring when they thaw out, they don't melt into a putrefying mess of flesh, but start hopping around as if they'd never spent the winter as a frog-flavored popsicle.

That made me think of a better-known but less fortunate property of frogs, their propensity to cook to death when placed in a pan of cold water that is slowly heated to boiling. Because the heating is slow, they never react by jumping out of the pan. Their world goes from cozy, to hot tub on-high, to full rolling boil before they can do anything about it. This frog story has also became the standard explanation for why humans are not reacting with appropriate speed to climate change - the heating is coming on too slowly to raise the alarm and make us do something.

But depending on what part of the planet you occupy, the gradual heating scenario may no longer hold true. The Arctic, a place that few people inhabit or visit, is heating much faster than the rest of the planet, and devastating changes are already underway. Europe is another region that is feeling the heat more than most. Europe seems to be skipping winter this year as flowers bloom on Alpine ski slopes and bears find their dens too warm and soggy to hibernate in. That is one reason why Britain and other EU countries display a growing sense of urgency as they lead global efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Dave had one more interesting piece of information for me.

For rest go to
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/printer_120806J.shtml

Thursday, December 07, 2006

HP to pay 14.5 million for illegal spying on its own directors and also journalists. NY Times.

Hewlett to Pay $14.5 Million in Deal on Spying Case
By DAMON DARLIN

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 7 — Hewlett-Packard said today that it would pay $14.5 million in a settlement with the California attorney general over the company’s use of private detectives to obtain phone records of board members and journalists.

The company is paying $650,000 in fines for “statutory damages,� but the bulk of the money, $13.5 million, is going to create a state-administered fund to finance the investigation of privacy violations. The rest of the settlement goes to cover the attorney general’s expenses in its investigation of the corporate spying case.

Hewlett-Packard reported revenue for its fiscal year of $91.7 billion. The fine is equivalent to what the company brings in every 83 minutes.

The attorney general’s civil lawsuit was filed today in state court along with the settlement of that case. The civil suit did not name any individuals.

The attorney general, Bill Lockyer, filed criminal charges in early October against five people, including Patricia C. Dunn, the former H.P. chairwoman, and a former company lawyer, accusing them of violating state privacy laws. All of the individuals have pleaded not guilty.

In those cases, the attorney general alleges that company officials passed on information to private investigators — who in turn passed it to other private investigators — that allowed the personal phone records of several board members and journalists to be viewed. The investigators used a form of subterfuge, called pretexting, to obtain the private phone records by pretending to be someone else.

The settlement of the civil suit puts an end to the company’s problems with state investigators. But on the federal level, the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are all investigating the company’s conduct during the company’s internal investigations of leaks from its board during 2005 and 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Spiritual Mathematician, reflection, My Last vocation.

In the last decade of my life, I am enjoying being a Spiritual Mathematician, playing with numbers, more so than earlier. We all know that in some instances 1 + 1 = 3.or more, right? If we are talking about love? I am discovering, showing and proving that 1 + 1 = 1, and even that many ones added, in the right mix, still and always equals One.

In other words amidst all our diversities, a deep, basic and wondrous unity exists. It is a oneness that our ego and pride and ambition often avoids and denies, pretending it is not so. We humans are in this mess together and it is up to all of us to recognize who we are and learn to work together to heal our broken-ness. This is the message of all the prophets and all Wisdom traditions.

So I am finding a spiritual mathematics, revealing and helping others discover our basic unity, or our human bonding, no matter how many individuals we add to the pot. Subtracting the barriers so a more clear vision can emerge. Multiplying connections to uncover the underlying networks of courage and compassion, and dividing multiplicities to uncover the magnificent similarities and oneness we all embrace.

I believe that love is the great and only constant in the world that can heal, that is service and servant leadership. Since as the hymn proclaims, Love is the Lord of heaven and earth, then there is a deep and intimate unity to be found everywhere. I believe this is what Jesus came to teach, which echoes all the prophets, and that he is the great awakener. Awakening us to the unity we already have, loving the least of our brothers and sisters, in all their diversities and dilemmas. Because, "there, but for the grace of God, go I." Because Life itself is unpredictable and chaotic, no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise. .

What are the main ways people discover this oneness? Mainly , I propose, three, by sharing stories, by personal sharing in a group or circle, such as has been done since the beginning of time, and also by setbacks in life. Success and achievement leads mainly to pride and more ambition. Often we must be waylaid by some severe setback before we can awaken to the mysteries of life and love and nature all around us. The natural beauty of things and people already around us.

Until I am really confronted, faced with my human limitations, often some failure, I cannot easily admit that I am no better than any other human. I can be differently gifted, but that does not mean any of us deserve more. (Sorry, my rich, well do do - and mostly Republican, friends, you are in error! From the White House to talk radio.)

If any of this makes sense to you, we continue this conversation weekly in the Sunday afternoon gatherings of participants in Paschal’s conference room, off Winchester Road, at 5 p.m.
What we discover there is what humans discovered ten thousand and a hundred thousand years ago, long before we learned to write. We discover not only our basic humanity, our oneness with one another, but we discover a wisdom in this kind of sharing circle. A deep learning from one another, a deep and personal unity.

These wisdom groups were the earliest forms of study, learning, sharing and worship in the human race.. In Lexington (now for some 17 years) we employ the native American talking stick method of sharing, that is, each speaks only once without comment until all have spoken. We invite your visiting and or learning of this method. See my blog on this at www.paschalbaute.com/writing

Be well. Sing and celebrate the Mysteries we are so undeservedly born into, the season of love is upon us. Paschal. December 4, 2006..

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Can Bush find an Exit? Time, this week,

Summary of Time magazine article this week, worth noting.

George Bush has a history of long-overdue U-turns.

He waited until he woke up, hung over, one morning at 40 before giving up booze cold. He fought the idea of a homeland-security agency for eight months after 9/11 and then scampered aboard and called it his idea.

But Bush has never had to pull off a U-turn like the one he is contemplating now: to give up on his dream of turning Babylon into an oasis of freedom and democracy and instead begin a staged withdrawal from Iraq, rewrite the mission of the 150,000 U.S. troops there as they begin to draw down, launch a diplomatic Olympics across the Middle East and restart the flagging peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Even calling all that a reversal is misnomer; it would be more like a personality transplant. But Bush will soon begin the biggest foreign policy course correction of his presidency.

No matter what else may get stapled onto it, the maneuver will be based on what the bipartisan, congressionally mandated commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton reached agreement on last week.

The Baker-Hamilton commission's work has been compared to family interventions for a substance-addicted cousin, but unlike those encounters, this one won't remain behind closed doors. The entire 10-person commission will brief the president Wednesday and then repeat the lesson for congressional leaders, both incoming and outgoing, later the same day.

The Iraq Study Group will call for a massive diplomatic push in two areas in which the White House has never put its shoulder to the grindstone: rekindling peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis and holding an international conference that would lead to direct talks between Washington and Tehran and Damascus.

The Study Group's military proposals are performance-based: they would link a staged withdrawal from Iraq by U.S. forces to stronger actions by the struggling Iraqi government.

Realism was exactly what the people who cooked up the commission had in mind when they set the bipartisan operation in motion more than a year ago. The review began as a $1 million insertion into an appropriations bill by Republican Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia, who had gone to Iraq last year and decided the policy wasn't working.

He slotted the money to the U. S. Institute of Peace, whose president, Richard Solomon, approached the one person in Bushland who still had a reputation for realism and who could command the president's ear, alone: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Would she propose the commission to the president?
Rice's request: Don't look back

After some hesitation, Rice agreed, but made one request: the commission had to look forward, not backward, in part because she knew the dysfunctional Bush foreign policy operation, tilted so heavily along the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis, would not permit, much less sustain, scrutiny.

Rice got through to Bush the next day, arguing that the thing was going to happen anyway, so he might as well get on board. To his credit, Bush agreed.

Baker and Hamilton were left to choose their own panelists, and the commission went to work, gathering evidence, making a trip to Baghdad and hearing from more than 100 experts.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor developed a reputation for asking the best questions. Democratic power broker Vernon Jordan emerged as the group's political sage. Clinton defense chief William Perry cornered the military options -- and would be a holdout on the final deal.

When Democrats swept the November elections, aides to several panelists told Time that the commission would have more room to make sweeping proposals. Rumsfeld's resignation the next day cemented that feeling.

But the election, instead of making things easier, actually made them harder.
Psychoanalysis and the prodigal son

When Bush replaced Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission who had served the first President Bush as head of the Central Intelligence Agency, the psychoanalysis rampant in the media about daddy's team coming back to save the prodigal son steamed everyone at the White House, from the president on down, and led the administration to dig in its heels.

Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq itself kept deteriorating and there was a risk that the panel's proposals would be obsolete before consensus was reached.

Baker turned up last Monday with a draft report he wanted panel members to consider or amend and then get into the president's hands. Democrats led by Hamilton, Perry and Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton's ex-chief of staff, were adamant that the report recommend a firm starting point for troop withdrawals. When the Republicans again refused, members agreed on language that would leave the date vague but the vector clear. And then the group adjourned.
'No idea how things will look in February'

Bush will put a few weeks between the big Baker-Hamilton rollout and his own restart -- White House officials worry that anything faster would look too reactive -- but one official told Time that the new path the president will outline in coming weeks is "significantly different than what we've been doing. ...When the president says we're going to get the job done, that doesn't suggest it is an open-ended commitment forever."

Whether it is the Baker approach or whatever the White House decides to call its own, events in Iraq could easily make any plan for diplomacy and withdrawal irrelevant in the face of a weak central government, a deepening civil war and widespread violence.

A commission official put it this way, "What we have produced is a plan for December. We have no idea what things are going to look like in February."

Copyright © 2006 Time Inc.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Trash media (Fox, Limbaugh, etc), MSNBC and Olbermann: Something else!

Olbermann's Hot News

by DAPHNE EVIATAR

[from the December 18, 2006 issue of the Nation]

If you picked up the New York Times on October 18, you'd have had little reason to think it was a particularly significant day in American history. While the front page featured a photo of George W. Bush signing a new law at the White House the previous day, the story about the Military Commissions Act--which the Times never named--was buried in a 750-word piece on page A20. "It is a rare occasion when a President can sign a bill he knows will save American lives" was the first of several quotes of praise from the President that were high up in the article. Further down, a few Democrats objected to the bill, but from the article's limited explanation of the law it was hard to understand why.

But if you happened to catch MSNBC the evening before, you'd have heard a different story. It, too, began with a laudatory statement from the President: "These military commissions are lawful. They are fair. And they are necessary." Cut to MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann: "And they also permit the detention of any American in jail without trial if the President does not like him."

What? Did the Times, and most other outlets, just miss that?

Indeed, they did. Olbermann, who decried the new law as a shameful moment in American history, went on to proclaim that the Military Commissions Act--which he did name--will be the American embarrassment of our time, akin to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 or the 1942 executive order interning Japanese-Americans.

It was a perfect story for the bold and eccentric host of Countdown With Keith Olbermann, which airs weeknights on MSNBC. A former anchor for ESPN's SportsCenter, Olbermann likes to call the news as he sees it--especially when almost everyone else in the media seems to be ignoring a critical play. As it turns out, that tack on the news is increasingly popular these days, upending the conventional wisdom that incisive analysis and intelligent critiques don't win viewers on mainstream television.

Olbermann first cast off the traditional reporter's role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, delivering a powerful indictment of the government's handling of the rescue effort. "These are leaders who won re-election last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping this country safe," he said bitterly. The government "has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water."

At the time, other newscasters, most famously CNN's Anderson Cooper, also unleashed their outrage, spawning speculation that the natural disaster might also become a watershed event for broadcast news. But most anchors quickly returned to business as usual, censoring their own criticisms no matter how bad the news continued to be. Not Olbermann. Encouraged by rising ratings, he's since turned his distinctive take on the government's incompetence into a regular part of his show.

Last August he took the tone up a notch when he aired the first of his hard-hitting Special Comments. Regularly invoking some of the most shameful examples of American history to frame the Bush Administration in historical perspective, he's likened the President's recent acts to John Adams's jailing of American newspaper editors, Woodrow Wilson's use of the Espionage Act to prosecute "hyphenated Americans" for "advocating peace in a time of war" and FDR's internment of 110,000 Americans because of their Japanese descent. Ours is "a government more dangerous to our liberty than is the enemy it claims to protect us from," declared Olbermann the day after the President signed the Military Commissions Act.

Since his first Special Comment ripped into Donald Rumsfeld for attacking Americans who question their government, video clips and transcripts of Olberman's commentaries have been zipping around the Internet, a favorite on sites like Crooks and Liars, Truthout and YouTube. (The Rumsfeld commentary was watched more than 100,000 times in the month after it appeared on Countdown.) But it's not just a niche following: Since late August Olbermann's ratings have shot up 55 percent. In November he was named a GQ Man of the Year. When MSNBC teamed him with Chris Matthews to cover the midterms, the network's ratings were up 111 percent from the 2002 election in the coveted 25-to-54 demographic. And certain fifteen-minute segments on Olbermann's show have edged out his nemesis, Bill O'Reilly. (Olbermann deems O'Reilly the "Worst Person in the World" on his popular nightly contest for the newsmaker who's committed the most despicable act of the day.) Unlike O'Reilly, Olbermann doesn't shout over his guests, condescend to his opponents or deliver empty diatribes. Instead, his show--which attracts guests ranging from Frank Rich to John Ashcroft--features in-depth interviews with prominent academics, public officials and journalists on serious, often overlooked events of the day.

"Keith is a refreshing change from most of the coverage of civil liberties since 9/11," says Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor and frequent guest on Olbermann's show. "Reporters tend to view these fights in purely political terms, so the public gets virtually no substantive analysis. As long as two people disagree, reporters treat it as an even debate. They won't say that the overwhelming number of constitutional and national security experts say this is an unlawful program--they'll just say experts disagree. It's extremely misleading."

Olbermann, who denies any partisan leanings and whose background doesn't suggest any, insists his job is to report on what's really going on--even if the public is loath to believe it. "We are still fundamentally raised in this country to be very confident in the preservation of our freedoms," he said in a recent interview. "It's very tough to get yourself around the idea that there could be a mechanism being used or abused to restrict and alter the society in which we live." Olbermann credits sportscasting for his candid and historical-minded approach. "In sports, if a center-fielder drops the fly ball, you can't pretend he didn't," he says. "There's also an awareness of patterns, a relationship between what has gone before and what is to come that is so strong in sports coverage that doesn't seem to be there in news reporting."

If history lessons in prime time seem an unlikely sell, it helps that Olbermann's show is also witty, quirky and fast-paced, covering everything from the Iraq War to Madonna's adoption fiasco to pumpkin-smashing elephants--one of his nightly fifteen-second Oddball segments. With a growing number of TV viewers saying they get their news from Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, it's no wonder Olbermann--who's sort of a cross between Edward R. Murrow and Jon Stewart--has a growing audience.

MSNBC seems to be egging him on. "The only issues I've had with my employers is to calm them down and say 'doing this every night won't work,' " says Olbermann, referring to his Special Comments. "I have to do it only when I feel moved to."

"The rise of Keith's skeptical or pointed comments are the mood of the country," says Bill Wolff, MSNBC's vice president for prime-time programming. "He has given voice to a large part of the country that is frustrated with the Administration's policies."

In a pre-election Special Comment about the Republican National Committee's campaign ads featuring menacing images of Osama bin Laden and associated terrorists, for example, Olbermann declared: "You have adopted bin Laden and Zawahiri as spokesmen for the Republican National Committee." Invoking FDR for contrast, he added: "Eleven Presidents ago, a chief executive reassured us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. His distant successor has wasted his Administration insisting that there is nothing we can have but fear itself."

Not surprisingly, Olbermann has his critics. National Review recently lambasted him for his "angry and increasingly bizarre attacks on the Bush administration," claiming that he offers nothing in the way of hard news. But the author didn't cite a single fact that Olbermann had wrong. Meanwhile, as the Review acknowledged, O'Reilly's numbers are trending downward as Olbermann's are shooting up.

While his views may seem radical for mainstream television news, they turn out to be a pretty safe bet for him and his network. Which may prove that the American public does have a taste for serious, even high-minded, news--particularly when peppered with a sharp sense of humor. It's another unexpected Olbermann news flash: Dissent sells.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Feds tell companies to snoop on employee emails.

New Rules Compel Firms to Track E-Mails
New Federal Rules Compel Companies to Keep Track of All E-Mails, IMs and Electronic Documents
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - U.S. companies will need to keep track of all the e-mails, instant messages and other electronic documents generated by their employees thanks to new federal rules that go into effect Friday, legal experts say.

The rules, approved by the Supreme Court in April, require companies and other entities involved in federal litigation to produce "electronically stored information" as part of the discovery process, when evidence is shared by both sides before a trial.

The change makes it more important for companies to know what electronic information they have and where. Under the new rules, an information technology employee who routinely copies over a backup computer tape could be committing the equivalent of "virtual shredding," said Alvin F. Lindsay, a partner at Hogan & Hartson LLP and expert on technology and litigation.

James Wright, director of electronic discovery at Halliburton Co., said that large companies are likely to face higher costs from organizing their data to comply with the rules. In addition to e-mail, companies will need to know about things more difficult to track, like digital photos of work sites on employee cell phones and information on removable memory cards, he said.

Both federal and state courts have increasingly been requiring the production of relevant electronic documents during discovery, but the new rules codify the practice, legal experts said.

The rules also require that lawyers provide information about where their clients' electronic data is stored and how accessible it is much earlier in a lawsuit than was previously the case.

There are hundreds of "e-discovery vendors" and these businesses raked in approximately $1.6 billion in 2006, Wright said. That figure could double in 2007, he added.

Another expense will likely stem from the additional time lawyers will have to spend reviewing electronic documents before turning them over to the other side. While the amount of data will be narrowed by electronic searches, some high-paid lawyers will still have to sift through casual e-mails about subjects like "office birthday parties in the pantry" in order to find information relevant to a particular case.

Martha Dawson, a partner at the Seattle-based law firm of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP who specializes in electronic discovery, said the burden of the new rules won't be that great.

Companies will not have to alter how they retain their electronic documents, she said, but will have to do an "inventory of their IT system" in order to know better where the documents are.

The new rules also provide better guidance on how electronic evidence is to be handled in federal litigation, including guidelines on how companies can seek exemptions from providing data that isn't "reasonably accessible," she said. This could actually reduce the burden of electronic discovery, she said.

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