Tuesday, 05 June 2007

For Shame, Science, For Shame Deep in the wee hours of this morning, I caught "Killer Waves" on the Discovery Science Channel. Despite the tired narrative arc of Discovery Channel shows—unique situation, partial explanation; complication, partial retraction; similarly unique situation, partially retracted retraction; final explanation, lingering-dread-of-the-unknown—I found "Killer Waves" oddly satisfying for the first 45 minutes. I'd learned: Unique Situation: Upwards of 10 ships per week are lost, possibly to "rogue waves" which tower 50 meters tall and punch holes through ships. Partial Explanation: Sailors tell tall-tales about tall waves. Complication: Scientists observe a rogue wave slamming into the Drauper oil platform on 1 January 1995. Partial Retraction: Sailors are not all liars. Turns out the warm Agulhas current running southwest off the South African coast mixes with cold water moving northeast creating swell conditions conducive to the production of rogue waves. Similarly Unique Situation: Happens twice in a week off the coast of Antarctica, but there are no currents like those off the South African coast. Partially Retracted Retraction: Currents alone cannot account for what happened off Antarctic coast. Final Explanation: Waves caused by math. Lingering-Dread-of-the-Unknown: The non-linear Schrödinger equation will strike again. I'm sure you can tell where dissatisfaction set in. Here is the actual explanation, from the transcript of a very similar show (presumably its narrator spoke with a British accent): The physics of the non-linear Schrödinger equation we can see in this simple example. In the beginning it doesn't seen like there's anything happening and we could all just give up and go drink a beer if we wanted. On the other hand we could keep moving forward and maybe something will happen. What we'll see is this central wave here's going to start to grow. It's growing because it's robbing energy from its two, two nearest neighbours so here it's starting to come up, you see it's growing, it's stealing energy from the nearest neighbours and these waves are starting to drop. See how this is coming down here. Look at that decrease and now in its full glory it's a very large wave, it has two smaller waves on each side and two rather deep holes in the sea around the peak. So what happens, you see, is that waves rob energy from other waves, use this stolen energy to grow, and form (in fully glory) very large waves surrounded by deep holes. And that, my friends, is how a rogue wave is formed. (By the by, here be the rest of this post. Insomnia is a brutal beast I tell you.)
[Post Title Changed, as I Can't Stomach It Anymore] Some background: for two years, a woman named Brittney Gilbert ran a blog called Nashville Is Talking for local news affiliate WKRN. The stated goal of the site: As the name suggests, Nashville Is Talking is a blog devoted to the daily conversation that takes place in and around the Greater Nashville community. If it’s being discussed in Music City, we hope you’ll find it here. NIT has pretensions of reportage. Rare as blogs go, I know, but utterly ordinary in the world of local news, where KKK rallies are covered without anyone thinking the coverage tantamount to an endorsement. This goes without saying ... as does the fact that daily conversations in Tennessee (as everywhere) often violate whatever passes for social decorum today. Case in point: any conversation in which the folks who write here participate likely contains material liberals find offensive. As two of the authors of that site are from Nashville, it qualifies as something "being discussed in Music City," so Gilbert regularly—one could say dutifully—linked to it. So when one of its authors posted a disgustingly racist obituary for the liberal blogger Steve Gilliard, she linked to it ... just as she earlier linked to other local reactions to his death. Such is the nature of reportage. Today she tendered her resignation on account of the response of the response to her dutiful post by non-readers of NIT. One of those non-readers, Jesus' General, used his not inconsiderable influence to inform Gilbert's employers that she had done her job: Now I know your blogger, Brittney, isn't the author of those lines, but she deserves a lot of credit for republishing it without comment and thereby repackaging it as a WKRN 2 Nashville product. When she responded that her link wasn't an endorsement, the General added: Apparently, Brittney is just plain fucking stupid. I'm told she posted it to expose the original blogger's hatred. She need not have even claimed that she wanted "to expose the original blogger's hatred," since NIT was intended to be a clearinghouse for information concerning what Nashville is talking about. Were I paid to write about what bloggers in Orange County were writing, I'd frequently link to material I found offensive. Not because I approve of it—I find much of the conversation on local Orange County blogs offensive—but because I had been hired to to write about what bloggers in Orange County were writing. From what I can gather, Gilbert put her own politics aside in order to do her job. People who publish with Blogger? No such constraints. They're free to link to whatever and whomever they choose. Unsurprisingly then, their default logic is link-as-endorsement. Had Jesus' General and its readers bothered to read NIT on its own terms—had they bothered to understand the context of the remarks instead of relying inapplicable conventions, Gilbert wouldn't have been vilified and wouldn't have been forced to resign. Context is important. Without it, distortions abound. (I say this in my official capacity as literary...

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