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This is a great book worth reading. It describes a dystopian future and the dangers possible in a non-literate society obsessed with television.

In Fahrenheit 451, a future is described where a “fireman” is a person who goes and causes fires for the purpose of burning books. 451 degrees is supposed to be the temperature at which paper burns and hence, the title of the book! 😉 The population learns only from television. They watch TV for everything, and live in apartments where regular walls have been replaced with television screens so that people can be filled up with information all the time.

I see some similarities with radio, internet access, television, PDA’s, text news to your phone, phone internet access, crackberrys, and even getting advertising at the gas pump on that little screen. Why burn books when you can make society accessible enough for people who can’t read? Let the laziness take over and you have won half the battle. With the consistent dumbing down of curricula and other methods of communication that de-emphasize the written word, we are rolling merrily down that path of the extinction of printed material. Ratings are our new king.

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Just a sampling of some news in the media:

Anna Nicole Smith died recently, and it appears that people are slow to reveal her cause of death. There has been an autopsy and toxicology tests. It is possible that she choked on her own vomit. The news coverage makes a big deal out of finding no illegal drugs in her system, although she had access to methadone (legal!) which is used to get over a heroin addiction. There were apparently many problems leading up to her death.

Britney Spears has shaved her head and is partying out of control. Her cut hair may sell for $1 Million. Hopefully she is not on the Anna Nicole Smith fast track.

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We live in a celebrity worship culture. It appears that coverage of Ms. Smith’s death for two days comprised a full 50% of the programming on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. It comprised 21% of the programming for the week with the Iraq War getting 15% and the ’08 Presidential Election Coverage getting 10%. There were four Marines killed in Iraq and a sixth helicopter in three weeks was shot down in Iraq on the same day Ms. Smith died. (Arguably this isn’t really news either because we are in a state of armed conflict in Iraq.) It appears that we have some sort of morbid fascination with body counts and celebrity.

[Run-on sentence warning.] What I don’t understand is why so many people care whether A-Rod and Derek Jeter are friends (no, but they can still play together on the field), or whether Tom Cruise really is gay and if Katie Holmes is his beard (no comment, but I have my suspicions), or why celebrities pick strange names for their kids (Sly Stallone named his kid Sage Moonblood?!?), or whether celebrities can even have kids, or whether they are expecting. (Jon Heder/Napoleon Dynamite has a girl on the way.)

People are focused on the wrong things and TV ratings are driving the problem. With money to be made in advertising, ratings driven “news” coverage is the rule of the day.
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Fahrenheit 451 also touches on the problems of demanding ratings. The main character is on the run as a fireman who has (Gasp!) actually seen some printed words on a page of a book before it was burned! NOOOOOOOOOOO!! He is being chased by a mechanical hound with paralyzing drugs and other methods of subduing a target. The fireman’s inevitable capture has been trumpeted and broadcast so now he must be caught. His face has been on TV and there are over 20 Million people who have seen his face. He is able to find protection and sanctuary with hobos that have a portable TV to know what the rest of the world is doing. The outcasts/hobos are committed to remembering books they have read and hold themselves out as a living library. As they are listening there is live news coverage with an announcement that the fugitive fireman will be captured shortly which causes some amount of tension on the part of the fireman and the hobos. As the TV coverage continues the hobos see that the mechanical hound is no where near where they are and that an innocent person is actually the person being apprehended. The person’s face was blurred out at the end to make the deception complete. Society feels safe again. Shortly after the capture, the power goes out just a few seconds before the bombs start falling in atomic war leaving the outcasts to build the future.

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People feel safe in their news cocoon. The news is familiar and we spend our time following the lives of people who have no more power over our lives than the man in the moon. We don’t have to think about difficult things that may actually affect our lives. For example, military spending. A standing army can be used against the people. Art. I, Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution only allows funding for the Army two years at a time.

After Hurricane Katrina, the National Guard was mobilized and used to disarm residents. In a video I can’t post here, but is contained in a larger production found here, a National Guard troop is taped saying that he never thought he would be doing this in America. Neither did I.

The money comes from the people of the United States of America. In what seems to be a near-regular story that no one seems to care about, the U.S. lost track of $9 Billion in Iraq funds in a story dated 1/31/2005. There is a story about coalition forces losing track of $8.8 Billion in Iraq dated 2/12/2006 and stories of contractor malfeasance. Or how about the Pentagon (not just the part of the Iraqi fog of war) not being able to track $2.3 Trillion in transactions? This last story was from 2002 and frankly admits that the Pentagon cannot track approximately 25% of what it spends. Call it a hunch, but I bet that the missing $167,450
,000,000 of the $669,800,000,000 in the 2006 Defense Budget
is not going to widows, orphans, the homeless, education spending, or anywhere even remotely near the taxpayers who are on the hook for that money. The “missing” money is probably going into the pockets of people who are corrupt and evil.

Maybe I should go back to watching TV like a good citizen.

**** UPDATE ******
A story dated 2/15/2007 just came out about Pentagon wasteful spending, again. Some of the highlights:
– $10 Billion wasted in Iraq.
– “Defense and State department officials condoned or otherwise allowed poor accounting, repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for work shoddily or never done by U.S. contractors.”
– “Layers of subcontractors, poor documentation and lack of strong contract management are rampant and promote waste even after the GAO first warned of problems 15 years ago.”
– “more than $2.7 billion were charged by Halliburton Co., the oil-field services firm once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.”
– 1 in 6 of the dollars audited is suspect, according to the Pentagon. (apparently they have been unable to audit all of the expenditures).

This does not appear to be by accident. (Really, 15 years!?!)

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