Friday, March 25, 2011

"Odyssey Dawn" over "El Derado Canyon"

With the current military action in Libya, the news is abuzz with all of the usual chatter from the talking heads. Subtopics range from Colonel Gaddafi, to terrorism, to the budget to President Obama and so on. One of the things that has been mentioned a lot lately, (or perhaps I am just hearing a lot of it) are references to the 1986 bombing of Libya. Sadly, a lot of people I have spoke with or overhead, do not seem to understand the differences between the current US military action in Libya, and the military action in 1986. A handful are so ignorant of the facts that they have said to my face "Isn't this exactly what Regan did back in the eighties?"

Well, as military history is a hobby of mine, I figured I might add to the current noise level, and maybe educate some people as to what did, and didn't happen back in 1986.

Without going back too far, the origin's of the 1986 bombing are immediately attributed to several events, starting with the terrorist attacks in Rome, and Vienna, on December 27th, 1985. Following this, Colonel Gaddafi extended Libya's jurisdiction into the Gulf of Sidra, well into what were otherwise recognized as international waters. The United States Navy, in accordance with US policy of the day, aggressively challenged this claim, moving combat ships into the disputed waters, effectively daring Libya to militarily contest the region, as well as helping to protect civilian merchant vessels legally navigating outside Libyan jurisdiction. By the end of March, the US 6th fleet and sent an impressive battle group to the region, centered on three Aircraft carriers; the USS America, The USS Saratoga, and the USS Coral Sea. Supporting ships included five guided missile cruisers, twelve destroyers and six frigates. It should be noted that the combined air power of this battle group was over 200 aircraft, and had a major military engagement taken place, modern historians are confident that the carrier battle group could have devastated any offense air mission sent by Libya against themselves, or civilian ships in the vicinity.

Throughout February and March of 1986, elements of the battle group continuously challenged Libya's claims by crossing their declared "line of death" (32 degrees, 30 minutes North), effectively daring Libya to respond. by the end of March, the Libyan military decided to respond, and begin countering US maneuvers with actions of their own. This culminated in a limited engagement starting at 7:02am on March 23rd, where a Libyan surface to air missile site near the coast fired on US aircraft flying in international water. The action ended at just before 1:00 the next morning with a US retaliatory strike on on Libyan military ships and selected SAM sites on the coast. The Navy ceased offensive action at that point, with a net result on no American causalities, and and 4 Libyan light combat ships destroyed or heavily damaged, as well as several SAM sites out of action.

In early April, the La Belle night club in West Berlin was bombed, an action later attributed to agents from the Libyan Government, working under orders from Colonel Gaddafi. Following this development, President Ronald Regan ordered a military strike on selected Libyan military assets, and training centers documented to be used for training terrorists. The Specific Targets were Military barracks in Bab al-Azizia and Jamahiriyah, an encampment at Murat Sidi Bilal, Tripoli Airfield and two major air-defense emplacements near Tripoli and Benghazi. The mission would launch on the 14th of April, and the overall mission was officially codenamed "El Dorado Canyon".

The chosen strike aircraft would be the Air Force's F-111F "Aardvark", and the Navy's A-6 "Intruder", both direct descendants of aircraft used in the Vietnam war. Both of these aircraft were designed specifically to penetrate hostile air space at low attitude, engage a target as accurately as possible, and then to retreat at low altitude towards safety. This type of mission, genarically refered to has precision strike, was one that US Navy and Air Force flight crews had trained for extensively throughout most of their careers.
An original plan called for the use F-117s of the 4450th Tactical Group,
and these aircraft were, in fact, within hours of launch from their
classified airfield in Nevada when the mission was canceled out of
concerns for the F-117's continued secrecy.

During the operation, a single F-111f, crewed by Captain Fernando L Ribas, and Captain Paul F. Lorence was shot down (presumably by a Russian-made S-200 Angara surface to air missile) over the Gulf of Sidra during their return from a successful bombing raid. Neither man is believed to have survived the resulting crash, and both are now confirmed to be deceased.

Then and now:
With respect to the current military situation, Operation El Dorado Canyon was extremely limited, focused, and short. Where the original mission was meant to affect Libyan foreign policy through force and threat of force, the current mission is clearly meant to affect domestic policy through force, threat of force, and destruction or neutralization of military hardware.

Also, Pan-Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb planted by two Libyan intelligence agents less than two years later, demonstrating that the effects of the attack were not exceptionally long lasting.

A few things worth noting about the mission:
  • The strike had an extremely limited objective: to visibly inflict damage on the specified targets in order to send a clear message to Gaddafi that none of his military, or para-military (terrorist training) resources were outside US reach.
  • No attempt was made to establish air superiority over Libya, and no Libyan fighters were engaged in the air.
  • The Air Force strike elements had no fighter escort when they hit their targets, the pilots were completely dependent on surprise and skill to defend themselves if Libya managed to get fighter aircraft aloft. (the F-111 does have a rudimentary air-to-air capability, but it is specifically not a fighter aircraft, despite it's "F" designation.
  • The total strike force was composed of 45 aircraft.
  • The time that US combat aircraft were over Libyan airspace was less than 1 hour.
  • The majority of the ordinance used was unguided, impact detonated, free fall munitions.
  • 48 GBU-10 Paveway II laser guided bombs were deployed aboard the F-111Fs, 28 weapons made it to their release points (4 aircraft had to turn back early due to mechanical problems), 3 missed their targets. 
  • While the F-111f was designed for, and its crews extensively trained in the use of guided weapons, the strike on Tripoli airfield was carried out with 60 unguided MK-82 500lb bombs (with devastating results).
  • Most of the of the aircraft that took part in, or supported the raid are no longer in US service. The F-14, the A-6, A-7, EA-6BProwler (in process of being replaced by the EA-18F Growler), KA-6D, and the F-111f have all be retired from service, their respective roles replaced by better aircraft, or superseded by advancements in cruise missile technology, stealth research and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Operation EL DORADO CANYON 1986 Libya

Ronald Reagan Airstrike Libya

Around the world, and then some.

Well, I was looking at my blog's statistics today, and noticed something interesting. Take a look at the counties where people have looked at my pages, specifically, second  from the bottom. Seriously guys, if you're looking at my stuff from abroad, leave and note, say hi, tell me what you think.

United States
United Kingdom

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Broken window"

A few quick things I wanted to throw out there.

First of all, I'm going to go ahead and keep plugging both Battle: Los Angeles and my rebuttal of Rodger Ebert's review.

Second, I'd like to spread the word on a resource that I have been listening to for some time now. There is a radio show out of Melbourne, Australia called Tech Talk Radio.

They kind of cover all the bases about personal technology, including a newly added commentator who talks about games. Some of the stuff is Australia-centered, but they also cover software and gadgets that we use in the states. You can listen live on an internet connection (its on at 4 am, Mondays), or you can download it and listen to the podcast (recommended for normal people, unlike me, lately). I thuroughly enjoy it, and have been listening for over 6 years now.

Next, I wanted to throw something out there that keeps coming up every so often, and I feel is continuously relevant, in my opinion. I have heard some people, with the best of intentions, comment that the recovery effort in Japan might serve as a catalyst for economic growth. Well, unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Allow me to introduce you to the broken window fallacy (Wikipedia article), More or less, this is a parable that reminds us that there are both seen, and unseen costs involved in any economic activity, and about the only way an act of destruction (eg, a broken window) can be deemed beneficial  is to completely discount the existence of costs that we can't see, even though they are (or were) very real.

Here is a short video that more or less summarizes the concept. This was produced in response to the September 11th attacks on the US, so don't let the first 45 or so seconds scare you off.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Taking on Rodger Ebert

I normally try and stick with people I know when picking an honest-to-God fight, especially over something
as subjective as movies. But to say that I was “angered” by Roger Ebert’s review of Battle: Los Angeles wouldn’t do justice to my emotions. Now, to be clear, I’m not actually going to argue that he is wrong, his review is largely based on his own subjective opinion, as I will freely admit is right and proper. Every time I re-read his review, it sounded more and more like he went into the theater looking for a reason to hate it, and he found them, even if some of them might only exist between his ears. The effort that this man put into shooting down Battle: LA is so far beyond what I consider “journalism” that I figured silence was no longer an option.

So here you go Roger, I know I’m just another two-cent opinion being thrown your way, but for the
one-in-a-million chance at being part of a movement to teach you some manors, I’ll tilt at every windmill between here and Hollywood on principle alone.

The Facts:

Opened: March
11th, 2011

Production costs (approx):  

(as of March 18th):

(As of March 20th)

Rotten Tomatoes score 

“top Critics” : 22%,  
“Audience”: 65%  

Metacritic score:  
35/100 (3/18/2011)

The Critic:

Movie Critic for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967 

The Rebuttal

Ebert gets kicked off with a shot right to the heart of the matter, "Battle: Los Angeles is noisy, violent, ugly and stupid.” So we know he didn’t like it, at least he got that out of the way up front. Even as someone who loved the film, I will gladly concede the first three points. This is a war film, and for all the pop, glitz and flash with which we have tried to paint combat in the past, modern war films have systematically started to embrace the physical realities of combat, including the fundamental fact that war is an ugly business. I’m honestly sorry that he felt these things detracted from the viewing experience, but that is his opinion, and he’s welcome to it.

Moving on, one of his later sentences is a real humdinger; “Here's a science-fiction film that's an insult to the words ‘science’ and ‘fiction,’ and the hyphen in between them.” Wow, Roger, that’s a tall order there. You mean the move was so bad that it actually managed to insult the dash mark on a piece of paper? Sarcasm aside, I am going to pick this fight because of how stupid I think this statement is.

The science in this film isn’t bad, in my opinion. A lot of what is explained makes sense, and what isn’t explained doesn’t stretch the imagination too far. (minor spoiler warning) the aliens don’t use ray guns, blasters or even rail guns. We see flashes, we hear bangs, and we see stuff getting “tor up” as red streaks fly at us. Call it what you want, but the implication is that they are using something that is fundamentally a firearm. This is important because actual firearms technology is hardly at its pinnacle. Even a casual reader like myself can quickly find out that there are new technologies being researched and developed that can make the battle-proven M-16 or AK-47 look like bb guns. Battle: LA strongly hints as such things, but for some of us who actually enjoy thinking about stuff like that, tickling the imagination is often times better than outright explaining what is on the screen.

As for other sciences, we see alien aircraft using thrusters to hover, infantry that actually fight with a semblance of what we might call modern combat techniques, (as opposed to lining up Napoleonic style, a la Star Wars: Ep I) and communication techniques that don’t fall under ESP, and aren’t something some TV repair guy can decrypt. There is one scene where we see what might be called anti-gravity, but the capabilities of this supposed AG drive are hardly awe-inspiring. The point here is that we are not into the type of “science” where the enemy has impregnable force fields, and engines whose capabilities can’t even be fully explained by modern science. It’s one thing to call them advanced, but films like the famed Star Wars series and even ID 4 borrow more from comic book science than reality. I would submit that Battle: LA is a lot more grounded.

I am sure that practicing and degreed physicists will point out a million things that are wrong (and right) with this film’s science, and that's fine. I freely admit that this is entertainment and not a college class. However, I really think that accusing this movie of insulting the very concept of science is just over-the-top. I will even go out on a limb and say that that this film might just follow in the footsteps of some of the science-fiction greats, and serve as the catalyst that sparks the human imagination, leading to real scientific breakthroughs.

And as for ‘fiction’, again I say ‘wow’. Seriously Roger, you mean to tell me that this film was so bad that it insulted the concept of fiction across the board? When you reviewed the Movie “North”, you said “I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it.”, but yet it still wasn’t an insult to ‘fiction’. As hard to define as ‘fiction’ is for this article, let’s suffice it to say that Battle: LA at least makes a good effort to help us suspend disbelief, and doesn’t have any glaring plot-holes that stop us mid-movie and make us want to walk out. I honestly believe that it does a lot more, and better, but I’m trying to be objective here with this point.

The whole second paragraph of his review is a plot summary that spends about as much time sniping at (and misrepresenting) the facts of the story as it does telling us about them. There is even a cheap shot at Ireland (at least that’s how I read it), that just left me going “huh?”. I had a particular problem with one sentence; “They're helicoptered into Santa Monica and apparently defeat the aliens.” In point of fact, they don’t defeat the aliens. They do win a major engagement, and they do pick a hell of a fight, but to hear Roger tell it (or to be fair, imply) this twenty-man platoon saves the world (or at least California) by itself, and that is almost exactly the type of story this film doesn’t tell. Another prize-winner was “…it's not entirely clear how the Santa Monica action is crucial, but apparently it is.” This one got me really mad. There was a whole scene-and numerous reminders-explaining why the platoon was sent into Santa Monica. They were on a rescue mission, trying to pull civilians out ahead of an Air Force bombing raid that was going to level a lot of the city outright. I point that out here because it was the driving force behind the first two thirds of the movie, and to hear him tell it, they just go in "guns blazing" for no reason. If Roger didn’t like the movie’s explanation, he’s more than welcome to say so, but I honestly believe this summary borders on dishonest.

The next three paragraphs go on to praise Aaron Ekhart, deride the director and writer, bash the visual design, and label all of the supporting characters as nothing more than placeholders. I don’t like his tone, or his dismissive attitude throughout, but I will concede that character development in this film is minimal. This is an unapologetic action flick, and while Ekhart’s power as an actor does help elevate his role, the fact of the matter is that the script has as much gunfire in it as it does spoken words. Ebert spends the better part of a paragraph bashing the design of the aliens and their ships. What can I say? That’s entirely stylistic. I happen to like them, but he obviously didn’t. Life goes on.

I do, however want to pick a fight on his next point. To be fair, I consider this little more than a failure of imagination on his part, but again Ebert seems to go out of his way to pose the question in the most derisive way he can. Speaking about one large alien ship seen underground, “How, you may ask, did it tunnel for 10 or 12 blocks under Santa Monica to the battle lines at Lincoln Boulevard?” This question just irked me to no end because to someone who hasn’t seen the film, he gives the impression that this is some sort of gaping plot hole the director overlooked. (minor spoiler) The ship he’s talking about is large (medium sized sports arena, or there-about), and it is located underground. Neither the visuals nor the characters say that the thing tunneled there. In point of fact, they never say anything about how it got there; everyone’s kind of preoccupied with killing it!

I don’t know how it got there. But I do know this; larger military assets are frequently capable of being broken down for ease of transport, and can then be reassembled in a protected location. Also, critical resources like fuel bunkers and communications arrays (spoiler: the ship in question is a communication’s hub) can be buried underground, both for concealment, and protection. In point of fact, erecting an Eiffel-tower scale transmitter within enemy range is widely considered an artillery magnet. Modern armies even have teams whose job is specifically to track down enemy communication hubs, and plot their location for artillery or air strikes. Judging by what we see of the aliens in this movie, I would not put such lessons beyond them.

Now, does this definitively answer the question of where it came from? No. But I will submit that it beats the  knee-jerk reactionary logic (and implication) of "its underground... they must have tunneled...but you can't really tunnel that far, this is so unrealistic...this movie stinks".


Yet again, moving on.

Getting down to the end of Ebert’s work I found the crown jewel of short sightedness and narrow mindedness. After bashing the editing, especially how the firefights are handled (he calls it lazy, I’m sure the editors would take issue with that), he goes on to say; “In a good movie, we understand where the heroes are, and where their opponents are, and why, and when they fire on each other, we understand the geometry. In a mess like this, the frame is filled with flashes and explosions and shots so brief that nothing makes sense.”

The first step in accepting this bit of diatribe (for me at least), was to remind myself that “good” can be a subjective term. Even after getting to that point however, I still wanted to crawl through the computer screen and slap the man.

So, to use your logic, Mr. Ebert, a director shouldn’t try and submerge his audience into his vision of the split second insanity of a shootout. In order to make a “good” movie, we have to understand all of the elements of a firefight, even if our heroes don’t? The audience must be given a god-like (or near-god-like) perspective of the situation, even if none of the characters is so lucky? So I guess the lesson here, as per Mr. Ebert, is that a good story has to explain itself in detail that would probably never actually exist within its own reality.

Besides, it is fairly clear that within the film, the audience is supposed to be subjected to the same type of chaos and confusion that our marines are put through as they continue to encounter an enemy they know nothing about. When I say “nothing”, that’s almost an absolute. The marines don’t know what the aliens look like, what their weapons are capable of, or how many of them there are. The one thing you do know from the start is that these things are shooting any human they see, no questions asked. A good part of what makes this story work (for me, anyway) is that damned near anything is possible, and you feel sorry for these poor guys as they go into action, not even sure if their rifles will do them any good. I wanted to get a lot more snide and ugly with this part, but my better side won out, and I decided not to follow the example Mr. Ebert sets in his parting words.

“Young men: If you attend this crap with friends who admire it, tactfully inform them they are idiots.

Young women: If your date likes this movie, tell him you've been thinking it over, and you think you should consider spending some time apart.”

Let me go ahead and make this absolutely plain so there is minimal room for misunderstanding. I don’t take well to questions of intelligence (mine or others), and I am exceptionally short with people who use irrelevant information on the subject. Questioning the intelligence of someone who likes a movie you don’t smacks of elementary school politics, elitism, and narrow-mindedness. It conjures images of the spoiled brat throwing a tantrum because he can’t get his way. And lastly, it invokes overtures of times past when people’s thoughts and private beliefs were subject to the opinion, review (and possibly scorn) of the powerful, when one opinion  mattered more than others.

You may be talking to the youth of your readership, Mr. Ebert, but be assured that is it you who might want to consider growing up, and actually learning the art of civil discourse. You are not the authority on movies, and yours is not the opinion that movies are made or broken by. The one thing that I am immensely grateful for is that before the internet, the nature of media prevented you from dominating the movie op-ed scene, and now, that same technology lets you get lost in the slush of countless professional movie reviews. To quote Phil Donahue (whom I don’t even really like, ironically) “Loud doesn’t make you right.” And to be honest, thankfully neither does being rude.

What I want to see in a review is opinion, but also fact. Tell me what you didn’t like about it, but admit that someone else might. Tell us this isn’t your cup of tea, but point out that it might be a good soda & popcorn “flick”, for example. Objectively speaking, “Bad” movies are when the sound and the scene don’t sink up, or critical bits of dialog can’t be heard for no good reason. A “bad” movie might be a movie where the acting is wooden enough to make a high school drama class wince. “Lazy editing” is when what the director wanted and shot doesn’t make it to the screen. Just because you don’t like it, sir, doesn’t make it a “bad” movie. You’re allowed to hate it. Tell us you hate it, shout it from the rooftops if you want. But if you’re going to watch a movie, at least do it the justice of actually paying attention to what’s actually provided for you on the screen, and to stop sounding like yours is the only opinion that counts. There are plenty of movies I hate with a passion, but I will gladly acknowledge the quality of their production, and can even recommend them to others I know whom I think might enjoy them. 

So, does this mean Battle: LA is a great film?

I don’t know. That’s up to you to decide. It’s no secret that I loved it, and intend to purchase a copy when it comes out on DVD.  But that shouldn't blind me to reasonable critical observations or opinions. If you want to know something about the film, I’ll answer your questions as objectively or subjectively as you like. And if you have something to say, I'll listen to you. 

When it's all said and done, I give my opinion with the same caveat Roger Ebert should try and remember; “My opinion is worth about two cents, not a penny more or less than anyone else’s.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Battle: Los Angeles"

I just got back from seeing Battle: LA at the local theater, and I have to say that I walked away throughly satisfied.

I like this film a whole lot, largely because it tells the type of alien invasion story that movies haven't been able to tell up until now.  This isn't The War of the Worlds (1953)(1), or ID4, or even The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)(1). The Aliens here don't use super lasers, or force fields, and aren't able to read our minds and give us bad dreams. Bottom line, they are here to slug it out on the ground, just like we have been doing since the day's of Sparta. Part Saving Private Ryan, park Black Hawk Down and part We Were Soldiers, Battle: LA tells  a gritty, dirty, blinding, deafening story of marines in modern combat. It puts you in the middle of the fight, where teamwork and training are every bit as important as the gun in your hand, and the whole while adding an new level of suspense to the scene because you really don't know what the bad guys are capable of.

If you give any of the critics any credence (most of the time, I don't), I might be able to save you some disappointment. This isn't an epic film. The good guys don't single-handedly wipe out the alien invasion, they don't save the only human who understands the alien code and they don't get lined up at the end of the movie and given Medals of Honor. (Minor spoiler alert) Actually, at the end of the film, the ones that made it out are rewarded with a hot breakfast, which they turn down in order to rejoin the fight alongside their comrades. If you go in there looking for a broad ranging, clean cut, multi-character analysis of war, you're going to be disappointed "six ways till Sunday". This isn't about complex story telling, showing all the sides, or even character development. This is about showing what Marines (and sailors(2), soldiers(3) and airmen(4)) can do in a fight. Espirit de corps (USMC style) is on full display here, and it is shown with pride throughout. If you go in looking for a good action flick that actually pays respect to our fighting men and women(5), you might just walk out with a smile on your face.

In an interview with the BBC,
Aaron Eckhart talked about why he took the role, and what he wanted the
film to be. He said that he wanted the film to be "a love letter to the Marine Corps". I suppose you could accuse Battle: LA of being a propaganda film then, but I hesitate to actually say
that myself because of how negative a connotation that carries these
days. But if you think there is something wrong with showing professional combatants at work in defense of their home soil(6)... well, I really am not sure I have anything to say to you.

When its all said and done, Battle: Los Angeles isn't about the big picture, its about the little one, and how amazing an individual fighting spirit can be when put to the test.

1) I note the dates because I have no respect for the modern remakes.
2) Navy Corpsman
3) a handful of guys from the 40th Infantry Division
4) An Air Force technical sergeant from a radio listening unit.
5) What a concept!
6) And please, please, if you honestly believe that the aliens in this film are some stand-in for [insert nationality/ethnicity/race/religion/whatever here], than I strongly advise you to either make your case with facts to back it up, or just don't talk to me. You're entitled to your opinion, and I will respect that, but there is such a thing a reading too much into something!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Okay, let me get this out of my system (NPR)

Okay, I'm probably going to make more than a few enemies with this post, let it never be said I let the weight of public opinion steer me. Money has been a hot topic (hotter than usual) in the latest political news. That is to say your money, my money and the government's money (local, state and federal). We are making a lot of hard decisions lately, and the fiasco in Wisconsin is probably not going to be the last of it by any means. There are already rumblings and legislative actions in Ohio and Idaho, and from what I have read are in serious discussions in Kansas.  My point here is not to discuss unions. No mater what the left says, the major issue here is not the unions, but the fact that we as a nation can't live up to the financial promises we have made in the past, so we are making cuts. Unions are major obstacles to some of the proposed cuts, so yes, they are going to get put on the firing line. I think that is about as non-partisan as I can put the issue.

Anyway, I don't even claim to have the answers to this mess. I know where I stand on some issues, not so much on others, and am kind of playing each hand as it is dealt to me. The country is in some tight times, and as someone who has been unemployed a few times myself, I understand what it means to cut back, pray and hope for the best. I do, however, have some very firm opinions about where some cuts should come from. Now, before I name my targets, let me admit up front that neither of these are bank-breaking investments. Between them, they represent less than 1% of the federal budget as I understand it.

Privitize NPR (100%) yes, that's a more polite way of saying "de-fund it"

DON'T SHOOT!  I know, I know, I just probably got half of my friends pissed off at me, and the other half worked up into a conservative-inspired frenzy. Both sides can just sit down a let their heart rates settle; pitch forks and Molotov cocktails (click on the link btw, I actually found the history of the name interesting) won't do any of us any good. 

First of all, when I say NPR, I am actually naming its parent entity, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as its subsidiaries, Public Broadcasting Services, and National Public Radio. I honestly don't know if that is an all-inclusive list, but I wanted to point out that NPR doesn't exist in a vacuum (and demonstrate that I was aware of that fact).  Furthermore, the federal government does not, to my knowledge, directly fund NPR in any way. Federal dollars are apportioned out to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who in turn decides how to further distribute them independently of Washington. (I honestly don't know if there is any unofficial input from congress on the issue, but lacking evidence to that effect, I am honestly happy to assume there is little to none). I've heard a bunch of different numbers as to how much money makes it to NPR, and depending on how you count the dollars, they are all correct in their own way (and I am not implying deception in any way). But the bottom line is that the largest fraction I have heard is 10% of NPR's operating cost is paid for by Washington, and the smallest is 1%. Take from that what you will, personally I am just going to point out that we are not talking about half, or even a quarter of total funds.

As a news outlet, NPR does some excellent coverage. Their humanities/human interest stories are unique, and enjoyable. They have some of the best coverage of the arts that I have been able to find for the casual listener, and their movie reviews are thorough, even though I rarely agree with them (but I don't agree with most movie reviewers, so this is hardly a black mark). Also, they are one of the few stations that do music reviews, and I will be honest, these critics are willing to go out there and really test their personal boundaries at times. Honestly, my hat is off to the lot of you.

But then we get to politics, and the whole thing falls apart. In my opinion, NRP wears its political affiliation on its sleeves, and more or less pays lip service to the idea of journalistic independence. My personal pet peeve (and NPR is by no means the only offender here) is whenever there is a story that puts sex and politics in the same headline. If a democratic politician were caught with his fly open at the wrong time, the headline was usually "Senator so-an-so has been accused of inappropriate conduct." However, when a republican made the same mistake, the headline was more like "Senator so-and-so, a 4 term republican from [state name/district] has been accused of an ongoing extramarital affair with a coworker. The Senator, a [insert flavor of protestantism] Christian denies the allegations, but evidence has surfaced...".

I know, you may think I'm just parroting this from a copy of the "Limbaugh letter", or something, but I'm not. I listened to Morning Edition for 5 years during my commute to work, and after a while I started actually keeping track of this. Low and behold, if they ever did say the party affiliation, it was republican, and if it was a republican, they made sure to mention that he was a Christian (if he actually was, that is). But if he was a democrat, party affiliation and religion were never mentioned, and I would have to figure out which side of the aisle the guy was on when I next got to a computer.

Sex and politics are hardly the only time NPR flirts with the border of journalistic impartiality. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006 the coverage was heavy on the consequences of war, but light on its causes. War is hell, I'll be the first to admit it, and I don't use the term "hell" lightly. But after weeks of listening to NRP's coverage, you would think that Hezbollah were throwing firecrackers across the border. Israeli troops found large civilian vehicles modified to fire salvos of ballistic rockets, some the diameter of phone poles, without looking like rocket launchers even after they were fired. But you wouldn't have known it listening to NPR.

The bigger the issue, the more fodder there is to shuffle through. To say that NPR's leadership was against the US invasion of Iraq would be like saying that the sun rises in the east. Morning Edition was practically its own cheer-leading squad for President Obama's healthcare reform push. And on that note, they gave Hillary Clinton some huge passes in the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign trail while effectively keeping Sarah Palin under a microscope later on in the game.

To wrap all this up, I'm not even saying that all of these opinions should be shut down. Frankly, I think impartial journalism is a lofty goal that will never be achieved. The best practical approach to it that I have seen is to keep the reporting staff balanced so that personalities help to offset each other. My point here is that I don't think anyone can truly argue that NPR is independent. Their corporate culture leans left of center (how far seems to vary, depending on time, topic and caffeine level).

As such, I am arguing that the US needs to get out of the news business, period. And for those who know me, believe me when I say that I would be pushing for this just as hard if we were talking about a conservative slant to the same organization. To effect this, congress would need to add conditions to all grants handed down to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, specifically telling them that they can not pass those funds to NPR.

The truth of the matter is that if CPB plays its cards right, such a move would do little. Federal money would be moved to grants for non-political productions and projects, (PBS kids, for example) and money from private donations could then be cycled to NPR.

So, if the whole thing is a wash with little net effect, why am I suggesting we go through all the trouble of doing it in the first place?

Like I said, this is an issue where I stand on principle more than anything else. And the principle here is that I don't like the idea that ANY of my tax money is going towards helping someone like Nina Totengerg stay on the air. Her idea of journalistic ethos can best be described as liberals are usually right, and republicans are always wrong, even if they have a point. The Goverment doesn't own enough of CPB or NPR to influence their decisions, and they shouldn't be handing tax dollars, directly or indirectly, to a radio station that makes toting the party line (any party line) its status quo. As far as I am concerned, they should be able to do just fine on their own, let them sink or swim just like every other news agency.