Archive for May, 2008

See ya, Susan

May 30, 2008

OK, fine. On your way, could you pick up Alec Baldwin, who was supposed to move to France if George Bush were elected?

SUSAN SARANDON, who appeared in three films last year and won kudos for her TV movie “Bernard and Doris,” is still not a contented soul. She says if John McCain gets elected, she will move to Italy or Canada. She adds, “It’s a critical time, but I have faith in the American people.”

As a matter of fact, why don’t you leave now, just in case?

I have problems with all three remaining candidates (no, she still hasn’t quit), but considering the dunderheads this nation has have survived, I think I’ll stick it out here no matter which new dunderdead we get.

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Gay old time

May 30, 2008

New York has become the latest state where gay marriages are possible. What’s that? You missed the court ruling or legislative action that did that? Well, you were just looking in the wrong places. You should have been listening to Gov. David A. Paterson, who ordered state agencies to begin recognizing same-sex marriages performed in California and Massachusetts as well as Canada and other countries where the unions can legally be entered into:

The memo informed state agencies that failing to recognize gay marriages would violate the New York’s human rights law, Duggan said.

The directive follows a February ruling from a New York state appeals court. That decision says that legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions are entitled to recognition in New York.

This is de facto legalization of gay marriage. New Yorkers merely have to go to one of those places and get married, then go back to New York and —  presto! — they are legally married. Massachusetts has a waiting period, but Canada and California don’t.

I’ve been saying for some time that the same-sex marriage issue would end up in the U.S. Supreme Court because of the Constitution’s Full Faith & Credit clause (see here, for example). As more states follow New York’s lead (or California’s, for that matter), the pressure on the court to act will increase. New York is liable to be the next state to legislatively approve same-sex unions. The more people go out of state to marry, the louder the argument will become that the state is being unfore to all the other same-sex couples who didn’t go out of state for a ceremony.

This will make the debate in Indiana heat up, but it won’t really change anything here. Indiana’s law not only forbids same-sex unions but recognition of those performed where they are legal. (New York is one of five states without that provision.) Without a constitutional amendment, we are vulnerable to what happened in Massachusetts: same-sex union courtesy of a court that threw out the state law banning them. It’s possible, but not very likely. Our courts are a little more reserved.

Depraved indifference

May 30, 2008

Do we have to forgive juvenile misdeeds because the juveniles in question haven’t been taught any better, or is it all right to call this kid a monster?

Police have arrested a 15-year-old boy in connection with the January shooting death of a horse in Franklin Township.

Nikki, a 29-year-old quarterhorse, belonged to Southeastside resident Cathy Troutt. Authorities euthanized the horse Jan. 27 after finding it bleeding and unable to walk in the acreage behind its home.

[. . .]

Troutt said gunshots are fairly common in the semirural area near her home because of sportsmen who live in the area.

“There was about 10 shots,” Troutt said. “We didn’t really think a whole lot of it (until finding the horse).”

There is something about casual cruelty to animals that seems so depraved that it can tap emotions  not even always touched by homicide. At least when people kill people, there is often passion involved. People get mad, or they get greedy or drunk and stupid. Shooting a horse just because it’s standing there and you’ve got nothing better to do is a cold and soulless thing to do.

Military service

May 30, 2008

You know what distinguishes Fort Bliss from other military posts? If you said it’s that soldiers under 21 could drink on base, you would have been right, until now:

Citing too many drunken-driving crashes and arrests and too many fights, the new commanding general has raised the drinking age on base from 18 to 21, bringing 17,000-soldier Fort Bliss into line with what has been the law in the rest of Texas since 1986.

And not only that, but all Fort Bliss soldiers are barred from slipping across the Mexican border to Ciudad Juarez, the city of famously loose morals where young Americans have been getting drunk — and getting into trouble — for generations. From now on, no passes to Juarez will be issued.

I’m sort of on the fence on this one. Young people tend to raise the most hell when drinking, and that fact doesn’t change just because they put on uniforms. And the argument “old enough to die for their country, etc.,” doesn’t carry as much weight as it did when there was a draft. But what about those who have actually been to combat but aren’t yet 21? Should those who served, well, be served? A 19-year-old Pfc. complains that a few rowdy guys just “ruined it for everyone.” Way of the world, kid.

Funny minus two

May 30, 2008

Yes, I know the thing about celebrity deaths coming in threes is one of those silly myths, but the myth does provide a way to think about things. For example, we’ve just had the death of Dick Martin, followed closely by the death of Harvey Korman. Which funny person do we put on the Death Watch? And can the world these days really stand to lose any more funny people? From Mel:

“A world without Harvey Korman – it’s a more serious world,” Brooks said in an AP interview.

Too true, too true.  Here’s the classic bit with Tim Conway as the numb dentist.  It’s more Conway’s piece than Korman’s, but catch Korman’s futile efforts not to crack up.

 

Madly, deeply

May 30, 2008

Are you going to be disappointed with me over my disappointment at Hillary Clinton’s disappointment that Barack Obama didn’t flatly reject Father Phleger’s comments and instead only said he was “deeply disappointed” by the pastor’s remarks? After all, the priest now says he is “deeply sorry” if his remarks offended anyone. Here’s CNN showing the video and “analyzing” whether it matters. I’m deeply sorry if you think I shouldn’t be bringing this up, so let me apologize ahead of time.

Helmets and belts

May 30, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about The News-Sentinel’s Jeff Wiehe getting grief from the bareheaded brigade when he noted in a story about two motorcycle fatalities that the victims were not wearing helmets. Now, Jeff has done a story about the terrible hit-and-run accident that claimed the life of a nurse on her way to work at Parkview Hospital. In that story, he observes:

She was not wearing a seat belt, according to the Allen County Coroner, and died from blunt-force trauma of the head.

I can almost promise that Jeff won’t get any grief over that. People who don’t wear motorcycle helmets are an interest group sticking up for the right to be dumb. People who don’t wear seat belts are just people who don’t wear seat belts. They don’t have meetings about how the press and government are conspiring to shred the Constitution.

Worry hurry

May 29, 2008

I wonder if I could find a stress clinic with a drive-thru service.

Wild in the classroom

May 29, 2008

Be careful whom you go off on — anybody is liable to be carrying a recorder these days:

The parents of a New Albany kindergarten student who secretly recorded his teacher making what the parents say were abusive comments told their story to a national TV audience today.

Tabitha McMahan, mother of Gabe Ross, and J.R. Edwards, the boy’s stepfather, were interviewed on Good Morning America about the teacher and the way their son was treated.

Parts of the recording that Gabe made in April when he went to his school, S. Ellen Jones Elementary in New Albany, with a digital recorder in his pocket were played during the broadcast.

At one point, a woman’s voice can be heard describing a student as “ignorant, selfish, self-absorbed, the whole thing,” and also calling the student “pathetic.”

Teachers must be at or near the breaking point these days. There was also the Florida kindergarten teacher who had students vote  on whether a 5-year-old with a form of autism should be allowed to stay in class.

Spam, Spam, Spam, egg and Spam!

May 29, 2008

We can’t even talk about this without taking a Monty Python refresher course afterward:

Love it, hate it or laugh at it—at least it’s inexpensive.

Sales of Spam—that much maligned meat—are rising as consumers are turning more to lunch meats and other lower-cost foods to extend their already stretched food budgets.

[. . .]

Spam’s maker, Hormel Foods Corp., reported last week that it saw strong sales of Spam in the second quarter, helping push up its profits 14 percent. According to sales information coming from Hormel, provided by The Nielsen Co., Spam sales were up 10.6 percent in the 12-week period ending May 3, compared to last year. In the last 24 weeks, sales were up nearly 9 percent.

I know this is way out too far to the edge for some of you, but I actually like Spam. Always have. Fried. With toast and eggs over medium.

Book of lies

May 29, 2008

I was the editor of my high school yearbook, so naturally a story like this catches my eye:

Queen Creek Unified School District officials are reviewing policies and guidelines regarding student publications after several parents complained about the high school yearbook earlier this month.

The Queen Creek High School yearbook shows pictures of a lesbian couple, students with tattoos and piercings, and teens named “best partiers” holding red plastic cups. Parents have called the school and attended a district school board meeting to complain about the images, which they say are age inappropriate.

I presume the parents know there are lesbian couples, tatooed students and partiers in their children’s high school. So the question is whether the yearbook should reflect reality. Not in my day — the purpose of a yearbook was to create a stylized, romantic version of the high school experience so we could look back years later and tell ourselves lies about what a wonderful time we had.

A life well lived

May 29, 2008

OK, let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves, no matter how hard our lives have seemed. Just imagine having to hoe this row:

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A woman who defied medical odds and spent nearly 60 years in an iron lung after being diagnosed with polio as a child died Wednesday after a power failure shut down the machine that kept her breathing, her family said.

Dianne Odell, 61, had been confined to the 7-foot-long metal tube since she was stricken by polio at 3 years old.

Family members were unable to get an emergency generator working after a power failure knocked out electricity to the Odell family’s residence near Jackson, about 80 miles northeast of Memphis, brother-in-law Will Beyer said.

The story goes on to explain that she was afflicted with polio three years before the vaccine that stopped its spread was discovered and that only about 30 people are still confined to those old iron lungs, most of them not all the time. As I get older and think about my own mortality, the one thing that really galls me (other than the fact that there will be so many great advances I will miss) is that I might die of something they will find a cure for a year or two later.

Someone who knew her said Odell accepted her life “with grace.” So few of us who are much better off do.

The political stakes

May 29, 2008

Well, can’t argue with this headline at slate.com: “Obama may or may not clinch the nomination next week”:

Obama may or may not reach the 2,025 mark for winning the overall nomination by Tuesday. If not, he’ll be very close.

The odds on everthing in the world are 50-50, aren’t they? It will rain tomorrow, or it won’t. The presidential campaign will make sense tomorrow, or it won’t.

I know the political obituary on Hillary Clinton has already been written but she just won’t accept it. They keep driving the stake in, but they keep missing the heart. Are there others besides me still holding their breath? I keep thinking about that last scene from “Carrie.” (A fascinating bit of “Carrie” trivia: “In the second-to-last scene (where Amy Irving lays flowers on Carrie’s grave) to make it more ‘eerie,’ the shot was filmed backwards – then run in reverse in slo-mo – to give it a surreal effect. This is evidenced by a background automobile traversing the perpendicular intersection backwards, which the viewer can clearly observe as driving in reverse.”)

VAT of oil

May 29, 2008

Good lord, am I going to have to stop making fun of France?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday called for a cut in European oil taxes to help consumers as fishermen and truck drivers across the continent staged protests against soaring prices.

[. . .]

“I want to ask the question to our European partners: if oil continues to increase, should we not suspend the VAT taxation on the price of oil?” Sarkozy said in a radio interview. 

 

[. . .]

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the country must boost its nuclear power to address the problem, adding that “we are dealing with a long-term increase of the price of oil.”

Cutting a tax AND boosting nuclear power? What a difference electing somebody sensible can make. The VAT — or value-added tax — is, by the way, a French invention, at least as good a reason to suspect the French as their reverence for Jerry Lewis. Unlike the sales tax, which merely collects the government’s poundgram of flesh at the final point of sale, the VAT is assessed at every point along the way from raw material to finished product. It’s never gotten beyond the talking stage here but —  mon dieu! — don’t let your attention stray. 

A growing enterprise

May 29, 2008

It’s nice to know that at least one sector of the state’s economy isn’t contracting:

Lafayette employees working at City Hall on Columbia Street are so in need of more space, the city is considering buying a building down the street.

City officials are examining buying a building at 515 Columbia St. in downtown Lafayette because it could add much needed office, storage and meeting space. Plus, the building is close to City Hall.

Lafayette Board of Works members Tuesday approved a contract worth about $6,700 with Kettelhut Construction, a Lafayette company tasked with helping the city evaluate the building.

Lafayette Redevelopment Director Dennis Carson said City Hall is busting at the seams. For example, he said, the redevelopment department has 15 people working in a space designed for eight.

We’ve talked to a lot of local officials since the General Assembly’s property tax refortms. With a couple of exceptions — both County Council members — they talked much more about how they could find replacement money than about how to cut spending. Too many in government want it to grow, no matter how many restraints are placed on them. That’s a natural tendency in any enterprise, but other enterprises don’t have the force of law to compel us to fund their growth.

The good bomb

May 28, 2008

Finally, what the world has needed — a nice, friendly, cuddly, green bomb:

New explosives could be more powerful and safer to handle than TNT and other conventional explosives and would also be more environmentally friendly.

TNT, RDX and other explosives commonly used in military and industrial applications often generate toxic gases upon detonation that pollute the environment. Moreover, the explosives themselves are toxic and can find their way into the environment due to incomplete detonation and as unexploded ordnance. They are also extremely dangerous to handle, as they are highly sensitive to physical shock, such as hard impacts and electric sparks.

 

To make safer, more environmentally friendly explosives, scientists in Germany turned to a recently explored class of materials called tetrazoles. These derive most of their explosive energy from nitrogen instead of carbon as TNT and others do.

Kill the people but don’t harm the planet. The very thought must be making some people ecstatic.

Kindle, Part 2

May 28, 2008

Recently, I linked to Megan McCardle’s review of the Kindle, which she liked a lot, and she was so convincing I seriously thought about buying one. I didn’t, though, and after reading Ann Althouse’s take, I may have to think about it a little longer:

ADDED NOTE TO READERS WHO ARE HAVING TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING THIS POST: I’ve added boldface and enlarged some print in the original post, which was apparently a tad subtle. Let me be sledgehammer clear. The stuff about smell is humor. My problem with the Kindle was AND IS the gray-on-gray screen. I want contrast: black letters on a white background. I want that in a book, and I want that in a computer screen, and of course, I want that in an electronic book. I want easy to read. I don’t want to read ugly gray-on-gray print. Get it?

In between either and or

May 28, 2008

In logic, it’s called bifurcation, the false-either/or dilemma. Here is the problem:

For nearly five decades, the United States has pursued a policy toward Cuba that could be described as incredibly stupid.

It could also be called childish, irresponsible and counterproductive — and, since the demise of the Soviet Union, even insane. Absent the threat of communist expansionism, the refusal by successive American presidents to engage with Cuba has not even a fig leaf’s worth of rationale to cover its naked illogic. Other than providing Fidel Castro with a convenient antagonist to help him whip up nationalist fervor on the island — and thus prolong his rule — the U.S. trade embargo and other sanctions have accomplished precisely nothing.

Now, with Fidel ailing and his brother Raul acting large and in charge, the United States has its best opportunity in years to influence the course of events on the island. George W. Bush, as one might have expected, won’t do the right thing. It will be up to the next president.

And here is the bifurcation: John McCain — continue the hard-line approach of the last 50 years; Barack Obama — conduct direct diplomacy with Cuba’s leaders. Neither on of those is really a good option. With McCain’s way, we will keep getting the same unintended consequences. Obama’s way will give tyrants everywhere the wrong idea.

The better way: Just end the embargo. Let Americans trade with Cuba, travel to Cuba, send money to Cuban relatives. Nature will take its course.

Urine trouble now

May 28, 2008

Man, talk about an inconvenient breakdown:

WASHINGTON – The international space station‘s lone toilet is broken, leaving the crew with almost nowhere to go. So NASA may order an in-orbit plumbing service call when space shuttle Discovery visits next week.

Until then, the three-man crew will have to make do with a jury-rigged system when they need to urinate.

When I was a yoot (see “My Counsin Vinnie”), I didn’t worry about having something fill-up-able (milk carton, pop bottle, freeezer bag), handy, even for long trips with potential bathroom emergencies. That’s what the side of the road was for. But these days, that would get you an indecent exposure arrest and an honored place on the sex offender registry. So, space-station crew, don’t just go outside, in case you end up doing your business while facing the Earth.

Ready for anything

May 28, 2008

Whenever I get too pessimistic about the future, I console myself with the knowledge that I haven’t gone completely around the bend:

BUSKIRK, N.Y. – A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandma, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald’s, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.

That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world’s oil supply. Now, she’s preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.

Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.

Convinced the planet’s oil supply is dwindling and the world’s economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn’t prepare.

The exact number of people taking such steps is impossible to determine, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement has been gaining momentum in the last few years.

To be honest, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking survivalist precautions a time or two (starting back about the time of the last oil crisis in the 1970s); nothing like having a secret cabin in the wilderness, but just having an emergency kit in the trunk of the car (batteries and dehydrated food and blankets and gold bars, cigarettes and bullets for their cash equivalency). I’ve never quite gotten around to it, but I know a few people who have who aren’t delusionl or off-the-deep-end conspiracy nuts. But somehow, I think if I take that step, I will have crossed a line you can’t come back from.

Stop and go

May 28, 2008

It’s been a few years since the General Assembly voted against a pilot program for red-light cameras in 10 Indiana cities, but the idea just won’t die. Lafayette is the latest city to consider the cameras:

The Lafayette Police Department wants to have cameras installed at as many as ten intersections throughout the city.  Sergeant Max Smith said after seeing the results from a 24 hour test camera at Kossuth and Main Streets, a “camera cop” is needed.

“There were some 8,500 cars that went through the intersection that day.  We had 135 vehicles that were registered as showing that they violated the intersection by entering into the intersection against the red light,” Smith said.

I’ve been following the studies of red-light cameras ever since the City Council here considered the idea, and the results are all over the map; whether you’re for or against the cameras, you can find a study to bolster your case. Here’s a report of studies from Philadelphia and Virginia Beach, for example, that say the cameras are very effective. But some studies say accidents actually increase at intersections with cameras. Considering all the studies, it seems fair to say that, maybe, the cameras decrease t-bone crashes but cause an increase in rear-end crashes. But the increase in rear-enders is smaller than the decrease in t-bones, which are the more dangerous collisions. So, on balance, there seems to be a marginal public-safety benefit.

But there’s another effective way to reduce crashes, and it doesn’t cost anything: Increase the duration of the yellow caution light. In some jurisdictions where the red-light cameras have been added, they’ve actually decreased the duration of the caution light. That means more people running the red lights, more people caught on camera, more citations, more revenue. One of the options being considered in Lafayette is a proposal from a company that would install the cameras at no charge to the city — it would get part of the citation fees as its compensation. Bad idea — that will add to the probability that the cameras will become more about revenue than safety.

To the shores of Indy

May 28, 2008

Remember when Toledo’s mayor freaked out about Marines training there and canceled the invitation because the city’s residents might be a’skert of all those soldiers running around downtown? Indianapolis’ mayor shows a little more class

:The Marines will land for two weeks of situational training. The expeditionary force of 2,300 troops will fire weapons, conduct patrols and react to ambushes in an unfamiliar urban environment.  

“I think it’s very good training for them. Actually, city fighting, urban fighting is really the most dangerous type of fighting there is,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a former Marine. “When you bang down a door … you never really know what’s behind there.” 

The city surrendered several public sites, many of them city parks, where the Marines plan to land helicopters and deploy troops. 

In addition to war, the military plans to wage a public relations campaign to let people know what’s coming, something that may be needed to keep the public from fearing the worst.

Let the public know what’s going on! See how easy it is?

Shine a light

May 28, 2008

I continue my impressive record of seeing buzzworthy movies on cable months after everyone else has stopped even talking about them. This gives me the advantage of being able to read a lot of informed comment immediately after seeing the movie, to see if there’s anything I missed. And there’s little need to worry about issuing a SPOILER alert for anything I might write. 

My most recent viewing experience was “No Country For Old Men,” which my sister and I watched on Saturday. And it doesn’t look like I missed much. The last 20 or 30 percent of the movie lost steam and meandered disappointingly, and the ending was abrupt and unsatisfactory. And what do I read in dozens of blogs and online reviews? The last 20 to 30 percent of the movie meandered, and the ending was abrupt.

But the Coen brothers are Hitchcockian in their attention to detail, so we can probably assume they MEANT for the last 20 to 30 percent of the movie to meander and for the ending to be abrupt. When you think of those elements that way, they start to make sense.

Think about the title. Put that with Tommy Lee Jones’ opening voiceover about how violence has gotten worse and his last remark to his wife about the dream of his father riding on ahead to light a fire in the cold and dark (“And then I woke up”). And put that all together with the scene involving the wheelchair-bound uncle in which the sheriff is told “you can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” The movie is saying that evil is eternal and relentless and random in whom it strikes (as capricious as, oh, a coin toss). Even if it wanders off with a broken arm, evil will be back. Each generation comes along and thinks it can make a difference but gradually (meanderingly) gives up the fight. We finally (abruptly) realize we haven’t been handed the torch we thought we had been.

It’s tempting to see this as a cuationary tale — that if good doesn’t stay focused, evil will win. But the Coen brothers aren’t sunny optimists, and these are cynical times. I suspect the movie pretty much represents their world view.

Ifeel that cynical sometimes, but it’s hard to get through life with that as a permanent attitude. Evil doesn’t have to do anything but be evil — it has the much easier job. Good has to concentrate on fighting evil AND doing something meaningful with the time and space, however temporary and limited, wrested from evil’s grasp. That’s the much harder job. If we don’t stay focused, each generation lighting the path for the next one, there’s no hope for a sane and moral universe.

Anyway, a great movie, and for now, I will see it as a cautionary tale, even if that’s not what was intended.

Next: Come back early next year for my take on “Sex and the City” and the new Indiana Jones movie!

Soft landing

May 27, 2008

How cool is it that not only did we succeed in a soft landing on Mars, but there was a camera in orbit to get an actual photo the landing?

On Monday, NASA released a black-and-white image captured during Phoenix’s descent by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which had a bird’s-eye view of the lander hanging from its parachute. It’s the first time a spacecraft had taken an image of another craft during landing.

Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory said the camera aboard Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken many unique pictures of Mars, but “this one’s really unique.”

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but space exploration is an area I don’t mind the government spending on (with the usual waste and fraud exceptions, of course).

Who let the dogs out?

May 27, 2008

The one loss that would be felt the most if newspapers went away:

I understand that there are hyper-local blogs run by gadflies who can cover some of this stuff. But the institutional support of a newspaper, while not technically necessary for local coverage to thrive, is nevertheless very important. A financially healthy newspaper has some institutional memory, so that when the lone hyper-local blogger goes on vacation, or moves to a new neighborhood, or gets paid off by the local developer, someone is there to continue important coverage.

A healthy newspaper has an attorney on retainer so that when a powerful local threatens a frivolous liable suit if a controversial story runs, the story gets run — I’ve known local news bloggers who uniformly didn’t publish such stories when confronted, though they were in the right, because who wants to get sued over their blogging hobby?

A healthy newspaper bundles content that people want to read, like the score of last night’s Lakers game, with content that few want to read — the complicated story about the conflict of interest the city attorney has as he negotiates the retirement compensation of the fire union members, for example — but that is useful to have in the newspaper because it forces elected officials to be more accountable.

Finally, no matter how dedicated a reporter you are, it isn’t fun to sift through a 400 page planning commission agenda or search through an archive of property deeds 50 miles away at the county seat. People do these mundane tasks for pay, not as a hobby. One or two local blogs might attract enough advertising to support a half-time reporter, but none can support anything approaching the staff of a healthy newspaper.

As newspapers continue to lose money and layoff employees, the loss of local government watchdogs is what concerns me.

Perhaps in time, bloggers will organize. One will do the school board and another the planning commission and somebody else the county council and so on. Reading all the blogs would be the same as reading the newspaper. Until then, though, nobody can really duplicate what the newspaper does in its local-government-watchdog role. Nobody else has the dedicated stafff, the institutional memory and the experience in news bundling.

That doesn’t mean newspapers do as good a job as they could or should in reporting on local government. We report too much routine stuff and don’t do enough digging. That’s where dedicated bloggers with the time and interest can start to fill in the gaps.