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Penn and El Chapo

As a journalist, Sean Penn is a great actor.

Penn, you know, has written up an interview for publication in Rolling Stone magazine.

Like any great journalist, he got himself an exclusive -- this one happens to have been with El Chapo, the drug kingpin in Mexico just arrested by the Mexican marines.

Penn apparently met the drug lord in some remote part of Mexico and interviewed him in person and then pursued other topics online.

I have not read the Rolling Stone piece.

But, thanks to "60 Minutes" I now have enough information to know this was not a work of true journalism. See, Sean Penn let El Chapo read his story and approve of it BEFORE it was published. Journalists do not do that.

So, Sean Penn is a PR shil for a drug king. That's it, pure and simple.

Shooting ourselves in the feet

I was reading through some old copies of Science News, the magazine, the other day and found myself reading a column by the editor at the time Eva Emerson.

The item was about the government shutdown of 2013 and the message it sent to young people wanting a career in research.

Her reference was a longer article in the same issue, dated Nov. 30, 2013, that spread out all the facts about how the U.S. government has steadily reduced funding for scientific research and development over time.

I'd been hearing about that for years, so it was nothing new.

I decided to Google U.S. government R&D funding and found that nothing's changed in the slope of the downward-tending curve of government support for scientific research. It's down, down, down.

Meanwhile, isn't it becoming more and more obvious that the path to technological and scientific superiority, upon which our nation's reputation largely rests, is through, in part, government-funded research?

Somebody needs to talk sense this election season about how to restore and rebuild funding levels for science, but also for welfare and also for job training and programs to boost people out of poverty. Talking cuts may be popular, but cutting for the sake of cutting will not pay off for our children and their children.

What a newcomer sees

Zeynep Tufekci has seen America in ways almost no Americans would see it.

Right now, he is a professor at the University of North Carolina. He is an immigrant, and when he was new to this country he found institutions he just had no idea existed anywhere.

The first thing that astonished him was the post office, he wrote in last Sunday's New York Times. "There were standardized rates, and you could just slap a stamp on your letter, drop it in a mailbox, and it would go to its destination." He told his friends back home in Turkey about all the services of the post office, including six-day delivery and pickup at your front door, and they were incredulous. They thought he was lying or kidding.

Then he told them about another amazing public service in his new country.

"My first time in a library in the United States was very brief: I walked in, looked around, and ran right back out in panic, certain that I had accidentally used the wrong entrance. Surely, these open stacks full of books were reserved for staff only. I was used to libraries being rare, and their few books inaccessible. To this day, my heart races a bit in a library."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every American saw the post office and their public library as the unique services they are in this wide world?

Whence the librarian?

Librarian Steve Barker, writing in the 1-11-16 Wall Street Journal, laments the rise of Google and demise of specially trained master's degreed librarians.

He notes the trend, now obvious, away from asking librarians questions about literallky everthing. Few reference quesstions come our way anymore. Instead, we help people download books to their new Kindles, we help people with computer problems, we check books in and out. For me, it's fun. I can see why it would be disturbing to people like Steve Barker, though. He's being displaced, just as I was as a well-paid newspaper editor.

Times change.

And so do libraries. For example, we are putting together a maker space and getting a 3D printer up and operating. We want to help kids and young adults with STEM programming.

We'll still do the other things librarians are supposed to do, but our role will be different.

Watch this space for actual announcements of these new adventures.

Not gonna work

The New York Times had another breathless article today about autonomous automobiles.

This time the subject was the fact that Big Insurance is staying up nights worrying about these driverless cars.

About once a week, one major news outlet or another has a story about the dramatic breakthroughs being made by Google and rivals in the pursuit of cars that will drive themselves. They all assume that driverless cars will one day actually be on the road in huge numbers.

I'm here to say, Baloney.

Not saying that building an autonomous car isn't possible. I'm sure it is. I'm just saying that it's highly unlikely you'll ever buy one.

What could be scarier than getting on I-35 in the only autonomous automobile among a legion of drivers who don't have a clue what you're doing. You're out there amongst the 18-wheelers, two-wheelers and careening four-wheelers and you have no control.

And what could be less fun than driving between here and Kerrville on the back roads while in the protective cocoon of a driverless car?

Just saying.

DMC Firewall is developed by Dean Marshall Consultancy Ltd