Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Second Draft of History?

The Columbia Journalism Review's series, "Into the Abyss," an oral history of the reporters who've been covering Iraq is a fascinating read.

Two years ago, I wrote this after watching Reporters at War on TV:
I also can't help but wonder, and I really had this question nagging at me all through the drive towards Baghdad in March of 2003: How much are the reporters holding back so that they can put the really juicy stuff in their books. You know, the ones they plan on writing when they come back.

I still wonder that, but this piece did make me realize that there is a danger inherent in simply telling the story in dangerous places where, in this case, an American is an American is an American. Doesn't matter if you're a soldier or a reporter or a diplomat, you're simply seen as someone who doesn't belong.

For example, from Chapter 6 - Turning Points:
Alissa Rubin
Los Angeles Times

[In March 2004], people in Fallujah had been laying IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and we knew that a serious assault was coming. We had someone with the Marines, writing about the Marines, and some civilians in Fallujah were killed, and so I felt that we needed to tell the story also from the point of view of the civilian Fallujans. So I went out there to talk to them. And I was in a hospital and a relative of someone who had just been killed came in and he was very angry that there was a foreigner there, although I was properly dressed in an abaya and a hijab, but he became furious and he pulled out a gun. An Iraqi translator I was working with was there and [the angry man] basically held the gun far closer to his head or my head than either of us ever want to see again.

And Suhail [Rubin’s translator] told him, “Calm down, stop it. We didn’t mean any harm.” That sort of thing. And he told him that we were trying to explain what had happened to his relative who had been killed. No one offered to help us or pull the man away, and we walked out of the hospital and survived. Although we were very afraid as we walked out that we’d be shot in the back.

In an age when you don't know who has access to satellite television or the internet, you don't know who is going to end up seeing or reading your story, you don't have the assurance that you once did that only the people back home are going to see what you're showing. I still think that there is some deceitfulness, and I think that our newsrooms are beholden to delivering eyeballs to advertisers over serving the public trust, but I have less of a gripe with the reporters themselves than I might have before.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bush in 'Nam

I think these paragraphs sum it up well:
On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”

Perhaps, but the Vietnamese have barely seen or heard from Mr. Bush. He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that “America will remain engaged in Asia.” But the response was tepid — the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines — and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech “that his father didn’t say to us 15 years ago.”

Well, how about this one, too:
But Mr. Bush is not staying overnight in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which Washington has portrayed as a critical test in the struggle to promote moderate, democratic Islamic states. The Secret Service said it was too dangerous, so he will spend the night in Hawaii.

Yeah. Makin' friends everywhere he goes. That's our Boy Prince.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Movie Greats

Cinemax has been showing the Star Wars movies -- all six of them -- all day long and in order.

Episodes 1, 2, and 3 still make me mad. They were horrible, but they didn't have to be. I've been griping to my wife all day about what went wrong.

Episodes 4, 5, and 6 are still fun.

But what it all really made me want to do is watch this: Hardware Wars!

After that, try Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind.

Here's Part I:

And Part II:

Finally, wash it all down with Porklips Now.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

You don't want to know how many times I watched a VHS copy of this that I borrowed from the public library when I was a kid. Lots. Lots and lots and lots.

It also included this:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Pioneer of Cinema Passes On

Sid Davis, 90, a Filmmaker of Cautionary Tales for Youth, Dies

I love this obituary, if only for the last line:
Also surviving is Mr. Davis’s daughter, Jill Davis, who as a child was shown being impaled by an errant pair of scissors in “Live and Learn.”

Some of Davis's work is available for viewing at The Internet Archive, including:

Alcohol Is Dynamite

Keep Off the Grass

Moment of Decision


Big Man on Campus

Girls Beware

and the infamous Boys Beware

Ah, good times...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Steely eyed

Steadfast and resolute...

WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 — With less than a week before the election, President Bush sought to rally Republican voters on Wednesday with a vigorous defense of the war in Iraq and a vow to keep Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in office until the end of Mr. Bush’s term.

Or not...

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the hard-driving and super-confident Pentagon boss who came to symbolize President Bush’s controversial Iraq policy, is resigning, President Bush announced today.

Mr. Bush, appearing at the White House the day after the Republican Party suffered sweeping defeats in Tuesday’s midterm Congressional elections, said he and Mr. Rumsfeld had “a series of thoughtful conversations” and agreed that “the time is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.”

It all seems so familiar, somehow.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Oh Geez...

Flu Shot Program Is Ended After G.O.P. Cries Politics
HOUSTON, Nov. 2 (AP) — The city has stopped offering free flu shots at early voting sites after Republicans alleged it was a ploy by the mayor to lure more Democrats to the polls.

The vaccinations, for people 50 and older, had been offered at early voting sites in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Health officials said they had singled out medically underserved areas, not Democratic neighborhoods.

“There was no political motive whatsoever to do it,” said Mayor Bill White, the former head of the Texas Democratic Party.

Mr. White said he had ended the program Wednesday, after it had provided 1,300 flu shots over three days, because he did not want “to spend more money in defending a baseless lawsuit than we’re giving away in vaccine or allow anybody to question the integrity of the political process.”

Republicans accused Mr. White of using the program to increase Democrats’ election prospects. The Harris County Republican chairman, Jared Woodfill, said the offer violated a state law barring people from accepting anything in exchange for a vote.

“I think the program was completely motivated by a plan to turn out Democratic voters,” Mr. Woodfill said.

A $320,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation financed the “Vote and Vax” flu shot drives in Houston and 24 other American cities, according to the foundation, a health advocacy organization. The 10-year-old program singles out areas where relatively few people get flu shots.

Foundation officials say the program is a convenient way for older people, who are especially vulnerable to the flu, to get vaccinated for a disease that kills 32,000 people over 65 every year. Polls provide access to many people who need the vaccine.

Stop and think about this for a second. The government provided a public health service to people who are vulnerable and under served, and it had to stop because the Republican party charged that it was being done solely for political purposes.

I'm going to write that last bit again and italicize it: The government had to stop because the Republican party charged that it was being done solely for political purposes.

Remember Hurricane Katrina? Remember New Orleans? That was not a failure of government by the measurements of the modern Republican party. Government worked exactly in the way it was supposed to work -- it provided nothing to anyone who actually needed something.

Tax cuts? No bid contracts? Tort "reform"? No problem! Vaccinations for poor people? That's just playing politics!

The government exists to serve the people. Period. The Republican party, apparently, does not. That is truly reprehensible.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


One of my all-time favorite Hubble pictures: The Hubble Ultra Deep Field
The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. Peering into the Ultra Deep Field is like looking through a 2.5 metre-long soda straw.

In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image.

In this image, blue and green correspond to colours that can be seen by the human eye, such as hot, young, blue stars and the glow of Sun-like stars in the disks of galaxies. Red represents near-infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, such as the red glow of dust-enshrouded galaxies.

The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004.

Pick the highest resolution image you can download and make it fill your screen. Print it out and put your nose right up against it if you have to. It's really amazing when you consider what they are pictures of.

(I forgot to add that the reason I posted this is because NASA has posted the Top 100 Hubble Images of All Time.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

How the Liberal Press Gets Labeled As Such

Glen Greenwald's observation about Mark Halperin's pleadings with Hugh Hewitt.

Giving Halperin the benefit of the doubt, and that may be generous, I assume that he is doing on this little book tour jaunt of his is reassuring these partisan hosts that he'll try really, really hard to be neutral. He'll try to give air to the legitimate concerns that conservatives have without making them out to be a bunch of backward kooks and crazies.

If he's paying attention, what he should be learning is that it doesn't matter.

Hewitt declares Halperin liberal because it suits Hewitt's cause. If Halperin on his own is this willing to bend over backwards, then how much further will he bend when he the people to whom he is trying to appeal, the people for whom he believes he already speaks for, declare that he is One of Them?

I have no idea what drives this, if it's neo-conservatism, or if it should be properly termed Republicanism, since it derives more from a loyalty to a party and it's leadership than to any particular ideology, but it's pretty irrational, and Halperin is trying to reason with it.

(See also: Wolf Blitzer's shock over Lynne Cheney's attack