Sunday, December 07, 2008

The State of Journalism

The Tribune Company has hired a bankruptcy consulting firm in anticipation of a possible bankruptcy filing this week.

What does it say about the current state of journalism that this story in the Los Angeles Times, a paper owned by the Tribune Co, was written by ... Reuters?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

One last thing to do before going...

An interesting coincidence this week that I found in reading two different obituaries.

First, for critic John Leonard:
Although gravely ill, Leonard did make sure to vote Tuesday, for Sen. Barack Obama, requiring a chair as he waited at his polling place on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

"That was very important to him," [Stepdaughter Jen] Nessel said.


And for photographer Cecil Stoughton:
To the end of his life, Mr. Stoughton remained ardently, though quietly, interested in politics. Before he died, his son Jamie said, he took advantage of Florida’s early-voting provision to cast a ballot for Barack Obama.


I'm not sure that it means anything. I just found it interesting.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Great Speech

Text here

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time -- to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth -- that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Barack Obama Wins

Barack Obama elected the 44th President of the United States.


Whew.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel Dies

It's kind of a shame, because I think Studs would have been tickled to wake up next Wednesday and find the nation had elected not only a fella named Barack Obama, but a Chicagoan as well.

I guess that he, and we, will never know.

Chicago Tribune - Chicago Sun-Times - New York Times - Los Angeles Times - Washington Post - Roger Ebert

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Colin Powell Endorses Barack Obama

I thought that the Chicago Tribune's endorsement of Barack Obama was a big deal. The first Democrat endorsed by the newspaper in its 160+ year history.

But then there was a hubbub of anticipation over Colin Powell's appearance on "Meet the Press" this morning. I didn't think that he'd do anything either way. He'd hint and suggest, but not do or say anything outright. He's always been a good soldier, a company man, doing his duty and taking his lumps in the way his superiors expected him to. He's a Republican, though, and I thought that he would once again stifle his opinion and thoughts in favor of a larger organization.

But then he actually endorsed Barack Obama for president, in clear and unambiguous terms:



I think I know how the ideologues on the right will counter this. They will do everything they can to remind people that Colin Powell, as Secretary of State, was the one who gave the speech at the United Nations that laid out the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq. He was the one who said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And he did. But he didn't do it alone and without the encouragement of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld's DOD, and the CIA.

I find this all interesting because I wonder what the future of the Republican party will be. Is anyone ideologically pure any more?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Don't Understand Why the G.O.P. Doesn't Get More of the Black Vote

Why am I not surprised?

A Republican women's club in San Bernardino County sent out a recent newsletter with a photo of Barack Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelon and ribs, sparking widespread outrage and rebuke from GOP leaders and Democrats.

The illustration shows the Democratic presidential candidate's head atop a donkey's body on a bogus $10 bill referred to as "Obama Bucks." Inscribed on the money are the words "United States Food Stamps" surrounded by stereotypical African American food.




I think this may be my most favorite line of rationalization today:

[Club president Diane] Fedele said the mailer merely parodied the statements Obama made during a debate last summer and wasn't racist.

"If I was racist, I would have looked at it through racist eyes," she said. "I am not racist, which is why it probably didn't register."

Club member Kristina Sandoval agreed.

"None of us are racists," she said.

The use of watermelon, ribs and fried chicken was innocent, she said.

"Everyone eats those foods, it's not a racial thing."


Jesus, why not just throw a noose in there?

I guess Mrs. Fedele would like to be complimented on the fact that she didn't put a noose in there, showing great restraint and therefore proving that she is most definitely not a racist, despite what the Jew-owned media would have you believe.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Whuh?

Two articles of interest:

David "The Stupidest Man Writing A Column for the New York Times" Brooks writes in "The Class War Before Palin" about the anti-intellectualism-as-faux-populism strain in the modern Republican campaign and wonders if it hasn't gone too far:

"[O]ver the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. This expulsion has had many causes. But the big one is this: Republican political tacticians decided to mobilize their coalition with a form of social class warfare. Democrats kept nominating coastal pointy-heads like Michael Dukakis so Republicans attacked coastal pointy-heads.

Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.

What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.

* * *

This year could have changed things. The G.O.P. had three urbane presidential candidates. But the class-warfare clichés took control. Rudy Giuliani disdained cosmopolitans at the Republican convention. Mitt Romney gave a speech attacking “eastern elites.” (Mitt Romney!) John McCain picked Sarah Palin.

* * *

Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.

And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.


And in the New Yorker, James Wood writes "Verbage: The Republican war on words":

In recent elections, the Republican hate word has been “liberal,” or “Massachusetts,” or “Gore.” In this election, it has increasingly been “words.” Barack Obama has been denounced again and again as a privileged wordsmith, a man of mere words who has “authored” two books (to use Sarah Palin’s verb), and done little else. The leathery extremist Phyllis Schlafly had this to say, at the Republican Convention, about Palin: “I like her because she’s a woman who’s worked with her hands, which Barack Obama never did, he was just an élitist who worked with words.” The fresher-faced extremist Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator, called Obama “just a person of words,” adding, “Words are everything to him.” The once bipartisan campaign adviser Dick Morris and his wife and co-writer, Eileen McGann, argue that the McCain camp, in true Rovian fashion, is “using the Democrat’s articulateness against him” (along with his education, his popularity, his intelligence, his wife—pretty much everything but his height, though it may come to that). John McCain’s threatened cancellation of the first Presidential debate was the ultimate defiance, by action, of words; sure enough, afterward conservatives manfully disdained Barack Obama’s “book knowledge.” To have seen the mountains of Waziristan with one’s own eyes—that is everything.

Doesn’t this reflect a deep suspicion of language itself? It’s as if Republican practitioners saw words the way Captain Ahab saw “all visible objects”—as “pasteboard masks,” concealing acts and deeds and things—and, like Ahab, were bent on striking through those masks.

* * *

But we all need words, and both campaigns wrestle every day over them. Words are up for grabs: just follow the lipstick traces. For days, the McCain camp accused Obama of likening Governor Palin to a pig, because he likened a retooled political message to a pig with lipstick. Eventually, McCain (who had previously described Senator Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan as a pig with lipstick) was forced to fudge. No, he conceded, Senator Obama had not called Governor Palin a pig, “but I know he chooses his words carefully, and it was the wrong thing to say.” This was instructive, not least because it sounded like implicit praise: maybe I don’t choose my words very carefully, but he does, so he should have chosen them more carefully.


Meanwhile, the campaign that claims to loathe “just words” has proved expert at their manipulation, from reversals of policy to the outright lies of some of its attack ads (“comprehensive sex education”) and the subtle racial innuendo of a phrase like “how disrespectful” (used to accuse Obama of making uppity attacks on Palin). Karl Rove—along with predecessors like Lee Atwater and protégés like Steve Schmidt—long ago showed the Republicans that language is slippery, fluid, a river into which you can dump anything at all as long as your opponent is the one downstream. And, to be fair, those who affect to despise words have been more skillful than their opponents not just at amoral manipulation but at the creation of what Orwell called “a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech.” Pit bulls and lipstick stuck for good reason.

* * *

If Obama is the letter (words, fancy diplomas, “authored” books), then the latest representative of the spirit is Sarah Palin. Literary theorists used to say that their most abstruse prose was “writing the difficulty”—that the sentences were tortuous because there was no briskly commonsensical way of representing a complex issue. Sarah Palin, alas, talks the difficulty. She may claim, as she did in last Thursday’s Vice-Presidential debate, that “Americans are cravin’ that straight talk,” but they are sure not going to get it from the Governor—not with her peculiar habit of speaking only half a sentence and then moving on to another for spoliation, that strange, ghostly drifting through the haziest phrases, as if she were cruelly condemned to search endlessly for her linguistic home.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Vice-Presidential Candidates Debate Predictions

I probably won't get a chance to watch or listen to the debate tonight between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, but here is my prediction, if not of the substance, of the collective media reaction afterwards.

The expectations for Palin are so low at this point, that her ability to stand upright and speak English will be praised and lead to comparisons with Ronald Reagan.* She won't make any major mistakes, but she won't say anything beyond the scripted talking points, either. I've read descriptions of her as having the same presence as a local TV personality, in that she'll hit her mark, smile at the camera, and say the words that someone else has written for her, but that's about it. She can't write the words, she can't fully comprehend the concepts behind them, but she can smile and work a crowd, which she will do in abundance.

Biden will probably make some gaffe, state some small "fact" that is isn't, and will be immediately pounced upon by the right-wing noise machine. He'll make some point a little too forcefully, going for a "You're no Jack Kennedy" moment, but be excoriated for being "mean" to "poor Sarah."**

Above all else, this will be called a "game changer". No one covering the election wants this to be over five weeks before the candidates reach the finish line, so look for high praise for Palin and questions of whether Biden is a drag on the Obama campaign to be raised among the punditry. Obama pulled ahead of McCain in the polls after their first debate, and now the people telling the story want that gap to close, so that there is something to write about. (As soon as that gap closes, and especially if McCain-Palin takes the lead, look for a new tack to keep Obama-Biden in play. Everyone keep watching! You don't know what twist is coming next!)

________

* The comparison may be apt, but the people who will make it are the ones who like Reagan and believe that he single-handedly ended the Cold War. He said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," after all. That every president before him since the Berlin Wall went up said some variation of those words, you wouldn't think it meant that much, but...

** Remember: Hillary Clinton tearing up in an unguarded moment during a rough primary season was a sign that she wasn't capable of playing hardball in the international arena, but anyone asking anything difficult of Palin is just being mean. Maybe Senator Clinton can take Governor Palin at some point and share with her the names she was called for daring to run for high office while possessing lady parts. Of course, most of the people who said that they would never vote for a woman are now calling Palin "inspiring."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Strange...

...to think of a world without Paul Newman. One of the few movie stars who also happened to be a very good actor.

Go see Harper. It may not be one of his best movies, but it is one of the most fun.

Also, try Nobody's Fool. Small, almost forgotten, but excellent.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political Theater

New York Times: Talks Implode During Day of Chaos:

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate banking committee, denounced the session as “a rescue plan for John McCain,” and proclaimed it a waste of precious hours that could have been spent negotiating.

But a top aide to Mr. Boehner said it was Democrats who had done the political posturing. The aide, Kevin Smith, said Republicans revolted, in part, because they were chafing at what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to jam through an agreement on the bailout early Thursday and deny Mr. McCain an opportunity to participate in the agreement.


Funny, but by trying to refute the Democrats' point, Mr. Smith confirmed it. If an agreement had effectively been reached, then what did it matter if John McCain was there to participate in it? Answer: It didn't, unless the whole thing was simply a set up to make it look like he had participated.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Big Shitpile, Indeed

I thought that these few paragraphs in a New York Times story did a very good job of encapsulating the risk in giving the US Treasure $700,000,000,000 in the form of a blank check:

The financial system got to its dangerous perch by betting extravagantly on real estate. When housing prices began plummeting and borrowers stopped making payments, financial institutions found themselves with huge inventories of bad loans. Not simple loans, but complex investments created by pooling millions of mortgages together and then slicing them into pieces. These were the investments that Wall Street bought, sold and borrowed against in cooking up the money it poured into housing.

The trouble is that these investments are so intertwined and complex that no one seems able to figure out what they are worth. So no one has been willing to buy them. This is why banks have been in lockdown mode: with mystery enshrouding both the value of their assets and their future losses, banks have held tight to their remaining dollars, depriving the economy of capital.

Now, the Treasury aims to clear the fog by buying up these investments. But their value is as mysterious as ever.

“There’s a tendency for people to think these are stocks and bonds and you know what the price is,” said Bruce Bartlett, a former White House economist under President Reagan. “The problem is people are operating in a world in which nobody knows what the hell is going on. There’s some naïve assumptions about how this would function.”

If Mr. Paulson pays the market rate — whatever that is — that presumably would not be enough to persuade banks to sell. Otherwise, they would have sold already. For the plan to work, Treasury has to pay a premium.

“It’s a straight subsidy to financial institutions,” said Martin Baily, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration, and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “You’re essentially giving them money.”

We're going to have to pay top dollar for a lot of junk that no one wants in order to entice the banks to give up the junk that they don't want.

Brilliant.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Invisible Hand? What Invisible Hand?

From the New York Times: Bush Officials Urge Swift Action on Rescue Powers
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, moving to prevent an economic cataclysm, urged Congress on Friday to grant it far-reaching emergency powers to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in distressed mortgages despite many unknowns about how the plan would work.

Henry M. Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary, made it clear that the upfront cost of the rescue proposal could easily be $500 billion, and outside experts predicted that it could reach $1 trillion.



We. Are. So. Fucked.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Now It Begins

"With the end of the nominating process, American politics leaves logic behind.

"If the conventions have done their work well, as normally they do, then the American people are offered two men of exceptional ability. Now they must choose. And they must choose in a primitive and barbaric trial. Although the contest is bloodless, the choice that ends the contest is nonetheless as irrational as any of the murderous or conspiratorial choices of leadership made elsewhere in great states. Until Plato's republic of philosophers is established, leaders will always be chosen by other men, not out of reason, but out of instinct and trust. In America, all citizens help choose."

Theodore H. White
"The Making of the President 1960"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Very Serious Nature of Political Reporting



This is what appeared on the front page of Yahoo! News this morning.

Hard hitting, isn't it?

I know a lot of people are excited about this election, convinced that it is well nigh inevitable that Barack Obama will win and win big, but all I see between now and November are a lot of forces pushing back against that idea. Not even malevolent forces, just silly, stupid, petty, trivial forces. Stories like this one will have pundits frothing on TV, doing straw polls among their families and friends to prove that all of the people they know have pets, so they MUST be going to vote for McCain. And if it's not this one, it'll be another.

Who's winning? Who's winning this month? Who won last week? Who won today? Who's winning RIGHT NOW? At this very second? And what does it all mean? What untapped segment, what subgroup of a subgroup of a subgroup, can be put on TV, can be quoted in a story and be turned into the crux on which everything hangs? "How will the left-handed soccer moms who have sons AND daughters, but ONLY cats, and whose birthdays are in the firs three months of the year vote this November? It's a question that has a lot of experts scratching their heads."

Actually, it's the kind of question that has a lot of people scratching their heads, but not for the reason you think.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Remembering Tim Russert

Dennis Perrin: No Moment of Silence
However personally nice or charming Tim Russert was in life is really beside the point. That's for his family and true friends to embrace. For the rest of us, or at least the minority who bothered watching "Meet The Press" with any regularity, Russert was yet another corporate gatekeeper, helping to frame permissible boundaries of debate, keeping true critics of the system far away from his glittering stage. He will be missed, not only by those swayed by his smile and Everyman persona, but especially by those seeking fresh ways to fool news consumers into thinking that a "free" exchange of ideas is taking place. There may not be another Russert waiting in the wings, but he'll be replaced easily enough, and the dominant narrative will continue unbroken, incessant chatter amid the burning bodies.

Barry Crimmins: Overkill
Russert provided a Sunday morning showcase for every official cover story disseminated by the D.C powers that be. He believed those stories just as he did when he bought the saddlesoap George W. Bush was selling about WMD's. Did you? I didn't for a second and I don't have the full resources of NBC News at my beck and call. If we wonder why it's easy for shadowy figures in Washington to steal everything that isn't bolted down and then go to work with the bolt-cutters, we need look no further than Tim Russert. Because he was easily distracted. All you had to do was bring up the Buffalo Bills or ask him who made the best corned beef sandwich on Capitol Hill and Russert would be off and running, showing off his regular guy roots as he pontificated about professional sports, greasy sandwiches or the sacrosanct status of anyone hiding behind the flag.

Marc Cooper: Requiem for Pope Russert
But what was baffling, if not downright maddening about Russert's style, was that he would inevitably pull that knock-out punch and end the encounter with an embrace rather than a roundhouse right. Just when he'd get his guest to start backtracking, dissembling and stumbling, he'd gently let him - or her--go.

...

Indeed, without unfailingly pulling that last punch Russert knew very well he would risk excommunication from the Inner Sanctum of the Beltway. A harder landing for his guests could dry up that most cherished of press commodities - access and kinship with the powerful.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Whoops!

Oh, bother:
ON May 12, The Times published an Op-Ed article by Edward N. Luttwak, a military historian, who argued that any hopes that a President Barack Obama might improve relations with the Muslim world were unrealistic because Muslims would be “horrified” once they learned that Obama had abandoned the Islam of his father and embraced Christianity as a young adult.

Under “Muslim law as it is universally understood,” Luttwak wrote, Obama was born a Muslim, and his “conversion” to Christianity was an act of apostasy, a capital offense and “the worst of all crimes that a Muslim can commit.” While no Muslim country would be likely to prosecute him, Luttwak said, a state visit to such a nation would present serious security challenges “because the very act of protecting him would be sinful for Islamic security guards.”

...

Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture.

Did Luttwak cross the line from fair argument to falsehood? Did Times editors fail to adequately check his facts before publishing his article? Did The Times owe readers a contrasting point of view?

I interviewed five Islamic scholars, at five American universities, recommended by a variety of sources as experts in the field. All of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.

...

Interestingly, in defense of his own article, Luttwak sent me an analysis of it by a scholar of Muslim law whom he did not identify. That scholar also did not agree with Luttwak that Obama was an apostate or that Muslim law would prohibit punishment for any Muslim who killed an apostate. He wrote, “You seem to be describing some anarcho-utopian version of Islamic legalism, which has never existed, and after the birth of the modern nation state will never exist.”

Luttwak made several sweeping statements that the scholars I interviewed said were incorrect or highly debatable, including assertions that in Islam a father’s religion always determines a child’s, regardless of the facts of his upbringing; that Obama’s “conversion” to Christianity was apostasy; that apostasy is, with few exceptions, a capital crime; and that a Muslim could not be punished for killing an apostate.

...

Luttwak said the scholars with whom I spoke were guilty of “gross misrepresentation” of Islam, which he said they portrayed as “a tolerant religion of peace;” he called it “intolerant.” He said he was not out to attack Obama and regretted that, in the editing, a paragraph saying that an Obama presidency could be “beneficial” was cut for space.


In other words: "Except for the falsehood that is the premise of the piece, we stand by it wholeheartedly."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Can't Just Sit Still and Be Quiet

An interesting review of "Be Kind Rewind" by A.O. Scott in the New York Times:
Commercial pop culture is, too often, understood as a top-down enterprise, its expensive, disposable products passively consumed by the public.

And yet at the same time that stuff is capable of inspiring a deep and durable sense of ownership. The movies we love belong in some profound way to us, and part of us lives inside them. Sweding is Mr. Gondry’s way of making that rather abstract sense of connection literal, of suggesting that even if we are not strictly speaking the owners and authors of the movies we like, well, then, perhaps we should be.

It goes without saying that this is a naïve, utopian point of view. The travestied films in “Be Kind Rewind” are the intellectual property of large corporations (as is Mr. Gondry’s movie), and you can be sure that teams of lawyers were consulted and paid before the Sweding went very far. But “Be Kind” hardly pretends otherwise. Instead it treats movies as found objects, as material to be messed around with, explored and reimagined. It connects the do-it-yourself aesthetic of YouTube and other digital diversions with the older, predigital impulse to put on a show in the backyard or play your favorite band’s hits with your buddies in the garage.


I'm not big on the whole mashup/remix thing, but I think that Scott is onto something in how we relate to movies (and music) and how we've been reduced to passive consumers of art rather than active producers, or at least active participants.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mitt Romney's Campaign Died For Your Sins

Mitt's out, and he's classy to the very end:

"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror," Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. [Emphasis mine]

Well. Fuck. You. Mitt Romney.

Any of those trust fund leeches you call sons going to join up and fight in this crucial war for all that is good and holy? Especially now that "one of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping to get me elected" has failed so miserably?

Nah, didn't think so.