Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

Data, data, everywhere, but not a drop to think

Posted by metaphorical on 3 November 2008

Is anyone in the media capable of reporting a story that has numbers in it?

Study: Media coverage has favored Obama campaign

John McCain supporters who believe they haven’t gotten a fair shake from the media during the Republican’s candidacy against Barack Obama have a new study to point to.

Comments made by sources, voters, reporters and anchors that aired on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts over the past two months reflected positively on Obama in 65 percent of cases, compared to 31 percent of cases with regards to McCain, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

ABC’s “World News” had more balance than NBC’s “Nightly News” or the “CBS Evening News,” the group said.

Meanwhile, the first half of Fox News Channel’s “Special Report” with Brit Hume showed more balance than any of the network broadcasters, although it was dominated by negative evaluations of both campaigns. The center didn’t evaluate programs on CNN or MSNBC.

Let’s look at the numbers.

The center analyzed 979 separate news stories shown between Aug. 23 and Oct. 24, and excluded evaluations based on the campaign horse race, including mention of how the candidates were doing in polls. For instance, when a voter was interviewed on CBS Oct. 14 saying he thought Obama brought a freshness to Washington, that was chalked up as a pro-Obama comment.

When NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported Oct. 1 that some conservatives say that Sarah Palin is not ready for prime-time, that’s marked in the negative column for McCain.

ABC recorded 57 percent favorable comments toward the Democrats, and 42 percent positive for the Republicans. NBC had 56 percent positive for the Democrats, 16 percent for the Republicans. CBS had 73 percent positive (Obama), versus 31 percent (McCain).

Hume’s telecast had 39 percent favorable comments for McCain and 28 percent positive for the Democratic ticket.

So by this account, Hume is objective, while ABC, though better than the other networks, is partisan. Yet by the very numbers being reported, the tilt on Hume’s show is 1.39:1, while, that of ABC is 1.36:1.

But the study doesn’t even say that the media reporting is biased, just that Obama-Biden has come off better. That’s surely true, and should come as no surprise.

If the Obama campaign had lots of good things happen, such as good poll results, or major endorsements (eg, Colin Powell’s), and the press reports it, those are going to count as favorable mentions. And if bad things happen to the McCain campaign, they’re going to lead to reports that get counted as unfavorable. But that’s just reporting on what happens.

The “nonpartisan” Center for Media and Public Affairs is affiliated with the strongly conservative George Mason University, by the way.

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics | 1 Comment »

Butterflies are free to lie

Posted by metaphorical on 14 September 2008

It’s been two weeks since the Washington Post reported that Sarah Palin was a founding director of one of Ted Stevens’ 527 groups, and as far as I can tell, the story hasn’t been pushed forward much at all. Where are all the investigative journalists who spent a decade rooting around the barren stumps of Whitewater? Where are the Democratic Party’s Swiftboaters and other attack dogs?

Back in late July, “Sen. Ted Stevens, the nation’s longest-serving Republican senator and a major figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, was indicted Tuesday on seven felony counts of concealing more than a quarter of a million dollars in house renovations and gifts from a powerful oil contractor that lobbied him for government aid,” to quote the lead of an AP story at the time.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin began building clout in her state’s political circles in part by serving as a director of an independent political group organized by the now embattled Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Palin’s name is listed on 2003 incorporation papers of the “Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.,” a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. The group was designed to serve as a political boot camp for Republican women in the state. She served as one of three directors until June 2005, when her name was replaced on state filings.

527 groups are named for a provision of the IRS code under which “members of Congress can raise unlimited soft money from individuals, corporations and unions,” as SourceWatch puts it. “Under federal election law, members of Congress may raise only limited amounts of ‘hard money’ for their own campaign committees or ‘leadership PACs’ which aid other candidates. They may accept no contributions of more than $1,000 per election from an individual and $5,000 per election from a political action committee (PAC).”

527s are of course exactly the sort of thing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms tried to reform out of existence. It’s more than a little politics-makes-strange-bedfellows that his running mate got her start on the long road to the vice presidency by cofounding one. For a Senator now under indictment.

Palin’s relationship with Alaska’s senior senator may be one of the more complicated aspects of her new position as Sen. John McCain’s running mate; Stevens was indicted in July 2008 on seven counts of corruption.

It’s just one more thing for which Palin needs to put on her best Janus makeup. According to AlaskaReport:

Palin, an anti-corruption crusader in Alaska, had called on Stevens to be open about the issues behind the investigation. But she also held a joint news conference with him in July, before he was indicted, to make clear she had not abandoned him politically.

On July 10, State Senator John Cowdery was the latest on a string of indictments in Alaska . Palin immediately called for his resignation. Twenty days later, Stevens was indicted on seven felony counts related to accepting illegal gifts. When asked if Stevens should resign, Plain replied that it, “would be premature at this point.” Alaskans received no explanation of why Stevens would be different from any other indicted elected official in Alaska.

Palin’s career has been short, but it already has a signature: a level of abuse of whatever levers of power she has newly wrapped her hand around that is remarkable even by Republican standards. Whether it’s hiring friends and firing enemies, gorging at the hog trough of pork barrel politics as usual (while wearing the shoulder sash of reformism), or simultaneously condemning Stevens and supporting him, she, like her new mentor John McCain, would do the putative flip-floppers of 2004 proud.

If Obama and the Democratic strategists can pin the Republican ticket’s wings to a sign labeled “hypocrisy” like a butterfly being mounted, they will win. There’s no dearth of raw material. But then, by 2004, there was no dearth of evidence of Bush’s incompetence, even before Katrina. What’s needed is for the media to take it all seriously, as seriously as they took the false claim that Al Gore claimed to invent the Internet, as seriously as they took Bush’s absurd talk of compassionate conservatism, as seriously as they took the Dean scream that never was, as seriously as they took the ridiculous charge that Kerry didn’t earn his war medals. For a change, this time they would even have the truth on their side.

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics | Leave a Comment »

The flip-flop flip-flop

Posted by metaphorical on 19 August 2008

“This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for,” adding: “I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.”

Sounds a bit arrogant, doesn’t it?

But what if the entire quote is this:

It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It’s about America. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.

Dana Milbank, at that new bastion of conservative politics, The Washington Post, pulled the first quote out of the second and used to make the case that Barak Obama is, if not an uppity black man riding on the backs of hard-working whites, then at least a typical politician obsessed with his place in history.

As the Huffington Post put it,

For Milbank’s part, it was all because he wanted to wedge the statement into his preferred frame: “Barack Obama has long been his party’s presumptive nominee. Now he’s becoming its presumptuous nominee.”

And as Robert Parry over at Consortium News put it, “the true meaning of the Obama quote appears to have been almost the opposite of how Milbank used it.”

To put it as simply as possible, which part of “not about me at all” does Milbank not get?

This post is about events almost a month old, but the media’s misbegotten storyline about flip-flopping just gets more and more embedded in the campaign’s narrative. Parry notes that the Post has yet to retract or at even clarify the quote for its readers. He’s generally worried about the media coverage of the candidates. Referring to another speech given early this month, when the stench of the Milbank misquote was still fresh in the air, Parry pointed out that

Obama gave a detail-rich speech on how he would address the energy crisis, which is a major point of concern among Americans. From ideas for energy innovation to retrofitting the U.S. auto industry to conservation steps to limited new offshore drilling, Obama did what he is often accused of not doing, fleshing out his soaring rhetoric.

McCain responded with a harsh critique of Obama’s calls for more conservation, claiming that Obama wants to solve the energy crisis by having people inflate their tires. McCain’s campaign even passed out a tire gauge marked as Obama’s energy plan.

For his part, McCain made clear he wanted to drill for more oil wherever it could be found and to build many more nuclear power plants.

These competing plans offered a chance for the evening news to address an issue of substance that is high on the voters’ agenda. Instead, NBC News anchor Brian Williams devoted 30 seconds to the dueling energy speeches, without any details and with the witty opening line that Obama was “refining” his energy plan.

The media, Parry says, is all to happy to pick up on the McCain spin that Obama is a flip-flopper, despite all evidence that the flip-flop belongs on the other foot – McCains.

… as for flip-flops, McCain’s dramatic repositioning of himself as an anti-environmentalist – after years of being one of the green movement’s favorite Republicans – represents a far more significant change than Obama’s modest waffling on offshore oil.

In my opinion, the mere fact that McCain could come crawling back into bed with George Bush, after Bush torpedoed McCain from his front-running position early in the 2000 presidential campaign with a particularly vicious smear attack in the critical South Carolina primary. The smear, which made the implication that McCain had fathered a dark-skinned child that he and his wife adopted from a Mother Teresa orphanage, was made all the more successful by its outrageous implausibility. It’s been widely documented, but there’s a particularly good account that McCain’s then-campaign manager gave in a Boston Globe op-ed piece in 2004.

Having run Senator John McCain’s campaign for president, I can recount a textbook example of a smear made against McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 presidential primary. We had just swept into the state from New Hampshire, where we had racked up a shocking, 19-point win over the heavily favored George W. Bush. What followed was a primary campaign that would make history for its negativity.

In South Carolina, Bush Republicans were facing an opponent who was popular for his straight talk and Vietnam war record. They knew that if McCain won in South Carolina, he would likely win the nomination. With few substantive differences between Bush and McCain, the campaign was bound to turn personal. The situation was ripe for a smear.

It didn’t take much research to turn up a seemingly innocuous fact about the McCains: John and his wife, Cindy, have an adopted daughter named Bridget. Cindy found Bridget at Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh, brought her to the United States for medical treatment, and the family ultimately adopted her. Bridget has dark skin.

Anonymous opponents used “push polling” to suggest that McCain’s Bangladeshi born daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. In push polling, a voter gets a call, ostensibly from a polling company, asking which candidate the voter supports. In this case, if the “pollster” determined that the person was a McCain supporter, he made statements designed to create doubt about the senator.

Thus, the “pollsters” asked McCain supporters if they would be more or less likely to vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate child who was black. In the conservative, race-conscious South, that’s not a minor charge. We had no idea who made the phone calls, who paid for them, or how many calls were made. Effective and anonymous: the perfect smear campaign.

For McCain to turn around and campaign heavily for Bush in 2004, become a leading supporter of Bush’s surge in Iraq, and defend Bush’s unconstitutional mass wiretaps, is both the height of cynical politics and flip-flopping at its finest. John Dickerson described McCain’s base motives back in 2005. The main one, of course, is money – campaign money, millions of dollars of it.

This is shaping up to be one of those campaigns where it’s hard to see how the Republican nominee has any credibility at all, and yet he could win. McCain and his friend and fellow master-flip-flopper, Joe Lieberman, are almost singlehandedly responsible for Congress’s continued support for, and financing of, the Iraqi war. How Mr War Record could let us leave Afghanistan in media res is one of the great mysteries of this campaign, but it seems the media won’t demand an answer to what should be the res on which the 2008 election turns.

This election will be a close one because a press corps that prefers image to substance is giving the candidate of image a leg up on the candidate of substance.

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Let’s take a moment to remember Warren Harding: publisher, senator, rock climber, president

Posted by metaphorical on 4 July 2008

Fifty years ago, President Warren Harding set out to climb El Capitan. It took him 47 days of repeated assaults, but he finally made it.

I think I need a new blog tag, something like “How Stupid Can You Be?” This time the hapless news network is NPR. (Thanks, Rachel, for the link.) Is there really anyone at that venerable organization who thinks that Warren G Harding, the 29th President, who died in office in 1923 at age 57, climbed El Cap? Fifty years ago? 35 years after the hapless Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding in the Oval Office, because, you know, Harding had, um, died? In 1923?

Let’s try to imagine the process here as some NPR intern somewhere on the East Coast gets a San Francisco Chronicle report that the speed record for climbing El Cap has been broken. (We’ll leave aside why breaking the old record by a mere 2 minutes, or about a 1.2% improvement, is worth reporting at all.)

The Sfgate story lists all the de rigeur stats for a story like this: how many on El Cap, how many have died climbing the particular route that the record-breaking climbers chose, and, with no other distinguishing description, the name of El Cap’s first ascentionist, which happens to be Warren Harding. Warren J. Harding, the sports-car-driving, rotgut-wine-drinking, rock-climbing, one-time land surveyor, not Warren G. Harding, the the former newspaper publisher, Republican Senator from Ohio, and President of the United States.

How little history do you have to be acquainted with to possibly confuse the two Hardings? If the first ascent of El Cap was 50 years ago, it took place in 1958. Let’s make this really simple. If you know nothing else about Warren G Harding’s presidency, could you at least, dear intern, locate it in the first half of the century? You know, the other one, the one that 1958 isn’t in?

I don’t mean, dear intern, you should be able to definitively rule out the idea of President Harding as the man who spent 47 days over the course of two years climbing an impressive but obscure rock face in central California. No, of course not. I’m just wishing your shaky grip on American history could have at least been firm enough to at have gone to Wikipedia and check, oh, say, when President Harding died.

Oh, here’s another request, dear intern. When you sneak back into the HTML and update your story to delete the word “President,” put a little note on bottom saying that the story was corrected. Someone, after all, might have been industrious enough to take a screen shot of your blinding stupidity.

NPR gets it wrong

NPR gets it wrong

Posted in education, journalism, Orwell, politics, pop culture | 3 Comments »

The inconvenient truth about the war on terrorism

Posted by metaphorical on 19 June 2008

We’re living in a time of inconvenience
Compassion fails me with this
meanness in the air
Our city streets are filled with violence
So we close our doors to the city
And pretend that it’s not there
Here I go again
Back out on these mean streets
The evil seems to cling to the soles of my feet
Cuz’ I’m living in a time of inconvenience
At an inconvenient time

— “Time of Inconvenience,” by Nanci Griffith

How many times must the NY Times be rebuked for misstating the facts about 9/11 and adopting the administration’s lies and misrepresentations? Well, how long are they going to keep doing it? If, after the Times’s endorsement of the war on Iraq, the equation of Iraq and Al Qaeda, the Judith Miller affair, aluminum tubes and all, if the reporters at the NY Times are going to rewrite history yet again, say, last Sunday in a news article about a Supreme Court decision, then they’re going to have to be taken to task yet again.

So it is extraordinary that during the Bush administration’s seven years, nearly all of them a time of war that began on Sept. 11, 2001, the court has been prompted to push back four times. Last week’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush, in which the court ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have a right to challenge their detentions in the federal courts, marks only the most recent rebuke.


Um, no. The war did not begin on September 11. The war didn’t begin on September 12th. Nor did it last anything like seven years.

The war on Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001 with aerial bombardments. By December 17th, the U.S. had declared victory at Tora Bora and the Afghan war was considered over.

On March 19, 2003, Bush declared war on Iraq. By May 1st, he announced that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

The war on terrorism, on the other hand, is a war without beginning and without end. It is a war that can justify everything and therefore, as the Supreme Court seems bent on pointing out, nothing.

Certainly, the war on civil liberties has lasted for virtually the entire length of Bush’s rule, a war so cynical in intent and bleak in its view of human nature that even the most conservative court in living memory has rebuked the Administration four times, most recently last week. The Times finds it remarkable that the court keeps standing up to the President in a time of war, and surely it is remarkable. But perhaps one factor is that we’re not exactly at war.

We’re living in the age of communication
Where the only voices heard
have money in their hands
Where greed has become a sophistication
And if you ain’t got money
You ain’t got nothin’ in this land
An’ here I am one lonely woman
On these mean streets
Where the right to life man has become my enemy
Cuz’ I’m living in his time of inconvenience
At an inconvenient time

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics, Times-watch | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »


Posted by metaphorical on 29 April 2008

Human Rights Torch Relay protest, Union Square, New York City, 17 April 2008

In April 1968, when Mark Rudd and other students took over the halls of Columbia University, I was 12 years old – too young for anything other than hero-worship. So I read the newspaper accounts, watched the news on television, and wrote in magic marker all over my bedroom walls.

I carefully drew peace signs, Rudd’s name, and “Columbia” from the closet at one end of the room’s longest wall to the rear window at the other end. And the word “Love,” scrawled Peter-Max style – big balloon sans-serif letters that overlapped one another, with the “O” being yet another peace symbol. I don’t remember asking my parents about writing all over my walls, and I do remember my mother’s odd smile when I showed her my handiwork.

That year students took over college campuses from Berkeley to Bonn. They drew their energy from the Civil Rights protests that ended Jim Crow and the antiwar demonstrations that ended Lyndon Johnson’s reelection campaign.

Where did that energy go? Where are the protest movements of today? As it turns out, there’s still plenty of energy, and still plenty of protest. What’s missing is the reporting of it. Consider Human Rights Torch Relay, a world-wide ongoing protest that has taken the traditional Olympic torch relay as an occasion for repeated protest of China’s subjugation of Tibet. Yesterday, Reuters published a nice timeline or their protests, beginning with the March 24th Athens torch lighting, and continuing, among other places, in San Francisco, Paris, Bangkok, and, last Sunday, South Korea.

Indeed, the print media has done a pretty good job of covering Human Rights Torch Relay. But where are the television networks? A google search looks in vain for them until the 48th link, where a story by CNN is the first network-based one to appear.

And even if the big wire services such as Reuters, AP, and AFP can cover a big protest like Human Rights Torch Relay, they fall down when it comes to smaller ones. Did you know about a protest at Penn State that has lasted more than two weeks now? They are “demanding improved conditions in the factories where Penn State apparel is made.” Nor has Penn State been the only anti-sweatshop rally in recent weeks; there have been at least three others.

I learned about them at a new blog, http://studentactivism.net/, that hopes to provide a focal point for “News and analysis on student organizing, student activism, and students’ rights.” The blog, which launched yesterday, is maintained by Angus Johnston, whose goal is to fill the middle ground between the mainstream media, which doesn’t cover smaller activist efforts, and student networks, which largely preach to the choir.

Students provided much of the early white support for black civil rights activism, they spearheaded the anti-Vietnam movement, and they’ve never stopped being in the forefront of protest, whether it’s over environmental issues, Nicaragua, corporate responsibility, the death penalty, or the war in Iraq. Whether we agree or disagree with the stances that students take (and they’re by no means all of one mind in their concerns), I hope that many of us will subscribe and link to the site, as I now have.

Posted in journalism, politics, pop culture | 4 Comments »

Oh, Reilly?

Posted by digglahhh on 11 April 2008

As if we need more tiresome, trite commentary about dead-horse issues from self-oblivious Luddites, Rick Reilly chimed with his opinions on the blogosphere’s contributions to sports journalism. Reilly is a well-known, highly regarded—by many, though not yours truly—sports journalist who left Sport Illustrated in 2007, after 23 years of service, to join the ranks of ESPN. (A move which, it should be noted, did not take him beyond the bounds of the Time Warner mediaplex.)

Normally, I’m not sufficiently motivated to defend the blogosphere from insulting platitudes, but seeing as how this one was deliciously ironic as well, I think it’s worth some keystrokes.

Okay, let’s get the meta-platitude out of the way. As the crew over at FireJoeMorgan phrased it when dissecting Reilly’s comments, “most stuff sucks.” To say that most sports blogging sucks is probably entirely true. But, it would be equally true to say that most sports print journalism sucks. Music, writing, dancing, television movies, everything – statistically, the great majority of it sucks! Thus, when Reilly calls internet sports journalism, “all over the map,” he is describing what he is talking about only as accurately as everything he is not talking about.

Now for the ironies. There are two of them. Reilly, conveniently, gives special recognition to the writers on ESPN.com, as the sort of hard-journalism antithesis of the stereotypical underwear-clad, mom’s-basement-dwelling, sports blogger. Perhaps Reilly is unaware the most popular columnist on ESPN’s website is Bill Simmons. Simmons is one of the pioneers of the sports blogging revolution. His columns are multi-thousand word ramblings packed with pop-culture references, bar stool hypotheses, and obscure tidbits about his friends and family. Reilly’s new home, and self-described beacon of quality journalism, gives its top billing to an ostensible blogger.

The other great irony stems from Reilly’s career itself. Reilly is most well known for his, “Life of Reilly” column that graced the back page of Sports Illustrated for many years. These columns were (at least attempts at) humorous quips. They were casual, side-bar commentaries. Reilly’s defining column was basically an abbreviated blog entry in printed form directed at a slightly older and more square demographic than your average sports blog, with the following week’s Letters to the Editor as the only potential source for commenting. The dichotomy between Reilly and Simmons is one of talent, not of tone!

Here’s another fun fact, in the article above he talks about bloggers not going into locker rooms, and thus being removed from the athletes and dynamics of teams and the game. Reilly writes endlessly about golf, and his favorite athlete is cyclist Lance Armstrong–two sports, in other words, that don’t even have locker rooms.

Reilly is hardly the only old guard journalist to fundamentally misunderstand blogging, the internet, and internet journalism. Many who self-righteously dismiss internet journalism don’t recognize the new generation of sports fans, who get their news primarily from blogs, the internet, and independent media, nor do they understand the dynamics of the modern information age. The fact is many young, savvy readers don’t want their news from staples of the mainstream media. ESPN.com thinks it is competing with Deadspin, et al, but to a large extent it is not (Simmons excluded). In fact, the blogs are competing with each other for those who ESPN lost a long time ago when they chose to abandon their leadership in sports journalism in favor of promoting entertainment, sensationalism, and the lowest common denominator.

The internet is a medium, not a genre. “Internet journalism” is no more descriptive a term than “print journalism.” There seems an inherent disdain for the internet among print journalists, perhaps because the internet can destroy the glass menagerie of journalism as an institution by making it more of a true meritocracy. Regardless, the internet is the most convenient way for many of us to get our news. I work a lot, I can surf the web and read dozens of different sites during the course of my work day, I can read things on my phone on the go, but I can’t bring 20 different magazines and newspapers to work and thumb through them at my leisure. Ironically (a third irony today), while in many ways regular news on the Web is still derivative of print newspapers and magazines, that’s less true of sports than just about any other news category.

Since the boom of the internet, I’ve been able to read more, and hear more voices than I ever have; that’s a good thing. Rick Reilly just doesn’t happen to be one of those voices who’ve earned a piece of my time and mindshare. Sorry, Rick, but don’t blame the supermarket for my opinion that your food product tastes like shit. But then again, shouldn’t that be expected when the producer doesn’t even know which dish he’s actually famous for making?

Posted in digglahhh, journalism, sports | 3 Comments »

A Brief History of History

Posted by metaphorical on 3 March 2008

Are students abysmally ignorant? Of course they are. Are they more abysmally ignorant than ever? That’s not so clear. The NY Times is far from the only publication taking a new survey at face value, but it does such an exemplary job of it, let’s start with them.

History Survey Stumps U.S. Teens


Published: February 26, 2008

Fewer than half of American teenagers who were asked basic questions about history and literature during a recent telephone survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one-quarter thought that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World sometime after 1750, not in 1492.

The results of the survey, released Tuesday, demonstrate that a significant proportion of American teenagers live in “stunning ignorance” of history and literature, according to the group that commissioned it. Known as Common Core, the organization describes itself as a new, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in American public schools.

We get the usual litany of teen ignorance: one-fourth failed to identify Adolf Hitler, only 4 out of ten 10
could pick the name of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” from a list of titles, and “only about half knew that in the Bible, Job is known for his patience in suffering.”

It seems to me that in a nation where half of all adults reject the truth of evolution in favor of the six-day theory of creation, the fewer teens who know their Bible the better. But let’s leave that aside.

Arguably the two most serious educators in the new group are its co-chairs, Antonia Cortese, of the American Federation of Teachers, and Diane Ravitch, who now teaches in at the Steinhardt School of Education of New York University but was assistant secretary of education in the elder Bush’s administration. According to the Times, they’re leading the charge against NCLB.

The group argues that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law has impoverished America’s public school curriculum by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and math but in no other subjects.

But over on the History News Network, Ravitch wrote

I cannot now speak for the board, as the organization is just getting underway and board members have yet to articulate their areas of agreement and disagreement.

The Times later says:

In a joint introduction to their report, Ms. Cortese and Dr. Ravitch did not directly blame the No Child law for the dismal survey results, but argued that the law has led schools to focus too narrowly on reading and math, thereby crowding time out of the school day for history, literature and other subjects.

“The nation’s education system has become obsessed with testing and basic skills because of the requirements of federal law, and that is not healthy,” Ms. Cortese and Dr. Ravitch said.

Yes, certainly Ravitch, and probably the rest of Common Core, take issue with the way NCLB tests knowledge.

However, it is increasingly clear that the law’s relentless focus on raising scores in the basic skills of reading and math has the effect of reducing time for all other studies.

But she also says,

The board of CC is not opposed to testing. We view it as a necessary but not sufficient part of education.

I would prefer to see development and implementation of more thoughtful kinds of testing than those that are now in general use; in particular, I would hope for new tests that call on students to describe, analyze, explain, and demonstrate what they know and can do, not just asking them to pick a bubble.

That’s a lot more nuanced a view than the Times represents. But let’s cut to the chase.

Are things getting worse? And is NCLB to blame? Prof. Ravitch doesn’t seem to entirely think so. She wrote,

it appears to me that the telephone sample of 2007 were somewhat better informed than their parents’ generation of 1986. In 1986, only 32% knew that the American Civil War occurred in the half-century between 1850-1900 (this was NOT a trick question!); now, 43% do. In 1986, 64% could identify the main holding of the Brown v. Board of Education decision; now, 71% can. On most questions of a factual nature, the proportion who answered correctly was either higher or the same, seldom lower. So perhaps the pressure to improve history education over the past 20 years was making some headway.

NCLB is not uniquely responsible for causing loss of knowledge of history. The 1986 survey demonstrates that the problems of “I don’t know” existed long before NCLB.

The Times couldn’t be bothered to compare the 2007 survey with the 1986 results, even though it knew enough of the earlier study to say, of the newer one, “The questions were drawn from a test administered by the federal government in 1986.”

The point of history, the Times, sadly, needs to be told, is to learn from it.

The Times even acknowledged, though it didn’t know what to make of it, that in the 2007 study, “Ninety-seven percent of teenagers correctly picked Martin Luther King Jr.” as the man who said, “I have a dream,” and an astonishing four-fifths of all teens knew the plot of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The lesson seems clear: students learn what we teach them. But the newspaper of record would rather take a swipe at No Child Left Behind in the course of an article that, starting with its headline of “History Survey Stumps U.S. Teens,” mainly consists of blaming the victim.

Posted in education, journalism, pop culture, religion, the arts, Times-watch | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The race is not always to the swift

Posted by metaphorical on 14 February 2008

[Huckabee] also overwhelmingly won Virginians who identified themselves as conservatives, pointing to continued resistance toward McCain among many of the GOP’s base voters.

The LA Times says that as if it’s a bad thing. But if you’re the Republicans, that’s exactly what you want – a candidate whose appeal stretches into independents, Democrats, and liberals, even at a cost of some conservatives. After all, these are the primaries. Where are those conservatives going to go in the general election – into the Obama camp? Are any of the evangelical Christians who voted for Huckabee yesterday instead of McCain going to vote for Obama (or Clinton) come the general election?

This is similar to the question of delegate counts vs popular counts that this blog has already visited. And it’s a problem for the candidates. McCain is running a smart campaign (finally!) with one aim – to win the general election. Everything else is a subsidiary goal to that. If he has to lose some primary votes, and squeak instead of sail into the nomination, in order to retain the broadest possible appeal after the convention, so be it.

But the press doesn’t allow that. It defines each week as if it were an NCAA Sweet 16 knockout tournament, instead of treating the primaries like a long baseball season. The two have very different strategies. You can’t rest your best players nearly as often in a knockout. You can’t say, it’s okay to split here in Chicago, the Boston series next week is more important. So too, as the media defines the game, you can’t temporarily sacrifice any of your party’s base, expecting, rightly, to get them back.

And the media has power. If they say the race is close, or – heaven forbid – you’re losing, it becomes true. So the candidates are forced to consider adopting a less effective strategy, just to pass the media test.

It’s great, frankly, that the press wields such influence. Even if I weren’t a journalist myself, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But with great power comes great responsibility. In this case, that means smart analyses that take into account the way the candidates define the race they’re running.

Posted in journalism, language, Orwell, politics | 15 Comments »

Fish I’s

Posted by metaphorical on 24 January 2008

Two news reports this week call into question the wisdom of eating fish, a small but important part of my diet, leaving me uncertain what to do.

Let me start by acknowledging that most people do not accept a fundamental premise of this post, namely the connection between reason and diet. Such people may pay lip-service to ideas (such as that animals think and feel and are generally sentient in a way fundamentally like ourselves) that should lead them to change their dietary habits. But the principles don’t in fact inspire any change. For most people, dietary change based on respect for animals is not, as William James put it, a genuine option. I’ll discuss that a bit later on.

I’ll start with the simpler of the two stories, reprised in an editiorial in today’s NY Times.

Tuna Troubles

Many New Yorkers have come to love the convenience, taste and aesthetic appeal of sushi. But as The Times reported Wednesday after testing tuna from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants, sushi made from bluefin tuna may contain unacceptable levels of mercury, which acts as a neurotoxin.


If you regularly eat as few as six pieces of tuna sushi a week, you may be consuming more mercury than the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

As it happens, I might be one of those people. (It’s hard to say. I have sushi 2-3 times a week, and usually include one tuna maki in my order. Is a maki 1 or maybe 2 pieces, as the Times is counting them, or all 6? Who knows. This kind of imprecision in a investigative piece is maddening.) I also sometimes have fresh tuna in other forms, such as salads.

Why do I eat fish at all? I was a strict vegan for three years, with some of the usual reasons but not all of them. In addition to concerns about my own health and that of the environment, I objected on grounds of cruelty to how animals were reared, and how they were killed, and how many were reared and killed for food. But I didn’t object, per se, to the general idea of humans killing animals for food.

Fish by and large live in the wild, and the conditions of farmed fish, such as catfish, are not the miserable ones that cattle, hogs, and chickens endure. And while death by driftnet is surely painful, it’s probably not worse than the death a fish would experience naturally. Mercury concentrations raise a big concern, but otherwise, from a health point of view, I’ve found an enormous difference between fish oil and animal fats.

So the same fish that get caught in those driftnets largely escape the net of objections that led to my veganism. Which brings us to the other report, also summarized in a Times editorial, this one from Monday.

Until All the Fish Are Gone

Scientists have been warning for years that overfishing is degrading the health of the oceans and destroying the fish species on which much of humanity depends for jobs and food. Even so, it would be hard to frame the problem more dramatically than two recent articles in The Times detailing the disastrous environmental, economic and human consequences of often illegal industrial fishing.

Sharon LaFraniere showed how mechanized fishing fleets from the European Union and nations like China and Russia — usually with the complicity of local governments — have nearly picked clean the oceans off Senegal and other northwest African countries. This has ruined coastal economies and added to the surge of suddenly unemployed migrants who brave the high seas in wooden boats seeking a new life in Europe, where they are often not welcome.

The second article, by Elisabeth Rosenthal, focused on Europe’s insatiable appetite for fish — it is now the world’s largest consumer. Having overfished its own waters of popular species like tuna, swordfish and cod, Europe now imports 60 percent of what it consumes. Of that, up to half is contraband, fish caught and shipped in violation of government quotas and treaties.

If current fishing practices are unsustainable, they are wrong. Period. And a consumer such as myself ought to consider his or her contribution to that wrong. Ultimately, it is our purchasing dollars that sustain any unsustainable practice, whether it is unsustainable in practical terms, such as mechanized fleet fishing, or in terms of cruelty, as the factory farmed cattle industry is.

The “ought” is a moral one, of course. For anyone to feel its force, however — for it to have any practical consequences on behavior — it has to be what William James called a genuine option. James, arguably the founder of modern psychology, spelled this out in a seminal essay, “The Will To Believe.” (There are copies of the essay here and here.)

Without delving too deeply into James’s theories (which deserve a post of their own, at the least), I’ll note that for him, a genuine option has to, first and foremost, be a live one. He describes live options this way:

Let us give the name of hypothesis to anything that may be proposed to our belief; and just as the electricians speak of live and dead wires, let us speak of any hypothesis as either live or dead A live hypothesis is one which appeals as a real possibility to him to whom it is proposed. If I ask you to believe in the Mahdi, the notion makes no electric connection with your nature,–it refuses to scintillate with any credibility at all. As an hypothesis it is completely dead. To an Arab, however (even if he be not one of the Madhi’s followers), the hypothesis is among the mind’s possibilities: it is alive. This shows that deadness and liveness in an hypothesis are not intrinsic properties, but relations to the individual thinker. They are measured by his willingness to act. The maximum of liveness in hypothesis means willingness to act irrevocably. Practically, that means belief; but there is some believing tendency wherever there is willingness to act at all.

The example an interesting one. My first year as a grad student, I taught discussion sections for the big Intro to Philosophy class. The instructor was the department chair, Laird Addis, a proselytizing atheist. Though an atheist myself, I found his hard-sell offputting and his condemnations of religion alienating. He did, though, offer our clean-scrubbed Iowa farmboys and -girls a useful thought experiment. “Would you be a Christian if you were born in India or Iran or China or Cambodia?” he asked. “Surely the odds would be a lot lower.”

Custom, culture, habit, and peer pressure combine to give us many of the beliefs we have. My own odds of being an atheist would surely be lower were I not a third-generation one.

James himself says,

It is only our already dead hypotheses that our willing nature is unable to bring to life again. But what has made them dead for us is for the most part a previous action of our willing nature of an antagonistic kind. When I say ‘willing nature,’ I do not mean only such deliberate volitions as may have set up habits of belief that we cannot now escape from,–I mean all such factors of belief as fear and hope, prejudice and passion, imitation and partisanship, the circumpressure of our caste and set.

I live eternally in the hope that my fellow humans can cast off our prejudices and passions, imitations and partisanships, and the circumpressures of caste and set, and see cows, hogs, and chickens as we see dolphins and dachshunds. For my part, I’m going to rethink the question of tuna, yellowtail, and the even the shrimp that go into my tempura rolls.

Posted in animal-rights, journalism, language, philosophy, politics, pop culture, religion, Times-watch | 6 Comments »

The point of a caucus is to win delegates (no, really). Part II

Posted by metaphorical on 21 January 2008

[This post is a continuation of the previous one. Longtime reader K.G.S.’s comment made me appreciate that some of the sordid details would be useful here.]

As a grad student at the University of Iowa in 1980, a presidential election year, I seized the chance to go to the nation’s first contest. It was my first and only time at a party caucus, and it gave me an appreciation for all the things that the news media don’t tell you about it — stuff that’s needed to understand the results. Almost 30 years later, the reporting is, if possible, worse.

For example, in Iowa, at that time, you could vote in either party’s caucus, regardless of registration. The media never reports this. In fact, you didn’t even have to be 18 at the time, so long as you would be 18 at the time of the general election. The media never reports this.

Because, that year, Carter’s renomination was pretty much assured (despite a challenge by Ted Kennedy), I went to where the action was, the Johnson County courthouse, where the Republicans were caucusing. There, along with a bunch of other people, some of whom were surely registered Democrats like me, John Anderson picked up a bunch of delegates. As he did elsewhere; his second-place finish in the state was a shock to the media, who didn’t understand who was voting.

In Nevada today, you have to be registered to the party you’re going to vote for (17-year-olds who will be 18 on Election Day can make a party registration in advance), but otherwise the rules seem to be a lot like Iowa’s. There’s one in particular that’s very important. Here’s the rule, for the Democratic caucus, from a web page at the office of the Nevada Secretary of State:

Basic Caucus Process: Caucus participants will indicate which candidate they support. The precinct caucus chair will then announce which candidates have the most support and which candidates do not have enough support to meet the “viability” threshold. Caucus participants who support a candidate who is not viable and has not met the threshold of support to continue will then realign themselves with their second choice candidate. Based on the size of the presidential preference groups in support of one candidate or another, the delegates to the county convention are apportioned.

Here’s how it worked in Iowa in 1980. Say there were 80 attendees at the caucus, 10 delegates to be chosen, and 8 candidates. We voted by standing in one part of the room or another. It basically took 8 votes to get a delegate. Let’s say candidates A, D, and F got only 5, 3, and 2 votes respectively. Everyone else got at least close to 10, say 8 or 9 at a minimum. Then A, D, and F, were dropped out, and those people chose their favorite candidate among the remaining ones, and moved to that part of the room. Now we counted again, and tried to apportion delegates fairly. You can see there are times when you might get 2 delegates with only, say, 14 votes, or only get 2 delegates with, say, 19 votes. That’s a 5-vote swing. Similarly, in round 1, candidate A got 5 votes, but by the end, ended up with 0, also a 5-vote swing.

The Nevada Republicans, by the way, hold a beauty contest by secret-ballot, where you really do just straight-up vote for the candidate you want. For them, at least, the “popular vote” has some meaning. But you can see why, as the Democrats do things, the popular vote is meaningless. As the Secretary of State website explicitly says,

Caucus systems are not set up to be a one person one vote system. Rather, they are designed to allocate delegates to only those candidates with a threshold of support that is based on the number of people participating in a caucus.

In other words, as my previous post said in its title, the point of a caucus is to win delegates. And “popular vote” total is meaningless, because it’s fungible, because it’s messed around with to get a fair awarding of delegates. Because (everyone, say it with me this time): The point of a caucus is to win delegates. No. Really.

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The point of a caucus is to win delegates (no, really)

Posted by metaphorical on 21 January 2008

It seems obvious, but it apparently needs to be said: The point of a caucus is to win delegates. Primaries where winning the popular vote doesn’t result in getting the most delegates are called “beauty contests,” and the term is a pejorative.

I only mention this because Reuters, the New York Times, NPR, and who knows how many other news outlets reported the results of Saturday’s Democratic caucuses in Nevada wrong.

The Times headline was

McCain and Clinton Capture Tough Wins

yet the subhead said:

Obama 2nd, but Takes 1 More Delegate

And you thought the statements that started this post were so obvious as to be not worth mentioning. The winner, according to the Times, is the candidate who wins the beauty contest aspect; the person who wins the most delegates is said to have come in 2nd.

Here’s Reuters:

McCain and Clinton look to next battle

By John Whitesides, Sun Jan 20, 8:06 AM ET

COLUMBIA, South Carolina (Reuters) – Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton looked on Sunday toward the next battles in a chaotic White House race after scoring tough wins in the first presidential voting in the U.S. South and West.


In Nevada’s Democratic race, Clinton beat Barack Obama in a close struggle…

Caucuses are funny things, and big national publications based in states that don’t do them seem to be missing vital clues about how they work and what they mean. They don’t report whether you have to be a member of the party to vote in the party’s caucus, which frankly is the most important fact there is to know. They don’t report whether delegates are locked to a candidate, or free to vote as they choose in the later rounds of delegate selection (yes, there are later rounds, in some states).

They sometimes don’t report, in fact, how many delegates a candidate won at all — we should count ourselves lucky that we even got told enough that we could suss out that Obama won. Maybe they thought that having one candidate win one thing, but another candidate win another, was too complicated. And it would upset their later tallies of how many primaries and caucuses each candidate won. Roger Maris-like asterisks are messy.

How did the news media come to decide, en masse, that the popular vote was the important one in Nevada? I have no idea. Had they made a similar determination in November 2000, perhaps we’d have had a different president for the past 7 years. Would that they had. Or, better, would that they just report the news fairly, evenly, and without stripping it of its complexity and nuance.

[This post has a Part II, here]

Posted in journalism, language, politics, Times-watch | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

What a difference a comma makes

Posted by metaphorical on 17 January 2008

My favorite example of punctuation placement is a sentence that, as far as I know, was invented by Mitch Wagner to prove the need for the serial comma: “This novel is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

Another favorite example is a sign I used to see in Iowa City when I was a grad student there.


“Look,” I used to tell my Intro to Logic students. “Not only will parking violators not be prosecuted, but they’re nice enough to post a sign saying so.”

I thought of each of these yesterday when I read “Interest Fades in the Once-Mighty V-8,” by Bill Vlasic, in the NY Times.

Ford executives said they had at times wrestled with the decision to give up V-8s in some models, including a new sedan from the Lincoln luxury division, because they worried about customer reaction.

“I worked on the Lincoln Continental program 20 years ago, and people were vehement that it had to have a V-8,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president for the Americas. “But now people don’t really care if the performance is there.”

Whoa, that’s a full 180 degree u-turn of ambiguity.

Which is it, Bill? People don’t care about the performance anymore? Or that’s all they care about?

Posted in journalism, language, pop culture, Times-watch, writing | 3 Comments »

Queen City loses one of its princes

Posted by metaphorical on 28 December 2007

How can a newspaper survive if it loses 90% of its readership? It can’t, and so it won’t, and so another afternoon paper bites the dust. In this case it’s the Cincinnati Post.

The Post’s last day will be December 31st, after 126 years of publishing. The town won’t be without a paper, it has the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s a Gannett paper, while the Post is owned by E.W. Scripps Co. Just on that basis, the odds are the Post was the better paper. (I’ve never read either one.)

But the Enquirer is a morning paper and afternoon papers have been dropping like flies for 40 years now. According to an AP article,

As recently as 1960, The Post’s daily circulation was more than 270,000 and the nation had 1,459 afternoon newspapers. That was down to 614 by 2006, according to trade publication Editor & Publisher, and Post weekday circulation is about 27,000. Multiple newspapers in U.S. cities have also been disappearing. Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio’s two larger cities, lost an afternoon paper decades ago….

Scripps Co. two years ago closed The Birmingham (Ala.) Post-Herald and has said it will close the Albuquerque Tribune if it can’t be sold.

The 90% drop in circulation isn’t exactly the reason the Post is folding, though it’s surely behind all the other reasons. The proximate cause is that Gannett terminated an operating agreement that goes back to 1977.

For Scripps, there was study of possible ways to keep a daily newspaper in the media company’s corporate home, then a decision it wasn’t financially feasible.

For that, presumably, we have to blame the 90% drop in readership. If the people of Cincinnati won’t support a newspaper with their dollars, then maybe they don’t deserve two papers. But we’re all the poorer. According to the AP, the Post “once dispatched reporters to cover Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in Florida, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

The irony, of course, is that newspapers are moving online, and won’t much longer need the big presses that Gannett was providing the Post. The irony is that newspapers are more than ever about journalists, not paper. If only they’d hung on a little longer.

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Christians hog-tied? You decide

Posted by metaphorical on 24 December 2007

“I know this is probably a very controversial thing, but may I say to you, ‘Merry Christmas!’”

That’s Mike Huckabee, playing the Persecuted Christian card.

It’s hard to imagine a more heavily celebrated holiday anywhere on earth than Christmas in America, and it’s hard to imagine a less controversial thing to say than “Merry Christmas.” You don’t hear “Have a good Yom Kipper” from people who don’t knowing if you’re Jewish. You don’t tell someone to have a good Ramadan without first asking if they celebrate it. But every store clerk and fellow elevator passenger can tell you to have a merry Christmas without giving it a second thought. And it is, after all, the only full-on religious day that’s a U.S. national holiday.

And yet, the right-wing fundamentalist Christians sure feel persecuted. And it sure serves some politicians’ political ends to ensure that they do.

And so we have Huckabee saying, “What’s wrong with our country, what is wrong with our culture, is that you can’t say the name Jesus Christ without people going completely berserk.”

And so we have him declaring that “Merry Christmas” is a controversial thing to say.

Robert Parry had a good rant about this two years ago. He reprises it and adds the Huckabee angle over on Consortiumnews.com.


By the way, if, like me, you were one of the half-dozen or so people who hasn’t actually seen the bookcase-in-the-shape-of-a-cross tv ad, and doesn’t really get how blatant and offensively pandering it is, take a gander:


(And if you want to see the crazy people deny the imagery, check out the National Ledger, which calls it “a ‘white’ bookshelf, nicely lit, with Christmas ornaments in a corner of one cubby that is visually impossible to change in shape.”)

In the words of Huckabee himself, in the ad: “At this time of year, sometimes it’s nice to pull aside from all of that and remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and that I win the Iowa caucuses.”

Okay. Maybe he didn’t say that last part. But it’s what really matters, isn’t it Mike?

Posted in journalism, language, politics, religion | 5 Comments »

Multicar Pileup As Snowstorm Hits Plains

Posted by metaphorical on 23 December 2007

DATELINE | CITY, PLAINS_STATE. — A strong snowstorm that cut visibility nearly to zero in some places as it rolled across the Plains on Saturday caused numerous vehicle pileups and forced authorities to close portions of several major highways.

Dozens of vehicles were involved in a pileup on Interstate NN in [western|eastern] PLAINS_STATE, authorities said. Sections of some NEIGHBORING_STATE_1 highways were closed because of whiteout conditions. Local authorities said it was the worst snowstorm in X years.

The PLAINS_STATE State Highway Patrol said preliminary reports indicated NUMBER to 2x_NUMBER vehicles, including NUMBER tractor-trailer rigs, were involved in the early afternoon chain-reaction wreck on Interstate NN [at|near] CITY.

Multiple ambulances were sent to the scene but there was no immediate indication how many people were injured or if there were any fatalities. HOSPITAL_NAME in CITY said it was treating several people from the accident though none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening.

The Patrol closed about 100 miles of I-NN from CITY2 to the NEIGHBORING_STATE_1 state line. The storm blew locally heavy snow across NEIGHBORING_STATE_2, [eastern|western] NEIGHBORING_STATE_3 and parts of NEIGHBORING_STATE_4 and NEIGHBORING_STATE_5.

In NEIGHBORING_STATE_1, Highway NN near TOWN was closed because NN to NN+10 cars had slid off the road or had been involved in collisions, authorities said.

By early afternoon, the storm had dropped N inches of snow in the CITY area, said National Weather Service meteorologist NWS_SPOKESPERSON_NAME. Accumulations of up to N+M inches were possible.


In [CURRENT_YEAR – X] a severe snowstorm claimed Y lives. Mayor MAYOR_NAME noted that OPTIMISTIC_COMPARISON_GOES HERE.

[Inspired by a recent AP report here .]

Posted in journalism, language, pop culture, writing | 2 Comments »

Books not dead yet

Posted by metaphorical on 21 December 2007

Webster University and Lee University have each “announced the creation of their own university presses,” Inside Higher Ed reported today.

The article calls this “a challenging time for the economics of scholarly publishing” and notes that they “will both publish in cooperation with other entities.”

I can guess what that means. Both the organization I work for and the one I worked for before that—professional societies each—had a Press unit that, during my tenure, developed “cooperation” agreements with large academic publishers. The book operation where I am now, for example, publishes them in cooperation with Wiley Press.

In such a situation, the Press isn’t exactly an imprint of the bigger publisher. My organization does all the up-front work of acquiring and editing manuscripts. Wiley handles production and distribution. The two do their own marketing in, um, cooperation. Each, in other words, does what it’s good at.

With the development of digital technologies, I wonder if music won’t eventually go a similar route. Why aren’t there small imprint labels that develop acts and produce them? Let the big record companies handle manufacturing and distribution. Well, in a sense, we may see a little of that—except that in the iPod/iTunes era, manufacturing and distribution are somewhat trivial. [ADDED: Music distribution was the subject of a forward blog entry, here.]

Well, let’s turn it around then. When will manufacturing and distribution become trivial for books?

As a partial answer to that, I saw my first Sony Digital Reader in the wild yesterday on the subway. The guy next to its owner was quizzing her as if it were an iPhone on June 30th. I heard her to say she’d had it since September and loves it. Maybe when ebooks are are common as iPods, the small universities and and the professional societies won’t need the “cooperation” of “other entities.”

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Robots and hip-hop artists of the world, unite!

Posted by metaphorical on 12 December 2007

I defy anyone to not read a story that begins,

“A University of Iowa professor dressed as a robot interrupted Bill Clinton at a campaign stop here late Monday, screaming for an apology before security escorted him from the building.”

(Thanks to KTK, in private correspondence, for the link.) Kembrew McLeod, a tenured professor in the U of I’s Communications Dept., wanted Clinton to apologize for a remark he made 15 years ago in the wake of the Rodney King trial. (Yes, that’s 15 years, which is 105 for dogs, and about 750 for current events.) As the Des Moines Register explains it,

Sister Souljah made statements to the Washington Post about the 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked when an all-white jury acquitted the white police officers who were captured on tape beating a black man, Rodney King.

Her statement focused on how society largely ignores black-on-black violence. It included the quote: “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”

That quote has largely been picked up on its own, without the larger context. Clinton, in June of 1992, gave a speech at the Rainbow Coalition, which compared Sister Souljah’s quote to David Duke, a former white supremist.

“If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech,” Bill Clinton said in 1992.

The Register helpfully links to a 45-second YouTube video. If you watch it, you’ll see that McLeod starts walking out almost before campus police ask him to. The “robot” costume, by the way, is pure hoke, and I mean that in a good way. Picture whatever sci-fi movie had the lowest production values you’ve ever seen and now scale it down to 1950s Saturday morning kids television.

This is nonviolent protest at its finest, a subject my friend Angus Johnston discussed a couple of weeks ago in a 40-minute interview on the webvideo show “Shoot The Messenger.” (It can also be found here.)

The show’s host, Lizz Winstead (a co-founder of The Daily Show and an early force in Air America), asked him about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University, the UCLA taser incident, and the history and general decline of protest in America.

I think Angus would greatly approve of McLeod’s protest. The interruption to Clinton’s speech was brief and entertaining. McLeod stood on a chair, shouted his question to Clinton, and threw some business cards containing a URL into the crowd. When asked who he was, he said “It’s all in there,” and threw more cards into the air. And you have to like his explanation for leaving so quickly. “This is Iowa so they were polite and I was polite. When they told me I had to leave, I did.”

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And how would the candidates know what to say, anyway?

Posted by metaphorical on 22 November 2007

Here’s an interesting development in the Hollywood writer’s strike: it may affect the next Democratic presidential debate.

New York, NY (AHN) – The ongoing writer’s strike in Hollywood has started to have an effect on the political arena, as the upcoming CBS presidential debate is being threatened as candidates refuse to cross the picket lines should the station writers decide to join the strike.

Although CBS news writers have yet to talk of joining the strike, guild leaders are allowed to call one at any time, should they see it necessary. Candidates have been publicly announcing their respect for the strikers, as many of them have canceled television appearances for the sake of not crossing picket lines.

And not just the debates:

United Press International reported that Sen. John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth have canceled a scheduled appearance on “The View” so as not to cross the picket lines of the Writes Guild of America.

We’ve seen this before, of course. Newspaper and magazine writers had to get their digital due from the Supreme Court (Tasini vs NY Times).

What is it about digital that makes media companies think it’s any different from any other form that a work can take? Does it really matter, when it comes to paying a writer, whether you watch an episode of CSI on your television screen or your iPod?

Here’s the best statement of the writer’s point of view I’ve seen. It’s less than 2 minutes long and managest to say everything that needs to be said.

Studios, just pay the people with the talent. All of them. Just pay them and stop whining.

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Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Hollywoodlings

Posted by metaphorical on 18 November 2007

I’m excited enough to squirm in my seat. I’ve already downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg to re-read this week.

The kid was so excited about this movie that when she saw a preview for it this summer, she immediately called me to ask if I knew there was going to be a movie based on Beowulf?!!!? (Besides being a music geek and an art geek, she’s something of a poetry geek.)

Friday morning, when I saw it was to open over the weekend, I texted her frantically to ask if she could wait until Thanksgiving to see it, so we could go together.

A mailing list I’m on notes that Roger Ebert is back in top form in his review. (Thanks, JRH, for the link.)

Here are just a couple of the many gems:

To this court comes the heroic Geatsman named Beowulf (Ray Winstone), who in the manner of a Gilbert & Sullivan hero is forever making boasts about himself. He is the very model of a medieval monster slaughterer.

“I saw the movie in IMAX 3-D, as I said, and like all 3-D movies it spends a lot of time throwing things at the audience: Spears, blood, arms, legs, bodies, tables, heads, mead, and so forth. The movie is also showing in non-IMAX 3-D, and in the usual 2-D. Not bad for a one-dimensional story.”

Anyway, the kid and I will be going on Thursday, and I expect that we’ll enjoy ourselves immensely, at least in the same post-modern laugh-at-it-as-well-as-with-it way that she and I have enjoyed classic movies going back as far as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” when she was about 5. Maybe we can even, as we did back then, find an air hockey game for after the show.

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