Main Stream Media

Meta Debating Iraq with Kurt Andersen, Part II

Posted on July 4, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Iraq, Jokes, Main Stream Media, News, Politics |

The Great Pseudo-Debate
Meta-Debating the Iraq War with Kurt Andersen, Part I

I want to be clear that I’m focusing on Andersen’s piece because I care about this issue and because I share many of the same frustrations as he does about Iraq. This issue definitely needs to be debated. In short, his piece was a catalyst for me to write mine.

So what is bothering Andersen? If I understand him correctly it’s that the debate the presidential candidates are having about Iraq is, in his words, fake. The fake debate is “all about the comparatively minor, near-term details of the American military withdrawal-cum-redeployment.” The real debate, in his mind, begin when we all acknowledge that we are stuck in Iraq for many years.

Leaving aside what I think about that, it’s worth pointing out that the candidates debate as they do because of the way the party politics works in this country. At this stage of the presidential campaign, candidates pander to the most extreme members of their party. For the Democrats, these are the folks who would like to raise our taxes to the moon and lead us to nirvana. Those who oppose them will be sent to a penal colony where they will be taught to love and share. For the Republicans, these are the folks who want to crucifix and a camera over everyone’s four-poster. They want to live in a nation of door-to-door bible salesmen (“I’d like to talk to you a little about the Lord. [insert uncomfortably long pause] Is this a good time?”) and appoint Jesus as Secretary of Defense. If the candidates decide to ignore these folks, they won’t get nominated.

During the last presidential campaign, the Democratic Party choose Kerry when the “base” really wanted Howard Dean. Heroically but hilariously they choose a man who could pull off the amazing stunt of telling everyone exactly what they wanted to hear. Whereas Dean was blunt about his opposition to the war, Kerry was “complicated.” He was able to please the far left by talking tough about Bush’s management of war without committing himself to ending the war. It seemed to satisfy everyone in the tent, and it almost worked. In the end though, Kerry tripped himself up in his own rhetorical calisthenics (“I was for the war before he was against it”).

So the far left of the party held their noses and nominated Kerry, even though they were wildly against his politics. He was rich. He was a suit. He was an aristocrat. They had to keep from laughing when they saw him, dressed in a blue sport jacket, chatting up Iowan farmers in a diner about the price of hogs or seeds or manure. They wanted Dean, and if they couldn’t have him they would have happily exhumed Che’s body instead. They had to muzzle themselves and ask others to restrain them during Kerry’s acceptance speech. It was a selfless sacrifice for the Party, of course. The idea was to pick a candidate who could potentially be palatable to enough swing voters to take the White House. They didn’t like Kerry’s politics, but they thought he could win. Instead, the Democrats lost the election, and got two big conservatives appointed to the Supreme Court.

In this election cycle, abortion is basically off the table–a decided negative for the Democrats. It was a great wedge issue for them. With that alone, they captured the politically active “suburban soccer mom” market. Now the fate of a federally protected right to an abortion is in the hands of the Supreme Court–and it will probably be overturned. After that, the issue goes back to the states, where it will remain a local issue for years to come. But the Democrats still have the War. And it’s not just the War–it’s all the little villains who can be trotted out. Dick Cheney will have a staring role. And they’ll be global warming talk a plenty. Those are their aces in the hole, so to speak. Aren’t you excited?

The Republican side was far simpler. In George W. Bush, the far right got someone who truly believed in what they stood for, who wasn’t pandering to them, and if they had to hold their noses about some of Bush’s big government spending plans like prescription drug coverage and overhauling Social Security (another “entitlement!”) or the fact that he was candy-ass on immigration, they were willing to split the difference. They love him on stem cells, even if no one understands what the fuss is all about (“You see these cells over here? Take ’em. These cells you may not touch. Why? Because they come from over here, that’s why!”)

If this is bothering Andersen, I say just wait until the real campaign gets going.

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Meta Debating Iraq With Kurt Andersen

Posted on July 2, 2007. Filed under: Iraq, Main Stream Media, Politics |


“The Great Pseudo-Debate,” by New York Magazine’s “Imperial City” columnist Kurt Andersen, is a good example of meta debating. In Andersen’s view, no one is having an intellectually honest debate about the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq because the Bush Administration won’t own up to its failures and the Democratic presidential candidates are pandering to unworkable options like total withdrawal. As for what got us into the war in the first place, Andersen believes that “It was our weakness for childlike, black-and-white explanation that got us into the Iraq debacle.” Nothing could be further from the truth. And I would argue we are having a very healthy debate on Iraq in the country, but Andersen doesn’t like what he’s hearing. Picture a man sitting in a room with the music on full-blast, but becase it’s so loud it’s almost inaudible. If I understand his article correctly, that’s a good discription of Andersen.

This nation has a history with Iraq that dates back long before George W. Bush became president. Our nation supported Iraq during it’s war with Iran. The first Bush Administration invaded Iraq when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. believed that Iraq had biological weapons because allegedly the U.S. sold them to Iraq. The United States also believed that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. For years after the first invasion of Iraq, the U.N. conducted inspections to make sure that Saddam Hussein did not retain any WMD. These inspections became a pathetic game of cat-and-mouse that made a joke of the whole thing. Iraq was placed under a strict set of economic sanctions which became a joke over the next many years, as evidenced by the giant U.N. scandal. On top of all that, I believe the U.S. congress passed a resolution making it explicit U.S. policy to undermine Hussein’s regime and to fund opposition groups outside Iraq to overthrow Saddam. Apparently none of this is particularly important to Andersen.

The future was clear. The sanctions were going to end because the apparatus used to enforce them was corrupt. The inspections were going to end because Saddam would not cooperate. The scene was set for an arms race between dictatorships in the Middle East: Iraq vs Iran. After 9/11, the reality dawned on many people that the U.S. needed a strategy that accounted for the need to prevent attacks not just on U.S. interests abroad, but also at home. The argument was made (based on half-baked intelligence) that Iraq had attempted to restart its nuclear program. If you believe George Tenet, then the problem was how the intelligence was used, not the intelligence itself. At any rate, the U.S. congress debated the question of whether to stick with the U.N. program of containing Iraq or to use military force. It voted to support Bush’s eventual use of military force. Sen. John Kerry voted for it. Sen. John Edwards voted for it. Sen. Hillary Clinton voted for it. Barak Obama didn’t have to vote at all. How any of this qualifies as “childlike” is beyond me.

There is currently no indigenous counter-weight to Iran in the Middle East. The U.S., with its troops in Iraq, is the only force preventing Iran’s domination of the region. If the U.S. has learned anything from the last many years it’s that “regime change” does not happen from within very often. Dictators have made a science out of staying in power.

The road to the second Iraq invasion was a long time in coming.

Meta Debating Iraq with Kurt Andersen, Part II

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Sperm Banks

Posted on June 15, 2007. Filed under: Humor, Jokes, Main Stream Media, News, Technology |

David Brooks’s latest column in the New York Times has been attracting attention in the blogs, and I don’t want to be left behind. I quickly scanned the column, and now I’m gonna throw my two cents in.

Brooks is cranky because in the sperm market, the demand for blond, blue-eyed, intelligent, and athletic people is greater than that of short milquetoasts like himself. Sperm, it seems, now have resumes. Little, bitty, cute resumes. This, combined with the scientific theory that the future of a child is genetically determined, makes it easy to understand why the sperm market behaves as it does.

First, have some pity for syndicated columnists. The work doesn’t pay a lot of money, given the intelligence and education that many nationally syndicated columnists possess. And the worst part of it is that they have to produce copy even when they have nothing to say. We bloggers don’t have that problem because we can write whenever we choose. And we also don’t have to sign our names. It’s phenomenal, really. We write. And we keep our privacy. So give the columnists a break. They do this shit for a living.

Anyway, I liked this column and I thought it was funny. And it’s true. You never hear about a person going to a sperm bank and asking for short, unathletic traits. That doesn’t sell. But consider the possibility that the people who think they’re buying the sperm of a Greek God are actually buying the sperm of a bum or drug addict–the kind of guy who needs to sell his sperm for money. Does a tall, educated, successful, attractive man need to sell his sperm for a few bucks? I imagine that some of the men who need to sell their sperm are probably also “giving” blood–four or five times a week. So take heart David Brooks.

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Insert Flap “A”: A Review of The Complete New Yorker

Posted on June 8, 2007. Filed under: Books, DRM, Humor, Main Stream Media, Software, Technology, The New Yorker |

I dithered for months about purchasing The Complete New Yorker on DVD. Although the concept was great, the product itself was a disappointment to many. Most of the criticisms focused on the excessive disk-swapping required to use the product. I knew that this would annoy me no end. The only other alternative was to purchase an external drive with all the content in one place. The New Yorker sells this item for about $200. If you buy the hard drive, however, I don’t think you get the book that comes with the DVDs. The DVD product sells in a retail store for $100, but if you are willing to wait several weeks, you can purchase it $30.00 on The New Yorker’s web site. If you do buy it there, they will throw in an update DVD as well.

I have read about ways to load the DVDs on to a hard drive that will save you the trouble of swapping DVDs. Since the method is undocumented, it’s not clear to me whether you can do this without violating the license agreement you agree to when you install the product. The license agreement brings up the topic of digital rights management.

The product’s packaging is handsome but flawed. For example, the book that accompanies the DVDs is glued to an cardboard cover (an uber cover?) that requires the reader to cart around the DVDs every time he wants to read the book. The book, it seems to me, ought to slide out of the set.

The DVD sleeve should slide out of the set, too. The DVDs are housed in a folder that is glued to the same uber outer cardboard cover as the book. There are two additional pieces of cardboard that come tucked into the folder. I guessed that they were there to stiffen the product and protect the DVDs. So I retained them. The problem is that they could slide out of the folder. If you are having trouble picturing them they are like those pieces of cardboard that the hand laundry inserts into your shirts. The only difference is that you don’t throw these away. But while you’re looking at the DVDs, what do you do with the two pieces of cardboard?

You could try to separate the book from the uber sleeve. If you do, you will notice that while the book does indeed come loose from the uber sleeve, it takes some of the cardboard from the uber sleeve with it, which is unattractive. You will also notice, if you have not already, that the book itself does not have a title printed on its spine, which will make it harder to identify when it is placed on a bookshelf. This leads to the inescapeable conclusion that the The New Yorker neither intended the book to stand alone nor contemplated that anyone might try to make it so.

I’m thinking out loud here but if the book and the sleeve were removable, in theory you could be left with an empty cardboard uber cover. What would you do with that? It’s attractively printed so I don’t think I would throw it away.

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Citizen Journalism

Posted on June 6, 2007. Filed under: Main Stream Media, News |

Over the past year, a number of high-powered journalists wrote articles that have disparaged “citizen journalism” and “blogs” as less than authentic sources of important news. They have basically said that these new media outlets can cover stories as sophisticated as local traffic jams and as complicated as announcing a school snow day. But in all this smug self-assurance and backslapping, one can smell their fear of the future. If the issue were so cut and dried, they would not have to say it so vociferously. Newspaper reporters are scared for their jobs. I would argue, however, that they have very little to fear from either blogs or citizen journalism. I’ll come back to this later.

What is important about personal blogs and citizen journalism is that they create conversations that make us a freeer people. The miraculous thing is that it does not matter how large one’s readership is. If no one reads a blog (and that’s almost never precisely true), than the blogger has at the very least personally benefitted from the experience. If the blogger has a million readers, so much the better. Most personal blogs are the not for profit kind. The most important benefit from these news sources is that it has the potential to allow the millions of articulate and literate men, women, and children to have a voice. The best outcome would be if these voices questioned conventional wisdom and fearlessly struggled to demystify the exceedingly complex issues of the day. In these pursuits they rely in part on professional reporters and authors.

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To Survive, Newspapers Must Add Value

Posted on May 30, 2007. Filed under: Main Stream Media, News |

Newspapers are currently in a transitional period because their readers have rejected them as the execlusive source of reliable information and for information about good and services for sale. In the old days, local newspapers could serve (and profit from) readers’ needs for national news even if they did not break the news. They did this by reprinting wire stories. Today, these articles are given away to readers for free. By reprinting these articles (and expecting readers to pay for them), local newspapers add little value and increase their costs.

Newspapers must reposition themselves along at least two dimensions to add value. The first, which has already been alluded to, is their area of coverage. Most newspapers need to become more local in focus. Readers cannot get good local news coverage by reading free wire articles on the Internet. They can (and do) get local information from blogs, but well written local news reporting is a niche that newspapers can still dominate. Newspapers can dominate blogs if they concentrate on feeding blogs with high-quality content. Also they can, must, and should buy the best blogs. Newspapers should encourage bloggers to link to their articles by putting links to blogs on their pages. The Washington Post does this. The New York Times does not. Yet.

The other dimension is the news cycle itself. In order to add value, newspapers could provide enhanced news analysis and longer articles. Blogs do this, but newspapers could do it better. By moving to the analysis side of the news cycle, newspapers could add value.

The last one involves how reporters are managed. In many big publications, there are still divisions between web journalists and print journalists. Print journalists have greater prestige. But this duplication of staff can’t continue. It’s too expensive.

None of these recommendations will automatically make newspapers profitable quickly. Advertising revenues play a big part in the equation and a lot of those dollars have migrated to the web. Currently, web advertisers pay less than print advertisers. But that will change. Finally, it may be time to recognize that newspapers don’t have to be large, bureaucratic organizations to survive. For some, this will take some of the prestige out of the business. But news on the internet is now so disaggregated that it is consumed in chunks and monitored best through feeds.

Readers will pay for content on the web and in print that they can’t get anywhere else. Show them the value.

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Book Blogs vs “The Book Reviews”

Posted on May 15, 2007. Filed under: Books, Main Stream Media, News |

I read an article recently in the LA Times that quotes Michael Dirda, a pulitzer prize winning author. Says Dirda, “If you were an author, would you want your book reviewed in the Washington Post and the New York Review of Books, or on a web site written by someone who uses the moniker NovelGobbler or Biogafriend? The book review section … remains the forum where new titles are taken seriously as works of art and argument, and not merely as opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting.”

Are you kidding me? These reviews are filled to the brim with “shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting.” I could not of said it better myself. Filled to the brim. The reviews are often are biased and petty.

And it’s always entertaining with the authors and critics have their little cat fights in the letters section, where the charges and counter-charges are so predictable that they need not be written at all. The ticked-off author says that critic didn’t read his book or misunderstood it; the critic denys the charge. It sounds very silly and childish.

The established reviews recycle the same reviewers over and over again. It is boring to read the same old names with the same old biases.

There is a huge need for more book blogs. Readers are starving for them.

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Viacom Sues YouTube

Posted on March 14, 2007. Filed under: Main Stream Media, News, Technology |

Yesterday’s New York Times reported that Viacom sued YouTube for copyright infringement.

I have to admit that when I first heard about YouTube, I was pretty skeptical. I was thinking: “O.K. Short, grainy viedo clips of adolescents playing air guitar or some kinky couple boing boinging each other on a small screen? Do I really care?” At the time, I had only a dial-up connection. Then I got a broadband connection. And my eyes were opened. I was enlightened.

Yes, there are a lot of dreadful videos on YouTube. But there is a whole bunch of good stuff on there too. The problem is that a good portion of it may be copyrighted. It’s like the all-you-can-eat Beefsteak Charlie’s Shrimp Bar: when you get done piling up that tiny plate, you just go back for a second helping. In theory, you can consume until you are sick. I have seen full-length movies, cartoons, documentaries, and tv shows listed. I have to say that the selection is quite good.

YouTube is basically broken in its current form. Even if YouTube were to delete all the copyrighted content on its site that Viacom alleges is available, users might upload it again. Is there a filtering technology that could work? Would YouTube still be so popular without the copyrighted content? Will we have to tighten our belts and not consume so much web content? Would we be healthier if we did?

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Interesting Article in The Economist

Posted on January 8, 2007. Filed under: Main Stream Media |

The Economist has an interesting article on Russian airports. I suggest that if you can’t pronounce the names of the airports as you read the article to yourself, do not despair. You can just substitute your favorite brand of vodka: Smirnoff, Popov, Stoli, Kaliningradskya, etc. In many ways, Russian airports seem less different from American airports than the author is willing to admit.

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  • Quotes of the Day

    "Writing editorials is like wetting your pants in a blue serge suit. It feels good, but nobody really notices."

    --Jack Germond

    "Famous men and women, by the act of putting themselves on display, whether as politicians, actors, writers, painters, musicians, restaurateurs, or whatever, invite public appraisal. They are all, impressively or pathetically, acting on the presumption that their ideas, their fantasies, their music, their bodies are more original than those of, say, a plumber or a certified public accountant. They are all exercising the impulse, as Mencken put it, ‘to flap their wings in public.’ This is so obvious to the critic–and, I believe, to the ordinary reader or spectator–that it seems hardly worth saying. But resentment of the practice of criticism itself is strong among professional artists (and all Presidents of the United States). There is a psychological type among them that hates critics on principle as parasites or failed performers. This is very natural but surely very childish and, in any country claiming to be civilized, actually anti-social. The existence of critics, good, bad, or indifferent, is a firm clause in the social contract between the governors and the governed in any nation that is not a dictatorship. Public figures should accept with good grace the public response to their invitations to be admired and resist the temptation to retort, except in the face of flagrant malice."

    --Alistair Cooke

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