Tuesday, October 02, 2007


The most recent genre of movies I took advantage of was westerns. I watched a bunch of the samauri films on the list below, and most of these, the ones I saw are in italics.

Top Rated "Western" Titles
Rank Rating Title Votes
1. 8.9 Buono, il brutto, il cattivo, Il (1966) 74,653
2. 8.7 C'era una volta il West (1968) 38,266

3. 8.5 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) 18,699
4. 8.4 The Wind (1928) 1,173
5. 8.3 The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) 4,305
6. 8.3 High Noon (1952) 20,689
7. 8.2 Per qualche dollaro in più (1965) 21,043
8. 8.2 Unforgiven (1992) 54,618
9. 8.1 The Wild Bunch (1969) 18,514
10. 8.1 3:10 to Yuma (2007) 12,579
11. 8.1 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) 34,297
12. 8.0 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) 13,364
13. 8.0 The Searchers (1956) 17,814

14. 7.9 Per un pugno di dollari (1964) 19,918
15. 7.9 My Darling Clementine (1946) 4,437
16. 7.9 Rio Bravo (1959) 11,776
17. 7.9 Grande silenzio, Il (1968) 1,828
18. 7.9 Hud (1963) 4,315
19. 7.9 Red River (1948) 6,652
20. 7.9 Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) 4,149
21. 7.8 Stagecoach (1939) 8,868
22. 7.8 The Magnificent Seven (1960) 16,933
23. 7.8 Dances with Wolves (1990) 45,959

24. 7.8 Way Out West (1937) 1,706
25. 7.7 Destry Rides Again (1939) 2,567
26. 7.7 Winchester '73 (1950) 3,053
27. 7.7 Little Big Man (1970) 9,508
28. 7.7 Blazing Saddles (1974) 28,802
29. 7.7 The Gunfighter (1950) 1,776
30. 7.7 The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) 12,877
31. 7.7 3:10 to Yuma (1957) 1,702
32. 7.7 Shane (1953) 8,847
33. 7.7 The Mark of Zorro (1940) 1,898
34. 7.7 The Big Country (1958) 3,124
35. 7.6 Lonely Are the Brave (1962) 1,255
36. 7.6 Giant (1956) 7,343
37. 7.6 Giù la testa (1971) 4,419
38. 7.6 Fort Apache (1948) 3,382
39. 7.6 The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) 9,469
40. 7.6 The Shootist (1976) 5,419
41. 7.6 Dead Man (1995) 18,937
42. 7.6 Viva Zapata! (1952) 1,555
43. 7.6 El Dorado (1966) 4,321
44. 7.5 Ride the High Country (1962) 2,870
45. 7.5 Tombstone (1993) 28,006
46. 7.5 Lone Star (1996) 11,132

47. 7.5 McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) 4,260
48. 7.5 High Plains Drifter (1973) 8,193
49. 7.5 Open Range (2003) 16,516
50. 7.5 The Proposition (2005) 9,405

Obviously, I've been doing mostly John Ford movies, with the occasional Spagetti western thrown in. NOTE: The movies in italian are spagetti westerns - the first being "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and the second being my all-time favorite, "Once Upon a Time in the West."

"My mother was a whore from Alamedia and the finest woman who ever lived. Whether for an hour or a month, my father must've been a happy man."


New Posts, Bad Analogies

A blog post is like an orgasm ... it's generally too long between them, and when too many come at once, you're overwhelmed and need a break, but when you get one and it's been awhile, it's really, really good, because you forgot how good they really are.

Huh? I gotta stop reading Phillip Roth and trying to use metaphors, I'm obviously no good at them, like a creative-writing teacher with too much vocabulary and metaphor rolling around in that empty head of theirs.

Again? Damn.

Reading: The Twenty-Seventh City
Finished: Huey P. Long
Listening To: The People Under the Stairs
Playing: Halo 3
Watching: Rio Grande
Quoting: Neil Gaiman. "Perfection is a horrible lover to have, because once you've had her, just ok or adequate or better than average is never good enough again."

Just wrapping up the book, and I dunno, I love it. I read the reviews - a lot say it's great because it's a rookie attempt, that it doesn't focus enough on the characters individually, but I love it because it's not about the characters - even though people need characters in order to function, or to listen to someone for 500+ pages - but it's about cities in the midwest, about gentrification and urban renewal and how fake it all is/was, about downtown Denver and the Detroit casinos and it does a wonderful job making the city a vital character.

The plot is a bit far-fetched and again, underdeveloped. But it's not really about the plot. It's about the city. And while it left me feeling unsatisfied, and a little worried about his other book, the one that didn't get good reviews, and which I've put on my list next, it was a great break after the 900+ pages of Huey P. Long. Biographies are tough, because they're real - I mean, it's not made up - and the people's lives are so damn interesting - great men always are - but there's just so much DETAIL, so much MINUTAE ... so many names and places and not enough concept. One reason I liked Rising Tide so much (apart from how engineering-heavy it was) was it brought everything together without making some sort of moral judgement, but it was written with a bit of flair and as an event, but without overdoing it (like Dyson's "Come Hell or High Water ... only so much hyperbole and plays-on-word for me.).

So I give it an A - in my book. Having read The Corrections first, it's hard to not find fault in any other work by Franzen, because you know he's capable of such an amazing book. It's like ... watching a Jordan come back after retirement. He would still score 12 points a game in the NBA, but it wasn't nearly the same, it was almost sad, after knowing what he once was capable of (only reverse that cronology ... because Franzen has obviously become more capable the older he's gotten ... and having 19 years to write The Corrections didn't hurt).

I also get the sense that the only parts of the Twenty-Seventh City that are really even slightly autobiographical are the parts about the high school and college students. Franzen was 26(?) when he wrote it, and he wouldn't really (emphasize REALLY - he does a pretty amazing job) know what was going on in these older people's heads.

That's why the Corrections was so great - you knew that, like Phillip Roth, he was revealing himself, in all his horrible flawed reality.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Ninja Lurve.

Also ....

www.giantmicrobes.com is a web site that has plush Microbe stuffed ... animals?
Thing is, they also have ... VD.

Micheal Sera's new video blog ... hillarious


... and a blast from the past.




Monday, May 14, 2007

Samurai movies ... the next three months of my life

Here is a list of Notable Samurai films, of which I'll be partaking in as many as possible as soon as I'm through my Netflix "Oscar-winning movies I've never seen" queue.

List of Notable Samurai Films

1949 The Quiet Duel - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1949 Jakoman and Tetsu - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
1949 Stray Dog - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1950 Rashomon - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1951 Conclusion of Kojiro Sasaki-Duel at Ganryu Island directed by Hiroshi Inagaki - This was the first, but not the last, time that Toshiro Mifune played Musashi Miyamoto
1952 Vendetta for a Samurai - directed by Kazuo Mori
1954 Seven Samurai - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1954-56 Samurai Trilogy - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
1954 Musashi Miyamoto
1955 Duel at Ichijoji Temple
1956 Duel at Ganryu Island
1957 Throne of Blood aka Spider Web Castle - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1958 The Hidden Fortress - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1959 Samurai Saga - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
1960 The Gambling Samurai - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
1961 Yojimbo aka The Bodyguard - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1962 Chushingura - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
1964 Three Outlaw Samurai
1964 Harakiri - directed by Masaki Kobayashi Won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival
1965 Samurai Assassin aka Samurai - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
1965 Red Beard - directed by Akira Kurosawa
1965 Sanshiro Sugata - directed by Seiichiro Uchikiro - this is a remake of Kurosawa's films Sanshiro Sugata and Sanshiro Sugata part 2
1966 The Sword of Doom - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
1966 The Adventure of Kigan Castle - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
1967 Samurai Rebellion - directed by Masaki Kobayashi Rebellion won the Fipresci Prize at the Venice Film Festival
1969 Samurai Banners - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
1969 Red Lion - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
1969 Band of Assassins - directed by Tadashi Sawashima
1969 Watch Out Crimson Bat
1970 Mission: Iron Castle
1970 The Ambitious
1970 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
1970 The Ambitious - directed by Daisuke Ito
1970 Incident at Blood Pass - directed by Hiroshi Inigaki
1977 Intrigue of the Yagyu Clan - directed by Kinji Fukasaku
1979 The 47 Ronin - directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
1981 The Bushido Blade - directed by Tsugunobu Kotani
1984 Legend of the Eight Samurai
1988 Zatoichi - Directed, written and starring Shintaru Katsu
2002 Twighlight Samurai - directed by Yôji Yamada and nominated for a best foreign film Oscar.
2003 Zatoichi - directed and starring Beat Takeshi and Silver Lion award winner at Venice Film Festival

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A twister just barely misses Tulane, but scrapes through the old 'hood, barely missing some key bars, churches and homes. By the looks of the graphic, this thing went right by Bruno's and Alek's old place.

Hat tip to TBON, a much better blog for all you New Orleans lovers. http://thethirdbattleofneworleans.blogspot.com/

Spending a little time together in our nation's capital.

... so I'm staying in DC, after all, everyone ... which means a redoubled effort to participate in all things Tulane Alumni, a new push to welcome the summer intern crew and a new set of roommates, Adam Morris and Chris Paddock. I can't tell you how excited I am.

It feels like my life is starting over a little. I'll have a government job, a steady paycheck, I've got a good base of friends in the city and it only expands every day. I'm finding churches, coffee shops, diners and bars and settling in here in DC, which has pretty much been my number one goal since I left Tulane: try and recreate the community I felt there. I'm so pumped I get to stick around DC it's not even funny.

I got lucky and got a trio of good job offers, but man, was I cutting it close, as always. Savings running out, dicking around town working at bars, it all helped me put my priorities straight, and here it is, working out like it always has. I'm looking forward to getting back in the action - the last few months have felt more like a holding pattern than a life, but now, I can focus, move forward and be proud of myself.

That, of course, means that I'll be planning numerous trips this year. Los Angeles, Michigan and New Orleans are high on my list; San Antonio, Vegas and the perennial New York are riding high as well. Looking forward to seeing all of your faces again, hopefully soon, and remember; if you're ever in our Nation's capitol, there's an open invitation to crash on my couch, eat my food and drink my beer.

See you soon.

"Do ninjas need love?" asks my wife. Sure, once you go black, you never go back ... ALIVE."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Sleet sleet sleet sleet sleet

Well, it's sleeting in the nation's capital, which means that the roads are sure to be fraught with danger tonight. Sorry to readers; it's been too long. Here's a link to an amazingly well-reported story about that high school killing in Vegas ... definitely worth a read. Salon is still doing good journalism; that's nice.

Vegas Story

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sick Daze

A nasty bout of the flu (round 2) took me out this weekend, and the weekend before that was Mardi Gras in exile, so you know how that goes. There's not much to talk about, as evidenced by the INCESSANT AND UNENDING MADNESS THAT IS THE ANNA NICOLE SMITH SPECTACLE.

How in God's name is this news? Geraldo can cover it, fine, it makes him look like the unserious journalist he is, but when CNN, the blogs and MSNBC can't seem to stop talking about ridiculous details about a nonceleb who no one in their right mind should care about, it makes a guy want to retreat from the world and ignore the media for awhile. It also makes some of us really, really angry ... because it's just something we have to put up with.

Props to Forrest, Scorsese and the rest. I think after they gave Three Six Mafia an Oscar last year, the Academy must've said, "Well, whatever Martin does next year, he wins the Oscar for it." I for one didn't think he deserved it for this. I didn't really enjoy The Departed. Maybe that makes me shallow. I dunno.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

SNOW DAY in DC: Nat'l Portrait Gallery, Piratz

Work was cancelled yesterday due to the 2-5 inches of accumulated snow and ice that forced me to use my snow chains to dig out, so I could drive to a job interview. After a couple cups of coffee and the interview was over, I headed over to the National Portrait Gallery - apparently the National Spy Museum was closed due to inclement Weather. (what kind of a spy outfit IS this?)

By the way, I believe the word "inclement" is an example of an exclusive modifier, that is, an adverb or adjective that is used almost exlusively in common speech with the associated noun (weather). I mean, can you use the word inclement without using the word weather? I doubt it, at least not effectively.

The National Portrait gallery is amazing, I can't believe I haven't been yet. They had a wing for "American Landscapes" and "Folk Art" in an attempt to end-run around their primary cause and show some real non-portrait art (using the word portrait liberally, as in, "a portrait of American landscape and culture), but I wasn't complaining because they had a couple of Edward Hoppers, so I got to see my first real, live Hopper, in the flesh. I'm a dork, I know, but he's my favorite painter. I did a paper on him in High School and he continues to be my favorite, with Nighthawks being my favorite painting of all time and #6 on the list of things I need to see before I die.

They didn't allow flashes, but they DID allow photos, and my new cheapo digicam took a great one.

They didn't allow photographs in the American Presidents portrait gallery, but we got to see the whole exhibit, which is spectacular, and free. All 45(?) former presidents accounted for, and it really brought history viscerally into focus for me, along with the various portraits of the patriots (Henry Knox, Thomas Pain) and historical figures (John Brown, Walt Whitman + lover). It was the perfect appendix or compendium for my readings of 1776. Can't wait to read Team of Rivals now.

Oh, and we went to a pirates-themed restaurant in Silver Springs for Rachel's 23rd. It was a blast.

So tornadoes swept through New Orleans a couple of nights ago - my good friend Kier was sleeping, and her house got hit, tearing the roof off of her home. She's fine, thank God. My sister Sandi's house was missed by 10 blocks, too.

Quote/link/news clip of the day: Fox News is starting a "Daily Show" copy that has a conservative slant, based ont eh concern that the Daily Show is just too dang liberal... which, of course, is ridiculous. ... remember the Clinton years? I have nothing really to say, this clip speaks for itself ... which is to say, I don't care about bias, as long as it's funny. And this, well, isn't. It's like Dennis Miller. The Daily Show might do more jokes about Bush than it does about Hillary (maybe, dunno about that one ... if she was president I'm sure she'd get it BAD), but thing is, this new show probably won't do ANY jokes about Bush at all. And that's just not good comedy. Once politics intrudes as a motive, it loses a lot of humorous credibility. Or something. Whatever.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A picture is worth ....

Ms. Mae's in New Orleans - a 24-hour bar with $1 drinks. I have no explanation for this picture, but I can tell you, it's definitely not staged.

Uncle Bill

So amongst more bad news, my uncle Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer just after Christmas, and is now recovering from his first surgery. The cancer had metastasized to his bone, so the doctors wanted to do a prophylactic surgery on his femur, in order to strengthen it and prevent future breaks ... what I'm guessing is the first step in a very long process.

They inserted a titanium rod to strengthen the bone, and (I'm guessing here) exculped or "excavated" the area, removing the weak, cancer-damaged bone. As a load-bearing bone, it makes sense to strengthen it by adding a titanium rod, which I'm guessing was serrated with microbeads or some other rough matrix, which, after a time, will allow his bone to grow into it, making his femur much stronger.

I need to research this a little and find out more of what they're doing, but for now, he's fine, in the hospital.

Prayers asked for. More information later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Net Neutrality, and more

Quote du jour: "Kevin, you're what the French call "les incompetents"."

Movies: His Girl Friday, High Noon
Books: 1776, Team of Rivals

Political hot-topic of the day: Does the Iranian government really have anything to do with the use of E.F.P.'s? And why was the briefing anonymous? And who was the mysterious "unnamed senior defense analyst" at the Pentagon? I believe Rumsfeld still has a desk there, according to Pelosi.


Read all about Net Neutrality, learn about it, know it through and though - and then explain it to all your friends, join the petition and call your Senators and Congressmen. Let's make this happen before it's too late.

Friday, February 09, 2007

FROM THE VAULT: Vintage Stroud

Snowstorms after Christmas aren't so strange - Opinions

Talk about navel-gazing

The quote du jour is one by your favorite writer - me.

"Why is it so funny that the word for people who use big words that no one else knows is sesquipedalian?"

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Quote - Cleveland Free Times


This is a link the the Cleveland Free Times about Lester Lefton ... once the Provost at Tulane University. I wrote an article at the time calling for his resignation - which is explained below.

Here's the very innacurate part of the story that is about the incident:

Before taking over at Kent State, Lefton was provost of Tulane University in New Orleans. In 2003, after Lefton changed housing policies to require any senior who was writing a thesis to live in a dorm, the Tulane student newspaper The Hullabaloo published a blistering editorial titled, "Fire Lester Lefton: The Provost Must Go."

"You're rude, and what's more — you lied to us," wrote then-editor Jonathan Stroud.

"I was upset at the time because I didn't think he showed proper respect to students, so I answered in the only way I knew how — because students have such little power at a private university," Stroud says in an interview. "But the core of the message is accurate. I didn't think he was good for our university, and I don't think he's good for any university."

Another former Hullabaloo editor, Jaclyn Rosenson, says the newspaper's dealings with Lefton were strained after that.

"Our views editor took a point-blank attack at him and it just led to a very adversarial relationship where Lefton was not forthcoming with any information," Rosenson says. "There were pleasantries exchanged, but almost never information. But he was always there for the sound bite that made Tulane look good."

Here's my letter-to-the-editor response:

Dear Cleveland Free Times,

I'd like to clarify a couple of major errors you made in your "chatter point" piece on Lester Lefton, for the record.

The problems at Tulane arose from an unannounced withdrawal of almost $2,000 a semester from a specific scholarship - the Founder's scholarship - which many underprivileged Tulanians were recipients of. There was no guaranteed off-campus housing, so certain students - friends among them - lost almost $2,000 in scholarship money, with no student vote, no real action or announcement. It was done over winter break, while the students were away.

My actions at the time were acerbic and hyperbolic - but like I said, I didn't know what else to do. I stand by my article, and my quote, but would like to make the point - which I made to your reporter - that if I had the chance to handle it differently I would have. It was a proper forum for my opinions, but the word "liar" should not be thrown around so lightly.

I was not the editor, but rather, the views (editorial) editor. And afterwards, I enjoyed a more collegial - if strained - relationship with Lefton and the administration. That being said, his actions were wrong - and it appears, continue to be so. Example - the closure of the prestigious (but unprofitable) School of Engineering in the face of Hurricane Katrina's budget shortfall, shortly before Lefton left the university. But overreaction is not the answer. Meaningful debate is.

-Jonathan Stroud
BSE, Biomedical Engineering
Tulane University School of Engineering
former views editor, Tulane Hullabaloo

Sigh. Anyway, there I am, in print, for better - or worse. You decide.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Friendly-Fire Video

Murder Capital of America: The Big Easy

New Orleans proudly regains its old reputation, post-Katrina, as a bad bad city filled with bad bad men, killing each other, mostly black. Front page of the NYT. A lone pastor has had "ENOUGH" as evidenced by the awesome campaign he is mounting in an attempt to regain some neighborhoods and souls.

This is just a result of Nagin's dangerous policy allowing residents to move back to empty neighborhoods with little or not social service - a lower ninth with almost no police force, no running water and a rising budget at city hall all mean that these neighborhoods will grow feral, while consolidation - into largely unoccupied neighborhoods where the city could offer full police protection and services - becomes a distant memory and unreachable goal. Now, the real horror begins as the city struggles against impossible odds.

Also, apparenty the reporter couldn't get anyone to talk to him either - notice the explanations and quotes as to why he couldn't get anyone on the record. (NYT)

A panel of people (Levees.org, basically) want to create a Hurricane Katrina comission much like the 9/11 comission - so much like it that they want to call it the 8/29 comission. Hyperbole weakens your case, kiddos. (WP)

Color For Change has an upbeat message today:

Last week, Congressman Bennie Thompson put the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project (GCCW) on the map in Congress. In his first speech as Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Thompson mentioned that a civic works project would be a great way to rebuild the Gulf.
Can you take a moment to let Bennie Thompson know we appreciate his support for the program? It's a great way to solidify his support as an ally and help the GCCW gain momentum in Congress. It takes just a minute:

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Washington, D.C. office: (202) 225-5876

The other night my sister, a New Orleans native for more than ten years, said that the city was this violent before, in the eighties - so for many there now, this is just a return to that, and is being taken in stride. We're talking 181 murders so far, since Katrina, in a city half the size. HALF THE SIZE! This is insane. We're abandoning the Dirty to die a slow death. I can't stand it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Just finished Schlosser's Reefer Madness - and here's a conglomeration of quotes and my own thoughts about why this is so important and what we must change with the way we deal with illegal immigration. Disclaimer - much is pulled directly from the book.

The growth of the underground, of using illegal labor, has lowered wages, eliminated benefits and reduced job security in the meatpacking, construction, gardening, garment manufacturing, picking and growing industries.

The migrant work force is poor, lives on the fringes in illegal housing and drives illegally, and is easily exploited. Immigrants live in ditches, hidden on private property, or sleep on the ground by roadsides and at orchards. They must do battle with unsafe working conditions, wages far below the national minimum wage and zero job security day to day.

They should be given the chance to come to America, to work, but not like this. Every day they remain illegal another immigrant is exploited, the state agencies and hospitals are overtaxed and overburdened, Emercency rooms are crowded and taxpayers pay for the benefits that corporations and growers reap. Cheap labor delays mechanization or puts it off entirely.

"Companies are willing to break the law to gain a competitive advantage over those that employ legal residents, that pay good wages and that fully pay their taxes. Employers who cheat are rewarded. There are 200 federal inspectors for workplace violations ... and a million private employers in California alone. A first federal offense of employing an illegal immigrant is a fine of $250, a third offense, $3,000."

"Michael Allen Lee recruited migrants at homeless shelters in Florida, charged them for room, board, transportation and cigarettes, loaded them with debt, gave them as little as $10 a day for a day's work in the fields, sometimes paid them in crack cocaine and alcohol instead of cash, and threatened to harm anyone who ran off. He beat one of his farmworkers severely, then made him scrub his own blood off the walls. In August 2001, a federal judge sentenced Lee to four years in prision after a plea bargain. Had he been convicted of growing 100 marijuana plants, he would have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison."

"In December, 2002, Helion Cruz, a pastor from a church in Wimauma, Florida, discovered a trailer full of young migrant workers - the door was chained shut. "

"Adjusted for inflation, the wages of tomato pickers have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past 25 years." Workers generally develop back problems and cannot work past their mid-thirties.

Sharecropping - basic indentured servitude - should not exist in this country. Hard work should be rewarded and these immigrants should be given a chance to earn a fair and decent wage, rather than existing as they do at the borders of our society, a set-up that benefits only the businesses that save money on labor costs.

Guest-worker programs are unworkable in practice - because the desire to move and immigrate to this country is so great, policing all of those workers would be impossible and hundreds if not millions would simply use it as a means of immigration - illegally - which will again deprive them of their rights as human beings. It would be more of the status quo. Although it could afford more rights to those already here, and provide some sort of legal (and moral) framework for bringing these immigrants into American society, rather than treating them like second-class citizens.

The government should either legalize immigration and the illegal immigrants currently in the country should be given full rights and legal status, or they should enforce the labor laws on the books and crack down on the businesses that hire illegal immigrants, including contractors, sharecroppers and growers who are used as a legal dodge by so many in these industries. They must make a decision. I advocate legalization; we have, de facto, an open border, and the only one benefiting from the status quo are the industries undercutting labor costs. The ones losing in the current paradigm are the immigrants (who are often exploited and exposed to horrible working conditions, and have no rights whatsoever) and the taxpayers and state services, which must provide what the industry will not - health care and social services that should be built in to their employment.

But honestly, the chances of anything happening at the federal level are slight - we will argue about a guest worker program for years, and tighten the border perhaps, but other than that, even the waves of anti-immigrant and pro-immigrant sentiment will fall on dull ears. At the state and local level, you can expect business interests to be protected and entrenched - like they are in Florida - and public (and mostly white) opinion to be turned against legalizing the people who wash, cook and clean for the legal citizens of the United States. We must continue to advocate for worker's rights and better wages, for some sort of watchful gaze, but we cannot expect things to change anytime soon.

Quote du jour: "Although an 18-year-old woman cannot legally purchase beer in Southern California, she can be paid a few hundred dollars to screw half a dozen men in a porn film without breaking any law." - Eric Schlosser, Reefer Madness
(Finished! - next book, 1776 by McCullough ... then on to Team of Rivals or maybe Catch-22)

The folks over at "Color of Change" (as vituperative and belligerent as they can be) are making sense about Liberman's Katrina dodge. Contact him and other Senators on the committee and put Katrina and New Orleans back on the map, literally.

"Ten months ago, Senator Joe Lieberman blasted the White House for obstructing a Senate committee's investigation into the federal response to Katrina. Now he controls that committee, but instead of forcing the White House to participate, he's called off the investigation altogether!

Lieberman is side-stepping his responsibility to hold the White House accountable and betraying the citizens of the Gulf Coast. Join us in calling him out and demanding that others in Congress conduct a full investigation if he won't:


Monday, February 05, 2007

The Auburn Hotline Story ... secret revealed

Below is my (unpublished) story about the mysterious Auburn Hotline. Enjoy.

FOY UNION. Where it all began.

The answer to any question you can think of – no matter how complicated or obscure -- is just a phone call away.

For the past twenty years, student workers at the University of Auburn's help line have been answering random questions, free of charge – from any caller, anywhere in the United States.

Need directions? Want career, medical or legal advice? Need to know the name of the actor who played Zach Morris on the television show Saved by the Bell? Need to put together a quiche? Ever wonder how many Oreos would you have to stack to get to the moon?

“We can find the answer to almost any question, if it exists. It's a challenge, people try and stump us, and I enjoy that challenge,” said Terry Marshall, a supervisor who has worked at the desk for six years.

It is a tradition – never advertised or promoted -that smacks more of urban legend than legitimate academic service, and it has promulgated across America for the last twenty years, building up steam in bars and supermarkets, passing by word-of-mouth from one person to another.

What started as an insider's joke has evolved into a serious question-and-answer service, and with the advent of the Internet and free long distance that most cellular phone companies provide, it has become a widely-used resource by alumni and strangers alike, and the workers – who make $6 to $8 an hour – don't seem to mind.

Now, hundreds of people call every day - from as far-off as Russia, London, Los Angeles or New York - wanting to know driving directions, medical advice, stock tips, trivia and sometimes, just to talk. Some callers ask “Is this God?” according to Marshall/

The desk workers, many of whom have never been outside of Alabama, find themselves giving directions, restaurant advice and weather reports for cities they've never visited. The also field more scandalous and obscure questions that sometimes fail to garner a response.

“The first question I was ever asked was, 'How many times does the average prostitute have sex in their lifetime?,” said Ashley Horton, a student desk assistant. She researched but “couldn't find any polls,” she said.

Started in the 1950's, it began with a card-based system where answers to school-related queries, mostly scheduling and phone numbers, were written down. But at some point in early eighties, it grew beyond that, with college workers deciding to take matters into their own hands, filling cabinets with trivia, phone and reference books, as well as spiral notebooks filled with previous answers and random facts. It eventually grew, with the help of the Internet, into the powerful mock-search engine that it is today.

This service – and its growing popularity – is a bellwether for a changing society that demands more information, faster, and puts that information at consumer's fingertips instantaneously, accordi=perts.

“These technologies are letting people to look more broadly than they would look normally. People are more open to looking at a wide degree of information,” said Robert Atkinson, the President of President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C. -based think tank.

Following in the vein of this apparently popular service, the marketplace has produced a number of services that allow anyone possessing a cell phone unfettered access to volumes of information – and the industry continues to improve and refine those services daily.
Local and national 4-1-1 services - provided by telephone companies and wireless providers – once provided only directory-assistance, but now services have expanded to include movie times, weather updates, sports scores, driving directions and more.
Toll-free lines have rushed in to provide information for the small price of an advertisement or promotion. Numbers like 1-800-FREE-411, 1-800-411-SAVE and 1-877-520-FIND, are free alternatives to traditional 4-1-1 services, which generally cost a small fee.
Another line, 1-800-555-TELL, is more traditional, covering basic categories like stock quotes, movie times, weather and sports. Or you can send a text message to GOOGL (46645); you should get a proper response provided you use reasonably good grammar.
And, whether inspired by the Auburn help desk or independently created, similar services have been created, like Internet Search Pro, a toll-free number advertising an “Internet lookup” service based out of California. The web site claims it in beta phase testing – although repeated calls and inquiries provoked no response.
Experts say numbers like these are changing the way Americans store information, the same way Wikipedia, search engines and services like askjeeves.com have made mountains of data readily available to the average American. And services like this – from search engines to news updates – mean that Americans can remember less, and do more, but that their jobs may be in jeopardy in the long-run.

“It will not eliminate managers, lawyers or professionals, but it will automate and eliminate menial jobs,” said Atkinson.

He used newly-automated McDonald's kiosks, which eliminate the need for restaurant workers, as an example, envisioning a future where basic routinized functions, like multiplication and rote memorization, are replaced by higher-level functions, with workers able to do more because of powerful information technology, although he admitted American's mathematical abilities were already suffering thanks to the easy availability of calculator-equipped cellular phones and computers.

“It's just not necessary to remember phone numbers or do basic math anymore,” he said.

The workers and supervisors at the Auburn desk, however, insist they're just having fun, offering a quirky service that they see as nothing more than an otherwise harmless enigma; answering questions people ask.
“A guy asked me how to put together a car engine. It's something I didn't know, but I found the answer,” said Marshall. “It was a long answer, by the way.”
The line is staffed by three or four workers, 24 hours a day Monday through Friday, closing from midnight to 10 am Saturday and midnight to 1 pm Sunday. On top of answering the phones, which ring non-stop during the evening hours, they run the student store, mange the union and answer questions for anyone who walks up.
The student workers, who make between $6 and $8 an hour, called the service interesting, weird, and unique – but most said they enjoyed providing the answers, if just to relieve the boredom of a menial job.
“We live in a quick-fix society,” said Ashley Horton, a 23-year old desk assistant. “you've got to know something and you've got to know it now. Those are the little things we do that make somebody's life easier.”
Are the workers, supervisors or administrators at Auburn worried that the service will get out of hand, that call volume will ever get too high, or that they will ever need to end the service? Do they think the school should shut down or charge for this service? No, they said.
“I think this will go on forever,” Horton said. Melissa Irvin Howell, the Coordinator of Operations at Foy, agreed. “I don't see this stopping anytime soon,” she said.

Friday, February 02, 2007

H Street Recovery

Today's quote-du-jour comes from a personal experience as the proud (renter) of a home a block off of the "H street corridor."

"At the epicenter of the District, the H Street neighborhood was part of L’Enfant’s original central Washington, DC design. From the late 19th century through most of the 20th, this 15-block quarter was one of the Capital City’s most thriving commercial and residential scenes. Members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, Presidents, and the shopkeepers and families of everyday Washington strolled its charming sidewalks. Today, the District of Columbia is revitalizing the H Street quarter to include worldly new residences, Class A office space, eclectic shops, neighborhood clubs and restaurants, and a full-scale Arts and Entertainment community. It’s all part of the City’s Great Street Initiative. Even the streetcar line is returning."

.... they failed to mention the double-shooting that woke my roommate and I up two nights ago. Half a block away. And that whole "rioting destroying homes, businesses, etc" thing was left out of their history. Fifteen shots, by the way, in our estimate.

UPDATE: That's shooting, not murder, according to INKED ... woman was shot through the hand. Ouch.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Wire ... and remainders

Quote du jour: Here's my pitch as to why you should watch The Wire (and why watching it will make you a better person):

"The world of corporate finance and corporate capital is as criminogenic and probably more criminogenic than any poverty-wracked slum neighborhood. The distinctions drawn between business, politics, and organized crime are at best artificial and in reality irrelevant. Rather than being dysfunctions, corporate crime, white-collar crime, organized crime, and political corruption are mainstays of American political-economic life. There is precious little difference between those people who society designates as respectable and law abiding and those people society castigates as hoodlums and thugs."

Embrace your inner Math nerd.

Blog du jour: The Iranian Prospect ... an Iranian journalist with some good arguments for better relations with Iran.

MediaMatters, as always, does a wonderful job breaking down the back-and-forth over Hil's Evil Men flap.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Huffle-Shuffle: Sounds in a vacuum

The rat race has begun, a full year and change before the first primary battle, and the number of potential nominees that have announced they are running is mind-boggling. The money, the candidates and the wide-open primary fields - It’s all anyone in the media can talk about; we have 24 hours of news, and now we have to fill it.

And already the void is being filled by nonsense. Discussions about Barak Obama’s middle name – Hussein – being a political factor preceded any real-life political reference or mention of his name, in effect making it an issue; the minor scandal around the false report of Obama attending a Madrassa, an Islamic school, during his time in Indonesia was generated, reported and debunked entirely in the ether that is our media, with no actual political news. Everything from the details of the announcements – mostly made online, in informal "video chats" – to the ridiculous post-SOTU jockeying for camera space has been covered in perpetuity, and the real race is more than a year off. Those in the media are already placing their own bets and creating news out of nothingness.

It seems Larry Sabato’s 1991 book, “Media Feeding Frenzy,” was ahead of its time. In it, he outlines how much pack journalism on Capitol Hill has altered American politics since Watergate; it’s oftentimes in the last thirty years that the coverage has become more of a political factor than the actual events reported on, due to the volume of reporters and news services available – and blogs have definitely added to that clash of many voices.

The question is, is any of this nonsense good for the American people? Is anyone better-informed or represented right now that they can spend 24 hours aggregating news in RSS feeders and watching round-the-clock news?

The candidates are talking much more than they used to, at least publicly, and it is reaching a much wider audience thanks to the convergence of print, Internet, radio and television coverage. These candidates seem to always be talking, talking, talking … but little of substance is really being said for fear of invoking a rapid and escalating response under the media’ microscope. For example, Hillary Clinton’s innocuous comment about knowing what it is like to deal with “evil, bad men” was most likely aimed at the terrorists of 9/11, but instead was interpreted (and discussed ad nauseum) as a reference to her philandering husband – what was not a mistake but rather a generic statement left open to interpretation has instead become somehow newsworthy.

This is nothing new. For years Americans’ intelligence has been insulted with details of candidates’ personal lives, of speaking gaffes, of “Free Poland” moments. It doesn’t seem likely that any American policy or law will be affected by these tidbits, the same way Gerald Ford slipping down the stairs of Air Force One or Jimmy Carter’s lust-in-my-heart Playboy interview did. But they do qualify for news in our post-Watergate world – and they do seriously alter who gets elected and who doesn’t, by wide margins. If a candidate falls in the woods, and there’s no reporter around to blow it out of proportion, does it make a sound?

So for the next year, we can expect detailed information about candidates’ finances, speaking gaffes, innocuous pasts and meticulously prepared CVs. Meanwhile, little serious journalism will be done about the bills and votes presented before congress, much to the detriment of the public good. But hey, sex sells – and Congressional records, committee reports, and actual bills don’t – the kind of dry source journalism still conducted by C-SPAN and Congressional Quarterly – at least not to enough people to be relevant.

What we need is detailed television news breaking down bill components, committee hearings and financial developments, budget items and the lagniappe associated with the real governmental process – covered in a comprehensive, and comprehendible, manner.

I’d argue that a lot of this is already done, but that there just isn’t enough of it to go around. It’s the kind of journalism that requires too much shoe-leather and not enough immediate payback in hours of political graphics and talking-head responses. That’s the only real journalism though; the rest, I’d argue, is just white noise.

In the age where all discussion happened at the print level, Arthur Miller once said “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” That now applies to all media – blogs, television and radio. Well, we’re talking these days … it’s just not about much.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Camelia Grill

So in New Orleans, there is a 24 hour grill in uptown, near the trolley stop, that was a fixture there since 1948. My father remembered eating there when he was in graduate school at Tulane, and I remember eating there many, many times - get the omelet - in my four years in that great city. Well, after Katrina, it closed down, and rumors began to swirl. Someone put out heart-shaped post-its one day, and this was the result -

So now, good news - word has it (check out this blog - it's called "The Third Battle of New Orleans" ... I love it. Excellent New Orleans updates here) that the Grill is being rennovated for reopening soon. Small victories. ;)

Videos - Annie's First steps

Annie's first steps after the surgery ...

A close-up look at the temporary prosthesis, or, as she put it, her new leg #1.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Quote du jour: Circulation was dropping like a piano thrown from a penthouse...

-Ulrik Haagerup, Nieman Reports

A great article in the Nieman Reports goes a long way to explaining the capital crisis in newspapers and the eternal paradox of highly profitable, perennially deleterious newsrooms. In plain English, why papers that make so much cash keep firing people and damaging the quality of the news they produce.

The article is called Capital Crisis in the Profitable Newspaper Industry, and is by Robert G. Picard, some really intelligent academic business type guy. Detailed, but worth it if you care about Media convergence, etc. If not, skip it ;)

http://www.bugmenot.com/ a software that lets you share and bypass "registration" at a lot of web sites ... so your inbox doesn't get flooded.
http://mediamatters.com - the blog-du jour. Great coverage of the coverage. Who watches the watchers? They do.

The State of the Union ...

... I watched the State of the Union the other night, and I watched the Democratic response, and the subsequent jockying for camera air time by presidential hopefuls (in the Stroud situation room, where we have three TVs all primed on different channels of Cable News). It was intriguing watching an Obama or Brownback speech, or a Guliani interview, on one TV, and then see the actual other interview going on in the background on the steps of the Capitol. Call it the premature primary hopscotch - Hil would step out of frame on CNN and into frame on CBS, Guliani would cross paths with her and head over to a different TV ... it was all quite comical. I'll avoid the obvious Nixon Two-Step reference here, but it was all quite a dance.

The president gave a good performance technically - no smirks and not many speaking mistakes - and the rest of the speech was pretty much expected. Nancy Pelosi is a mad blinker and is a stark contrast, in her light hued outfit, to the jowly VP next door, in dark colors but sporting a stylish purple tie. My roommate and I actually laughed out loud when the president launched into Dikembe Mutumbo's story .. .mostly because when he stood up he more than doubled the size of the small woman next to him. But I was familiar with all of his work in Africa (especially his basketball programs in South Africa) and thought he was a good choice (his giving only makes the paltry giving of the rest of the NBA owners and stars pale in comparison).

But the main thing I brought home from the State of the Union was THE COMPLETE LACK OF A SINGLE MENTION ABOUT NEW ORLEANS, THE COAST, OR ANYTHING ABOUT THE HURRICANES AT ALL. Afterwards, Webb mentioned it - briefly - at the beginning of the Dem response, then ignored it as well. Even the candidate-dance only elicited one question we found - directed at Obama - which he deflected nicely. This made me so angry I can't even describe it in words, which never fail me.

You know I went to Tulane. You know I love the city. You know this killed me. Somebody finally picked up on this in the MSM. I've never been so deeply affected or so angry or felt less relevant to the political process ... and I'm not even from New Orleans, wasn't even one of the people who had to escape to their attics and watch their family members die around them.

It's directionless anger, I know. Read below to see what you can do to help; I won't say it again. But I will be angry. Oh yes. I will be angry.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Subscriptions, feedburns, widgets ... etc

Ok ... so I've finally had time to get this blog all retrofitted with links to delicious, digg and the facebook ... plus you can subscribe via e-mail, which is a convenient way for you readers, friends and family to keep tabs on the blog. So, without further ado ... what are you waiting for? Subscribe already!

Annie's Leg

A human leg weighs, on average, about eight or nine pounds according to Annie’s doctors. Watching my sister lose hers in a battle with a tumor, I’ve believe it weighs more, and perhaps less, than they'd have us believe.

A Desmoid tumor is a non-malignant growth that continues to slowly grow, usually starting as a small nugget lodged in the muscle and swelling until it consumes everything around it, eating away at ligaments, joints, fat and bone. As it pushes everything else out of the way, it trudges onward, eternally growing and insidious. To be clear, it is not a cancer - but it is a serious medical condition. After six years of largely useless treatments, the tumor had won, growing, and threatened her life, demanding action.

Five sleepless nights in a hospital’s surgical recovery wing can make anyone a little loopy, a little long on contemplation and short on reason. An epidural drip and oxycontin only made my sister more so; but she bore the weight of the surgery and impending recovery as angelic and stoically as I thought possible.

I, on the other hand, was a mess. I was doing my best, and failing, at standing in for absent family members – my recently deceased father being one of them. He would’ve known what to say, I kept telling myself; he would’ve made things right.

Job insecurity and a deep questioning of my life’s recent choices didn’t help; namely to take time off from the job hunt to try and figure out the answers to big questions I weren’t sure had them. Maybe I was just being lazy, or my talents had exhausted themselves, and there truly was no sunny side of the rainbow in my future. After six months of odd jobs and scraping by, I was wearing down, losing focus.

And here was my younger sister, 23, engaged, beautiful, dealing with a crisis that loomed larger than any potential financial setback or windfall ever could. How selfish and small-minded I’d been those many months! How incredibly wrong of me!

And so we were there when she came to, were there as she discussed how it felt and tried on her new prosthesis. There had been a going away party, and now there would be a new leg party, and the enormity of what she was dealing with – life as an amputee – brought home all of those images of wounded soldiers struggling to walk, of children in Liberia and Sierra Leone who, limbless, struggled on in the world, of cruel Janjaweed militiamen attacking poor peasants and forcing them into a lifetime of struggle against the simplicity of walking upright or eating with their hands.

Life, as we knew it, was over, and a new chapter was beginning. The reality of, the enormity of, the situation presented itself.

Suddenly so much of what is going on in the world has been brought into sharp relief: this small tragedy drove home how easily we able-bodied, moneyed, successful busy people ignore so much pain and suffering in the world in exchange for good nights’ sleep and a ticket to easy living. Suddenly the feel-good reports of progress in the world, of micro loans and the wonders of science treating and curing new diseases every day were brought into cruel contrast with the often-ignored reports of wars, genocide, disease and death.

These problems are with us, as surely as Annie’s leg is not, and will never go away. Pestilence has a knack for staying power, and there are no easy answers. But if my sister has the courage to deal with her loss as strongly as she has, then we should all force ourselves to face the daily pain of others with the compassion and gritty determination those problems are due. Those of us blessed as we are should find space in our hearts for those of us who aren’t.

As for Annie, she hasn’t just lost a leg. In many ways, she’s lost an independence, youth and innocence she will struggle to regain. But she is, I suspect, gaining an incredible sense of self-respect, emotional maturity and understanding about the world. She is gaining the sanguinity few people I’ve ever known possess – and at such a young age.

Maybe it’s wrong to say – as if to lessen the weight of the tragedy – that anything good came, or will come, from this. But perhaps that is how we best deal with major loss. Silver linings need to exist, or these tragedies would remain unbearable.

The goal is to walk, of her own volition, down the aisle next fall to stand next to her fiancé and take her vows. There is no doubt in my or anyone’s mind that she has the courage and perseverance to achieve that modest – and at the same time lofty – goal.

If my father were here, he would say this better, but he’s not, so I’m forced to try. That simple act of walking twenty-odd feet won’t change the world or solve anyone’s problems or cure other diseases or even feel ultimately be a success of any import.

But it will feel like a triumph, in the face of this lost battle with disease.

She will walk again. That’s enough.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The death of the media: Media's take

There's been a proliferation of articles on the subject of the death of print media in the past few months. Highlights:

The December Atlantic Monthly's "Get Me Rewrite!" by Michael Hirschorn. Particularly interesting is his discussion of the EPIC 2014 video.

Daily (or perhaps weekly) announcements of cuts, firings and consolidations on mediabistro.com.

This week's The Nation article titled "Newspapers ... and after?" By John Nichols.

... there's more but you'll just have to find it yourself, although MediaMatters has been blogging up quite a storm on the issue. Sigh. The media does love to discuss itself.

Presidential Cage Match 2007

Clinton announces "In to win," falls just short of saying "I'm in it to win it, yo."

... we'll leave it up to your judgement as to whether that's better than Obama's "My name's not Osama" slogan or "once you vote black ... (insert inappropriate racially-overtoned statement here).

Both overshadow's Brownback's announcement and pop-culture-savvy slogan "I'm in it to save the snowflakes ... save the snowflakes ... save the world."

Brownback's causes have included restoring a ''family hour'' to television, an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage and legislation to prohibit human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research.

I thought they already had that ... it's called Seventh Heaven.

Obama/Clinton cagematch 2007 has officially begun ... and FoxNews is already mudslinging (or pretending to "cover" inter-candidate mudslinging ... Democrats give them oh-so-much fodder). Breaking news flash: Apparently Obama went to a MUSLIM school for awhile. Point for Clinton. You go, girl.

Let the games begin. ;)

p.s. great opening-paragraph moments in lazy Saturday-morning journalism at the NYT:

"Jessica Heyman’s breakfast in Paris last month was nothing out of the ordinary: a modest repast of eggs, coffee and a side salad with her husband, Jonathan Podwil, at the popular Café de Flore. But the bill was memorable — 46 euros, or about $60, at the current exchange rate. Five years ago, when the dollar was strong, the same bill would have amounted to $42."

See? Names, food, prices and all ... it's all SOOO Hemmingway, so immediate, so pertinent. EIGHTEEN DOLLARS????? Meanwhile, bombs go off somewhere.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Katrina Blues

You've got to check out this TPM Cafe report about Joe Lieberman's refusal to treat Katrina as a major blunder and review it (now that he his chair of the Homeland Security Committee).

Friday, January 12, 2007

Saddam video update

... it's a little late but Andy has more info on the Saddam Video:

In a backhanded testament to the usefulness of citizen journalism as a voice of dissent, the Iraqi government announced the arrest of (up to three?) two guards and an official who supervised the hanging in connection with the unauthorized videorecording of Saddam Hussein’s execution. The video, apparently made by cellphone, was posted to the Internet on Saturday.

See his blog post here.

Weekend Bliss, Media Blitz

This week is a media maven's heaven - sorry, too much wordplay? - in that Bush has announced, the Democrats have been storming through their first 100 hours, our embassy in Greece was attacked by a rocket, and more. In economic (and thus relevant, in only a little), Microsoft rushed to release a new all-in-one phone like the new IPhone. But the buzz was largely overlooked.

Stem Cells, Minimum Wage, anti-terror bill, attack on the Iraq war - these Dems are in full blitzkreig. Bush battles back with his TV announcement and, according to the NYT, a lackluster response at a military base. But maybe that was calculated? Anyway, 24 hour newz cycle and blogs are abuzz over it.

Gates at war, Condeleeza at war on the floor. It's on TV; just turn yours on. Meanwhile, we sort of kind of entered Somalia with troops. It twarn't nothin', media! Honest!

We attacked an Iranian consul. Small news here, but remember what it was like during Iran/Contra? 444 days that brought Carter down ... not like he needed the push.

Dodd announces he'll run ... big suprise there. Anyone else mistake him for that guy from Mission Impossible, Peter Graves, every time he shows up on TV?

A great report (or breakdown of a report) here at an old colleague's blog - is Facebook and Myspace the new Dunkin Donuts parking lot? Quick hit here.

The latest eye-opening study on drinking. Which reminds me ... Bloody Marys anyone?

Great article in the Atlantic last month on Iran's minorities ... gotta read the print edition to get the full effect. I'll get through the new one, which came out two days ago, today, and post interesting stories here.

Also check out last month's TNR response by Mike Crowley, on a character Micheal Crichton "inserted" into a book ... although I'll reserve judgment, I have to say, it's one of the funniest things I've read in awhile.
Original here.

And VodkaPundit (this is old) aka Joshua Green has a great full-length description of his battle with Hyperthyroidism. Worth a read. www.vodkapundit.com.Glad you're back, bud.

That should tide you (and I) over for a few. Bottoms up.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Feverish Dreams

What I'm (re)reading: The Corrections, Jonathan Frazen
What I'm listening to: Old-school Karaoke favorites; Think Sweet Caroline. Also Vivaldi's Four Seasons
What I'm watching: Bridge on the River Kwai, Third Season of the Wire
What I'm Blogging: President's Speech

Quote of the Day: "The time was that malignant fiveishness to which the flu sufferer awakens after late-afternoon fever dreams. A time shortly after five which is a mockery of five. ... every moment held the potential for fluish misery. "

Bush spoke to the nation tonight about the troop surge. The Blogosphere and cable news is churning, the Daily Show is gearing up for a big day tomorrow and everyone's wondering what is going to happen. Meanwhile, stuck at home in all of my fluish misery, I got instant messaged from a friend of mine doing his tour in Tikrit, Iraq.

Technology is crazy. He's not seeing action - he fixes Black Hawk helicopters - but still, he is there in Tikrit and he could care less about the troop surge. Didn't even really know about it. All he was concerned about was some vaccination shot the military was trying to force the troops (against law or regulation) to take. He said he'd quit over the shot in a false show of bravura, and was suprised when I said Bush would speak tonight. Then he ran off to play video games, reminding me to meet up with him in Hawaii if I ever got a chance to stop in when he wasn't doing a tour.

No comment there, just something to think about. So me, stuck here at home, I've been inundated with all sorts of reasons to get back on the RSS bandwagon, start reading the news more dilligently and whatnot (the largest reason I haven't being that I've been between computers; that problem having been solved by my sister's hand-me-down laptop). So I'm back and I'll be discussing and opining and doing what bloggers do - venting about all sorts of things. Also linking to ridiculousness.

Don't expect frequent updates. As a good friend Leo Juarez said of his blog, "It's not a pet - it can be neglected and not die." Comments are always appreciated.

My sister Kim points out that "The Democrat's 100 hours" says nothing about Congress' dodging of Katrina, and of how little we have done and how far we have still to go to even restore New Orleans, much less try and move forward in a sensible way.

I'll be in New Orleans in March for a good friend's wedding, and I'm so excited to see friends, old restaurants and the "City that Care Forgot" again - it's like a drug to me just to be in the city, I love it. It's where I spent my formative years ;) But, like Mardi Gras, I'm afraid of the crippling malaise of depression - that sublimated feeling of anger and hopelessness that now seems to pervade the residents. What was once a devil-may-care hopefulness has become a devil-does-care hopelessness, and it's gut-wrenching to see. I'm a little scared. I still haven't talked to Troy or Schoenfeld at length about what New Years' was like - they went back - and I need to do so.

Ugh. So she and friends proposed a Civic Works Project. I need to read more, but it seems like a great idea - retraining workers and people who would like to return to the area is only one piece of the puzzle, but it would be a crucial one, on top of political reform, more funding and political will to do the engineering right this time and personal sacrifice (which is already happening everywhere, by leaps and bounds).


Also of import - last week Saddam was hanged, and a video leaked out. Here's my take:

Immediately after the announcement was made that Saddam Hussein was to be executed, the thought on every journalist’s mind concerned just one thing: How much will newspapers, television and the Internet reveal about his death?

The question was unequivocally answered when a grainy cell phone video appeared, and suddenly anyone could watch with grim fascination as Hussein was executed.

It appeared first on Google Video; then it spread beyond, with links from blogs. Once out of the bag, even the hosting sites lost control over their content – YouTube refrained from initially hosting the video, but it has since made its way into many users’ postings.

The blurring lines between our various forms of media and the Internet have changed the way we experience major tragedy and experience news, and for a journalist, that means a loss of control over what can and cannot be shown.

Traditionally, the newspapers and television had to adhere to strict guidelines for posting images, text and video, some self-imposed, some not. For instance, newspapers are supposed to bar images of dead Americans from their pages, but dead foreigners are allowed (which seems like an odd standard, but the newspapers have their reasons). When those paradigms are broken – for example, the seminal photo of the firefighter at the Oklahoma City bombing carrying the bloody child from the wreckage – readers are lost, institutions are chastised and journalists rail. Now, those standards seem largely obsolete.

Americans will now have the option of congregating around computers in an end-run around established journalism standards of what can and can’t be shown. The video, coupled with Saturday Night Live’s decision to release an uncensored version of a popular sketch early this week, is an example of a new way to experience journalism – democratically.

Now you have the choice to view the most macabre elements of every story – the death and destruction is not only immediate and visceral but easily accessible to everyone. The movie cliché of citizens crowded around an electronics store window or glued to a bar’s TV won’t necessarily disappear, but for many of us, our town square just became digital.

Either way, you can’t divorce news coverage of the event without discussing the video anymore. So in a way, even austere journalistic institutions like the New York Times are forced to (or enabled to) discuss the video and even link to it, if indirectly, in their pages.

And we have to think, as a society, what having these videos and images widely available will do to us. Until today, I had never seen a man die in front of me. You could argue I still haven’t, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to unsear that image from my mind. Is that right? Who knows, but it’s now too late to turn back the clock.

It’s also interesting (if dilatory) to think about who this anonymous poster was. A video as relatively high in quality and long in duration would have to come from an expensive 3G phone, which begs the question: did those conducting the execution know about, and perhaps sanction, the video? Did the Iraqi government or the American interests involved desire indisputable proof of Saddam’s death to be leaked and made widely available via the Internet?
That who released the video is entirely irrelevant only emphasizes the seriousness of this debate – and the uncontrollable nature of this change. Anyone can become a newsmonger – from a fan at a crowded Los Angeles comedy club to an unlucky passenger staggering through smoky subway tunnels. But that freedom will also come, at least at first, at the price of news prudence and judgment. It’s a sacrifice, but we just don’t have a choice in the matter anymore.