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 ;) a software that lets you share and bypass "registration" at a lot of web sites ... so your inbox doesn't get flooded. - 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

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. 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.