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.