Boondoggle

One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Dear Reuters: people are not powderkegs

Reuters has a welcome article about the struggles of and xenophobia toward Roma populations in Hungary.  Unfortunately, the piece is titled “Roma a powderkeg in Hungary as crisis deepens,” as if the Roma themselves are the ones to incite the hatred and prejudices they are subjected to.  The article itself is not too bad, though I would rather it describe Roma as “intentionally excluded” from many jobs than as simply “unwelcome,” a seeming watering-down of a malicious practice.  But please, Reuters: the Roma themselves are not the “powderkeg;” that’s even worse than blaming xenophobia on the economic crisis.  Prejudice lies in the aggressors, not its victims, and it’s disgusting to imply otherwise.

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August 13, 2009 Posted by | Eastern Europe, media | , | Leave a comment

Elite media slanders Palin

I meant to publish this on Monday, the day after I read gagged on the following article on the front page of The Washington Post, announcing Sarah Palin’s resignation:

Sarah Palin, the Republican Alaska governor who captivated the nation with a combative brand of folksy politics, announced her resignation yesterday in characteristic fashion: She stood on her back lawn in Wasilla, speaking into a single microphone, accompanied by friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts.

[snip]

Palin offered few clues about her ambitions but said she arrived at her decision in part to protect her family, which has faced withering criticism and occasional mockery, and to escape ethics probes that have drained her family’s finances and hampered her ability to govern. She said leaving office is in the best interest of the state and will allow her to more effectively advocate for issues of importance to her, including energy independence and national security. [emphasis mine, in case you, dear reader, somehow missed the obsequiousness that is dripping out of this article]

I don’t think this depiction of events could be portrayed more favorably if it were written by Sarah Palin her-egomanical-self.  Some facts omitted and distorted: Palin, a polarizing figure, cannot be said to have “captivated the nation” by any objective stretch of the imagination; her account of the “frivolous ethics probes” is here taken at unquestioned face value; her family has been scorned much less than she has shoved it in the public spotlight of her own volition; and, hilariously, the notion that proximity to Russia “national security” is an “issue of importance to her” is a crassly political seed-laying.

Beyond this, though, is my continued perplexedness over how Sarah Palin and her defenders can continue to harp on “media elites,” and blame them for her downfall, when even the supposedly liberal Washington Post bends over backwards to make her look good — is a “back lawn” with “friends and neighbors in baseball hats and polo shirts” anything short of an ideal for a politician? —  in its coverage of an embarassing resignation.

In case we missed the message, the Post published this “news analysis” by Dan Balz alongside the above-quoted article:

Sarah Palin demonstrated once again yesterday that she is one of America’s most unconventional politicians, following an unpredictable path to an uncertain future.

That Alaska’s Republican governor has a flair for the theatrical — and plays by her own rules — was underscored anew by her stunning announcement that not only will she not seek reelection in 2010, she will resign her office this month.

But are Palin’s rules those of someone with the capacity to seek and win her party’s presidential nomination in 2012, as many believe is her ultimate goal, or of someone who has flashed like a meteor across the political skies but with limited impact? [emphasis, need you be reminded, mine]

When the the only other option than winning a presidential nomination is flying through the sky like a glowing meteor, I think it’s safe to say that we have an objectivity problem here.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | media, U.S. politics | , | 2 Comments

Mainers respond to topless coffee shop with mindless arson

Via The Daily Beast, the topless coffee shop in Maine that I mused about a few months ago has been burned to the ground.

Crabtree said he did not have insurance for the Grand View. If necessary, he said, he would be willing to reopen in a temporary mobile trailer on the site of the topless — and now roofless — coffee shop.

Crabtree said his 10 female and three male employees are “in shock.”

I implied objectification in my earlier post, but this stupid act of protest reorients my feelings about this; if it was indeed a business modeled on free expression, not exploitation, then down with the ignorant arsonists of puritanism (and even if it were a crassly sexist enterprise, engaging in criminal activity is obviously completely inappropriate).

Title of this post notwithstanding, I think it is in poor taste for CNN to mock the “roofless” coffee shop, which was also connected to the home of the owner, Donald Crabtree, and his family.  And I can see nothing but prurience in the decision to divulge that a preponderance of the employees happened to be female.

June 4, 2009 Posted by | media, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The craziest country between South Korea and China

northeast asia mapAn odd choice of geographical description from NYT‘s David Sanger:

The sanction has never been enforced, partly because of concerns that it could escalate hostilities with North Korea, the poorest and least predictable state in Northeast Asia. [emphasis mine]

In Northeast Asia? I’d venture that North Korea takes the cake for poorest and least predictable state out of a group larger than just China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia (and okay, maybe Mongolia). But, um, yes, that is the correct quadrant of the correct continent in which North Korea is poor and unpredictable.

(image from flickr user earthhopper under a Creative Commons license)

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics, media | , | Leave a comment

HOW TO BE HAPPY!!! LEARN NOW!!!

Okay, so there are some interesting things to learn about in ponder in this month’s Atlantic cover story, about a 72-year longitudinal study of — well, of what, really?  Of the life trajectories of a group of white male Harvard students from before World War II.  What this can tell us about the nature of happiness, the “good life,” or “normality,” is just a tad debatable, but surely that’s not what the piece’s author, Joshua Wolf Shenk, or the study’s lead psychologist, George Vaillant are going for.  Right?

Vaillant brings a healthy dose of subtlety to a field that sometimes seems to glide past it. The bookstore shelves are lined with titles that have an almost messianic tone, as in Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. But what does it mean, really, to be happier?

Why I don’t just consult this serious, interesting article, then — titled, uh, “What Makes Us Happy? Friends Matter, Cholesterol Doesn’t: Lessons From an Amazing 72-year study” — to find out?  I just need to make my way to the nearest bookstore shelf and open my copy of the, um…Atlantic.

Hypocritical marketing bombast aside, there’s a lot to think about and critique in the article and the study.  Aside from the point I already alluded to — how much can you learn about happiness from studying elite white males who attended Harvard? — the only one I’ll blog about is Shenk’s disconcerting failure to discuss any sort of Heisenberg Principle effect (observation of a phenomenon changes the phenomenon itself).  The participants in the study were kept very much aware that they were participants in a study on happiness; they even admitted that they “saw themselves as part of an elite club.”  They discussed the study with the psychologists who interviewed them, they thought about it in an assuredly meta way, and I’m certain they were aware how their responses were affecting the findings of the study.  Vaillant even sent a draft of his conclusions to one of the study participants.

I’m not saying that this sort of interference could possibly be avoided, or even that it disrupted the study’s goals and outcomes.  It’s just something worth considering, and certainly worth discussing in the article.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | media | , , | Leave a comment

Twittering Republicans

In the midst of this somewhat silly Michelle Cottle article on the even sillier CNN “reality show” about freshmen Representatives, I found this surprising nugget:

While the culture of reality television, YouTube, and Twitter has put down roots on both sides of the congressional aisle, Republicans seem to be embracing it in disproportionate numbers. (At last count, GOP Twitterers on the Hill outnumbered Democratic users by more than two to one.) [emphasis mine]

The explanation of one of the featured legislators, Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah, is that, since Republicans can’t legislate, they have to “win the communications battle.” I don’t doubt that this is why Republicans should be using new media (except doing so in actually effective ways, rather than, say, complaining about beaver management and sending shitty emails, might help), but I don’t think this explains the unexpected phenomenon.

I’d venture that Republicans — the party of old white men whose presidential candidate, an old white man par excellence, admitted he did not know how to use a computer — are exhibiting the same tendency as old media celebrity types everywhere: make sure to mention Twitter, smirk about it, and show how hip and “with it” you are by knowing that the correct verb form of “twitter” is to twat tweet. By embracing in particular the newest, and easiest, form of social media, they can try to distract from their extant stodginess in a flurry of tweets. I don’t think it’s going to work.

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Conservatives, media | , , | 1 Comment

I’m not not going to blog about Obama’s first 100 days

Why is it that every blogger who writes a piece on Obama’s first 100 days feels it necessary to preface said piece on Obama’s first 100 days by explaining that since everyone else has already written a piece on Obama’s first 100 days that they’re not going to write another piece on Obama’s first 100 days?  Then, of course, they write a piece on Obama’s first 100 days.

It’s really not all that hard not to do.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | media | | Leave a comment

Country abbreviations of which I was heretofore unaware

That the small island nation south of India could be referred to as simply “Lanka.”

April 28, 2009 Posted by | media | | 1 Comment

CNN blames Twitter for swine flu, coughs on its own hypocrisy

The tendency of old(er) media to lash out at new(er) media apparently involves passing the buck on the worst of old(er) media’s excesses. Happy to push the canard that bloggers and Twitterers are merely unrestrained and unsubstantiated gossipers, CNN has either not been reading its own headlines or has an uncanny ability to swallow irony.

cnn-logoSome observers say Twitter — a micro-blogging site where users post 140-character messages — has become a hotbed of unnecessary hype and misinformation about the outbreak, which is thought to have claimed more than 100 lives in Mexico.

“Swine flu” is currently first on CNN’s list of “hot topics.” Perhaps following the Time magazine model of cool and rational stories on potential nuclear annihilation, the CNN page devoted to the entirely necessary and carefully measured information about swine flu includes sober headlines like the following:

Mexico City at epicenter of growing swine flu fears

Stricken teen describes illness, recovery

Pandemic: What would happen next?

Gupta: Swine flu affecting people in prime

Deadliest pandemics of the 20th century

Officials plan for worst case

Naturally, and without a trace of irony, CNN urges you to follow Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter.

UPDATE: CNN also tweets — what medium could be better? — as breaking news that “The federal government declares a public health emergency, as the number of cases of swine flu in the U.S. rises to 20.”

cross-posted on Dispatch

(image from flickr user merfam under a Creative Commons license)

April 28, 2009 Posted by | media | , , | 1 Comment

Nuclear threat not that bad….but watch nukes blow everything up!

TIME magazine tries — it really tries — to publish a an article that rationally and soberly assesses the world’s current nuclear situation, without resorting to hysterical and salacious fear-mongering.  But…it just can’t help itself, pricelessly juxtaposing this analysis with a prominent link hawking the world’s top 10 worst nuclear disasters.

Don't look, but it's a nuclear disaster!

Don't look, but it's a nuclear disaster!

If he’s serious about even approaching zero, Obama will have to impose a strategic doctrine on the military that moves away from such Cold War paranoia and mistrust. As one former high-ranking U.S. State Department official who was part of the original START negotiations told TIME, “Worst-case war planners should not dictate to the President a force structure which exceeds all plausible needs.” (See the world’s top 10 worst nuclear disasters.)

Good thing the editors at TIME magazine are not the ones advising the President, I suppose.

(image of Three Mile Island, from flickr user mattechi under a Creative Commons license)

April 10, 2009 Posted by | media, U.S. Foreign policy | , , | Leave a comment

Of newspapers and advertisements

Rosa Brooks’ candid (final) column in the LA Times is worth reading, and offers some valuable solutions for the crisis facing the American newspaper — which she wisely eschews comparing to Darfur — but I wonder if she slightly misdiagnoses cause and effect.

Years of foolish policies have left us with a choice: We can bail out journalism, using tax dollars and granting licenses in ways that encourage robust and independent reporting and commentary, or we can watch, wringing our hands, as more and more top journalists are laid off or bail out, leaving us with nothing in our newspapers but ads, entertainment features and crossword puzzles.

latimesA shortage of original reporting will indeed result in a sparser version of the newspaper as we know it, but I question whether more advertisements, or even an increased proportion of advertisements, will follow from the newspaper’s decline. As I see it, one of the causes of newspapers’ struggles is that they failed to capture the advertising opportunity that was taken advantage of by sites like craigslist, Facebook, Google, etc. Newspapers’ revenues being driven by advertisements, they missed the wave that carried ad-viewers (or “readers,” as we sometimes euphemistically call them) to the Web. Therefore, it seems to follow that, if fewer people are reading papers, advertisers will be less likely to spend the money to include ads in papers. The problem seems to be the reverse of what Brooks prognosticates; a shortage of ads is both the cause and the product of newspapers’ ill fortunes.

(image from flickr user newyork808 under a Creative Commons license)

April 9, 2009 Posted by | media | , , | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton: Advice Columnist at a Daycare Center?

Clinton dispensing advice in Korea

Clinton dispensing advice in Korea

Yes, I find this stupid poll (to which Miriam at Feministing correctly responds E, “take your sexist poll and shove it“) offensive, but it is this Reuters dispatch that caused me concern this weekend. Headlined “Hillary Clinton: diplomat, politician or advice columnist?,” the article has an immediate tabloid feel, which veers quickly in the direction of sexism in reporting the supposed frivolous questions that “women students” asked her during her trip to Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. I’m sure such questions — “how she knew her husband ‘would be your love'” is the example that Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed cites, in his very first line, revealingly — came up, and it’s all very witty for Clinton to quip that she felt “more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state today.” But to pick up that thread, to equate the substantive questions and work that came up on her trip with the gossip of her “rock star reception” and the solicitation of love advice, is to distort, or at least to disturbingly rearrange, the highlights of her first trip abroad as Secretary of State. Sure, it’s a cute angle for a wire service to take, but isn’t it a little condescending to intimate that one of Clinton’s three primary functions is that of an “advice columnist?”

What’s next, comparing Clinton to a sexy crimefighter?  Oops.

(image from flicker user US Army Korea – IMCOM under a Creative Commons license)

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Feminism, media | , , , | Leave a comment

If you play M.I.A.’s songs backwards, they reveal a secret terrorist plot!

Belting out terrorist ballads, to be sure

Belting out terrorist ballads, to be sure

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s clear that NYT reporter Thomas Fuller, for whatever reason, is promoting some sort of agenda that the work of artist M.I.A. has “dissonant undertones” supporting Sri Lankan terrorists. Perhaps it just makes for a more attractive headline to claim that a famous pop artist sympathizes with a little-known (in the West, at least) rebel outfit, but regardless, his article makes a good case study of both journalistic bias and an inability to parse the distinction between “separatist” and “terrorist.”

It should become clear to the reader right away how Fuller feels about M.I.A. when his lede describes her as “the very pregnant rapper who gyrated across the stage at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.” Umm…I can think of slightly less condescending ways of describing a woman who almost won a Grammy (okay, meh) and who defied the reigning stereotype that pregnant women should cover up their bodies and sexuality (props).

That, however, turns out to be better than how Fuller portrays M.I.A.’s reputation in Sri Lanka: “virtually unknown” or “an apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels,” who have also been designated a terrorist organization — by governments, including Sri Lanka’s (of course) and the United States’, as well as by a conveniently chosen Sri Lankan songwriter who describes them as “perhaps the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.”

Look, I am not an apologist for the Tamil Tigers. They are indeed ruthless, having perpetuated more than their share of horrific murders and abuses. They may even be the “most ruthless” in the world, though I, no songwriter by any stretch, am not going to get into the game of ranking the world’s terrorist organizations by their ruthlessness.

No, my only point is to describe the stage set by Mr. Fuller. The evidence he musters in playing up M.I.A.’s alleged terrorist sympathies is weak at best: a tiger in the background of one of her videos that “looks like the rebels’ logo,” M.I.A.’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Sri Lanka, and the nameless opinions of “Sri Lankans who have seen her videos.” Fuller’s contention that M.I.A.’s use of the notorious “g-word” puts her on the “outer fringe of opinion” may come as news to many rather mainstream activists, for whom the country is typically on “alert” lists of potential genocide. That “at least” ethnic cleansing has occurred or is occurring in Sri Lanka is on even more solid ground, given the notoriety of the Sri Lankan military’s disregard for civilians and use of sweeping ethnic-based tactics to root out Tamil Tiger rebels.

Moreover, even if Fuller succeeds in proving M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies (aha! an ethnic Tamil sympathesizes with the people of her homeland!) — surely following up on those of her father, a shadily described “leader in the Tamil separatist movement” — that is a far cry from supporting Tamil Tiger terrorists, as Fuller rather crudely suggests. Tamil separatist movements preceded the Tigers, they existed at the same time as the Tigers, and they will likely endure beyond the Tigers’ demise. To conflate the two is an insult to both peaceful Tamils and to the entire principle of clamoring for autonomy.

Not at all incidentally, it is only in the third-to-last paragraph of the piece, juxtaposed rather lamely with one about a sickening video of “of people being blown up by Tamil Tiger bombs and subtitles about M.I.A. being a terrorist,” does Fuller include this short acknowledgment.

M.I.A. responded that she did not support terrorism.

Good to have her side of the story.

Personally, I think the worst M.I.A. can be accused of is riding on the trainwreck that was Slumdog Millionaire. But here’s this anyway.

(image from v e. under a Creative Commons license)

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Foreign politics, media | , , , , | 1 Comment

What else could “the n-word” refer to?

This teaser from The New Republic‘s latest editorial strikes me as, at best, entirely unnecessary, and at worst, an entirely unnecessary racist provocation.

In the brief weeks that Barack Obama has been president, the n-word has been heard with startling frequency in Washington. We’re talking about “nationalization,” of course.

The editorial is titled “The N-Word.”  In case anyone didn’t get it, the editors are misleading you to think that they mean a very different n-word.  And the only reason that this little stunt is possible is because the newly elected president is African-American.  Is that not almost patently offensive, or am I missing something here?

February 4, 2009 Posted by | media | , | 2 Comments

Pick one: college or newspapers?

Steve Coll at The New Yorker is baffled at how a small liberal arts college can have more funds at its disposal than a venerable institution of print media.

williams-collegeNot to pick on any one institution, but, from a constitutional perspective, how did we end up in a society where Williams College has (or had, before September) an endowment well in excess of one billion dollars, while the Washington Post, a fountainhead of Watergate and so much other skeptical and investigative reporting critical to the republic’s health, is in jeopardy. I’m sure that Williams-generated nostalgia in the emotional lives of wealthy people is hard to overestimate, but still …

Yglesias follows up on the point:

One problem here is just that The Washington Post is no Williams. Elite American colleges, whether or not they actually do a good job of educating young people, do a VERY good job of producing nostalgic alumni and prestige for themselves.

True enough, but how many alumni donors are donating out of a sense of nostalgia? Maybe — and as a resolute non-donor to my small elite liberal arts college of choice, this is somewhat ironic — I am being too naive, but don’t many alumni probably donate out of a sense of the value of a liberal education? That may just be the propaganda that we mouth, but even a cynic should acknowledge that the well of “nostalgia” is probably only so deep. A sense of “responsibility” or “appreciation” may be too much, but “guilt tripping” probably accounts for some small pool of the funds.

For the big donors, of course, donating to their alma mater has just become a matter of course; it’s an established practice to do so, so it’s a safe and acceptable place to invest one’s money. Donating to newspapers is not, which is of course at the crux of Coll’s and Yglesias’ arguments. But the unspoken corollary of this world we’ve ended up in, where Williams is awash with money but the Post is near bankrupt, is that people donate to colleges for a point as well, and that these colleges, as much or more than one particular industry, have a certain value.

(image from flickr user SERSeanCrane under a Creative Commons license)

January 30, 2009 Posted by | media, Swarthmore | , , , | 2 Comments