Friday, September 30, 2005


     I know you've complained before about me using a medley of news stories instead of one long post. Tough. Here's some stuff I've just got to say.

Bill Clinton's a Commie Bastard
     The real headline reads, "Elián González, 11, calls Castro 'friend,' 'father'". WTF? When I was a kid I used to call my mom's old college friends, "Aunt Whoever", but there were no headlines about it. If you read the whole story, it comes out that Janet Reno (and actually US child custody law) made the right decision, sending Elián back home to his father. Elián is happy living at home, especially since he has become somewhat of a local celebrity. He's certainly better off than being used as a political tool in Miami, used to try to get the US government to turn Cuba into the 51st state, or turn Miami into a province of Cuba or whatever it is they want. The Truth is that if Castro were really that bad that a boy calling him a "friend" is so horrible, then we would have had US marines conducting "regime change" 90 miles south of Key West. But the reality is that Cuba isn't much of a threat anymore since its former patron, the USSR, ran out of money. He's just a mean dictator that deposed our mean dictator almost 50 years ago.

Bush's New Nickname: Slippery George
     The Valerie Plame case won't go away. Originally, Bush promised that anyone in administrationtion who was "involved" in the affair would be terminated. A few months ago, the shocker was that Bush confidant Karl Rove was one source, but he still works in the White House. Yesterday, another source is confirmed as the VP's chief of staff "Scooter" Libby. No word yet on when the firings will commence.

Jews are Anti-Christian Bastards
     If the real title ("Jews attack Southern Baptist evangelism") isn't quite as inflammatory, it's close. Basically, this is not new news. The Anti-Defamation League (which I've criticized before for having poor timing) is sick and tired of official Southern Baptist attacks on Judaism. It's bad enough to get blamed for Arabic terrorism and to be accused of pulling George Bush's strings, but then the Southern Baptist Convention has targeted us for extinction. If there's any consolation, at least they're not doing it at gunpoint, like the Nazis did. Still, why the need to make Jews look like the evil aggressors? Again.

Does She Still Look Good on your Posters?
     I don't want to take anything away from Ashley Smith. The poor woman was invaded upon by mass murderer and rapist Brian Nichols and not only survived to tell the tale, subdued him and turned him in to the police. She's a brave woman and a hero, and nothing can take that away from her. But she became a poster woman for the religious wingnuts who couldn't get enough of the dubious tale that she turned him from a savage to a saint merely by talking to him about God and Jesus. It turns out that it also took Crystal Meth. So anyone out there looking to go to downtown Fallujah carrying only a King James should pack some crack, because preaching to someone with a gun pointed at you isn't necessarily the best personal safety precaution I can recommend.

God Wants Us to Stop Learning
     This is one of my favorite responses to the Religious Right's efforts to Christianize America. Slate extends the "ID" theory, which says that some creatures and plants are so complex that they cannot be explained by any natural phenomena. If it's good enough to have students stop learning evolution, why stop there? "You know those damn theoretical gaps and conundrums that send microbiology graduate students into dank basement laboratories at 3 a.m.? They don't need to be resolved at all. Go back to bed, sleepy little grad students. God fills those gaps." "What accounts for the phenomenon of spontaneous remission in some cancers? With intelligent design, we don't ever need to find out. Years from now, we'll all lie in our hospital beds while ID-trained doctors hold our hands and assure us that we are merely dying of God." Since everything we don't know yet is "unexplainable", it's clearly the direct result of the hand of God. So we must stop trying to look further and learn things, and just accept everything the way it is. That's OK - I wasn't really looking forward to a Treo running Windows. I know that my phone runs on God instead.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Easy Meme

     So many of the blogs I read are more personal than political, and on many levels I enjoy them more. It's like reading a sitcom or a soap opera. Sometimes I can't wait to find out what happens next. Although my blog reading is certainly limited (maybe 20 on a given day out of over 18 million that Technorati is tracking), I like to think that it gives me a little insight into what different people think and do on a daily basis. Certainly in some ways I have very little in common with a yoga instructor in Astoria or an ESOL teacher in Vegas or an obsessive gardener in Wisconsin, so it's like a window into worlds I would never otherwise see.
     There was an interesting article in Newsweek this week by Anna Quindlen that said politicians should watch more television. She made the point that for people who are so separated from normal American life, television might be the only way to possibly connect. George Bush, who last lived a private life in 10 years, has never really live the life of the average American. I'm not picking on him - his situation isn't unique for a career politician, especially one born into a life of privilege. Why was it last month when thousands of Katrina refugees were huddled in the New Orleans convention center, every American glued to their TV sets knew it, but the President and the head of FEMA did not? Because they were not watching the news. They did not see what we saw. If you think about that for a moment, it's scary. They have access to classified reports from their field agents, but they are completely isolated from 280 million Americans and are unable to know what's going on.
     So by reading blogs I get to feel a little superior, knowing what's going on in some small corner of Cleveland or reading a daily diary from Brooklyn. For those of you who read such personal blogs, you should be familiar with "memes" like blogger interviews, What kind of Star Wars character are you, What day will you die, 100 things about me. As tempting as they are, I've decided to keep The Truth less personal and more about ideas and analysis. But I've broken down today and will participate in one I found on Majikthise. It talks about the 100 most challenged books - the ones parents try to ban from schools. It's a very eclectic list. How many have you read? I've only read 19 20 (UPDATE: Oops, I didn't recognize "Earth's Children" as the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series), but I don't know if that's admirable or not. My list:

     3) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
     4) The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
     5) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
     6) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
     7) Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
     9) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
     13) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
     20) Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel (This was hot when I was in middle school. I picked out all the juicy parts and showed all my 6th grade friends)
     22) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
     27) The Witches by Roald Dahl
     32) Blubber by Judy Blume
     41) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
     47) Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
     51) A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
     56) James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
     62) Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
     70) Lord of the Flies by William Golding
     84) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
     88) Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford (WTF??)
     96) How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

Monday, September 26, 2005

Awakening the Inner Democrat

     Katrina and Rita were monster storms, transforming the Gulf Coast from Texas to Mississippi into a flooded mass of debris and death. This unprecedented confluence of events (and by unprecedented I mean happens every few decades) has had a profound effect on our politicians. New Orleans and Louisiana officials put a halt to the corruption and apathy (for the time being); Mississippi and Texas officials forswore their vows of conservatism to declare that the region would be rebuilt no matter what the cost; and Georgia's Republican governor jumped on the conservation bandwagon.
     Well, that's not all exactly true. But the hurricanes do have Republicans acting like Democrats, or trying to, just like the 9/11 attacks had, well, Republicans acting like Democrats (meddling in foreign affairs, giving the government more power). But in 2001 the Republicans said the Dems were acting like weaselly surrender-monkeys, so all was forgiven. In 2005, the Republicans are taking it on the chin, after failing to adequately respond to two natural disasters (In part because they happen to be the ones in power, and in part because of the deadly combination of Bush's cronyism and the Right's desire to "starve the beast"). Much has already been made of the Republican Congress's zealousness in doling out Brazillions of dollars, most recently to the hurricane victims. Rebuilding the Gulf Coast is a complex issue, and beyond the scope of this little article, so I'll leave to others the analysis of whether Congressional Republicans have become "Cut and Spend" liberals (Yes) and whether or not that's a bad thing.
     On Friday, Georgia governor Sonny Perdue made his own foray into liberalism, calling for Georgia schools to close Monday and Tuesday (Free Login) to save fuel. I think I understand his thought process: school buses won't run for two of the days when fuel shortages may be worst, keeping gas prices reasonable until the refineries and pipelines can get going again after Rita. In addition, a lot of parents will probably decide to take a vacation day from work so they can watch the kids at home. Some parents might even telework. It's such a wonderful, simple idea that a third grader could have thought of it. A fifth grader, on the other hand, would have pointed out to the governor that not every one of his constituents has the flexibility to take off work at a moment's notice. How many parents out there cannot just leave work or afford two days of emergency childcare? How many businesses out there can't let their entire offices or warehouses have a vacation day? Consider some of our essential services - our police officers and firefighters work on Christmas and the Fourth of July, when their kids are out of school. But they have advance notice and many people in that situation are paid extra for the inconvenience. Governor Perdue, is it OK for half of the state's police force to "call in sick" for 2 days to save gas?
     What happened here is that Perdue was struck with a liberal idea, but lacking a Liberal's foresight and long-term thinking, decided conservation could be accomplished in two days. Had he wanted to do this right, he would have worked to discourage driving and push through mass transit solutions. Instead, he has spent much of his term pushing through additional highways to the detriment of transit money. Had he wanted to do this right, he would have long ago raised the gas tax, which is currently one of the lowest in the nation. Instead, he temporarily repealed the gas tax in the wake of Katrina.
     I have to stray for a minute to talk about what a boneheaded idea suspending the gas tax was.
1) Georgia has about 15 cents of tax on each gallon. Therefore, his idea was that suspending the gas tax should lower gas prices by 15 cents. However, many stations didn't completely do this, maybe lowering gas prices 13 or 14 cents. Besides, prices have been so crazy lately, jumping up and down 20 cents at a time, who's to say what portion is gas tax?
2) This stunt cost the state of Georgia over $75 million. This is money the state desperately needed for highway and transit projects. However, lets assume the state wants to donate $75 million dollars to the effort. Wouldn't it have been a lot more helpful to pay people to go fix the pipelines and refineries quicker? Or if you wanted to get really liberal about it, spent that money on water and food and housing for refugees?
3) In a time when gas stations were (are) regularly running out of fuel on a daily basis, why on earth would you want to encourage more driving? Keep the cost of fuel high so people don't take a 2,000 mile Labor Day trip in their 5 mpg SUV!
end of gas tax rant
     These terrible twin tragedies are waking America up from its "screw the world and screw you" attitude it developed in 2001. Will our Republican leaders be able to adapt and truly become "compassionate conservatives"? Or will their penchant for ignoring the poor and unfortunate just become more apparent?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Solemn Oath

     If there should be a single nail in the coffin of the so-called "Liberal Media", it should be last week's CNN headline, "Federal judge declares Pledge unconstitutional". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, long derided by the Redneck Right as too liberal (or maybe too Yankee), posted the slightly less biased headline, "Judge: Pledge violates rights". Both of these, plus the countless inflammatory headlines from around the nation are certain to push the buttons of religious conservatives who believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States.
     What the hell am I talking about? Well, if you don't know, it is because of the fortunate (unfortunate?) timing of the latest battle over the Pledge. Despite certain pseudo-news channels chasing ratings over actual news, Katrina mostly dominated news coverage last week, and Texas Rita has headlines this week.
     So what are the nuts and bolts of this case? On September 14th, a US District judge ruled that requiring students to recite the Pledge was illegal. He explained that forcing students to affirm God violated the First Amendment. This is significantly different from the ruling in June 2002 that said the actual words, "Under God" were unconstitutional. The 2002 ruling caused a religious backlash around the country (in part because there was no news to report and because we were still undergoing patriotic anti-Islam fervor after 9/11) and Congress voted nearly unanimously to support a resolution keeping the Pledge intact with "under God". That ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality, so it's really no surprise that the issue has resurfaced.
     I think people tend to forget what the Pledge of Allegiance really is. It's a solemn oath of eternal loyalty to the United States. Swearing loyalty to the US is not a bad thing for an American citizen to do. It's the solemn part that gets me. If you're older than 17, think back to the last time you said the Pledge. It was probably either back when you were in school or when you were visiting your children's school, right? And it's not that I think having kids swear allegiance to the US is a bad thing, either, but do they really know what they're saying? You have to be 16 or 17 to hold a driver's license and you have to be 18 or 19 to buy cigarettes. You have to be 18 to sign up for the military. You have to be 21 to drink and 25 to rent a car. And you cannot vote your preference for President or Governor or Mayor until you are 18. We don't trust children to do any of these things. So what do we get out of making children recite this oath 5 days a week? Most certainly don't appreciate the seriousness. And an oath is worth nothing if the speaker doesn't understand.
     So that makes it a farce. And the "under God" language makes it even more so. Students who don't believe in God but who do believe in the United States are swearing a false oath every single day. And what is confusing to me is that the Supreme Court in 1943 ruled to protect students from being complelled to salute the flag and say the Pledge because the government had no right to take the "free" out of "free speech". This is an argument any Libertarian should get behind. Imagine if instead of the flag, your kids were required to swear fealty to George W. Bush or Bill Clinton personally?
     That being said, I'm really not against the Pledge. And back to my original point, it is dishonest for the media to pretend that the recent court ruling is, either. 2002 saw an athiest try to remove the words, "under God" from the Pledge. Obviously, like so many of the 50's and 60's misguided laws (see the Georgia State Flag), the Pledge became ingrained in people who started to believe it had always been that way. But 2005 only reaffirmed free speech. And it reconfirmed that there are some people wanting to religiouscize our free nation no matter what the cost. We would do well not to heed their propaganda.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Urgent Breaking News

     After all the talk about sensationalist blonde-girl newsstories designed to distract and lull the populace, do you suppose the Right wing media knows the jig is up? After the blogosphere pushed national news into covering the LaToyia Figueroa case, do you think they've had enough?
     Apparently not. And apparently my contention that the 24-hour news cycle is a contributing factor to sensationalist non-news is flat wrong. On a day when Katrina rebuilding efforts are still ongoing, there is controversy about New Orleans residents returning home, John Roberts is undergoing confirmation hearings on him becoming the 2nd youngest chief justice of the US Supreme Court, a new tropical storm is about to hit Florida and potentially steer towards New Orleans as a hurricane, North Korea forswears nukes (yeah right), and the Georgia Tech quarterback contracts viral meningitis, the Fox News (sic) Channel last night threw up a banner screaming, "URGENT NEWS" about a missing 17-year old pretty White girl named Taylor Behl at Virginia Commonwealth University. Are you effing kidding me? 2,000 people, 85%+ of which are children, go missing every single day in the US, and suddenly Taylor is "Urgent News" dominating Fox's broadcast?
     I flipped over to the CNN channels to see what they were talking about. Headline News was on their 5-minute sports presentation and CNN had Larry King interviewing Viktor Yushchenko, the President of Ukraine who had just fired his entire government. (Actually, that's quite impressive for King. How does he get the leader of the 25th largest country in the world to put up with 50 degree studio temperature and air consisting mainly of his flatulence?) Today, has downplayed the case, although since I don't watch TV news much (and especially not at work where I'm pretending to be working), I can't tell what they're doing with their viewing audience.
     I know Bush has been taking a nosedive in popularity as of late. But has Fox News (sic) become so desperate to prop him up that they are sinking to such obvious efforts to distract their viewers? Or have they honestly decided that missing White teenage girls are the "real" news and the largest disaster in American history is merely filler?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Wag the Dog

     In order to make it up to you for having such a long post Wednesday, this one will be short and bitter. I was watching a special on the History Channel last night about the September 11th attacks on New York and on the rise of Al Qaeda. It showed how Al-Qaeda was born out of the anti-Soviet Afghani movement of the 1980's, and really picked up steam in the early 90's.
     The US was aware of Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, throughout the last decade, especially since it began perpetrating terrorist acts against Americans. Republicans and the Right-wing media, who of course would never play the "Blame Game", were playing something very similar after the 9/11 attacks when they said, This isn't the time to point fingers, but you know, this was all Clinton's fault. Why wasn't he tougher with terrorists?
     I'd like everyone to skim through this webpage, created in 1998 to show why Clinton was a war criminal who was unfit to be President and should be impeached. It becomes very obvious that the reason he could not strike at Al-Qaeda with more than just cruise missiles was because the Republican Congress would not allow him, and the increasingly Republican American public did not support him.
     Some especially juicy quotes:
"They know the attack on Iraq was planned long before Butler's report and consider it politically motivated." -Robert Novak (The Washington Post, 12/21/98, p. A29)

"As the Constitution makes clear, the President of the United States does have the authority to take defensive action against an aggressor nation, but he has no authority whatsoever to make war against a country which has neither attacked the United States or posed to do so." -Robert Novak (The Washington Post, 12/21/98, p. A29)

"As president, Bill Clinton has...squandered $5.5 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars on containing the Iraqi threat..." -Joe Farah (Between the Lines, 12/18/98)

"Saddam Hussein is not threatening our national security. This is a concocted scheme to pursue bombing for oil interests and other reasons, but it has nothing to do with national security." -Representative Ron Paul (R-Tex) (Congressional Record, 12/17/98, pp. H11722, H11729)

And my favorite:
"A President who uses his duties as Commander in Chief to bomb foreign countries every time he wants to change the subject ought to be removed with alacrity," -Ann Coulter (Human Events, 12/25/98, p. 6)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Blame Game

(And Other Indoor Sports)

     Nobody likes a tattletale. Or a whiner. Or a nag. Or a bearer of bad news. Or the guy who says, "I told you so." (OK, some people do) Why? My feeling is that people don't like to hear the Truth. People don't want to confront difficult questions about themselves. Not that everybody who nags or whines or points fingers is right. But hearing harsh criticism can force people to re-examine themselves and the beliefs they hold to be fact. And nobody likes to be wrong. Most people, in fact, like to be wrong so little that they never waver from their original beliefs no matter the evidence to the contrary. And it's enough people that Americans take it for granted that stubbornness and mulishness is a virtue. In 2004, one of GW's favorite words was "steadfast". In fact, when I typed in "Bush" and "steadfast" into Altavista, it returned 1.14 million results. (Of course, it turns out that when you type "Bush" and "idiot" you get 8 million results, so what the hell do I know?)
     Whatever. My point is that Americans passionately hate what Bush has so eloquently named, "The Blame Game". (Well, I guess that's not exactly true either, since I didn't hear very many Republican complaints over the past 15 years while Rush Limbaugh & Co. have blamed Clinton for everything from the recession to 9/11 to Natalee Holloway) And this administration has done an excellent job of playing on that sentiment to keep his head above the political waters. Remember in May when Donald Rumsfeld took "full responsibility" for Abu Ghraib prison torture? By full responsibility did he mean scot free? Bush has successfully kept people from wondering why 1800 American soldiers are dead in Iraq, why Bin Laden is still running around sending audio tapes to reporters, why all the dividend and estate tax cuts haven't produced a boom economy. Now the house of cards is coming down around him. And though I'm not particularly unhappy about that, it's fair to ask if it's right to point the finger at him.
     One of the Right's favorite tools is the straw man. What this means, generally, is that they will either misrepresent what their opponent is saying and attack them for that, or they will find the vilest supporter of their opponent and pretend they are the same. For example, in 2004, instead of attacking Kerry or lauding Bush, the Right wing media attacked Michael Moore, an easy target. "Michael Moore is a fat slob and he hates Bush. If you hate Bush, you're a fat slob too." Stupid stuff like that. They're actually really good at it and are most of the time are a whole lot subtler than that. So now, in the middle of the mother of all screwups (MOAS), the Right has jumped to attack position. The three pronged attack includes 1) Telling people not to play the "blame game", 2) Assigning blame to local (read: Democratic) authorities, and 3) Setting up a straw man, telling Americans that the Moonbats (read: Dems) are "blaming Bush for Katrina". Since the hurricane is obviously not the man's fault, obviously Bush is blameless, right? Of course, nobody on the left (except for the actual moonbats, but this author is slandering politicians and respected columnists) blames GW for the hurricane. But does he deserve blame for the aftermath?
     First, it didn't help that Bush cut funding for levee projects to help pay for Iraq and his tax cuts. New Orleans had to beg for $2 million of promised federal money to finish one project in 2004. Not $100 billion like we're looking at today, but $2 million. Now, there's no guarantee that any of this work would have prevented this disaster. The levees were rated for a category 3 storm, not a category 4. However, like the expiration date on milk, it's not an exact science. All I'm saying is, it didn't help to cut levee protection funding. And for those of you who don't think it's the federal government's job to protect New Orleans, keep in mind that one of the primary reasons the city is in this much trouble is because the Army Corp of Engineers has spent the last 100 years flushing silt that should have been building up storm-surge-protecting wetlands down into the Gulf of Mexico, over the continental shelf. (Where it will turn into oil in 100 million years) And why do they do this? So national commerce flowing down the Mississippi can flow. If anything fell under the Commerce Clause, this is it.
     Second, it didn't help that Bush has elevated cronyism to a fine art. He's not the first President to appoint his friends and donors to important positions and he won't be the last. But it's still a stupid thing to do and this time it came to bit America in the ass. We all know that Michael Brown, the ex-FEMA head, had no business running our national disaster recovery agency. He was completely unqualified, but luckily for him he was college roommates with Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA head. Joe was Bush's chief of staff in Texas and his 2000 campaign manager, so we're probably lucky a major hurricane didn't hit between 2001 and 2003. Now Allbaugh is a lobbyist for Halliburton, where he lobbies FEMA for contracts. How many other vital organizations are headed by political cronies? (Note to wingnuts: just because someone else did it in the past doesn't make it right)
     Third, at a time when the nation needed to be reassured that the crisis was being handled, Bush was on vacation. I know he probably works very, very hard and deserves more vacation than any other president ever. But he should know better than anyone that the most important place for him to have been was in front of the American public reassuring them. That's what boosted him from an approval rating of under 50% in August 2001 to 90% by September 2001. (Despite the fact that even during the World Trade Center attacks, his advisors had to force him to stop reading to children so he could address the nation) It certainly didn't help that it took him three days to even look at the disaster area, while the press widely reported that he "cut his vacation short" by two days out of the 30-day vacation. When Justice Rehnquist died, Bush was on the scene immediately. So much of this nation's strength comes from it's confidence. Americans lost confidence after Bush dropped the ball.
     Fourth, it didn't help that Bush is allergic to environmental protection. If Louisiana had more wetlands, perhaps the storm surge wouldn't have been strong enough to topple the levees. If we weren't so dependent on oil, perhaps the damage to the oil pipelines and refineries wouldn't be sending the economy into a tailspin. And if we weren't pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, perhaps we could mitigate the more destructive storms that global warming is certain to produce. Now, of course Bush isn't directly responsible for any of these things. But his actions don't help. Opposing higher fuel standards didn't help. Opposing Kyoto didn't help.
     Fifth, Bush said he deserved blame. "I take responsibility," he said. Being the skeptic I am, I don't really believe those words mean anything. Apparently, the Right agrees with me, because instead of hold Bush responsible, they argue that he was not. They make fun of anyone who does point the finger, and in many cases, attacks them personally. Responsibility isn't just a pretty word. It means bearing the consequences. Taking responsibility for a disaster means admitting failure of sorts. If my kid robs a bank and I say, "I take full responsibility," I don't get a slap on the back and be told I'm a stand-up guy. I'm expected to pay back the money and take a punishment. Treat GW Bush like the adult he pretends to be.
     There's so much to write about this story, which ironically makes it more difficult to do so well. As far as the destruction goes, I don't hold Bush personally responsible. That's silly, and it's the kind of weak argument that Republican attack dogs love. I do think that Bush has been extraordinarily unhelpful towards efforts to prevent and recover from this disaster. The very best you could say is that Bush has had no effect on this situation. And that would be generous. But the President of the United States must do more than be ineffective. We didn't hire him to clear brush or look pretty on TV. We hired him to lead the country. I do blame him for not doing that.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What is Good Journalism?

     It's almost embarrassing. Well, it is embarrassing. There's more to talk about with the Katrina catastrophe than can possibly fit in one blog, yet right now I'm finding it difficult to locate the time, or focus to write. As I said earlier, "work stuffs" is happening. But more importantly, we are being inundated with news coverage of this disaster. And every person who has been there in person says the cameras can't capture a tenth of the devastation in the region. It's hard to comprehend the scope of this tragedy. I can't even begin to imagine what kind of overload the people working the scene are going through. When we hear reports of police officers and firefighters committing suicide and walking off the job, when we see reporters frantically trying to scrub tears away from their faces as they struggle not to lose it on national television, when we actually do see otherwise thick-skinned politicians losing it, we start to get a sense of the magnitude.
     And like all great stories, some of the most interesting storylines don't come from the main plot, but as spinoffs going in different directions. One thing we've noticed is how the shell on the national media is cracking. For so many years, news has been dominated by poofy-haired, all-knowing, softball-throwing anchors. Nothing penetrated that glossy veneer. Sure, Peter Jennings looked pretty haggard after reporting on September 11th for 60 straight hours, but overall Americans learned to associate "news" with "boring". It wasn't always this way. When Edward Murrow was broadcasting from London during the blitz, Americans were starved for news, for commentary, for knowledge about the world outside. News broadcasts were the keystones of the three major networks, providing them with their viewers and their revenues. What changed?
     In 1980, CNN stumbled onto the scene - the first 24-hour newscast in the world. They had certain advantages over network news: while they incurred the same costs to gather news, they could use it and replay it all day long. Networks still had to pay for 22 hours of non-news related programming to fill the time. In addition, it provided a convenient place for people to get news now. The news junkie was invented. And CNN's successes launched a virtual cavalcade of imitators. CBC Newsworld, EuroNews, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, BBC 24, and of course Fox News (sic). Unfortunately, as we know, there is not 24 hours worth of news to report, and with the increased competition, made-up news became the order of the day. Who gives a shit about Natalee Holloway? Why, the millions of Americans who wish they could also watch their daytime soaps at night.
     CNN had its shining moment in 1991, when billions of people around the globe watched the Gulf War through Bernard Shaw's eyes. People tuned in during the 2001 attacks on New York and DC. But when it came to the really important stories and the hard-hitting investigative reporting that peaked in the mid-seventies, nobody cared anymore. News was boring. There was no connection anymore. The emotional bond viewers shared with Murrow and Cronkite had been severed. Viewers wanted emotion and connection. And of all the networks, startup Fox was the only one that understood. I actually watched Fox for a few months when it rolled out in 1996. I enjoyed the additional information in the scrolls, the extra emphasis on visuals over talk, the added emotion of the anchors. I stopped watching, however, when they took that emotion and went a few steps too far, into the land of fake outrage and political insults and openly partisan slants. They're still the only ones that "get it", though. CNN added flashy graphics and loudmouthed commentators, but no emotional connection.
     The other night, after Anderson Cooper spent an hour paddling around New Orleans, CNN had a special report about reporting on Katrina and her aftermath. I forgot who the presenter was, but he asked two questions: "What happens when journalists become part of the story they're telling?" and "Has Katrina changed journalism?"
     Reporting is certainly different during Katrina. Reporters, seeing things they weren't even exposed to in Kosovo or Iraq, were horrified. They forgot that they were supposed to be 5-minute entertainers and started being human, throwing microphones in front of mealy-mouthed politicians and not accepting their bullshit. Cooper was talking to Louisiana Governor Blanco, and started drilling her on how pissed it made him, standing waist deep in toxic sludge, watching politicians smile and pat each other on the back telling each other what a great job they were doing. Is this what happens when journalists become part of the story?
     I say no - this is what happens when journalists forget how wooden they're supposed to be. Journalists are always part of the story. When they report on environmental issues or tax issues or elections, they are just as impacted as every other citizen. Of course they're part of the story. I know that. You know that. The reporter just seems to have forgotten. And their false detachment is part of the reason other Americans have stopped caring. The Truth has gotten lost in stoicism masquerading as objectivity.
     So has Katrina changed journalism? I certainly hope so. I hope these reporters stay pissed off for a long time. I hope they remember that they represent 6 billion people who can't investigate for themselves. I hope they remember that they are members of those 6 billion. But I also hope they can avoid the temptation of becoming "emotional" about every fake story that will inevitably come along. Faking emotion - faking anger and outrage like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity are so good at - is so damaging to real news that people tune out faster than when news is boring. They lose trust. And while I know that teaching Americans not to trust the "mainstream media" has been a mission of the Right Wing PR machine, it's not too late for journalists to become advocates of the people again. To be the eyes and ears and voices for the people. For the survivors of Katrina, for the concerned citizens 2000 miles away, for the dead victims. And for the people who live through every news story, whether or not the media has the balls to cover it correctly.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What Would You Evacuate?

     Watching New Orleans residents lose nearly everything, the lucky ones (smart ones?) were the ones that evacuated last weekend. My wife and I were discussing what would happen if we had to evacuate. What would we take with us if we thought we might never return home?
     We decided that we would need clothing and non-perishable food, as much of both as we could carry. Social Security cards, ID, passports, cash. We would take the cat (and his litter box). We probably wouldn't bother with photo albums, but we'd probably pack up our computers. At the very least, we'd take the hard drives. All of our pictures are on the hard drives, along with our financial information, and a general record of our lives for the past few years. OK - I suppose my wife would insist on taking the wedding album. We would take our ketubah. And maybe a few things that are irreplaceable, like yearbooks or keepsakes with sentimental value. Other than that, it seems most of the things we have really aren't that important. Or at least, they're worth nothing more than the money they cost to replace.
     What would you take?