matt's angry little thoughts
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
NO BLOGGING LATELY. Why? I could say that I've been incredibly busy at my day job -- true -- and that I've been busy personally too, as I get ready to move in with uber-sweetie Trina -- also true. But that would ignore the fact that several times in the past week and a half I have stayed up past midnight playing Splinter Cell, much to the detriment of my normal sleep/wake cycle. But what's really been going on is my inability to process last week's news, namely, the State of the Union address. I typed copious contemporaneous notes (the computer is by the TV, at least for the next couple of days) on both the style and substance of the address. My notes deteriorated in quality as the beer took effect, true. I was left with a lot of notes and a simple inability to process them in a coherent way. Then, after my head cleared, it was hard to go back to the SOTU because it was no longer fresh. Then, a couple of days later, it was hard to blog at all just because I had let it go so long. This is the procrastinator's pathology--eventually you put off doing something so long that the damage is done, the task cannot be completed, and you're a failure now, so why do anything further? (This is exactly what led me to fail to turn in 34 homework assignments, and thereby earn a D, in Blossom Woods' pre-algebra class in seventh grade.)
But part of growing up is facing up to procrastination, even if your final effort is too little, too late. Here are my thoughts on the SOTU:
1. I always look for sound use of classic rhetorical devices. Bush blew his first opportunity in the first stanza , as he had an opportunity for both the rule of three and parallel structure, with his "we have duty, we have opportunity...we will work for, we will answer" framework. It was clunky. But he got it right in the next stanza, with a series of three "to be" constructions.
2. There was some cleverness. For example, in talking about medical "reform," he blamed the lack of control that doctors and nurses have over medicine on "bureaucrats, trial lawyers, and HMOs." Linking trial lawyers with their mortal enemies HMOs -- deft.
3. The only surprise was the pledge of $15B for AIDS relief in Africa. Complex reaction here at MALT. (a.i) $15B is good money, but not nearly enough when you have double-digit HIV infection rates. (a.ii) On the other hand, $15B goes a lot further in Uganda than it does in the Hamptons; see the insightful piece in the Feb. 3 New Yorker, analyzing the conflict between the immediate need for new treatment and vaccines in Africa with the resistance of Western academic medical ethicists. (b.i) The hidden surprise in this pledge is that it supposedly will include condom distribution and genericized drugs, things this administration and its allies in the religious right and multinational pharmaceutical corporations have always opposed. (b.ii) But there was a growing international push for condemnation of the multinationals' intellectual property to make generic anti-HIV drugs anyway, so this is conceding the inevitable and claiming the high ground simultaneously. (b.iii) Even Jesse Helms realized in his twilight years that the moral battle over HIV was mistaken. (b.iv) And it sounds like the drugs that will be provided to Africa are ones that are losing their potency against American strains of HIV, as there is growing incidence of US infectees who had attained a zero viral load for years through religious use of protease inhibitors finding the virus resurgent in their systems again.
4. Another deft touch was the bid for development of hydrogen-powered cars. It's gadgety, which is sure to grab attention from the real problem, which is the American suburban, Suburban lifestyle. A bold and necessary initiative would have required dealing with the mess that is CAFE standards, and cowboy Bush is spineless on that issue. What Big Oil wants, Big Oil gets from this administration, and what Big Oil wanted was bread and circuses. Enjoy.
5. It was naturally filled with horrible and cynical domestic policy and horrible, cynical, and dangerous foreign policy. On the domestic front, we have more tax cuts for rich folks, more privatization of Social Security (that's "ownership of retirement accounts" to you and me), logging to prevent forest fires (what ain't there can't burn), more faith-based crap, and bloating deficits. The transition issue from domestic fiasco to foreign policy fiasco is the deficit and the funding of the Sergio Leone-style showdown between Bush and Saddam Hussein. Transition accomplished, we move on to foreign policy shambles: more Star Wars, "project bioshield," and borders closed to swarthy types. He uses a wax-off maneuver on North Korea--he acknowledges the total hash he has made of north Korean nukes only by way of pointing out that we cannot allow Saddam to develop into another Kim Il Sung.
6. Scary point when he talks about the assassination of those suspected of terrorism: "Let's put it this way--they are no longer a problem to us or our friends and allies." "The terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice." Well, those of us who work in the American justice system may have thought that "American justice" was all about due process of law--but it turns out that it's about summary executions by CIA-trained militias. Which reminds me of a great story from law school orientation about the syndicated TV show "Dark Justice," a story I won't relate here.
7. Splinter Cell rules! That's the meaning of American justice!
[note--this was actually written Thursday, Feb. 6, nothwithstanding the datemark.]
We've all gotten these faxes, but this one just rings true (thanks, Chris). I'm sure we'll all do what we can to help.
IMMEDIATE ATTENTION NEEDED: HIGHLY URGENT ASSISTANCE - FROM CONFIDENTIAL
FROM: GEORGE WALKER BUSH 202.456.1414 / 202.456.1111 FAX: 202.456.2461
DEAR SIR / MADAM,
I AM GEORGE WALKER BUSH, SON OF THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, AND CURRENTLY SERVING AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. THIS LETTER MIGHT SURPRISE YOU BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT MET NEITHER IN PERSON NOR BY CORRESPONDENCE. I CAME TO KNOW OF YOU IN MY SEARCH FOR A RELIABLE AND REPUTABLE PERSON TO HANDLE A VERY CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS TRANSACTION, WHICH INVOLVES THE TRANSFER OF A HUGE SUM OF MONEY TO AN ACCOUNT REQUIRING MAXIMUM CONFIDENCE.
I AM WRITING YOU IN ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE PRIMARILY TO SEEK YOUR ASSISTANCE IN ACQUIRING OIL FUNDS THAT ARE PRESENTLY TRAPPED IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRAQ. MY PARTNERS AND I SOLICIT YOUR ASSISTANCE IN COMPLETING A TRANSACTION BEGUN BY MY FATHER, WHO HAS LONG BEEN ACTIVELY ENGAGED IN THE EXTRACTION OF PETROLEUM IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,AND BRAVELY SERVED HIS COUNTRY AS DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY.
IN THE DECADE OF THE NINETEEN-EIGHTIES, MY FATHER, THEN VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, SOUGHT TO WORK WITH THE GOOD OFFICES OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF IRAQ TO REGAIN LOST OIL REVENUE SOURCES IN THE NEIGHBORING ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN. THIS UNSUCCESSFUL VENTURE WAS SOON FOLLOWED BY A FALLING-OUT WITH HIS IRAQI PARTNER, WHO SOUGHT TO ACQUIRE ADDITIONAL OIL REVENUE SOURCES IN THE NEIGHBORING EMIRATE OF KUWAIT, A WHOLLY-OWNED U.S.-BRITISH SUBSIDIARY.
MY FATHER RE-SECURED THE PETROLEUM ASSETS OF KUWAIT IN 1991 AT A COST OF SIXTY-ONE BILLION U.S. DOLLARS ($61,000,000,000). OUT OF THAT COST,THIRTY-SIX BILLION DOLLARS ($36,000,000,000) WERE SUPPLIED BY HIS PARTNERS IN THE KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA AND OTHER PERSIAN GULF MONARCHIES, AND SIXTEEN BILLION DOLLARS ($16,000,000,000) BY GERMAN AND JAPANESE PARTNERS. BUT MY FATHER'S FORMER IRAQI BUSINESS PARTNER REMAINED IN CONTROL OF THE REPUBLIC OF IRAQ AND ITS PETROLEUM RESERVES.
MY FAMILY IS CALLING FOR YOUR URGENT ASSISTANCE IN FUNDING THE REMOVAL OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF IRAQ AND ACQUIRING THE PETROLEUM ASSETS OF HIS COUNTRY, AS COMPENSATION FOR THE COSTS OF REMOVING HIM FROM POWER. UNFORTUNATELY, OUR PARTNERS FROM 1991 ARE NOT WILLING TO SHOULDER THE BURDEN OF THIS NEW VENTURE, WHICH IN ITS UPCOMING PHASE MAY COST THE SUM OF 100 BILLION TO 200 BILLION DOLLARS ($100,000,000,000-$200,000,000,000), BOTH IN THE INITIAL ACQUISITION AND IN LONG-TERM MANAGEMENT.
WITHOUT THE FUNDS FROM OUR 1991 PARTNERS, WE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO ACQUIRE THE OIL REVENUE TRAPPED WITHIN IRAQ. THAT IS WHY MY FAMILY AND OUR COLLEAGUES ARE URGENTLY SEEKING YOUR GRACIOUS ASSISTANCE. OUR DISTINGUISHED COLLEAGUES IN THIS BUSINESS TRANSACTION INCLUDE THE SITTING VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, RICHARD CHENEY,WHO IS AN ORIGINAL PARTNER IN THE IRAQ VENTURE AND FORMER HEAD OF THE HALLIBURTON OIL COMPANY, AND CONDOLEEZA RICE, WHOSE PROFESSIONAL DEDICATION TO THE VENTURE WAS DEMONSTRATED IN THE NAMING OF A CHEVRON OIL TANKER AFTER HER.
I WOULD BESEECH YOU TO TRANSFER A SUM EQUALING TEN TO TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT (10-25 %) OF YOUR YEARLY INCOME TO OUR ACCOUNT TO AID IN THIS IMPORTANT VENTURE. THE INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA WILL FUNCTION AS OUR TRUSTED INTERMEDIARY. I PROPOSE THAT YOU MAKE THIS TRANSFER BEFORE THE FIFTEENTH (15TH) OF THE MONTH OF APRIL.
I KNOW THAT A TRANSACTION OF THIS MAGNITUDE WOULD MAKE ANYONE APPREHENSIVE AND WORRIED. BUT I AM ASSURING YOU THAT ALL WILL BE WELL AT THE END OF THE DAY. A BOLD STEP TAKEN SHALL NOT BE REGRETTED, I ASSURE YOU. PLEASE DO BE INFORMED THAT THIS BUSINESS TRANSACTION IS 100% LEGAL. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO CO-OPERATE IN THIS TRANSACTION,PLEASE CONTACT OUR INTERMEDIARY REPRESENTATIVES TO FURTHER DISCUSS THE MATTER.
I PRAY THAT YOU UNDERSTAND OUR PLIGHT. MY FAMILY AND OUR COLLEAGUES WILL BE FOREVER GRATEFUL. PLEASE REPLY IN STRICT CONFIDENCE TO THE CONTACT NUMBERS BELOW.
SINCERELY WITH WARM REGARDS,
GEORGE WALKER BUSH
Switchboard: 202.456.1414 Comments: 202.456.1111 Fax: 202.456.2461
I FORGOT TWO. Reading this post on the Slate Fray reminded me of a couple SB ads that deserve comment (I've gotta do what this guy does and take contemporaneous notes, though judging by his notes, he was snockered):
All Matrix, all the time. A commercial for both Matrix movies, one of which comes out in May and the other in November. Our collective jaws dropped.
Nobody's stampeding for these jeans. Levi's ran an ad featuring a Eurotrash couple wearing ugly Levi's not being run over by a huge herd of bison running through and destroying a grim metropolis. This would have been a much more successful ad if they had, in fact been flattened and pulped under the thundering hooves--we're watching football, after all. And c'mon--everybody knows that the oinly bison herd that big is on Ted Turner's ranch, being raised for bisonburgers.
Oh, and one more: The Trident ad that implied that the fabled fifth dentist would also endorse sugarless gum, except for every man's fear--a squirrel sinking its big rodent incisors into his nads. I can't improve on what Rudy said:
What is never advertised:
Q: If your patients chew gum, would you recommend sugarless?
A: 80% of dentists in initial study say, "Yeah, sure, sugarless.
20% say, "I can not endorse chewing gum under any circumstances"
This is true, 20% say never. Try "clean needles" for sugarless and "heroin" for gum and see how this works.
Monday, January 27, 2003
APOLOGIES to all my loyal blog fans. It's been a very busy and stressful couple of weeks at work, which is good for business but just starves those of you who rely on "angry little thoughts" for your intellectual nourishment. Where to start?
With the Super Bowl, of course! Okay, I'm a little behind the commentary curve. After all, even the WSJ had a piece on the Super Bowl commercials today, first page of section C. But they were looking at the commercials in terms of whether they were effective, i.e., did they sell the intended product. You know me, I'm all about the memes, screw sales:
The only ad that pissed me off. First quarter: a yup-type is on the subway, and a la Sixth Sense, he sees dead people. "I had my throat cut." "I got shot on the street." Hmmm.... it's not funny, it doesn't track logically, the production values are poor....I know, I know! It's an ad from the Office of National Drug Control Policy! Two million bucks per thirty seconds, and they give us this? This is the only ad that had me yelling at the TV, and everybody else yelling at me, "save it for the blog!" These commercials are aimed straight at suburbanites who think that drugs are a ghetto thang. These same damn suburbanites go to suburbanite parties and their eyes light up when their hosts say "Check out my teenager's bong!" Then in the third quarter, we learned that marijuana causes teen pregnancy. Hmmm...I thought that was sex, but I guess I was wrong. [In Abe Simpson's voice] "Damn government bureaucrats, spending my taxes on this CRAP!"
The bad-lad theme. Coors, the reigning champ, gave us the "I love the remote control/Twins!" ad, where the unseen viewer skips through the "I love two-hand touch/eating way too much/fans that don't quit" filler and gets straight to the "and those twins!" parts of both commercials. A tiny bit more sophisticated was Budweiser's ad: a guy in a club bathroom looks in the mirror and practices telling his date that he really wants to date her roommate. He pictures getting slapped, having a drink thrown in his face, etc. Instead, the date, mellowed no doubt by Budweiser's blend of premium malt and highest-quality hops, asks the obvious question: "Why don't you just date both of us?" Why indeed? Seriously, riddle me this: when Bud spends a couple million bucks to put an ad on in front of as many people as possible, why oh why do they require an "age check" for their WEBSITE?!?!? "Dude, I logged on to budweiser.com last night and got hammered! I must have clicked, like, fifteen links!"
The looks-like-a-Zima-ad-what?-you-don't-remember-Zima? ad. Another Bud ad, this one where the black dude walking the shaggy poodle-type-thing on a hot day gets into a "no pets allowed" bar by placing the poodle-type-thing on his head and talking like Ziggy Marley. Get it? Dreads, mon! It's a black thing!
The "who's a dot-com? not us!" theme. Anything by monster.com, which conspicuously was only "monster" in its ads. Hmmm...I wonder why....
The "office work would be funnier if there were more violence" theme. Reebok finally put what everybody's been thinking on video. (Actually, Office Space did it first.) That'll teach ya for not putting a cover sheet on your TPS report! "I wish I had ten Terry Tates on Team Felcher." Damn straight you do, Mr. Felcher. By the way, the web ad is longer and funnier than the TV ad. Actual disclaimer from the Reebok website:
"The characterizations in this advertisement seek to entertain and are not in any way an endorsement of the use of force in the workplace. Workplace violence is an important safety and health issue. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) has standards and regulations to prevent and deal with workplace violence. For information, please visit OSHA." Damn lawyers.
Friday, January 24, 2003
NEW "GET YOUR WAR ON" UP. Topical--North Korea, reproductive rights, Iraqi sanctions, the whole nine.
Tuesday, January 21, 2003
SPOILER ALERT! For those of you who haven't read the the entirety of The Lord of the Rings, here's how the story ends:
The Dark Lord gets the Ring.
THINKIN' ABOUT ADS. It's football playoff season, which means more new ads on Sunday afternoons. The new Miller Lite ad, titled "Catfight," features silicone-enhanced babes duking it out over the age-old question "tastes great or less filling?" at a fancy restaurant, in a fountain, in a conveniently-placed mud pit. The ad is interesting for two subsurface reasons. First, it is revealed near the end of the ad that the gratuitous catfight is theorized by a couple of neanderthal twentysomething guys in a bar, who wonder rhetorically, "who wouldn't want to watch that?" as their dates, a pair of silicone-unenhanced but hot-in-a-not-too-much-makeup human types, look on, incredulous. Presumably this is Miller repositioning itself as drink of twentysomethings, instead of the older male sports fans it pitched to in the days when Catfish Hunter and Billy Martin starred in its ads. And by making fun of the mindset of preliterate "yeah, dude" types, Miller gets to revel in spectacular exploitation while also ironically mocking the whole "chicks sell beer" meme (see Coors' "Twins").
Second is a bit of editing. The sequence of the ad runs like this: busty superbabes are dining in a restaurant, realize they have intractable differences over the metaphysics of less filling/tastes great, turn over table, commence to rumble, toss each other in a fountain, tear blouses revealing massive boobage, toss each other into mud pit (or is it wet concrete? that's terrible for the complexion!), cut to neanderthal boys in bar congratulating themselves on their advertising savvy, cut back to mud pit. Here's the thing: the first couple of times I saw the ad, we cut back to the babes, covered in mud, and one of them said "Let's make out!" in a sultry vapid tone. That part has been deleted deleted deleted in the last thirty times I've seen the ad. Too racy? Too neanderthal? In any event, the edited version is the one posted on Miller's website.
(update January 24: last night I saw the unedited version, on ESPN just before 11:00 pm PST. So it's airing late-night.)
Saturday, January 18, 2003
JEEZ, BEEN BUSY. Where to start? Well there's a frickin' hilarious new filing techniques up, though it's not very topical.
Michael Kinsley posted well on the flaw in the Bush rhetoric about taxes: Sure the rich pay more in taxes--they make more money! This is one of those points that would cue the cruel fifth-graders in my elementary school to start slapping their wrists against their chests, rolling their eyes, and saying "uh-doy, uh-doy, uh-doy." Of course, those fifth-graders have grown up, received the franchise through no merit of their own, and probably voted heavily R.
Oregon's latest ex-governor left office and promptly announced his divorce. Seriously, that's class. He got married while governor, and no one was invited; it was not a media pheomenon. Then he got divorced, and it was not a media phenomenon. By delay of the announcement he kept the focus on Ted the K's inaugural. A lot of people criticize John Kitzhaber for not leaving a legacy other than a state he recently pronounced "ungovernable," but at least he kept a decent remove between the office and the person.
And in Afghanistan, they're so poor they can't even afford car bombs. Drop-ship those people some Playstation 2s!
Friday, January 17, 2003
Don't let the title fool you, Matt wore his share of black mock turtlenecks back in the day. If we're all adding input, maybe now we should change the bilious green of angry thoughts for a bigger, happier background color. May I suggest FF00FF?
-docnorris the guest blogger.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
ATTENTION: NAME CHANGE! Uncle Richard pointed out the conceit of having a blog named "angry little thoughts." He's right--it's a title that reminds me of the "art fops" we mocked in high school, always hanging out at the coffeeshop smoking clove cigarettes and listening to the Cure and the Smiths, talking about Sylvia Plath. (Of course, that's a meme developed by Jim, who then threw himself into that whole scene, abandoning all ironic detachment.) You know, that Alanis Morissette vibe. Besides, I'm pretty happy-go lucky when circumstances allow, and these days, Bush's poll numbers allow.
Monday, January 13, 2003
RONN ELZINGA'S TAKE ON JOHN EDWARDS AT THE TROUGH. Ronn's a fellow trial lawyer here in Portland, and apparently also noticed the cognitive dissonance between the nature of Edwards fundraiser this weekend and Edwards' declared objectives:
"The Senator sounds like a great guy. So when the invitation went out for an opportunity to informally meet the "champion of the rights of our clients" I thought it'd be great to e-mail my client data base about this opportunity for them to meet their champion.
"Oh...for $1,000 or $250 a pop. At "L'Heure." Hmmm. Guess I misunderstood.
"OK, so it was strictly a fund raising trip for the freshman Senator. Fine. I can truly appreciate that. But I hope the Senator will return soon to meet with the people he champions.
"If he hopes to "fight for ordinary people if he's elected," maybe he'll make it possible for ordinary people to meet him.
"Did he mention when he's coming back?"
Friday, January 10, 2003
KRISTI TURNQUIST KEEPS IT LOW-KEY (thank you!). Here's the article from the interview last week.
Thursday, January 09, 2003
INTERESTING PIECE TODAY about how propagandizing the Islamic world must take the form of music and other aural art forms.
Wednesday, January 08, 2003
NEW BILE-O-METER LIST MEMBER: Wesley Clark. Um, who? We haven't developed the royal opinion on Gen. Clark yet, but we will.
Yup, today's blog is just reminders to myself to post more later.
FRED KAPLAN WRITES IN SLATE:
We're going to war against Iraq because we can; we're not going to war against North Korea because we can't. News reports have quoted officials hinting at this on background, but it would be a dicey argument for them to spell out. First, it's a bit too stark for comfort, given all the moral argumentation undergirding the mobilization. Members of the Bush administration don't want to say, in effect, "Let's enforce international law, topple tyrants, and keep terrible weapons out of bad men's hands—but only if the bad man can't beat us up too badly in the process." Second, to make this argument would acknowledge that Saddam Hussein probably doesn't have weapons of mass destruction—or not enough of them to do much damage.
ALL QUIET ON THE BLOG FRONT, I've been very very busy at work. But this is the funniest thing I've seen in a while. More tonight, re the dividend tax cut, and the "Chinese discovery of the New World."
Monday, January 06, 2003
BILE-O-METER UPDATE. Ok, so it costs a lot to run for president. Today I got my first campaign contribution solicitation for the 2004 election (um, 22 months away), from Sen. John Edwards (D-NC). The event? A $250 per head event at a snooty bistro in the Pearl District "presented" by a small plaintiffs' firm. The invite itself is printed on that slightly-opaque faux parchment and inserted in a separate tastefully-understated folding card (Edwards' name in the classic red, white and blue). And word is there's a separate event, a $1,000 per head wine tasting at some rich folks' house.
Um, this is the guy who is constantly talking about being raised the son of poor folks (a mailman and a textile worker, right?) who swears that he wants to fight for "everyday Americans"? There's a huge majority of people out there who never, ever give $250 to a single person or political cause, especially fifteen months before the first primary. And when we see stuff like this, it's no wonder we believe that we are expected to be a silent majority as well.
And yeah, I know that Bush bought his way into office by declining to stick to federal spending limits. But there's a little cognitive dissonance between being the "party of the little guy" and the candidate of folks who give to your campaign by going to rub elbows far from the hoi polloi. And this, from a guy who holds up John McCain (he of campaign finance reform) as his political hero.
Sen. Edwards just notched up on the Bile-o-Meter. 4.9.
Sunday, January 05, 2003
THE REPORTER ASKED ME why people blog. Shucks, I dunno...
See, I did a little online journal back in first year of law school. Wrote it in raw HTML without benefit of a nice simplistic GUI like blogger or moveable type. Gave it up. Then the online magazines and writers I read became...bloggier. E.g., Salon or Slate isn't a complete edition when you check it at 7 am PST--you have to check throughout the day if you want to get the updated stuff. And Salon has the continuously-updated AP wire running down the left, which is always interesting. Another e.g.: memepool is basically the perfect meld of link collection and group-produced blog. Point being that blogging as a form of presenting information gained greater currency throughout 2001 and 2002, at least for me. Then Jack started blogging, and some of that "if he can do it, I can" kicked in. So I started my blog, then Eric started his...Jack credits Eugene Volokh for getting him started. So it's viral, I guess. Watch the dominoes fall.
All of which I told the reporter, representing to her that my mindset is the "blogging mindset." But then I took a personality test aimed at identifying Jungian archetypes' blogstyles. Once again, the world is a far more diverse place than I supposed. So according to the test, my Bloginality is ISTJ.
Friday, January 03, 2003
OK, THAT'S SCARY... I write that last piece at lunch, post it a while later, and just got a call from the "pop culture" reporter at The Oregonian wanting to talk to me about a piece on....blogging. I was happy to talk to her, especially about the melding of blogging with journalism that was my topic of the post immediately below. So let me get this straight: I'm commenting to a reporter for a print-media piece about blogging, with my spin being that blogging is co-opting journalism and vice-versa? I'm suddenly very tired.
ONE OF MY FAVORITE TOPICS again, namely the confluence of blogging and "real" journalism. There's a link at left to talkingpointsmemo, Josh Marshall's site. Now, Josh is a pro--a veteran "real" journalist--and in additional to several posts per day on TPM, also contributes to the London Financial Times, the WaPo, the Atlantic, etc. He's got real writing chops. But what he does on TPM is break down the stories of the day and at the same time break down the journalistic coverage of those same stories. This commentary on the commentary, or critique of the commentary, is something I posted about last on Dec. 16.
His current beating-horse the past couple of days is North Korea's nuclear capability. As TPM points out, we actually know very little. We know that NK has announced it will continue to forge toward the construction of nuclear weapons, that NK has kicked out international inspectors who were there to monitor their lack of nuclear development, and that back in 1994 NK was working quickly toward building plutonium-based weapons. Beyond that we have speculation and spin. This is the magical synergy of news events and news reporting: in the absence of more information, the commentary is reflexive. The events invite spin, which is designed to complement policy. The spin is mistaken for real news-- interested opinion is passed off as truth.
Example: Iraq doves comment that Iraq and NK were two of Bush's infamous "Axis of Evil," but that the administration is preparing to militarily crush the one that may have "weapons of mass destruction," defined as chemical or biological agents, rather than the one which likely has real "weapons of mass destruction," defined as nukes. Further, chants the peace-loving choragos, Hussein has acted for the past many years in a relatively predictable way, that term being defined as directed by thought of self-perservation and advancement. In contrast, the NK government is driven by a Stalinist cult of personality that behaves irrationally--instead of gassing a few thousand Kurds on occasion, the NK government starves its population en masse to the tune of millions of deaths (NDOL: "a bankrupt state with loopy leadership and loose nukes"). The point of this commentary, according to critical analysis, is not to goad policy toward NK to change, but instead to illustrate a perceived hypocrisy in administration policy toward Iraq, and thereby either erode support for that policy or to push a greater transparency in administration motive. For example, there's a school of thought that says (1) Hussein is bad and warrants removal, (2) it is an appropriate goal to seek to establish a (relatively) democratic enclave as a platform by which to export our "brand" of social democracy to the middle east, so (3) let's take Iraq and use it for that purpose; the only problem invading Iraq over WMD is that it's pretense rather than honest pragmatism. All spin, all the time.
Counterexample, same news "event": The administration, to deflect the above commentary, looks further backward in time. Its rhetoric reads that the 1994 NK agreements were a form of Clintonian appeasement that effectively allowed NK not only to not disarm, but conceal an established weaponsmaking capability. We learn only now how misguided that strategy was, and the revelation (which again, is not real data, but instead speculation and projection) of NK's relatively advanced weapons programs has placed the current administration in a position of weakness, from which some negotiated solution is the only exit. To summarize this spin, "Because of Clinton, NK now has nukes, and there's nothing we Bushies can do but mitigate damages."
You know TPM is going to deconstruct one of these spins--separate what is known from what is wished--when he writes "Let's unpack this argument." The dissection is meta-journalism at its best. Because critics render different critiques, it also inspires internecine disagreements between the online pros, hence frequent back-and-forth between, for example, Mickey Kaus of kausfiles and TPM. This is the hazard for info-sponges like me--we read the meta-commentary, and the meta-meta-commentary, and never read the original story. Trina and I saw Sarah Vowell this fall, touring in support of her new book, and she said that she started every day by reading the AP wire because she wanted the hard "news," relatively unsullied by commentary or bias. I wonder what that would be like...
Thursday, January 02, 2003
JOHN EDWARDS IS RUNNING. But instead of blogging about that, I'll just direct you to a site about my new hobby.