Farewell to America’s Uncle

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the future of journalism. My pal Gil Asakawa’s been on a few panels discussing it. Newspapers are dropping like flies, slimming down like The NY Times, going online more and trying to reinvent themselves in an era of declining readership and plummeting revenue. We’re told that “new media,” citizen-journalists (what is that anyway?), bloggers and tweaters are the future of information delivery. The professional, trained journalist is out of fashion; old-fashioned legwork and reporting won’t cut it in this era of 24-hour “news” outlets and an unrelenting news cycle.
Walter Cronkite

For anyone alive at the time John F. Kennedy was shot (or the millions who have seen the famous video clip since), the image of Walter Cronkite announcing that the nation’s young President was dead is forever engraved in our brains. Cronkite seldom showed emotions on air, but after reading the annoucement he paused, removed his glasses and seemed to stare into space for an eternity, before slowly replacing his glasses. He communicated not only the facts of the story, but seemed to sum up the feeling of the country.

Cronkite’s famous sign off was “…and that’s the way it is,” and it was the kind of journalism he practiced. He had noted that his tenure as a reporter for The United Press, where he said he learned to write accurately and fast, both talents that would serve him well. Hired by the legendary Edward R. Murrow, he helped to mold the fledgling CBS-TV network news operation into the famed “Tiffany network.” He gained the trust of America at a time when three networks dominated network news, with Cronkites CBS Evening News being the most dominant of the three. Even after he left his anchor position (with some prodding from a network eager to keep Cronkite’s heir Dan Rather in the fold), Cronkite was consistently voted among America’s most trusted leaders, frequently holding the top spot.

Walter Cronkite insisted on the both the title an job of Managing Editor for the CBS Evening News. He was very much the “anchor” that held things together, but he continued to be a working newsman, frequently writing his own copy, rather than just reading someone else’s off the teleprompter. (After assuming the post, Dan Rather continued the practice during his tenure).

After the Tet offensive in Viet Nam, Cronkite made one of his few editorial expressions on the air. PBS’s Bill Moyers recalled Lyndon Johnson watching the broadcast and observing that if he’d lost Cronkite, he’d lost the support of the country for the war.

One of the things I remember most about “Uncle Walter” was his coverage of the various space shots and flights. This was back in the time when going into space was a big deal; when the teacher would wheel a TV into the classroom so we grade-school kids could watch the launches. This was one area where Cronkite’s professional demeanor would give way to sheer amazement — a feeling shared by most of us. Covering the live, first steps on the moon, he momentarily was speechless. Again, pretty much conveying what most of the world was thinking at that moment. I knew something was wrong with Cronkite when he was conspicously absent from all the coverage surrounding the 40th anniversary of that event.

It seems the last few months were hard on him, as cerebral vascular disease causes the blood vessels in that formidable brain to melt way. One can only imagine the damage the disease did. Walter Cronkite was, however, active and productive up until almost the very end. He contributions to journalism, to television, and to our collective consciousness will live on.

Tone Deaf In Alaska

By now, everyone has heard of the “Letterman/Palin flap.” Mostly, that is, because — as usual — the Wassila Hillbillie won’t shut up about it. Letterman cheerfully admitted his joke was in bad taste (this is news? Bad taste on a late-night comedy show?) and said he probably regretted saying it (along with thousands of other ill-considered jokes that bombed). Amidst all the outrage, a number of things got lost. First off, the joke was directed as much at Alex Rodriguez as it was at an (unidentified) Palin daughter. Second, you may recall that one of Sarah Palin’s daught was, indeed, “knocked up.” This would be the daughter who was trotted out at any number of political functions as a prop. The daughter who was applauded for her “choice” in having and keeping the baby — a choice that Mom works hard to deny to anyone else’s daughter (and, as she admitted, a choice she allowed herself). The daughter who was pushed into an “engagement” that ended about as suddenly as the campaign, much to no one’s surprise.

And, for that matter, despite the usual far-right cries about the “Hollywood/New York elite,” the term “knocked up” is one you’re more likely to hear in — say — the backwarers of Wasilla than midtown Manhattan. Furthermore, the term does not in any way imply rape (statutory or otherwise); in nearly all cases of a girl getting “knocked up,” it’s entirely consensual.

Actually, I think Letterman’s joke would gone better something like this:  “Sarah Palin was at the Yankees’ game today. And during the 7th inning stretch, Alex Rodrigeuz hit on her.” OK, that’s almost as stupid (and not terribly funny) as the original version. And a whole lot less offensive.

This whole episode just demonstrates, once again, how tone-deaf and just plain stupid Palin is. We learned that during the campaign. No amount of cramming on current events and foreign affairs can make up for the lack of an intelligent, curious mind. It’s so blatantly obvious that Palin is just using this incident (and, not coincidentally, exploiting her kids again) to get more attention. She seems to think that any publicity is good for her, no matter how much it reveals her intellectural shortcomings.

In the middle of all this, Sarah Palin has been ranting and raving about “the gov’ment” coming to get you. Railing about “the gov’ment” bailing out the states, and then they’ll be telling ou how to live your life. Has anyone told her that, as Governor of Alaska, she is the government. Interesting how all these “anti-government” officials are the ones whining about how thy don’t get back more money than they send to Washington (as if there weren’t any national expenses, like the military, or road and bridges, or protecting the ports, etc. that need to be funded). It’s always the states that actually do get more back than they send that are complaining. The states that contribute more — well, you don’t generally hear them complaining.

I suppose I just contributed to the extension of Sarah Palin’s 15-minutes of infamy by writing this piece as well. Sorry about that. Now could someone please make her go away? Please?

More from the Dark Side

Dana Gould (one of my favorite comedians, who once-upon-a-time I used to actually sort of know) put it best on Real Time With Bill Maher:  all the arguments in favor of torture say that it makes us a safer country, but no one ever says it makes us a better country.

The release of memos from the thankfully-departed Bush/Cheney regime shouldn’t shock anyone, at least with respect to what was being done in our name. We more or less knew this already, though some of the details are more frightening than anyone’s paranoid delusions. What they do show, however, is the absolute depth of incompentence in that Administration. If you’ve ever read  the opinions of the Supreme Court (which are available online for all to see), you get an idea of good legal writing consists of.  The best opinions read like a history lesson. The Supremes are big on historical precedence, and they frequently take into account the preponderence of non-legal history in considering their rulings.

Contrast that with the legal memos prepared by the Bushies. A cursory Google search would have turned up the fact that proposed torture tactics were borrowed from such upstanding moral sources as the Japanese during WWII and the North Koreans during the Korean War. We prosecuted those crimes as war-crimes. The memos could have traced the history of water boarding back to its invention by the Spanish Inquisition, and would have turned up that torture is considered useless by most interrogation experts. Instead, the memos read like what they are:  an attempt to wrap blatantly illegal practices in some “fig leaf” of legal reasoning.

Lately, there has been a parade of officials who could have provided the evidence that using these “harsh interrogation techniques” would only harm efforts to develop real intelligence. Writing in NY Times, Ali Soufan (the FBI interrogator who actually got information out of Abu Zubaydah) reports that all the useful information was gleaned through traditional interrogation. The FBI was convinced that Zubaydah had told them everything he knew (including naming Kalid Shaikh Mohammad as the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks and Jose “The Dirty Bomber” Padilla), but back at CIA headquarters, they were convinced he must know more. After hundred of sessions of waterboarding and other “enhanced techniques,” no more information was produced.

Philip Zelikow, that wild-eyed radical who served as Condolezza Rice’s deputy at the State Department has also written in the Times  about how torture techniques didn’t reveal any significant information. Cheney and the defenders of torture always refer to the “ticking bomb and this guy knows where it is” situation, but that only happens on TV. Then again, considering the number of times that Jack Bauer has been cited by Republicans in Washington and elsewhere, perhaps they really do have a hard time telling reality from fiction. (They do realize that Jack Bauer is a fictional character, don’t they?) In the real world, that “ticking time bomb” situation pretty much never happens. (And how does anyone know that someone has critical information ? — see above re: Zubaydah).

It’s not a question of “being safer” or “being better.” The evidence keeps piling up, higher and deeper, that our national descent into the netherworld not only didn’t make us safer, it also didn’t make us better. Far from it.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Among the seemingly endless stream of bad news comes this “bright spot:”  Apps for the iPhone are selling briskly. For those who have been inhabiting a cave in Wazeristan for the past couple of years, apps are the little software programs for the iPhone (and some other smartphones from the non-Apple world). Some of them are downright useful, like the app that records the GPS coordinates of where you left you car, and provides a map with step-by-step instructions to find your way back. I’ll admit I could use that one.

But now, two appmakers are considering heading to court over….wait for it, wait for it…. farts. It seems that iFart is one of the biggest-selling iPhone apps. Yep, an app that makes your phone fart. Americans have, it seems, become too lazy to even pass gas on their own. Considering that the American ass has been expanding in indirect proportions to the economy as a whole (not to mention the proliferation of hot air on cable news channels), you would think producing farts would not be much of a problem. More and more, I’m starting to think that Wall-E was not much a cautionary tale and a documentary.

Now the company that produces a Pull My Finger fart app is threatening to sue the makers of iFart. This ranks right up there with Congress debating a bill about monkeys (true!).

I’m sure somewhere, someone has come up with an app to turn your iPhone into sex toy (iDildo?). Personally, I suggest all those app-crazy iPhoners just set your phone to “vibrate,” shove their phone up their ass, and have a friend call. If you’re not too busy having your phone fart, that is.

Bankrupt Ideology

There was something telling in Senator Judd Gregg’s comments as he bowed out as President Obama’s second try at a Commerce Secretary. Gregg said, “I’m a fiscal conversative. as everyone knows, a fairly strong one and it just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this cabinet or any cabinet” [emphasis mine]. Hmm….this part of his comment hasn’t been picked up on by the bloviators on cable news or even in the press (NY Times included).

What Senator Gregg seems to be saying is, “I have this rigid ideology, but I recognize that my rigid ideology is totally at odds with actually running the government. So, even though I know that what I believe in is a total fantasy and never will actually work, I’m going to stick to what I believe in.”

This likewise seems to be the Republican party line:  we’re going to stick to what we believe in, despite all evidence that what we believe in is flat-out wrong. Thus, the constant refrain of “tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts” despite all the evidence that tax cuts provide the least economic stimulus. Thus the recent statements to the effect that “FDR’s economic policies caused the Great Depression,” ignoring the fact that the Depression started in 1929, and FDR didn’t assume office until March 1933.

It’s said that stupidity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Republicans are stupid. Either that, or they’re willing to tear the whole country down in service of rigid ideology. Maybe they really are learning from The Taliban.

Why Are My Newscasts Singing?

I really don’t need my newscasts to have theme songs. NBC’s NY station is trilling, “We’re FOUR New York” these days. Thanks heavens Brain Williams has the good sense to not sing, but merely recite some cutesy line (“This year, I’m not for any particular candidate, but I’m four New York” was the line during the election season). Alas, the same can’t be said for Sue “What the fuck are you doing?” Simmons, who seems to curse far better than she sings. (After about 100 years anchoring, you’d think she’d have learned to never assume your mic is off when on the set!). Continue reading

On behalf of a potentially grateful nation, please shut up already

Candidate #1:  Sarah Palin. When she burst on the national scene, she seemed to be a bit ditzy, horribly uninformed, and downright unqualified for even being the mayor of the meth capital of Alaska, let alone anything else. All right, I thought, perhaps this is a bit harsh. We don’t really know much about her; first impressions can be misleading. Continue reading

Further Proof That Sarah Palin Is A Bimbo

OK, first off, “bimbo” doesn’t have to be a sexist term. There are male bimbos as well as female bimbo. Bimbodom knows no gender (at least in this context). When Sarah Palin firm burst onto the national scene (you know, the day before she was nominated to be the Republican candidate for Vice President), the right-wing bloviators immediately piled onto the allegedly “liberal media” (that would be what? The Washington Post and The New York Times?) for supposedly piling on to poor Sarah. I mean, really, the nerve of journalists to actually try to report on someone that no one knows anything about, who’s running for the second highest office in the land. Continue reading

It Really Is A Great Country

As I write this, they’re dancing in Grant Park in Chicago. Barack Obama has just been declared the winner of the Presidential election. But the real winner is the United States of America. Looking at the faces in the crowd, you see the face of America, every conceivable range of ages, races, ethnicities, orientations, styles of dress — you name it. The other thing you see if joy; pure, unrelieved joy. Cheers and smiles and dancing in the park, the same park where in 1968, it was mostly young students being beaten senseless by mostly-white policemen. Times have changed in deed. And, I am reminded, this is in marked contrast to the television screens filled with undisguised hatred that we saw at the Republican convention. I’m sure you will not be hearing Democrats saying that all Republicans should leave the country, as we frequently have heard from some (though certainly not all) Republicans.

Hope is a strange thing, fragile like the peace in Iraq; easily destroyed. Still, it’s a welcome feeling among the uncertainty of our times. Perhaps it really is possible to remain optimistic in the face of enormous problems. This will be one of the challenges facing President Obama. And I hope that the old John McCain finds his way back:  the decent, thoughtful man who isn’t afraid to stand up for noble causes. We are, after all, going to need all the good minds, and John McCain has been among those before, and I hope will be in the future.

During this campaign, the country seems to have turned many corners. The idea of a woman, or a person of color running for President will never be an issue again (though some of the Muslim faith probably still has a problem). The use of personal smears and invoking God to get elected is probably (hopefully) dead and buried.

But right now, let’s take a moment to enjoy the great fortune of the country and remember the words of John Adams:  united we stand. And tomorrow we can start working on the problems. I’m usually the cynic, but tonight, hey — ain’t it great to be an American?

Spreading the Bullshit

In the last desperate gasp as the wave prepares to sweep over his campaign, John McCain has been running around the so-called battleground states claiming, “Barack Obama wants to spread the wealth; I want to create wealth.”

Has anyone else noticed that word wealth in there. Yeah, the operative term is spread the wealth. This is a concept quite different from “taking your money and giving it to someone else (meaning, you know, people who are worse off than you). That is, unless you happen to be Bill Gates or Mike Bloomberg or Ted Kennedy or, um…. Barack and Michelle Obama. Yep, Barack is proposing to tax himself and spread some of his wealth around. He realizes that part of the reason that his family has done so well is the support, infrastructure, etc. provided by tax dollars. He thinks that now that he’s doing so well, it wouldn’t hurt him to pay just a teeny bit more in taxes.

McCain, of course, is espousing policies to create wealth, though mostly for those who have, say, seven houses, and perhaps those who are already making multi-million dollar salaries. I don’t know about you, but if my income should suddenly jump over $250,000 (unlikely), I’ll gladly pay that extra 2% or 3% of the amount over $250,000.

And all this bullshit — and that’s what it is — about “raising taxes taking away the incentive to make money” is just that. True, there are some economic idiots who think that way. But what rational person would say, “Gee, if I expand my business and my income goes up another $100,000 this year, I’ll only get to keep $78,000, instead of the $81,000 I would keep now. No thanks — please don’t let me have that $78,000, because I don’t want to pay  few more bucks in taxes.” Similarly, capital gains taxes are taxes on profits. You only pay them when you make money — lots of it. You still keep most of it. You’re way ahead.

Barack Obama may want to spread some of the wealth around. McCain, proving his knowledge of economics is pretty weak, just keeps spreading the bullshit instead. This time, at least, it seems not to be working.