Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:38 pm

Deconstructing “Gimme Shelter”

Filed under: Cool!,Fun — Lex @ 8:38 pm
Tags: ,

I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” but I could have been no older than 12. What I do remember is that I literally got chills and goosebumps when I heard it — the chord progressions, Keef’s haunting guitar, Mick Jagger’s even more haunting harmonica evoking everything from barroom fights to air-raid warnings, the powerful vocals of Mick and Merry Clayton (whose own cover of the song was disappointing in comparison), Nicky Hopkins’ pounding piano, the utter implacability of Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman’s rhythm work — all added up to Bad News: A storm is threatening, ready or not, and no one is safe because rape and murder, children — from the Vietnam War to Altamont to race riots and assassinations to domestic violence — are just a shot, or a kiss, away. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Mick Jagger adopted the persona of the devil, but this song is the one that made me believe.

Well, someone has gone to the trouble of un-mixing the song, breaking out the vocals, Keith’s first guitar track, Keith’s second guitar track along with the piano, the bass, and then the drums in separate tracks here. (There’s just enough bleed-through from other tracks on some of the individual tracks to give you an idea of where you are in the song, although the vocal track contains stretches of pure silence.)

I’m struck by the power of the individual tracks — for example, Micky and Merry’s vocals are heavily reverbed, of course, but Charlie Watts’s drumming sounds just as if you’re standing right next to the trap set while he plays. I’m also struck by some of the imperfections that were left in. Some of Wyman’s bass notes in the first 30 or so seconds are flat, for example. Would the song have been as powerful if it had been more technically precise? Hard to know and, 40 years on, harder still to care. Rush, after all, has recorded dozens of technically precise albums; I respect them, even like some of their work, but they don’t move me and never have.

“Gimme Shelter” always will.

In which I practice psychiatry/psychology without a license

I have no background or training in the field of mental health, but 25 years of journalism and 50 years of living have me convinced that if the field is going to remove Narcissistic Personality Disorder from the DSM and add introversion, then the appropriate medical term for the entire profession would be “whacked.”

Friday, November 26, 2010 3:02 pm


Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 3:02 pm

Me, Mom & sibs, Thanksgiving 2010

Slap one on the scanner next time you fly

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 2:56 pm
Tags: ,

































(Sent by my friend Valerie; if anyone knows the creator, I’ll be happy to credit him/her.)


Thursday, November 25, 2010 12:52 am

That sucked. But it could have sucked worse.

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 12:52 am

Been quiet around here lately, no?

Long story short: Serious computer problems, initially (and correctly, but incompletely) attributed to a failing video card, finally traced to an OS install grown so ragged that outside of safe mode the thing couldn’t even stay unfrozen more than two minutes.

Days (and nights, several nights) of work compressed into the following: I found freeware that will do a good backup even in Windows safe mode, backed up my data, wiped my drive, did a full reinstall from the original, 6-year-old recovery discs, downloaded two service packs and about 115 other patches, replaced the video card and got a driver upgrade for it.

Now? I’ve got a blinding headache from staring at the monitor while various things downloaded and installed. But I’ve also got a 6-year-old desktop that’s running like … well, not a brand-new Lamborghini, but maybe a gently used Mustang. I’ve got high-def video besides. I just need to copy my data back from the backup hard drive, reinstall a few pieces of freeware and I’m done.

(Yes, yes, I know, Macs don’t have these problems. Hey, if it were up to me, I’d go with Ubuntu. But it ain’t entirely up to me.)

Special shout-outs go to David and DivaGeek for their tech support via phone, e-mail and SMS.

Assuming I get into grad school, I’ll need to buy a new machine next summer anyway. But the key words there are “next summer.” I needed for this one to last until then. Now maybe it will.

For that and health and freedom and employment and all our other blessings, Lord, we give Thee thanks. Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 12:45 am

“TSA: keeping America safe from menstruating women and incontinent senior citizens.”

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 12:45 am
Tags: ,

My mother sent this letter to the editor of The Charlotte Observer earlier tonight. Since I think there’s roughly zero chance it will see print in any traditional daily newspaper in its original form, I asked her if I could publish it here, and she graciously consented.

I’m a frequent flyer, a consultant living in Davidson with clients all over the US and in Europe. I’m also a senior citizen with 11 grandchildren and two hip replacements. Since 9/11 I’ve had to undergo hundreds of manual screenings by TSA. On November 15 my husband and I flew to Austin, Texas, on a business trip. Even though I’m a news junkie, I had heard nothing of the new so-called “enhanced pat down” procedures until I was subjected to them at the Charlotte airport. (When I got a copy of USA Today that morning inside security, I read the first story on it.) So I was shocked when the agent began, without warning, aggressively rubbing my body with the front and back of her hands – breasts, waist, buttocks, and legs with 4 firm touches to the genital area (once sliding up each leg from the back, once on each leg from the front). When I protested, I was told these new procedures were put in place October 25. I asked about the wand which I was accustomed to. No more wanding, I was told. Either this “pat down” (the media need to make it clear, there is no patting – never has been – only rubbing, only now much more aggressively) or the body scanner, which was not at my security station. When I said there is a question of risk with the scanners, the male supervisor who had joined us told me I could “choose another means of travel.” Obviously since I live in Charlotte and my clients are so far away, that’s not an option – I would have to close my business if I could not fly.

For those who have not experienced this procedure, the media should make it clear: If you are anywhere else in the US and a stranger touches you in this fashion, they would be charged with assault. The new procedure is not just a little “enhancement” – this is government Doublespeak – but a major shift to an aggressive body search. Even though the prior procedures were offensive, I and most other passengers submitted to them believing it was the best way to keep us all safe. These new procedures are more than offensive – they are criminal.

Even before the change, a TSA agent in Charlotte in September, after wanding me, asked me to step into a private area. When I asked the purpose, she said she had “felt something unusual” in my bra. (The underwire and metal adjusting clips for the straps always set off the wand.) I protested this additional search, but protesting or questioning TSA always results in a belligerent response – always, in every airport. She insisted that I go to a private area with her and another female agent and lift my shirt so that she could examine the “unusual” something. I continued to object, to no avail. The other agent probed and said she felt nothing unusual, but the first agent would not clear me to fly until I had lifted my shirt so that she could see my bra. The “something unusual” was the end of my bra strap – a 2-inch strip of polyester. America, now don’t you feel safer?

On our return trip from Austin on November 17, I was once again subjected to this assault. Austin has no body scanners. This time I requested that my husband join us so that he could witness what the agent was doing. While her search was just as aggressive and invasive as the one in Charlotte, it was quite different in technique. As I have flown through dozens of airports in the US since 9/11, I continue to find great variation in the manual body search techniques. This time I asked the agent what would happen if they searched a woman passenger and felt a thick sanitary napkin or Depends. She looked uncomfortable with my question, but said, “I’d have to ask her to go back and remove it and come back through security.” I persisted. “So you’d make a woman who was menstruating go take off her bloody napkin and come through security, possibly soiling herself?” “Yes,” she said, “but that hasn’t happened.” I persisted. “And you’d make an elderly woman or man go remove their Depends and come back through security, probably wetting themselves before you’d let them board?” She hesitated, flushed, and said, “Yes.” TSA. Keeping America safe from menstruating women and incontinent senior citizens.

Janet Napolitano tried to reassure us that the aggressive body searches (please don’t call them pat downs any more) are done by a person of the same gender, and that we can always request a private screening. My response is first that assault is assault no matter who does it. Second, I don’t want a private screening unless I’m forced to by a TSA agent because if my human rights are going to be violated, I want as many witnesses as possible. The last thing I want is to be violated in private by a government agent, with no witnesses except another government agent.

To all those who protested “big government run amok” in the last election, this is the worst of big government. It is important to note that these screeners are low-wage, unskilled, poorly trained people who have been given enormous power over the basic human rights of Americans, with no experience, insight, or skill on how to use that power with the great care that it demands. (I have some ability to evaluate the evidence of their training as I have provided training to corporations and governments for over 30 years.) Unlike health care professionals, or even law-enforcement officers, they do not receive years of training and mentoring, and they are not screened for judgment and sensitivity or anything like customer relations skills.

For once I find myself agreeing with Charles Krauthammer (11/18/10):

“We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety – 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling – when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches.”

And make a cancer survivor remove her prosthetic breast. And break a man’s colostomy bag. And make a woman remove her skirt. And probe a grandmother’s bra. And make a menstruating woman and incontinent grandpa soil themselves. And traumatize a rape victim by having a uniformed official probe her genitals.

There has to be a better solution. A cleared flier’s list, perhaps. (I once was cleared to work on site at the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge and Savannah River. But I’m not cleared to board a plane.) Profiling, as Krauthammer suggested. We’ll never make flying 100 percent safe, and we’ll never come up with a perfect screening process, but we have to find a better way. This “enhanced” process is handing the terrorists a great victory – the brutal stripping of our human dignity and human rights.

Emmie Alexander

UPDATE: Link to Krauthammer column added.

UPDATE: The Political Carnival picks this up. Thanks, Laffy!

Friday, November 19, 2010 8:46 pm

Yo, David Gergen:

David Gergen used to be a respected, moderate Republican eminence. Then he went to work for Clinton. Now, he dispenses incredibly tired, out of touch conventional wisdom and is so out of touch that he doesn’t even realize that those things dangling from the tip of Matt Taibbi’s K-bar? Are his testicles:

Gergen: If Obama is going to govern as well as prosper politically, he has to pivot back toward the center. He must embrace some sort of Social Security reform, just as Clinton did with NAFTA, even though his base will scream about it. He must also enlarge his inner circle by bringing in people who have the trust of the business community. One of the surprises for me has been that even though Obama rescued the banks, the alienation of the business community has reached a point that is threatening the recovery. Business people are sitting on a lot of money and not investing it because there is so much uncertainty about taxes, health care, financial regulations and energy. Obama’s got to be more of a partner with the business community.

Taibbi: I have to disagree. The notion that the business community is disappointed with Obama because of what he’s done in the past two years, I just don’t see that. They’re sitting on a lot of money, but they’re sitting on it because he gave it to them. [And because those consumers who can spend are so terrified that soon they won’t be able to that they won’t spend. — Lex]

Gergen: You don’t think they’re disappointed?

Taibbi: I’m sure they would have preferred the Republican agenda, where they would get 100 percent of what they want. Under Obama, they only got 90 percent. He bailed out the banks and didn’t put anybody in jail. He gave $13 billion to Goldman Sachs under the AIG bailout alone and then did nothing when Goldman turned around and gave themselves $16 billion in bonuses. He passed a financial-reform bill that contains no significant reforms and doesn’t really address the issue of “too big to fail.” FDR, in the same position, passed radical reforms that really put Wall Street and the business community under his heel.

Gergen: If you talk to many CEOs, you’ll find that they’re very hostile toward Obama.

Taibbi: Who cares what these CEOs think? I don’t care — they’re 1/1,000th of a percent of the electorate. They’re the problem. Obama needs to get other people’s votes, not their votes.

Gergen: It’s not their votes he needs to get — it’s their investments and jobs.

Q: In 2008, Obama managed to win over both the financial sector and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Now he seems to have pissed off both ends of that coalition.

(Pollster Peter) Hart: There’s a fascinating point from the exit polls that supports part of what Matt is saying. When you ask voters who is most to blame for the current economic crisis, 35 percent say it’s Wall Street bankers, 29 percent say it’s George W. Bush and 23 percent say it’s Barack Obama. However, among those who say it’s Wall Street bankers, 56 percent voted for the Republicans in this election. So go figure.

That said, I worry that if the president and the Democrats were to follow Matt’s advice, they would be appealing to the smallest segment of the electorate. Right now Obama has the support of 85 percent of Democrats. If you want to get America back to work, you don’t want to put the people who have the ability to invest on the other side of their fence.

Taibbi: So if we put people in jail for committing fraud during the mortgage bubble, we’re endangering our ability to win over the CEOs? Obama should have made sure that there are consequences for people who committed crimes. Instead, he pursued a policy of nonaction, and that left him vulnerable with ordinary people who wanted an explanation for why the economy went off the cliff.

Gergen: I don’t think his problem is he hasn’t put enough people in jail. I agree that when people commit fraud, they ought to spend some time in the slammer. But there’s a tendency in today’s Democratic Party to turn away from someone like Bob Rubin because of his time at Citigroup. I served with him during the Clinton administration, when the country added 22 million new jobs, and Bob Rubin was right at the center of that. He was an invaluable adviser to the president, and he is now arguing that one of the reasons this economy is not coming back is that the business community is sitting on money because of the hostility they feel coming from Washington.

Taibbi: I’m sorry, but Bob Rubin is exactly what I’m talking about. Under Clinton, he pushed this enormous remaking of the rules for Wall Street specifically so the Citigroup merger could go through, then he went to work for Citigroup and made $120 million over the next 10 years. He helped push through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which deregulated the derivatives market and created the mortgage bubble. Then Obama brings him back into the government during the transition and surrounds himself with people who are close to Bob Rubin. That’s exactly the wrong message to be sending to ordinary voters: that we’re bringing back this same crew of Wall Street-friendly guys who screwed up and got us in this mess in the first place.

Gergen: That sentiment is exactly what the business community objects to.

Taibbi: [Expletive] the business community!

Gergen: [Expletive] the business community? That’s what you said? That’s the very attitude the business community feels is coming from many Democrats in Washington, including some in the White House. There’s a good reason why they feel many Democrats are hostile — because they are.

Taibbi: It’s hard to see how this administration is hostile to business when the guy it turns to for economic advice is the same guy who pushed through a merger and then went right off and made $120 million from a decision that helped wreck the entire economy.

The number and importance of the key facts and concepts that Gergen demonstrates he either doesn’t know about or doesn’t care about here is mind-boggling. Add to that the fact that he automatically presumes that if the CEOs in his circle differ with the president, why, they must be right and the president must be wrong, and you’ve got a guy who clearly will never be mistaken for a card-carrying member of the Reality-Based Community. He will, however, continue to be mistaken, over and over, by our lousy excuse of a media for someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.

UPDATE: John Cole adds:

David Gergen makes up his own reality and responds to feelings and trite beltway babble. Matt Taibbi looks around him and reacts to evidence and data. David Gergen is considered a very serious person and advises Presidents. Matt Taibbi is not considered serious because he says [expletive].

We’re so screwed as a nation.


Friday, November 12, 2010 9:26 pm


Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 9:26 pm

Went to get ice cream earlier and stumbled upon this:

That, friends, is a 2011 Lamborghini Gallega with a 10-cylinder, 5.2-liter engine, 6-forward-speed transmission (it goes in reverse, too, but, c’mon, why?) and permanent 4-wheel drive. It will go from 0 to 100 kmh (62.5 mph) in 3.7 seconds and 0 to 200 kmh (125 mph) in 11.8 seconds. The wheelbase is a shade over 8 feet. It sits less than 4 feet high, but it’s so low and tight that standing next to it you get the weird illusion that you could somehow pick it up and put it into your pocket. It’ll get a shade under 20 mpg at a sane cruising speed if my metric-to-English conversion is close, but, really, kids, if you’re driving a Lamborghini, do you care about fuel consumption?

List: $225,000. As shown: About $250,000. FTC disclosure: I received no compensation for this announcement except the small thrill associated with standing a couple of inches from automotive greatness.

Thursday, November 11, 2010 10:05 pm

Blind pig, meet acorn. Whoops. You missed.

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 10:05 pm

Andrew Sullivan has been so wrong about so much for so long that it’s almost tempting to think maybe he was just due to get one right:

If a black Republican president had come in, helped turn around the banking and auto industries (at a small profit!), insured millions through the private sector while cutting Medicare, overseen a sharp decline in illegal immigration, ramped up the war in Afghanistan, reinstituted pay-as-you go in the Congress, set up a debt commission to offer hard choices for future debt reduction, and seen private sector job growth outstrip the public sector’s in a slow but dogged recovery, somehow I don’t think that Republican would be regarded as a socialist.

Only here’s the thing. More than one thing, in fact:

First, the banking industry hasn’t been turned around. Its accounting methods have been turned around, which is the only reason why most of the big banks are still considered solvent. But the industry still has a ton of crap on its books for which it has yet to honestly account, for the simple reason that stockholders, bondholders and execs would take it in the teeth if the industry honestly accounted for that crap, and that simply won’t do.

But the bigger problem is this: The Tea Party’s behavior this year suggests that Sullivan’s overall assertion is flat wrong. Even such conservative Republican stalwarts as Utah Sen. Bob Bennett and South Carolina Rep. Jack Inglis have been sent packing by TPers this year. You can’t just be Republican. You can’t just be conservative. You need more. Exactly what “more” is varies from race to race and state to state, but it looks to me as if you also need a certain nihilist mindset at a time when we need every bit of anti-nihilism we can get to preserve our economy and much of what is best about our society and our country.

So while it would be nice to think that Sullivan’s assertion is correct — that, in other words, much of the criticism directed at Obama is a sort of partisan kabuki independent of the actual facts and issues — the truth is worse than that. The truth is that a significant part of one of the nation’s two major parties is made up of people who actively oppose doing things that will make our national situation better and actively support doing things guaranteed to make things worse.

They’re led by people like South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint who either actually believe that doing the wrong thing is doing the right thing or who know damn well they’re doing the wrong thing but don’t care because they dislike some of the things that are best about this country and/or stand to gain financially from their destruction.

George W. Bush drove this country into a ditch. These guys want to dynamite what’s left. And for at least the next two years, they may well get a chance.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010 10:25 pm

Happy birthday to some great Americans ..

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 10:25 pm

… in this case, my nephew Kevin Ange and everyone else, here and gone on ahead to walk cosmic point, in the U.S. Marine Corps, 235 years strong today.

Don’t look back

John Cole sums it up:

So the CIA breaks the law and tortures people, films it, and then destroys the evidence, and the Justice Department just shrugs and says “Meh.”

Keep this in mind the next time some jackass from either party or this administration starts finger-wagging at another nation regarding torture.

Or accountability. Or consequences. Or the rule of law. Or unicorns. Or …


Just die already, Washington Post edition (redux)

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:36 pm
Tags: , ,

Anne Laurie catches the Post dutifully whoring for our plutonomic corporate overlords:

The chief counsel for the president’s oil spill commission said Monday that concerns about money didn’t drive key decisions made on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the April 20 blowout that caused a massive oil spill and killed 11 people.

The conclusion is good news for BP, which has been widely criticized for letting concerns about the roughly $1.5 million a day cost of the drilling rig affect choices that might have prevented the blowout.

“To date, we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety,” said Fred Bartlit, general counsel for the National Commission on the BPDeepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

He added that he didn’t believe that rig workers “want to risk their lives or the lives of their buddies.” He said: “I’ve been on a lot of rigs, and I don’t believe people sit there and say, ‘This is really dangerous, but the guys in London will make more money.’ We don’t see a concrete situation where people made a trade-off of safety for dollars.”

Laurie calls it “three-card monte,” and, indeed, the misdirection is a sight to behold. We (including government inspectors) have been talking about senior management and company policies, and yet somehow the Post manages to make it all about the roughnecks on the rigs and their immediate supervisors:

The story is no longer: BP corporate policy was to cut corners wherever possible in order to improve the profits available to the executives in the corner office, a policy that eventually led to the deaths of 19 workers and an enormous environmental disaster.

The new, improved, plutonomy-friendly story is: It would be cruel and unproductive to blame well-intentioned middle managers and hard-working rig employees of deliberately making decisions that would kill their fellows and negatively affect the company’s bottom line.

This is why the ‘Kaplan Daily’ is still publishing. In the days of a dying empire, the strategic skills—and strong stomach—required to re-write current events to better serve the Narrative preferred by the ruling class are a very, very valuable asset.

Yup. The one redeeming factor is that when the Post’s financial breakdown  finally leads  corporate parent Kaplan to usher its newsroom denizens onto the street (yet again), these culprits, like Winston Smith, will never have seen it coming.



Why Tom Levenson wants to have Benjamin Franklin’s baby and you might, too.

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 8:16 pm
Tags: , ,

Levenson, writing at Balloon Juice, analyzes a role Ben Franklin played in the American Revolution that is certainly not as well understood or widely taught in American history as it should be: His ideas about money and finance, from anti-counterfeiting tricks to currency inflation, made the American Revolution financially possible against the world’s wealthiest empire.

Obviously, we’re not in the same economic circumstances as we were in 1775, but the desperation level is recognizable. And Franklin’s thinking and logic both are applicable to a certain extent today and are totally at odds with all the ideas of the fringe-right-wing, IGMFY crowd. Levenson writes:

Benjamin Franklin, the greatest mind of the founding generation of the American experiment (yes, I rank him ahead of Jefferson), approved of sharply progressive taxation to pay for crucial functions of government. 

More particularly:  Franklin understood and approved of the idea that the inflationary tax created by the collapse of the infant American dollar not just did but should hit the rich harder than the poor.

It made sense, he argued that these wealthy men should bear a proportionately greater share of the cost of the war, not just or even primarily because they had more scratch to spare, but because they had the most to gain from independence.

The connection from revolutionary times to ours is obvious, right?

If not: over the last decade we’ve fought two wars and transferred an enormous amount of capital from the middle class to the rich – and the wealthiest among us, have not been asked (or rather, have refused) to make any even remotely proportional contribution to the nation’s security and long term fiscal health.

Franklin would have been appalled.  He knew, as plenty do still, that achieving great common purpose takes cash and commitment from the whole damn society.  When the wealthiest opt out, take their stacks of coins and go home, they may protect their short-term interests – but they kill, however fast or slow, whatever hopes we may have of advancing to that “more perfect union” he and his first imagined.

So you can take your money and go home, but from beyond the grave, Ben Franklin will say you’re not a real American if you do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 11:50 pm

Why everyone should have a 9-year-old

Filed under: Hooper — Lex @ 11:50 pm

Me: (sigh)

Hooper: You still sick, Daddy?

Me: No, buddy. I’m fine.

Hooper: You tired?

Me: Nah …. I’m just thinking about all the stuff I need to do tonight and all the stuff I want to do and how the stuff I need to do isn’t necessarily the stuff I want to do and … I don’t know.

Hooper (after a second or so of thought): Do the enjoyable stuff. Just a suggestion.

Epic litigation ahead

Filed under: Fun,Housekeeping — Lex @ 5:49 am

I attempted to do a little financial maintenance last night and ran into a perfect storm: display-driver problems, bank website problems AND Quicken problems. God, I finally had to conclude, did not want me paying bills.

Considering the case law, such as it is, I eagerly await the litigation between the Almighty and my creditors.

Sunday, November 7, 2010 8:17 pm

The Williams/Olbermann Rule

I’m on record as saying that journalists should never give money to political candidates, period. And I personally still believe that.

However, this is an issue on which the ground is shifting beneath the feet of all the players — journalists, the corporations that employ them, the pseudo-journalists who pretend to be journalists and the poor voters who, to the extent they even have time to care, are trying desperately to make sense of the issues of the day while some people try to inform them and others, with infinitely deeper pockets, try to mislead them. And when the ground stops moving, I predict, we will have arrived at a new consensus, one different from the position I currently hold. To the extent that that fact even matters, I’m OK with it.

I believe journalists shouldn’t give money to or otherwise actively support one political candidate over another. But why? Not because I believe in journalistic objectivity; “objectivity” is a myth, so journalists don’t owe those they cover, and write/broadcast for, objectivity. Rather, they owe them fairness and accuracy, both factual and contextual.

And they owe those folks one other thing: to the greatest degree possible, they must be, and appear, independent of those they cover. That means, to the greatest extent possible, not relying on them for income or support — nor giving the same to them except as an unintended consequence of an honest effort by an honest broker of information intended for the good of the general public.

This is an ideal, of course, not a practical standard. No matter who you are, you bring certain opinions and preconceptions to the way in which you interact with the world. Yet for a long time, people in the journalism bidness have adhered to the polite fiction that objectivity was, in fact, possible. NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen (full disclosure: a real-life acquaintance) coined the phrase “the view from nowhere” to describe that position.

What’s happening in journalism now, among other things, is that both the feasibility and the desirability of the view from nowhere are coming under increasing question, albeit for different reasons from different people.

So what’s more feasible? A disclosure from journalists and journalism organizations of what their interests are. The problem is that no matter how broadly one might define those interests — pro-Mom, pro-apple pie — someone’s always going to disagree, and at some point, journos are going to have to decide, well, OK, if you don’t like that, tough, but it’s where I’m coming from so deal with it.

What might such a set of defined interests look like? I wouldn’t attempt to speak for the field of journalism even if I were still in it, so I’ll just throw out my own in the hope that at least some other people will find them useful.

  • “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” (OK, technically, that’s not mine.)
  • The rule of law, though imperfect, is a lot better than the alternative.
  • The Constitution, though imperfect, is a lot better than most of what preceded it. Accordingly, we need to follow it, and we need to think about changing it only when 1) we must do so to solve a serious public problem, and 2) that problem is so intractable that no lesser measure or combination of lesser measures will solve it.
  • Public business ought to be be done in public.
  • Public policy ought to be that which, in the long term, will benefit the greatest number.

I could probably come up with others, but you get the drift.

And with respect to journalism, if you’re claiming to be doing what you do for the benefit of the general public, then you need to do it. And if you’re doing what you do for someone else’s benefit, that’s OK. Just admit that.

Which is where we get into the difference between MSNBC and Fox, a difference that Olbermann and his bosses at MSNBC have trumpeted.

Fox, which markets itself as “fair and balanced” news, is in fact a highly sophisticated propaganda operation whose goal is to bring about government action resulting in public policy that will benefit a very few, mostly very wealthy people, often at the direct expense of the general public. Toward that end, it has allowed some of its on-air personalities to contribute to political candidates and allowed them to support campaigns. The network’s parent company itself has donated $1 million this year to the Republican Governors Association. And the network has retained as regular contributors several of the people most likely to compete successfully for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, which offers them the benefit of income and also contractually shields them from giving interviews to any other news outlets.

Sure, executives of MSNBC’s corporate parent, GE, have contributed to political candidates. But GE itself hasn’t injected itself into partisan politics in that way, nor have the other major networks’ corporate parents or the parent corporations of the largest newspaper chains.

And you know what? I don’t have a problem with what Fox is doing. What I have a problem with is their being dishonest about it.

Fellow MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow pointed out the difference here:

I know everyone likes to say, “Oh, cable news, it’s all the same. Fox and MSNBC — mirror images of each other.” But if you look at the long history of Fox hosts not just giving money to candidates, but actively endorsing campaigns and raising millions of dollars for politicians and political parties — whether it’s Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck or Mike Huckabee — and you’ll see that we can lay that old false equivalency to rest forever. There are multiple people being paid by Fox News to essentially run for office as Republican candidates. If you count not just their hosts but their contributors, you’re looking at a significant portion of the entire Republican lineup of potential [presidential] contenders for 2012.

They can do that because there’s no rule against that at Fox. Their network is run as a political operation. Ours isn’t. Yeah, Keith’s a liberal, and so am I. But we’re not a political operation — Fox is. We’re a news operation. The rules around here are part of how you know that.

Back before it was politically safe to do it, Keith Olbermann attracted the ire of the right-wing and a lot of others besides when he brought to light and raged against what he saw as the errors and sins of the previous presidential administration. Keith was also the one who brought to light Fox News’s water-carrying for the Bush Administration; he was the one whose point-of-view journalism exposed and put exclamation points on the problems of disguising a political operation as a news one, the model embraced by the guys across Sixth Avenue, at Fox.

Now, weirdly, it is Keith who is once again illustrating the difference between what he does at MSNBC — what we do here — and what goes on across the street.

If, in fact, MSNBC had a policy requiring its employees to clear political contributions with senior management, Olbermann should have followed it, and MSNBC was within its rights to discipline him for not doing so, just as NPR was within its rights to discipline Juan Williams for something he said in another forum. (I think it had unrelated and better reasons for firing him and didn’t think that what Williams said, in and of itself, merited firing).

But is anyone honestly surprised that Olbermann supported at least some particular Democratic candidates? Of course not. That’s because, unlike his competitors across Sixth Avenue, Olbermann has been relatively up-front about his principles. And so, albeit to a lesser degree, has his employer.

But here’s the bigger picture: To paraphrase Bogie, the political contributions of one anchor more or less don’t amount to a hill of beans in the crazy post-Citizens United v. FEC world. Keith Olbermann’s contributions aren’t going to win or lose anyone’s race.

So what should happen?

My ideal obviously isn’t happening. So let me suggest this: MSNBC, having made its legitimate point, should return Olbermann to the air if he wishes. And it should adopt a policy somewhat along these lines: All employees are free to donate to whomever they wish, within legal limits. And all employees must immediately report to the company information on those donations, and the company must post that information online and update it regularly (every business day, at a minimum, I would think). And this would be an excellent idea for any company of any size, whether it engages in journalism or not: As long as we’re still allowing private money to fund the public’s elections, the public needs to be able to know where that money is coming from and the interests of those providing it. Call it the Williams/Olbermann rule. (Actually, don’t; that sounds stupid.)

And in an exponentially growing news/information market, members of the public need all available means to figure out who is trying to use the First Amendment to hold government accountable and who’s doing something besides that, to determine which brokers of information are most disinterested — or, if those members of the public wish, which brokers of information have interests most closely aligned with their own.

UPDATE: MSNBC says Olbermann will be back on the air Tuesday night.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 8:02 pm

I hear some people are voting on some stuff somewhere …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 8:02 pm

… which matters not as much as the fact that it’s once again time to wish a happy birthday to a great American, a frequent Blog on the Run: Reloaded commenter and my friend and neighbor, Fred Gregory!

Monday, November 1, 2010 6:26 am

David Broder, go straight to Hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Filed under: Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 6:26 am
Tags: ,

Shorter Broder: We need another war so Americans can make more money.

No, really, go read it. That’s exactly what he says:

Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

Forget the laughable assertion that Washington Republicans will do anything besides oppose this president every step of the way on anything he might attempt to do, the man is arguing for war, which inevitably means the deaths of many innocent people, as an economic stimulus.

And whatever editorial gantlet Washington Post op-ed columns must run to get published apparently thought that was just fine. No one appears to have had the slightest moral qualm about this sentiment. No one appears to have thought, “Um, hey, are we sure we want to be advocating a war crime?”

Go to Hell, Broder. And The Washington Post should just die already.


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