Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cokie's Law, Or How the Facts Get Effed

“Cokie’s Law,” named for the condescending and compromised reporter Cokie Roberts, can be summed up thusly: “It doesn't matter if it is true, it is what people are talking about, so I have to talk about it as if it were true.”
Cokie’s Law was inspired by this comment from its namesake: "At this point, it doesn't much matter whether she said it or not because it's become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about."
 “Here’s how it works,” John Cole wrote. “Obama says something, Republicans completely lie about it, the media notes the lie is catching on without ever actually calling it a lie, the Democrats have to waste resources and respond to the lie, Republicans double down, this sucks the life out of everything else for a couple weeks, and in 10 years this will be conventional wisdom that Obama called Americans lazy, just like Al Gore claimed to invent the internet and the rest of the bullshit that wingnuts have adopted as received truths (snow in November refutes climate change, the more you cut taxes the more government revenue you raise, if a bombing campaign does not make people like you, it means you didn’t bomb hard enough or your targeting was off, liberals lost Viet Nam, waterboarding isn’t torture, etc.).

 We’re so fucked as a nation."
The online pundit Bluegal elaborated: “It’s the idea that if George Will says that Ebola is ‘in the air,” well then we have to discuss that as if it’s a real thing. If Phyllis Schlafly says that Ebola is being sent here by Obama to get back at us for Africa, we have to report on that. That’s what reporting is.”
Cokie’s Law is a particularly shameless example of false balance, which is the greatest fault in contemporary American news coverage. Also referred to as false equivalence, it’s a bias that lets reporters present an issue as being balanced between opposing viewpoints while ignoring the overwhelming weight of evidence and fact on one side. “Both Siderism” is another variation of this intellectual scam.
Paul Loop put it this way, explaining Politico, CNN, the news networks, the Sunday shows and the corporate-owned punditocracy in general: “When you assert that ’both sides are equally to blame,’ and they are obviously NOT equally to blame after a simple objective analysis, you are essentially covering for the side that deserves all the blame. In Politico's case, it's beyond obvious by now that putting lipstick on the conservative pig is an essential part of its mission.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Go West with a $30,000 Money Belt and a Gun

Independent and courageous, yet calculating and careful, Eugene Meyer told his disapproving dad that he wouldn’t be staying with the Lazard Freres financial firm, the place his father — who was a partner there — had chosen for him.
Meyer had parlayed $5,000 into $50,000 investing in railroad stocks, and told his father he intended to use it to buy himself a seat on the stock exchange.
In 1904, the 29-year-old opened Eugene Meyer and Company — the first Wall Street firm to do in-depth investment research on companies – and by 1906 had made several million dollars. He was wiped out twice in the volatile markets, but ended up with a large fortune that he used to indulge his penchant for American first editions, Durer and Whistler etchings and Lincoln letters.
“My father stayed especially close to his sister Ro,” his daughter Katherine recalled. “In 1906, when the terrible earthquake and fire hit San Francisco, cutting the city off from telephone communication with the outside world, he decided to go out there immediately and see what he could do to help. He boarded a train in New York with a money belt containing $30,000, a small suitcase and a pistol.
“Rosalie, Elise and their families were safe. They and their combined households, numbering 28, had taken shelter at Ro’s for two days. As the fire approached, they moved first to the Presidio, then to Golden Gate Park, then to a summer cottage at Fair Oaks that one of them had rented. There my father found them. Ro looked up as he approached and said, ‘Eugene, I knew you’d come.’”
Meyer’s daughter Katherine found him a chilly and distant father. But from him, Katherine Meyer Graham inherited the courage to stare down all President Nixon’s men and, as the publisher of the Washington Post, back her reporters and editors as they exposed the Watergate criminal conspiracy that forced Nixon to resign.
Source: “Personal History” by Katherine Graham

Lanterns and Leaves

In lanterns and leaves, October is arranged around orange.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

About a Boy Wonder

It may seem strange that the first boy sidekick to a superhero was Robin — hardly a match for a somber masked manhunter like Batman.
But as I recall from my introduction to the characters, when I was 5 or 6, the contrasting colors of their exciting caped costumes — mysterious blue and gray against vivid red, yellow and green — were a primary source of my fascination. Superman’s colorful costume was a big draw, and here were two of them for the same dime. The costume convention in superhero stories is the residual effect from their decades-long need to catch the eye of small children. And in any case, as for the world’s only 74-year-old Boy Wonder, you can hardly argue with success.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Conservatives Prefer Propaganda

There is no great mystery why here. Right wingers have to lie. If they ever let the public know what they REALLY have in mind for ordinary Americans, it would be torch-and-pitchfork time for their sorry asses. But if you remain unconvinced, here’s the proof.

Fox News: The Poor Should be Denied Water

Remember, when you're gasping for water, be sure to tune in to Fox News. They'll be glad to say, “Fuck you.” And we have more late-breaking news. This just in from the Fox News Department of Compassionate Conservatism.
“Fox News is one of the main factors, possibly the main factor, driving political polarization in this country,” Amanda Marcotte noted. “Huge chunks of this country listen mostly or solely to a relentless stream of misinformation coming from Fox News, coupled with warnings, implied or even baldly stated, to avoid listening to other, more factually accurate news sources. Unsurprisingly, then, more people are becoming conservatives and people who were already conservative are becoming more hardline about it. If you have any Fox viewers in your family, you probably already suspected this,but now Pew has given us the cold, hard facts to confirm your suspicions.”

To Decatur With Contempt

In 1985, T.J. Malone of 444 West Wood Street in Decatur, IL, thought it would be a good idea to write a letter to Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.
“Say, Cath, heard you and Ben B. were seen recently at a wild coke party, and someone noticed you both had a hammer and sickle tattooed in your butts.”
Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, who never took kindly to insults to Mrs. Graham, favored Malone with a reply.
“I have a hissing snake tattooed on my butt,” the former naval officer wrote. “And I don’t have a clue what Mrs. Graham has tattooed on hers. The president of the bank in Decatur, Illinois, is an old classmate and friend of mine. I think I’ll ask him to foreclose on your mortgage.”
In his memoir, The Good Life, Bradlee commented, “Childish, no doubt, until you realize that the polls so often cited to show public trust in the press declining include the views of T.J. Malone, and thousands of other nut cases.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Papers vs. the Pentagon

Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee after winning a legal running in the Pentagon Papers battles

During June of 1971, in an unprecedented push for prior restraint censorship, the U.S. government had sued to block the New York Times from any further publication of the Pentagon Papers — documents which contained the real history of the Vietnam war that the American government intended to keep secret from the American people.
“The Justice Department went to court and got an injunction against the Times, restraining a newspaper in advance from publishing specific articles, for the first time in the history f the republic,” Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee recalled. The New York Times had been silenced.
Following a furtive conversation with his old friend Daniel Ellsberg at an untraceable pay phone, Washington Post National Editor Ben Bagdikian flew to Boston to meet with the Pentagon insider. On the flight back the next morning, Bagdikian had two first-class seats — one for himself, and one for the large cardboard box containing more than 4,000 pages of Pentagon documents Ellsberg had given him.
The Post’s journalists went into a frenzy of research, working out of Bradlee’s house, not the office, as they prepared to pick up one of the most important news stories of the 20th century where the New York Times had been forced to leave off. Equally frenzied and confusing were the discussions with the Post’s lawyers.
“For the next 12 hours, the Bradlee library on N Street served as a remote newsroom, where editors and reporters started sorting, reading and annotating 4,400 pages, and the Bradlee living room served as a legal office, where lawyers and newspaper executives started the most basic discussions about the duty and right of a newspaper to publish, and the government’s right to prevent that publication, on national security grounds, or on any grounds at all, for those next 12 hours,” Bradlee wrote. “I went from one room to other, getting a sense of the story in one place, and a sense of the mood of the lawyers in the other.”
Finally a decision had to be made, and Publisher Katherine Graham had to make it. They got her on the phone and laid out the situation. She paused, and then said quickly, “Okay, I say let’s go. Let’s publish.”
“I dropped the phone like a hot potato and shouted the verdict, and the room erupted in cheers,” Bradlee wrote. “The cheers were instinctive. In those first moments, it was enough for all of us — including, let it be said quickly, the lawyers who had been arguing against publication — that Katherine had shown guts and commitment to the First Amendment, and support for her editors.
“But I think none of us truly understood the importance of her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in the creation of a new Washington Post. I know I didn’t. I wanted to publish because we had vital documents explaining the biggest story of the last 10 years. That’s what newspapers do: they learn, they report, they verify, they write and they publish.
“What I didn’t understand, as Katherine’s ‘Okay … Let’s go. Let’s publish’ rang in my ears, was how permanently the ethos of the paper changed, and how it crystallized for editors and reporters everywhere how independent and determined and confident of its purpose the new Washington Post had become. In the days that followed, these feelings only increased. A paper that stands up to charges of treason, a paper that holds firm in the face of charges from the president, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General… A paper that holds its head high, committed unshakably to principle.”
Source: “A Good Life” by Ben Bradlee

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oo Tiss?

“Oo tiss?” a tiny voice demanded when I called the plumber one day.
“This is Tanta Twaus,” I said. “And Tanta Twaus won’t give you any Twissmas pwesents this Twissmas if you do not put Mommy or Daddy on the other end of this doddam apparatus.”
“Appawana?” asked the tiny voice. At this point his mother, like a woman in transport and on her third martini, grabbed up the receiver.
“He said ‘Appomattox,’ didn’t he?” she cried. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Madam,” I said, chilling the word. “The answer to the question I just put to your son is Waterloo, not Appomattox. The next voice you hear will be that of me, dying in the flood of broken pipes and the rubble of falling ceilings.” And I slammed up the receiver.
— James Thurber, “The Darlings at the Top of the Stairs”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Snake at Twilight

The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna argued that all things — chairs, mountains, people — are empty of any real being, of an inherent and independent reality.
His line of thought implied “…that there can be no difference between nirvana and the realm of cyclical rebirth (samsara). If everything is void of real existence, Nagarjuna reasoned, then in a profound sense everything is on the same footing, so one what basis can the distinction between nirvana and samsara be made? No difference can be found in things themselves since they are all ultimately ‘empty;’ the difference, therefore, must lie in our perception of them.
“The example is given of the person who mistakes a coil of rope for a snake at twilight and becomes terrified. When he realizes his mistake, his fear subsides and his desire to run away disappears.
“What is needed for liberation, then, Nagarjuna reasoned, is essentially correct vision — to see things as they really are — rather than to embark on a flight from one supposedly imperfect reality (samsara) to a better one (nirvana). Nirvana is thus reinterpreted … as a purified vision of what is seen by the ignorant as samsara. It follows that nirvana is here and now, if we could but see it.”
Of course, the opposite example also applies. We may unwarily perceive malevolent forces as innocuous things — as mere "cable news channels," for example.
A friend pointed out his experience of what he called "an interesting lesson in perception."
"I was walking down the train platform and saw a homeless bag lady on the train in the spot I wanted to sit," he said. "Long, homeless coat, typical bags full of garbage and smelly grocery bags. I got on board immediately filled with dread and irritation. When I sat down I saw it wasn't a bag lady at all. "It's a middle-aged, well-dressed woman in a trench coat and scarf carrying a book bag. I most definitely saw a homeless, smelly, bag lady, and my irritation was immediately switched on from 0 to 100. My mind made my eyes see what wasn't, and my emotions followed. Interesting."
We're all still jumping at ropes, every day.
 Source: “Buddhism: A Brief Insight” by Damien Keown

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Doctor Banner and Mister Rogers

The late Bill Bixby, the late Fred Rogers and Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk
Mr. Rogers visits the set of the Incredible Hulk. I interviewed children’s television star Fred Rogers about this, and about small children's psychological reaction to superheroes, for David Anthony Kraft's Comic Interview magazine in the 1980s.
A decade before, when the Hulk series started on TV, I had interviewed Bill Bixby, the star of the series, at a CBS press event for newspaper reporters. I’ll never forget how Bixby mixed me a gin & tonic in the Hyatt Regency hospitality suit. He was a kind, hardworking actor whose life was dogged by nearly as much tragedy as Dr. David Banner’s.

"Gone Girl:" A Contrived Confection

Ben Affleck in "Gone Girl"

Matt Mattingly and I saw “Gone Girl,” a wonderfully contrived suspense thriller with the added treat of a mordant Hitchcockian sense of humor.
The story dares to offer non-ordinary characters from the outset. The heroine’s parents used her as the model of an internationally famous children’s book character, Amazing Amy — not the kind of thing that happened to anyone you know. And we have Riddler-like clues embedded into the plot with ruthless logic, and surprises big and small arriving every few minutes like razor-filled Candygrams. The film also takes welcome shots at the harpies who pitch ratbag, emotion-whore tabloid TV, and the fickleness of a herd-like American viewing public stupid enough to thunder away in whatever direction their cynical media wranglers care to stampede them.
The 1973 film “The Last of Sheila,” written by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, springs to mind as another movie that offers a similar set of calculated puzzle-box delights.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ben Bradlee, Ace Reporter

Young Ben Bradlee, who would become a legendary American editor
Ben Bradlee’s first journalistic triumph at the Washington Post did not require the diligence of a Watergate reporter.
In 1948, fresh from a destroyer and his first newspaper job on a defunct New Hampshire weekly he had helped found, Bradlee landed an $80-a-week job on the Post starting Christmas Eve. Russ Wiggins, who was to be one of his three great mentors, was editor.
“My first real break came when Russ Wiggins was giving vent to one of his regular tirades against the evil and prevalence of gambling, which he regarded as a sin against common sense, especially among the poor who gambled with grocery money,” Bradlee recalled. “Why not take the new reporter, he asked Gilbert, and sic him on the bookies and numbers kingpins? No one in town knew me yet, Wiggins figured, and I could poke around unnoticed. I had received my first investigative assignment for the paper.
“Not a betting man myself, I knew enough to start looking for the answers in the Sports Department, particularly with my new buddy there, Morris Siegel. Mo was great company, funny, disrespectful and warm. He was the particular favorite of Sara Bassin, who ran the restaurant next to the Post, cashed our paychecks and told us to go home before it was too late.
“When I asked Mo for the names of the 10 biggest bookies in Washington, he grabbed a piece of copy paper and started scribbling some names: Snags, who did numbers, too. Gary, who ran the Atlas Club, an after-hours joint upstairs in the building between Bassin’s and the Post. Mo checked with his pals and made one phone call, and gave me a list with 10 names, plus addresses and phone numbers.
“I didn’t feel I could get back to Russ Wiggins that fast. He had given me the assignment less than half an hour before. So I waited a day, typed the list out on regular Post stationery, and gave it to him two days later.
“Wiggins looked at the list, shook his head in apparent admiration, and told Gilbert, ‘We’ve got a damned good man in this new fellow, Bradlee. I’ve been trying to get that list for years.’”
Source: “A Good Life” by Ben Bradlee

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Comic Books...

When I was young, I thought that no one could possibly feel like he was becoming a puppet.  Now, I'm so sure.

DC never shortchanged on the cover, no matter how much they had to wrench the plot around to accommodate it. The Flash #133. The Plight Of The Puppet Flash!"
December, 1962

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ethics — Is It Merely a PR Slogan Now?

The Voice of the Crowds

At yesterday’s Mattoon Library book sale, I picked up a half-dozen hardcover novels, including Felice Picano’s “The Lure,” two by Simenon, a Hornblower omnibus, 1960s book club editions of “Casino Royale” and “Moonraker” and a pristine volume of my late friend Elleston Trevor’s 1970 World War I novel, “Bury Him Among Kings.”
That one was special to the British novelist among his many books, and I’ve always particularly liked his last, chilly paragraph: “She turned, pressed against him, and he tried to shut out of his mind the voice of the crowds; but it was insistent, surging among the buildings and rising to the dismal sky, where it lost all meaning. He’d heard this voice crying in joy for war; now it cried in joy for peace. It was a voice to beware of, wherever it was heard.”

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lousy Journalist, Lousy Historian

Fox News uber-pundit Bill O’Reilly’s book on the Lincoln assassination, “Killing Lincoln,” was so riddled with historical errors thatthe National Park Service reviewer recommended that it NOT be sold at Ford’s Theatre. Now, historians are also trashing O’Reilly’s book “Killing Patton.” It turns out that lying Fox News propagandists make lousy journalists AND lousy historians. That’s what a contempt for facts will do to you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Smart Phones, Dumb Citizens

Having the accumulated wisdom of civilization literally in the palm of your hand doesn't help if you prefer shiny things.