Monday, May 31, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Journalists like to think they write the first draft of history. More often, they write the first draft of "As the World Turns" (which in its time was my grandmother's favorite story - no wonder journalists are losing audience). All dialog, no resolution.
The New York Times had a long story yesterday about the possible regulation of salt in prepared foods. Mostly, it's a history of attempts to justify or forestall regulation of the amount of salt that food businesses use.
The article seems sympathetic to regulation, but it never provides its readers with a way to sort out the truth of one claim from another, even provisionally, as empirical claims of this type have to be sorted out. Instead, it spends vast arid salt flats (heh) on what a publisher might call news you can use - dissertations on Cheez-Its and chicken noodle soup and how good salt tastes.
This is really news you can relate to. It's not intended to edify but to draw you into a commonplace domestic narrative and make you feel you have expertise on the subject. Without helping you gain that expertise...
Not that there weren't glaring opportunities:
In 1982, [soup company] Campbell sponsored an American Heart Association symposium that included a study on calcium, which is now seen as having only a small role in reducing hypertension, and another that asserted that only some people were susceptible to hypertension from salt.Thirty years later, I explain my own excellent blood pressure despite significant salt intake by guessing that I'm merely not susceptible. Still, I would expect something new from the intervening three decades. If there's a genetic link, I'd expect it to be confirmed by subsequent research and probably even available as a blood test by now. Instead, reporter Michael Moss simply drops the ball. Maybe scientists have too, but Moss owes readers the follow-up.
The Times story ran in the Science section. Is it too much to ask that it sort out the state of the science on the connection between salt and hypertension? If that connection really only affects a segment of the population, how can we tell whether we're in that segment? That would be news we could really use.
There are further hints at facts in the story:
Making deep cuts in salt can require more expensive ingredients that can hurt sales. Companies that make low-salt pasta sauces improve the taste with vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh herbs that cost more than dried spices and lower grade tomatoes.Also dropped. It could be that my b.p. is good because so little of what I eat comes out of a box, highly processed. But you'd have to be a hippie or something equally dismissable to expect Americans to eat real fresh food.
American media consistently fail even to try to distinguish fact from self-interested argument. Is the prepared food industry fighting a fight like the cigarette industry, defending its merchandise of death, or like the egg producers, whose product contains cholesterol but has been shown to be healthy, leading the Heart Association to withdraw its advice to avoid eggs?
The methods that corporations use to defend their income are the same, whether they're scientifically justified or not. Media can't get to the bottom of them by reporting about how the industry is lobbying.
Somewhere, some reporter has to remember - or reinvent - getting to the bottom of the story. Finding out what's actually true...
Friday, May 28, 2010
On a daily basis, big media resolutely fails to pull back the curtain on the great and powerful Oz. The alleged Nikki Haley affair is a case of our credulous media's eagerness to accept bullshit with a bow on it as if it came from Tiffany's.
Will Folks is not a blogger. He is a political consultant who runs a rightwing news site. In any case, calling him a blogger (big-media-speak for pipsqueak upstart, by the way) is not informative. Doesn't everyone have a blog by now?
Folks is also not credible as a supporter of Nikki Haley. Nonetheless, the press dutifully prints his claim in every story. When he says he outed his alleged affair with Haley as a proactive step because the story was being shopped to the media, he can't possibly be credible. If he were really to try "getting ahead of the story," he wouldn't milk it for daily attention with promises of proof and death-of-a-thousand cuts delivery.
Folks has also claimed that he went public to protect the wife he married after the alleged affair. Surely someone in the editorial chain is married or has had an intimate relationship. "Honey, I had an affair with someone before we married, and I'm going to publicize it to protect you." Look, this is bullshit so runny you couldn't even tie a bow on it without first injecting drilling mud and huge amounts of concrete.
I have no idea whether Folks and Haley had sex. In fact, I have no idea what Folks is claiming and Haley is denying.
He says they had an "inappropriate physical relationship." Did she hug him a little too long? Did she spank him like a bad boy? Did he massage her feet with peppermint cream?
She denies having an affair. Well, what does she mean? Would it be o.k. if they necked a little but never did it? I'm sure her husband wouldn't approve, but would such a small dalliance count?
If they weren't both in the anti-sex base of the anti-sex party, I wouldn't care what they did. But I'd still care that the media is less concerned about finding out what's true than it is about repeating what everyone says and then shrugging - with both shoulders for balance.
We Americans have a political culture that seldom rises above the throes of puberty. Part of the reason why is that our media culture is about putting a bow on gossip and calling it news.
The Democrats are doomed, doomed, I tell you, in the 2010 mid-term Congressional election!
That's the conventional big media narrative, anyhow. Could it be, like so much past received wisdom, wrong?
The Senate was never really in play. It's even less in play now:
- Harry Reid is back from the dead.
- Joe Sestak may be primed to hold Pennsylvania, which Arlen Specter would not have (if you could even call re-electing Arlen Specter a hold).
No one expects the Democrats to gain seats in either house, but losing control of either house is much less likely than the teabagger narrative.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Why would a Louisiana magistrate go out of his way to compliment the alleged talents of the Fake Pimp of Wingnuttia?
Magistrate Daniel Knowles III, who cited the defendants’ potential as investigative journalists though he was critical of this incident, sentenced Mr. [James] O’Keefe, 25, to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine.Louisiana elects its judges. Knowles was just playing to the crowd.
Mr. O’Keefe, whom the judge described as “extremely talented,”...
That's what you want in a judge, right? No reason to question the justice of a wrist-slap sentence - it's what the people wanted!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Of course, in this IOKIYAR world, the four wingnut lawbreakers who pretexted their way into Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-BP) office got probation and minor fines after pleading to a misdemeanor.
Meanwhile, the Democratic scion who guessed Sarah Palin's password and posted it on the web was convicted of a felony and awaits sentencing that could bring him years in prison.
Then of course, there's the disparate media and legal treatment of Eliot Spitzer (D-ho) and David Vitter (R-ho ho ho).
And of course Rush Limbaugh gives hypocrites everywhere an even worse name.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Shorter David Brooks: My poor fantasy life with a thin gloss of convenient interpretation justifies my continued living in a fantasy world while you live as undeserving peasants.
In other words, in school, [a character named Ben] labored when others didn’t. At work, he sacrificed when others didn’t. He bought a house he could afford when others didn’t.Ben, whom Brooks doesn't bother to report, but asks us to imagine! Who gives every indication of being no more than a figment of Brooks's weekend-bound imagination.
Wildlife biologists often have to parse through animal scat to determine diet and health of the animals they study. If I had limitless time, I could peel away the feces Brooks has put on paper to its awful, inane content. Except that he's engaged in coprophagia, and he expects us to eat and enjoy bullshit just as he has.
I'll tell you what really steams me: Brooks gets paid New York shitloads of money to make up bullshit like this. He doesn't even have to pretend to look for what's true. He can write down whatever would be convenient for him - for his weekend plans, for his lazy desire to have an early dinner, for his ideology, for his vanity of deserving.
If I ran the New York Times, I'd fire Brooks's lazy, undeserving, no-account ass. Let him stop pretending to know the pulse of real people. Let him work his contacts for another easy, well-paid sinecure from which he can pretend to stand for working people everywhere - a pretense he makes while defending established wealth.
Newt Gingrich is - or wants to appear - insane:
"The [Obama] secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did."Gene Lyons says:
A sane political movement would keep a prating coxcomb like Gingrich off television. Whether Newt actually believes this rubbish, or is merely following the Tea Party fife and drum corps around the bend, strikes me as of little interest. Politically, it's pointless to reason with crazy people -- make-believe or real.Thirty percent of Americans apparently agree. With Gingrich!
Does that doom democracy?
Friday, May 21, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I may have spoken too soon.
The New York Times almost certainly went to print with Republican oppo. There'd be no fatal sin in that - if disclosed - but the long habit of Richard Blumenthal's self-description, including the very speech in 2008 the Times is on about, may have been honest. Which would make Linda McMahon the liar, even if it doesn't exculpate Blumenthal completely.
Time will, uh, may tell.
Update (6/1): Added to paragraph 2:
- the parenthetical in sentence 2 with the link to DailyKos
- the dependent clause at the end of sentence 3
If wingnut commentators are selling it, chances are good that it's borderline fraudulent.
What's their stock in trade? Outrage, fear, and bullshit. Hard to make a rational investment decision in the throes of even one of those...
Why is Rand Paul's Republican Teabagger victory in Kentucky CNN's top story on the political ticker? In the home state of Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning, no amount of ideological extremism should be a surprise, and Paul's victory was so widely expected that it barely qualifies as news.
There was real news yesterday:
- Mark Critz (D-Murtha) unexpectedly beat Tim Burns (R-oops), which CNN gives one line.
- Joe Sestak (D-reality) ended the (elective) political career of Arlen Specter (DINO-opportunism).
- Richard Blumenthal (D-Apocalypse Now) ended his own political career.
- Bill Halter (D-semi-reality) forced Blanche Lincoln (D-subsidiary) into a runoff.
Big media no longer wants to report what happened today. It wants to develop a story arc. That makes writing and editing easier - and laziness is the great inertial force in human behavior. But it also leads to all the really good gigs:
- Slots among the shouters on TV
- Big stories that the Pulitzer Committee might look twice at
- The change to cast a story into book form (or maybe that's just my dream)
- Hollywood (in their wildest TV movie fantasies)
I suppose I should be happy that the media didn't go with its bullshit false equivalence reflex to claim that both Republican and Democratic extremists won. Maybe calling Sestak, Halter, and Critz extremists was too obviously nonsense even for the (non-Fox) media.
The George Duhbya Bush Presidential Center wants a tax deductible contribution.
I'd contribute to a special prosecutor.
Meanwhile all I can manage is to transfer a small amount from honoring the worst President of my lifetime to the Post Office - the joy of business reply mail.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Honesty means more than simply not lying, but Richard Blumenthal (D-buh-bye) failed even the easy test of not lying:
“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. [emphasis added]During Vietnam would have parsed as true, but even that phrasing would have left room for deceit. During the Vietnam era would have been still better, with the word era flagging the statement for a bit more interpretive analysis.
Blumenthal could claim - and he has - that he simply misspoke. But there are too many instances of self-interested silence in the face of falsehood to credit this as the slip of his tongue.
The root problem, which should be fatal to his candidacy for Senate, is that Blumenthal has shown a life-long pattern of failure to correct the record clearly and forthrightly. He continues his deceit with this bullshit:
“I don’t know if we tried to do so or not,” he said. He added that he “can’t possibly know what is reported in all” the articles that are written about him.Bullshit. Politicians care deeply and obsessively how they're covered in the press. They may not see every single article, but they or their staff see all the big stories, especially those in major publications. Nowadays, they all have Google alerts to keep them on top of media all the way down to the smallest blog.
The emotional impact of his reserve service and of seeing the postwar treatment of veterans from in-country could still be true. He could still tell it honestly from the perspective of a reservist. Instead, his claimed experience sounds more like echoing of urban legends than first-hand witnessing to the travails of returning vets.
Here's the principle: If you have to choose your words very carefully to permit listeners to take away a wrong impression, an impression that you want them to retain, you're lying. Never mind that advertisers do this all the time. They're lying too. It's just that your lie while seeking a Senate seat is more corrosive and damaging.
This is especially true of living a lie about being at risk of dying in the service of your country. That's just something that no one should ever fake - or acquiesce in faking.
Even Duhbya didn't try to get away with morphing his defense of Texas and Alabama against the world-wide threat of the Viet Cong Air Force into service in country in Vietnam. Like Blumenthal, he did try to get away with claiming he received no special treatment, also false but on a much smaller scale.
It was John Kerry who put aside offers of special treatment and actually served in Vietnam. That didn't win the Presidency for him, but he at least still has his honesty intact about that very important touchstone of recent American history, no matter how hard Karl Rove and the Swift Boat Liars tried to steal it from him by their own campaign of lies.
Blumenthal should go. But he's obviously too vain to give in to that inconvenient truth.
(h/t to this great post on No More Mister Nice Blog)
Update (5/19): More feet of clay on the Republican side. Lindsay Graham (R-wingy but not wingy enough for teabaggers) repeatedly and persistently claimed to be a veteran of Iraq I, despite never serving in country. (h/t Atrios)
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Karl Rove arms the next death star.
Hey! Maybe he did have something to do with the Swift Boat Liars. (Ya think?)
This man is strictly about manufacturing the consent of the governed. Offering a choice to be made rationally? Why would he choose in advance to lose?
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The White House is doing its level best to make sure that everyone has seen the bikini chart:
Now the next spin point is out: If job creation continues at the same rate for the rest of 2010, Barack Obama will have presided over the creation of more jobs in this year alone that Duhbya did in his entire eight-year maladministration.
Unlike Republican spin points and cherry-picking, this one comes with explicit caveats to help readers understand it fully. Whether the trend continues is one, and the future is always speculative. Another is the huge job loss that continued from the Bush recession throughout 2009, when Obama was in office and the best you could say was that job losses were slowing.
More important, we can't forget the sheer size of the need for jobs, left from the Bush disaster, which was relatively jobless even in its best times, and from Obama's first year in office.
Employment is better, that's true. But we have a long way to go before it's good.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Long-lived institutions have a choice: adapt or die.
The path of rigidity - the conservative path - can work well, sometimes for quite a while, especially if the institution is willing to change by small degrees. But the path of absolute rigidity - saying no to everything, for instance - is the path of senesence and death. Just ask the Shakers, and they were only rigid about a few things.
The Catholic Church right now is in an existential crisis. With a billion adherents, the church might seem safe from doom. After all, it has survived previous crises - non-sexual child abuse in its schools and orphanages, acquiescence to fascism, the commonplace selling of absolution, the Inquisition, to name a few - that would have killed a less persistent, poorer, or less canny institution. Of course it doesn't hurt that the church claims every Sunday to have god on its side.
But buggering children and criminally covering it up practically everywhere is a different matter. It impeaches every claim to divinity or infallibility. And that billion already includes many who are one generation more away from merely having Catholic ancestors.
Even now, there are Catholics, both lay and priest, who apparently believe that the anti-gay passages of their bible are some of its most important. These doctrinaire Catholics still react to the idea of admitting to parochial school a child of a lesbian couple with statements like this:
“The real question here is why two people who radically repudiate the moral teachings of Catholicism would want their child educated in a Catholic school,’’ [C.J. Doyle, executive director of Catholic Action League of Massachusetts,] said in a statement.
“It would seem that they are either looking for an excuse to litigate or an opportunity to embarrass the church in the court of public opinion.’’
This sort of defensive reaction matches the tenor of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The inability to address one's own shortcomings when they're plain as day to ordinary people can be fatal to credibility.
People like Doyle imagine that the dogma of the modern church is the identical doctrine that the church has always advocated and lived under. But this is not true, and how he can escape knowing that is an object lesson in denial.
Doyle is not the only voice on the subject. The archdiocese of Boston has tried to make amends and deserves credit for that even if it's PR, and prominent business Catholic Jack Connors has this plaintive comment:
“But,’’ he said, “I am disappointed that . . . this faith that I love seems to find new ways to shoot itself in the foot.’’Despite the willingness of some parishoners and priests to adapt, it's an open question whether the church hierarchy can change fast enough to retain its believers. How they've done it so far is beyond me.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Given the choice between pumping up a continuing narrative or writing a one-off but accurate story, which will big media do? The Globe today buried the content of an actual lead paragraph of the State Senate special election story:
The results in the two races won’t alter the makeup of the state Senate, since a Democrat succeeded a Democrat and a Republican followed a Republican. Nonetheless, coupled with Brown’s stunning victory in the US Senate race this year, the Massachusetts Republican Party immediately seized on Ross’s victory as a harbinger of more wins in the fall.Even this spins the Republican way. The second sentence could as easily have been, "Nonetheless, we'll tell you that this tie is good news for Republicans, when they didn't even have a second candidate to compete for a sweep." (And for fellow grammarians out there - not including the Globe staff who missed it - the mere thought of Mass Republicans coupled with anything stunning means that a modifier is dangling, at least!)
The actual lead paragraph was:
Giving the state GOP another boost as November elections approach, state Representative Richard Ross, a Wrentham Republican, last night won the state Senate seat recently vacated by US Senator Scott Brown.The race the Democrat won? Repeatedly referred to as "the other race".
This is not an ideological bias; it happens in the other direction, too, as it did with the compelling Barack Obama narrative. It's a bias to tell a larger story, rather than to stick to factual reporting if it detracts from that story.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Is it really "trending" news that Sen. Jame Inhofe (R-wingnuttiest) opposes Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court? Ho hum.
If he stopped mid-tantrum, admitted that he was tired of advocating for a return to the dark ages, ripped the mike off his lapel, and walked away from the cameras, now that would be news I could use!
Montana reactionaries firebomb a couple of marijuana dispensaries. Yeah, Montana has medical marijuana! Who knew?
No one was hurt, like an ELF political arson. When ELF burns down a real estate development to make a political statement, the right-wing goes even more hysterical than usual.
I wonder (only rhetorically) whether they'll piss their pants over this similar piece of political terror.
Of course not. Consistency is not something the wingnuts even recognize could guide their behavior.
Monday, May 10, 2010
A compendium of Republican radicals...
[Minnesota State Senator Tom Emmer, the Republicans' choice to succeed Governor Tim Pawlenty,] has even proposed a state constitutional amendment that would allow federal laws to operate in Minnesota only if they were consented to by super-majorities of the state legislature.The Republican solution to the fact that the American Constitutional republic is not going their radical way: Quang Tri it.
They couldn't throw any more tantrums than the Republican Party:
"Even if it's a nominee that we can't seriously stop, we can accomplish several things, and so a hard fight is worthwhile," [Curt Levey, director of the conservative Committee for Justice,] implored. "Certainly it can be to the political advantage of Republicans.... There's everything to be gained from making the Supreme Court vacancy a campaign issue in 2010."
"There's broader goals such as just distracting Obama from other items on his agenda," Levey added. "The tougher the fight the less capital and time and resources and floor time in the Senate there is to spend on immigration and climate change, etc."
Elections have consequences - where have I heard that?
(h/t mcjoan at Kos)
Sunday, May 9, 2010
If you for some odd reason still need to see more of a certain common type of conservative stupidity heavily leavened with hypocrisy, you can seldom go wrong with the flagrantly doctrinaire and unfunny cartoons of Chuck Asay. Here is today's.
In one cartoon, Asay - his head firmly in place in BP's ass - tries all of the following:
- lets BP off the hook for the worst oil spill in history
- evades every claim conservatives have ever made to be the party of personal responsibility
- fails utterly to understand that competitive price pressures of the market should exact a profit penalty from BP - under the conservative theory of the market
- imputes to liberals his own failing - stupidity
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Under UCMJ, desertion carries the death penalty. But reduction in rank and 25 years in the stockade ought to be enough.
By the way, even though it's clear that President Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, I would assert that he is a natural born citizen no matter where he was born because his mother was a citizen at the time of his birth. And there's no explication of the phrase nor any case law to contradict me.
Amusing and instructive when other countries also have trouble sorting out just exactly how they prefer to manufacture the consent of the governed...
Best to remember that there are many different ways to build a democratic election. Here in the US, picking a different way to decide winners decidely takes a back seat to the need to fix our ability to count votes honestly, transparently, and accurately.
More proof, if any were needed, that Wall Street doesn't know your ass from a hole in the ground.
[M]addeningly, the cause or causes of the market’s wild swing remained elusive, leaving what amounts to a $1 trillion question mark hanging over the world’s largest, and most celebrated, stock market.These are the people we've left without adult supervision, despite the fact that they might at any moment hoist our living economy up on the mortuary table and drain its blood out in preparation for embalming.
Why would Skynet need a nuclear launch?
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Someone's holding a gun lobby to Lindsey Graham's head. Graham (R-you thought he could be both from South Carolina and sane? Ha) sacrifices this burnt offering on the altar of the NRA:
“I think you’re going too far here,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. He was speaking in opposition to a bill that would keep people on the F.B.I. terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives.This is a guy who thinks he can't get any more heterodox on any topic, and his model for orthodox is Jim DeMint (R-teabaggers' first Presidential candidate). Graham keeps going:
[He] pointed out, “when the founders sat down and wrote the Constitution, they didn’t consider flying.”Though of course the founders did all keep their budget Chinese AKs over the fireplace, and their superiority over ancient British musket meant they didn't need to venture up to Saratoga except to bet on the ponies. Yorktown was just some movie-maker's wet dream. The whole revolution was done in a couple of months - to account for the awful transportation infrastructure of the time, though I'd bet they in fact were wishing they could fly even then.
Valley Forge? George Washington was just an SOB, holding back the AKs so he could get to know Lafayette better.
You mean the founders didn't consider automatic weapons either when they wrote the Second Amendment? Unbelievable! Where was the NRA?
If Democrats had any sense of reciprocity, they'd be on all the talk shows saying, "Republicans want to arm terrorists." They wouldn't even be lying.
Slightly more fair-minded: Republicans would rather kiss the NRA's ass than keep automatic weapons and high explosives away from car bombers and other terrorists.
Give Graham the last word in poseur tough-guy security against terrorists:
“I am all into national security. ... I want to stop reading these guys their Miranda rights,” he said.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
This week, the Supreme Court closed its front door. Over the door is engraved in Vermont marble one of the fundamental aspirations of America, EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.
The court took this step because it fears terror. Never mind the symbolism.
This week, evidence led to the arrest of a Pakistani, naturalized to be an American citizen, for what was, by all appearances, his plot to blow up Times Square. Front door, back door, side door, it didn't matter to him.
But he understood how attacking a symbol instills fear, the strategic purpose of the tactic of terror attacks.
Republicans, true to form, think that this alleged citizen terrorist, arrested for a crime on American soil, should not have been read his Miranda rights, as our law demands. Instead, they want to exploit the fear of Americans to score the cheapest political points. Never mind that the feds used a public safety exception to Miranda initially to interrogate the suspect.
Republicans in Washington - and a substantial proportion of their voters - do not believe in law. They believe in summary vigilantism. They are dismayed that the defendant has apparently confessed and is cooperating. They were eager to flay the Obama administration for not torturing this man, but now they're all dressed up in leather like a sadist with nowhere to go but home to the missus.
The Republicans are happy to risk the validity of the suspect's confession, happy to let him off the hook under our law. That would give them more political wedge issues to divide the country. Perfect!
It's scary that one of the major political parties in the United States couldn't give the slightest crap about the legal foundation of our country. They are in fact not the literal definition of conservatives. They are radicals. Their promise is coup d'etat in slow motion.
And yet they're not a marginal splinter group. They're the second largest political grouping in America.