Saturday, April 29, 2006

Debout les damnés de Bush

As Long As We're Talking Anthems...

Our Lord and Savior president, who really ought to be paying attention to more important things, thinks the Stars & Stripes should be sung exclusively in English (make that American, goddammit), as if singing the anthem in French or Swahili or Marsian could in any way diminish its admittedly (and susprisingly) inspiring bombast. Here's one that sounds great in any language, even if its uses were as idiotic as its intended legacy: click here for a low-grade version (streamed through the Caucasus or some such place), and here for a better-quality one. Both versions compliments of the choir and orchestra of Bolshoi Theatre, conducted, in 1977, by G. Rozhdestvensky.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Another Fourth Estate Funeral: Sayonara, Knight-Ridder

One more nail in quality journalism’s coffin: MediaNews, a Thomson-like chain of newspapers for profits’ sake (not to be confused with Jim Romenesko’s excellent Media News blog), is buying four Knight Ridder newspapers for $1 billion, including the venerable San Jose Mercury News. “Whether that is ultimately good or bad for journalistic competition in the region is being debated by everyone from readers and reporters to advertisers and competitors,” the Mercury-News hedgingly writes today. What journalistic competition? Other than the San Francisco Chronicle, one company owns the Bay Area’s media now. Maybe you can’t blame the Mercury-News for lathering the flattery on Dean Singleton, its new CEO and Jonathan Winters look-alike. “Paper’s buyer believes in local control,” the Mercury-News’ headline reads with just enough of a hint of irony behind the flattery (a paper buyer isn’t exactly something to hang your dividends on). The Times is less kind: “Mr. Singleton has cut a wide swath through the newspaper industry, becoming known more for his managerial zeal in cutting costs than his promotion of journalism. The Denver Post, his flagship, is in the midst of a reduction of 25 positions.” Then again, the New York Times Company is fresh out of its latest job-cutting jamboree too, so it’s not one to speak. It was left up to San Jose Newspaper Guild leaders to panic a little more honestly and call the deal “bad news for newspaper workers, readers, advertisers, and for our communities,” or to Steve Gossett to wonder whether Singleton is in one of his pacifying or napalming moods. Read the full eulogy...

Death and Life: Jane Jacobs, Prophet

There are few woman approaching ninety on whom I could honestly admit to have, or to have had, a crush. Jane Jacobs, who died on Monday, was one of those—not just because she could write better than a stadium-full of Ph.D.s even though she was a college drop-out, not just because she moved to Toronto in 1968 to spare her two sons the chance of being drafted to Vietnam (I would do the same for my son and anyone else’s son who’d be threatened with the sort of imbecilic wars that are becoming an American specialty), not just because she stood up and to (and beat) Robert Moses (“the nearest thing to a dictator with which New York and New Jersey have ever been afflicted (so far),” she wrote in her last book; too bad she never took on Donald Trump or Giuliani), not just because she foresaw the mush and muck of suburban landscapes, and the cultural, economic and environmental costs they would impose on us (see yesterday’s trees, today’s gas prices), and not just because she is one of the few serious American thinkers who’s taken on the purpose and morality of economic growth the way she took on Moses, but because, like Henry Adams, she could be the most scathingly pessimistic social critic while simultaneously writing in a more hopefully optimistic—a more substantially optimistic—way than any critic out there, pseudo-optimists à-la-Prada like David Brooks and John Tierney among them. Read the rest...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Culture of Death: Faith Over Science

Witch trials weren’t exactly backwoods excesses of zealotry. They were elaborate performances grounded in law and the expertise of what was then, in early modern Europe, considered the best-available evidence. The trials were popular, the inquisitors feared and respected, the outcomes, which usually sizzled, unquestioned. That witch-hunting’s most feverish age coincided with the rational insurgency of Galileo, Descartes and Newton didn’t diminish witch trials’ credibility; to the contrary: The trials reset morality’s clock to God time. Scientists were the heretics.

Trivia? Not in light of the Bush administration once again scorning science in the name of rabid theologies. Whether it’s the war on drugs, on stem cell research, on global warming science, on sex, on abortion, on evolution, or whether it’s the wars in Iraq or on terror for that matter, demagogues, channeled through Bush policies, are enslaving evidence to ideology and reducing facts to three-fifths the weight of faith. For evidence, witch judges had the authority of the Church behind them. Today’s demagogues have co-opted the manners of empirical science — the academic lingo, the “Ph.D.” next to their names, the peer-reviewed studies. And they’re making faith the loyalty oath of 21 st century America . Both of President Bush’s last two nominees to the Supreme Court, remember, referred to their faith as an assumed virtue, as if faith gave them more credibility on the bench than if they were partial to chunky monkey ice cream (which it doesn’t). But every time a public figure cashes in on “faith,” the American experiment loses altitude. Read the full column...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

White House Mayday: James Baker Returns

If Billy Graham could dry up George Bush, maybe James Baker can cool him down. Baker is back. Our 33 percent president sought him out, Acheson-style, to manage his zero percent Iraq policy—a telling choice: under the first Bush, Baker was initially among those advocating against attacking Saddam, even to “liberate” Kuwait . But when he lost that fight, Baker put together the 34-nation coalition that gave Colin Powell a chance to look heroic and Kuwait's playboy caliphate a guaranteed return from its brief exile in Cairo's higher-end Lebanese whorehouses. Baker’s pragmatism is his only absolute (he was once a Democrat). As chief of staff during Ronald Reagan’s first term, Baker pretty much ran domestic policy, the way he ran foreign policy as secretary of state under the first Bush, the way he ensured Gore's defeat at the Supreme Court's hand for the second Bush. Baker is the consummate diplomat, making him somewhat of an ill fit for any sort of relationship with the second Bush, to whom pragmatism is a French word and diplomacy a set of cheap-leather Texan boots on someone’s cojones. Time called Baker "The Velvet Hammer," back in 1989. The New York Times calls Baker’s relationship with Bush “close but complicated,” which is a nice way of saying that Baker can tell Bush to his face that he’s a fuck-up and still be needed by the little one, who wouldn’t tolerate that sort of fact-finding from anyone else. Will Baker perform miracles in Iraq ? Or rather, will Bush let him perform miracles? Read the rest...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Guzzlers at Home

Daytona Beach News-Journal/April 24, 2006

A love-fest is the last thing the meeting between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House was going to be last week -- and the meeting lived up to its ambiguous billing. For starters, note the difference in the way the two countries' officials framed the occasion. When outgoing Bush spokesman Scott McLellan confirmed it March 23, he called it "a meeting." The headline the next day in China Daily, one of China's English-language government newspapers, termed it a "summit," a word the White House never used in connection with this visit (though it's used it for lesser meetings with European or Latin American governments). Presidents given the full red-carpet treatment at the White House usually get a state dinner. Hu got lunch -- and public heckling from a member of a religious minority the Chinese government is suppressing, and an insult from a White House announcer, who introduced China's national anthem as that of "the Republic of China," which is the formal name for Taiwan, the flashpoint island country and U.S. ally that China has never recognized. Read the full editorial...