March 12, 2004

Eric Alterman, co-author of the excellent The Book on Bush, will be in L.A. this weekend, signing books at the Midnight Special in Santa Monica this Sunday, and no doubt giving advice on filling out brackets for next week. His website, which is less a blog so much as a daily column, does an excellent job spotlighting less-famous writing talent (in the guise of a "Correspondents Section"), which is often more entertaining than the column itself. To wit, check out yesterday's tribute to the "A.J. Soprano of politics".
An unsubtle example of "working the ref": John Ellis, the man who mau-mau'ed the networks into prematurely calling Florida for Bush in 2000 (and a cousin of the President, to boot), attacks the lib'rul media for going "easy" on John Kerry. Considering the hatchet jobs the press gave to President Clinton for eight years, and the atrocious job they did on Al Gore four years ago, Bush's supporters have little to complain about this time. Ellis complains:
Republicans are amazed by the disparity in the news coverage of Senator Kerry and President Bush. As well they might be. Kerry's triple back-flips on virtually every issue are "explained" in The New York Times and The Washington Post as the products of a "nuanced" mind at work. President Bush's straightforward assertions are portrayed as the lies of an ill-advised moron. What's going on here?
What's going on is that some members of the media take their responsibility to be impartial seriously. When the Bush campaign attempted to use the flip-flop issue to attack Kerry, a few reporters actually looked at the record and found that the attacks were weak and deceptive. And like the rest of the country, members of the news media no longer take a word the President says at face value; the fact that he can lie with a straight face doesn't carry him as far as it used to. Ellis later complains that the media largely shares a personal animus of Kerry, but they haven't allowed that bias to color their coverage of the candidate. If true (and let's remember, it would be hard for anyone to be a bigger a-hole than the incumbent), that would be an historic mark of maturity in the Fourth Estate.

March 11, 2004

One of the consequences of deciding to fight peripheral targets, rather than the people who actually attacked us on September 11, occurred today in Madrid. Bush has pretty much chosen not to be serious about Al Qaeda and its sources of support in the Middle East, and I doubt our European allies are going to be too enthused about following our lead in the future until we get serious. They may have to wait til next January for that to happen.

March 10, 2004

Why can't the U.S. of A. have a Labor Secretary as good as the one the Iraqis have? [link via WWDT]

March 09, 2004

In describing the significance of Monday night's acquisition of forward Anson Carter, the local paper of record notes:
"[H]e becomes the fourth African American player to suit up for the Kings in their 37-season history, joining Grant Fuhr, Nathan Lafayette and Mike Marson."
Isn't that a good example of why labeling people isn't necessarily appropriate? Carter, in fact, is a native of Canada (as were Fuhr, Lafayette and Marson), and is therefore as much of an "African-American" as Lennox Lewis or Kip Keino; in fact, Charlize Theron is more of an "African-American" than he is. In any event, for most hockey fans, the notion of a "black" hockey player is not much of a novelty: Fuhr was recently elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and besides Carter, Jerome Iginla has been one of the top players in the league for the past three seasons. But as with most hockey players, they are Canadians, not Americans, and are not hyphenated-Americans in any event.
I had never listened to her program while it was still on KCRW, and I am coming rather late to this controversy, but the firing last week of humorist Sandra Tsing-Loh from her gig on public radio has pissed me off no end. One can talk about censorship, free speech, the creativity of an artist, or whatever, but what it really signals is that the SoCal area has a public radio station run by a timid programmer. And for me, that's everything.

Public radio is something that I wished I listened to more often. Usually, it's just for the news and political coverage, and "Which Way L.A." with Warren Olney, and even then infrequently, but I'm glad that there is someplace on (as Al Smith would put it) the raddio where the programming isn't entirely dominated by market considerations and safe, centrist political views. It's good to know that it's there, and that it's relatively uncensored.

To put it another way, it's radio for adults. And adults, every once in awhile, swear. There is a time and place for four-letter words: in casual conversations with friends, or in heated arguments, they're part of the vernacular; in church, at an elementary school, or with one's grandmother, some discretion should be used. I try to steer clear of such language on this blog, partly because it limits the audience that can access this site (web-blockers already make some blogsites difficult to access at government offices and high schools), but also because this site is a creative outlet for me, and I would prefer to articulate the same sentiments with less vulgar language, if possible. But it's not always possible.

Not having heard the program in question, I'm not going to venture whether Ms. Loh's use of the f-word was appropriate in the context of her piece, or whether the piece itself was funny, because frankly, I don't care. The issue is not whether her rights have been violated; it is, instead, my desire as a consumer to hear and experience the work of creative people in an unedited manner, when I choose. It is from that desire that the right of free speech is based. The decision about whether she could use the word in question was resolved when she was hired to do the program (or at least, when the station agreed to air the pre-taped piece twice the same morning). Public radio's mandate is different from the mandate of, let's say, NBC or Nickelodeon; it's not like SpongeBob SquarePants was using the word at 8:00 p.m. I don't want to believe that the battles posthumously won forty years ago by Lenny Bruce are going to have to be refought everytime a woman's breast is exposed, or a rock star extemporaneously exults at winning an award.

As with Howard Stern, there is a fair amount of hypocrisy involved here on behalf of the programmers. Clear Channel knew that Stern's radio show was vulgar and sick; that was the whole point, and those that listened, and those that refused to listen, knew what they were getting. They didn't act until the government began another one of its three-times-a-decade rampages on morality in popular culture. With Loh, I haven't seen any evidence that she made a habit of skirting the boundaries of good taste, but that doesn't matter. If she had been little more than a female version of Andrew Dice Clay, then KCRW is hypocritical for pulling the plug now after all this time. On the other hand, if this was just a one-time occurrence, then nothing will create a climate of fear with the rest of the talent more than firing a long-time employee for an innocent mistake.

There is currently a boycott right now of KCRW, but I can't honor it, for the same reason I couldn't honor a boycott of Rush Limbaugh's show, or the 700 Club. You can't "boycott" something you have no intention of patronizing in the first place. A public radio station that places draconian content restrictions on its programming isn't much better than the 24-7 news on KNX, so why would I listen? Just to listen to the pledge drives? It would be like if I decided to "boycott" peas, and that's just fucking crazy.
More evidence that the flip-flop attack on Kerry is a campaign loser: Dick Morris thinks its brilliant !!!

March 08, 2004

I suppose one way we can test the credibility of former "weakman" ruler Jean-Bertrand Aristide is to demand that he return to Haiti post-haste. After all, if he was kidnapped by foreign armies (that is to say, the U.S. and its beloved ally, France), and if he is currently free to move around in exile, as he claims, then there should be no problem for him to return and resume power in Port-au-Prince. The fact is, democratically elected or not, Aristide was a thug, and his unpopularity with his constituents sealed his fate. Although we shouldn't be in the business of rubber-stamping military coups, such as the one we backed several years ago in Venezuela, the United States cannot provide protection to every third world despot, elected or not, simply because the alternative may be worse.

Too often, we look at the veneer of democracy, and ignore the fact that the government we are propping up is as autocratic as the typical military junta (and to a lesser extent, the same could be said for Hugo Chavez, Ariel Sharon, and whichever puppet of the mullahs happens to be in control of Iran). South Africa, for crying out loud, had the outer appearance of a democracy for a century, yet liberals hardly demanded that we send in the Marines to defend P.W. Botha. Being able to participate in contested elections is no substitute for possessing the full human rights of a citizen.

March 07, 2004

For those of you who wondered whatever happened to Jose Offerman, this story gives the skinny. Like many small-market teams, the Twins are pursuing a variation of the Billy Beane philosophy, and larding up on players who get on base, take pitches, and basically act like a schnorrer to the opposing pitching staff, and that's what Offerman does. He had his best years with the Royals, where they downplayed his defensive shortcomings and tried to find a niche for the talents he actually possesses, which is to take pitches like a mother/father and hit triples. He did those things with LA and Boston (at least he did his first two years with the Sox) too, but the teams, and by extension the local media, were more obsessed with what he couldn't do, such as catching anything that was hit at him or stealing bases, and the result was unfortunate for all concerned.