politics, fringe watching, and other stuff

John J. McKay is a grumpy, aging liberal who lives in a small house with his wife, two cats, and a couple thousand books. To comment on anything in archy, send an e-mail.

Blogs I'm reading this week
The American Street
Angry Bear
Bark Bark Woof Woof
Body and Soul
Counterspin Central
Crooked Timber
The Daily Kos
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Intersection
Is That Legal?
Liberal Coalition
Mark A.R. Kleiman
Matthew Yglesias
Media Whores Online
Off the Kuff
Pacific Views
Progressive Gold
Quark Soup
The Right Christians
The Rittenhouse Review
Roger Ailes
Ruminate This
Shadow of the Hegemon
Skeptical Notion
Steve Gilliard's News Blog
Talking Points Memo
Very Very Happy
Waldchen vom Philosophenweg
Whiskey Bar
World O’ Crap

Other good stuff
Americans United for Seperation of Church and State
Common Dreams
The Daily Howler
People for the American Way
Political Research Associates
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

« # Pacific Northwest Blogs ? »

This site is certified 69% GOOD by the Gematriculator

<< current


Saturday, January 24, 2004

A request
I've had a comment (and noticed myself) that the little archy icon in my logo doesn't display very well on all machines. For instance, I see it just fine at home but if I was to check the site on my machine at work (which I wouldn't, because that would be a non-work use of my time and therefore wrong. But speaking hypothetically, if I did...), I wouldn't see it. So, I've scanned a new image in a different format. If you are one of those people who couldn't see the old icon, drop me a line and let me know if you have any problems with this one. Thanks.
posted by John at 1:19 PM

Friday, January 23, 2004

Captain Kangaroo is dead
Bob Keeshan, childrens' advocate and star of Captain Kangaroo for 36 years, died this morning.

Fred Rogers died about the time I started blogging and I was surprised at the outpouring of sadness from the blogging community. I respected Rogers and felt bad, but I'm old enough that I didn't have a strong emotional attachment to him. Captain Kangaroo is a different matter.

Like Rogers, Keeshan's genius lay in being calm, respectful, and intimate with us rather than pandering to our sociopathic natures as kids. He created a warm safe place for an hour each morning. While Rogers was a friendly neighbor, Keeshan was everybody's grandfather. I'm not sure whether he ever thought it out this way, but he picked a valuable role to play. In the years after WWII, as families became more mobile, many kids didn't know their grandfathers; the role of grandfather was empty and needed to be filled.

Like all good childrens' show hosts, Keeshan had a special talent for creating memorable characters to act as his sidekicks. On Captain Kangaroo, the most important one by far, was Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh (Lumpy) Brannum, a former big-band bass player). I think that Mr. Green Jeans was second only to Smoky the Bear in developing an environmental consciousness among the baby boomers.

Keeshan had strong opinions about his business and about taking care of kids. He personally approved any ads that ran on his show, rejecting products that he thought exploited kids or were a waste of time. He sat on the boards of numerous foundations. He wrote books for parents and lobbied congress. In his later years he became a full-time advocate, working Fred Rogers to push for better programing and with Lamarr Alexander to provide corporate day-care facilities.

I think all of the great kid's hosts of that day are gone now. Rogers, died last year, Miss Frances of Ding Dong School in 2001, Shari Lewis in 1999, Buffalo Bob Smith in 1998, and Mr. Green Jeans in 1987 (the late Jim Henson was the next generation, but he belongs in the same pantheon). Now we have mostly corporate crap and, though some it is quite good, it just doesn't have the same warmth as those cheesy old black and white shows. I'll mis him.
posted by John at 3:42 PM

Thursday, January 22, 2004

This is more like it
Via Atrios:
Sources with knowledge of the case tell TIME that behind closed doors at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, nearby the Capitol, a grand jury began hearing testimony Wednesday in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

The article goes on to say that they have not begun to subpoena journalists yet. I wonder who Time’s source is.
posted by John at 8:20 PM

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Bush is not stupid, but so what?
Pandagon points out a great quote from a Philosoraptor post that I manages to miss the first time around.
"All evidence suggests" that Bush doesn?t arrive at ANY conclusions independently. During the campaign of 2000, we were told that Bush would be our first "CEO president." Sure, he didn't know many, you know, facts, and sure, he wasn't a very good, you know, reasoner, but he'd surround himself by good advisors. And recently we found out that he doesn't even read the papers, but gets his information from those advisors, too. Leading one to wonder: why, exactly, does Bush need to be a part of the decision-making process at all? Either he follows the advice of his advisors to the letter, in which case he is basically irrelevant to the process or he deviates from their advice in which case the decision is made by the uninformed person rather than the informed people.

For Philosoraptor, this is just a throw-away point on his way to a discussion of what he calls "hiving" and the "great unhinging." The whole essay is a thoughtful exposition on a problem that bloggers and society in general need to address. But, for the moment, I want to stick with the decision-making capacity of the leader of the free world.

Pandagon suggests out that this borders on a betrayal of the public trust:
Would you feel better if you knew that Bush made the decisions or if he didn't? It's a tough one, and it strikes at the heart of this next election. We elect a president, not a cabinet. As such, we elect someone because we trust their ability to make the decisions that come across their desk. If Bush isn't actually making the decisions then he has, in a strange way, subverted the way we choose our government by having us choose a spokesperson and not a president.

Though a bit overstated, Pandagon nails the problem. The essence of delegation of responsibility (which is what we do when we elect someone) is trust. We trust our representative to make decisions in a way that we will approve of. Unfortunately, one of those decisions is who to listen to and whether to delegate further. Bush?s behavior as our delegate is an extreme case but not unique.

It's interesting that the 2000 campaign used the image of the "CEO president" to describe Bush, because the best parallel I can think of for his style is a bad business executive. Anyone who has worked in the bottom three-quarters of a corporation of any size has experienced the executive who has the trust and even affection of his peers and higher, but is generally regarded as a drooling idiot by everyone below. Typical comments from the productive classes are "Who hired that idiot?" and "Does he actually do anything around here?" Conference calls and charging lunch to the company seem to be their only visible skills, yet they do not seem to be aware of their intrinsic lack of worth. To hear them describe it, their value comes from something called "keeping track of the big picture." I'm not sure what would happen to that big picture if they stopped keeping track of it and I probably will never find out because they are ever vigilant in their track keeping.

All of the - admittedly anecdotal - evidence I've seen about Bush the businessman and Bush the politician fit that mold. Bush doesn't like to make decisions. He doesn?t like to be bothered by details. He doesn't like to be questioned and he doesn't like to be challenged (in either sense of the word). He likes to give commands. When someone brings a problem to his attention, he likes to be able to say, "Solve that problem," and not think about it again until it is time to celebrate the victory.

Bush is also the least curious person ever to inhabit the White House. He is uninformed, un-intellectual and often anti-intellectual. None of this means he?s stupid; it is said that he has a high level of political cunning. But combined with his management style, this leaves him shockingly isolated from the real world. Bush does have a few pet issues (winning the family penis back from Saddam was one), but as long as those are taken care of, his handlers pretty much have free reign to do as they please.

Bush shares another characteristic with the bad executive I've described: he has a very narrow conception of to whom he is responsible. Though millions of people took part in hiring him, he only cares about the couple thousand who paid for the election. The bad executive might be perfectly amiable to those below, or he might be a perfect bastard, but the bottom line is, the people below just don't matter. Only the big boys matter. Bush might do great things for the common people or he might destroy the lives of millions. In either case it would be an entirely unintentional side effect of helping the people who (to him) really matter. It is more likely to be the latter than the former because Bush's big boys are a corporate kleptocracy that seems intent on looting America and anything else they can get their hands on for short-term gain. I don't think he is bought and paid for by these people. I don't think he has an evil master plan. I think he just wants to please the only people who matter to him. If he wasn't such a disaster for so many people, he would be pathetic.

Some critics of Reagan commented that it was a shame the United States had combined the positions of head of state and head of government. Reagan, they said, was a crappy head of government, but would have made a good king. He looked great on horseback. He was a graceful and charming host for visiting dignitaries. Bush would be happy with that kind of job description, but sadly doesn't ride horses and is a rather tactless host. Since we can't kick him upstairs we'll have to let him go.
posted by John at 11:06 PM

Etymology and marketing
Cheese Weasel informs us that canola oil does not come from canola plants; it comes from rapeseeds. There is no such thing as a canola plant. The rape is a relative of mustard, though the word rape derives from an old Germanic term for turnips. The rape has a venerable history in art and mythology. Who can forget the moving stories of the turnip of the Sabine women and the turnip of Europa?

It seems that when someone began selling oil from rapeseeds, their marketing department decided that “Rape Oil” would have limited appeal and made up a new name for it. “Canola” is short for “Canadian oil.” Heck, I could have called that one; marketing isn’t that hard.
posted by John at 9:25 PM

Template fun
I've noticed since my template meltdown of two weeks ago that some of my blogroll links have not worked. I think I have them all restored now. Let me know if you notice any that are still funky.
posted by John at 8:42 PM

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Can we do it right this time?
Ever since the conservative strategy makers discovered how effective demonizing the liberal media was for rallying the faithful and extracting concessions from that same liberal media, news junkies and amateur politicos of both sides have spent more and more of their time analyzing news coverage for signs of bias against their position. Of course, during those same years the now famous American cultural trait of regarding victimhood as a highly desired status was developing. Whatever it’s origins, the art of hunting for media hostility has reached its fullest flower here in the blogosphere. To be aware of authorial bias and agendas is a sign of a sophisticated reader or viewer and Americans as a whole have become very sophisticated readers and viewers. And keeping the pressure on our major information sources keeps them honest (though in most cases laziness and gullibility are bigger problems than genuine dishonesty).

With that in mind and with the full knowledge that my request will have no effect at all, I’m going to ask that we all lighten up a little. Too often our media watching comes across as a childish game of gotcha. This is going to be a long emotional year for most of us; we need to conserve our strength and focus our energy where it will have the best results.

Writing to editors, producers, and owners over every tiny issue of nuance, interpretation, and detail produces bad results. We create so much white noise that the really serious complaints of misrepresentation and partisanship are lost in the shuffle. We make ourselves too easy to dismiss as “mere” bloggers.

Starting at the top produces bad results. When Michael Savage was on MSNBC many bloggers went right after Bill Gates. Gates was not Savage’s producer. He was not the program director of MSNBC or the president of MSNBC. He was the primary stockholder in one of the parent companies of MSNBC. Do we really want the stockholders of media companies dictating programming? Trust me, had he reacted, we would not have been happy with the precedent.

Complaining to the powers that be at Fox is a waste of time. They want to offend us.

On the other hand, biding our time, collecting our facts, and choosing our battles will produce the best results. If we organize our massive responses, that are respectful, well thought out, focused on facts rather than opinions, and directed toward outlets that really do want to do more than preach to the right-wing choir, we can have a real effect on the way news is reported.

Blogging has the potential to add something new and valuable to the way news is disseminated and interpreted. It also has the potential to become just another pointless source of noise in our lives. Remember, TV was originally hailed as a great educational tool. The way Kos and others are going into the guts of the nominating process is the best way to use this new tool. Filling comment strings, regardless of the original topic, with whines of “I want to talk about how the media is misrepresenting my candidate” is the wrong way to use it. Bring the best blogging voices together the way group blos like American Street do is the best way to use it. Laying siege to the New York Times over every Maureen Dowd opinion piece is the wrong way to use it.

This is not to say that hard political news is the only legitimate use of blogging. Gossip, community building, satire, stupid criminal stories, and science trivia also have a place in the blogosphere (and in archy). I’m just feeling cranky about some of the wasted political energy that I see. I’d rather see that energy focused on the most efficient action to make George Bush unemployed a year from Tuesday.

Update: Corrected wrong first name for Savage and some sloppy punctuation.

posted by John at 10:10 PM

Copyright 2003-2004 John J. McKay. Use what you want, but give credit where credit is due.
Powered by Blogger Pro™