Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A little voice of caution has entered my mind recently regarding Barack Obama, for whom I will vote on Tuesday. Deliberately failing to vote is unacceptable, and so I am interfaced with an electoral choice. (That of course is not the only choice we must make; whether we know it or not, we must choose whether or not to let other people dictate our diction. I would not use the word ``interface'' unless I was trying to have fun, which I was.)
Only individuals of great fortitude can't be corrupted by adulation. I'm not sure that Barack Obama is one of them. I've chosen him over John McCain, because McCain has left no doubt that he is a man of little principle. Time and time again during the campaign, McCain has misrepresented Obama's policy proposals; the idea is to employ the notion that if you repeat a lie often enough, people who first understood it to be a deception will begin to consider it to be the truth. This is his gambit to bring in the undecideds, the swing voters, whatever you want to call them.
The primary example is McCain's claim that Obama intends to ``spread the wealth.'' He lets Sarah Palin -- she has not repudiated the racism displayed at a rally she led this month -- label Obama, as a consequence, a socialist.
So, although there is a glow that surrounds Obama and that probably obscures our ability to get a clear vision of what President Obama's temperament and respect for accountability might be, we already know McCain's history of political inconsistency, his disregard for the truth, and his pugnaciousness. That's enough to drive me to Obama. Full disclosure requires me to say that I have never voted for a Republican -- I first voted for Kennedy over Carter in the 1980 primary -- I never considered voting for McCain, and have held Obama in high esteem. He is thoughtful and deliberative, and he seems to be a man of conviction.
McCain's tactic (did I get that right, John? Should I have called it a strategy instead?) to stigmatize Obama has worked on at least one individual, the obviously right-wing TV reporter who implied that Obama is a Marxist.
The Republicans have played up Obama's association with William Ayres, a former domestic terrorist who was a member of the Weather Underground. Then they hoped that repeating the loaded term ``spread the wealth,'' which Obama used with Joe the Plumber, would drop Obama. But after neither worked, they called him a socialist and now, as I said at least one TV reporter has implied that Obama is a Marxist. Yesterday, Fox News ran an investigation of Obama's affinity for Marxism and associations with Marxists. But Fox News never answered these questions: Even if Obama is a Marxist, so what? What would this mean, in concrete terms, for Obama's policy initiatives? What would be the consequences? And is a revision of the tax code necessarily Marxist? Could it be when accomplished by way of a democratic process? Does Fox News fear that Obama would have the audacity and employ the stupidity required to attempt to change the code by executive order?
Would Obama promulgate about covert acts of domestic violence?
And has it ever been a good idea to have such a percentage of wealth controlled by a small percentage of the citizenry? (I think I know how the powers that be at Fox might answer that one.)
The right would never have bothered to call Barack socialist or Marxist, never would we have been reminded of Bill Ayers, if the electoral polls had not consistently and heavily favored Obama. The Republicans don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. At this time I would not bet that Obama will be elected, but I would bet on him with less worry that I would lose my shirt than I would on John McCain.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SARASOTA, Fla. -- During my stay at my parents' home here I watched the Red Sox lose their chance to repeat in the World Series. After game six, TBS broadcast the faces and body language of crestfallen and tearful Tampa Bay Rays fans. They looked like their team had lost the series, that there was no tomorow, no last chance.

Given their last chance the next night, Tampa Bay beat the Sox, which didn't surprise me at all. I was surprised that the Red Sox had managed to push the series out to seven games -- the Sox had fared so poorly against the Rays in the regular season.

After game seven I was neither crestfallen nor tearful. I had been expecting the Red Sox to lose for a long time.

Teams rarely repeat. History is against them.

As I went to bed I just couldn't feel bad about the defeat. After all, I knew perfectly well that I had not been defeated. For the most part I felt serene, unexpectantly satisfied, only a little empty.

Two days later, The Sarasota Herald-Tribune ran this a Boston Globe editorial:

``[W]e New Englanders can afford to be magnanimous. We have our memories of
October glory, and they are fresh; they are not shrouded in the mists of time that separate living generations from folks who were around in 1918, before Babe Ruth absconded to the Bronx... With only the tiniest tremor of regret, Sox fans may now salute the youth and brio of the Tampa Bay team.''

That was what I felt. A tiny tremor of regret.
But the day before the paper reprinted from the Globe, the Herald-Tribune, as its lead story on the Rays' triumph, ran this from columnist Doug Fernandes. It read in part:`
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
It was destroyed Sunday night, reduced to the harmless title of ex-world champions by a team that didn't choke, didn't gag, didn't clutch.
No Heimlich required. Just a one-way ticket back to Boston for the dethroned Red Sox.''
No magnaminity there. Fernandes make it sound as though the Sox and the Rays had developed a bitter ages-old rivalry. The Herald-Tribune could have used an editorial cooling period, which could only doubtfully be afforded by the tight deadline Fernandes was working under.
Either that, or, before the series, the paper should have instituted an editorial policy mandating temperance.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


SARASOTA, Fla. -- I was stranded in the airport in Atlanta Oct. 17 when CNN, avoidable on the airport concourse but ignored only with great effort at the gate, reported on the racist invective directed at Sen. Barack Obama at a Sarah Palin rally in Johnstown, Penn. a week earlier.
I was traveling alone to Florida, stuck in an unplanned seven-hour layover, killing time reading and watching TV. Except to trade acerbic comments about the airline's ineptitude for keeping us so long, I didn't converse with anyone.

The noise in the terminal drowned out CNN's audio so I couldn't get a sense of why the network was running the week-old footage of the smug bastard son of a bitch brandishing a stuffed-animal Curious Gerorge with an Obama bumper sticker for a hat. The report then used video having to do with the recent placement of Ku Klux Klan flyers on Sunday papers.

I concluded that CNN's angle must have been the Obama Campaign and Racism in America. That is based on what I saw. As I said, I couldn't hear the report. Therefore I got no answer to my question: Had Palin had repudiated the anti-Obama hecklers? As of today I could not find a news account to that effect through Google.

Facing me across the aisle of chairs was an older African-American couple. I put more value on their response to the TV story than on mine. I'm white and they're black; the video referred more directly than it did mine because they are the descendants of slaves, and I am not.

I glanced furtively at them. I saw enough of their response so that I could turn my eyes away before my eyes and theirs met.

I've lived in Massachusetts for 45 years and never in the South. If, during my brief time in the South -- vacations in New Orleans in 1996 and '97, and overnight stays in Virginia and North Carolina -- I had confronted the topic of racism, even in a brief glancing moment, to acknowledge with black person there, I would never have forgotten that encounter.

Of course I don't know what was in the couple's heads as they watched CNN at that moment. They shook their heads -- perhaps in amazement. I was puzzled that they didn't seem at all angry. I hope they did not feel resignation, but they might have.

Because I did not talk to them I never learned where they are from. I couldn't hear them. I was unable to listen for accents that would have allowed for at least a guess.
I was as able to do anything about the situation as I was able to bring Flight 5716 to Sarasota to the gate.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Despite the static and the fading signals broadcast from his father's CB radio, John Moe heard enough to know ``the trucks were out there.''

He was fascinated, ``hearing the lonely truckers talk to each other. It made me feel less lonely, somehow...''

Moe transmitted his remarks, and the images they evoke, in a commentary on ``Weekend America,'' an American Public Radio program he hosts. The year was 2008. The month and day: 10/4.

Truck drivers identified themselves with ``handles'' such as Big Ben or Rubber Duck -- used by C.W. McCall in his 1975 novelty tune, ``Convoy''. That way the information on who was doing the talking remained privileged.

I don't remember anyone using describing Citizen Band radio as interactive, the word we use now instead of two-way, although it was. (Another two-way invention, amateur or ham radio, caught on in the early 20th century.)

``We've ditched the CB, but its ghost entered our iPhone or Blackberry,'' Moe said.

``Instead of handles we have user names, which are never our real names.''

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This summer, the American Journalism Review published a piece on how National Public Radio is begging to be renamed National Public Portals. Although the AJR doesn't say that -- I made it up -- the journal quotes executives as saying they are emphasizing the improvement of NPR's on-line service
But the emphasis on getting the news outlets to publish in multiple formats may just require too much work. Reporters at NPR, and elsewhere, are complaining.
With $1.5 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and $1 million of its own money, NPR is training its 450 editorial employees ``in digital storytelling skills and to pay for substitutes to fill in for them while they learn,'' AJR reports.
Which means that NPR has been training its reporters with little or no Web learning in Flash multimedia software and the Premiere video editing program. They learn basic photography and videography and ``(create) one multimedia project per week,'' AJR reports. They have been trained in using NPR's content management program and search engine optimization, AJR reports.
The AJR quotes Dick Meyer, NPR Digital Media editorial director, as saying he understands if some staff feel uncomfortable with the tasks of getting videos and writing for the Web.

``We're not insisting that everybody become a multimedia artist.''
For now. In general, however, it is the highly skilled and versatile workers that employers choose to retain and reward.
Editors don't stick around forever. Down the road a new editorial regime that would not be so forgiving or even tolerant of non-multimedia artists could emerge at NPR. Communications technology is not the only thing that changes.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Journalists who choose to go multi-media are putting in a lot of unpaid hours. The AJR quotes Art Silverman, a senior producer of ``All Things Considered,'' as saying:
"For this to work, it must be clear how the time is supposed to be spent. It's not really clear now. People get praised for creating multimedia. If Miss X did a slide show or if someone else did a written story for the Web, they get a lot of praise. But when you drill down, and ask, 'How did you fit that in?' they say, 'Oh, I did it on my own time and stayed up late at night finishing it.' In order to get the attention one must tear oneself out of the day and do extra work. Time is often not allotted to do these things."
Neda Ulaby, arts and culture reporter, is quoted as saying she's glad that management is getting the training.
"It helps them realize how much time the assignment is going to take...'' If they want a picture, "they've got to know that it will take me an hour because I'm still not a trained photographer. I'm now a radio person who can take a picture better than your average schlump."

Two years ago today, ``All Things Considered'' ran a story about a Nashville TV station that was trying to retrain all of its reporters to become ``video journalists.'' Reporters and camera operators were required to do all the tasks involved in producing a TV story -- editing, writing, reporting and filming.
Al Devine, a veteran cameraman, said:
"It was a nightmare... All of a sudden, you had to use a whole different side of your brain. I wasn't a writer. I could edit. I could do most everything else. But I wasn't a writer. I still type like a pumpkin."
Last year, Mother Jones reported on the Tribune Co.'s new mandate that print journalists also
report breaking stories on its cable station
``Many reporters were anxious about the new arrangement, which meant more work without more pay, and less time to do their regular jobs. They weren't comforted when managers announced that they were remodeling the newsroom to put a television studio directly outside the editor-in-chief's door. These reporters recognized that technology was changing their industry, and most were eager to learn new digital skills and make the occasional TV appearance. Their main concern was that as `content providers,' they were losing time for reporting, thinking, and writing—the essential ingredients of their craft—forcing them to churn out increasingly dumbed-down articles.''
``Content providers.'' Gack...
Mother Jones reported this quote from an editor-in-chief, which appeared in the American Journalism Review in 1998:
"I am not the editor of a newspaper. I am the manager of a content company."
          Did the editor say that with a smile on his face?