29.2.08

"Hillary is Not the Enemy," The Press Is

I. Biting The Big Dog
How do we feel about the Clintons these days, Obama supporters? My inbox is filled with the vitriol of our kind, many who claim to have voted for Bill twice in the nineties, who feel betrayed by the ex-Big Dog and his wife. Most stress that "Hillary is not the enemy" but spare little fury despite those words.

I don't hate the Clintons. I rather like the Clintons, in fact. I think Hillary's made some big mistakes as a senator and I agree with Michael Moore that it is "morally indefensible" to vote for her. But the screw ups of Bill and her campaign have been exaggerated.

I agree that the Clinton's have not campaigned well. But people like Tim Russert, most of MSNBC, the lousy CNN anchors, Brian Williams, and The New York Times have trashed the Clintons and taken minor flops like Bill's "fairy tale" comment and "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84" comment and blown them out of proportion. They don't, after all, as Jon Stewart pointed out recently, quite sound like Strom Thurmond's racist diatribes of the mid-20th century. Yet you might not know it by the news coverage.

II. ADD Journalism

For the past seven years this nation's media has gotten away with irresponsible journalism. The media has sustained the Bush Administration through it's countless scandals when, in the past, any one of the major constitutional lesions caused by Bush 2.0 would have put him out on his ass. The attorney purge is my favorite, but you can go with the CIA Valerie Plame leak, the no-bid Halliburton contracts, Katrina, I mean, there's no shortage of options.

I've often compared the Bush Administration's survival to The Simpsons episode when Monty Burns goes to the hospital for a checkup and the doctor informs him that he has a condition known as "Three Stooges Syndrome" - so many diseases are trying to get into Mr. Burns' body at once that it's as though they're all stuck in a doorway, trying to get in at the same time, but can't. Mr. Burns then, predictably, decides this means he's invincible and revels in the thought, oblivious to the doctor saying, "No, no! If one of these diseases got in you'd be dead! Even a slight breeze could kill you!"

It's much the same situation with the media today. The 24 hour news cycle requires a new Burns-ian disease each day. Each has a half-life of little more than 72-hours at best. We've ended up with a President so fragile, a slight breeze might kill him and yet he continues to think himself invincible; the media tries to force through a new disease a day, and none get through.

III. Meta-Journalism

That journalism could replace politics or international affairs as the story - meta-journalism, journalism about journalism - is nothing new. It was of course the 20th century's first Big Dog of journalism, William Randolph Hearst, who fomented the Spanish-American War out of ether. Hearst's wire-transmission decree to his journalist Frederic Remington who was in Cuba reporting that no war was imminent says it all: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war."

Now THAT'S meta-journalism.

Maybe if that's what we were dealing with today, things would be a little more interesting in the journalism debate. But Arthur Sulzberger is not William Randolph Hearst. Sulzberger, instead, epitomizes Walter E. Kurtz's words more than Hearst's: "You are an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill."

The meta-journalism we have today is constant, self-perpetuating. It is in the forums provided by Scarborough, O'Reilly, Hannity, Blitzer, even The Keith, where the same "experts" appear show after show with the same bland one liners - "Hillary is taking the gloves off," "throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Barack" - that end up defining the political discourse for the next 24 hours.


We've reached a point where the discussion "what effect will this comment have on Hillary's campaign?" has actually BECOME the effect that comment has on Hillary's campaign. It's a totally reflexive, self-referential excercise and it leaves you with a populace that watches the news like it would the movie Cloverfield; waiting for the next idiot to go where he shouldn't and end up decapitated. Our anchors gladly oblige and swing their broadswords with the delicacy of a child at Chuck-E-Cheese's playing the Whack-A-Mole game.

For now, this is all working nicely to Barack's advantage as anchors actually joke, in large numbers, about the media conspiracy Saturday Night Live accused them of being in on, sort of, against Hillary. But the media giveth and the media taketh away. They did to Hillary, and they could just as easily, and at any time, to Barack.

28.2.08

Xenophobic Coffee

Don't be an asshole! Drink Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee, or Rachel Ray will pour tomato sauce on your head and gnaw your face off!
I’m impressed with Dunkin’ Donuts’ tack in their new commercial which appears to focus its coffee-ground gaze at the Xenophobic-Republican-and-Lou-Dobbs market. My suggested slogan:
Dunkin’ Donuts: Coffee For People Who Don’t Want To Fucking ‘Press 1 for English’

27.2.08

What We Don't Know About the World

This is an article I published as Editor in Chief of my college newspaper, The Skidmore News, at the end of 2006. I'm republishing it here because it's been on my mind lately in relation to the presidential election and I want to write a bit using this article as a sort of jumping off point. Peruse at your leisure.

What We Don't Know About the World
Cover Story, 14 April 2006
Volume 82 Issue 21
The Skidmore News

If you're a Skidmore student, questions about international current events might leave you scratching your head. At least that's what is indicated by the results of a fifteen-question current events survey designed by The Skidmore News and administered by nine professors to nine Skidmore academic classes in seven academic departments. One hundred and sixty Skidmore students took the survey that included questions addressing local, national, and international news as well as pop culture. Our average score: 47%. Read on to see what we know and don't know, why we don't know it, and how to fix it.

THE RESULTS

The president of Iran is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's a tough name to pronounce and a tougher one to spell, but it might be worthwhile to get it down if the United States tosses a couple tactical nuclear warheads his way, an option the Bush administration has on the table according to investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh.

Ahmadinejad was identified – with generous leeway for spelling – by only three out of the one hundred and sixty students surveyed by The Skidmore News. "As a teacher of international affairs," said a dismayed Professor of Anthropology, Gerry Erchak, "it's quite sad to think people don't know – even if you can't spell it, just to mumble it – the president of Iran, when right now that's one of the most important front page stories on a daily basis; the conflict of the West with Iran, and particularly its nuclear ambitions."

Professor of Sociology, Rik Scarce found the result equally disturbing. "[That statistic] is troubling because according to the news the president is thinking about using nuclear weapons against Iran. [That option] is beyond the pale and it would help if we knew a little about the nation we're going to nuke."

In Iraq-related matters, 76% of students surveyed knew that about 2,500 United States troops have died in the Iraq War so far but only 25% could name a city, besides Baghdad, in Iraq. "It's kind of fascinating," noted Scarce, "that students can get the correct number of troops [killed] but can't tell us where they were killed."

Students displayed a decent knowledge of the United States' number one ally, England, and 82%, a higher percentage than any other question, correctly named Tony Blair as the nation's prime minister. However that number still startled Professor of Anthropology, Gerry Erchak: "To not know the British Prime Minister… I don't understand how that's possible. You'd have to wear earplugs, a blindfold, and sit in a closet. I don't understand how you could not hear that just walking around… That's what kills me."

And despite extensive campus discussion and high passions concerning abortion, 14% of students surveyed named the two most recent additions to the United States Supreme Court (Samuel Alito and now Chief Justice John Roberts); a body that may soon play the decisive role in the future of abortion in the United States.

56% of students correctly identified Condoleezza Rice as the current United States Secretary of State. When told that statistic Erchak responded, "you're ruining my day."

Scarce felt the results offered a "mixed bag; there are some positive things but there are also some things that tell us engagement is limited… I think we see that some students are paying attention to the fundamental aspects of the world around them. Should they care more? Yeah, but I see some great things in this data and some that are really disappointing."

Seven out of ten students know the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. 63% of students surveyed know the H5N1 bird flu virus is not yet able to pass from person to person and about as many students know there are eight declared nuclear weapons states in the world (51%) as were able to name two of the hosts of American Idol (50%). Only 15% identified Val Keehn as the mayor of Saratoga Springs.

Said Erchak of the overall results: "I don't see how you can take your place in the world and graduate without knowing some of these things. These aren't jeopardy questions."

WHY DON'T WE KNOW THIS STUFF?

Are the Daily Show and the Colbert Report to blame? Can it be that the contemporary college students' Woodward and Bernstein led us astray? Is the flaw in our education? Or is the fault not in our stars but in ourselves? There is little consensus on the matter.

Dean of Student Affairs, Pat Oles, asserts students' lack of knowledge in the affairs of the world speaks in part to, "the predisposition of faculty and staff to go deep into research not related to current events related issues of concern… I think the specialization of disciplines," continued Oles, "is higher right now than the broad discourse of public affairs. And that's just kind of the state of the world right now."

Oles also wondered whether the ease of information gathering thanks to the internet contributes to a lack of current events awareness. "To the extent that Google allows you to go get a specific fact," considered Oles, "I wonder if that's at the loss of a slower, deeper understanding because pre-Google I would have had to wander to the library and read a book or an article." But while Oles wondered whether specialization in the classroom led to decreased current events awareness, professors Erchak and Scarce both felt that students should come to class already with an understanding of critical issues in the world.

"[Much of this information] should be things that students obtain for themselves," said Erchak. "These should be things that we can rely on as teachers as things that students would know so that we can build on that. I mean you can't teach literature if students don't know their alphabet or the basics of sentence structure. And I think that's what we have here."

Scarce felt that lecturers and special guests brought to Skidmore offer a wealth of knowledge that is largely untapped by the student body. "The chances to engage in intellectual life here outside the classroom are extraordinary… if you went to Clarence Page's lecture you'd remember Condi Rice, he talked about her. It's not just about the classroom."

Erchak struggled to propose a reason why students displayed such a tenuous grasp on the facts of the world around them. "I think it's partly the substitution of shows like [The Daily Show] and the Colbert Report [in place of] news and newspaper reading," said Erchak. "I'm a little bit upset because the New York Times was just made available for free a couple of years ago. You'd think that that would have an impact. You certainly see a lot of students reading it. But apparently there are an equally large number of students who don't read it, or don't retain it, or whatever. But you know, even Jon Stewart, I'm sure, mentions the President of Iran, so I'm not sure what's going on here."

Even further complicating the debate on students' blasé attitude toward current events, Student Government Association President, Petria Fleming '06 offered yet another opinion.

"When we have a school that has 'creative thought' coming before thinking… what you have is a situation where activism becomes more important than thinking. Like in discussions on diversity the conversation is sometimes, 'Oh, we have a problem with diversity, let's do something about it.' And when you don't stop to think why diversity is important or what that concept means, then that's activism without thinking."

Fleming worries that this blind activism leads to the end of learning for the sake of learning and a situation where considerate civic engagement is limited. "In this situation, academics become subservient to action," said Fleming.

Though there is little consensus on anything but the opinion that the results of the current events quiz were poor, most interviewed seemed to agree the tools to fix the problem are available and are not, but must be, utilized.

STUDENTS RESPOND

Julia Cizeski '09 takes a full load of classes and wishes she kept up more with the news than she does. It seems a typical position of the Skidmore student.

"I wish I kept up with [current events] more, I think it's really important. I feel like I'm kind of in a bubble here though and I know there are resources here… but I feel like there's so much," Cizeski claimed.

Intimidation by media outlets and products seem to hold a number of students back. "[Following the news] isn't just about this year it's about knowing what happened for the last ten years," said Cizeski.

For Michelle Bossler '09 there is a similar feeling of intimidation although she finds motivation to keep up with the news from some of her classes.

"I'm not up to date but I'm trying to be," she said, "I haven't been raised to follow the news but I took Critical Issues in World Politics to try to keep up on it. I feel like people are up to date in their field of interest but maybe not the news."

Time is also a factor for students as noted Erica Kretz '09.

"I'd like to be more informed… I don't have enough time though," said Kretz. But Kretz noted that she used to have a better grasp on current events in high school. "We talked more in group settings," she explained, "Skidmore would benefit from more group discussions [on current events] but I'm not sure who would organize that."

There is a dynamic in class, though, that seems to motivate students but does not exist outside class. Bossler explained: "When people ask questions in class I'm amazed at how in depth the questions are so I'm pushed to keep up but I don't see that outside of class at all."

Cizeski agreed; "Outside of class it's not as intellectual and activist as I thought it might be."

WHERE DO WE FIGURE HISTORICALLY?

The paradox of the Information Age may be that the more access young people have to news in America, the more they ignore it or are distracted by other things. At least that is what is suggested by a 1990 study by the Times Mirror Center and corroborated, at least in part, by this Skidmore News study, administered sixteen years later as access to information and the media has only increased.

In 1990 the Times Mirror Center published "The Age of Indifference," a report on the involvement of Americans, evaluated by age group, in current events at the start of the 90's and how it compared to past generations. Though the study was much broader than the one distributed by The Skidmore News and about half of the participants in the 18-29 year old range had not attended college, there were similarities in that age group's grasp of current events and ours.

In November 1989 the report showed that 42% of participants aged 18-29 followed "very closely" the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of the Berlin Wall. In May of 1989, 26% of the 18-29 age group followed "very closely" the United States Supreme Court's "hearing of arguments in a Missouri abortion case." Today, 14% of Skidmore Students surveyed correctly named the two most recent justices appointed to the Supreme Court.

The study concluded that its data in 1990 "reveals a generation [of 18-29 year olds] that knows less, cares less, and reads newspapers less. It is also a generation that votes less and is less critical of its leaders and institutions than young people in the past."

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Often the stacks of New York Times positioned around Case Center are emptied before noon. And, as Erchak suggested, the questions in The Skidmore News' quiz are indeed the occasional targets of the Stewart or Colbert-ian wit. Nonetheless, the evidence is that students, even if they are encountering current events news, aren't retaining it. So what can be done?

"Well, I think students should put away their iPods and spend more time reading newspapers, listening to news, watching news, and reading also news magazines… it's easy to catch up on the basics," said Erchak, "it's just not hard." Erchak acknowledged that in some ways it is harder for students to keep track of the news because of the work they to do for classes but said, "I would never accept that as an excuse."

For Scarce, he sees a wealth of opportunities for engagement outside the classroom that is generally ignored by students. "We bring brilliant young poets to campus, New York Times photographers, French philosophers. The opportunities to use what you learn in class, outside of class," emphasized Scarce, "is just extraordinary here." Scarce, who has also taught at Michigan State University said that he "has never been on a more intellectually charged campus when it comes to events outside the classroom… not every students needs to go to every event, but more need to show up."

The First Year Experience, suggested Oles, might be a place where it might be possible to create a coordinated effort to read and follow the press. But in general Oles felt the engagement needed to occur from student to student. "People master facts in favor of facing debate," said Oles. "Where do students go after lectures? Do they sit down in the dining hall and say, for example, 'Wow, Bernard Henri Lévy, what a windbag,' and discuss that?... I think students need to demand more of each other and faculty need to demand more of students."

Ideas abound but the reality remains that students at Skidmore find themselves in a dismal condition when it comes to our awareness of the world around us. Our heads are in the sand now, but what happens when something comes along that forces them out? Worried Erchak, "It's scary because you'll have uninformed people who are directly or indirectly making decisions by voting, selecting leaders… Maybe they won't vote right away, but they will vote. So you have people with no knowledge of what's going on. That makes you easy prey for ideologues and zealots it seems to me."

26.2.08

Obama vs. Clinton - Take 20

A big red faced man who asks loud questions and the Mitt Romney of journalism - well, Brian Williams, looks like a news anchor, so he must be one - will pepper Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama with off-point, ill-formed, sensational-ish questions in 40 minutes. Who will win? Certainly not intellectual political discourse.

Stay Tuned - T-minus 38 minutes

Brian Williams: Blue tie, red diagonal stripes, up from the left to right.

Tim Russert: Blue tie, closer, thinner, white stripes, down from left to right.

906 p.m.: Hillary keeps harping this line about Obama's health care plan not covering everyone and her's will. Not true. See the recent NY Times article.

909: We get it. Hillary likes health care. Move on.

911: Everyone stands for universal health care and no one is accurate. The debate on this issue is pointless until you have it with Republicans in congress.

914: I think Barack is happy to have this debate. It's too abstract to latch onto for the audience. They're not going to care until a plan is on the floor from an actual president, not a candidate. As long as he keeps bobbing and weaving this shit, Hillary's just taking up airtime.

916: I don't know if he's right, but nice hit on that Medicare Part B point. Hillary's just digging a hole now.

918: WHAT???!??! Saturday Night Live? What is she talking about? That was a hell of a flop. As Grandpa Simpson says, "Ohhh, bitch, bitch, bitch."

922: Obama seems to be speaking above a debate with Clinton, his aim is just America. Her's is Obama. He's treating her like a bit of an afterthought or distraction.

925: I'm not one of these Clinton haters and I don't like to see how Russert is treating her. She's made some big mistakes, but the Clinton's were a huge coup for this country in the nineties and paved the way for someone like Obama to be where he is. I really think it's despicable how the media handles her these days. The bro says Big-Dog-Bill is biting through his steel chain to get back in the Rose Garden, and has fucked her over. I dunno. This shit's just shameful. Gore's not their fault, Bush isn't their fault, and NAFTA wasn't Clinton's fault.

935: The more Obama plays close to Clinton, the more absurd he makes her attacks look. It's like wrapping up the other boxer - nowhere to land a punch.

938: Most military experts agree with Obama that we should strike Pakistan if we have actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda and Pakistan refuses to do so. They just don't agree you should announce it in a speech...

939: "If he is the nominee, as he appears to be..." Whoa.

943: I like that MSNBC tells the audience to be quiet and not clap or anything as opposed to CNN which treats its debates like an episode of Jerry Springer. Wolf Blitzer and every other person on CNN should be dropped in the middle of Fallujah and left for dead.

944: Agreed, Hillary, Russert asks only hypotheticals. And they're stupid. See his Meet The Press with Ron Paul over Iran invading Israel, hypothetically.

954: "Points for humor." He's so fucking good. No room to maneuver for Hillary.

1000: Obama got a little laugh, first one.

1004: Everything's an absolute with Russert. His mind is so simple. No shades of gray. Who cares if Obama doesn't use public financing, his money comes from $20 donations. Fuck off Russert.

1008: Who fucking cares about Farakhan??? No one asked McCain about Falwell. Shut the fuck up, Russert.

1009: Someone needs to cut out Russert's vocal chords. Who gives a shit about this 9-step removed Farakhan, Jeremiah Wright bullshit.

1015: "If Hillary thinks that denounce is a stronger word than reject then I concede the point. I'm willing to reject and denounce [Farakhan's support]." Holy Shit. That sure backfired in Hillary's face. Audience clapter. Cut to commercial. Barack 1, Hillary 0.

1023: "Mevdevevdev" Cheap shot, Russert, but Hillary looked bad. Obama should have had more to say about him, though.

1028: "I knew better." God that's refreshing. Thanks, Barack.

1029: Barack's pulling that George Stephanopolous line from the war room, "tomorrow, we're gonna win. and thats going to mean that people are going to have a bit better jobs, they'll pay a little less for college, and theyll have a little better health care."

1033: Hillary's held back every chance she had an opportunity to prop up herself and seriously damage the party. She doesn't have it in her to win at any cost - she doesn't want to bring down the Democratic Party. Bill, maybe - I love him anyway and I'm glad it's not up to him. But she's held back and Barack has held back when he gets Brian Williams pathetic handouts. She didn't land any of the blows she needed to to swing this back around, and Barack deferred to graciousness when he could have landed hooks and upper-cuts. The best debate by far. Barack by a hair. He wraps it up next Tuesday. The Democratic Party survives. Maybe, next year, we pay a little less for healthcare, get a bit better education, and have a little better jobs.

19.2.08

Ends

Revs
"Mawh-cee"
Imperialism RIP Bloom
The Watcher

From the Lion's Den

The lion under a steel sky
A half faded memory
Who Cares

Red Hook

We are both lost in thought this monday morning
Rommel
Her beautiful hands
Flashing Lights
Rollin in MPV's/ Every week we made 40 g's

The Homestead and the Road to Red Hook

Liberty: Cheap DeKalb Avenue
4x4x2-Bush votes

6.2.08

Bucks For Barack

Dear Fellow Obama Supporter;

In January 2008 Barack Obama’s campaign padded its accounts with $32 million in 31 days. Since last night it added another $4.25 million worth of cushioning. Today Hillary Clinton responded with a $5 million infusion of her own cash.

In the past, I choked down numbers like this alongside the numbers that matter; our vote tallies. But with Barack Obama I find those coffer totals palatable. Why? Because of that $32 million haul, 90% of it came from donations of $100 or less. Some of it came from me. Some of it might have come from you.

A candidate needs vast sums of money to run a campaign. That’s a fact I’m not happy with. However, given the promise I see in Barack Obama and the precarious state of our nation, I have convinced myself that, despite my personal misgivings, this year I can ill afford not to back up my ballot with my bucks. The fact that so many others like me who support Senator Obama have made their own donations – whatever they can, whenever they can – encourages me.

Senator Obama offers the promise of a rejuvenated nation and a more transparent, more egalitarian mechanism by which his campaign is funded.

Words have spilled for 24 hours now on the subject of these latest two intertwined sets of numbers; votes and funds. Those words tend to blur the image of the primary further, not sharpen our focus where it is needed.

What is clear is the need for the spirit of John Kennedy’s words from almost 50 years ago to propel our generation – the internet generation – this candidate, and this country out of the morass of stagnant political intellectualism that has lingered across America since the Vietnam War. We have seen the damage standing still can do in seven years of George Bush and his fellow Neocons.

I ask you to help reach your college’s fundraising goal of $5,000 by giving what you can, when you can. Our money will speak as loud as our votes, and no number of baby boomers stuck in the ways of yesterday will repress our emergence as the most powerful vote in American politics.

“The world is changing. The old ways will not do… It is time for a new generation of leadership.”

Sincerely,

-A Volunteer
Students For Barack Obama