A (Very) Rare Strib Two-fer.

I call it a good day when the Star Tribune’s Op-Ed page publishes anything that sparks a flash between my sapped and withering neurons, much less spikes my blood pressure. So when it runs two in the same day it’s reason enough for a goddam victory parade. Not that either of the two that ran last Sunday exactly have me loading Molotov cocktails and hoisting my pitchfork.

The first, titled “A Flood of Words, Yet … “, was sent in by my old crony Bill (excuse me, “William”) Souder. I’ve known Bill since we had adjoining desks at the Twin Cities Reader long, long ago. Even then he was one of those uncommonly gifted writers. Sentences flowed from him like smokey, 20-year single malt scotch, and begat lovely paragraphs you’d hold out at arm’s length and mutter, “The bastard!” What we had in common I’ll never know. My heroes were Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson, and I was convinced every story got better with the more ellipses, exclamation marks and grunts of bestial pleasure you slid in.

In other words, Bill’s a bit of a traditionalist, while I’m pretty much okay with the on-going evolution of everything, as long as it doesn’t mean Glenn Beck re-writing the Constitution in Crayon and Sarah Palin breaking a nail on the nuclear button. Even Hunter Thompson knew you could push some insanity way too far.

Bill’s beef is that the beauty and cultural importance of the (well-) written word is being seriously diminished in our age of Tweeting and texting and LOL-ing. Impressions and reactions come across well enough, but it’s pretty hard to advance and improve on  the vast range of empirical knowledge with “snark” and “slang”. All that I get. But as I finished, what struck me was that it isn’t so much a paucity of words and personal expression we’re dealing with as an explosion. Every damned person I know, every D- student at every under-funded junior high is obsessively narrating hi\s or her life, and we can “follow” them if we want. The good and great writers haven’t so much disappeared as they’ve been submerged by this PDA-induced dam-burst of expression, the vast … vast … majority of which is wretchedly inane.

Anyone who has followed my standard rants will understand how this got me going on what I firmly believe is the greatest, most significant, cleaving of cultures of our time. Namely the constantly widening gulf between critical, disciplined thinkers and the crowd operating primarily on emotion, superstition and wishful nonsense. And this isn’t just another one of my patented “liberals-smart, conservatives-stupid” screeds. For example, a fundamental explanation for our current economic predicament is the critical, disciplined thinking of an astonishingly small group of arbitrageurs and financiers concocting CDOs and the OMG! crowd happy to run up astonishing credit card balances and re-finance the roof over their heads for a set of his and hers ATVs. Much as gifted writers, lovers of substantive arguments and thoughtful expression have almost no patience with or appeal to the “true dat” crowd, the population that exerts the most influence over our economic fate speaks languages all but completely unintelligible to their, uh, “consumer base” … and they get richer that way.

Then, across the page from Souder’s paean to literary value, was a piece by veteran Stribber, Lori Sturdevant, a nice enough lady I’m sure, who I think I’ve met once, and is usually the embodiment of the Strib’s maddening confrontation and controversy avoidance style of journalism. (“Nothing’s worth getting too excited about!”) Okay, so she kind of was again.

Sturdevant was lamenting the partisan gridlock that has overwhelmed Minnesota’s legislature just as it has in Washington. “State government,” she writes, ” seems stuck with the jurisdictions of the 19th century, the structures of the 20th century, the funding formulas of the 1970s and the tax fights of the 1980s.” All of which I agree with. She then introduces one of those corporate efficiency experts every big company wheels in from time to time to bore the troops and freshen the operative jargon.

This guy, Larry Keely, suggests we gain greater “innovation competence”.  Government should be reorganized around “a disciplined analysis of state problems … an exercise quite different from partisan positioning, orchestrated public hearings and theatrical floor debates.” To which Sturdevant adds, we should, “Stop basing decisions on anecdotes or the arguments of a few vocal interests.”

No shit.

But what’s missing in all this reasonableness? How about the courage — the journalistic courage — to point a finger and identify where the worst and the most catalytic offenses against rational discourse, and the worst torrent of  anecdotes is coming from? One of the great ironies of this era in mass media is that — as with the explosion of semi-literate texters — we are drowning in hyperbole and vitriol, while what’s left of the mainstream press withdraws further and further from daring to assert who is right and who is wrong. The “new” Strib’s attitude, numbingly evident day after monotonous day on their Op-Ed pages, is the by now familiar (but safe) false equivalency perspective. Two silly sides, each make the same proportion of emotional, superstitious appeal to its under-informed partisans. But contrary to this (commercial) positioning, any critical-thinking person only has to look up and see where the most and most excessive barrages of anti-logic, quarter-truths and obstruction is coming from.

Fusty, over-mediated newspapers take extraordinary pride in their respect for “the truth”. Go to a media seminar and watch them stroke themselves for their husbandry of “truth”. Yet, their persistent, anxious, fretful avoidance of assessing truthfulness to one point of view at the expense of another is anti-thetical to any journalistic mission they ever studied or preached in college.

As my pal Bill Souder argues, some things have bona fide quality and value and need to be protected. Other things are temporal junk of very limited value, if any at all. Furthermore, it’s essential that critical, disciplined thinkers know the difference and step up — pretty regularly — to point it out.

89 thoughts on “A (Very) Rare Strib Two-fer.

  1. stpaulboy says:

    Yep, it’s that scene in Steve Martin’s, “The Jerk,” where his black, sharecropper father, as he’s about to send the young “Jerk” out into an uncaring world, walks Martin’s character around their shotgun shack and steers the slack-jawed rube directly into a fresh pile cow flop and laconically instructs his tyro of a son: “Son, this is shit.” Then from the back pocket of his overalls, the father withdraws a bottle of clear liquid with a large, stark label on it: “And this, this is Shinola. Know the difference.”

    Good advice.

      1. stpaulboy says:

        Lambo:

        Here’s a piece by NYU’s Jay Rosen that nicely dovetails with, and buttresses, your essential thesis. Basically, he’s asking journalists to apply the same rigor as a scientific peer review panel: extraordinary claims (the U.S. is on the verge of a socialist tyranny) require extraordinary evidence.

        MSM scribes dutifully chronicle such claims without holding them up to observable reality:

        http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2010/02/21/innocence.html

      2. Dennis Lang says:

        stpaulboy–Fabulous, thought-provoking article by Jay Rosen and the comments that follow. Thanks for the link.

  2. PM says:

    James Fallows had a great b log post that, i think, exactly mirrors your suggestion. Of course, Fallows was being critical of Evan Bayh–saying, if you don’t like what is going on in the Senate, why the heck didn’t you try to do something about it?

    Here is the heart of it:
    “Here’s a constructive suggestion: Do you really care about the partisanship that is ruining public life and that, as you said, has driven you from the Senate, Mr. Bayh? Then why not use the fact that you are still in the U.S. Senate for most of another year — a platform 99.999% of Americans will never occupy — and apply all the power you can to advance causes you care about. What is holding you back?

    Unlike everyone else up for election this year, you don’t have to worry how this or that bout of truth-telling will look on Election Day. Let ’em bitch! You don’t need an interest group to endorse you or a civic club to applaud you any more. Do you think hyperpartisanship is destroying the Senate? Why not call out people — by name, by specific hypocritical move — when you see them doing what they should be ashamed of? I guarantee that the press would eat this up. Why not a ten-month public seminar, through the rest of this year, on who is doing what, and how it could be different? Do you object to personal “holds” on nominations? Make it an issue! You have an idea of some issue where Republicans and Democrats might agree? Be specific about it and see what you can do. Again, if I know anything about the press and the melodrama of public life, I know you could turn it to your advantage — and the public’s, Mr. Smith style.”

    http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2010/02/evan_bayh_why_the_no-class_mov.php

    1. I had a fleeting hope that Mark Dayton, though held in less regard than Evan Bayh, would do the same after he bailed. But guys like them have lived in the kabuki theater for so long and second-guessed themselves so often its pretty futile to expect elected officials to lead this charge. To reiterate: Truth-telling on civic issues IS the responsibility of professional journalists.

  3. Dave says:

    Well said Brian. One paper that continues to hang in there is the Wall Street Journal and while they lean right, they also have no problem doing exactly what you are advocating. They are opinionated — like them or not.

    I’ll miss reading the great journalists and then forming my own opinion. Real-time news in 140 character chunks doesn’t get the job done.

    1. There’s little question that we are down to a handful of papers (and really no local television news rooms) resourceful enough to say what needs saying, damn the blowback. There are none in the Twin Cities.

  4. Joe Loveland says:

    On the editorial page, I strongly agree. Get off the fence. Provoke discussions that need to happen. Expose a side of the story that is being missed on the news pages. I’ve gotten positively indifferent about the metro dailies’ editorial pages, and that’s a big problem for both them and us.

    But editorial page aside, on the news pages, you’ve got a formula that goes like this: “Interest A contends this, and Interest Z contends that, and Interest A is ahead at this stage of the game.”

    I don’t like the implied false equivalence either, but some of my friends want to fix that with a formula like this: “Interest A contends this, Interest Z contends that, and the reporter hereby determines Interest A is wrong.” That scares me. I don’t want reporters (and the corporate publishers signing their checks) being the truth judge and jury for me.

    I’m wanting a news reporting formula more like this: “Interest A contends this, Interest Z contends that, and Experts 1, 2 and 3 supply this information relevant to the two contentions.” Then leave it up to the newly informed readers to determine truth.

    1. rob levine says:

      The distinction that you miss is this – the so-called conservatives have an ideology – at its base – that gives them license to lie. LIE. Read Shadia Drury’s book on Leo Strauss “Leo Strauss and the American Right,” then compare her analysis to our politics. Our politics is not a contention of right vs left, or conservative vs liberal. It is a distinction of one party that truly wants to advance civilization and one that literally has a pre-enlightenment vision of an ordered society based on wealth, not merit.

      1. PM says:

        I haven’t read the book, but do not some of them contend that wealth is a measure of merit? I.e., isn’t Bill Gates (for example) rich because he earned it via merit–being smart, or skilled or something of that nature?

    2. Well, my issue Joe, having lived in the sausage factory for 15 years, is that “equivalency” is both encouraged and acceptable as finished journalism. We’re not talking covering fires here. We’re talking debated points of view. What editors regularly accept, and consider “good journalism” is: The basic facts as we know them. A quote from side “A”, and a responding quote from side “B”. Job done. Let’s all hit happy hour. That isn’t enough anymore, if it ever was. if the story has any serious relevance, the mission should be to ascertain where the truth of the matter lies.

  5. rob levine says:

    IS Gates’ fortune because of his merit? Or is it because of being the right man in the right place at the right time? He got rich off of selling DOS to IBM, a contract that gave him simultaneous rights to the OS. BTW – Gates wasn’t even responsible for DOS – he bought it off someone else – AFTER he signed the contract with IBM. He was the quintessential middle man. If merit was responsible for wealth, then the people who actually wrote DOS would be the rich ones.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      I wonder, in a society that sanctifies personal achievement, often synonymous with the accumulation of material assets, if we don’t also regard someone like Gates as possessing a higher moral value. Our identity conflates with our achievements and our stature rises in our own eyes and in the eyes of others accordingly.

  6. rob levine says:

    BTW – almost all the men of wealth who funded the conservative movement since the 60s got their cash the old fashioned way – they inherited it. Scafie, Coors, Ahmanson, etc.

      1. rob levine says:

        Their stories differ somewhat. Coors – I think his family was scarred by prohibition, and they ran their company like their family – strict authoritarians. Scaife, I don’t know. Ahmanson couldn’t take the pressure and cracked, then found god with Dobson.

  7. Mike Kennedy says:

    Wow. What a massive generalization from you Rob. It’s the same old, same old. The tired, out-of-date, failed, class war posturing of the far left. Conservatives=rich and bad. Liberals=poor and virtuous.

    It’s like the time old adage of the liberal school girl being asked by her father if she would be willing to lessen her grades to give them to some others in the class who didn’t earn them.

    Working hard and being innovative and creative while bettering society and becoming rich is evil in your world, I know. I’m sure you believe the myth of the Robber Barrons and all the other Liberal Gospels.

    1. rob levine says:

      //Working hard and being innovative and creative while bettering society and becoming rich is evil in your world, I know. I’m sure you believe the myth of the Robber Barrons and all the other Liberal Gospels.

      Boy you sure know me well! Actually, I do believe that being innovative and creative (liberal values dependent on enlightenment ideas such as openness) should potentially make one wealthier. Don’t know where you got the idea that I thought differently.

      My point is that the Straussians believe it is okay – necessary, even – for elites to lie to the masses. That is the neocon strategy. And, as Paul Craig Roberts says, nearly all Republicans are now neocons.

      So there are two standards of truth in our discourse: One for Republicans, and one for everyone else. Republicans feel free to lie and mislead about almost everything. It sounds extreme to normal reasonable people to make such an argument, but that is precisely what the Straussians intend.

    2. rob levine says:

      You also see this strategy playing out right here in Minnesota. Governor BridgeFAIL, a neocon at heart, one day proposes to cut corporate income taxes, then days later refuses to fund continuing medical care for the poorest and the sickest – saying the state doesn’t have the money.

      Pawlenty won’t SAY he wants a structured, class-ordered society where everyone knows their place, but his policies have the effect of creating just such a society, even if the lowest on the socio-economic ladder don’t take their impoverishment lying down.

  8. Mike Kennedy says:

    Paul Craig Roberts, whoever the hell he is, doesn’t have his seatback and tray table in their fully upright and locked positions.

    What dim bulb who has done even a cursory study of those who identify themselves as Republicans would lump everyone into the neocon camp?

    Oh, but liberals do favor lax drug use laws. Maybe that explains what he is smoking.

    Where is the beef on that? Show me statistics, studies and profiles of the average Republican and then convince me most are neocons.

    I’m waiting.

    1. rob levine says:

      Why don’t you do a google search for “neocons control republican party” and you’ll see what I mean. As just one example, Pat Buchanan’s book

  9. rob levine says:

    I might add that I don’t want to leave the impression that I believe ALL Republicans are neocons. Indeed, they may be a minority of the party. The point is that they control the party, especially in Washington, and especially in the elites who staff think tanks and advocacy groups – the places where Republican administrations get their staffs from. So – the neocons might not be a majority at a Republican county convention, but when it comes to governing they rule.

  10. Frogman of Grant says:

    Brian…As it happens, I know William Souder and he once told me about this guy…you…he used to work with at the Reader. Souder said he was sure on his first day on the job that his deskmate with the gonzo patter and the fat Rolodex…you again…would make a much better success of the gig than he would. And you did.

    Meanwhile, i caught Senator Bayh on NPR yesterday saying he plans to support and/or introduce a measure to erase the 60-vote cloture rule in the senate. Maybe he actually listened to Mr. Fallows.

  11. Mike Kennedy says:

    Oh come on boys. I’m still waiting for proof.

    Your premise that those who rule the Republican party are all neocons is just flat out silly. If I were to believe it — and I’m open to proof because I’m no more active in GOP politics than I am D politics, I would have to look at the nomination of John McCain as being proof that your theory is all wet.

    From what I gathered, far right people had a fit at that nomination. He then selected Sexy Sarah to appease that MINORITY and look where that got him.

    I don’t think the country wants to be governed from the far right or the far left and that’s the message currently. Whichever party is the dumbest and lets its radical wing rule will get its collective ass handed to it.

    1. PM says:

      Well, neo-cons aren’t exactly the far right. Indeed, neo-cons are not the social conservatives at all (and i think that it was the social conservatives who were upset with the McCain nomination) (social conservatives are sometimes reserved as “theo-cons”). The neo-cons are more concerned with the “vigorous” projection of American Strength, using force to create a world in the image of the United States (imposing American values and institutions on the world) and the absolute preservation of Israel. They were the ones really pushing for the invasion of Iraq, and are similarly pushing for “real action” to be taken against Iran. They are the ones who want a militarization of our reaction to terrorism, and who see terrorism (particularly of the “islamo-fascist” variety) as the single most important issue in the world today–for the US. Former VP Cheney is a neo-con, as would be Rumsfeld–although neither one would be considered a neo-con ideologue–that is where the Straussians come in (followers of Leo Strauss).

      Nor are neo-cons really exclusively Republicans. Many of them found themselves at home with Clinton and his policies–creating a world in the image of the United States. In this sense, they are not all that dissimilar from neo-liberals (tony Blair and Bill Clinton). Huge differences appeared especially with respect to terrorism and the use of force to achieve their goals.

      Generally, neo-cons are not all that concerned with many domestic issues–unless they seem to imply something having to do with the decline of the US. They tend to have this fixation on the decline of the US, and the necessity to take any action to prevent the same.

      As usual, Wiki offers a good summary:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoconservatism

  12. Paul Gustafson says:

    Could it be that Congress is hopelessly divided because it reflects the electorate?

    This country has not decided which way to go in a crisis – or crises. Or, about major issues about the role of government and how many controls should be placed on free enterprise.

    And how much disparity you can have between the haves and the have-nots and still have a functioning society.

    The Senate is one thing. Two seats per state. Highly undemocratic. The House is another matter. Both major parties are very complicitious in carving out “safe” districts that enhance the Us vs. Them scheme of things.

    And the rules of both the House and Senate make things worse.

    The Senate with the filibuster rule. The House and Senate with the rule of the committee chairs. Both very undemocratic.

    Maybe, Obama should appoint a bi-partisan commission on the Reform of Congress.

    But, he’s not off the hook anyway.

    The Great Communicator needs to do some Great Communicating.

    God knows he’s got a lot on his plate. But he miscalculated on going for broke on health care reform while not focusing on the economy.

    He’s right when he sez the health care reform debate is critical to the long-term financial health of the nation.

    But, right now, it’s the economy and the jobs, stupid.

    The Republicans are playing a suicide end-game by thinking they can just stop all Democratic proposals. And, what if they win more Congressional races and can do more blockage of legislation? They’re playing to a hard-core base of no more than 30%. Still a minority party. And, the same problems unresolved, for which they could very well be blamed more than the Democrats.

    And, by the way, the deficits were sky-rocketing under the last Bush president. No mention of that by Republican Congressional leadership.

    Among those cash-cows was the Iraq War – a close to a trillion-dollar mistake. Didn’t stop terrorists. In fact, created more terrorists. And, Bush decided he would put it on the American credit card. (Defend that, Tim Pawlenty!)

    And, some Democrats still foolishly believe that Obama’s election ushered in a new Liberal Rule. Nothing could be further from the truth!

    Still, Obama has not taken leadership. He’s needs to get in the Bully-Pulpit and start talking turkey to the American People. Tough love.

    It’s a hard sell. Everyone wants to gore the other side. It’s time to look in the mirror as a nation. Washington hasn’t helped. But the problems begin in the mind-set of all – or many – of us.

    Something For Nothing. Buying a house or stocks with the “certainty” that they would appreciate by 7-10% annually. Now, that’s hubris on a societal scale!

    The American people were fine with those illusions. Until they hit the wall….now, they just want to find someone to blame. Everyone except themselves….

    1. Paul: I like your point about the naivete of liberals vis a vis Obama’s election. How anyone who follows politics ever thought he had an ironclad 60 votes — including Joe Lieberman for God’s sake — is beyond me. Then the ship-jumping by mid-summer over his failure to turn the tide on eight (to pre-Nixon) years of conservative control. Lord! Obama needs a bumper sticker narrative, and I was hoping he’d find it by forcing the Republicans to vote against individual slices of financial reform. Maybe he still will.

  13. I understand where Bill is coming from, and that was indeed a beautifully written piece (found here, by the way). But I disagree with his assessment.

    Good writing isn’t vanishing. As Brian hints at above, we’re simply flooded by more bad writing. As barriers to publishing are obliterated, we have a much greater quantity of words available for consumption. So the ratio of goodness has plummeted, but that doesn’t mean good writing is a dying breed.

    On the matter of politics, Brian writes in a comment above, “Truth-telling on civic issues IS the responsibility of professional journalists.” I agree with Brian and Joe in that journalists *should* be a strong, truth-telling voice in our society, but I disagree with Brian’s sentiment that politicians *can’t* do that, that they’re a lost cause.

    After all, you’re both (Brian and Joe) lamenting that journalists aren’t doing this right now, or at least not enough of it. So they’ve fallen down on the job. Same for politicians. Neither group is fundamentally incapable of having stones and saying what needs to be said. It’s just the case that far to few of them are currently putting those metaphorical stones on display.

    And Rob, the characterization of the left as true seekers of societal advancement and the right as classist liars is shortsighted and offensive. I’m glad Kennedy didn’t let you get away with that. Aside from the short-sightedness, I’m pretty sure there’s a logical flaw: As I understand the philosophy, neocons generally aren’t really into the class warfare stuff as you describe. They’re too busy playing empire builder.

    1. You’re wrong, Mike. Read Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm, or Nixonland. There was a consensus built around good government going into the 1960s that was blown to bits by the conservatives. And the Neo-cons are interested in domestic politics. They have a feudal, pre-enlightenment view of society. You can read about it many places.

      1. I conceded in my comment that my understanding of the neoconservative political philosophy might be incomplete or inaccurate. But it’s no more incomplete or inaccurate than this: “…so-called conservatives have an ideology – at its base – that gives them license to lie.”

        Maybe these Strauss-inspired neocons believe in the usefulness of those “noble lies,” but to say conservative ideology gives its people a license to lie is dishonest and unfair.

    2. BTW – the conservatives retreat to ideology in the 60s completely flummoxed the Democrats and liberals, since it was the first truly ideological movement in American politics. Neo-conservatism, and especially Straussianism, encourages a romantic view of politics – they want it to give people meaning and direction in their lives. Hence, the focus on religion and nationalism. The two require an enemy, foreign or domestic (or both) to unite the populace under their idea of noble lies. This is one of the things that make them so radical. They have been doing that actually since the 1980s, i.e. google “Team B” and you’ll see what I mean (or, Office of Special Plans in the Bush admin).

    3. Dennis Lang says:

      MJK– As the “barriers to publishing are being obliterated” with it are those venues where the writer/journalist could actually earn a living practicing his craft. I would think this reality would discourage many who may otherwise have the “calling” and talent, unless there is romantic appeal in becoming a starving artist.

      1. For starters, I absolutely believe there is, for some, a romantic appeal to being a starving artist. And similarly, there’s a set of people who simply believe pursuing a career in journalism (or some other form of professional writing) is simply a noble cause, something one is drawn to without illusion of fame and glory — perhaps similar to why some go into teaching.

        Second, the world can and will survive this glut of worthless “content” that’s flooding the Web, the airwaves, the cable systems. But we cannot survive an absence of meaningful, useful, intelligent journalism. Nor will we have to. It will not go away. The journalistic landscape will continue to change, violently and unpleasantly, but journalism will vanish no sooner than the sun and the air.

    4. Joe Loveland says:

      Re: “I agree with Brian and Joe in that journalists *should* be a strong, truth-telling voice in our society..”

      Mike, I actually don’t think reporters strive to be truth-tellers. As I tried to say above, I want them to present facts behind the claims du jour, but I don’t want reporters to tell me who is telling the truth and who is lying. I want reporters to be my thorough researcher, not my judge and jury. Big difference between those two roles. I want reporters to make me a more informed truth-judger, and the popular “he said, she said” forumula of reporting often doesn’t do that.

    5. It isn’t so much that politicians — all of them — are a “lost cause”, as it that their first duty is to retaining, then exerting power. Journalists on the the other hand are supposed to revere accuracy.truthfulness above every other professional virtue.

      1. But you’re talking about the current reality for politicians and the “supposed” reality for journalists. I’m saying they’re “supposed” realities should be similar: Ditch the never-ending desire to retain power (or, in the case of journalists, to feel comfy and cozy and keep the right people happy) and serve the people.

        I don’t think either of those is significantly more difficult to achieve than the other.

  14. Mike Kennedy says:

    Well, I love the certainty of these guys who write this horseshit that one party is that. The other is that. Just because there are idealogues writing it, doesn’t make it true.

    In fact, engaging in political argumentum ad hominem summarizes this rubbish.

    Using words like lie, mislead and evil attack the person or the party, not the ideas. It is the weakest form of logic that exists. But, alas, it is the easiest to postulate.

    So much of what one person perceives as good government or bad government is purely opinion and perception. The idea that everyone agreed on what was good government until big bad Nixon came along is simply not true. We’ve had disagreements on good government vs. bad for hundeds of years.

    There was no perfect template for the system nor will there ever be such a thing, not when government is run by humans.

    PM makes some reference to this in the above. There were Clinton Dems more conservative than some Bush Republicans.

    Misreading beliefs, values and intentions based on political identification is dangerous, as the present administration is now finding.

  15. Dennis Lang says:

    Well said MJK. But I wonder if what we regard as “meaningful journalism” isn’t also changing, becoming increasingly superficial. I’m thinking of the Nicholas Carr “Atlantic” article: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” With digitization follows a diminishing attention span, and what future generations regard as meaningful might become a couple hundred words and a captivating headline; depth and dilligence less significant. Is this the audience those future journalists will be writing for?

  16. rob levine says:

    //So much of what one person perceives as good government or bad government is purely opinion and perception

    It is? War is good? Demonizing gays, atheists and liberals is just an opinion? Condemning people who tell lies about religion and nationalism when they don’t believe them themselves is just opinion and perception?

    Sorry – I don’t want a world permeated by lies. And yes – that is my opinion. What’s yours?

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      Yes. good or bad government certainly is a matter of opinion and perception.

      And when did Ronald Reagan or George Bush or even Richard Nixon “demonize” gays or atheists? I’d like examples, please. I’d also like to know of any anti gay or anti atheist or anti liberal laws that were passed by Republican administrations and any Republican controlled Congress.

      Is war good? No. Is it sometimes necessary? Yes. We entered World War I under a Democrat, World War II under a Democrat and Vietnam under a Democrat.

      So, Rob, exactly what is your point? The Iraq War will continue to be debated. I’m not convinced Iraq should have been the priority.

      However, anyone can throw out charges using words like lies and demonizing. It is a form of demonizing in and of itself. The country has serious problems that are not addressed when we resort to name calling.

  17. rob levine says:

    Oh please. I’m talking about the modern evolution of the Republican Party – Post WWII. You don’t believe that Bush and the neo-cons deliberately lied us into Iraq? That the neo-cons lied about the Soviet threat in the 80s to justify an un-needed military build-up? That the Republicans are dependent on demonizing liberalism and gays? You should watch the Glenn Beck speech to CPAC.

  18. rob levine says:

    Let’s see how many other Republican lies and cheats we can dream up. October Surprise. Theft of Jimmy Carter’s briefing book; Iran Contra; State Department investigation of Bill Clinton’s passport. Those are one that just come off the top of my head.

  19. rob levine says:

    BTW – How is the war on Iraq still debatable? One of the world’s foremost strategic historians – Martin van Creveld – an Israeli teacher who is the only required foreign author at OCS school in the US – has said that the Iraq war was the worst strategic disaster in the world for 2,000 years. But you know better, Mike.

  20. rob levine says:

    Plus – the fact that we were blatantly lied into the Iraq war makes my point better than anything. It was not only lies that led to Iraq, but one of the most dangerous lies in history. But I’m sure you’re just as concerned about that as you are about Bill Clinton lying about a blow-job.

  21. rob levine says:

    Maybe this will help clear things up: Ron Suskind wrote the following:

    The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[1]

    Is that lying, or making things up? Does it matter?

    1. I always loved that one. Another great scene was in Suskind’s “The One Percent Solution”. Where soon-to-be King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visits Bush at the Crawford Ranch … and Bush has no idea what the agenda items are … all; that went to Cheney. (George Tenet was the obvious source for that one.)

      Abdullah, dabbing his lips, snapped to attention as the brownies were cleared… They had eight items on their list. They needed deliverables – something to bring back to the roiling Gulf that would ease the Arab world. Would Bush back up his words with actions? Was he on Sharon’s side, or was the United States still interested in supporting its Arab friends? Was America any longer the region’s honest broker?

      But the discussions could get no traction. The Saudis wanted pressure on Sharon to release Arafat from confinement in Ramallah. Saud went over possible steps the United States could take. Bush stared blankly at them. They went down the items. Sometimes the President nodded, as though something sounded reasonable, but he offered little response.

      And, after almost an hour of this, the Saudis, looking a bit perplexed, got up to go. It was as though Bush had never read the packet they sent over to the White House in preparation for this meeting: a terse, lean document, just a few pages, listing the Saudis’ demands and an array of options that the President might consider. After the meeting, a few attendees on the American team wondered why the President seemed to have no idea what the Saudis were after, and why he didn’t bother to answer their concerns or get any concessions from them, either, on the ‘war on terror’… Several of the attendees checked into what had happened.

      The Saudi packet, they found, had been diverted to Dick Cheney’s office. The President never got it, never read it. In what may have been the most important, and contentious, foreign policy meeting of his presidency, George W. Bush was unaware of what the Saudis hoped to achieve in traveling to Crawford.”

  22. Mike Kennedy says:

    Well, things always look clearer in the rear view mirror. Most of your liberal friends in Congress voted for the war. The “Bush lied” mantra is so old. Many liberals thought Iraq had WMD and to deny it — well is to re-write history, a favorite tactic of idealogues in general.

    I’m not a big Iraq War fan, but I get tired of idealogues on both sides.

    You keep dreaming up talk show hosts as leaders of the Republican Party. Beck is no more a leader of the Republican party than Crazy Keith is from MSNBC. He just happens to have millions more watching him.

    Martin van Creveld sounds interesting. But I think before I read him, he needs to re-read history. Worst strategic disaster in 2,000 years? Not even close. He needs to re-examine what started WWI and II, for that matter, far worse strategic calculations that affected hundreds of millions of people around the world.

    What about the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, which led to our entering the war and eventually dropping of two nuclear bombs. Is this guy for real?

    What criteria does he use to put the Iraq War in that category?

    Be careful of sources you cite and what skin they have in the game. Do you ever balance that kind of outlook with views from other sides or do you seek out people who just confirm what you believe? We are all tempted by the lure of confirmation bias. It takes a lot of time and effort to try to look at the other perspective.

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      Oh, God. Now that’s funny. Are you seriously posturing the argument that they didn’t have access to intelligence? Did Clinton lie, then? Did he not have any access to intelligence? Did Republicans hide it from him? Did European leaders lie, as well? Come on. You can do better than this. I know you have it in you.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        I’m suggesting that Congress is privy to much of the intelligence the U.S. gathers. Why did many Dems support the war after looking at it?

      2. Mike Kennedy says:

        Oh, I forgot. Bush manipulated the CIA and all the European intelligence sources as well.

        You know, this guy must have been the craftiest, smoothest, smartest dude since 007. Why, he must have been 0014 he was so smart.

        He was even so smart he played dumb to make people think he would be incapable of being so brilliant.

      3. I would never suggest that George W. directly cooked intelligence, if for no other reason than he’s too intellectually lazy to deal with all the minutiae of such a move. Cheney on the other hand … as several books, the investigation into thr Downing St.memo and the fledgling British inquiry have and may illuminate …

  23. Mike Kennedy says:

    BTW:

    I voted for Clinton, twice. There you go again. You don’t even know who you’re talking to before you go off half cocked.

    I couldn’t care less how many interns, celebrities or wives Clinton jumped. He lied under oath. It doesn’t matter what he lied ABOUT. Whether I steal a pack of gum or a diamond, I have stolen. I have broken the law. PERIOD.

    You know, my high school kid could Google for opinions that confirm his beliefs and cite them as the last word. If you are trying to use logic to persuade me, it’s not working. I have been known to change my mind if convinced.

    Nothing you have presented is moving the ball, but keep trying if you’d like.

  24. rob levine says:

    Mike – in case you’re not aware, the Executive controls the executive branch of government. The Republican neocons setup the Office of Special Plans to concoct evidence to invade Iraq. Powell went to the U.N. and told a series of lies that convinced even liberal columnists of the need for war. Of course other politicians were pulled in. Not all, though. Remember how “Old Europe” said the war was a mistake?

  25. rob levine says:

    Van Creveld: “”For misleading the American people and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial.” (Martin Van Creveld, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who is considered one of the world’s foremost military historians.)

  26. Mike Kennedy says:

    Hmmmmm. Exactly WHO considers him one of the world’s foremost military historians?

    I’ve learned a lot through our discussion today, Rob, primarily about your thought process and how you arrive at your conclusions. So thanks for that.

  27. rob levine says:

    Who considers van Creveld important? Only the US War College, where he is the only foreign author who is required reading. But that’s probably not enough for you, Mike.

  28. I might add that this conversation with Mike makes my point: By being the party of grand old liars the Republicans make it difficult, if not impossible to have a conversation. Calling someone a liar immediately makes the person making such an argument open to ridicule as being in-civil at best, and duplicitous at worse. So – if one side does lie, mis-characterize and draw unwarranted conclusions as a matter of practice, it become difficult, if not impossible to have a real discourse. This is the box the Straussians and neo-cons have put us in.

  29. rob levine says:

    I missed the comment from Mike where he condemns Clinton for lying about a blow-job. There you have the conservative ideology in all its gory glory: One man lies the greatest nation on earth into a military disaster that destroys an ancient nation, costs $3 trillion and kills an estimated 1 million innocent people. But Mike hasn’t made up his mind about those lies. However, another man lies under oath about a blow-job and he is the guilty one. Those are Republican values, in a nutshell.

  30. Mike Kennedy says:

    As I said, thanks for the insight on your positions. I see that you evaluate all the information with a critical eye, check sources against each other and make opinions based on their merits with as little partisanship as possible.

    I finally found someone I disagree with more than Brian. That is scary — Brian and I seemingly being closer to agreement……on anything other than sunglasses.

  31. rob levine says:

    Mike: Thanks for making your style of morality clear to all of us. Telling lies that kill millions: okay; lies about a blow-job: criminal.

  32. Mike Kennedy says:

    Rob:

    I suggest the radical left insist on Bush be tried, then. If you are so sure he lied, convince a court to try and convict him. Better yet, get the liberals in Congress to investigate.

    They will never do it in a million years and didn’t do it in the beginning because many of them who voted for the war would have to answer for it.

    Here is the difference Rob:

    We have evidence Clinton lied. Where is the evidence that would convict Bush?

    BTW, your millions killed in Iraq is a bogus number, widely disputed. It was originally projected back in 2005, I believe, at 650,000 and adjusted upward since then. It was challenged then by numerous authorities and is now.

  33. rob levine says:

    Mike – found one thing we might agree on: The Democrats are big pussies. BTW – there’s plenty of evidence to convict Bush, Cheney, Addington, Yoo, Bybee and others of war crimes. Those trials still might come about – not here, but in Europe.

    1. Cheney has … indirectly acknowledged … committing war crimes and various other acts of criminality, far graver than lying about fellatio, several times over the years. Bush’s Attorney Generals however did not see fit to appoint an independent prosecutor with a nearly unlimited budget. “Why we go to war”. A question that does not require the same degree of probity as extramarital sex.

      1. rob levine says:

        Exactly. Why IS IT that conservatives have such a terrible double standard? I understand why the elites who follow Strauss and the Neocons believe what they do – they are self-confessedly immoral (or amoral), concerned only with their own power and the creation of a society more to their feudal liking. But I admit to being surprised (and disappointed) how the rank and file go along. It shows how far they have gone to not only attaining and using political power, but also shaping the electorate to better accept their leadership.

  34. Ellen Mrja says:

    No KO’s here but I’ve got to give this decision to..rob levine. Why? Because I agree with him. Great discussion, all. Man, we’ve got some great thinkers hanging around this blog. I love it.

    Found a new and interesting blog tonight: “Rick Sincere News and Thoughts: Is There a Place for Gay Conservatives…Anywhere?”

    I read there that at a Cato Institute program last week, Andrew Sullivan criticized the Republican party for accelerating its “campaign of fear” against gay people and said the GOP “is no longer a political party; it is a religious party..” Agreed.

    And too many churches are becoming political headquarters. It’s a very bad omen whenever religion and politics become confused one with the other.

    1. PM says:

      I agree completely with both you and Sullivan on this one. There should be no place for religion in politics,and this is something that the Republicans are doing more and more of. I think that this is going to cause them more trouble, and their difficult times with issues concerning gays (DADT, for one) is ceasing to become a net winner for them (it offends more people than it attracts).

  35. Ellen Mrja says:

    Right. As one blogger in the NYT put it, in the military you don’t have to be straight. You just have to shoot straight.

    The ill-advised combination of religion and politics, which began in the conservative movement, leads to such hate-filled conclusions as the destruction of 9/11 was caused by the large number of gays in America or the people of Haiti deserving their destruction because they “made a pact with the devil,” or this from last week:

    Republican Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall said at a press conference last week that God is taking “vengeance” on parents who have had abortions by making their other children disabled, according to the News Leader in Central Virginia.

    “The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically,” he reportedly said. “Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children.”

    “In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord,” he added. “There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.” Source: CBS News

    1. The ill-advised combination of religion and politics has been around longer than this current conservative movement. For example: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8616.html

      The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention blocked the establishment of Christianity as a national religion. But they could not keep religion out of American politics. From the election of 1800, when Federalist clergymen charged that deist Thomas Jefferson was unfit to lead a “Christian nation,” to today, when some Democrats want to embrace the so-called Religious Left in order to compete with the Republicans and the Religious Right, religion has always been part of American politics.

      Unless my history is way off, the claims made against Jefferson were a lot more “mainstream” at the time than today’s claims of “gays causing 9/11.”

      1. PM says:

        I agree that religion has always been an issue. i also agree with your (unstated but implied) point that it is probably becoming less so as opposed to more so. All of which is good, in my view.

        After all, the more religion is invited into our public square and made a major component of our political lives, the more we look like the Islamic Republic of Iran, where our opponents are agents of the devil, and it is awfully difficult to compromise with the Great Satan. Demonization of those you do not like is an easy but pernicious way to operate in a democracy, one that i do not think is consistent with democracy in the long run.

  36. Ellen Mrja says:

    Hey, Mike. My comments were not meant to track back to the nation’s founding. Some time we can take on that issue, if you’d like.

    I was speaking of the current trend that would create a Christian-fascist state, similar to the Islamo-facist state PM (hey, y’all) references.

    It’s unhealthy. It turns ugly quickly. It’s why men back in the day you speak of felt called by God to burn women as witches and others in our time to turn guns on doctors.

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