Sunday, December 28, 2008

Strangest Cover Stories of the Year


...that I remember.

For newspapers.

First off, the Star-Ledger ran an analysis of the Sri-Lankan singer MIA's hit "Paper Planes". The article, written by a mommy blogger (as far as I recall, this is the only full-length feature she's published since blogging for nj.com), explores why the song is a hit and why it's caused some controversy--a type of article, minus the local quotes, that would be more at home in a music magazine like Rolling Stone. The song is mostly known for its gunshots and cash register rings in the chorus than for anything else, since practically every word (including the title) is indecipherable.

The New York Times caught a lot of flack for running a front-page story on Angelina Jolie's relationship with the celebrity press, specifically People magazine. It was pretty brash, saying that Ms. Jolie works the press to such an extent that she effectively controls coverage of herself and her family:
When Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt negotiated with People and other celebrity magazines this summer for photos of their newborn twins and an interview, the stars were seeking more than the estimated $14 million they received from the deal. They also wanted a hefty slice of journalistic input — a promise that the winning magazine’s coverage would be positive, not merely in that instance but into the future.

According to the deal offered by Ms. Jolie, the winning magazine was obliged to offer coverage that would not reflect negatively on her or her family, according to two people with knowledge of the bidding who were granted anonymity because the talks were confidential. The deal also asked for an “editorial plan” providing a road map of the layout, these people say.
She's been transformed from freaky sexaholic to humanitarian mother, despite being widely vilified for wrecking Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's marriage. But while fascinating to those interested in celebrity, journalism, or just plain 'ol gossip, it's one of those articles that sticks out precisely because it's on the front page. Really? you say. It's that slow of a news day?

The Times' public editor points out that the article wasn't as accurate as it could have been, and calls for a correction, which was never given. But he also explains that while many people are angered when the paper covers "less than weighty" subjects in such high-profile detail, it's the newspaper's job to cover "all the news that's fit to print", whether weighty or not. Placement, of course, as well as tone, angle, packaging, etc, are all key components of how a story is accepted (or not), regardless of the facts. Obviously, "strangest cover stories of the year" are almost always never going to be about "weighty" matters, since those are expected to make the front page (and are very troubling when they are not).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Catch-up Time

Over the next few days, I plan to post on articles and topics that I wanted to call out from the rest of the year, but for one thing or another--lack of time, usually--just never got around to. Some of them were topics I wanted to expand on and the entries just never left the ground (really, the notebook). Most of them will be from the recent months and weeks, as they are fresher in my memory. Here goes:

New York Magazine is just fantastic. They always have really interesting articles featuring really interesting trivia, often about New York. Case in point: One out of every apartment in Manhattan is occupied by only one person; the number is one in three when you add in all the other boroughs. Jennifer Senior's December 1st cover story on loneliness doesn't offer much new insights other than those statistics, but reinforces a lot of existing theories on the nature of community (note: I did a lot of research in college on this topic, especially dealing with community vis a vis the internet, so it wasn't new to me). What I especially loved was that the article reaffirmed a lot of my anecdotal evidence regarding single life:

[Eric] Klineberg, the NYU professor who is writing about living alone, points out that single people are partly responsible for the vibrancy of New York’s public life: “We know form marketing surveys that single people go out more than couples,” he notes. “They’re more likely to go to restaurants, to bars, and to clubs. A lot of people who live alone say it’s very hard to enter their apartments and stare at the walls when there’s so much going on outside.”

Conversely, married people—women especially—have smaller friendship-based social networks than they did as single people, according to [sociologist] Claude Fischer.
The article goes on to say that that the reason why many single people feel lonely is when they are surrounded by other couples--and that family neighborhoods in particular are the places that have the highest rates of social isolation, especially among the elderly. Asynchronous environments breed loneliness; that's why it's better for one's livelihood if they aren't exclusively around others who are in a different stage of life.

Weak ties (acquaintences and people you are one or two degrees separated), the internet, and of course, New York City (and cities in general) get quite the boost here. But that's fine; the overarching idea is that people--connection--are what matters, and that getting out of the house and interacting with others will boost your mood. The internet bridges the public and the private, and often facilitates this.

I look forward to David Carr's column every week, and he rarely disappoints. While he has written many that I could talk about endlessly, his recent entry on how the media essentially created Black Friday opened my eyes to the symbiotic relationship between advertising and the media--something I all too often overlook.

I orginally had not planned to read the Times Magazine's cover story on John McCain the week before the election, citing time constraints and not much interest, but it turned out to be way better than their Obama cover the previous week. "The Making (and Remaking) of John McCain" ended up showing how important public relations and message-managing is--and how the McCain camp's infighting and lack of direction killed their campaign. The death knell is spelled out:
The campaign was in the throes of an identity crisis by June 24, when a number of senior strategists gathered at 9:30 a.m. in a conference room of McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington. As one participant said later, the meeting was convened “because we still couldn’t answer the question, ‘Why elect John McCain?’ ” Considering that the election was less than five months away, this was not a good sign.
If the people running John McCain's campaign cannot answer that question, then he is doomed.

Speaking of that long-ago election, remember that Wall Street Journal story on Obama's thinness? Apparently the reporter took some of her quotes from a Yahoo message board. Ouch. Certainly not the only time this year that a reporter got into trouble for going to dubious online outlets for sources.

I wrote a lot about the Journal's coverage of the election, especially how voters decide on a candidate. I had wanted to add another entry to that list, on their September 4th article, "The Biology of Ideology". It's the old nature vs. nurture argument: are even voting patterns predetermined? That's one heck of a scary idea. I was very skeptical of this idea and hated the article back when I first read it. I took a more pragmatic approach, of convince us why you're worthy. Tom Friedman summed it up five days later:
If you as a politician connect with voters on a gut level, they will follow you anywhere and not fret about the details. If you don’t connect with them on a gut level, you can’t show them enough details.
I wondered why it was ok for newspapers to openly assume Obama was going to win the presidency, as many non-opinion pieces used "when", instead of "if", in referring to anything after the election. Guys, that's why people say the media is in the tank for the dude. Lay off. Turned out Clark Hoyt at the Times agreed with me.

I felt though--and vaguely remember coming across something along these lines--that people tend to vote in step with the environment they find themselves in. In my social life, my friends and I (generally) read the same media, or at least the same types, have similar opinions, and come from similar backgrounds, so of course we tend to vote similarly. This is true all over; I wondered how hard it would be to separate from the pack.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hilarious

Two very funny stories from the Times:

One, of course on their top emailed list, is the fact that President Bush nearly got hit with a shoe when he was in Iraq this weekend. There's even video!

And two, the Obamas cannot move in early before the Inauguration. Shows that no matter who you are, power and celebrity does have its limits.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"We Are Living In Exponential Times"

Why it's so exciting and terrifying to live now:




This is what makes me really want to do something with my life.

The song playing is Fatboy Slim's "Right Here, Right Now".

I'm Not Into It

Some reasons why I don't what to read He's Just Not that Into You:

"I think where a lot of women go wrong is through indulging in denial - denial that he isn’t that into us, but also denial that we are deserving of anything better. But when we decide to refuse to accept anything less than genuine into-ness, I think that we are much happier both in and out of relationships - because whether or not you are coupled up, it is crucial to keep in mind that you are great. Lately, in any case, I have come to realise that if a man behaves in a way towards you with regards to communication or kindness that you would consider to be sub-par in a non-romantic friend, then he is not worth pursuing. Not even if White Noise is his very favourite book."

Jean Hannah Edelstein (via gauntlet)

Jean makes some good points here, but He’s Just Not That Into You still gives me the shits. And like Jennifer Aniston, I still think it’s ultimately disempowering for women.

Here’s why.

1. Like most conventional wisdom, it’s overly simplistic; an “easy” response to something that is usually far more complicated. When most real relationships break down, it’s not as simple as the guy just not liking the girl all that much, but about some problem (or problems) in the dynamic between the two people that both are contributing to.

Often, ironically, the woman’s contribution to this dynamic stems from the insecurities and disempowerment fostered by mainstream women’s/dating culture (of which He’s Just Not That Into You is a part).

2. Call me a control freak, but I like to feel as if I have a say in the route my life takes - and certainly, no one would argue this shouldn’t be the case when it comes to work, friends, or what I decide to do with my Saturday night. This sense of influence over the world around us is also known as “empowerment” - think “we can make things happen” in The Craft - and is proven to be a key source of self-esteem and happiness in both men and women.

He’s Just Not That Into You is the opposite of this. It tells women that things are as they are, that there’s nothing you can do to change it, and that your best bet is to sit around waiting for that Prince who really is into you to come along on his white horse and choose you. The only thing that makes it any different to the more widely maligned (but equally widely cited) The Rules is that it dresses this old fashioned rhetoric up with “you go girl” and “you’re such a fox!”

3. Men, on the other hand, get to do all the choosing. They get to decide whether they like you or not, whether they want to launch a relationship and where they want that relationship to go. Sure, you can decide not to go along with them, but for all your “foxiness”, the book’s lasting message is that not many of the men in your life have really been “that into” you, so when you find one, you sure better hold on to him!

Hate it, hate it, hate it. But I do agree with Jean that no one - male or female (‘cos I know plenty of guys who let the girls they love treat them like crap) - should accept anything less than “genuine into-ness”* (and that often we accept subpar treatment from people because we hope we can change them).

* Which, by the by, means love, kindness and appreciation - not picking up the dinner cheque ever time, dropping everything at your whim, or buying you five designer dresses for Christmas.
Emphasis mine. Beside, I generally know when people are into me and when they're not. (Cue the loud guffaws. But I mean it.)

Jennifer Aniston made a similar point in Vogue. I wonder why she chose to do this movie, especially considering her dislike of "the kind of thing where women only feel empowered once they find the Man".

This Is How It Goes

http://xkcd.com/513/

A Tortious Act

Last week, Lori Drew was acquitted on three felony counts of unauthorized use of MySpace and one count of conspiracy, though she was convicted of a misdemeanor on the former. Members of the jury, according to forewoman Valentina Kunasz, wanted to convict her but the prosecution did not give them enough evidence under the statute:

"We felt that ... knowing that she's got mental stuff going on, was enough to turn what normally wouldn’t be tortious into tortious or malicious," Kunasz said. "And the fact that this 47-year-old woman is participating -- whether it be physically or just egging them on verbally -- to me something was very off. What they were trying to do as a whole in the long-run was humiliate this girl, make her feel like a piece of [dirt], and make her feel sad.... They were intentionally trying to hurt her."

But four jurors felt that because Megan and Sarah Drew had a opened a MySpace account months earlier to meet boys, that Megan was emotionally functional and should have known what she was getting herself into by communicating with "Josh." She should have been prepared to be rejected by "Josh."

But these two things can exist simultaneously. Megan could still be aware of what she was involved in and yet still be completely blindsided by what actually occurred. There’s rejection, and then there’s harassment.

The trial was plagued with a number of problems, including conflicting testimony, and the fact that Megan’s suicide was not suppose to factor into the decision. It’s practically impossible to leave Megan’s suicide out of the investigation, because no matter which way you spin it, the distress of the attacks on her through MySpace caused her to kill herself. She was especially vulnerable due to her past problems, and the fact that Lori knew about this only damns the woman more.

One of the issues in this case—and the reason it is held in Los Angeles, where MySpace’s servers are based—is that it’s supposed to be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was previously used for hacking. Indeed, the fraud protection of the law can liberally be applied to this trial, even though emotional distress isn’t listed as a reason. The jury had to decide if Lori Drew obtained unauthorized access to MySpace’s computers with the intention of inflicting emotional distress on Megan Meir and a conspiracy to do the same thing.

This case has been closely watched by a number of people, partly because it is considered the first cyber-bullying case and could set precedents in the future.

Links to pdfs of the indictment and jury instructions, both before and during the trial, can be found, along with the complete story, at the Threat Level blog from Wired. Here's a related piece on vigilante justice and the role the Internet played with exposing the story.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

"It Ought to Be a Law to Start Christmas Before December"


Watch CBS Videos Online

I am very much a traditionalist--I like my holidays to have the same foods and rituals as they always have, with no interlopers, no drastic alterations. But recently I've wondered why the meanings surrounding these holidays have increasingly meant little to me.

I cannot remember the last time I had real holiday spirit. I try to get into it every year, and occasionally there's a glimpse, but I feel it's been sucked out of me just by the relentless commercialism. Like Easter in March, I find Christmas before December--even early December--distasteful. It's just too soon. Christmas becomes all about presents--what do you want? What does everyone else what? When will you have time to get it? Is it too much? Ahh! Enough with the hassle! Rarely does anything seem worth it; even with the best of intentions it's just another check on a list. I tend to think of the best gifts in March for people who have birthdays in October, and of course I have no clue by the time December rolls around. I should just get gifts whenever I think of them.

Presents, like many of the things surrounding Christmas, have become oppressive. The saccharine, omnipresent music that only passes muster because of the season, the constant wonderings of what to buy, what to wear, what to give obscure nearly any meaning attached to what makes the holidays special and just makes it a month to get through.

Dragging out Christmas only intensifies the antipathy. Instead of eager anticipation, the days become merely rote, banal—plain ol’ January, February or March, another dark winter day with tacky decorations and music. Thanksgiving is a holiday that gets bypassed between Halloween and Thanksgiving, lumped in as another food-heavy day that dieters should be careful of. The decorations are warmer, the break a respite. Christmas is all-empowering, suffocation.

I hate being asked what I want for Christmas. I hate not being surprised, and going, “Yep, that’s exactly what I said,” because I rarely truly, truly want something, and even then it’s usually not material goods. I want people, as silly and unrealistic as it sounds, to just know that I like something and get it for me, because they know I’d never buy it for myself. I want Christmas to feel special again, to make it really exciting and worth looking forward to, instead of just another chore.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

“What Valerie developed is the art of telling people to go to hell and making them look forward to the trip,” said Mr. Jordan, who advised his wife’s cousin throughout the campaign.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Television and Happiness

I miss television.

And yet, I don’t.

I miss the passion of watching television, of interacting in a community that cares and loves its television.

I hear all the time that I care too much about “stupid” stuff—the stuff no one else thinks about. But I seriously doubt that most people I come in contact with spend their days thinking about ways to reverse the economic crisis, how to eradicate poverty or to lessen our grip on gasoline on any wide-ranging scale. They worry about their own petty concerns, about boyfriends and girlfriends and their annoying neighbor or boss.

And then they come home and pass out in front of the television.

A study came out in Social Indicators Research that happy people tend to not watch a lot of TV. They’re too busy socializing to watch television.

Now, socializing and television go together like milk and cookies: they complement each other nicely, but one is not necessary for the other to be enjoyed. Truth is, often when socializing with television the television eventually fades into the background, overtaken by thoughts of the show or just general topics.

There was a recent study that purported that churchgoers tend to be happier than atheists or agnostics, and a lot of that is based around the church community. Church communities are powerful forces, and a comparable network for those who are not into religion doesn’t really exist. Many people hide their true religious feelings to be part of the fold of a church community.

Happiness, for many people, also derives from a passion, a purpose to life, also filled with good friends (and I’d add, good books and good food). A church community often has these things in abundance (well, minus the good food).

So why do unhappy people watch more TV? A few theories:

1) TV is easy. Socializing with others takes effort, time and work. Sometimes, it’s just hard to schedule it in. Sometimes people, even your friends, are annoying. But television is always there, waiting for you to pick up the remote. It’s the path of least resistance. TV can be on in the background while cleaning, getting dressed, or eating.

2) Because it lends itself so easily to these properties, unhappy people can easily drown out their unhappiness by lounging in front of the TV, absorbed in a story or documentary. There’s always something on, even if it’s not remotely interesting.

3) It’s a cycle. Watch a lot of television, eat a lot, gain weight, feel like crap = not seeing friends because you feel like crap, so stay in and watch more television.

4) When there are other options, TV usually loses. Especially now that we can catch many things online, if we have the opportunity to go to a bar with friends, go to the gym, or just hang out with others, sitting alone in your room watching TV just doesn’t seem that much fun. You can catch up on it later.

I’ve always been of the mind that if you watch too much TV, you have too much time on your hands. (Yet, curiously, I have never applied that same logic to the Internet/computers. Probably because you can do so much more online.) It's far too easy in this world to be insular, especially now that we can conceivably meet all our needs without ever leaving the house (as was showcased in a recent episode of House). We need connection to live. That's something that television tells us far too often; we're just usually not paying attention.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Watch Now

Even I think they're adorable:


Watch CBS Videos Online


Please don't miss Andy Rooney's segment at the end on the death of newspapers. It's why I've always vastly preferred print journalism to any of the schlock of TV news.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

We could have elected a pin-up model...

My favorite fact on this list: He applied to appear in a black pin-up calendar while at Harvard but was rejected by the all-female committee.

Ha!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rejoice!


Obama was very good for the media.

Many newspapers sold out yesterday. My parents emailed me late in the afternoon asking if I could get a copy of the Times, since my dad was unable to find any in Manhattan. It never even occurred to me that this would happen, though it seems so obvious.

Though I knew it was a long shot, I drove around my neighborhood for an hour, stopping in several convenience stores, delis, drugstores, even a Shop-Rite and a Starbucks. A few Daily Newses and Records, but picked clean. I was told that by early morning everything was gone. Felled by fatigue and hunger, I returned home with the Record
and the Daily News
in hand.

I get chided for keeping so many newspapers and magazines, but they really are great (and cheap) mementos. Most of the keepsakes from my trip to Europe this summer were publications in other languages. Why buy an overpriced shot glass that was made in China anyway when you can get an authentic piece of the moment? I looked at all the magazines strewn on my floor before I went to bed Tuesday night, knowing Obama won, and I knew they were history now--all the speculation, all the wonder, it was answered affirmatively. They were no longer current.

Here's the Times' simple cover:

(The Newseum's site has images of practically every newspaper in the world.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another One Bites the Dust

Print media is going up in flames this week.

First came the news Friday that my beloved Radar—the only magazine I’ve ever subscribed to—has folded. Then the Star-Ledger, which has been having massive problems the past few months and is on the brink of extinction, despite being New Jersey’s largest newspaper and the 15th highest-circulation in the country, will cut almost 40% of its workforce by the end of the year.

And today, the Christian Science Monitor will cease publishing the actual physical newspaper during the week and become online-only in April.

My heart bleeds for the rapid demise of this once vibrant sector. It’s not that no one wants to read a newspapers, it’s just they’re expensive (I love my Times, but I debate every week if it’s worth the cost), and it’s easier to read things online. But subscription services may not be the way to go, either—TimesSelect was notoriously unpopular, fettering access to some of the best parts of the paper, the opinion section—since many people won’t bother to pay for it.

While they are many things I’d rather read hard copies of—Time, Newsweek, RollingStone, long magazine articles found in the Times Magazine—it often seems superfluous for me to pay money for content I can get for free, through other means. Indeed, if I didn’t have an outlet for getting my hands on so many different magazines, I would probably be broke buying everything I want to read. But truthfully, I like hard copies. A lot. I can go over the same passages, make notes if I so desire, carry the information with me, take in the whole thing as part of a package. But I understand very well why many people—especially young people—have no interest in print. It’s money, money that can be spent elsewhere. A lot of information can be found online or on television. Paper is a valuable resource, and then there’s the space and time it takes up. Recycling is no match for the environmental ease of emailing. Online offers links within the articles, easily accessible sources and support, which just aren’t there in print. A sidebar is not the same thing.

Yet I want to support the newspaper industry as much as possible. Besides, a printout of the article isn’t the same as the actual article, with graphics and fancy fonts and nice paper. The former may get yellowed, but it becomes a treasure, while a printout is just a copy, likely to get thrown out.

Radar collapsed not for lack of trying—it was on its third incarnation—but because it was a print publication doing what blogs like Gawker and Daily Intel do on a daily basis. Gawker itself summed up why it has finally ceased publication: basically, it suffered from bad timing. Although Radar’s blog, Fresh Intelligence, managed to grab scoops, it treaded on territory already run into the ground—snarky, funny takes on anything to do with entertainment. And in this media landscape, “Pop. Politics. Scandal. Style.” was covered everywhere else. In fact, entertainment coverage is dominated by what seems to be a singular voice: snarky.

Radar was never derivative. It was often hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny, and they dared to mock established magazine covers, including Vanity Fair’s infamous Tom Ford cover.

Radar followed the pedigree of Spy and Talk, two magazines that also ultimately folded because they couldn’t build up enough capital. Radar, in fact, is from the hallowed halls of Tina Brown’s Talk; Maer Roshan, Radar’s editor-in-chief, worked for Talk, New York, and a host of other cool magazines.

I still have all my back issues of Radar from the last year. I never got around to finishing most of them (that’s the problem when I buy, not borrow). There was a time, in high school and on the first incarnation of Radar, where I briefly dreamed of writing for the magazine. Now I can’t even dream of writing for their blog.

Continuing coverage of this story is best found on Gawker. And just for the record, I’ve always disliked American Media--the company who bought out Radar's excellent website—whose clout came largely from Bonnie Fuller, who I hold responsible for practically everything wrong in America.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Endorsements

I expected the New York Times to endorse Obama, but I didn't expect them (or other newspapers) to do it so soon. I figured it would come the Sunday before election day.

Actually, I'm more interested in the breakdown of the news that the New York City Council voted to approve the change in term limits, essentially creating a third term for Bloomberg. The Post and the Daily News both published their support of the extension in term limits today; the Times did so two days ago.

USA Today has a small list of newspapers and their endorsements (of course being as bland and middle-of-the-road as possible), as do several other outlets. I assumed that a majority would endorse Obama; anyone paying attention at all would realize this.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Facebook Parodies Will Never Get Old

Ever.





I hope "World News Feed" is a regular occurrence.

(Sorry for the small size--I'd mess with the HTML, but it probably wouldn't be worth it. Click on the link for best results.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Who Wants to Be a First Lady?

Two weeks ago, I read American Wife--Curtis Sittenfeld's bildunsroman on a fictional Laura Bush. I'm a fan of Sittenfeld's, but this book is not like her previous ones, Prep and The Man of My Dreams. American Wife does not uncomfortably magnify those insecure feelings we’d rather keep hidden. That is both a credit and a demerit to the book—it’s far easier to read, less fraught with personal revelation, but perhaps not as memorable as her earlier works.

American Wife follows Alice Lindgren, a typical middle-class only child in a small town in Wisconsin, who eventually becomes Alice Blackwell, married to Charlie Blackwell, the 43rd President of the United States. It’s unmistakable that Alice and Charlie Blackwell are the alter egos of Laura and George Bush: they are the same age (although their individual birthdays are different), their courtship patterns follow the same course, she is a children’s librarian, he’s a rich playboy bopping around when they meet at a BBQ…I found the parallels between the characters and their real-life counterparts fun. If you know current events, the last chapter alone is very illuminating. But it’s also exciting to realize you spot Karl Rove’s alter ego before he’s Karl Rove, chuckle that Charlie ran as a “tolerant traditionalist” in 2000, that that election hinged on Florida.

American Wife has received a lot of press—there are spoilers out there too—and while the first 150 pages or so are fantastic, the story loses urgency once Alice marries Charlie. She is longer the passionate librarian, but a woman caught up in country clubs and that world is one that I was very eager to leave. But the book, especially the last section which focuses on the years Charlie is president, serves as a great understanding of the psychology behind the First Couple, why the administration has enacted the policies they have, how the history of the United States has unfolded under its current president. There is no need to know the details of the current administration, but a sense of history enhances the enjoyment.

Sittenfeld’s love of first ladies is evident in a 2003 Salon article she wrote, reviewing a biography of Laura Bush, and in her recent piece in Time, on Michelle Obama. I see in Michelle a type of woman who will be first ladies in the future—not what Laura Bush or Cindy McCain are, women of privilege. At least, I hope the country moves in that direction.

Full review on WitWar.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I need to start reading New York magazine more

G.G.: Yeah, to me there's a disconnect in McCain's approach to tech. He's obviously smarter about it than he seems (given his time on the issues in the Senate), but the fact that during the last decade he never sat down on a Saturday afternoon and said, “I'm going to teach myself how to use the Web and send e-mail,” is troubling. It just feeds the out-of-touch-ness. Obama on the BlackBerry himself is a powerful image.

M.Y.: It really does make you wonder what he was basing his policy decisions on. You'd think he'd be curious, right? He's voting on these bills, and his office has computers in it. Still, to me the most remarkable thing isn't about McCain personally but how slowly our definition of the "important issues" shifts — the whole idea of the information economy still isn't much more than a throwaway line as far as political campaigns are concerned.

A really interesting discussion between Matt Yglesias (his Atlantic connection makes him automatically rule) and Garrett M. Graff, editor of the Washingtonian and the first blogger to get credentialed by the White House. Just by the looks of his resume, he seems pretty awesome, too. I just plucked out the section on McCain and technology--they make a really good point on how it's not brought up in this campaign, though it should be, as technological progress has been and will continue to define the future of the country.

Later, there is talk of making Americans sacrifice, criticizing President Bush for encouraging Americans to shop as a response to September 11 than to do anything. I've always agreed with that statement--as a kid I always was swept up when hearing historical narratives that dealt with sacrifice in terms of war, be it WWII, the Civil War, or the Revolution. It seemed so exciting, working for your country, doing good! Shopping is frivolous, nothing like planting a victory garden, and I've been eagerly wanting to do something.

Such a great idea

I'm usually not a fan of Sarah Silverman, except when it comes to her online videos:
She even won an Emmy for her last one, "I'm Fucking Matt Damon".

That's a real organization she's shilling for. I love the line "and they both have a lot of friends who are dying".

I really think when Obama wins one of the reasons will be not only how he harnessed technology but how his supporters did, too. Without all these viral videos--starting from "I Got a Crush On Obama"--he just wouldn't have had the same impact. I think the numbers will bear this out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Addendum

That chart below also applies to McCain at tonight's debate.

Hahaha

My mom sent me this, and it's really quite funny and accurate:




(From ph33r and loathing)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't Mess with the Media

I’ve read a lot about Sarah Palin. I find her interesting. I don’t hate her with the force of a thousand suns like a lot of my friends do, but I do believe she is completely over her head and is in no way ready for the national stage, and I think she’d be disastrous if given the opportunity to exercise her values legislatively.

Her beliefs are polarizing, to say the least. She has a way of creating enemies, and governs in a very personal manner. I think part of her charm is that she is cute and pretty, and leads what many consider to be an incredible life. I think many women wish they could pull off something like that; they ignore the warning signs, they ignore the pregnancy, her spurious background. She’s approachable, and that feeling wins out.

Luckily, her utter unpreparedness for a national campaign is finally becoming clear, and it’s become increasingly apparent that John McCain has made a terrible mistake by selecting her as his running mate, exacerbating the decision by following it up with the genius idea of shielding her from the press.

The media likes access; the media likes answers. They do not like rebuffs, refusals, or rejections. The media’s job is to get stories out to the public, and when people make their jobs difficult, they are not happy. The media can be your friend, and they are big on relationships—they can make or break you, so treat them well. Sarah Palin was a public figure before she became a vice-presidential candidate; she’s had experience interacting with the media, just on a smaller scale. For god’s sake, her degree is in journalism!

There’s a difference between demurring for privacy’s sake and outright refusing to answer questions because you have no answers. The only reason not to let the press talk to her was because they were hiding something—which is so completely obvious that it’s totally backfiring on the campaign.

But I just want to point out an interesting example of how media partnerships work, why it’s so important to cultivate positive relationships with them. From Vanity Fair, via Andrew Sullivan:

Obama, on the other hand, was snubbing Murdoch. Every time he reached out (Murdoch executives tried to get the Kennedys to help smooth the way to an introduction), nothing. The Fox stain was on Murdoch.

It wasn’t until early in the summer that Obama relented and a secret courtesy meeting was arranged. The meeting began with Murdoch sitting down, knee to knee with Obama, at the Waldorf-Astoria. The younger man was deferential—and interested in his story. Obama pursued: What was Murdoch’s relationship with his father? How had he gotten from Adelaide to the top of the world?

Murdoch, for his part, had a simple thought to share with Obama. He had known possibly as many heads of state as anyone living today—had met every American president from Harry Truman on—and this is what he understood: nobody got much time to make an impression. Leadership was about what you did in the first six months.

Then, after he said his piece, Murdoch switched places and let his special guest, Roger Ailes, sit knee to knee with Obama.

Obama lit into Ailes. He said that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to Ailes if Fox was just going to continue to abuse him and his wife, that Fox had relentlessly portrayed him as suspicious, foreign, fearsome—just short of a terrorist.

Ailes, unruffled, said it might not have been this way if Obama had more willingly come on the air instead of so often giving Fox the back of his hand.

A tentative truce, which may or may not have vast historical significance, was at that moment agreed upon.

On Soft Power vs. Hard Power

Although I have two blogs, I sometimes have a hard time deciding where a particular essay fits, because they meld both traditional pop culture topics but usually dissect the media or another area of American culture. Sometimes the line is blurry, like what I recently wrote about teen sex. James Poniewozik's "Tuned In" column in Time this week is the perfect example of how the soft media, the celebrity media, "women's" media, are really having an impact on the presidential election:

When The View gives an increasingly press-shy candidate his toughest interview in a while, when it and David Letterman prod the scars of the Democratic primary in interviews with Clinton, when pundits debate the fairness of Us Weekly covers and when Saturday Night Live crystallizes the discussion of sexism and vice-presidential choices, what's so soft about them?
I've long suspected that many people pay more attention to soft media, because it's easily digestible in a way that traditional hard news isn't, and permeates the national consciousness in a way that is palatable to people who don't care for "real" news. This campaign is giving those who reside in the soft news section of the media to shine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Should the media be obligated to cover September 11?

Today, as I flipped on the radio, I came across a very serious morning show. Unlike other stations, discussing the usual gossip, the crew were talking about September 11. Today.

I was well aware what today was; I noted it when I was alerted to the date a few days ago. But today, this station was angrily reporting that there wasn't enough coverage. They sadly noted that the New York Times had nothing relating to September 11 on their cover (though they ran a very affecting story yesterday on the forgotten injured victims);
neither did the New York Post. "They usually do the right thing," the DJ lamented, and mentioned other papers: The Los Angeles Times had articles on terror, the Daily News went all out. The Star-Ledger, the Washington Post, Newsday all had it on their front covers, even the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. How could the big papers for the area that was affected the most not cover it?

Earlier in the broadcast, before I tuned in, there were indignant callers pleading for people to "move on". Then came the swarms of tearful people lashing out at those who couldn't understand that moving on was impossible. How dare they! It was all very riveting. Throughout the day, the only mention of the historic nature of the date was on this station; as the morning team had pointed out, even other stations weren't giving the day its due. Yes, it was seven years later, but never forget. It was the stories of hearing children--who were mere babies if they were born in 2001--not understanding the tragedy that got to me. I remember, even years ago, a young girl at the camp I worked with who knew of the day but didn't really get it. This was only a few years later, but it only underscored for me how quickly time passes.

I understand both sides. I understand the fatigue--do we really have to go through with this again? If there's more pressing news (which there wasn't; the Post's cover was especially malevolent on this day), I get not putting it as front and center. But so many issues dealing with September 11 aren't close to being solved, let alone the giant hole at Ground Zero, and now's the time to bring those issues to light. It is important to remember, especially as our entire world has changed since then. So much of what's defined America this century so far--and what continues to be the biggest issues in our future--is because of what happened on that gorgeous Tuesday seven years ago. We cannot forget that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Interesting...

This week, both Time and Newsweek lead with Sarah Palin on the cover.

US News & World Report, however, goes with sex. Specifically, "The New Sexual Revolution."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quiz Time

http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx

I scored 75. It's a mix of history, economics, and political theory. It's 60 questions, so give yourself ten minutes, and you have to answer all the questions. (Nuts.)

A lot of this stuff isn't taught in high school, and depending upon what classes you take in college, it might be unfamiliar as well.

Some of my feelings on feminism

Taken from Megan McArdle:
Which brings us to feminism. I view myself as feminist(ish) because I believe the following:

1) Society is set up in ways that limit women's choices and opportunities--men's too (it's awful hard to make the choice to stay home with kids, or become a nurse), but women more. Men are not, for example, socially punished for monogamy the way that women are socially punished for promiscuity.

2) Privilege exists, and is in many unfortunate ways invisible to those who possess it.

3) We should try to change those things.

But the basic thing, to me, is that I endorse the project of changing social values to increase the scope of human possibility.

Personally, I'd like to see feminism take on as expansionist a definition as possible without rendering the concept meaningless--something closer to my list than whatever, exactly in the head of people who label me an "antifeminist". Not because it particularly matters whether I get to wear the proud Scarlet F, but because bringing more people into the tent would make feminism less of a dirty word in many quarters. It would give what I view as the movement's most important work--that of exposing and trying to change the structural problems in society that limit women's choices--more reach, albeit at the expense of driving many radical solutions to those problems.

Sexism and Sarah Palin

I do not understand the argument that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy makes Sarah Palin “more real”. I know teenage pregnancies happen. I’ve witnessed them, though only through the gossip factor, not personally. That’s probably why I think this argument is bull. From Maureen Dowd:

As more and more titillating details spill out about the Palins, Republicans riposte by simply arguing that things like Todd’s old D.U.I. arrest or Sarah’s messy family vengeance story will just let them relate better to average Americans — unlike the lofty Obamas.

“If this doesn’t resonate with every woman in America, I’ll eat my hat,” Bill Noll, an Alaska delegate whose daughter got pregnant at a young age and kept the baby, told The Times’s Ashley Parker.
The DUI is old news and doesn’t matter. Even when Bush’s DUI came out five days before the 2000 election it didn’t matter. But Bill Noll’s comment is ridiculous. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy doesn’t resonate with me. Planned Parenthood exists for a reason, people! There are tons of contraception methods available. I know there are complications in getting contraception, but there are many ways around this problem.

Honestly, there are very few stories that are going to resonate with any woman, and the idea that I should relate to this is ridiculous. The closest I worried about pregnancy when I was a teenager extended to the fictional characters I watched on television, and even then I disapproved. It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy ruins shows. Yes, it’s a crappy situation, but for many people—for many females!—it’s just simply not something that is a concern, for a variety of reasons.

But I’m sure I’ll just be called another East Coast Blue Stater who doesn’t know anything about Family Values.

Speaking of Family Values, the way the Republicans are spinning this story—which had to have elicited tons of “holy shit” when the news broke—is amusing. While others have harped on the “choice” aspect (it had to be Bristol’s, because if she actually went to have an abortion the news might not be as big if it broke at all—though it would certainly counter her mother’s political and moral stances), I’m amazed that this is so hailed as a positive thing. Having a child out of wedlock is considered bad enough in Republican circles, but a teenage girl pregnant, who isn’t even supposed to know about sex from her abstinence-only education and churchgoing family! I’m baffled by conservatives championing her when her personal life, by this fact, contradicts what she believes in. I know there is quite a debate going on about what constitutes appropriate criticism…and everything seems to go back to, is it ok to say this…because she’s a woman?

The concerns facing Palin—everything from her experience to her family life—are completely valid. I don’t think it’s sexist to wonder about her caring for a disabled newborn and providing for her oldest daughter’s child, even though many presume that her husband will do most of this type of work. Even moving her large family halfway across the world to Washington is something to note. I would like to hear the tale many women crave: How She Does It. Nannies, messy house, older children babysitting…THAT’S what makes her “real”.

The fact is, most of the childrearing and other domestic duties still overwhelming fall to the woman in the household, no matter how busy she is and no matter how much the husband helps out, so it’s not (so) sexist to wonder why McCain would pick a woman like her, why should would accept, and how she would be able to juggle the role. To quote Dowd again (who I agree here with):

Hillary cried sexism to cover up her incompetent management of her campaign, and now Republicans have picked up that trick. But when you use sexism as an across-the-board shield for any legitimate question, you only hurt women. And that’s just another splash of reality.
Yes, it’s unfair that no one would criticize a man in her position, but these are realistic concerns. While there are many reasons for McCain not to nominate her and for Palin to not accept the job, I do not blame them. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and even if she’s not elected she can still change things.

Sexism is one of the insults in this campaign that basically can be applied to anything, and oftentimes I hear a line it’s attributed to and think it’s nonsense. Racism is sometimes substituted as well. I wish it wasn’t so, that if Barack Obama had a disabled child we would wonder how he would care for him. And it might come up, but not to the extent that it does with a woman.

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t heard (much) criticism of her parenting skills. That would seem to be a focal point. What is also so strange is that Sarah Palin announced her daughter’s pregnancy as a rebuttal to rumors that her 5 month-old Down’s Syndrome-afflicted baby was her daughter’s child, not hers. There are many people who don’t believe this, citing Bristol’s mysterious disappearance from school earlier this year, her mother’s late announcement and lack of showing. I don’t understand why she would hide this information, other than it makes her daughter look bad and her not so great either, but it’s not any more damaging than the original pregnancy is. Truthfully, Bristol Palin didn’t even look pregnant when she stood (with her boyfriend holding her hand on the platform, joining the rest of the family) at the RNC. But then, in my infinitely great punditry skills, when I first heard that the vice-presidential candidate had a teen daughter who was pregnant, I predicted that the Republicans’ run for president would be done. How in the world would that be acceptable? But hey, people want Mama, not Obama, now.

**Hey John, part of this is the second half of that "vicious and haphazard" post.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why I Like Sarah Palin; or, Oh, the Cult of Personality

I know the few people who read this blog are wondering why I like Sarah Palin, especially as her stances on many issues I disagree with.

In order to understand, you need to watch her speech last night:


She delivered a great speech, plain and simple. The speech was well-written, and accomplished what was needed: introducing herself to the world, attacking her opponent, bolstering her running mate, laying out her accomplishments and to a degree, what she--and McCain--stand for. Like all political women must do in these types of speeches, she brought up her family in detail, and mentioned her role as a mom, but the beginning was actually the best part of her speech. I even enjoyed the many Democratic disses, and she had many good lines. She integrated personal experiences with campaign promises, and injected favorable historical comparisons.

The truth is though, besides all that, I was taken in by her charm. She was funny, forceful, ironic, and she delivered that speech. I loved her facial expressions. She never came across staged, but genuine and natural. I just flat-out loved her, and wanted to vote for her at times, just her, issues be dammed.

The crowd at the RNC loved her too, and like watching Obama last week, just added to the intensity, the feeling of being swept away by collective passion. They chanted so long even before she spoke a single word--other than "thank you"--that you'd have been mistaken for thinking she was running for president, not a woman nobody knew from Tina Fey a week ago.

She handled everything beautifully. Contrasting last night's atmosphere when she spoke to when both Cindy and John McCain sputtered through their speeches tonight only emphasized what an electric presence she has.

But this is the problem, though. I disagree with her on a lot of things--and as other issues come to light, like when she "rhetorically" asked the Wasilla town librarian about how to go about banning books, and the fact that when politicians disagree with her she tends to view it as a personal attack--these things should serve as warning signs that This Isn't the Candidate For Me. But I find her interesting, and she seems like someone who gets stuff done, who actually works hard and cares. Those pesky personal qualities I admire about her--her amusement at the people and process around her, her charm, her ironic expressions, even the way she dresses--are not reasons I should support her. I like the fact that she started in PTA and wound up somewhere else entirely, even that she's so very Alaskan. How cool.

Thinking that Sarah Palin is a cool person, disregarding what she stands for, is the type of thinking that's gotten us into trouble before. It's true, I shouldn't vote for someone that I think I can relate to, or be friends with, because I won't have the opportunity to test that theory out and it's pretty pointless, but it's potent. After all, even David Brooks said that McCain picked her because he felt she was like him--against common sense.

That the Palins are pretty should not matter, but pretty people always win. Pretty people with fun slogans like "Hottest Governor in Coldest State" also push buttons. These things all draw attention, and the RNC needed it. Frankly, Sarah Palin was all I cared about for this convention, and hers is the story I'm interested in. I'm still very much drawn to her; I want to support her, because I like her, if not what she stands for. But I can still respect her very much and resist voting for her, based on my convictions. Isn't that what all the presidential candidates have been saying this entire election anyway?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Thin Line of Celebrity

I tend to write a lot of my posts late at night, when I'm somewhat tired, pushing myself to post something. It's not the best system, but I find it hard to do it any other way. This results in rushed pieces, distractions, and laziness, all terrible habits. It also is why I don't post more often. Here's some stuff I wrote last night--and I'm amazed at the tone of it. Man, was I fired up.

*************************************************************************************

Those who read People and US Weekly and watch Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood are generally thought of as people who don’t care about politics. They are middle America; their news filters through them. They are the girls on the beach in bikinis, lounging around getting a tan and getting trash, but trash usually what they read. At least, this is how I categorize these people.

But a funny thing has happened the past few months. All of a sudden, the presidential candidates are considered actual celebrities, worthy of a People cover or an exclusive interview on a syndicated entertainment show. Granted, these are soft interviews, meant to show how normal, yet beautiful and caring, the candidates and their families are. While this isn’t totally new—newsworthy, non-celebrity events have made the cover of People before, from September 11 to previous presidential issues—it has certainly racheted up.

It’s funny that McCain was the one to deride his opponent as being the “celebrity”, but it’s his campaign that has been thrust into the tabloid trail, and not because everyone's all so enamored of his wife. Sarah Palin’s background, fueled by the explosive news that her 17 year-old daughter is pregnant (with rumors circulating that Palin’s 5 month-old disabled boy is actually hers), has caused a feeding frenzy, with ET actually camped out the St. Paul convention headquarters, eagerly awaiting the latest news.

A casual viewer, changing channels, would wonder why on Earth Entertainment Tonight actually cares about the convention. Isn’t that the province of actual journalists, not entertainment ones? And why would a regular viewer of these types of shows actually care? Sure, it’s fun to speculate about a pregnancy—way more than trying to decipher who said what about earmarks—but nobody knew who Bristol Palin was Saturday, and she has nothing to do with anything, except being related to the new nominee. Her boyfriend’s MySpace is just another unfortunate example of a private citizen’s “public” property suddenly thrust into the spotlight because of tangential relations. Now, he’s a dumb teenager who allegedly hadn’t updated the site in over a year (shame on him—delete or update!), but he presents himself as a guy that’s not going to win too many friends, bringing down Alaskan boys to boot. Guys, learn to be smart. There’s always a chance your blog/MySpace/Facebook will be publicized if you somehow find yourself in the news, and knowingly dating the daughter of the governor who then finds herself picked as the Vice Presidential nominee should be a sign that you should clean up your act, but hey, maybe I'm just too cautious. (I’m guessing the Palins, especially Bristol, don’t have accounts, because I haven’t heard of them yet, though I also haven’t looked.)

Very few mainstream media outlets, to my knowledge, have picked up this story, with the exception of the Wall Street Journal and noted in the bottom of this Time article, itself a fluff piece. But it’s perceptions that often matter more than the issues (Sarah Palin being this year’s Case Study); after all, it’s widely believed that Gore’s characterization on Saturday Night Live undermined his candidacy.

The blurring of pop and politics, of the trivial and the important, is only going to continue, as media outlets need all the angles they can get to feed a ravishing public. It’s a requisite now that everyone needs to reveal as much as possible to the public; we demand it. Soft news sells the soft vote—you never know if a People spread is going to add another check mark next to a name on the ballot.

The WSJ points it out the best:

The most popular celebrity newsmagazines on TV reach between two million and six million viewers a night. People and US Weekly reach 29.5 million and 8.2 million women, respectively, every week, according to Mediamark Research & Intelligence Inc. Those figures include "pass-along" readers who don't buy the magazines but take a look at someone else's copy.

These magazines strive to bring celebrities down to earth so readers can relate to them, and this is fast becoming a political preoccupation. President Bush successfully cast Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election as an elitist. "So much came down to, 'Who would you rather have a beer with?'" says US Weekly editor Janice Min.

[…]

Ms. Min says most of the candidates have thrown open the doors to her reporters. "In working with Barack and Hillary [Clinton], their press people put no restrictions on us," Ms. Min said. Their handlers were more accommodating than "even publicists for D-list actors," she added.

US Weekly's June 30 issue, which featured Barack and Michelle Obama on the cover with the heading "Michelle Obama: Why Barack Loves Her," sold over 886,000 copies on the newsstand, an increase of 18% over the previous three issues, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Cover stories on noncelebrities also have the effect of gathering attention from people who don’t traditionally read the magazines.

Note: As further proof of the mixing of news today, look at who runs the Pop and Politics blog: students at the well-known Annenberg Center at USC, one of the top communications programs in the country.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is incredible.

I saw her speech and I was definitely impressed. In a certain light, she reminds me of Tina Fey. It’s a shame that I disagree with her politically on a lot of issues, and there’s all that dirty laundry coming out of the woodwork, because listening to her I just wanted to vote for her, just her.

Most people talk of how incredible it is that she made the leap to Vice Presidential nominee, but I think the bigger leap is the one from mayor to governor. As governor, she’s already high profile, but she was mayor of a tiny suburb, smaller than my town (and I live in smalltown Jersey). Granted, it’s Alaska, and Alaska is small by population standards…but a run for governor requires assets, money, clout…which you usually don’t have to that degree to run for an office that big.

More to come.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Look how lucky we are

I've watched very little of the Olympics, but one thing I've noticed is the obvious American hegemony. Now, I have American pride; I always wear red, white and blue on July 4; but sometimes I just want to watch other countries, especially when they're the better team.

The New York Times published a very interesting account Monday describing how much effort--and how much American power--dominated the Games from the very beginning. A large part of it is Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports, and his incredibly foresight and business savvy. Back in 2000, the Sydney Games were in late September, and the ratings weren't good. Even before Beijing was officially named the host of the 2008 Games, he managed to convince the president of the International Olympic Committee to move back the dates to August. Many assumed that the Games started on 8/8/08 because of the symmetry of the dates and because eight is a lucky number in Chinese. But that actually hadn't even occured to those in charge. Promising higher ratings, with that wonderful 12-hour difference that caused many events to be aired live in primetime in the East, Ebersol quickly deduced that the Summer Games will do best in mid-August when there is no football or tennis to distract viewers--or cause prime athletes to skip the Games--and when children can stay up late to watch without worrying about homework and school. By the way, American television money accounts for more cash for the I.O.C. than all the world’s other broadcasters combined.

Ebersol also decided months ago to shape the Games around Michael Phelps and his mother (though they neglected to mention anything of his father for days). He also convinced the gymnasts and swimmers to change their competing schedules to accomodate American television audiences.

Amazing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oh, Laure Manadou

Every four years, as an integral component of Olympic coverage, the networks film stories spotlighting certain athletes. Some indeed do have a story to tell. But for the average teenage Olympian, their story is just not compelling. Shawn Johnson is an example: The only thing mildly interesting about her ascent to the Olympics was that her hometown was flooded recently. In reality, she's just an incredibly lucky girl who is talented, strong, and worked hard at her sport, but happened to be in the right place and the right time. How her coach knew, back in 2000, that she would be ready eight years later to compete at the highest level--at the prime age of 16--is beyond me.

But the story that's grabbed me, partly because it's so sad, is Laure Manadou's. Even though she had barely squeaked by to be in lane 8 (last place) in the 400 meter freestyle, I was rooting for her. She made a lot of stupid decisions I'm sure she regrets--but to lose your lead and your boyfriend to your rival is just crushing, and to have nude pictures of you surface the day after the very public breakup is just throwing fire on an already burned victim.

Most of the athletes profiled are Americans, just like the Olympics in large part were organized so that the top sports would be viewed live for both the Eastern and Central time zones of the country. Laure Manadou was front-page news for both the Italian and French media, since she practically defected her hometown to join her Italian swimmer. But obviously most people outside Europe had no idea who she was, and she must have given her permission for NBC to profile her, considering the incredibly emotional and raw year she's just had. Why? Did she feel she had to, that she might as well, since a Google search only brings up her nude pictures? Maybe they figured the outpouring of sympathy would be worth it, or it could bring some lucrative deals. But it didn't work; being reminded constantly of everything that's ruined your life has a way of holding you back.

It's no wonder that she's seriously considering quitting the sport entirely.

Why?

I don't really want to comment on John Edwards, except for the fact that I really liked his platform and was sad when he had to drop out of the race. I don't believe his political career is over; he'll find some way someday to get back in the limelight.

I'm sick of these scandals, as I'm sure everyone else in America is. But there's one question I haven't seen addressed:

Why would a woman start a relationship with a married man running for president? And then keep his baby?*

I just don't get it. Seems like you're putting yourself in a terrible situation that's only going to get worse. The only thing you'll get out of it is a large check. But then again, tons of other women have gotten involved with high-profile political married men, caught up in the illicit sexiness of it all.

But why is it so important to tell the truth to the media? Did the world really need to know of his infidelity, especially now? No. All it served to do was to make Elizabeth look even more saintly and for her husband to completely lose his reputation, and for the public to be disgusted at large. He would have been better off if he kept it quiet, dealing with his own problems privately without feeding Entertainment Tonight and People, which are not dying for content. John Edwards does not need our forgiveness; he just needs our attention.

*Assuming the baby is his.

Does a presidential candidate need to be tech-savvy nowadays?

Since I’ve been writing a lot recently on trivial issues the candidates are judged on, it’s time to shift the focus on John McCain. He’s gotten some press recently on his computer illiteracy, so much so that he’s in danger of being seen as out of touch and a luddite.

McCain’s inability to email not only strikes some as being another knock against his age but also on his ability to adapt to new things. After having a president that is known for being a stick-in-the-mud on a good day, most voters want someone now who is a little more flexible, and a candidate who looks so feeble with using the basics of computing is not only going to turn off the tech-mad young, but those who can’t believe a guy’s been able to survive the past decade without a computer. Even the poorest of Americans, even the ones who can’t afford a computer, let alone WiFi, usually have a MySpace or an email account they can check at the local library.

The number one perennial insult for anyone running for office must be “out of touch”, to prove that the candidate is out of step with Americans. But America is so vast that one person’s outdated is another one’s fashion-forward. McCain might eschew email and still talks of learning about “the Google”, but I bet there are Americans who are charmed by this. I know two people who barely know the basics of computing (one doesn’t even own a PC and just got her first email address three weeks ago--and she is not a senior citizen), and they are both, incidentally, Republicans, and are likely to vote for McCain. The fact that he doesn’t know his way around a computer might be comforting to old fogeys like these two, who can relate, instead of finding that they are talking circles around them like anyone else.

How important is John McCain’s familiarity with modern technology to voters? It’s more important than Obama’s eating or exercise habits, that’s for sure. Most of the coverage has ridiculed McCain, baffling so many people as to how he’s lived the past decade or so without such basic familiarity with email. His daughter has a blog, for crissakes. Imagine trying to explain that to daddy.

Anna Quindlen has it right when she says that power is isolating, that web searching and fact-checking are for assistants, not for the boss. But it’s true that I also found it unsettling to hear that he relied on his wife to do all the basic online things. Couldn’t she teach him? It’s pretty easy to create a login name and password, and so much computer prowess is amassed from just clicking around, which of course is something the senator doesn’t have the time for. But it’s amazing that a man with seven kids is just so completely unaware of how so much of modern life is conducted on the computer. My brother and I make fun of my dad a lot because he’s pretty computer illiterate (if the AOL icon bar is not in the same place, he freaks out), but even he knows how to email. Sort of.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Are we forced to buy cable?

I recently told my parents that when I live on my own I won't pay for cable. I made this decision several years ago, and in the past few years I find this option easier and easier to do. Cable television packages are pretty expensive, and since I watch much less television than I ever have in my life, coupled with the fact that most of "my shows" are still on the broadcast stations, I don't see the need to spend money I'd otherwise save on something I won't use often. Another selling point for me is that so many television shows are availible online--clips on YouTube, Hulu, South Park Studios, even network web sites carry the episode a few days later. All I need is an internet connection and a DVD player to rent the shows that I want to watch later, and I'm set.

My parents told me that this is impossible to do, that I can't just have the basic stations that I had as a child, before my mom caved and agreed to buy cable. Since I can't pick the stations I want (HBO, Showtime, Trio; ditching Spike, Animal Planet, and Speed), I'd rather not pay for 50 channels I never watch just to get my MTV and Vh1 (or the Viacom empire). Besides, I can catch all the music videos they don't play online anyway. So are my parents right?

Connected with this is the news that Cablevision, which covers my area, is now allowed to offer a DVR service through a user's existing cable box. It's on a remote server instead of an individual DVR that the customer buys separately. The Appeals court ruled, after two years, that this system does not violate copyright law. What's amazing is that in two years, DVR usage has grown from 1 in 14 homes to 1 in 4, which has got to be one of the fastest adoption rates for an emerging technology.

For consumers, this is great. I am one of what seems to be the last remaining household of my class and income bracket that does not have a DVR, and if I can access one, even with limited storage, my options for watching increase, especially as I only watch things online as a last resort.

While of course advertisers are all abuzz about how to get their message out there now that people are skipping commercials left and right, there is potential for new tactics:

Network DVRs also prop open the door to new methods of advertising. Cablevision could insert ads dynamically, customizing and updating commercial pods for different consumers and at different times.

“It allows advertisers to do things they can’t do on a physical DVR,” Mr. Rutledge [Cablevision's CEO] said. “Let’s say you record an episode of ‘Lost.’ Three months later you want to play it back. The advertising that was on ‘Lost’ is stale and no longer applies, but the capability to refresh the advertising exists if the content owner wants to do that with the cable operator."

That's actually pretty cool, from the advertiser's perspective. But then you can't rewatch old commercials and laugh.

You look ugly

Why do girls feel the need to put lots of tiny blonde streaks in otherwise boring brown hair? It doesn't look cool, chic, or make you prettier. It turns your hair a shade of ash-blonde gray.

For those girls who have mousy brown hair, forgo the streaks, the "highlights". You paid a lot of money to look gross. Make it look nice (you'll stand out because your hair is normal) or figure out another way to wear it.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Being Healthy is Now a Liability

The Wall Street Journal gave us another gem today:

[I]n a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama's skinniness be a liability?
So because Obama likes to work out and eat healthy, and God forbid, does not care for ice cream, it’s another sign that he’s “elitist” and “out of touch” with Americans, since we’re all fat and eat disgusting fried junk. We can’t relate to someone who buys arugla at Whole Foods, who doesn’t eat “typical” All-American fare like Cheese Whiz, who’s too much of a celebrity and superhuman since he doesn’t have to struggle with what to eat and constantly worry about his weight.

What an insult to the millions of Americans who not only have brains, but actually do care about eating healthy, who exercise, and to all the thin people out there. Those kind of preoccupations are obviously only for the wealthy and the famous. Gyms must be a coastal thing, since according to the article, it’s all the Midwesterners and Southerners (and female Clinton supporters) who have problems with Obama’s food and exercise preferences. And if you exercise too much, not only is it big news but the implication is you are vain.

The article touches on his recent Access Hollywood interview, other presidential “gaffes” with food, and how President Clinton’s oft-discussed McDonald’s habit helped him win voters back in 1992, especially in Southern states like Georgia and Tennessee, since they have a large number of overweight people.

Although Obama, “stays away from junk food and instead snacks on MET-Rx chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and drinks Black Forest Berry Honest Tea, a healthy organic brew,” at times he has to pretend that he really, really isn’t that guy:

Lately, Sen. Obama is more careful. On a campaign stop in Lebanon, Mo., on Wednesday, Sen. Obama visited with voters at Bell's Diner and promptly announced, "Well, I've had lunch today but I'm thinking maybe there is some pie."

He settled on fried chicken and told the crowd he's become a junk-food lover. "The healthy people, we'll give them the breasts," he told the waitress. "I'll eat the wings."
Even though his smoking habit has gotten attention—although even that is considered a liability, since the percentage of Americans who smoke has decreased rapidly—apparently it’s not enough:

Some voters say that even this adds to Sen. Obama's somewhat superhuman persona.

"I mean, really, who quits smoking and doesn't gain any weight?" says 30-year-old Stella Metsovas, an Obama supporter in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Everything, especially in politics, is a lose-lose situation. If Obama was overweight and ate junk food, coverage would be about his health and all the millions of voters who would be turned off by his laziness and disrespect for his body, and Republicans would question how fit he is for the job, physically and mentally. With all the constant coverage on how unhealthy and fat Americans already are, there’s no need to criticize the candidate for taking care of himself and liking what he likes. Mike Huckabee won a lot of support for being vocal about his weight loss struggles, and became an inspiration to many. That’s the kind of initiative voters look for in presidents—and what many see in Obama.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Huh?

Has anyone noticed that the New York Times website layout has changed?

This has only happened to me a few times, but the article becomes centered, written in blue Arial, instead of the black Georgia that it's used for forever.

What's up with that?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Come On

Again with the candidates and their eating habits, this time courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

Political commentators are busy analyzing and psychoanalyzing the presidential candidates' words for hints about the real Barack Obama and John McCain. We gastronomers have a better way of penetrating the campaign spin. We take the time-honored approach of that proto-food-blogger Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), who said: "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."

At the very least, we believe that a candidate's taste in food is a more reliable indicator of character than the carefully strained statements issued in the current atmosphere of gotcha and gotcha back. So we have worked our sources and come up with the names of the candidates' favorite restaurants in their home states. We have tried them out and assessed what an appetite for their particular offerings might mean about two men with a 50-50 chance at spending the next four years ordering meals from the White House chef.


Can we move off this subject now? Why on earth would I pick a candidate based on--or even be interested in--their taste in restaurants?

I already know that John McCain likes to grill and that his campaign lifted a cookie recipe from the Food Network's website, and that Barack Obama is a fussy eater. Now both of them are pizza fans. Wow! That's so unusual. The only good thing about this article is that I now know some good restaurants in Chicago and Arizona.