Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Pierre Berton, R.I.P.

CBC News: Author Pierre Berton dies

The first Pierre Berton book I ever read was The Secret World of Og, when I was eight years old or so. It turned out this was the only children's book he'd ever written.

When I was in elementary school and we were studying Canadian history, the teacher played videos of The National Dream, hosted by Berton and based on his two works on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

When I got into university, I read a lot more of his stuff in my spare time, including the volume that inspired my Urban Possum blog.

No matter how you look at it, Pierre Berton was a true Canadian icon, right up there with Peter Gzowski and Barbara Frum. Not as Toronto-centric as the other two (his roots were in B.C. and the Yukon) but a distinctive personality.

Even today, when my tastes in reading have changed, I've bought his work, the latest one being a book about writing. He was still going strong, still prolific even if a bit more curmudgeonly than before.

Canada could use more Pierre Bertons. He'll be sadly missed.

Monday, November 29, 2004

What Books Are Worth Re-Reading?

Which novels are worth re-reading? It's a question that Hugh Hewitt has asked, and I have to admit I'm kind of handicapped when I give my answer.

I am a bibliophile. Which means that I read a lot--sometimes too much, according to my parents, and maybe too many of the wrong types of books. Generally speaking, however, most of the books in my collection I have read a second time, probably even more.

With that in mind, I'm going to name 10 books I have read and re-read, confining myself to works written in the 20th Century, that I think are worthy of being read a second time. I'll put up an amazon.com link for the ones still in print, and I'll also try to explain why the books merit reading over and over. (I'll also try not to list any title that Hugh has put up; I like Tolkien, but Hugh's already read The Lord of the Rings twice so I won't repeat him here.)

Note: this list is numbered for convenience's sake, but this is not a ranking. Books I like to read depend on the mood I'm in, the time of day, if I've eaten, if I'm on an aircraft, etc.

1. Moonraker, by Ian Fleming
"Bond, James Bond." With the exception of Octopussy and the Living Daylights and The Spy Who Loved Me, pretty much all of Ian Fleming's work on the superspy James Bond are re-readable.
Why this one? We can pass over the space-shuttle farce with Roger Moore; if you want to introduce someone to classic Bond, this is it. All of the elements that make up a Bond novel are here: the beautiful girl, the wit, the classic over-the-top villain. Classic scene: when Bond defeats Sir Hugh Drax in (wait for it) a game of contract bridge. If you can wrap your mind around the image of Sean Connery playing your parents' card game, it's a pretty classic scene.

2. The Burglar in the Library, by Lawrence Block
Block likes to do "gritty" with his Matt Scudder series of mysteries, but there's genuine New York wit and humor in his books chronicling the adventures of Bernie Rhodenbarr, a bookseller who burgles houses in his spare time. In this adventure, Bernie goes out of town to track down a rare book -- a Raymond Chandler novel autographed for Dashiell Hammett. This one is particularly commendable because of a passage in which Bernie and his friend Carolyn encounter single-malt Scotch for the first time -- positively orgasmic.

3. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams
Adams is of course best known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but this one is an underrated classic in sci-fi humor. Mix up murder, alien robots, time travel and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and you've got a tale that actually makes linear sense. Honestly, you'd have to read it to believe it.

4. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
There's a reason why this is Puzo's most famous work, and it has nothing to do with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino or Francis Ford Coppolla. (Well, okay, maybe a little.) Puzo's work is different from the normal gangster novel because he emphasizes the "family" part of "crime family." Throughout Puzo's oeuvre is the notion of one generation sacrificing themselves for the next, which is something parents and seniors with adult children can relate to.

5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson
There's a lot of humor, and a lot of sadness, in this pseudo-fictional work. You can laugh at Thompson's two drug-addled protagonists as they confront the establishment-era Vegas and law-enforcement thugs, but the sadness comes from Thompson's eulogy to the youth-movement optimism of the 1960s, and his observations on the failure of both Establishment and Rebellion to understand each other. There's also something unique about Thompson's writing style, a barely-controlled energy that takes the reader along for a heck of a ride.

6. Clear and Present Danger, by Tom Clancy
Most of Clancy's works are eminently re-readable; his talent is to make a believable hero out of what is essentially a bureaucrat. This one is re-readable because its climax is a rescue mission (made necessary by betrayals from on high) staffed and helmed by middle-class people -- some mid-level office workers, a Coast Guard cutter, an Air Force helicopter crew and a grizzled vet. (It's also a lot more compelling than the Harrison Ford movie.)

7. Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal, by Stuart Lake
Well, technically speaking this is a biography, but Lake took so many liberties with the source material (his interviews with Earp shortly before his death) that I have no problem calling this a novel. The prose is quaint, but Wyatt's life story still makes for a compelling read.

8. Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
Okay, yes, this is a graphic novel (i.e., a comic book), but it's still a very compelling comic book. Ross's photo-realistic paintings have the effect of pulling the reader fully into the comic-book universe, and Waid's story takes a unique viewpoint that has only recently come into vogue. You read it once for the story. You read it again to admire the artwork. If you want to know how far the sequential-art medium has come since the 1930s, this is a must-read.

9. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse
You can't very well put together a list of 20th-century books without at least one nod to the Master of the English Language. Most of Wodehouse's work prior to 1955 is very much re-readable, so it's hard to select one in particular. Bear in mind that Wodehouse's short stories are much stronger in form and prosery than his novels, but the "Jeeves & Wooster" novels are always a delight because of the sustained narrative of the burbling Bertie.

10. Too Many Cooks, by Rex Stout
Stout is pretty much in the Wodehouse class an an author worth re-reading, especially with the Nero Wolfe mysteries. This is a precursor to the "gourmet mystery" sub-genre in which Wolfe has to solve the mystery of a chef's stabbing. There's also an honest attempt by Stout to deal with the issue of racial prejudice, when Wolfe and Archie argue over how to interview a group of African-American waiters. (Stout took a considerable risk in showing the prejudices of his narrator.)

I could go on, of course; there are lots of books I think are worth re-reading: Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels (which I haven't listed because other bloggers are singing his praises), the cyberpunk fiction of William Gibson. But I think this list is a pretty good one, and a chance to discover why so many of these best-selling authors stay best-selling.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

What's Up Doc? Part Two

Last week I purchased the second volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. (Hey, I'm a sucker for classic animation.) This one was well worth the price.

The main reason I got this set was for Disc 2, which features some of the best of the Wile E. Coyote / Road Runner cartoons. There's also a restored version of the original TV pilot for The Adventures of the Road Runner, which later got revamped into The Road Runner Show. ("That coyote is really a crazy clown ...")

I also consider myself a Chuck Jones fan, and this set features some of the classic Jones cartoons such as The Dover Boys (an experiment with stylized animation), One Froggy Evening (with Michigan J. Frog) and What's Opera Doc? ("Kill the wabbit!")

The disc is also a showcase for Bob Clampett, with disc 3 showing off some of the Tweety cartoons and as well as a Clampett documentary. One cartoon, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, features John K. (of Ren & Stimpy fame) on audio commentary. This is certainly one of the best commentaries I've heard on the cartoon, because John pretty much explains Clampett's key poses and explains what makes them good. (He also identifies the animators who did each pose by their style, something that's hard for any animation buff to do--well, except maybe John Canemaker.)

There are certainly a few clunkers, mainly because some of the audio commentaries feature people who have no experience with the format. June Foray's commentaries on Witch Hazel, for example, would be a clunker if it weren't for some of the personal reminiscences she makes. Ditto animator Bill Melendez. (Of course I can't be too hard on him because he's also the guy responsible for making Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoons come to life.)

All in all, this is an impressive buy for any animation fan.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

President Bush's Halifax Visit: Better Late than Never

President Bush is visiting Halifax next week to thank the Atlantic Region for their efforts to shelter grounded airline passengers during 9/11.

My response is, "It's about time."

Ideally, the President should have thanked our people in 2002, during his State of the Union address. It says something about the declining relationship between the Bush Administration and the Chrétien government that the President didn't bother to acknowledge their efforts back then.

Now there are a few members of Parliament who're a little ticked that the President wants to go to Halifax instead of addressing the joint Houses of Parliament.

Personally I don't blame him. It's not so much the fear of heckling as the fact that an Address to the Joint Houses tends to run on precedence, ceremony and tradition--stuff that is expertly handled by the protocol offices of the Department of State and the Department of Foreign Affairs. It's also the type of thing that President Bush isn't very big on; it's a little on the pompous side for him. (These are politicians, after all.)

Remember last year's Thanksgiving Surprise? That's the sort of ceremony Bush thrives on. The guy knows that outside of an election year, regular folks don't get to see the President up close and personal, not even once in a lifetime. Talking with people for whom politics isn't an addiction; that's the kind of thing where Bush is at his best.

Besides, the kitchen parties are better.

You know, if the White House staff was really smart, they'd fly in some of the air traffic controllers and airport personnel from Newfoundland to sit in on the Presiden'ts remarks, give them front row seats. Hey, it's the least they could do.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It's Rather Retiring of CBS ...

... to announce the winding down of a career with such highs and lows.

Not that it's entirely wound down, of course. Dan Rather will still draw a paycheque, but he'll be doing "special assignments." That's a euphemism for "I'll only appear on TV three or four times a year, if there's a special story I want to work on."

This is pretty much the same deal CBS gave Walter Cronkite when he retired; he did a couple of news specials on the space program and pursued a few other projects before finally disappearing off the public scene. In Dan's case, I suspect he'll do some news specials on Vietnam, the Nixon presidency and Afghanistan. (The latter is most likely since the country is liable to blip back on the radar thanks to the War on Terror.) All of these are historical pieces, about topics which Rather worked on during his heyday. which takes him out of the line of fire for contemporary politics; I strongly doubt they'll have him do Presidential detail, much less a Campaign 2006 or 2008.

There are those who say Dan Rather should be fired, due to the Rathergate issue. I'll admit I'm one of them, but I think this is for the best. It's a cinch to believe that Rather would have stayed at the anchor desk until his 75th birthday, had Rathergate not happened. This way, at least, he gets to retain his dignity, no matter what the Rathergate investigation says. (And who's to say he didn't get his pension reduced, right?)

2004 turned out to be Rather's annus horribilis, and Rathergate pretty much put an end to his active career. Far better to take the parachute than get tossed out.

Of course, Dan Rather could try to start a weblog. That would be an ironical end, wouldn't it?

Saturday, November 20, 2004

A Welcome Update for Mr. Holmes

I've been a fan of Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street since I read a "kid's edition" of some of his cases when I was 8 years old. For years I owned a bargain-bin anthology of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, and I am happy to replace it this week with The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.

I heard about this edition a couple of weeks ago. I remember the first Annotated Sherlock Holmes as edited by William S. Baring-Gould, which I borrowed from the public library. I liked the layout and the idea of scholarly footnotes, but I wasn't fond of Baring-Gould's arranging the stories and novels in "chronological order," and I wasn't too thrilled about his attempt to make his own Holmesian theories part of the established canon.

This edition, edited by Leslie Klinger, is far better. It is of course an update, featuring snippets of Holmesian fan scholarship which have been published since the original edition. It also updates the mass media references to Holmes to include not just the Granada TV series, but the Matt Frewer movies of the turn of the century (damn! that sounds so old fashioned!).

Far more useful are the annotations that highlight the Victorian and Edwardian contexts in which the short stories took place. There is also a good attempt to translate Victorian prices and monies in terms of 21st century buying power. (This does of course have less staying power because it assumes a stable economy, but let that pass.) Mercifully, Klinger does not fall into the trap of rendering judgement on either the stories or the fan scholarship that Baring-Gould does, but presents the fan theories (and fan refutations) without comment.

So far only 2 volumes have been published, covering the short stories. Volume 3 comes out next year and covers all the novels. This is a recommended buy for serious fans of the Great Detective.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Garish Ms. Parrish

I note that our Prime Minister has finally done the inevitable and tossed Carolyn Parrish out of the Liberal caucus.

Americans (assuming they actually care about such things) may remember Ms. Parrish as one of the Canadian politicians who was hypercritical of President Bush. ("Damn Americans, I hate the bastards," she said last year.)

Thing is, our PM is more of a moderate when it comes to Foreign Affairs, unlike his predecessor. And Jean Chrétien wasn't as rabid an anti-American as Ms. Parrish likes to present herself.

(And to be realistic, there wasn't all that much Canada could do to help out in Iraq, anyway. Anyone who's followed our history of neglect of the Armed Forces will understand immediately what I'm talking about.)

Still, our PM is a realist; he's not all that distraught about the idea of President Bush being around for the next 4 years. Which means Ottawa needs to be nicer to Washington--for a while, anyway. (You can bet the City of Montreal, at least, will be nicer--it's their baseball team that's moving there, after all.)

Ms. Parrish, however, doesn't seem to have forgiven the President for sticking around. (Witness her stomping of a Bush doll for this week's episode of 22 Minutes.) And a person like that can't really be allowed to sit on the Government side of the House; it sends the wrong message to Washington.

Ms. Parrish will be sitting as an Independent, so of course her opinions will continue to be heard. (It's inevitable, since most backbench MPs tend not to stick out; press coverage will always gravitate towards the biggest mouth.) Personally, I hope she's strong enough to survive the next election. I don't agree with her opinion of Americans, but loudmouths are always welcome on Parliament Hill.

Bare On The Air

Just saw this story on CNN about a Cleveland TV anchorwoman's nude appearance in an artist's photo exhibition.

Note that this isn't really sensational; it's not like the anchorwoman did her broadcast à la Naked News. She just introduced a news story that featured pictures of her nude poses from far away.

This is one of those stories that has me questioning the mainstream media's news judgment. No, I don't mean the anchorwoman's. I mean the AP wire reporter's:

The report comes in the midst of increased attention to the airwaves, following Janet Jackson's breast-baring performance during the Super Bowl halftime show. The Federal Communications Commission proposed a record fine of $550,000 against CBS, WOIO's parent network. The network is protesting.

On Tuesday, ABC apologized for the intro to "Monday Night Football" that featured a supposedly naked actress jumping into a player's arms in a spoof of the television show "Desperate Housewives."

There is a hell of a difference between nudity meant to titilliate (Jackson & the MNF ad) and nudity in the art form (the anchorwoman's participation).

I am an artist. Once a week or so I do a life drawing workshop, in which a group of us make pictures of a nude model. Usually the guy in charge hires young, female models, although he brings in males occasionally.

It may surprise the average person, but it won't surprise the average artist, that I don't feel sexual attraction to the model when I'm drawing, even though she's nude. (I'll concede that it might have been a different story twenty years ago when I was finishing up my teenage years.) The model is there, as a form to be studied and re-created on the page. Since my specialty is animation, I study the form in order to improve my ability to represent functional anatomy and weight.

Now, unless you're actively shooting pornography, photography of the nude is on the same principle. The nude is a form that represents an idea. The idea of Human, for example, or a stage for the play of light on a surface. Nothing to really stir the loins about. In fact, people who say there is something sexual about nudity in any form would have to be deliberately ignorant about Art.

Which pretty much describes the people in charge of Hollywood and the mainstream media.

I say "deliberately ignorant" because I'm sure these people do know the difference. But they seem to believe that it's in their own interest to foster the belief in public that art-nudity and sexual nudity are the Same Thing. If we can do one, they seem to say, then we can do the other.

I don't think Middle North America is that stupid. I think we're all smart enough to know the difference, and to say so. As the Monty Python sketch says, "I may not know much about Art, but I know what I like."

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

John Morgan, R.I.P.

I first came across the Royal Canadian Air Farce when I was in high school. Since I wasn't allowed to watch TV on weekdays, I got addicted to radio, and since I was a patriotic sort of teenager (don't ask) naturally I listened to the CBC.

The Air Farce was cornball. Roger Abbott, Dave Broadfoot, John Ferguson, Luba Goy and John Morgan did political satire and the occasional social commentary. They poked fun, but they weren't especially mean about it. That type of thinking (along with the Vancouver Sun cartoons of Roy Peterson) pretty much colored my own attitudes about politicians: I learned never to hate them because they're not so much evil as prone to the occasional screwup.

The Air Farce changed and evolved, of course, as the CBC moved them to television and they got competition from younger, sharper comedians such as CODCO and Kids in the Hall. John Morgan in particular developed 2 characters: Mike from Canmore, a small-town dimwit that could still befuddle the intellectual elite, and Jock McBile, a disgusted Scotsman who ranted every week on social and governmental misdeeds, concluding with "Get stuffed!" Bombastic, yes. Witty, even. But never bitter, never with a cynical edge.

There are times, in social commentary, when the pillow fight can work just as well as the rapier in getting a point across. John Morgan, in his association with the Farce, could swing a mean pillow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why James Carville Deserves Respect

I don't normally pay attention to the Sunday morning news shows, so of course I'm seeing this second hand. But the idea of James Carville smashing an egg on his face raises my level of respect for him.

There are others, such as Wonkette, who find this idea juvenile, or shameless. I disagree. I think Mr. Carville recognizes a couple of punditry principles that commentators on both sides of the spectrum should keep in mind:

1. When you get it wrong, you must say so. Carville was reacting to a clip of his predicting a John Kerry victory. I can't think of too many people on either the right or the left who are willing to freely admit that they got it wrong. Certainly some will--the folks at Salon.com come to mind--but whenever they write that they were wrong, I always get the impression that they'd rather have a root canal.

2. When you get it wrong, you must do penance, in the same forum that you operate in. Carville did this sort of thing in 2002, when he put a wastebasket on his head to show his reaction to the midterm election results. It's a public, graphic acknowledgement of imperfection.

This type of public self-flagellation has two effects. It shows the viewer that the humbled pundit has the strength of character to accept a loss of face; after all, if people are going to laugh at you for your error, you may as well give them a good reason.

More importantly, a public act of contrition enables the pundit to move on to the next area of interest. The act is essentially a form of closure that says, "I worked hard to make X happen. It didn't. This is the price I accept for failure. Let's go to the next topic."

And people will accept it, because they know it takes a great deal of courage to lose face in so graphic a manner.

I suspect that if Dan Rather had smashed an egg on his forehead when he reluctantly apologized for the forged TANG memos of the summer, Rathergate would be a footnote by now rather than a Damoclean sword on his career.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Harry Lampert, R.I.P.

The name may not be familiar, unless you are really fanatical about comics, and DC Comics in particular.

Harry Lampert was the man who, as a comics artist, created the initial look of DC's fourth important superhero after Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman -- The Flash.

Of course he wasn't the Flash everyone nowadays is familiar with--Lampert was inspired by the traditional image of Mercury, Messenger of the Gods, when he came up with the look for Jay Garrick's transformation into a superhero. It wasn't until the 1950s and the creation of Barry Allen by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino that the Flash everyone knows came into being.

Still, that doesn't diminish Lampert's contribution. Jay Garrick is currently being used as an "elder statesman" role by DC Comics creators. It's an important way of honoring the legacy of the Golden Age of comic books.

Lampert died November 13th in Louisiana at the age of 88. But his legacy will live as long as people believe in The Fastest Man Alive.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

On the Eleventh Day ...

Remembrance Day today. (Okay, the Americans call it Veterans Day. It's still the same thing.)

I just returned from a conference in Winnipeg. We observed the customary 2 minutes after 11 while flying over Ontario, minds still attuned to Central Standard Time.

Normally, as a member of the CF Reserves I'd be marching in the national Remembrance Day parade. (Since my reserve unit is in Ottawa, if I wasn't working I was marching.) I don't mind; it's the least I could do for the vets.

Pretty much all of the generation from the Great War are gone now. And those who fought in World War II are thinning out, year after year. It's good to remember their accomplishments while we still have them with us.

It's sad, in a way, to realize that the ranks of the veterans may still increase. Americans will point out the vets of Vietnam, Iraq, the War on Terror. Canadians will add the peacekeepers, the soldiers of Afghanistan and other ops of the War on Terror.

The lesson of Remembrance Day is not that war is a terrible thing, though it is. It is that, while peace is always a noble cause, there are still some things about our civilization, our society, that are worth fighting for. And we would be less than honouable if we did no homage to those who fought for us, as well as those who didn't come back.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

If You Supported Kerry, You'd Better Read This ...

Open Letter To The Democratic Party: How You Could Have Had My Vote

This is from one of the Bush voters who could have -- could have -- helped put a new guy in the White House.

There's no information about her other than what she says in her post. Let's assume that what she says about herself is genuine.

Now look at some of the points she's made.

You didn't give me clear positions on the issues. I followed the news closely all through the campaign, but I still don't understand Kerry's position on Iraq.

This is a clear message to all politicians Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, that always bears repeating: 1. Take a position. 2. Make it clear. 3. Defend it well. And remember that you can't do 3 without doing 2 first.

Here is something you could work on right about now: I could not stomach to listen to your incessant hatred of President Bush.

The hardest thing to do, in the aftermath of the campaign, is to forgive and accept your opponent. It's especially true when the loser happens to be your champion. But it's a step that absolutely has to be done, otherwise life will not be fun anymore.

I won't reproduce her seventh and final point, because I want people to read the piece in its entirety. But it stresses a very important point:

People can be persuaded. They will not be insulted.

Progressive liberalism--and reform of the Democratic Party--will never succeed unless a way is found to persuade people like Sad American that they're worth supporting. But they won't support anyone who belittles and insults them whenever a doubt is expressed.

This is where the healing process begins. This is where the re-building process begins. Read Sad American's letter. And learn from it.

Mister Moore Dusts Himself Off

Anyone engaging in schadenfraude after the American election will be disappointed in Michael Moore. Given his hysterical attacks on the U.S. President, one might have expected him to wallow in despair, or throw a tantrum.

To his credit, he did neither. After a few days (during which his only reaction was posting a photomontage of American soldiers making up a portrait of President Bush) he came up with a few "silver linings" which are worth paying attention to.

Note to the left-wing bloggers: This is how you start recovering from your electoral disaster. The discussions in salon.com were for the most part nonsensical gasps of despair and denial; the postings in dailykos were much much worse. Mister Moore, for all his faults and exaggerations, understands one thing: if you're going to rally the troops, you have to be upbeat first.

Don't wail. Don't weep. Don't make suggestions of moving to Canada or seceding from America; you'd just make a fool of yourself and discredit your side further. There is a bright side.

Mister Moore's behavior is of course far better than his reaction to 2000, when he posted a defaced portrait of President Bush accompanied by canned evil laughter.

Who knows? He may get to the point where he makes a post praising President Bush.

Mind you, that won't happen for another four years ...

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Nation Goes A-Blogging

This article, on the development and use of political blogs, is actually pretty interesting even with the left-wing perspective. Anyone interested in knowing how good blogging can help the political system, either from the Right or the Left, should take a good look.

(I'm one of those heretical people who thinks a strong nation needs both Right and Left to be strong. No eagle ever got anywhere on one wing.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Democrats: Welcome Back to the Wilderness

Yes, I know. You weren't expecting to be back here so soon, right?

Well, it's not like you're not used to this. The first time you showed up here, in 2002, you lost control of the House and the Senate. And back then you didn't believe you'd be gone for long. And I remember how you kept saying that you'd get back there, not to mention get back the White House away from that moron who stole the White House from you.

And yet ... here you are. More Republicans in the House. More Republicans in the Senate. And now that so-called "moron" in the White House has a renewed mandate that you can't even damage by pointing to the popular vote.

So ... what are you going to do now?

Hm? Oh, the Mountie shoving you back here? He's just pointing out that going to Canada is not really an option for you. Ditto the British bobbie and the French gendarme, representing the rest of the world. Coward's way out, you see. Exile's not a good-looking option at the moment, sorry. You're just going to have to live with the "moron," for four more years.

Oh, and the big, deep pit over there? Full of bloggers with DU on their shirts? Weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, holding up pictures of Yogi Berra, throwing rocks at the fat lady over there who's about to launch into an aria? They're Bush Bashers. Yes, it looks like they're having fun, but the more they keep at it, the deeper the pit gets. Eventually, they'll go so far down that no one will hear them anymore.

I strongly recommend that you don't join them.

So, anyway, if you want to get out of the wilderness, first you have to figure out how you got here. Oh, and you can tell the shell-shocked guy mumbling "Karl Rove" that he's not really being helpful. Honestly, you'd think he'd seen the boogeyman or something.

Seriously though, the Republicans had a plan and direction. You folks ... well, to be honest, all you had were the words "NOT THAT WAY!" And you wound up going all over the place--which means you went nowhere mighty fast. There's a guy named Saletan who can explain it a bit better than I can; you'd be wise to pay attention to him.

Now, a bit of advice: you're going to be here for awhile, so you may as well stay put. And think. Not "ivory tower" academia think, but real think, the kind that your next-door neighbour will listen to over beer and barbecue.

Think about the principles that your country was built on, what you like about them, what can be changed. Think about the kind of society you want to live in, and what you can do to achieve it. Think about the rest of the world and how you want them to see you and your country.

Now think about the country. Not just the people in your party, the people around you, but also the people who put The Other Side in power. And think about why they did that. They also have a vision that a lot of people bought into. Remember that, in the eyes of the law, they're just like you. You can't deny them the vote. But you have to persuade them to vote for your idea.

And you can't really do it by bashing the old one. You did that this time out, and look what happened.

No, you'll have a better chance of getting the people to vote for you if you have an idea, a positive platform, to start with, rather than just spending all your time tearing down the other guy's.

Mind you, this means you'll probably have to jettison what you've been using now. Your current leadership doesn't seem to have worked out very well, right? Your chairman, McAuliffe, may be a genius at raising money, but he's spent an awful lot of time checking the nails and screws in the platform rather than seeing if the actual wood was solid enough to work.

Being in the wilderness, like you are now, is meant to be a learning experience. The Republicans learned while your man Bill lived in the White House; now it's your turn.

And if you don't learn, if you can't show the rest of America something positive about you ... well, we'll be seeing you here again in another four years.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

If You Want to Know What BlogExplosion is Like ...

... check out this posting from The Fine Line v.3.0.

BlogExplosion is a fun way to blog surf. Blogger.com allows you to blog-surf their site as well from the Dashboard, using either the New Postings section or from your profile, but I find BlogExplosion to be better organized for the surfing experience. I don't really mind the "family album" blogs (being a bachelor, the notion of parenthood is "here be dragons" territory to me), and the ones from yullies (young urban intellectuals) seem to have a wistfulness about them that I find attractive.

If I have a fault when blog surfing, it's that I pay more attention than I should to single-women blogs. (But then I'm a middle-aged bachelor, so it's only natural.) I also try to avoid the blog sites on BlogExplosion that look like ad portals, or sites that have too much prominent advertising.

But as I said, it's a lot of fun looking at how creative people can be. Even if you don't actually have a blog, you should give BlogExplosion a try.

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Big Loser of Campaign 2004

There's going to be a lot of people making this conclusion, and it's a fairly obvious one. Mind you, the big question is, how did this happen?

I have a somewhat tenuous theory about it, but I think it fits the known facts about modern-day American journalism.

First, a supposition: the people who are currently in charge of Big Media -- managing editors, senior journalists, journalism teachers, and pundits -- came of age, and were influenced by, the late 1960s and early 1970s, the era of Vietnam and Watergate. This is the era when activist journalism had its heyday, culminating with the downfall of President Nixon and the end of American involvement in Vietnam.

Watergate is the most visible consequence of the concept of media as "an agent of social change." This is the journalism philosophy that enables journalism to set the public agenda, with a particular viewpoint, and results in a major event favorable to that viewpoint. (Of course, the problem with this is that it clashes with the notion that journalism should be, if not objective, then unbiased in reporting both sides of an issue, which is the conventional view of our society.)

Thirty years later, the Watergate-era reporters are at or near retirement age, and the heights that activist journalism reached during Watergate have yet to be reached again.

2004, in short, represented the last chance of the Watergate-era journalists, as well as their protegés, to score a major story and bring down a world leader. Many of them will not be around in 2008, due to retirements; it's a fact of life.

So what went wrong?

Well, there's a little saying the modern-day activists like to spout: "the ends justify the means." In the context of journalism, it's an excuse for using methods to secure information that don't meet a high standard. Activist journalists are especially prone to being infected by this concept, and Mary Mapes (who was working on Bush's background) is no exception. This is why CBS News wanted to work with documents of dubious veracity; the bigger story (Bush's questionable history with the National Guard) was worth the risk.

The trouble with this approach is, of course, it gets you in trouble if you get caught. And in the age of the Internet, the chances of getting caught are very high indeed.

Even liberal boomers get fossilized. I don't believe Big Media ever fully appreciated the power of the Internet, and especially the power of the blogosphere, in shaping the public agenda. Certainly the people at CBS News didn't, which is why the Rathergate situation took them by surprise.

News media is, right now, in a transitional age. Cable news and the Internet (not just the blogosphere, but other websites as well) have emerged as legitimate venues for conveying information to the masses. The mainstream outlets who can work with the new technology as a whole unit -- by using them to fact check, to start a dialogue with sources, to get alternative information -- will have better stories, and can survive in the 21st century. Those outlets who don't -- who dismiss the New Media as amateurs, propagandists, etc. -- will wind up marginalized.

One other point. People who are computer-literate enough to use the Internet are also literate enough to recognize bias or self-interest. Mainstream media journalists, if they are honest with themselves, should either declare their viewpoint openly (which will enable them to practice activist journalism with a clear conscience) or make the effort to be fair (which means really taking the time to interview and interpret all sides.) It may not make them winners, but at least it'll be a step towards not becoming The Big Loser of Campaign 2008.