As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, April 23, 2004

Tales of freedom of speech

During last week's Presidential press conference, when we found out Our Leader has a vocabulary of 4 (freedom, terror, victory, and um), Bush said, "Nobody likes to see dead people on their TV screens. I don't." Unfortunately, his way of solving this problem is not to generate policy that keeps soldiers out of shooting galleries like Iraq, but to ban any images of dead people on TV screens. Or in print. Or anywhere, really. Case in point:

Woman fired by military contractor for published photograph of military coffins.

The Defense Department ban on displaying the human cost of war has actually been in place since we first invaded Iraq. Does something about how totalitarian governments first try to control the state media pop into your head when you hear stuff like this? Or do you just see random pages from Orwell, like I do?

It is an incredible act of hubris to think that we mere citizens should not have the right to view these photos. The official White House reason for banning images of the war dead is to "protect the sensitivities of the military families." Shouldn't that read "protect the sensitivities of the electorate"? War under Bush has been so stage-managed that I wouldn't be surprised if Iraq was actually just a Hope-and-Crosby road movie desert backdrop.

And now we find that the Coalition of the Willing Media never even bothered to, erm, find out if there were any pictures lying around Dover AFB.


Executives at news organizations, many of whom have protested the policy, said last night that they had not known that the Defense Department itself was taking photographs of the coffins arriving home, a fact that came to light only when Russ Kick, the operator of The Memory Hole, filed his request.
"We were not aware at all that these photos were being taken," said Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.
John Banner, the executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," said, "We did not file a F.O.I.A. request ourselves, because this was the first we had known that the military was shooting these pictures."

Right, because the way journalism works is you wait until someone tells you what's going on, and then you report it. No, wait, that's how first grade works. I get them mixed up sometimes.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Bipartisan Brain Scans

On Wednesday, beleaguered cable network TechTV (soon to be my former employer) gave us a little glimpse at just what's going on in the American mind when it's thinking about politics. A story on the news show TechLive described a study by Dr. Joshua Freedman, Research Psychiatrist, in which political ads were shown to Democrats and Republicans, during which their brain activity was monitored by magnetic resonance imaging.

When the image of the candidate aligned with their own political views popped up, blood would flow to the more active part of the brain, in this case to areas of the brain relating to emotional response. In turn, when the candidate for the opposition appeared, the blood flow would indicate activity in the more rational parts of the brain. Marco Iacobini, an Associate Professor at UCLA mused "What is going on here is that subjects are using their rational apparatus almost to argue against the opponent of their favorite candidate."

Aha! But that's just the tip of the iceberg... When the participants were then directed to observe violent imagery, such as Bush's delightfully classy use of the World Trade Center disaster in his ads, "The Democrats... showed a striking and prolonged reaction in the amygdala, which is associated with anxiety and fear and alarm. And the Republicans showed almost no reaction," explained Freedman.

The TechLive anchors didn't speculate on what all this meant. Luckily, Brooklyn pundit Rob G. has summed it up pretty nicely I think: "Jesus, it's almost like an April Fool's Day joke, isn't it? It seems that Democrats exhibit human reactions to images of suffering, while Republicans think more like sociopathic android/monsters from the Earth's molten core."


You gonna finish that?

from Slate:

Woodward's Table Scraps

Every Woodward production contains a half-dozen throwaway details that would make lesser reporters drool. Here's the best of the lot:

Page 11: Bush as glutton: At a Pentagon briefing, staffers lay out peppermint candy for each attendee. Bush scarfs down his peppermint, and then begins to eye Bill Cohen's treat, which the former secretary gladly relinquishes. Gen. Hugh Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, "noticed Bush eyeing his mint, so he passed it over."


Censorship reaches a new low.

This seems sane.

In Tennessee, the state Senate has passed legislation that would prohibit playing an "obscene" film on a screen visible to other drivers. The bill is now before the state House.

Now we're starting to prohibit material that can be possibly seen from 50+ feet away at high rates of speed. I know, let's stop putting windows on adult video stores, someone could walk by! Or wait, let's stop showing movies on airplanes, "the children" could have a telescope and catch a glimpse of violence from a passing 747! Or they might see into the bathroom! Shocking! Let's ground the commercial fleet!


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Kerry, Kerry, Kerry.

Dems all over are going wild about these latest poll numbers showing Bush rising markedly. While I think part of it is the natural cycle of presidential politics, it in large part comes down to the difficulties of challenging an incumbent. Bush has the world stage, he grabs the headlines, and any news is good news. Josh Marshall's comment about this hits it right on the money.

Still, there's plenty Kerry could be doing. He's like a turtle that's slinked back into his shell the last two months, after appropriating Dean's attack technique during the primary campaign. There have been dribbles of dissent, like about the Saudi Arabia gas price fixing "scandal", but for the most part he's played defense. And when you spend all your time defending your record, it gives nothing but the impression that your record needs defending. Just once I'd love to hear "You know what, I'm proud of the work I've done in the Senate, and when I look at the job this President has done the last four years, I'd say there's someone who needs to defend his record." Enough with the equivocating. Enough with the mushy middle. Instead of playing rope-a-dope, get out there and blast away on the environment. Blast away on this ridiculous war (A great line would've been, "Bob Woodward's book says the plans for Iraq were drawn up 3 years ago. Looking at this war, I didn't know there were any plans!") Blast away on the economy, and health care, and gay marriage. Force yourself back into that news cycle.

I saw Jeanne Shaheen on Crossfire yesterday, with one of these BC04 drones (I think it was Ken Melman), and he again brought up this assinine gas tax thing, and Shaheen could have easily said "You mean the gas tax Dick Cheney voted for? The one Greg Mankiw proposed," but she sat there and played defense. Hey JFK, you're not winning in November with that strategy. You're not. Look at 2002. These are vital moments when candidates get defined in the public consciousness. Please get off the mat.

Thank you.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Woodward Thing

We've had a spate of books come out about the Bush administration, the latest being Bob Woodward's, a man who carries a reputation of, shall we say, dramatizing the mundane (maybe so far as putting words in the mouths of his subjects, although direct evidence of this is not wholly clear). So the media's pulled two points out of the book: that Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia was briefed on the Iraq attack plan before Colin Powell, and that said Bandar made a secret deal with Bush to lower gas prices right before this year's election.

Now, I think both propositions are highly probable. OK, they happened. It didn't help the Bushies' stonewalling attempts when Prince Bandar himself popped up to call into Woodward on Larry King last night, and his "refutation" began with the words "Everything you said is true..." That's never the best way to deny something. What the Prince said was is that the President hadn't made up his mind about Iraq, but Cheney and Rummy decided to show him the attack plans anyway. Um, isn't that worse? "We haven't decided if we're going to do this, but take a look, isn't it STUNNING? Yeah, sure it's a total violation of national security, but look at this part where we blow up Saddam's palace, isn't that cool?" It makes Cheney and Rummy look like a pair of 5th-graders with a copy of Penthouse that they can't stop showing to their buddies.

But here's the deal, I don't believe you can parse two sentences out of a 300-page book and allow that to stand in for the whole work. I guess that's to be expected in our post-literate, post-information age. It's all about that one killer sentence that either side can use as their talking point for the next news cycle. Full disclosure here: I'm a TV editor. I deal in soundbites. I'm part of the problem. OK, scratch the last thing. But the point is, I can take a two-hour interview and depict the interviewee in virtually any manner I choose. So I never pass judgment on these things until I've actually read the whole book. After all, Plan of Attack is apparently on the White House Recommended Reading list right now.

What this does bring up is how beholden we remain to Saudi Arabia, and have been since FDR's secret handshake with the King in the 40s. Washington's relationship to the Sauds reminds me of a battered wife's relationship to her husband. "No, just because they fund international terrorism and found all the madrassahs that indoctrinate young terrorists worldwide, just because bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, that doesn't mean they're not our ally! Bruises on my face, those aren't bruises on my face! I fell! Saudi Arabia said to say I fell!"



Okay, this is day one of the D-Day blog. Welcome, nobody! Good to see none of you here. Should someone actually stumble upon this and read it, let me 'splain what I'd like to do on this site.

I am interested in opining on the pressing issues of our times, be they political, cultural, artistic, or whatever. Because I'm important enough to be passing judgment on the world every single day, right? Well, who knows. I guess that's up to you, the up-until-now nonexistent reader. Hopefully, if it's important to me, it'll be important to you. We'll see.

We'll jump into this more tomorrow. For now, hello, and, erm, hello.