Friday, September 16, 2011 3:28 PM
When V-Day founder Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues came to town, I was teaching my first college course and had every intention of announcing the groundbreaking activist play to my class, just as I had with poet Amiri Baraka’s upcoming reading and the new art exhibit at the campus museum. But once I stood in front of my students, I couldn’t bring myself to say the word vagina. I couldn’t even write it on the chalkboard. I choked.
That was 12 years ago, and I was 23—the same age at which my grandfather had begun teaching college half a century earlier. His trick to looking older: “I grew a moustache.” Not having that capability, I resigned myself to looking and feeling young. Apparently too young to say shocking words in front of a classroom full of 18-year-olds. When I eventually saw Ensler’s play, it brilliantly dramatized the inability of our culture—and me—to say vagina, and all the whacky euphemisms we use instead, from hoo-ha to punani to (my personal favorite) coochie snorcher.
Naturally, I was able to announce the next performance of The Vagina Monologues to my class.
And today, we can talk about vaginas anywhere, writes Jezebel: “Marketers have taken a cue from Eve Ensler—that was fifteen years ago, by the way—and decided that they can shout ‘vagina’ all they want.” Still, the internet world was set aflutter after presidential candidate Michele Bachmann said the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine has “very dangerous consequences” such as causing mental retardation, prompting novelist Ayelet Waldman (of controversial “I love my husband more than my children” fame) to tweet the dangerous consequences of not being vaccinated for HPV—namely that it caused her cancerous cervical lesions. (A bioethicist has since offered $10,000 to the charity of Bachmann’s choice if she can offer up medical record proof of her retardation claim, reports Slate.) It’s easy to turn Bachmann’s eternally nutty gaffes and misinformation into a joke, but as Feministe says: “[S]ometimes [HPV] causes cancer. And that’s no joke. And putting a real face on an incredibly common, sometimes cancer-causing disease is important.”
Our culture has long been comfortable talking openly about men’s genitalia. From Senator Bob Dole’s memorable Viagra commercial to every semi-crude dad on every family sitcom, personal penis references are old hat. Thanks, Ms. Ensler, for opening the door to important public conversations about the vagina.
Source: Jezebel, Slate, Feministe
Image by M. Johannson,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011 4:48 PM
Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, doesn’t think News Corp.’s antics in Britain—hacking phones, interfering in a murder case, bribes—were restricted to the British Isles. No, that just doesn’t add up to him, given the back-and-forth travel across the pond of some of Rupert Murdoch’s executives and editors. But that’s just Spitzer conjecturing, and it’s not the reason he’s calling for News Corp. to be investigated in the U.S. by the Department of Justice. According to Spitzer, the media company has already violated a U.S. law—the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “Indeed,” Spitzer writes, “the facts as they are emerging are a case study for why the FCPA was enacted.” The law was put in place in the 1970s in an attempt to give some sort of ethical boundaries to international business. And even if infractions take place completely overseas, companies based in the U.S. can still be held accountable here. “So,” writes Spitzer, “acts in Britain by British citizens working on behalf of News Corp. creates liability for News Corp., an American business incorporated in Delaware and listed on American financial exchanges.”
Read the rest of Spitzer’s argument, including calling for News Corp.’s FCC licenses to be revoked should the company eventually be found liable, at Slate.
Image by Alex E. Proimos
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 01, 2011 12:37 PM
Defying the illegitimate authority of his crypto-fascist homeowners’ association, a punk dad issues an uncompromising manifesto.
A couple of Miami Beach buddies score some good weed—and some international arms contracts.
A diet change, instead of Ritalin, might be just the prescription for many ADHD cases.
Glimpse the elusive waterbirds of Manhattan.
“[O]ne day, while screening some episodes of HBO’s The Wire, it hit me: [Charles] Dickens was back and his name is David Simon.” Bill Moyers interviews David Simon at Guernica.
Tax-free online sales are taking their toll in Washington state, the home of Amazon.
Visit the Los Angeles you’ll never know: a city devoid of cars.
Who hasn’t celebrated a major victory by firing guns into the air, a la Yosemite Sam? Slateexamines what happens to the bullets after you’ve emptied your clip (and whether or not they can kill you).
Rupert Murdoch acquires New Internationalist. (Make sure to check the date that this one was posted.)
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 10:33 AM
Over at Slate, Jessica Grose writes about Micah Toub’s book Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks. In the annals of childhood psychological adjustment, I don’t think my head has ever exploded quite the way it did when I read this paragraph:
There was a lot of dream analysis in the Toub household, of course, and also exercises in the Jungian technique of "active imagination," which Toub explains is "deliberately exploring one's imagination and fantasies by … acting them out verbally or physically to read the message that one's unconscious is trying to communicate." In one memorable scene, Toub's mother encouraged him to "be" an erection in order to help him get over a bout of teenage impotence. To accomplish this, she took young Micah to a local park and had him pretend to be his own boner. "Your name is not Micah, you are not a human being," she told him. "You are an erection. What words come into your head?" He visualized himself as a "victorious penis," running around the park triumphantly.
Image by marine_perez, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010 1:58 PM
Being blown up in an oil-rig-related explosion calls for some compensation, no? Well, according to Slate, BP might not be paying much to the families of those killed when the Deepwater Horizon outfit burst into flames:
After a BP refinery in Texas exploded in 2005, killing 15 workers and injuring scores more, the oil giant paid $1.6 billion in settlements to employees and their families. But the families of the workers killed on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico probably won't receive a similar windfall. That's because the Deepwater rig is legally considered an oceangoing vessel and was more three nautical miles offshore at the time of the accident. As a result, the families of the dead workers can only sue BP and its contractors under a 90-year-old maritime law, the Death on the High Seas Act, which severely limits liability. In some cases, BP could get away with shelling out sums as paltry as $1,000.
The Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA) may be one of the least emotionally accommodating laws of all time:
Just ask Son Michael Pham, the vice president of the International Cruise Victims Association. In 2005, his parents went on a Caribbean cruise and never came back. Carnival Cruise Line, one of the world's largest cruise operators, never offered any explanation for what had happened, and has refused to discuss the incident with Pham and his family since then. That was how Pham discovered the horrible divide in the way the law treats people killed through negligence at sea. "We couldn't take legal action to get justice," he says. Long before the BP explosion, his group was lobbying Congress for DOHSA to be overhauled.
Yeah, some reform might help.
Image by Ashok666, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 2:53 PM
Where does the Book of Mormon rank on your list of all time, top five greatest religious texts? Alan Wolfe over at Slate dives into a reader’s guide that attempts to revitalize the literary reputation of Mormonism’s founding text. He comes away a little unconvinced, though:
Mormonism's success suggests that a religion can flourish in spite of rather than because of its founding texts. I do not doubt that Mormons are inspired by the words associated with Joseph Smith. But if another reference to music is permitted, I simply cannot imagine anyone setting those words to music the way Handel did with the Bible in his oratorios. The Book of Mormon has a structure. It does not sing.
To be fair, Handel’s Messiah oratorio draws partly from the über-poetic King James Bible, and I can’t imagine Biblical translations more contemporaneous with the Book of Mormon would provide lyrics that were much better. Still, if the Book of Mormon isn’t the riveting beach read you and Alan Wolfe were hoping for, maybe you’d like to ponder another question Slate poses: Where is the great Mormon novel?
Image by ClarkProductions2008, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 1:48 PM
The media storm in response to North Korea’s short-range missile tests on Monday runs the gamut between calls for continued diplomacy to questions about a renewed Cold War. Here’s a short list of key articles:
Daniel Politi summarizes the mainstream press coverage for Slate, including: how this incident spells an early test for Obama’s foreign policy from the New York Times; questions about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s motivations from the Los Angeles Times; and, speculations in the Washington Post on how big a bomb the communist regime can actually produce.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Mr. Kim may be preparing a transitional leader on the heels of his alleged stroke in August of last year. A top candidate may be his brother-in-law, Jang Seong Taek, whom he recently appointed to North Korea’s National Defense Commission. U.S. officials suspect that Mr. Kim’s third son, Kim Jong Un, is also in the running.
Korea Times wonders if their peninsula may be regressing to Cold War-era tensions after a decade of uneasy yet promising relations with their northern neighbor, as defined by the “Sunshine Policy” doctrine. Articulated in 1998 by then-South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the Sunshine Policy established a peaceful stance towards North Korea that anticipated eventual reunification. However, since his 2008 election, current President Lee Myung Bak has taken an increasingly hard line approach toward Pyongyang.
Lee Chi-dong reports for Yonhap News that South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has vowed to try to “bring North Korea back to the bargaining table” of peaceful negotiation.
And, New Scientist sees a silver lining in Monday’s missile tests: “The network of blast detectors intended for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has not yet come into force, seems to have perfectly identified the explosion as a nuclear test, despite its small size.” In other words, at least our nuclear-monitoring technology is working.
Sources: Slate, Wall Street Journal, Korea Times, Yonhap News, New Scientist
Image by Borut Peterlin, licensed under Creative Commons
Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:13 AM
The old joke is never put two economists in the same room if you want to know how the economy is doing. But what if you want to know how Timothy Geithner is doing? On Monday the Treasury Secretary unveiled his plan for a private/public partnership to buy up bad loans, in the hopes of getting money to flow from banks to the public once again. While mainstream media focuses on Wall Street’s reaction to Geithner, here are a few alternative sources:
The Hotline provides a detailed summary of the reaction to Geithner’s plan from both the liberal and conservative blogosphere.
Recent reports labeling Geithner as “embattled” or “beleaguered” have Christopher Beam over at Slate wondering if our Treasury Secretary will either resign or lose his job. “Embattled is one of those words that creeps into news reports,” Beam writes, “when a figure reaches a certain threshold of controversy.”
Mike Madden at Salon thinks that the key to Obama’s successfully selling Geithner’s ideas is to focus attention on the plan, not the man, citing the Treasury Secretary’s pronounced lack of media savvy.
And over at The New Republic, Jonathan Chait wonders why we care whether or not the stock market likes Geithner at all. What’s good for stocks isn’t necessarily what’s good for the economy as a whole. “The fact that the market is rallying doesn't mean [Geithner’s plan] will work,” Chait writes, “it just means that the rich folks think they'll come out ahead.”
Sources: Hotline, Slate, Salon, The New Republic
Thursday, March 12, 2009 11:52 AM
The most iconic images of the Great Depression passed through Dorothea Lange's camera. These days you can't help but see the ghosts of Lange's portraits in photos and video footage from the darkest corners of the current economic crisis. Clinical Psychologist and blogger Michael Shaw makes a dreadfully direct link, blogging at the always compelling BAGnewsNotes about a series of tent city photos taken in Sacramento, California, the same city where Lange took photos like these:
Compare those shots to this photograph of Karen Hersh, an out of work truck driver, cleaning her Sacramento tent city home several decades later.
The online magazine Slate has invited readers to submit photographs from the economic crisis to its Flickr page, and Lange is there too. A standout of the submissions so far is this photograph of a tent pitched on a blighted corner of Portland, Oregon.
In Slate's call for photographs, they lay out the challenge of photographing this new depression: "You can't take a photograph of a collateralized debt obligation."
Sources: BAGnewsNotes, Slate, Library of Congress
Images by Dorothea Lange
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 9:51 AM
You’ve undoubtedly heard by now that in Iraq, having a shoe chucked at you, as President Bush did on Sunday in Baghdad, is a huge slap in the face. If you’re still wondering why, Brian Palmer at Slate breaks it down: shoes are a choice weapon of disrespect “because they’re so dirty.” Though it’s unclear where the tradition originated, “Arabs—and perhaps Iraqis in particular—throw their shoes to indicate that the target is no better than dirt.”
Palmer goes on to explain the significance of feet in various cultures, noting that George W. isn’t the first member of his family to be sullied by shoes: “After the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein installed a mosaic of President George H.W. Bush on the floor of the Al-Rasheed Hotel. Hussein delighted in releasing images of foreign dignitaries stepping on Bush's face.”
Disrespect aside, the shoe incident may be “the best thing that’s happened to Bush in a while,” John Dickerson opines also for Slate. The shoe is being interpreted by opponents and supporters of the Iraq war as a sign of the conflict's failure or success, Dickerson writes, and he analyzes what the reignited popular debate could mean for Bush in his twilight days. Dickerson expects, if nothing else, “a spark of patriotism will kick in when some Americans watch the tape.” If that’s the case, perhaps Bush is looking forward to the farewell he’ll receive from protesters who, according to Politico, now plan to pelt the White House with shoes on his last day in office.
Image by Van Damme M., licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 13, 2008 10:42 AM
Barack Obama’s faith was the subject of a lot of analysis on the campaign trail, and many are pondering the effect that his victory will have on religions in America. Jeff Sharlet at the Revealer wonders whether Obama’s election signals the demise of the Religious Right, but some think that reports of the movement’s death are premature. Sharlet quotes conservative scholar D. Michael Lindsay who predicts that an Obama Administration will give the movement something rally against: “Political movements like the Religious Right don’t need a ‘god’ to succeed, but they do need a devil. Nothing builds allegiances among a coalition like a common enemy.”
The Religious Right might make an enemy of Obama, even though he is a Christian, because his faith is moderate and measured, and because he’s prone to seek out different opinions and shun absolutism.
This measured worldview could be why Obama will present a problem the New Atheists, too. As Frank Schaffer wrote for the Huffington Post the day after the election that Obama’s victory is drawing the curtain on an era on spiritual certitude and intolerance at both extremes:
Into the all or nothing culture wars, and the all or nothing wars between the so-called New Atheists and religion the election of President elect Obama reintroduces nuance. President elect Obama’s ability to believe in Jesus, yet question, is going to rescue American religion in general and Christianity in particular, from the extremes.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 6:51 PM
Utne Reader contributor—and extremely well traveled journalist—Andy Isaacson dropped us a welcome line today: Isaacson recently had been in Kenya, where he met Abebe Feyissa, an Ethiopian refugee living in the Kakuma Camp and author of “Traveling Souls,” an essay about camp life that we excerpted in our Sept.-Oct. 2008 issue.
“I came across the article online while I was searching for Kakuma,” Isaacson writes. “I then visited the camp, last week, and found Abebe Feyissa. We spent several hours together over a couple days, talking and walking around the camp. I took him to the camp’s only cyber cafe so that he could see the article on Utne’s website—I wanted him to know where his words are reaching.”
Feyissa is an interesting, thoughtful man, writes Isaacson. “His predicament—he’s been in the camp for 17 years, and will not be leaving in the foreseeable future—was rather saddening.” All the same, we were heartened to hear that Isaacson had visited him.
During his month-long journey to Kenya, as it turns out, Isaacson also spent some time with U.S. president elect Barack Obama’s grandmother. Read his pre-election story on Slate, and then check out Isaacson’s account of post-election jubilation for U.S. News & World Report.
Isaacson’s previous stories for Utne Reader concerned indigenous medicine, the social significance of tea, and better design through biomimicry.
Image courtesy of Andy Isaacson.
Thursday, October 30, 2008 11:13 AM
The field of institutions and public figures endorsing Barack Obama is getting really crowded, and it’s a motley assortment. Some fairly unlikely personalities are in the tank, including Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens and Colin Powell, as well as conservative publications like the Record.
Spend a few minutes perusing the Wikipedia page listing Obama’s endorsements, and you might visualize a rowdy cocktail party whose guest list includes editors from nearly every major U.S. newspaper (including the Chicago Tribune, marking its first endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate in its 161-year history); hundreds of current and former governors, mayors, and legislators; CEOs, actors, rock stars, and authors; and even the plumbers’ union (presumably Joe the Plumber was not consulted since, well, he’s not a plumber).
The New Yorker provided a characteristically thorough endorsement of Obama. The New York Times argues for the relevance of newspaper endorsements. And there’s a nifty map illustrating the distribution of this year’s newspaper endorsements and comparing it with 2004’s.
Several cast members of HBO's The Wire are stumping for Obama. (Gbenga Akinnagbe, if he’s half as terrifying as the drug lieutenant he played on the series, will make a very compelling canvasser). An absolutely fabulous coterie of fashion designers has pledged allegiance. And ostensibly apolitical publications have weighed in, most recently the science magazine Seed.
Leading the ironic-endorsement pack is onetime McCain campaign advisor Charles Fried, whose decision to back Obama is partially due to McCain’s “choice of Sarah Palin at a time of deep national crisis” (via Talking Points Memo).
All of which begs the question: Who’s in poor old John McCain’s corner? The list of newspapers endorsing him is considerably shorter than Obama’s. There’s Steve Forbes, of course. And then there’s the small faction of Hollywood conservatives (say it ain’t so, Gary Sinise!).
Image courtesy of Philip (Flip) Kromer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 26, 2008 1:35 PM
The debate is back on. But McCain’s political hijinks this week tend to make a person wonder: What’s next? The ol’ Maverick is bound to have a few more headline-making, “patriotic” tricks up his sleeve. Over at Slate, they're playing the next-McCain-hail-mary guessing game, and it’s a fun one. Standouts from the list:
#1: Returns to Vietnam and jails himself.
#3: Challenges Obama to suspend campaign so they both can go and personally drill for oil offshore.
#7: Sex-change operation.
#9: Sells Alaska to Russia for $700 billion.
Image by Torsten Bolten, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 9:02 AM
Sarah Palin’s performance on ABC last week has been extensively analyzed, but as the only journalist allowed access to the candidate since her announcement, how did Charles Gibson do?
Before the interview, speculation swirled about whether Gibson would go easy on Palin, and pundits and voters from around the country advised him on what to ask. Was he tough enough, too tough, and were your questions answered?
Jack Shafer at Slate gives Gibson high marks: “At every point in the Q&A, Gibson had the right follow-up questions to elicit more from Palin, including after he asked the Bush Doctrine cringe-maker.”
The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz liked Gibson’s work, too: “What the ABC newsman conducted yesterday was a serious, professional interview that went right at the heart of what we want and need to know about the governor: Could she be president? Does she understand the nuances of international affairs? Does she have a world view?” (Thanks, TVNewser.)
Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics recaps reader responses as mixed: “Speaking of Gibson, some people thought he was fair, while others said he looked like set out to try and make Palin look bad. More than a few mentioned what they saw as his condescending attitude—a number described Gibson's demeanor in terms of a snobby professor delivering a pop quiz while looking down his nose at his subject.”
The conservative blog Newsbusters has no praise for Gibson: “But there was more than Charlie's sneering condescending tone, looking down over the rim of his glasses like some snobby intellectual that bothered me. Twisting her words into a fabrication feeding the fear of theocracy was utterly insulting.”
The liberal blog Crooks and Liars thinks Gibson did fine: “To his credit, Charlie Gibson actually did a pretty good job of grilling Sarah Palin in her first interview since accepting the Republican nomination.”
My two cents: I was glad to see him push her, but also thought he missed some follow-up questions. One that stuck out: When asked what special insight into Russia Alaska’s proximity to the country gave her, Palin responded that you can actually see Russia from Alaska. Gibson moved on.
Monday, September 15, 2008 2:05 PM
Fact checkers have been all over John McCain lately, exposing a bevy of fibs, half-truths, and straight-up lies emanating from his campaign. Even Karl Rove, the king of political dirty tricks, scolded the campaign (and Obama’s) this weekend for going too far. But McCain’s troops have paid their critics little attention.
Why? Because lying works, according to Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate. Manjoo calls facts “a stock of faltering value.” He says the increasingly fragmented media landscape “lets us consume news that we like and avoid news that we don’t, leading people to perceive reality in a way that conforms to their long-held beliefs.”
Blogging for the Nation, Ari Berman looks back at a 2004 Ron Suskind piece from the New York Times Magazine that noted the irrelevance of facts in the Bush administration:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
The McCain camp seems to agree. Berman quotes the campaign’s response to stories about their truth-stretching: “We recognize it's not going to be 2000 again. But he lost then. We're running a campaign to win. And we're not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it.”
Andrew Sullivan, for one, doesn’t think it will work. From his blog:
Reading the "press" in this surreal climate right now, one is tempted to despair. I'm not giving in to it, because I still believe that the actual truth matters in the world. If propaganda could win in the end against truth, then Bush's approval ratings would be somewhere in the high 80s. They are in the lower 30s. In the end, the American people are not fools. And facts are facts.…
…We cannot control these despicable liars in the McCain campaign. We can only tell the truth as fearlessly and as relentlessly and as continuously as we can until November 4. We must do our duty. And if the American people want to re-elect the machine that has helped destroy this country's national security, global reputation and economic health, then that is their choice. But I am not so depressed to think that they will.
Image by RiverBissonnette.
Friday, September 12, 2008 3:59 PM
The lowly blurb is a necessary (though usually hackneyed) part of book jackets, movie posters, and magazine reviews. They’re not generally recognized as a form of literature, but maybe they should be. In an essay for Slate, Ron Rosenbaum waxes poetic about the blurbs used by reviewers and publishers to describe works of contemporary poetry. These blurbs, according to Rosenbaum, can be as lyrical as the works they describe, in many cases are actually “much better than most contemporary poetry, in the sense that [they’re] much more readable, much better crafted, and often beautifully compressed in a dazzling haikulike way.” This kind of praise, Rosenbaum writes, "is underpraised." Rosenbaum’s best resource for these two-line works of art, as well as great resource for essays and literary news, is The Page. You only need to read a few of these short-but-sweet quotes to see what he means.
Friday, September 05, 2008 2:11 AM
In the wake of John McCain's surprising VP pick, the media's rush to answer the question “Who is Sarah Palin?” was quick and intense.
But when news broke that her 17-year old unwed daughter was pregnant, the scrutiny became both personal and political, sparking intense debate about what’s fair and foul in campaign coverage.
Palin has dominated the headlines of nearly every major news outlet and many minor ones for the last week. You might think the McCain campaign would welcome the spotlight shining on someone other than Barack Obama, but instead, they're outraged. They claim the media's treatment of Palin—which has included stories about her pregnant daughter, questions about her qualifications for the job and the McCain campaign’s vetting process, inquiries into ethics scandals under investigation in Alaska, and examinations of her record—is sexist, liberally biased, and out of line. The campaign is even now refusing to answer further questions about Palin's vetting.
Surely the McCain campaign can't be surprised that voters and reporters want to know more about a woman whose name few outside of Alaska even recognized two weeks ago. But would the questions being asked of Sarah Palin be asked of a male candidate? And has the media gone too far?
Here's a round-up of opinions on the key fronts in the Palin media wars. What's your take?
Palin and John McCain and the Republicans deserve every column inch, every broadcast second of scrutiny they're getting. I believe—unlike Barack Obama—that members of a candidate's family are fair game once a candidate thrusts them onto the public stage—as did Palin when McCain presented her as his pick for vice president in Dayton, Ohio, last Friday. The eagerness with which politicians deploy their children as campaign props stands as an open invitation to the press to write about them. —Jack Shafer at Slate
The spin du jour is that her choice reflects poorly on Candidate McCain because she wasn't properly vetted. Yet this seems to be false. . . . On Monday, Time magazine's Nathan Thornburgh wrote from Wasilla, Alaska, that Bristol Palin's pregnancy had been known by virtually everyone there, with little made of it. But what do these private family matters have to do with Mrs. Palin's credentials to be Vice President in any case? —Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook
They have said this was Bristol’s decision and we should honor that. . . . The reason why I think it’s fair game is Sarah Palin is on record saying she would veto abortions for women even in the event of being raped. So what she is in essence saying: Respect my family’s ability to make this decision and elect me so that I can keep your family from having the same opportunities. —Jon Stewart, September 3, on the Daily Show
What we’re dealing with now, there’s nothing subtle about it. We’re dealing with the assumption that child-rearing is the job of women and not men. Is it sexist? Yes. —Georgetown professor Deborah Tannen, quoted by Politico, responding to questions about whether Palin's maternal responsibilities are compatible with the VP job.
Palin is simply not known. McCain's staff says the press is punishing her because pundits so desperately want to be in the know. But leaking has its benefits, one of which is that her flaws might have been scrutinized and even dismissed ahead of time by the press. —David Folkenflik at Media Circus, NPR
We have asked pathetic questions like: Who is Sarah Palin? What is her record? Where does she stand on the issues? And is she is qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? We have asked mean questions like: How well did John McCain know her before he selected her? How well did his campaign vet her? And was she his first choice? Bad questions. Bad media. Bad. —A sarcastic Roger Simon at Politico
Image by buddhakiwi, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 10:33 AM
Throughout the Obama campaign, Michelle has been skewered for her remarks on the stump, but her speech at Monday night's DNC kickoff got decent, even good, reviews across the political spectrum. Here’s a roundup of quick takes on the potential First Lady’s delivery:
Here's Jim Geraghty for the National Review:
In one sense, Michelle's speech did what it needed to tonight, and that is... little or no harm. It was a serving of mashed potatoes from her, but considering her comments that have generated headlines so far in this campaign, generic happy talk about working hard and dreaming bigger and aiming higher will be a pleasant surprise.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan raved:
There was plenty I didn't like about this night, as you can tell if you scroll down. But it succeeded in the most important task. Michelle did it. She more than did it. She struck fear in the GOP tonight. Their lies about the Obamas will fail. As they should.
tapped former Republican speechwriter, Michael Gerson, and former Democratic speechwriter Michael Waldman for their takes, and both were impressed. Says Gerson:
Michelle Obama [was] impressive—confident, fluent, and appealingly personal. The sharp political edge she has sometimes shown on the stump was nowhere in evidence. Instead, she told a compelling working class story and rooted her own considerable accomplishments in the American dream. She clearly brings a liberal sensitivity to a variety of issues, but, in this speech, it was the soft liberalism of service and community, not the hard liberalism of anger and radicalism.
James Forsyth of the Spectator was only slightly disappointed:
Michelle Obama played it safe tonight. Gone was the sassy campaigner I remember seeing in Iowa and South Carolina. The aim of the speech was to introduce Michelle Obama to the public and to dispel the idea of her as an angry, divisive figure. On that score, it worked.
And Dahlia Lithwick of Slate had this sharp analysis:
Here is a woman with a degree from Harvard Law School, who could have talked about law and policy and poverty, and yet she talked about her kids, her husband, and her family. And she didn't do that merely to show us that smart women are soft and cuddly on the inside. She did what everyone else in this campaign is terrified to do: She risked looking sappy and credulous and optimistic when almost everyone has abandoned "hope" and "change" for coughing up hairballs of outrage. Every Democrat in America seems to be of the view that optimism is so totally last February; that now's the time to hunker down and panic real hard. Good for Michelle for reminding us that to "strive for the world as it should be" is still cool, and for being so passionate about that fact that she looked to be near tears.
Watch Michelle Obama's speech:
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
Friday, August 15, 2008 9:22 AM
Over at Slate, Jack Shafer wonders why news outlets are sending 15,000 reporters to this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions. “[T]hese political gatherings tend to produce very little real news,” Shafer writes. “Yet the networks, the newspapers, the magazines, and the Web sites continue to insist on sending battalions of reporters to sift for itsy specks of information.”
It’d be one thing if that were, say, 15,000 news outlets each sending one reporter. But it’s not. Even Slate, Shafer says, is sending eight reporters to Denver and six to St. Paul.
In a year of blistering cost-cutting and layoffs, and with remaining reporters spread ever more thinly, is this really the best use of newspapers’ dollars? Might many of those 15,000 reporters not be better utilized to, say, cover local news during the two weeks of the conventions?
“As news organizations dwindle,” writes Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine, “this is an irresponsible use of resources and it only shows how the industry’s leaders are tied to doing things the way they always did them. That’s what will be the death of journalism.”
It’s probably fair to say that what happens inside convention walls is thoroughly rehearsed, uninspiring, and un-newsworthy. But what’s surprising about that? Most reporters worth their salt know that, as with any well-orchestrated media circus, the good stories lie well beyond convention parameters. Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins urges journalists to take a few detours: “Look for a better location to learn the real stories behind the script from which the Dems and Republicans want the media to read.”
Friday, August 08, 2008 10:42 AM
Is anyone else going meme crazy these days? Maybe it’s just some strange conflation of meme-talk here at the Utne Reader office, but if I hear (or read or sniff) one more reference to a meme, I’m going to drink everyone’s milkshakes, and then make all the straws into my new bicycle.
I know: I should pity the meme. These are heady times for a term coined in 1976. Back when evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave memes a name in his book The Selfish Gene, there was no world wide web to speed along cultural transmission. Memes, as Dawkins defined them, are self-propagating cultural phenomena such as “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” He likened them to genes. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.” Dawkins explains how Darwinian principles, like natural selection, govern that evolution.
These days, all your memes are belong to us, and by us I mean the Internets, by which I mean the web. Linguistic and media-driven memes in particular spread swiftly online. If you don’t pay attention (see: if you have anything else to do during the day except troll online), you can miss a whole meme-elution. Not being up to meme-speed = awkward social encounters. Picture yourself standing in a room, tepidly smiling as everyone riffs about some walrus that lost its bucket. Getting the jokes in the late-night monologue? Forget it.
“One week: That’s how much time an Internet meme needs to propagate, become its own opposite, and then finally collapse back in on itself,” Christopher Beam writes on Slate. Beam based his observation on the lifecycle of the wildly popular “Barack Obama is your new bicycle” meme.
That well-known meme all started with a website of the same name, and on August 5 (drum roll, please) Gotham published a Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle book. Website creator and Wired contributing editor Matthew Honan isn’t the only meme-generator to get a book deal lately. This March, Gawker reported that Random House paid at least $350,000 for the right to publish Stuff White People Like, based on (you guessed it!) the website of the same name.
All this makes me wish Chuck Norris would step in and deliver some round-house regulation. Memes, old-fashioned memes, naturally-occurring memes, have a lot to tell us about how culture stalls and grows. Rewarding senseless Internet memes, however, with two things our society likes very much—cash and publicity—will only motivate imitators. If Internet memes become a popularity contest with a cash reward (exploiting a lowest-common-denominator urge to be in on the joke)—are they still memes? Out in the blogosphere, you already can spot people discussing how to propagate preferred memes. In the inevitable march of the Internet memes, I just hope the best viral marketer wins.
Images by Rachel Pumroy, Women, Fire & Dangerous Things, and Peter Mandik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008 9:28 AM
Patrick House, a recent winner of the New Yorker’s cartoon captioning contest, shares the secrets of his success in Slate. His approaches range from the academic (employing the “theory of mind”) to the pragmatic (lobbying friends and colleagues to vote for his entry online). But it’s most important, House argues, to always keep in mind the urbane brand of (non-)humor the magazine’s cartoons specialize in—a comic sensibility that always elicits a light chuckle, never a hearty guffaw. “You are not trying to submit the funniest caption,” he reminds us, “you are trying to win The New Yorker's caption contest.” As for me, I’ve always preferred this all-purpose caption.
Image courtesy of
, licensed under
Monday, April 21, 2008 12:10 PM
As old-school newspeople continue their progression toward dodo-hood, a museum seems the perfect honor for their soon-to-be-extinct profession. Enter the newly remodeled Newseum, a $450 million, seven-story behemoth just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which is tasked with memorializing the profession’s long history. While the museum has received considerable praise in the press, not everyone is thrilled with the price tag. The money would have been better spent, according to Slate’s Jack Shafer, “to actually support journalism. Like endowing a newspaper, for instance.” Or a journalism school debt-forgiveness program, perhaps. Just a thought.
Monday, February 18, 2008 9:43 AM
While the Internet’s democratization of literary reviewing in some ways has managed to surmount, or at least skirt, the strict hierarchy and political machinations of the publishing industry, it can go both ways. When book reviews (such as Amazon’s customer reviews) rest in the hands of the common blogger, we trade the transparency of a known reviewer, with all her predictable biases, for an unknown agent. As points out in his article for Slate, the motives of online reviewers can be even more self-serving than those of their mainstream counterparts.
Amateur reviewers are subject “to the same pressures that confront the professionals they were supposed to replace,” Hallberg writes. “To keep writing, lest another reviewer usurp one's spot. To say something nice, in hopes that someone will say something nice about you. And to read for work, rather than for pleasure.”
Image by cindiann, licensed under Creative Commons.
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